< 1:15 pm, 17 Dec 2023, Mysore >
Indica Yoga's Mysuru Yoga Utsava. The last few hours.
I was invited to sit on the stage as the final words of thanks were being said. I sat there, absorbing. My eyes moving, from the participants, to the team, finally resting on the two huge trees that seemed to emerge from the stage and embrace the entire venue. Enchanted by the trees, I let my mind rest in tandem with my eyes, soaking in the words of gratitude and the energy of the last few days.
These were no ordinary trees. They were the great Rain Trees. Huge in their expanse, reaching some 50-80 feet in height, their canopy an easy 100 feet in diameter. Despite being big, these trees are highly sensitive. You see, when clouds come carrying the rains, their leaves - sensitive to any change in light - simply curl up. And these huge trees, allow ... the water from the clouds to reach the earth, to quench her thirst. They create no resistance. They allow the meeting of the sky and the earth to happen, soft and easy.
It perhaps was no coincidence that the Yoga Utsava with its theme of Maitri, Universal Friendship, would take place under the graceful canopy of such trees. A unique celebration of the roots of Yoga, the festival was clearly grounded in the earth of the Indian spiritual traditions. Not giving in to the reductionist approach of Yoga being only about physical health and fitness. The festival included, not just Hatha Yoga, but it pluralistically expanded to embrace many kinds of spiritual traditions on the Indian soil - the folk Bauls, Bhakti yoga, Tantras, Buddhist traditions, Yoga sutras, and, of course, Vedanta.
Even as the festival emerged with a clarity of what it was not, the sincerity of the offerings made by many teachers-practitioners ignited the spirit of Maitri to create an energy field full of enthusiastic knowledge seeking where the only complaint was: "too much to experience, too little time."
The purpose of Yoga has been described in many ways in various sampradayas in India. The ocean falling into a drop. The sky meeting the earth. The river returning back to its source. The microcosm recognising itself as the macrocosm. The perceived limitations of the human body-mind-sense complex dissolving. The realisation that the individual is the Absolute.
Many methods for Realisation were shared through various workshops in the Utsava venue subdivided into Mudita, Karuna, Maitri, Upeksha. The design of the venue itself gives an insight into the approach of the festival.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras describe four attitudes that will bring peace of mind to the practitioner: maitri, friendliness; karuna, compassion; mudita, joy; upeksha, equanimity. Going from workshop to workshop, the very change in venues was a reminder to the participants, organisers and teachers of the attitude that they need to inculcate in life as a part of Yoga sadhana.
In the Yoga Utsava for the participants there was a healthy diversity of knowledge and experience choices to learn from. You could dive into a workshop on mudras, or experience nidra yoga. You could get an insight into how love fits into the world of yoga. You could understand techniques on how to shape life from the very beginning via prenatal yoga. You could get tools on how to deal with negative emotions, integrating yoga into your daily life, or experience the incredible power of Sanskrit and Mantras.
My own session in the festival was from the Himalayan tradition of the non-dual Bhairava Tantras that originated in Kashmir, 'Hridayollasa: The Joy of the Heart'. The meditative offering was from Vijnana Bhairava, considered the essence text of the Rudrayamal Tantra.
The meditation methods given to the Goddess by Bhairava himself are based in profound devotion. In recent times, they have been secularised and presented as merely as 'techniques'. Perhaps because it is easy for the modern mind to understand a secularised language. A language and an attitude of devotional love certainly does not come easy to the modern mind.
Yet, the gurus of the tradition remind us again and again, Vijnana Bhairava is not a secular text, it is a sacred scripture, it is Bhairavi asking Bhairava to reveal to her in human language what she already knows.
Vijnana is not a word for western science here but for the ultimate knowledge, intelligence, awareness, recognition. Of what? Of Bhairava. Bhairava is the one who does Bharan, Ravan & Vamana: one who preserves, creates and dissolves this entire world. He makes suffer, he offers grace. In his freedom to act thus, he delights.
Devoid of the philosophical and spiritual context, devoid of the juice of devotion, the meditation methods in the scripture are like an aeroplane being used as a bullock cart. They are fun, exciting, intellectually tickling but of no real use.
The reductionism and cultural appropriation that has happened in the name of Tantra is perhaps worst than what has happened in the name of Yoga.
I must admit I was apprehensive whether my insistence on a devotional basis of the meditation from the VBT would work for participants who had neither engaged with the tradition of the Bhairava Tantras or with me before the session. But true to the surprises life holds, I was amazed to see the degree of receptivity of the participants. It was clear that they were here to get as close to the original bhaav-coding of the texts as possible.
Mysuru Yoga Utsava offered me an opportunity to be able to present this Tantric scripture - based in a tradition which is seeped in aesthetics - in its most elegant, graceful and dignified form. The energetic harmony and the intellectual synchronicity that usually happens during an intense group was present from the word go.
The original intention of Indica Yoga seeped into my session, as I am sure it did for every other teacher.
In closing, a big shout out to the Indica Yoga team I met - Vinaya ji, Padmavathi ji, Datta. To the incredible volunteers who put in their best for the festival. To the technical team who gave solid support for my session. To the social media team, still at it.
And finally, last and certainly not the least, Hari Kiran Vadlamani. We missed you.
For this first Mysuru Yoga Utsava, Hari, you became like those rain trees. Huge. Holding it all in your embrace. And when grace rained?! With great sensitivity, you made way like the leaves and let it all fall on us!
Sharing some of that grace, beauty and joy through words with you. I hope for the future utsavas you can be there to partake in the deep joy and satisfaction we all - organisers, teachers and participants - felt.