Yogi Bhajan given Hindu last rites
Part I: Emblem of his beliefs
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 | 01:13 pm
This is one of two images recently found on the Internet that shows a picture of Yogi Bhajan draped in garlands, with a large statue of Lord Shiva in the background. The second picture shows his family praying to this picture during his ash immersion and last rites ceremony led by the pujya swami of Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh.
Photo Source: Sikh Dharma International
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, president and spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India, performed Yogi Bhajan’s last rites rituals and ash immersion in Mother Ganga. This ashram on the banks of the Ganges River is devoted to Shiva, the Hindu god of yoga.
The ashram’s Web site still includes a link to Yogi Bhajan’s last rites announcement from 2005, under “Pujya Yogiji’s ash immersion.” (Note: The link was removed after publication of this story.)
The description says: “A very special ceremony was held in honor of the passing of the great saint, the one who brought Sikh Dharma to the West and who turned thousands of Westerners off of drugs/alcohol and onto spirituality - Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan. Pujya Yogiji entered mahasamadhi (yogic death) in October, and in January, a huge yatra of devotees from across the world brought his sacred ashes to India. The yatra came to Rishikesh on the 18 January for the divine puja and final rites ceremony."
Yogi Bhajan died on Oct. 6, 2004.
SikhNN emailed the two Hindu last rites images and a screenshot of the announcement to Parmarth for confirmation.
“Yes, this is definitely the ash immersion,” said Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, a spokeswoman for the ashram. “The puja, ceremony of rites, happens first and then the ashes are actually immersed.”
According to her blog, Sadhvi Bhagawati is a Los Angeles native who has been in seva of the swami for more than 17 years. She is often pictured with him on the Parmarth Web site.
“I don't remember exactly how many (of Yogi Bhajan’s followers) came though,” she told SikhNN. “Maybe somewhere between 15-30, I would say.”
Second image, left: Garlanded photograph of Yogi Bhajan, Shiva statue in back. First image, right: Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati ( top left). Family in white, from top to bottom: daughter, Kamaljit Kohli, son, Kulbir Puri, wife, Inderjit Puri, son, Ranbir Bhai.
The first image that was discovered (right) shows Yogi Bhajan’s wife, Inderjit Kaur Puri, two sons, Ranbir Singh Bhai and Kulbir Singh Puri, daughter, Kamaljit Kaur Kohli, and some of his followers sitting in front of Yogi Bhajan’s garlanded photograph with the swami leading the puja.
Although Sikhs believe ashes can be spread anywhere, it is the symbolic combination of Hindu last rites puja with ash immersion in the Ganges that has elevated the significance of this event among Sikhs.
And because Yogi Bhajan and his family had previously been to Parmarth and known the swami for decades, and because his followers regularly participated in pujas, artis, havans and yoga festivals at this ashram - even now - this image of his Hindu last rites at Parmarth has become emblematic of Yogi Bhajan’s beliefs and teachings, which Sikhs consider to be heretical.
According to the Rahit Maryada, a Sikh is defined as one who only follows the teachings of the 10 Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib, and does “not owe allegiance to any other religion.”
The obscure image of Yogi Bhajan’s Hindu last rites puja was first published in a 2005 article, ‘Harbhajan Singh Yogi Asleat’ (The Reality of Harbhajan Singh Yogi), on the Sikhmarg.com Web site. It was from shortly after Yogi Bhajan’s death, said Gurcharan Singh Jeonwala, author of the article and television commentator from Toronto. He did not know at the time where the image came form or that it was from the last rites puja.
The image again surfaced a few months ago during a cursory Internet search, said Gursant Singh, who was Yogi Bhajan’s disciple for more than 30 years. Previously known as Guru Sant Singh Khalsa, he left Sikh Dharma in 2009 after discovering real Sikhi in Punjab, he said.
Gursant Singh suspected that the image was from Yogi Bhajan’s last rites because he recognized his family members and the swami. It did not take long for him to find the announcement on the Parmarth Web site.
A second image, a close-up of Yogi Bhajan’s garlanded photograph from the last rites puja, with a giant statue of Shiva in the background, was sent in a news release from his religious organization, Sikh Dharma International. The Oct. 8 email included a link to a video that shows images of Yogi Bhajan’s “memorial yatra in India after his passing.” One of the images was of Yogi Bhajan’s garlanded photograph.
Several characteristics of the two images identify them as being from the same event. Both show two different angles of the last rites puja. Yogi Bhajan’s garlanded photograph appears in both images. And the circle of lights around the Shiva statue match other images on Parmarth’s Web site from December-January 2005, the same time period as the last rites puja. The lights were removed by October 2005. Together, the two images reveal the bigger picture.
“So that makes him a Hindu?” said Kulbir Puri, Yogi Bhajan’s younger son, angrily.
“Muniji was his spiritual son,” he told SikhNN, referring to the swami by his nickname. He described the ceremony as more of a memorial service honoring a spiritual leader.
SikhNN informed him that a Parmarth spokeswoman confirmed the pictures were from Yogi Bhajan’s “divine puja and final rites ceremony” and “ash immersion,” just as it said in the announcement.
“Somebody just wrote it up,” Kulbir Puri said. “We were just there.
“His rites were done in Kiratpur Sahib,” he added. The ashes “probably were” immersed in the Ganga, but “also in Espanola,” New Mexico.
Yogi Bhajan went to every religious circle, including ashrams, churches and mosques, Kulbir Puri said. He was honored at many places of worship, but his ashes were not taken to all of them, he said.
When asked why his ashes were taken to Parmarth, he then said: “No, they were not. Not that I recall.”
SikhNN emailed the two images to Kulbir Puri after the interview for further clarification. He did not respond.