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Travels & Other Escapades

Travels & Other Escapades

An Unexpectedly Remarkable Mahashivaratri Experience

March 2, 2022

Off duty priests.

Once I realised that deeper study of yoga needs a closer look at it in its cultural and traditional context, I started to consciously seek out yoga stories and connections in daily life in India.  In retrospect, I’ve been doing this ever since I started researching for my book ‘Beyond Asanas’.  Perhaps if I hadn’t been on this quest, I wouldn’t have had the unexpectedly special Mahashivaratri experience I had this past weekend…

Always Make Time for the Temples…

Sowmya and I reached the Perur Pateeshwara temple at 6 am.  This temple was built in the 2nd century and is one of oldest temples in the state of Tamil Nadu.  We assumed we’d be able to beat the crowds early in the morning, and were surprised at the number of buses on the road.  It finally dawned on us that these were the days leading up to Mahashivaratri and these crowds were probably headed to the Isha Yoga centre.

There is sufficient parking space outside the temple and you can park for Rs. 20/-.  We left our shoes in the car and took a bit of loose change with us for dakshina.

The temple has a huge towering entryway.  Once you enter you’ll see ancient pillars on either side of the hallway, with carvings on them.  These pillars are likely 500-700 years old.

There were many such carved murals of Shaiva siddhas at the Perur Pateeshwara temple. At first glance the large ears made me think about the Bahubali statue in Shravanabelagola, which also has large ears.

 

Shiva depicted during his tandav – the inspiration for this temple.

There is also a small Ganesh shrine in this area called the Patti Vinayagar.  The sanctum sanctorum of this temple contains a Shivalingam which is ‘swayambhu‘, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “self-manifested”, “self-existing”, or “that is created by its own accord”.  The shivalingam here was adorned with a white dhoti and bedecked with shiny stones which might be diamonds.  We did a quick darshan here and were handed the vibhuti.  The interesting thing about most of the temples I’ve visited in South India is that the priest will hand you the vibhuti and you apply it to your forehead yourself.  Perhaps the priests aren’t supposed to touch the temple visitors.

We managed to get a word with the chief priest in the sanctum sanctorum.  He told us about the legend of Kamadhenu grazing in this area and found the swayambhu Shiva.  It was decided by the kings of the time that this area should be made into gowshala.  That’s why the temple is called the Pateeshwara temple – Patee is the Tamil word for gowshala.  Happy that I could communicate with him in English, I asked him about the age of the temple and whether the entire temple complex was built at the same time.  He told us the sanctum sanctorum was oldest part of the temple and various kings had built other parts of the temple through the ages.  He also told us to watch out for the inscriptions on the temple walls – which record the details of the temple’s history.

The detailed inscriptions on the temple walls. These are in old Tamil script.

There are also statues of Shaiva siddhas along the walls made of black stone.  An interesting detail is the row of lingas following the siddhas statues, which ended with a statue of the Jnana Bhairavi.  There is also a shrine to Karthikeyan, the son of Shiva and Parvathi, and god of war.  Kartikeyan, or Murugan, is a popular deity in Tamil literature.

The Hall with the 108 Dance Mudras

Next we entered the hall where it is believed Shiva did his ananda tandav.  We looked for the peepul tree under which he supposedly danced, but were unable to find it.  This part was only about 500-700 years old and has 8 life sized statues of various deities in front of the sanctum sanctorum.  A priest was singing odes to Shiva and a microphone was carrying his soothing voice to all parts of the hall.  The ceiling has amazing painted murals, depicting different stories from Shiva mythology.  There were life-sized statues of Dwarpalakas guarding the sanctum sanctorum.

One of the dwarkapalakas. The pose reminds me of standing Marichiyasana, using his gadhayudha (mace) as a prop.

 

The 108 mudras of the tandav. These were mounted on the walls of the hall.

I’ve always been fascinated by the similarities between Indian classical dance and yogasanas, and spent quite a bit of time observing these postures.

 

A Literary Connection

There is also a shrine dedicated to the divine feminine (devi), called  Pachainayaki.  This is located in a hall with the usual carved pillars and also many paintings of female deities mounted on the walls.  Here the priest anointed us with a red tilak and didn’t seem to have a reticence in touching us.

Possibly the poetess saint Andal.

Once we were done, we decided to take a moment to sit and soak it all in.  We’d been in the temple for 2 hours now, examining the architecture and the finer details and studying the yoga connections.

Yogasanas on the Temple Walls

Not a yogasana, but we found this mural very interesting. The expression on the face reminded us of Santa Claus.

All in all a fortuitous visit, specially with Mahashivaratri just around the corner

Travels & Other Escapades

Beyond the Gomateshwara in Shravanabelagola

February 23, 2022

On the way back from our recent vacation in Coorg, we decided to take the road less travelled.

Our First Stop – The Maṭha Temple at Shravanabelagola

The road was scenic, bucolic and mostly under construction.  We crossed a flower market and picked up some jasmine for our hair.  And finally, looking at the map we decided to take a small detour to Shravanabelagola.  Shravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain pilgrimage sites in the world.  It is marked by the presence of a 58-feet tall statue of Bahubali.  I’ve been to Shravanabelagola before and trekked all the way up to the deity.  This time we were hard pressed for time and couldn’t do that, but there was another delightful surprise in store for us.

The Jain maṭha that maintains the temples in Shravanabelagola (including the Gomateshwara) also has its own temple, which we visited.  I saw some incredible murals on the wall.  I hope the maṭha restores them in the future.  For now, they’ve put up barricades to discourage the poking of curious fingers.

Some of the murals:

National Institute of Prakrit Study and Research (NIPSAR)

It is no coincidence that NIPSAR is in Shravanabelagola and is also a major attraction for Jains and scholars of Jainism.  Most ancient Jain literature is in Prakrit, and this institute was established for the study of Prakrit.  It houses many manuscripts, most of which are more than 500 years old.  I was very interested in seeing these manuscripts as I had only seen pictures of original texts but had never actually seen one in person.

We were well received at the institute by a few of their scholars, who proceeded to give us a tour of the institute and show us the original manuscript of the ‘Gurudev Charite’, which was from the 10th century.  Along with this they showed us the restoration and translation work that is currently underway of the ‘Trishashti Lakshana Mahakatha’ – a collection of talks about the Jain tirthankaras.  The ‘Trishashti Lakshana Mahakatha’ is also known as the Chavundaraya Purana and was written by Chamundaraya.  Chamundaraya was a military commander, a poet, an architect and a statesman, who lived from 940 CE to 989 CE.  He commissioned the building of the statue of Bahubali found in Shravanabelagola.  The Trishashti Lakshana Mahakatha is the second oldest existing work in prose in Kannada.  Chamundaraya meant for this work to be read by the masses and therefore wrote it in Prakrit and ensured it was easy to read by the masses.  It relates the legends of a total of 63 important figures in Jain history.

An original manuscript in Nadugannada or Medieval Kannada.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a card catalogue!!!

Reams and reams of texts – a library such as I have never seen before!

NIPSAR also works on restoration of other artefacts. These are made on parchment made of coconut bark, using natural dyes.

Importance of Sanskrit/Prakrit for Yoga Seekers

Although I’ve always been interested in yoga philosophy and texts, its only recently that I’ve started to contextualise it.  This was partly due to the exposure I got during my master’s at SVYASA (studying the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras in a cultural context).  Hence, my interest in not only yogasana but also in everything (peripheral) about yoga.  I found that the more closely I look at the society and culture surrounding the practice of yoga, the more insight I gain into the subject.

When I started studying Vedanta, I realised that the Sanskrit I learned  at SVYASA came in handy.  Although numerous English translations and interpretations of yogic texts are available, to be able to read the original script forges a connection that is highly empowering.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hold such ancient literature in your hands.  It’s not only what you’re holding, but the fact that this is intimately connected to something you’ve been immersed in for a decade.  Which was another reason why I was so keen to visit NIPSAR.

So do you need to learn Sanskrit/Prakrit if you’re interested in yoga?  In my opinion no, but if you do then you’ll be privy to a whole new dimension of the subject.

What a beauty.

Travels & Other Escapades

Onwards to New Adventures

January 22, 2022

I grew up on a steady stream of Nancy Drews. I was an obsessed reader – steadily going through the entire collection in my school library. And then moving on to the local library. I would sometimes read an entire novel in a single day! I wanted to be a detective when I grew up, complete with the red hair and the red convertible. I didn’t become a detective and my hair has never been red (although it’s been a lovely shade of fuchsia). Perhaps the closest I’ve come to being like my childhood idol is my red car (although I’ve never had a convertible).

I bought my first car after a brief stint in the UK with Infosys. I was feeling very much like a woman of the world and pictured myself in my own car, cruising across the city doing very important things. I wanted something with character and an old world charm and I looked everywhere for a red Maruti 800, and found to my disappointment that they were no longer in production. So I bought the car closest to the red 800, a firebrick red Alto LXI. My Alto added a zing to an otherwise dull corporate life – my friends and I rode to work in style, not having to worry about catching the company bus on time. We no longer depended on Meru cabs to ferry us to social commitments, we had the trusted Alto. The Alto saw me driving to job interviews and eventually to a new workplace. It saw me quitting my job to follow my passion – and it metaphorically drove me to it.

I recently watched a poignant episode of ‘Modern Love’ centred around a car, and when I recently sold my Alto, I realised that our vehicles give us freedom and independence. They teach us responsibility and confidence. From tentative trips to the grocery store (always nervous about the parking), to negotiating the hairpin bends en route Coonoor. From driving myself to yoga classes, to driving across the city for teaching gigs. My Alto took me to Vipassana twice, parked in the dusty parking lot for all 10 days, both times. In 2011, I took it to SVYASA to complete my month long YIC, and in 2019, I drove it back to SVYASA to register for the MSc.

I’d started using it a lot less recently because of the lockdown. The radio didn’t work as well anymore, and the tyres have been changed several times. Yet it still that feel of a giant blazing fireplace on a cold winter’s day. We drove the Alto to Coles Road to register our wedding – it was small enough to fit into tiny parking spaces on teeming Indian roads.

Life has changed a bit now. I no longer have to drive everywhere to attend or take class. I ended up marrying a very tall man who ends up using the car more than me – and a tiny Alto is too small for him. I reluctantly decided to change my car and get a larger one, and ironically, this car also happens to be red. I guess subconsciously I’m still Nancy Drew. And just like Nancy Drew, I’m excited about future adventures in this spanking new red car.

Lakshmi and I bringing the Alto back to Pride Apartments.

Animesh and I very happy with our purchase.

Oct 24, 2010

Jan 21, 2022

Onwards to new adventures.

Travels & Other Escapades

Some Unsolicited Business Advice – Dharamshala Day 3

October 21, 2021

“Chai lenge aap?” Govind asked me as I browsed through the clothing racks.
“No,” I politely declined.
“Matlab aap jaisi chai bhi mil jayegi,” he said. When I looked askance, he quickly went on. “Mera matlab vegan walli chai bhi mil jayegi.”
“Ok,” I agreed. “Par bina cheeni ke.”

I was on the lookout for some gifts and someone had recommended this wonderful shop in Dharamkot. I proceeded to pick out a few shawls, pyjamas, a bag and even a pair of shorts for yoga practice!

Selection done, Govind put out a small stool for me inside the shop. I surveyed his shop through the steam of my soy milk chai. His shop doubled as his workshop, with two industrial sized sewing machines. “I’m working on money belts these days,” he told me, indicating to the belt bags hanging outside the shop. “There’s been a demand for these.”

I looked appreciatively from the sports bras, to the wrap around skirts to the coats in his shop and asked him if he made all these things. He nodded.

He told me how he was originally from Pushkar and had led a nomadic existence for the last several years. “I was also in Hampi,” he said. “Then one day they decided to break down everything, from the stores to the houses and we had to leave. But otherwise the market there was good, and the winters even better.” During the course of our conversation I found out he had set up shop in Manali and Goa as well. The scorching summers in Goa had driven him up the hill to Dharamkot. Surprisingly, most people I’ve met in this small hamlet of Dharamkot are outsiders, making this a potpourri of interesting individuals, and adding to its quaintness.

“What business do you do?” he asked me.

“I teach yoga.” I told him.

“You should move here. You’ll make a lot of money,” he said, echoing the business advice most yoga teachers are privy to.

“Hmmm,” I said as I walked away with large-ish shopping bag. Non-committal in the face of unsolicited advice about my “business”.

The beautiful Norbulinka monastery against the Dhauladhar range.
Travels & Other Escapades

Norbulingka – Preserving Culture

October 20, 2021

Some Excitement in the Hills

The hills were abuzz today with excitement for the Hunter Moon. When planning a vacation we spend time and energy on where to stay and what to do. But the ingredient that truly makes or breaks a vacation is not really in your control – and that is the people you will interact with. The people you meet will tell you about the best masala chai in town, or where to go for the best pottery class, or like in our case tonight, tell you about why tonight’s full moon is so special. Tonight Medha and I found ourselves back in Morgan’s Cafe waiting for the moon to rise again. Our new friend, Mr Pankaj (he of the adventurous car rallies and interesting travel anecdotes) told us about the significance of the Hunter Moon. It is named after the time of year when animals fatten up in preparation for the colder months ahead.  This is when hunting season is underway for hunters to stock up on meat for the winter. As we listened to Lucky Ali wafting through the chilly night air, I made a time lapse video of the beautiful moon rise. It’s so beautiful that we might return night after night to witness it.

Norbulingka – How to Preserve a Culture

Can a culture exist out of its homeland?  How and for how long?  The Norbulingka monastery is an answer to these questions.

I first read about the crisis in Tibet while in school in Bangladesh.  One of my friends had just finished reading ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ and recommended the book to me.  I went on to watch the movie, and loved it too.  I then went on to read ‘My Land and My People‘ by HH the Dalai Lama.  Since then I’ve looked forward to visiting the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile, which is in Dharamshala.

A Historical Detour

Prior to 1951 Tibet was an independent and autonomous country.  This changed in 1949 when Mao Zedong, the Chinese president decided it assert that China had authority over Tibet.  In 1950 Zedong decided he wanted to ‘liberate’ Tibet and integrate it into China.  This was done by ‘encouraging’ the Tibetans to adopt the Chinese language and customs.  After much conflict a ‘Seventeen Point Agreement’ was signed which did guarantee Tibet a measure of autonomy and respect for the Buddhist religion, but also allowed China to establish a civil base in Lhasa.  Clearly this agreement wasn’t very agreeable because in 1959 the Dalai Lama, fearing for his life, fled to India.  India provided him and other Tibetan refugees a safe place in which to practice their culture and religion in peace.

The Norbulingka Insitute is the heart of Tibetan culture here in India.  It endeavours to keep alive the centuries old Tibetan culture by running classes and apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms.  Visitors are allowed to walk around Norbulingka watching artists and craftsmen at work. 

Our day at the Norbulinka monastery and it is incredible. It’s not only a monastery, but a shrine to Tibetan culture. As we walked around the place and observed the Thangka painting and wood carving classes, I felt an overpowering sense of gratitude for goodness and compassion of human beings. Governments in exile are undoubtedly about politics, but they are also about culture and heritage. To provide a safe and welcoming space for another culture and to support the preservation of that culture is humanity at it’s finest.  We take back recipes for authentic Thupkas and rose quartz crystals for our wrists, but the biggest souvenir is the connection with our fellow men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travels & Other Escapades

Dharamkot Diaries – Day 1

October 19, 2021

Getting to Dharamkot is a bit of a journey. There are no direct flights so Medha and I took a late night flight from Bangalore with a long layover in Delhi T3. Thankfully we found a place serving AirrToast and then promptly fell asleep at 2 am. We woke up 4 hours later and boarded the flight to Gaggal Airport, Kangra. It was my first time on a propeller plane and both of us got amazing window seats. Dharamkot is about an hour from Gaggal and we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up.

Today was about walking around looking for a big breakfast and piping hot coffee at the Alt Life Cafe. Then gazing out at the wonderful Himalayas from our room, and catching up on life, outside the mundanity of our actual everyday lives.

Many years ago, on a workation here, Animesh had spent a wonderful evening at the Morgan’s Cafe. In the evening today, we sat there watching the clouds descend to kiss the verdant hills. As the soft rock wafted from the ancient radio into the nippy night air, we discussed journeys and paths, and the confluence of the two.

As I write this, Medha is on a call with her folks back in Bangalore and I’m gazing up at the lone star in the clear skies of Dharamkot. Thinking of the necessity to escape, even if only for a few days…

Clouds descend to kiss the hills.

 

 

View from our guest house.

 

 

Breakfast with a view.

 

Travels & Other Escapades

Assembling a Chair – A Yoga Blog

June 15, 2021

A Gift is Always Welcome

It’s always great to receive presents. My husband gave me a desk a couple of months ago to put at this beautiful window we have in our bedroom. As I type this out I can hear the birds chirping. At least one of the birds is a nightingale! Outside the window are trees of various kinds.

What I was missing though was a comfortable chair to go along with the desk. For months I’ve been using an Iyengar Chair, so when my friend Medha said she wanted to give me a chair I gladly accepted.

Yoga & Chair Assembly

The chair is an Astrix gaming chair and super comfortable. While my husband assembled the chair I couldn’t help but notice that humans have an unconscious tendency to sit in postures resembling yogasasanas. I was inspired now just like I was with my Freddy Mercury blog and promptly started taking photos.

This is how the chair came to us. We took an inventory of the screws and other bits that

He started with assembling the wheels:

Reminds me a bit of Baddhakonasana.

Carefully reading the manual to make sure we don’t make any mistakes:

Sort of like Janu Sirsasana.

The backrest is comfortable and sturdy.

Marichyasana.

Making sure we don’t miss a screw.

Bhardwajasana.

Putting the armrests together.

Ardhauttanasana.

Ensuring the wheels fit.

Malasana.

Always happy about building things. 🙂

Sukhasana.

What do you think? Do you also find yourself seeing what you love everywhere?

Travels & Other Escapades

39th Birthday Musings

March 1, 2021

Happy girls are the prettiest.

Bangalore has certainly been unusually cold these days and my days have been super hectic.  So hectic in fact, that I didn’t even consider taking a day off for my birthday.  But egged on by Medha and enticed by vegan pizza, I made my way to a cute bistro in Indiranagar for a huge meal and hearty laughter.

As we tucked into some fresh, delicious pizza we discussed my upcoming nuptials.  I thought with a certain irony about how last year this time I was thinking about a retreat in Rishikesh and this year I’m headed to the same region but for a different kind of life altering  experience.

Last year was a test.  It tested the range of our creativity, resilience, compassion, strength, our reason, commitment, persistence, our unity, cooperation, our fears and also our ability to wait and watch.  For me it was a time to let my practice guide me.  How could I make teaching fun for me and for my students?  How was it possible to stay dedicated and fresh to the practice day in and day out without burning out.  Housekeeping chores are my least favorite and I started to look at cooking as a pause in the day and it helped break the overwhelm that infused those days.

Mask it up!

This year is off to an auspicious start.  New ideas and a new house to work on them.  New spouse and new adventures to go on.  A new outlook and loads of optimism to go along with it.

Below is a video I made to commemorate my 39th birthday.  It’s a demo of the first 39 asanas from Light on Yoga.

 

Travels & Other Escapades

Teacher in Focus: Medha Bhaskar

April 9, 2020

Back bending goals.

I started my Master’s in Yoga Therapy last year.  I didn’t know anyone else in the program and found the whole thing quite overwhelming.  There were huge crowds in the admissions office, we waited for an incredibly long time for hostel rooms to be allotted.  Our days were long and full of numerous classes and the resulting information overload.  Certain subjects had me needing a dose of strong coffee, and I soon found a friend for that in Medha.  Her knowledge of the subject, curiosity about it and her frank and open nature drew me in.  Later we were even selected and inducted into the same Vedanta class and I started to feel that maybe, just maybe, this Master’s program wouldn’t be too difficult.  Since then Medha and I have talked, collaborated, practiced and philosophized at length.

Our latest collaboration was a beautiful video to explain the yoga for immunity series designed by RIMYI.  Here’s the video:

 

Medha is one of the founder teacher at Amrutha Bindu Yoga, one of the most popular yoga studios here in Bangalore. Fascinated by the mind-body connection in traditional movement arts, Medha bring compassion and warmth to every class.  Check out her online training schedule and join a class!

Need to try this sometime!

 

 

 

 

Travels & Other Escapades

2019 : The End of a Decade

December 28, 2019

The last blog for the decade can’t be anything but a collection of highlights of the year gone by…

January 2019 started with me defining my theme for the year.  Month after month I strove to stick to it.  I reminded myself of it in gratitude journals and monthly reviews.  When asked about my word for the year in a bloggers’ group I’m a member of, I realized that mine would have to be perseverance.

February saw me travelling for the first time to Sri Lanka, to teach internationally.  I was excited to be teaching in Tangalle, a beautiful and calm little beach town.  We had a blast and on the way back I wrote a poem through which I tried to capture my thoughts and feelings.

March was a month of planning and preparing for a possible retreat in Italy.  TBH, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off, but I told myself that I’d already taught in Sri Lanka to positive reviews and with the right attitude, this would also materialize.  It was a charmed time, teaching alongside Suzanne, sharing food and stories, long walks through olive gardens and along the Mediterranean.  I can’t believe it’s happening again in 2020, and this time we promise it’s going to bigger and better.

In April I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and wrote possibly the most fun blog ever (going by the views and comments).  What else do you expect from a yogini?  Read the blog now, I promise you’ll love it.

In May I did a little bit of humorous soul searching, trying to gain clarity on who I am and what I want.  It will resonate with all those of us who have ever used #myfitnessjourney.

June was D-month.  The month of the long-awaited yoga retreat in Liguria.  We had advertised and planned.  Discussed and thought.  It comprised getting documentation work ready for my sister, my cousin, my boyfriend and myself to head to Italy on a 15 DAY sojourn.  None of us had done anything this exciting ever in our lives and we were stoked to say the least.  We booked tickets and accommodation.  I planned my classes.  And we were finally on our way.  Read more of our adventures here.

By July I was a published author.  My book, Beyond Asanas, was in bookstores and I did my share of promotional activities for it.  My friends, family and students clicked pictures of my book wherever they saw it.  Being a published author which was a life-long dream and in August I was forced to think about reading and writing.

In September I was in Pune for my month at RIMYI (which is fast becoming an annual tradition).  I also attended my first Lit Fest as a writer and that memory will always be special.  A chance question at my session became one of the most viewed blogs of the year.  It’s called “Why Am I Not Losing Weight?” and you can read it here.

October saw me back in Bangalore to resume classes.  And a pleasant surprise came to me as if by Providence herself!   An old friend living in Tokyo, googles for yoga teachers and comes upon me.  And just a few weeks later we have a reunion after 10 whole years.  A decade changes us in more ways than we can define.  And good friendships – they remind you of why you were friends in the first place..

In November I was compelled to take a walk down memory lane and into my closet!  It was also the month where I received a sweet note from the PMO.

December was a month of national turbulence.  My mind was also restless which is why my Christmas post wasn’t all eggnog and reindeers like I had hoped it would be.  I wrote a hard-hitting poem about another event that shook the country, and for the first time performed it on stage too!

It’s almost the end of December, and with it the end of the decade.  I’ve been thinking of my word/theme for 2020.  I’ve been extremely fidgety in the last few months.  The main question plaguing my waking moments is ‘What next?’  I realize I want to move on to doing projects that have a greater impact.  I want to use everything I’ve learned and experienced this far to do something more meaningful in the coming months.  I want to do better projects, push the envelope in terms of what I have to offer.  Therefore my theme/word for 2020 came to be quite organically.  And my word is : fruition.

I wish you all dear readers a very happy new year and promise that in 2020 this blog will be have you more engaged, informed and inspired.  So stay with me and stay safe!

 

In March I was extremely honored to receive the ‘Woman Achiever Award’ in the field of yoga by the prestigious Karnataka Association for Small Scale Industries (KASSIA). The night was magical and truly special.

 

‘Beyond Asanas’ was adjudged best book under the ‘Health and Fitness’ Category at the Gurgaon Lit Festival in November. This was my first award as a writer and I was thrilled to bits.