The tranquil grounds of Jagadguru Kripalu University in Banara, Cuttack, were brimming with devotional fervour in the last week of December 2022. Devotees from across India and even from the United States gathered to participate actively in the seven-day annual Bhakti Yog Sadhna Shivir, a spiritually enriching experience that takes place every year from the 25th to the 31st of December. This year's theme was the Patanjali Yoga Sutra.
A Retreat Filled with Devotion and Learning
The retreat schedule was packed, beginning each day at 5:30 a.m. and continuing until 9:30 pm, with breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner breaks. The devotees meticulously follow their daily sadhana, which involves performing an elaborate ritual of morning and evening aarti. They also immerse themselves in divine teachings and wisdom nuggets imparted by Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj. The atmosphere was filled with soul-stirring kirtans, parikrama (circumambulation of sacred sites), and mehfil sessions with Swami Mukundananda. The highlight of each day was Swamiji's erudite lectures, served with a generous dose of selfless bhakti.
Devotional Sevas and Celebrations
Devotees were blessed with the opportunity to participate in various sevas (services) that deepened their devotion. These sevas included receiving Tika and Rakhi from Swamiji, witnessing Maharajji's Abhishek (ceremonial bath) with panchamrit (a mixture of five nectars), garlanding Maharajji, offering a special Maha Dawat (grand feast) to Maharajji, experiencing Bal Gopal's tel-malish (seasonal oil massage), and taking part in the Mahaarati during Maharajji's shobha yatra (procession). The Rath Yatra (chariot procession) was a captivating event, with Swamiji inaugurating the deity of Maharajji on the Rath, followed by a procession of professional folk dancers, singers, and devotees.
Mehfil, Parikrama, and Ecstatic Devotion
The Mehfil sessions provided a platform for both online and offline participants to express their devotion and gratitude to Hari (God) and Guru through songs, dances, and poetry on spiritual themes. The daily parikrama with Swamiji was a thrilling experience, as devotees engaged in Harinam Sankirtan (singing the holy names of God) accompanied by drums and music. Swamiji led the way, singing and dancing gracefully, motivating the crowd to join in the devotional ecstasy. It felt as though Swamiji was distributing garlands of divine love to all seekers, allowing them to immerse themselves in divine bliss, leaving behind worldly entanglements.
Swami Mukundananda's Enlightening Lectures on Patanjali Yoga Sutra
Swami Mukundananda's lecture series during the retreat was particularly enlightening. He delved into the first section of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, the Samadhi Pad. While Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is often referenced by Advaitis (followers of non-dualistic philosophies) and Ashtanga yogis, Swamiji's unique perspective on Bhakti left devotees spellbound. Swamiji began by establishing that Sage Patanjali was a pioneer in mind management. He emphasized the importance of disciplining the mind (anuśāsan) to achieve the ultimate goal of unity with God (yog). Swamiji explained that when the mind is clouded, one cannot distinguish between the mind, body, and soul, leading to mistaken beliefs about one's emotional state. True perception can only be achieved through self-discipline and purification of the mind (nirodh).
Swamiji provided practical solutions to combat mental afflictions such as attachment, desire, anger, greed, lust, and suffering, all of which he identified as root causes. He guided the audience on how to introduce the right thoughts to the intellect and revise them to form positive habits. Swamiji explored the philosophy of perception, understanding, and self-realization, highlighting how individuals often misconstrue things due to incorrect knowledge. He provided detailed steps for attaining success in self-realization and ultimately achieving Yog, the union with God.
Swamiji's presence and active involvement in various activities during the retreat elevated the devotees to unprecedented spiritual heights. His wisdom, teachings, and devotion left a lasting impact, enriching the spiritual journeys of all those in attendance.