Updated: Jun 18
Both, Baba Ramdev and Rishikesh in India are synonymous with Yoga, or the Yoga as seen by the modern world. Rishikesh has always been considered as a seat of spirituality and the famous abode of Yoga philosophy to people in quest of their inner selves. Originally, a number of serious students of Yoga like Swami Sivananda have chosen this place as the conducive spot for performing the mental as well as the physical aspect of sadhana considered mandatory for understanding the spiritual angle of their existence. Located on the plains jutted against the outer Himalayas this place is easy to access for many in contrast to the energy sucking trails leading to the abodes of the Gods ( Char Dham) in the inner Himalayas. The turquoise colored waters of the Ganges slices through the center of this holi settlement, as present today, imparting it the required dash of holiness.
What is spirituality? Basically, spirituality is the study of the nature and properties of the spirit, or soul as many may know it, and to live one's life as per its principles in order to liberate it from the temptations of the material world. To do that one must first become aware of the spirit within oneself, for that to happen the mind needs to be wiped clear of the smoke screen of the ever present chatter of thoughts, which in turn requires a still, steady and calmer ambience. This is what Rishikesh provided to the seekers. Modern transportation links had long back penetrated this geographically secluded fortress of peace, purity, and other conditions necessary for fomenting, nurturing and concentrating on the spiritual thought. We can see a deluge of population from across continents pouring into this holy land in search of answers, questions to which have been churning their psyche since forever.
How has this affected the importance of Rishikesh as a spiritual centre? How has the invasion of the modern technology and thought transformed its basic essence? How has the concept of Yoga, the instrument of spirituality, as propounded by the sage Patanjali got diluted in Rishikesh today? As per Patanjali Yogais nothing but arresting of the modifications the untamed mind goes through incessantly. Let us explore how close is the Rishikesh of today to providing conditions which facilitate the process of delving into one's spirit.
First of all, today, Rishikesh looks more of another spot of tourist attraction than a place for contemplating on spirituality. Foreigners from all over the world riddle the swanked up market places adding to the glamour than the spiritual essence of the place.
The present Rishikesh has all the allures of the material world. High end restaurants, the ambience wherein matches international standards, far away from anything indian or indianised are sprouting up in every nook and corner. The buzz word of the wellness industry today, "Yoga" has been encompassed in the names being provided to these modern, elite looking eating spaces which remain abuzz with tourists round the clock; where as yoga firmly believes in a circadian rhythm that is in tune with the earth's cycle. These eateries cater to international cuisines designed more for attracting the globetrotters than someone who is intended upon the spiritual pursuit at any level.
The irony is that instead of introducing the foreigners to the less stimulating, calming Indian cuisine, or may be the yoga diet which can aid in steadying the Citta, and the mind while one contemplates on various paths to reach spiritual awareness these eating hubs are busy stimulating the taste buds of the visitors. Spirituality is about reigning in whatever the mind craves for, food being one of them, than satiating the cravings which is responsible for nudge starting the never ending vicious cycle of gratification and desire. The spices, condiments and flavours added to the preparations here instill the rajasic and tamasic energies in the chow; the food which qualifies as Yogic, or which can assist in the practice of Yoga has to be Sattvic in nature. The concept of " Tapa or fortitude needed for steering one's will away from the objects of the sense organs is completely missing in these undertakings in Rishikesh.
Even the clothing on sale here reflects the culture of consumerism prevalent in all the other spheres of modern living today; strong emotion evoking brightly colored T shirts with spiritual symbols like the Swastika, Om or the Trishul imprinted across the length of their front panels, in fancy fonts, can be seen hanging at the entrances of almost all apparel selling stores littering the narrow streets of this abode of spirituality.
Yoga on the other hand advocates simple, comfortable clothing which can contribute to the experience of realising the self and not divert the attention to itself in anyway. Yogic practices are meant to be done on any natural base like a straw mat or an animal hide in order to insulate the body from the contrast in the temperature and the concentration of the prana with the bare earth. The greed infested human mind of the wellness industry has transmogrified this natural base needed for doing yoga into multi-hued, variously textured rubber infested yoga mats. In reality the rubber or plastic used in making these yoga mats suck away the healthier negative ions from the air molecules so necessary for a healthy Yogic breathing involved in almost all the Yoga practices. The display of these supposed to be the base for an humble yogic practice is perfectly oriented to the norms of modern product visibility, or sales strictures.
Today, this vulgar display of Yoga mats has reached a level where in carrying a yoga mat ,hung by a sling along the back, has become a symbol of eliteness, and erudition in our society.
Smaller groceries in Rishikesh are capitalising on this Yoga wave by inscribing the word "yoga" with almost all their consumer items for enticing the foreign consumer into their outlets. Item like bread is made to appear healthy ( more yogic for that reason) by tagging the suffix " yogic" to it. Yogic food is meant to be healthier more for the mind than the body anyways.
Banners displaying Rishikesh sightseeing options are more numerous than the shops selling spiritual books on spiritual healing and meditation techniques as have been proposed by the great thinkers from India.
Ethics, virtuosity and plane concern for our fellow beings are another victims of this mind boggling chase for the material at a place which is popular for helping people lead the path of renunciation. The foreign tourists are being duped in every possible way by the local mercenaries. While enquiring about the price of a singing bowl at one of the antique shops I was admonished in whispers, by the owner, of disclosing the real price quoted to me, to the Italian girl who was being convinced for buying the same at thrice the real price by his salesman in another corner. It seemed that the girl got an inkling and looked in my direction with the probing eyes. Don't know why, but I couldn't muster up the courage to reveal the truth to her at that moment. May be I am cleansing my soul of that guilt by writing this article here, sure, am feeling cathartical about it.
There are a plenty of places in Rishikesh which are just not interested in entertaining Indian buyers; is it because their is a risk of the beans getting spilled in doing so. The prices of the common Indian musical instruments have been spiked by packaging them as providers of spiritual solace. Incense, spiritual symbols and the blaring of spiritual mantras on high decibel instruments are being used as bates for alluring the foreigners to step in. Local sales men have picked up the accents and mannerisms of these foreign tourists in order to design flawless traps for them. My heart went out to the female from the foreign land, revealing the right price to whom was advised against to me by the owner of a antiques shop as I had just bought the same bowl by paying three times lesser that was being quoted to her. I couldn't pick up the courage to warn her on it at that moment.
Thus everything that exists in Rishikesh, spiritual or material is being capitalised upon by the local businessmen. Its been seen as more of an opportunity to pump up their sales to the foreign consumers of Yoga, in every way possible, than promoting the concept of yogic thought as propounded by Patanjali in his Ashtanga Yoga. Yoga, as also believed by most of its seekers today, is in fact a multi billion dollar industry in Rishikesh in its rightest sense.