Today, Their Royal Highnesses, Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, paid an official visit to Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh as the first destination of their nine-day visit to India.
Arriving just before sunset, Their Royal Highnesses took part in the sacred evening Aarti Ceremony (ritual of lights), which is an internationally-renowned highlight of Parmarth Niketan’s daily activities. Prior to the Aarti, they observed the final offering of a Yagna (fire ceremony) for World Peace and Environmental Preservation, led by the President of Parmarth Niketan, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji. Offering the traditional herbs and seeds into the fire to the rhythm of ancient Vedic prayers, their Royal Highnesses took part in one of the most ancient rituals of the Indian tradition, performed on this occasion as a prayer for a healthy environment and peaceful world.
Following the Yagna Ceremony, they took part in a Water Blessing Ceremony, led by Pujya Swamiji, in which waters from the world’s sacred rivers were offered onto a large globe, symbolizing a prayer that all people across the world should have access to safe and sufficient water.
Explaining the ceremony, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan said, “Water is life. Tragically today, too many of our brothers and sisters are living without access to safe and sufficient water. The Water Blessing Ceremony signifies a prayer and blessing that all beings and all creatures on Earth should have access to sufficient and safe, life-sustaining water.”
After the Water Blessing Ceremony, a short prayer was held in homage to those who had lost their lives, loved ones, homes, villages, livelihoods and hopes in the tragic Uttarakhand floods this past June.
At the conclusion of the prayers, as songs of peace intermingled with the night’s air, gleaming brass oil lamps were set ablaze for a beautiful Aarti Ceremony. A beautiful, historic, tangible wave of fellowship swept over all present as their Royal Highnesses, led by Pujya Swamiji and accompanied by young rishikumars (students) from Parmarth’s Gurukul (orphanage/residential school) and other ashram residents, waved the brightly-burning lamps, performing the light ceremony described as a “Thanksgiving Ceremony to the Divine who blesses us with light.”
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji is also the Founder of Ganga Action Parivar, an environmental organization of scientists, engineers and activists working to clean the waters and banks of the Ganga River, and the co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, an international, interfaith coalition of faith leaders working to bring water, sanitation and hygiene to all. In alignment with his life’s work, Pujya Swamiji offered their Royal Highnesses a sacred tree sapling as a symbol of the trees being planted in the Himalayas, and a beautiful container of water from the source of the Ganges.
Pujya Swamiji presented them with a sacred sapling, rudraksh malas and shawls made by the Uttarakhand tribal peoples.
Pujya Swamiji said, “His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, is a ‘Green’ Prince who been emphasizing the importance of environmental protection for many wonderful years. Through his vision, leadership and ‘Green’ programs, not only Great Britain, but the entire world, continues to be uplifted and inspired.”
As Pujya Swamiji further explained, “Too many people worship the Creator, but forget the Creation. Here, we are dedicated to worshipping and serving both the Creator and Creation. I spent my life dedicated to building temples. Now, however, I am dedicated to building toilets, providing safe-water, and planting trees. Proper sanitation and hygiene and a clean environment purifies our body, which is also a temple. Additionally, in bringing more trees to our world, we are able to help it to flourish through increased oxygen, fruit, and shade. Trees and water are ever-giving sources of life, which should be revered and protected. This was a key message throughout the evening’s events.”
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati said: “Their Royal Highnesses were so glad to have had this special, authentic cultural experience upon arrival to India. They were fascinated by the young, devout, rishikumars and deeply impressed by Pujya Swamiji and all of the myriad ways that his programs and projects are serving humanity. They were particularly interested in our environmental programs: tree plantations, organic farming, river clean-ups and the propagation of community education and implementation programs concerning water, sanitation, hygiene and the environment. It was clear that they were very touched by the serenity and beautiful spiritual atmosphere of Parmarth Niketan’s Ganga Aarti, and we were deeply honoured by their visit.”
His Royal Highness Prince Charles shared beautiful words of inspiration and spoke about how glad he was to be present for this ceremony and also how glad he is to hear about the wonderful work for the environment and humanity being done by Pujya Swamiji. He mentioned how now that he is a grandfather, he recognizes even more crucially the importance of protecting our environment for future generations. He said: “It’s a particular joy to join you here on the banks of the Ganges this evening because it is, above all else, my first visit to the Ganges and so from that point of view it is a very special occasion for both myself and my wife.
“But we also wanted just to stress how deeply we felt for all those people who suffered so dreadfully as a result of the awful floods in June – our thoughts and prayers were so much with those families who have had to suffer the appalling catastrophe.”