Monday, December 24, 2012

Guruji BKS Iyengar's 94th Birthday Celebrations

Guruji and the Legendary Yogacharya BKS Iyengar turned 95 on the 14th of December 2012. But Guruji’s birthday was grandly celebrated on the 27th of November 2012 according to Indian Calendar. Guruji’s family wanted to celebrate the occasion in a traditional way at his Birth place of Bellur on a Grand scale. Week long celebrations were planned as a part of the program. Many cultural activities were planned for the celebrations from 21st to 28th of November 2012. Therefore invitations were sent to the entire Iyengar Yoga Community across the Globe.

Our journey to Bellur amidst uncertainity:

The news of Guruji’s 94th birthday celebration was in air long time back when we visited Bellur for a 5 day workshop in the month of February 2011. But there was no official confirmation of the same till the mid October 2012. Probably due to certain difficulties in the organization of the event some delay occurred in conveying the invitation to all. Since many Iyengar yogis across the World were expected to arrive; it is understandable that arranging their accommodations and transportation to Bellur village was a challenging task. Probably they wanted to make sure all the arrangements are well organized before inviting the visitors. 

Our teacher Smt. Zarna Mohan happened to visit Guruji at Pune during the last week of September 2012. She informed us about the event after getting back home. But she was not sure about the accommodation facilities out there. According to some unconfirmed sources it was learned that they were arranging to accommodate the visitors in the nearby resorts and three star hotels at Bangalore which would  cost around Rs. 19,000 per day/per head which is quite expensive according to Indian standards. Since the event was scheduled to run for the entire week it was quite an issue for many Indian students and yogis practicing Iyengar yoga.

Since I had already been to Bellur I was familiar with the conditions out there in the village. I was very keen and desperate to visit Bellur for the event.  So I discussed the issue with two of my friends Mohit and Sridhar. It was obviously unaffordable expenditure for three of us but we were desperate to visit Bellur no matter what comes. We therefore decided to stay in Bellore for the final three days of the event scheduled from 26th to 28th of November 2012 and the booked the tickets for three of us. Later I called up my teacher Zarna madam and booked her tickets as well along with another student Sireesha.

So five of us were decided to go. Ten days before the event I got a pleasing news from Rajviji in reply to my inquiry made long time back about the event. She sent me the whole list of accommodation packages in 3 star hotels as well as economic dormitories. The economic dormitories were quite affordable at Rs. 1,000 per head per day with a message that food is provided to all the visitors as a part of the events. I informed Zarna madam about the email over phone. She also received a copy of the email on the same day. Therefore she announced it to all the students in the class that evening. But it was too late to make the train reservations. Any how three more students Sweta, Raghavendra and Suresh from our Hyderabad batch joined the party. Amidst all the uncertainties we reached Bellur to celebrate the birth day of our Grand Father Guruji BKS Iyengar. Our teacher once told us that Guruji used to say that ‘you are my children, you may be teaching tomorrow and your children are my grand children and theirs are my great grand children and so on.’ My blessings are always with all who practice yoga. Guruji truly graced us all in a grand style.

Guruji’s Birth Celebrations:

The day for us began in a very gracious way with the blessings of Guruji, Lord Rama and Patanjali. We reached BKSSNT - Bellur Krishnamachar Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust at around 10 AM on 26th of November 2012. We went to the newly constructed guest house to meet Guruji. Guruji walked out with a thunderous smile on his face. We bowed before Guruji and took his blessings and he then asked us to quickly visit the newly consecrated Ramalaya Temple in the village of Bellur because the temple remains closed in the afternoon.

On reaching the village we found the temple was rebuilt and decorated with garlands of different flowers and mango leaves. Offered our prayers to Lord Rama and visited nearby Patanjali temple to seek his blessings. After offering our prayers we sat in the premises and recited Patanjali invocation and Arti joined by few other Iyengar Yogis from India and abroad. Ms. Shaili Shafai an Iyengar Yoga teacher from Tehran really surprised one and all by singing the invocation and arti with such a perfect tune, diction and rendition. 

 A rare and delightgul sight:

We later drove our way back to BKSSNT where Guruji was about to participate in a Yagna (a ritual of sacrifice to fire lord). Arrangements were made to perform the yagna in a big hall where hundreds of Iyengar yogis and people from the village of Bellur have already gathered. All eyes turned to the entrance as Guruji arrived in his usual white clad dhoti and kurta accompanied by son Prashantji and grand daughter Abhijata. Later Guruji was joined by all the his daughters, grand daughters and grandsons including other relatives. We missed Geetaji in the event due to her ill health but honestly we felt her at heart. It was a life time opportunity  for me and probably most of the Iyengar yogis present there to get an opportunity to stay with Guruji and his family for two whole days participating in the event as a part of his family.

For two days I had been continuously taking the photographs of Guruji and filming him participating in the rituals. Believe me, I along with my friend Mohit shot over 1000 photographs and videos of Guruji. Guruji is a superstar in himself. He is so gracious and photogenic that every photographer who worked with him might have definitely enjoyed. You can watch Guruji in action during his 94th Birthday celebrations in the videos linked below.

I was moving all around the place to capture Guruji from every possible angle that was available to me. My focus on Guruji was so intense that I could witness his and Prashantji’s face even in my sleep at night. I could clearly witness the projector of my subconscious mind was playing on the images of Guruji and Prashantji until I become unconscious in sleep. It happened to me on both the nights I stayed there. 

Me and two of my friends Mohit and Sridhar really enjoyed the event as we were participating in the event with a great zeal to capture Guruji. It was like a complete family affair for all the Iyengar yogis. We felt as if we were a part of the Iyengar family and off course we are!

Cherishable moment with Guruji:

On 28th of November 2012 we were told that Sita Rama Kalyanam – the marriage ceremony of Lord Rama and Sita is going to take place in the presence of Guruji around 9 AM at the Ramalaya Temple. We reached Guruji’s guest house at around 8 AM. Guruji was enjoying his aloneness in the courtyard of his guest house. We then walked in and sat along with Guruji for 20 minutes. I always saw Guruji speaking on public gatherings, TV, Videos etc. But this was a special and cherishable moment for me as I got a chance to sit before Guruji for about 20 minutes and listen to him in person. It was a great feeling Guruji talking to us and sharing his experiences. It was a heartening sight to see Guruji teasing our teacher Zarna madam and Firozaji, madam’s friend and Iyengar yoga teacher from Mumbai by saying that these people are visiting Bellore even in the absence of their teacher (Guruji) and big laughs. He gone on to say that his grand daughter Abhijata happened to meet Buddhist Monk Dalai Lama at Bangalore air port. Dalai Lama arrived to participate in a program scheduled at Hampi in Karnataka. When Abhijata approached him and introduced herself as the grand daughter of yogacharya BKS Iyengar, Dalai Lama couldn’t recognize her. Later when she reminded that Guruji and himself had given a famous interview together to a media channel in the past, he immediately recognized and said, “Oh! That Big Yoga man!” I am sorry, come …come… and received Abhi. Guruji then shared with us the experiences of that interview with Dalai Lama and the event that was held on the previous day.

He later asked us to visit Ramalaya Temple as the ritual of Sita Rama Kalyanam was about to begin in a short while. Then people started to move out taking his blessings. Guruji  pleasingly received one and all. After bowing my head I stood upon my knees and looked at Guruji and said, Guruji we were touched by all your grace and the blessings. I felt like I was participating in my own grand father’s birth day celebrations. Guruji leaned back on the sofa with a big laughter and we walked out after having a great picture with Guruji.

Our Association with Iyengar yoga teachers and other friends:

In Bangalore, we met an interesting person Mr. Machendra Dound, who is an Iyengar yoga teacher from Mumbai and the Student of a very senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher Jawaharji. He shared a room with us at Kamat Restaurant. We had great time together with Machendraji. Early morning we used to have short sessions of yoga where he used to give valuable instructions and tips. I am still implementing his tips and they are really working in correcting some of my postures. Apart from Machhendraji, another interesting person Swamy Rudradev, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from Rishikesh also happened to share a room with us. He also provided some very valuable lessons in yoga.

In the Ramalaya Temple of Bellur, we came across a few very good teachers of Yoga. First was Rita, the wife of Manouso Manos from Sanfransisco. We then met Shaili Shafai, an Iyengar yoga teacher from Tehran in the adjacent Patanjali Temple. It was really good talking to her. She was seen very keen in Indian culture, traditions and people. It is really heartening to know people practicing yoga in Tehran and she is doing a great job in promoting Yoga in Tehran. We then met some other very interesting people in the form of Louis, an Iyengar yoga teacher from Macau, China, Inger, an Iyengar yoga teacher from Germany, Hermann Traitteur, a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher from Berlin, Germany and Dominick, a photographer cum Iyengar yogi from Germany too. Louis seem to be a very hardworking and multi talented person who is working hard to promote yoga in China.  Inger had come to Bellur with her child Kiran who had great fun with one and all. She was very keen and interested in the rituals that were taking place. Dominick is a very friendly, joyful and fun loving  guy. He helped us in filming some of the shots by lending his tripod. At Ramalaya temple we happened to meet Gabriella a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from Italy. She is so cool. We told her that we practice from her videos and she obliged us with a wonderful smile and a photograph to end. 

Highlights of the Event:
1.  Guruji – the ocean of Iyengar yoga was present at Bellur celebrating his 94th birthday and many rivers, canals and tributaries of Iyengar yoga – the senior Iyengar yoga teachers who studied directly under Guruji, junior Iyengar yoga teachers and many other students across the World were present on the occasion to wish Guruji.

2. We had a great time in Bellur meeting some of the senior Iyengar yoga teachers like Jawaharji and Birjuji, Rajviji and Firoozaji from Mumbai, Swami Rudradev from Rishikesh, Ms. Rita the wife of Manouso Manos from Sansfransisco, Ms. Gabriella from Italy, Ms. Louis from Macau, China and some other iyengar yoga teachers like Machhendraji from Mumbai, Ms Kalpa from Mumbai again,Ms Shaili from Tehran, Ms Inger and Hermann Traitteur from Germany and many other Iyengar yoga students and practioners like Rachanaji and Anitaji from Mumbai, Katie from Sydney, Australia, Affy from Sanfransisco, Mr. Dominik – an Iyengar yogi and a photographer from Germany and a group of other warm hearted Iyengar yoga students from Malleshwaram, Bangalore.

3.  It was all like a family affair of Iyengar yogis. We had a great time with Jawaharji. One of my friend Mohit is an old time student of Jawaharji when he was in Mumbai. He was little nervous to approach him initially. We followed him and introduced ourselves with Jawaharji. He is such a modest and warm person that we really loved his company. He talked to us as if he knew us for a long time. He gone on to talk and we were listening quitely. He shared some of his views on Yoga, Guruji and various aspects of life.

4. The most memorable moment for me was to dine with Guruji. We were really excited to see Guruji sitting alongside us to have his lunch. I asked Mohit to shoot a video of this. He was really nervous to shoot.  I grabed the camera from his hands and started taking the video of Guruji. The moment I turned the camera on Guruji, he looked at me. That eye contact created tremours in my nervous system and I could immediately sense the imbalance of my breath. For a moment I thought he is going to say something. Thankfully he obliged me. The next after noon during lunch Guruji appeared to be in a good mood. I realized Guruji is little relaxed this time. I wasn’t nervous even though Guruji looked at me. His eyes were looking very graceful. I had a better shot of Guruji this time. I sensed Guruji was in even a better mood when we met him early in the morning at his residence and I requested my teacher Zarna madam to ask for a group photograph and Guruji obliged us happily saying, you are welcome! After giving a great picture, Guruji walked in.

5. The most fascinating thing about Guruji is his sensitivity. He is so sensitive that he catches the waves of your mind. Though he looked busy in participating the rituals I realized that he was aware of everything that was happening around. Let me share you a very interesting incident that happened to me. Guruji was sitting on his chair enjoying the mantras that were chanted by the priests. I realised that he placed his feet very interestingly on the floor. The right leg was crossed over the left with his heel on the floor and the toes lifted up as if he was blessing with his feet. The moment I got a thought to capture his feet and lifted my camera he dragged his feet in immediately. The reaction was so spontaneous as if he read my mind from yards. I was really surprised to see that. I heard about his sensitivity from my teacher and others but it was a treat to experience.

6. It was an unbelieveable sight to see Guruji actively participating in the long rituals throughout the day for two consequetive days. Dawn to dusk Guruji was engaged in meeting and addressing people, participating in the rituals etc.  At times I felt these priests are unnecessarily dragging the rituals for such a long time and torturing Guruji. Some times I felt Guruji was really exhausted and he needed some break. 

7. It was heartening to see the entire family of Guruji at one place alongside Guruji participating in the rituals and we were sitting just behind Guruji feeling his presence, moving all around the hall taking pictures of Guruji and and others.

8. I always had a keen interest on Prashantji ever since I knew about Guruji and his family. He is such a down to earth, modest and publicity shy yogi I have ever seen. I sometimes wonder how he would have moulded himself under the big shadows of Guruji. I have never seen him much on any sort of Media practicing or teaching yoga. I knew him only through some of his books and audio Cd’s that are available in Pune institute. Thanks to Guruji I got an opportunity to see Prashantji in action for such a long time. Finally he was caught in my camera. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen him smiling or laughing. Fortunately he graced me with his charming smile on several ocassions particularly on the bathing ritual. He and Guruji both were caught in my camera enjoying like kids. 
9. On the eve of Guruji’s 94th birthday on 27th of November 2012 a grand function was held. A Pre University College established by Guruji for the students of Bellore was inaugurated by the Governor of Karnataka Mr. Bharadwaj. Mr. Rajiv Bajaj, the chairman of Bajaj Auto, Mr. Shivajirao Kadam, the educational minister from Pune, the chief justice of Karnataka high court and many other dignitaries were present on the occasion.

10. Speaking on the Occasion Mr. Rajiv Bajaj thanked Guruji for providing an opportunity to do something to Bellore by contributing in the establishment of this college. He had a very short  and sweet speech you can watch on the video uploaded above.

11. Speaking on the occasion Guruji thanked all the dignitaries and Mr. Rajiv Bajaj in particular for his contribution in establishing this college. Guruji later urged the authorities sitting on the dias to take the iniative in building up a graduation college for the students of Bellore and 30 villages around. He shared a very important information during his speech. It was Vinobha Bhave who helped Guruji in establishing the first primary school in the village of Bellore. He sent his assistant to personally supervise the establishment of the school. Guruji’s speech was precise and directed towards the upliftment of the students of Bellur. Guruji also shared his experiences in England in his initial days. He explained how his lack of education and improper English have proved handicap for him. He couldn’t have properly communicated with the people there. It was a big handicap. For a long time Guruji wanted to address the needs of unattended children by providing proper education and employement. In his school the children are given free education, free uniform, free meals upto secondary level. A minimum fee is charged for students entering the PUC level as it is met with all the modern infrastructure required for education. Yoga is made compulsory for admission in the school as it is the capital of their health. In the end asked the children to utilize the opportunities provided to them.

12. The students of Guruji’s school entertained the visitors with several cultural activities like dances, drama and fine performance of yoga at their best. It was really a delight to see those kids performing the advanced asanas with such an ease and elegance.

13. Guruji’s stamina and patience even at this age is worth mentioning here. If I am not wrong probably his day was beginning at 4 AM and ending by 10 PM all those days in Bellur. It was really an amazing sight to see Guruji in action. Being a photographer I really enjoyed Guruji. He gives so many expressions, it is simply a treat to watch. I got an opportunity to capture different emotions of Guruji during the event. I captured Guruji in different moods which you can watch and cherish in the short movie linked below. 

14. Another hightlight of the event was the food served during the events. All kinds of traditional rich delicacies of Karnataka was served during the events. A large group of catering staff was hired for providing food to the visitors. These hardworking caterors were always seen busy preparing food for the visitors. Guruji provided the food with such a love that every individual might have put on few calories for sure.

15. Rajviji was taking care of all the arrangements with regards to the accommodation, food and transport facility of all the visitors who have come from different parts of the world. We are really thankful to her as she took utmost care in providing us the comfort in all sorts.

16. How can we forget the mentor behind all these arrangements Dr. B. Raghu the chair person of the trust and son in law of Guruji. I think he was the man who worked the most in organising the event. He was seen in multi tasks working on the organization of the event as well participating in the rituals along with Guruji.  Raghuji personally arranged the cab for us to bangalore on return and made sure that we reached the railway station on time. All thanks to him.

Finally, Thank you Guruji and Prashantji for all the blessings showered on us, our teacher Zarna Madam, Dr. Raghuji, Govindarajuji, all the friends and iyengar yoga teachers we met there for making this event succesful and memorable in all respects.

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