GOVARDHAN ECO VILLAGE

This time last year, myself and Sandy King – fellow Jivamukti Yoga teacher from Sydney – were on our way to Govardhan Eco Village in rural Maharashtra for the India Asana Jivamukti Yoga Retreat led by Padma-ji (Sharon Gannon) and Jules Febre-ji and managed expertly by HaChi Yu.
It was the inaugural Jivamukti Yoga event at this fine ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) establishment.
Govardhan – named after Govardhan Hill in Vraj, the birthplace of Lord Krishna – is a multi-function eco paradise a few hours outside of Mumbai. Within its vast grounds are organic farms, an eco farming education centre, an animal refuge, an ayurvedic healing centre, several indoor and outdoor yoga shalas, lecture halls, a Krishna Conscious school for the sons of the local farmers, accommodation for the staff and simple and comfortable dorms for guests. Oh yeah and a swimming pool and a completely VEGAN kitchen.
The dream of Sri Radanath Swami was to secure and develop land that would resemble the community ideals of Vraj in the time of Lord Krishna. In other words: simple living, high thinking. Within the first few hours of our stay at Govardhan, the Jivas from all over the world learned just how self-sufficient and sustainable Govardhan really is. There is absolutely NO WASTE. And what once was waste is recycled. And I mean everything. The volunteers showed us how even WATER was recycled…
Seva – selfless service – gave us all an opportunity to get involved with community life. Some days our designated seva group would make the cups for chai (sadly, mine resembled ceramic versions of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks); on other days we made bed mats (which I really enjoyed). We also had the opportunity to work a loom (yes an actual hand-and-foot-operated loom) to make dohtis (the Indian kilt), create mud bricks for the houses and massage the cows at the sanctuary. All of it was fun but my most favourite activity was learning to manually thresh rice. So Asian.
Days were spent with morning asana class and breakfast. Then free time to explore the extensive grounds or participate in seva. Lunch, then similar ‘open time’ then class again followed by dinner and evening satsang. I loved hearing Padma-ji’s stories from childhood and how her sincere devotion to God developed during her Catholic school days. I also loved hearing Jules talk about his insights about life in India and growing up Jiva. And I felt truly blessed to hear my teacher’s stories about Shyam Das-ji, who left his body exactly a year before. Never has anyone been more devoted. It was fitting that we would celebrate his life in a place so brimming with bhakti.
On several occasions, we were gifted an audience with Sri Radanath Swami himself. I had been reading his autobiography, The Journey Home whilst staying at Govardhan. It tells the extraordinary story of the spiritual wanderlust that led him to all corners of the globe, WAY BEFORE Lonely Planet guides and WIFI. In fact all this happened when the sixties turned into the seventies; a time I often daydream of having lived through.
My goodness, could Sri Radanath Swami tell good stories! Like the Swamis at the ISKCON temples of my youth in Sydney, Sri Radanath Swami told stories of Krishna that made them unfold like IMAX specials. Naturally, I was transfixed…
I spent some of my free time at the primary school because, to be honest, I missed my students at X. It astounded me how quickly the boys picked up melodies they had never heard before. But I guess that’s what happens when you spend such a large part of your day learning things aurally (‘Through repetition the magic is forced to arise’ – Sharon Gannon).
Apart from the food – which is always offered to God first – the thing I remember most vividly about Govardhan was the way time seemed to slow down. With no motorised vehicles on the property whatsoever, and walking being the main form of transportation; each moment seemed to stretch on forever. And yet, in the evening when I mentally reviewed my day, I realised how much could actually be achieved in a day when you’re truly present and savouring it. I have the strongest feeling this is what it’s going to be like for staff and students alike at the Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training in Maharashtra. And I cannot wait for that unique moment to begin.

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