It’s a long way from Hollywood to Rishikesh, India -- a journey of 8 thousand miles into another world. Sadhvi Bhagawati was 25 when she first visited this small Himalayan city and it changed her life.
“I came to India…having grown up in Los Angeles, in the heart of American upper class…hip culture where acceptance is based on how you look in a black mini-skirt, how many times a week you’re seen in the local “hot spot”, how many drug-filled dens of decadence you visit on a particular Saturday night.”
In Rishikesh, she says she was so enraptured by the grace, the truth, the divinity and the depth of traditional Indian culture, she told her baffled family, she had decided to stay.
“In the beginning, of course, everyone thought I’d lost my marbles.”
Nearly 20 years later, Sadhvi is at home in Rishikesh, living on one of India's most renowned and sacred ashrams, Parmarth Niketan, on the banks of the Ganges, serving as President of the Divine Shakti Foundation.
The Foundation is dedicated to the holistic wellbeing of women, their children, orphaned or abandoned children, and all of Mother Nature.
Among its many programs, it provides free schooling to impoverished children as well as free vocational training and empowerment programs to impoverished girls and women. The Foundation also runs orphanages and animal care programs. In addition, the Divine Shakti Foundation works in concert with the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance to help bring water, sanitation and hygiene to the very poorest areas of India. Approximately 1200 Indian children under the age of 5 die every day from preventable diseases due to impure water and lack of sanitation and hygiene.
As part of her seva (or service), Sadhvi teaches meditation, does counseling and coaching on life and spirituality, writes articles and books, gives lectures and question-answer sessions, and helps oversee the vast humanitarian and charitable projects run by the Foundation.
She believes that more than ever before, the values that she experienced and embraced in Rishikesh need to be shared and spread, before they disappear.
“The values and focus in India seem to have shifted. The "new India" has started judging its self-worth much like the West does.”
Spirituality is losing out to materialism. More and more, what matters is the size of your bank account, how many shopping bags you carry, how expensive your sunglasses are. Sadhvi hopes her work with the Divine Shakti Foundation will show people the true path to happiness.
“When we spend our lives looking for that meaning, for that joy for that value in things outside, we’re not getting any closer.”
Sadhvi is the author of By God’s Grace, a book about one of India’s most revered spiritual leaders, with a foreword by the Dalai Lama.