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kalaripayattu

Travels & Other Escapades

Auroville: Off the Beaten Track

July 17, 2022

After our trip to the Koti Lingeshwara temple, a bunch of us were itching to go exploring again.  We decided to go to Auroville, as  Pondicherry is (frankly) too commercial, and Auroville is still largely unexplored.  And when you’re traveling with a fashion designer, a yoga teacher, a biker and a couple of spirit junkies you’re sure to have an interesting time.

Kalarigram

Kalarigram is perhaps the best kept secret of Auroville.  Established in 2010, it is a centre for imparting traditional Kalaripayattu training.  Kalari = space for training; payattu = practice.  It’s a martial art that originated in Kerala and is over 3000 years old.  Like yoga, Kalari is taught in the guru-shishya parampara and also draws heavily from rituals and myths found in Hinduism.  Along with movement, kalari artists also learn Ayurvedic methods of healing the body.  What drew me to kalaripayattu was the similarity with yogasana.  I enjoy the dynamic movements that seem to tell a story in motion.  Kalarigram conducts regular online and offline kalari classes, and also offers Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation classes and workshops.

Beaming after an invigorating kalari session.

The institute allows people to come and watch the classes.  A class was already in session when we arrived, and we sat watching the expert students practicing in synchrony on the damp red earth.  Once the class was over, we also joined them.  It was a treat for me to practice in the traditional style; and for the rest of us, it was the best possible intro to kalari.

 

Very happy for the experience and looking forward to going back.

Mason & Co.

Mason & Co. is a chocolate brand founded by two chocolate lovers settled in Auroville.  They work directly with framers in South India to source and harvest the best quality cacao.  Their focus is on education and giving back to society, and they employ an all-women team to handcraft their delicious products.  I discovered this brand on my first trip to Auroville a couple of years ago.  Since then they’ve expanded their range of chocolates to include several unique flavors.  You can also find this brand on Amazon and Flipkart, and I highly recommended it!

Reflexology

On the way back from Kalarigram, Sowmya took us to visit a talented sidhar she had met on her previous visit.  He practices in a small tin hut next to a nondescript road in Auroville.  All of us were interested in his therapy and we arranged for him to visit our guest house.  He uses reflexology as a diagnostic tool, and then prescribes traditional herbal medicine accordingly.

Tools used to activate various points on the foot..  This reflexology massage can be excruciatingly painful, and he uses several wooden tools and oils.

Intrigued by his methodology, I asked him to tell us a little more about his healing practice.  That’s when he told us that this therapy was part of Siddha therapy.  I had studied about Siddha medicine during my Master’s, and was quite excited to meet a true-blue Siddhar in the flesh.

The Siddha system is an ancient system of healing that originated in Tamil Nadu.  It was outlawed by the Indian government for some time, but gained legitimacy again under AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy) – an initiative to optimally develop and propagate ancient system of Indian medicine.  Siddha healers believe that disease is caused by an imbalance in the three humours of the body – and a combination of diet, lifestyle, herbs and massage can bring equilibrium back into the body.  I would be remiss if i didn’t mention that he actually diagnosed each of the five of us accurately, which only strengthened our belief in his abilities.

He later gave me his business card!  His name is Senthil, and he speaks very limited English.  If you’re interested in alternative medicine, or would like to experience his massage and healing skills you can contact him on 8526399894.

Painful – but I got it done twice!

The Bookshop & Paper Making Factory at the Aurobindo Ashram

During my last visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, I breezed through the entire place, eager to get to the paper making factory down the corner.  This time however, I wanted to take a closer look at the publications.  On my recent Sringeri trip I’d had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a Kannada translator closely associated with the publishing wing of the ashram.  To my delight, there were several books on yoga and physical culture which piqued my interest.

The Paper Making Factory is closed on account of Covid, but the gift shop was open and I picked up several bookmarks, notebooks and even a visiting card holder!

 

Blessings from Lakshmi the Temple Elephant

While walking through the French Colony in Pondicherry, we were lucky to cross the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple when Lakshmi, the temple elephant, was on her evening walk.  The Vinayagar Temple is a Ganesha temple and there are several stories about its legend and power.  Getting blessed by Lakshmi is considered super auspicious – it is believed that her blessings will grant you your innermost wishes and remove any obstacles on your path.

In the lanes of the French Colony, happy after receiving all the blessings possible from Lakshmi.

 

After this trip I realise that the best trips are with the most unlikely people.  After all – Sowmya took us to Senthil and Lakshmi and Priti took us to the Hidesign outlet.  It was Ritu who would calm us down when we were cranky and hungry and Animesh who suggested relaxing at the rooftop restaurant (Bay of Buddha) post a sunset walk on the Promenade.  After all, don’t even the mundane places and experiences become special when you’re in the company of someone special?

Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy

On Guru Purnima

July 13, 2022

To commemorate Guru Purnima, we had a special Vedanta lecture this morning, focused on the meaning and significance of the day for seekers. Subhadra ma’am started with defining the word guru: remover of the darkness of ignorance. Vedanta is the study of the Self, and the Guru is someone who reveals the glory and magnificence of our Self to us. On Guru Purnima we invoke the essence of the guru parampara. We appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those who have walked this path before us and made it smooth and easy for us.

Subhadra ma’am then delved into the reasons why we study Vedanta. She explained that the study of Vedanta results in self transformation. Through our study, contemplation and understanding, we hope to remove the obstacles that stand between us and this transformation. These obstacles are both emotional and intellectual. She reminded us that as students we must remember that removing these obstacles is a gradual effort that requires constant sadhana and dedication. It is a time consuming process, and transformation doesn’t happen over night or even in the course of a few weeks. This process is also known as the atma katha – the story/journey of our innermost self.

With Shriram, learning kalaripayattu and Acro yoga.

Next ma’am spoke about the greatness of the Guru. The Guru is great is because he has been blessed by the shastras. A Guru’s greatness can be conditional but the shastra’s greatness is ever existent, unconditional; it is this unconditional greatness that is transferred from guru to shishya. The Guru can be likened to a celebrity promoting Brahma vidya/sukha vidya/atma vidya/ananda vidya. Which is why the teachings are always in the form of a dialogue – the seeker has questions and is given answers. In the Bhagawad Gita (the second Vedanta text we’re studying), Arjuna frequently repeats his questions, and the Lord answers him patiently. This is symbolic of how, as seekers, we might not understand an idea or a concept at the first go, but Vedanta is patient and will support our endeavours.

To commemorate Guru Purnima, we worship and pay homage to the entire guru parampara – the parampara commencing directly from Lord Narayana, Lord Dakshinamurthy and the Adigurus, so that we can learn from the shastras. We look at ourselves in the mirror of the scriptures and see the beauty that lies there. We salute the entire lineage we’ve become a part of.

Thankful to my dance guru, Honey Unnikrishnan, for teaching me more than just dance, and being there to answer all my questions with honesty, openness and humbleness.

The guru-shishya parampara pervades all Indian art forms, perhaps because art is a discovery and exploration of Self. My dance teacher, Honey Unnikrishnan took some time out today to discuss the guru shlokas we recite in the beginning of class. The Guru is someone who holds your hand (metaphorically) and leads you to the light, never letting go of your hand on this journey. So the Guru is God in disguise and we must appreciate that. Guru is equal to God, if not above Him. Both my Vedanta and Mohiniyattam teachers emphasised transformation and change and stressed the importance of saluting not only your direct guru but the entire parampara

As I listened to these talks by two of my gurus, I thought about my own transformation. About how this past weekend in Auroville, I easily prostrated myself in front of Ramesan Lakshman, the guru at Kalarigram. A decade ago I believed the practice of touching anyone’s feet was regressive, a tribute to chauvinism, a ritual that had no place in this century. But over the years I’ve searched for and found wisdom, guidance, support and (dare I say?) enlightenment from gurus of classical dance, literature, kalari and yoga. And when I bow down before a guru today, I do so with a comforting sense of surrender and trust in this age old pramapara.

To meet a student where they are is a characteristic of a good teacher. I’ve attend classes with numerous teachers and have been lucky to gain insight and inspiration from the best. @Kalarigram