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Manikut Yatra Parikrama — A Taxi Pilgrimage

This year I joined my friend, Kamal, and his mother for the annual Manikut Yatra Parikrama, during which pilgrims from the holy city, Rishikesh, circumambulate sacred places around the Manikut Mountain range surrounding the world capital of yoga, a 62-km pilgrimage held the week before Holi Festival (Feb/March).  This was both Kamal’s and my first time doing the pilgrimage.

Over the course of the day-long taxi pilgrimage, I learned that hundreds of years ago, pilgrims from all over Rishikesh would gather in Laxman Jhula to begin the trek in the earliest hours of the morning to worship at 12 different gates (darwas), honoring various gods of Hindu worship, including Hanuman, Lord Vishnu, Garud, Guru Jupiter, 64 Yogini, Mata Kali, Bal Kunwari Mata, Mata Bhubaneshwari and their collaborative manifestations, Mata Kushmanda, Mata Vidhayvasini, Lord Shiva’s Gan Nandi, Virbhadra Mahadev, Lord Ganesha, the chief Ganesha of Shiva.

Some on the journey recounted that the pilgrimage honored the Hindu goddess Durga, protective mother of the universe. Others shared that it was to worship Shiva, the most widely known and revered god, who is often worshipped as one member of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism (along with other deities Brahma (the Creator) and Vishnu (the Protector)).

The time-honored tradition of the Manikut Yatra Parikrama had been observed on foot by residents of Rishikesh until 2014. Kamal’s mother had taken the journey several times over the years. Sometimes on foot, other times by taxi.

Inspired to make the mountain ranges more accessible, the Manikut Parikrama Committee collaborated with the Public Works department to connect roads that had been impassable prior to 2014, creating the space for the local taxi driver’s union and businessmen in the area to sponsor the event and provide transportation to many hard-to-reach gates beginning in 2015.

Free taxi services are provided for Rishikesh locals to give the elderly access to terrain that is largely impassable by foot, and foreign tourists eager to participate in the annual pilgrimage can hire a local taxi for the journey. 

After arriving at Kamal’s home early the next morning, we gathered at the corner of on Laxman Jhula Road and Swaragashram Trust Road to meet up with the driver.

Pilgrims who began the journey on foot at 4:00 AM traveled in the traditional manner, carrying instruments native to Uttarakhand, such as drums (dhol, damama, hurka), bagpipes and flutes (muruli). The pilgrimage (yatra) route was flagged off for worshippers so the procession could make their way along busy roads unimpeded by traffic, and so pilgrims knew the route to take.

Manikut Yatra Parikrama is performed to spread a message of world peace, harmony and love to the masses.  Pilgrims walk, chant Vedic mantras and perform pooja ceremonies at each of the 12 gates. During the circumambulation (Parikrama) of the Manikut Mountains, pilgrims make their way to the following twelve gates to worship:

  1. First Gate — Pandav cave (pandakuwa), Lakshmanjula
  2. Second Gate — Garud Chatti
  3. Third Gate — Phoolchati (flower clitoris)
  4. Fourth Gate — Kalikunda (black adapter) Waterfalls
  5. Fifth Gate — Duelly Banyan or Pipalkoti
  6. Sixth Gate — Diwali
  7. Seventh Gate — Kushashil or Bindavasani Waterfall
  8. Eighth Gate — Maa Vidyavassini Temple
  9. Ninth Gate — Godavari
  10. Tenth Gate — Barraj
  11. Eleventh Gate — Ganesh Chowk
  12. Twelfth Gate — Bhairav Valley

By foot, the journey typically takes two days, passing through remote regions of the mountains, with very few to no places to stay overnight. Devotees in the past would spend the night sleeping among the rocks under the stars. Since the construction of safer and wider roads, the cliffs became passable and mythological places became more accessible. Now the route enables locals to have a heightened awareness of these spiritual sites. 

The Manikut Parikrama Committee, dedicated to preserve these spiritual sites of worship, entreated the State Government in 2015 to proclaim Manikut Mountain a pilgrimage area to be preserved as a pilgrimage region. Talks are underway to consider doing so.

Hundreds of devotees, local and foreign, have participated in the Manikut Himalaya Parikrama Committee in the past according to instruction from their teachers (Guru).

I accompanied Kamal, his mother and several of her friends by taxi, which allowed us to make the trek within one day. Although the Manikut Yatra Parikrama begins at the first gate, the Pandav cave (pandakuwa), in Laxman Jula, we began the journey at 8:00 AM, joining a caravan of other taxis, and met at the fourth gate, the Kalikunda Waterfalls. There, I saw five Gurus explaining to their devotees that the journey of Parikrama (circumambulation) began hundreds of years ago to awaken the master element, world welfare, the unity of the country and the upliftment of mankind.

My visit to the waterfalls at the fourth gate was one of the highlights of my journey.  I had passed by this site, nestled off the eastern side of the road leading to Patna Waterfalls, on scooters for the last three years and never knew the waterfall was there. It’s a beautiful, tranquil waterfall that blankets a shallow cave whose temperatures are cool in the summer months owing to the shower of the waterfall. Clothed pilgrims walked behind the curtain of the waterfall and emerged completely dry. It occurred to me that this would be an ideal refuge for saints and sadhus of times passed to meditate. 

The sun was continuing its climb toward its apex when we arrived at the fifth gate, the Duelly Banyan Tree. Thirteen passengers disembarked from the taxi, all faces smiling and enjoying the companionship of the other pilgrims on this journey.

An astute reverence preceded the chanting and offerings made at each of the gates that was immediately followed by a camaraderie that embraced us during this shared experience. We stopped along the way to snap photos and take selfies.

We left the fifth gate in search of the taxi. After a short wait, the driver returned with three additional passengers. Among them, his wife and mother-in-law.

There were eight men and six women in the taxi before the wife and mother-in-law. The re-organized themselves — Kamal and two of them climbing onto the roof of the jeep, as the taxi only fit 14.

We resumed our journey, and 45 minutes later arrived at the sixth gate, Kamal’s mother and her friends chanting the whole way.

I met new friends at the sixth gate (Diwali), who took me under their wing and shared the stories of their journeys along the Manikut Yatra Parikrama. Among them, owner of Daily Needs at Triveni Ghat in Ram Jhula who has been making this pilgrimage for the last 11 years. We circumambulated the Taido Banyan Tree at Diwali and shared prasad (lunch blessed by the deities) underneath her branches. I also struck up a conversation with Ram Bhabu, from Pune, who has been making the journey to Rishikesh for the last three years to participate in the annual Manikut Yatra Parikrama.

It was here that the four of us, the Daily Needs owner, Ram Bhabu, Kamal and I, decided to trek, separating from our taxi pilgrims. The new passengers from the fifth gate sat comfortably inside the taxi, thanks to our willingness to surrender our seats. We set out across the expansive, predominantly dry Ganga bed, which was dotted with rivers and streams, in honor of Durga.

Vehicles crowded with pilgrims kicked up dust as they passed us along the dry river bed. Yet, we were lost in the stories of our newfound friends’ journeys, and barely noticed the passing vehicles except for the occasional, “Side!” yelled out by one of the pilgrims to alert the rest of us of an oncoming vehicle.

The time flew by. Before long, we arrived at the seventh gate, Bindabasini Waterfall, where we re-joined the taxi pilgrims.

The 10-seater taxi was crammed to over flowing with 17 with passengers. So Kama and I, and two local boys, climbed on top of the jeep and rode the next 12 km, passing the next three gates. The terrain was mild and flat. In sharp contrast to the terrain leading to the sixth gate. I felt much more at ease not only with Kamal sitting on the roof, but also sitting by his side. 

The ride atop the jeep was another memorable highlight of the pilgrimage. It reminded me of my years growing up in Chaparral, New Mexico. And the route was so scenic, we all agreed it felt like we were on safari. Pure magic.

We arrived just before the eleventh gate, Ganesh Chowk, to a traffic jam that stopped the caravan in its tracks. Kamal and I dismounted the jeep and traded transportation with two friends of our roof-top traveling companions. We rode their scooter so they could complete the pilgrimage with their friends on top of the jeep.

Among the local pilgrims could be seen a large number of foreign devotees, accompanying their gurus on this legendary journey.

The journey came to a close Sunday evening, with worship at the twelfth gate, Nilkanth Marg, the Bhairav valley gate. Guruji led a pooja ceremony and the pilgrims concluded the journey with Vedic chants and the hail of Har-Har Mahadev and Bam-Bam Bhole.

We left the twelfth gate and returned to the taxi stand outside of Ram Jhula, east of Parmath Niketan and awaited all the pilgrims from the caravan. Hundreds climbed out of the taxis and walked in a procession singing and chanting, to Laxman Jhula, where it all began.

Filled with the love of devotion and surrounded by the glowing faces lit up by the days worship and celebration, I separated from the group when we arrived nearby my guest house. The pilgrimage left me inspired and eager to join next years festivities.

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ABHAYARANYA / PATNA WATERFALL

Vlog 7/7. The waterfall. Ahh! Water 

🎶Earth my body, water by blood, air my breath and fire my spirit. with Himanshu at  Abhayaranya waterfall. Grounding into the earth, bathed and refreshed by the water, inhaling the fresh air, my spirit alive with love and light. #rishikeshyogpeeth#affiliateyogaschool

 

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28-DAY COURSES:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

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ABHAYARANYA AND NATURE

Vlog 6/7. This is a 4km hike into the Himalayan mountains. No roads lead up the mountain to this yoga village. No vehicles travel up here.  The air is pure. There is peace here. It’s a journey to get here and a joy to be here. Being here makes the journey worthwhile. Nature is energizing. #Abhayaranya

#rishikeshyogpeeth #affiliateyogaschool

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28-DAY COURSES:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

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ABHAYARANYA A YOGA VILLAGE

Vlog 5/7. I posted all these videos directly to my personal FaceBook page, and it was the most I’ve had to say on that platform since joining Facebook.

These videos don’t do Abhayaranya justice. You just have to come here and experience #Abhayaranya for yourself. So? When are you coming?

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Join Yogini Mimi this September in Bali for your transformative immersion 200-hour yoga teacher training course.

Register now: www.swadhyayayogaschool.com/registration-form/

28-DAY COURSES:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

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GATEWAY TO ABHAYARANYA

Vlog 4/7. Every time I arrive at this point in the journey to #Abhayaranya, I’m reminded of Shangri-La from the movie “The Lost Horizon.” All my #yourdaybalancegame peeps? I’m thinking of you!

Shangri-La was a mystical, ageless society where one lives in harmony with nature and her community. Ahhh! I love this place. Anahata wide open 😍

#rishikeshyogpeeth #affiliateyogaschool

Join us in Bali for a transformative immersion 200-hour yoga teacher training course.

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28-DAY COURSES:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

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FRIENDS ON THE WAY TO ABHAYARANYA

Vlog 3/7.  I always say, “Abhayaranya inspires yoga.” On my journey up the mountain, I encountered a past Rishikesh YogPeeth student coming down the mountain. Bhavesh Ramji was staying at the yoga village, participating in a 21-day yoga retreat. He loves it here more than I do (or as much as? Who can say?). It was nice catching up with you Bhavesh!!! 🙏🏽😘 Remember to post pics of the orange pants. 

 

Join Yogini Mimi in Bali for a transformative immersion 200-hour yoga teacher training course.

Register now: www.swadhyayayogaschool.com/registration-form/

28-DAY COURSES:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

 

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HIKE TO ABHAYARANYA

This is Vlog (video blog) 2/7. I love this hike!! #Abhayaranya #yogavillage.

#rishikeshyogpeeth #swadhyayayogaschool #affiliateyogaschool

Join us in Bali for a transformative immersion 200-hour yoga teacher training course.

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28-DAY COURSES:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

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DRIVE TO ABHAYARANYA

This is vlog 1/7 about my hike today, Sunday, February 18, 2018. A video blog if you will. The journey was up into the Himalayan mountains to Patna village where my teacher built a yoga village, #Abhayaranya.  I co-guided several students from the Rishikesh YogPeeth 200-hour and 300-hour yoga teacher training course up to this beautiful yoga village today.

This beautiful Sunday was spent with beautiful spirits surrounded by the beauty of nature, embraced in love. Who could ask for more.

Click here to register for our upcoming yoga teacher training course in Bali, Indonesia, September 2018. With three 28-day courses to choose from:

– 3rd September
– 1st October
– 5th November

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4 ASPECTS OF BREATHING

The word "prana" means life force and is believed to be the vital energy or life force that flows throughout the body. This also serves as the link between the consciousness and the mind.

"... Once the breath is still, your mind is still as well..."

It is this life force that exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. Although closely related to the air we breathe, prana is more subtle than air or oxygen.

Therefore, pranayama is considered to be a form of breath regulation aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs and retaining carbon dioxide in the blood cells a little longer, and can be viewed as voluntary hypoventilation (breathing at a slower rate).

Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana in the nadis or energy channels of the pranamaya kosha or energy body.

There are eight pranayama practices accessible to the aspiring yogi which differ according to how kumbhaka (breath retention) is incorporated into the practice.

Pranayama differs from cleansing breaths in that the practitioner incorporates retentions, or locks, into their practice. In the absence of the retention, one is practicing breathing or cleansing exercises (kriya).

The pranayama practitioner, uses the breath in one of four different aspects:

  1. Pooraka or inhalation
  2. Rechaka or exhalation
  3. Antar kumbhaka or internal breath retention
  4. Bahir kumbhaka or external breath retention

Notice that the last two aspects are kumbhaka, breath retentions (or locks).

The eight different practices of pranayama involve various techniques which I will elaborate upon in future posts.

Until then, experience practicing this technique:

  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position, either cross-legged on a mat, or in a high-backed chair, palms on the knees or thighs.
  2. Lengthen the spine, ground through your sit bones and observe the inhale and exhale through the nostrils.
  3. Inhale for a 4 count, hold for 7 count and exhale for a 7 count.
  4. Repeat step 3 at least 9 more times.

How did you do? Let me know by posting a comment in the Comment box.

Written by Mimi Adeogba, DN, Ph.D.

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4 REASONS TO PRACTICE PRANAYAMA

Pranayama, loosely translated, means breathing techniques; and, is one of the eight limbs of yoga that sage, Patanjali, explains in the Yoga Sutras, written circa 150 BC.

Pranayama is comprised of two root words: prana (vital energy or life force) and ayama (extension or expansion). Pranayama, therefore, means to extend the vital energy.

Pranayama provides a way to activate the life force and expand it beyond one’s normal limitations to attain a higher state of vibration.

Pranayama can be described as a method of voluntary hypoventilation, due to a series of breath retentions, known as kumbhaka, which allows us to normalize our breathing by normalizing the oxygen supplied to brain cells.

Slow, rhythmic and diaphragmatic breath is fundamental to balancing overall well-being. Four additional reasons to practice pranayama are:

  1. Practicing pranayama, along with asana (postures), mudra (positions or gestures which represent the psyche), and bandha (locks for channeling energy), results in a potent means of restoring and maintaining physical and mental health.
  2. Practicing pranayama regularly, along with asanashatkarma (cleansing practices), meditation and yoga nidra (yogic sleep), releases muscular knots which can occur anywhere in the body. For example, cervical spondylitis is tightness of the neck, which is relieved with the consistent steady practice of pranayama. Muscle knots such as these may lead to reduced mobility due to muscle stiffness. The pain or soreness experienced may linger for quite a while unless intervention – such as massage, marma point therapy, acupressure, chiropractic adjustment – is taken.
  3. Practicing pranayama eliminates anger and cools down a heated brain. Heated brain conditions are observed in cases of fever, headache, migraines, worry, anxiety, unexplained/irrational fear.
  4. Pranayama practice is also known to relieve sore throat and tonsillitis, and has the added benefit of improving the quality and tone of one’s voice.

When learning these ancient yogic practices, begin with siting in a comfortable, seated position on the floor. If sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position is not attainable, sit in a chair with an up-right back.

Close the eyes and bring the awareness inside. Observe the thoughts with non-attachment. Observe a slow, rhythmic and diaphragmatic breath (breath into the diaphragm, place the palm on the belly and feel it expand into your palm and relax underneath your palm). Inhale and the exhale through the nostrils.

This steady, rhythmic breathing pattern is important for activating the frontal cortex, and bringing the nervous system under the parasympathetic tone (rest and relaxation); as well as bringing awareness inside the body and disconnecting from external sensory stimulations of the environment.

There are eight types of pranayama practices discussed in Hatha Yoga Pradipika to control one’s breathing. Which I will discuss further in future posts.

“When the breath wanders [i.e., is irregular] the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Written by Mimi Adeogba, DN, Ph.D.