Wednesday, December 17, 2008

BKS Iyengar 90th Birthday Celebration - Trip to Belur on Dec 17th

The celebrations in Southern India commenced today with a trip to Belur, Karnataka, a 90 minute drive from Bangalore. Three of us, that included two iyengar yoginis - Karen, an amazing artist and architect from San Francisco and Elizabeth, an accomplished yoga teacher from Bellingham Washington were picked up from our hotels in Bangalore and zipped down to Belur in a nice van, while the rest of the three hundred travelled by buses later from the hotel central in Electronic City.

All three of us had a nice conversation about India, both Karen and Elizabeth are touring Kerala and Tamil Nadu after this trip with their families. Both are certified indophiles and have visited India 10 years prior. It was an honor to meet them and hang out with them the entire day.

We arrrived early in Belur and were greeted by Mr. Raghu, Guruji's son in law, who runs the Belur trust. Belur reminded me the hill country of San Antonio. The weather was cool, mildly humid, but had the arid feel to it. You can see a smattering of rocky hills around flat land. We were driven to the "Ashram", the facility that hosts a Senior School, Hospital and a guest house belonging to the Belur trust. A huge cultural event was planned in the afternoon with performances from the school children. The senior school has 3 grades of 8,9 and 10 and about 300 students. Its absolutely free and open to any child from the village or neighboring village. The facility looked impressive, clean and you could see smiling and curious kids all around asking your name. I enjoyed the time I spent with them.

We walked over to the guest house for breakfast and got a whopping surprise. Guruji had already arrived and was sitting right there in the room with us. We just sat down and simply absorbed this moment. None of us pulled out our camera - we simply just cherished these very close moments with Guruji as we devoured a delicious and filling carb packed breakfast along with coffee.

After sometime we were asked to leave to check out the school, and facility. This was a polite way to tell us, times up... :) It wasn't long before the buses arrived with the rest of the entourage. I think the crowd was 70-30 foreigners vs local Indian students. While the rest of the crowd was being fed, I had a chance to really get to know Karen. She is an amazing person. She is a seamstress, an accomplished artist and sketcher, a great photographer, a world traveller, and to top it an avid Iyengar practitioner and a student rather than a teacher. We spent a lot of time talking about indian culture and share life experiences. Throughout the day she sketched out various parts of the events, that included people, and the colorful tents under which all the cultural events were held. And of course she was agile and always ahead to take amazing pictures. I was envious of her brand new Nikon D-90.

After the crowd was fed, we were bused for a short ride to the village of Belur, where Guruji was born and where he had built a primary school, which is now run by the government and the patanjali and hanuman temple. He was given an amazing welcome at the entrance of the village and then there was flower laden procession to the temple. I was in photography heaven, but I never could match Karen's speed in being ahead of the procession. I imagine that by the end of this tour there will be more footage of Guruji than ever recorded or documented by both professional media and hundreds of attendees. Even one of the Sadhu's from Bangalore was out taking video on his phone cam.

There were a series of pujas conducted at the Hanuman and Patanjali temple and the event lasted several hours. Guruji gave a speech and Sunita Iyengar recited the patanjali sutras. Every time he was garlanded the crowds would stand up to take pictures, leaving others who sitting viewless. That certainly got under the skin of some, especially one lady who was outspoken and asked many to sit down, so everyone could see the events. Her name was Dhuan Khandala, a very old student of Guruji. She said she had been his student since 1972 and told me how he had transformed her life and also of her friends. She described Guruji as a tall handsome man, who was extremely dedicated to teaching yoga to the Bombay students. He would come on a train every weekend to Bombay, come rain or shine, or storms, nothing would stop him. It was rare therefore for any Bombay student to miss the class. Guruji put all of himself into these classes. She remembers how he would hold her leg up to help her with a pose, while instructing others to perform another set of poses. She remembers how he would quietly come over to her and sit on her back while she was in Adho Mukha Virasana, in order to improve her flexibility in performing that pose better. She said Guruji taught her and others that yoga was not just about performing asanas, it was a way of life and showed them the way of life, and by example. In all the years he came to Bombay to teach he always stayed in a cheap hotel at the train station. Never did he heed to requests by his fairly wealthy students to stay at their house. His dedication and simply way of living is what the students received inspiration. There were many more touching stories, but Dhaun most deeply touched my heart. It was all so real about how Guruji has transformed so many people.

We returned back to the Ashram from the village and that was followed by a heavy spicy lunch and then the cultural event of kids performing yoga and dances. Then there was some felicitation by various VIPs, including a famous swami. It was an exhausting day, but being around the children and getting to know other fellow yogis, along with Guruji's words of inspiration and thanks, made it all worthwhile. Tomorrow we head to Mysore. I hope to blog from there and I hop to post the pictures from today in my next blog. Its late, I am exhausted and the day starts back again at 6 am.


The yogi

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