Monday, January 23, 2017

Action in Bellur,

In my previous blog "Developments at Bellur 2015" I tried to bring the developments that took place in Bellur the birth place of Guruji over a period of time. It was highly appreciated by the Iyengar yoga community all over. What delighted me more was the publishing of this article in Yog Rahasya Vol. 23, No.1, 2016.

By the grace of Guruji, I again got an opportunity to visit Bellur for a workshop conducted by Rita Keller. Some interesting developments came to my observation, which I would like to share through this blog. Many of you are aware that a huge yoga hall that can accommodate 300 students was inaugurated by Geeta S Iyengar and Prashant S Iyengar on 8th of September 2015.

The construction of accommodation facility is now complete and a beautiful new building is ready to accommodate 30 plus people on sharing basis. There is a huge dining hall attached to this building that can accommodate around 300 people in one go. Activities are on to make the premises clean and green. Bellur being a water scarce village, every care is being taken to procure and preserve water by constructing water pits and ducts within the premises. A huge ARO plant is established under the water tank to supply pure drinking water to the visitors.


Keeping these construction activities aside, BKSSNT is quite in action this year. As a part of anniversary celebrations few workshops have been conducted in Bellur Yoga hall this year. In August 2016, there was a workshop conducted by Abhijata along with Birjoo and Rajvi Mehta. December was quite happening month as Manouso Manos conducted a 5 day workshop from 16th of December 2016 to 20th Of December 2016 and Rita Keller conducted a 8 day workshop from 31st of December 2016 to 7th of January 2017. I must say these two workshops have raised curtains to a new beginning. Workshops have been conducted in Bellur in the past as well. Teachers from the West and even from India have conducted workshops but they came only with their students and not others. This time all students were allowed to participate in the events. But unfortunately the events were badly publicized and badly planned I must say; that resulted in low turnout of participants.

Three major events in one month coinciding with Abhijata's intensive in Pune is a bad move. Unfamiliarity of Manouso and Rita Keller among Indian students might also be responsible for the lukewarm response for these two workshops in Bellur. Anyway, we were very fortunate to participate and blessed to have studied under the expert teachings of Rita Keller in a small group. It was a memorable experience that we are going to cherish for a long time. I hope the organisers will take enough care in arranging the future events with proper planning.

A beautiful, massive yoga hall that can accommodate around 300 students and a kitchen and dining hall that can serve same number of people is built. This shows that Guruji must have had a vision to conduct intensives in Bellur on a large scale. So, we can expect big events coming on cards in near future in Bellur. All this sounds good to listen but lot of work is yet to be done. The major issue if such a big event occurs is the lack of accommodation facilities for living of the participants. Currently the trust can only accommodate 35-40 people on sharing basis. If it is assumed that visitors from abroad and some Indians who can afford will stay in hotels also do not look possible as the hotels are quite far from Bellur and will be with limited room space. I don't think even foreigners would like to stay in expensive hotels as no one would like to spend their hard earned money unless it is essential or have no other choice.

Building accommodation facility for such a large number of visitors involve plenty of money, space, time and effort. Off course, we might collect money in the name of Guruji's noble cause and build huge complexes but I would like to take it to the notice of the administrators that we can still make wonderful arrangements in short span of time with minimal expenditure. There is enough space in the premises of BKSSNT. There are some wonderful craftsmen in rural areas of India, Kerala in particular who can build beautiful wood and bamboo made kuteers that are nature friendly and economical. That gives an authentic and traditional look and a pleasant feel to the visitors and I think foreigners would also love to live in such kuteers. This in turn can reduce the cost of accommodation to the participants. Permanent structures can gradually be built over a period of time.

Though there is some action in Bellur but this is not going to serve the purpose. I think more workshops and teacher training programs etc., should be conducted at regular intervals. Some of the senior teachers from the west are already doing some good job and now I think is the time for some of the Indian senior teachers to come forward and conduct workshops in Bellur. This not only serve the economy of BKSSNT but of the entire village of Bellur. RIMYI can be taken as a live example. It is contributing to the economy of Pune to a great extent. Model colony in particular is making their living in the name of Guruji and RIMYI hiring their apartments to Iyengar yogis coming across the world. Many visitors are concerned about the growing rental prices in Pune as they go with market demand and no regulations apply to them. If this situation is to be avoided in Bellur in coming future, BKSSNT must take initiatives to accommodate visitors in the premises by constructing enough cottages and charge reasonably to the participants without being influenced by the real estate market outside. You cannot say that hotels outside are charging Rs. 1000 but we are charging only Rs. 800 per head etc. There should be a standard BKSSNT price unaffected by the market fluctuation. There should not be any discrimination in the facilities provided also. You cannot say deluxe rooms cost this and ordinary rooms cost that. This discrimination keeps you in the category of hotel industry. A yoga institute associated with Guruji should not fall into that category. Guruji lead his entire life in simplicity. The World is evident how simple is his living room in Pune and in Bellur, then why deluxe and non-deluxe facilities for participants? I know it is not easy for any administrator to implement this policy and I think this may be the reason for Guruji concentrating only on practising and teaching yoga in Pune rather concentrating on providing accommodation to visitors.

I also felt the need for a Library and a book store where we can buy books, DVDS and some props as we do at RIMYI. This not only would serve the visitors but the local students who are now taking yoga seriously.

On the other hand, I continued my quest about the developments that are taking place in the field of education in Bellur. One of the major development was that few kids who performed asanas during Guruji's 95th Birth Anniversary have now come to college and are trained as Yoga teachers for future. They are now teaching yoga to the primary school students and villagers at a school near Patanjali Temple in Bellur. Gajendra, Prashant and Sunita are some of these guys who I have interacted with. They have been sent to RIMYI to upgrade their skills and are now allowed to participate in all the workshops that occur in Bellur as a part of this project. I take this opportunity to wish them a good luck and great future.

We were regularly in touch with the activities of the high school as Rita Keller was taking us to the programs conducted by the children. I must make a special mention about the class we had together with 200 plus children. It was great fun to match the speed of those kids. Amazing energy and speed. We thoroughly enjoyed the way Rita Keller took the class. Rita also distributed some chocolates and pens as a present for their wonderful display of skills.

On the last day of my stay I took some time to walk around the college campus and interacted with some teachers, principal and students of the college. I was looking out for a teacher called Chaitra in particular. If you remember my previous post on Bellur, I wrote something about her. She is the first child enrolled in the school established by Guruji at BKSSNT, a pass out of the first batch of Ramamani Sundararaja Iyengar High School. She has completed her Masters in Commerce and B.Ed. and now she teaches B.Com students in the college established by Guruji under the umbrella of BKSSNT. She was really delighted to know her achievement was published in one of my blogs and also in Yoga Rahasya.  She thanked Guruji and said, this all happened due to the blessings of Guruji.

Finally, I would like to thank Guruji, Raghu sir and his team Govindaraju sir, Pradeep Naidu, Hema and her team for extending all their co-operation and co-ordination in making the workshop successful and memorable.

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