Things are getting really exciting over here at Shree Hari Yoga School! Just this past Monday we welcomed the 200 hour yoga teacher trainers, and now we are a full house with all of them, along with our 300 hour students and staff. The students kept asking before the program started: what is the first day of yoga teacher training like in Dharamshala?
In order to initiate the new students into their yoga teacher training journeys, Hari Ji made sure to organize the grand ceremony of fire puja. A fire puja is a spiritual practice of devotion and communion with the Divine, led by a great priest from the Brahmin caste. From the beginning to the end of this grand event, each devotee participates in a series of verbal and physical rituals that are guided by the Priest. From a Western perspective, these rituals may seem odd, but they are not only beautiful, they are full of symbology. The fire itself is a representation of the Divine. Like divinity, fire is warm, light, powerful, hopeful and alive. As we make offerings to the Divine in the form of fire, we are able to truly offer our love and devotion. This has a powerful affect on our subconscious and conscious minds, as well as our hearts. This is why Hari Ji makes sure to begin all his yoga teacher trainings (YTT) with this sacred ceremony.
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“Please everyone. Make sure to wear white or cream clothes to tomorrow’s special ceremony.” Hari Ji made sure to announce this point at the orientation the night before the fire puja. It is imperative that all the participating members wear white–the color of peace and purity.
“Please meet here, at the school, at 6:30 am tomorrow morning. We will have fire puja here to welcome you here and bless this yoga space, and then you continue your first day of study,” Hari Ji added.
That evening, the priest and Hari Ji created a mandalaon the floor with powered colors of orange, green, red and white. Orange flower pedals were also adorned on the mandala. Sanskrit, swastika, and other symbols were also drawn in. Lastly, the fire pit was brought inside and placed in the center of the mandala for the ceremony the following day.
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The sun was already shining that fresh, early morning as I walked down the the yoga school at 6:20. Everyone looked unified, all wearing their white garb, drinking chai, and excited for the event to commence. Slowly we all made our way into a circle and sat in a cross legged position around the mandala and fire pit. There was ghee everywhere; small idols of Ganesha, Shiva and Vishnu, along with rice, flowers, water and prasad also decorated the mandala. For those of you that don’t know, prasad is the offering of food, in this case apples and bananas, to the deities. It was truly a sight to see.
The priest then began chanting mantras and blessed all the participants with holy words, colored markings on the third eye, and malas. The malas were made the night before of orange flowers and were worn throughout the entire ceremony by the participants.
As the ceremony went on, the priest continued to chant beautiful, divine sounds, and we all closed our eyes and soaked it in. In the meantime, the priest and Hari Ji threw rice, flower pedals and water into the center of the mandala, adding ghee here and there, creating a spectacle of devotion and love.
About half way through, it was our turn to really participate in the ceremony. This was when the fire was ignited! We were all given trays with tinder and kindling that we were instructed to pick up with our right hand, making sure to leave our first finger clean, to toss into the fire every time the priest said, “Swaha.” In addition, we also were to repeat this offering word: “Swaha.” By doing this, we all gave a piece of ourselves to the great fire, to the great Divine. This offering continued until there is nothing else left to throw into the fire. We all stood up, the priest said his final mantras, and we all watched the fire blaze on for a little while, silent, content, and ready to begin the next step on our yogic paths.
I am very happy to have been a part of the fire pujainitiations for the new students. It was also an initiation for me, as a teacher of this school and as an endless practitioner of yoga. Being able to experience a ritual such as fire puja is special for many of us–it is something that we may not otherwise experience back in our home countries and it will continue to strongly resonate inside us for many years.
Welcome 300 and 200 hour Yoga Teacher Trainers to Shree Hari Yoga School! We are so honored to have you here with us and to help guide you on your passage into the great yogic tradition.
PS – If you’d like to learn more about yoga teacher trainings in Dharamshala with Shree Hari Yoga school, click here.