This Is Bhakti Yoga: A Photo Essay

Photographer Andy Richter shines a light on how Bhakti yoga—the path of loving devotion—can inspire a sweet surrender that unlocks a world of meaning, faith, and serenity to those who practice it.


A man meditates on the Yamuna River at Keshi Ghat in Vrindavan, India. Krishna is believed to have bathed here after killing the demon Keshi, who symbolizes vanity, ego, and pride. Bhakti yogis curtail such tendencies through chanting and humble service.

See also Lead With Your Heart: How to Practice Bhakti Yoga


Sunrise on the Ganges River during Mauni Amavasya Snan—the primary bathing day of the Maha Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage to the confluence of India’s three holy rivers in Allahabad. 

See also Why Make a Yoga Pilgrimage to India?


A sadhu performs panch agni tapas, or five-fire austerity, symbolically sacrificing himself to the fire in meditation during the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain. The intensity of the heat develops physical and mental stamina and helps draw consciousness inward. The senses become extremely sensitive, and the whole body acts like an antenna for divine energy. 

See also A Tapas-Building Sequence to Fuel Willpower


Krishna devotees prostrate during the circumambulation of Govardhan Hill. Moving one stone her body’s length with each prostration (of 108 stones), the devotee in the foreground’s parikrama (walk around this sacred hill) will take 12 years to complete. Her bhakti (devotion) to Krishna keeps her moving forward. 

See also Devotion in Motion: 3 Rituals to Infuse Asana with Meaning


A young devotee blesses pilgrims along the parikrama (circular path) around Govardhan Hill, near Vrindavan, where Krishna is believed to have spent much of his youth. By some accounts, Krishna counseled the inhabitants of Vrindavan to worship this holy hill in puja (ceremonial worship) and circumambulation.

See also The Path of Devotion: Bhakti Yoga


Swami Yogananda, who was 104 years old when this photo was taken, practices asana during the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. Yogananda, who passed away in 2015, claimed that the secret to longevity is fasting.

See also Meditations on Fasting


brahmachari chants the Maha mantra in walking meditation at Krishna Balaram Temple in Vridavan. This Hare Krishna mantra has been continuously sung, 24 hours a day, at the temple since 1986. 

See also “HARE KRISHNA!” A New Documentary Tells the Story of the Swami Who Started It All


Meditation pods lie overgrown and abandoned on the banks of the Ganges River at Chaurasi Kutia Ashram, also known as “The Beatles Ashram,” in Rishikesh. In 1968, the band visited this ashram, which belonged to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation training course. Their adoption of the Maharishi as their guru helped to change attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality and yoga.

See also Reflect + Renew in Rishikesh, India


Printed with permission from Andy Richter from Serpent in the Wilderness. Copyright 2018. Published by Kehrer Verlag.

See also A Yogi’s Travel Guide to India