Posted in Food For Soul

The All Pervading Isha…

No copyright violation intended. This was playing when I had a darshan of Linga Bhairavi as ardent Shiva devotees performed ‘shaashtaang namaskaaram’ (prostrations) to the deity of Union of Mother and Father – the Bhairavi Lingam. Cannot shake it off my system now…

*** *** *** *** ***

Didn’t really think much about Isha (Yoga) all these days or years. Decades back, the Isha Yogi Shri. Jaggi Vasudev (popularly referred to as ‘Sadhguru’) was writing a column in the Tamil weekly ‘Kumudam’ (or was it ‘Ananda Vikatan’) He wrote under the title ‘Aththanaikkum Aasai Padu’ (desire everything and anything). I regret missing reading it then deliberately. First of all the Isha Guru was not as popular then as he is now (though he had started making waves). Secondly, his grey beard and unconventional looks didn’t convince me that he was serious about what he preached. His sermon was casual style where he argued, one can be spiritual and materialistic at the same time. The same way, I have also missed the Tamil author Balakumaran. Now I learn of his genius.

Over time, Isha Yoga have spread their wings covering territories. They have planted thousands of trees and they employ rural artisans who they teach and train in various vocations. Foreigners wholeheartedly take ‘Dhiksha’ – the vow here, to become Yogis detaching themselves from material life. Not to be outdone are young and eager and highly accomplished Indian youth who give up every single pleasure conceivable in mortal life to become part of Isha Yoga. Isha, like any prospering institution or ideology, earned its fair share of critics. There were allegations that youth were getting brainwashed. My friends who have been at the center for Yoga training and meditation have always refuted this. The peace and the quiet (?!) and the Yogic nature allure some lost (or otherwise) souls to ascetic way of life for reasons known only to them. How can you mesmerize Americans and Australians and Germans and French all at the same time along with young Indian men and women.

Taking a rubber tube-tyred bullock cart ride, I struck up a conversation with an Australian couple in their fifties who said they were regulars in this part of the country every year. They seemed comfortable in Indian clothes and with Indian food and culture. Yoga and meditation lured them to India.

A mix of nationalities were meditating in varied locations in absolute silence through out the bustling center (which could be bordering on commercialization, but prevented from going that way evidently with great care). Under the trees. In the coves around Dhyana Linga, in the Chandrakund (women’s bath descending down broad stairs, with Mercury Linga at the center), in the Suryakund (stairwelled men’s bath with Mercury Lingam), lost to the outer world, existing in a transcendental hemisphere perhaps. Moving sight. Such a self-discipline is derivable only with an ‘inner calling’.  Mind control is the key, for living a hermit’s life is no cake walk. There can be no hypnosis or black magic involved here. Indian youth have left their promising careers and family wealth behind seeking the ‘truth’.

Unlike Abrahamic fold, Hindu Dharma does not believe in conversion. We have no Vatican/Mecca or Bible/Koran. Hinduism or Sanathana Dharma is Free Will. Gurus preach in India foremost that attracts many foreigners. The Beatles and why even Steve Jobs have been to India on their spiritual journey. Once you skim the poverty and deterioration over centuries, you may find what you have been searching for – as these men have done.

Gurus get popular once popular personalities and celebrities start following them. Fake Gurus exist undeniably. Gurus travel overseas because their international followers want them to. With no force or brainwashing or coercion or bribing, some seekers turn to Hindu Dharma for salvation (Nirvana in Sanskrit).

Shiva, the ultimate. When Shiva is here, why do we need a Jesus.

Do Hindu Gurus champion conversion campaigns? Malign others?

What still brings many around the world to Hindu Dharma and Buddhism on their own volition.

Isha Yoga Center to me seems one such an epicenter that draws followers from every corner of the globe. Its impact on native Hindus is remarkable. It is a coincidence that the resurgence of the Hindu Conscience has to happen at the same time. I have not much listened to Sadhguru’s lectures, but he comes across as a practical guru from what little I have gathered. I have followed him once online on his Kailash Manasarovar pilgrimage across Indo-China border in the Himalayas.  (Historically these regions belonged with India but China claimed them using aggression). Marvelous.

I do listen to Isha devotional in You Tube always. Nirvana Shatakam to others. Never miss their webcast of Shivrathri celebrations every February. Even Gurus have to evolve with changing times! I don’t find anything wrong with the Dancing Guru. The mysteries surrounding his personal life are immaterial to me. ‘Nadhi moolam, Rishi moolam’ – ignore! Wise counsel of our ancestors.

Isha Yoga center however has been in the eye of controversy for one more reason: for coming up in the Elephant corridor – in the elephant country where the elephants would climb down from the Nilgiris (the Blue Mountains (whose queen is the hill station Ooty), cross the valley and head to Kerala or wherever. I realized this immediately on setting my foot at Isha. It is impossible to miss. Despite all, my heart ached. ‘Isha is the elephant, is it not? Or rather the elephant is Isha?’ I asked aloud no one in particular. Why should it have to be here. Thousands of tree plantations seemed poor deal to me.

Shirking the painful thoughts, I focused on the huge monolith in front of me. The smiling Shiva in polished granite, with His chin tilted up, with His eyes half closed as if in trance, with the moon in His braids, with the snake around His neck. I clicked as many pictures of Him in all angles possible but nothing could capture Him in entirety I know. I made Him my screensaver with immediate effect. Ever since, I cannot put Him out of my mind. The profound impression He has made in my heart will be there forever in my life. The rugged tribal who descended from the Tibetan Himalaya is our Father. The Adi Yogi, the first Yogi in world history who gave India/Hindus the Yoga. Yoga is now universal gift. A gift that can never be matched or compared with any other. A gift like none other. The Adiyogi who dwelt in the cremation grounds, smeared in ash, anointing Himself with ash. A sect of His followers the  nude ‘Aghoris’ even today feed on corpses and live life the way He did in cremation/burial sites. Never feeding on another life. Even vegetarians feed on living and breathing trees and plants destroying future offsprings before they are born.

Today happens to be Aarudhra when we celebrate the Dancing form of Lord Shiva – the Nataraja. Shiva’s cosmic dance has stopped the world scientists in their tracks that they have Him installed at CERNE, Switzerland.  None has made the connection yet, but the scientific community now suspects of one between Lord Shiva and the creation of Earth. The You Tube is full of stories claiming Shiva is the extraterrestrial who brought life to our planet.  To average Hindu, nothing matters. Shiva is our forefather. Father. Shakthi, our Mother.

I have had darshan of Lord Shiva (in the form of Shiva Linga) in hundreds of temples in India and abroad. Lately, in Bali – in caves. Thousands of years of Shiva worship preceded Christianity or Islam. In Isha Yoga, I didn’t find my spirituality rekindled. To me, it was more cosmetic. May be it appealed to others, but not to me. However, the Adiyogi in my mind lingers day and night, refusing to go away.

I forgot the elephant corridor. Hopefully the Indian elephant herds will find a way around. Shiva will find one. The center has refused via legal channels that the Yoga ashram has cut across elephant country. Hopefully this is true. Even if not, the Adiyogi has made it worthwhile.

If anyone is hypnotized or mesmerized or brainwashed, the only one doing it to him/her could be Adiyogi Himself. A lone Mumbai backpacker clicked some pictures for me. In his 30s, he couldn’t pull himself away from Adiyogi. Must be climbing up the corporate ladder – from what I could size up of him.

Shiva will be there for India to eternity. This is His home. He will take care, I breathed in peace.


PS: Wanted to include my friends’ opinion on Isha. They allege that the Christian ‘Karunya’ group of institutions have amassed landed estates (that were primarily agricultural and forest areas) in and around Coimbatore by whatever means but media make no mention of the same. Isha cornered as they are Hindu.

Spending a night in a Siruvani resort, taking a walk along the edges of forest reserve areas bordering cultivated farms and banana plantations, I couldn’t help noticing dried elephant dung heaps that were only two days old. The agricultural lands and estates were off limits to elephant herds, surrounded by electrified fences. Images of India’s wild elephants getting electrocuted, denied their passage flashed in my mind.  Man-elephant conflicts are increasingly getting frequent, with bulls raiding villages and barns, routing, trampling over plantations. Troubling images. I knew I was walking down the elephant corridor in elephant country and anytime I could come face to face with a wild tusker. Strangely for a very first time ever, I feared for the life of the gentle giant over mine.

Posted in Socio-Cultural

The Hindu Difference

Found on the dashboard of the tuk tuk I hired this morning (a very regular sight in India) :

Needless to say, the autowallah was Hindu. Glittering on his forehead was a bold Kumkum (vermilion) dot over dried sandal paste and Vibhuti (made of incensed wood ash). The picture was one good testimony to the so-called ‘Unity in Diversity’ we practise in India. Of harmony and peace.  Of tolerance and acceptance. Of equality and secularism and mutual respect. The only snag about the framed picture is, this is something that adorns only most Hindu/Hindu managed/run schools, hospitals, hotels, cabs, shops and business establishments. Something that can never be spotted in a christian or muslim institution of whatever kind. Apparently,  secularism and tolerance is one way street in India. Limited and advised and restricted to Hindus. The minorities of India viz., christians and muslims are exempted by all means and secularism loosely translates to ‘majority bashing’ in this nation.

Striking up a conversation with the autowallah, I came to hearing him narrate a story that explained the difference between the Sanathana Dharma (universal faith or Hinduism) and the Abrahamic folds that originated in Middle East (Christianity and Islam).

A ‘sadhu’ watched a scorpion drowning in a pond. He quickly pulled it out of water when he got stung by the poisonous creature. He let out a wail in pain and in the hand movement, the scorpion slipped back into the pond. Unfettered, the sadhu once again took the scorpion out of the pond only to get stung once more by the vicious one. A bystander walked upto the sadhu and asked him, why knowing the scorpion would sting the sadhu decided to take it out of water. Why couldn’t he let it drown.

The sadhu replied that, stinging the hand that saved (or fed) it was scorpion’s DNA. Saving its life still was his human nature knowing and expecting the pain of the sting and venom.

The simple autowallah explained to me how noble Hindu dharma is. We Hindus historically took the pain and miserable suffering in our stride refusing to retaliate even in self-defence. It is only in last few years, you see the Hindu resurgence. Even now we are only in the defensive. The Hindu is sick of being trampled upon and terrorized and betrayed and taken for a ride. The dormant, complacent Hindu is waking up to bitter reality. Unlike the sadhu of the story, the Hindu has no further options to save himself. If he does not strike back, he may have to face extinction.

I told the autowallah, that was super. ‘So I hope you won’t convert if bribed or coerced or terrorized?’ I asked him hopefully. ‘Nope’ he assured me, ‘M’am I know the Abrahamics are predatory but I can take care of myself.’ I need not have worried. The young man came across as a wise and strong individual. ‘If even the Hindus and Buddhists have to rally to protect themselves today, it means the end of the world is nearing’ I told him. He nodded his head in affirmation. ‘I feel good seeing this picture in your three wheeler but I know i will never see it in a christian/muslim cab.’ ‘Sad reality’ he agreed, ‘we Hindus are always the givers and the others are always the takers. Finally there comes a breaking point. This cannot go on forever. When there is no mutual reciprocation, balance will have to be restored. Things have to be set right.’

I bid a happy good bye to the fellow as I alighted from his rocking auto (not a comfortable ride really). My Puja already has a sealed copper urn of Ganga jal (holy water from river Ganga) sitting aside Zam Zam from Mecca that came from an Arab friend. Couldn’t refuse such a gift when it was offered without asking. I thought it was a sign and put it in my Puja. That must have been over ten years back. In spite of criticizing Islam and muslims and Christianity and christians, I cannot bring myself to show disrespect or disparity to Zam Zam treating it any different. I revere both the holy waters in my Puja. The Hindu in me would not allow anything less than that. In every cathedral I came across in Europe and Georgia, neither could I stop myself from saying a prayer to Christ. I asked for His pardon for deriding the faith that He founded. He must guess as to what drives passive Hindus like me to take on our adversaries headlong. Of course, I also asked Jesus to stop Vatican from converting Hindus and other natives forthwith!



Posted in History-Culture

The Precarious Condition Of The Bali Hindu

Recent visit to Bali revealed to me a different version of Hinduism, liberal in some ways and more ritualistic in others. The first Hindu king of Bali Udayana from 11th century CE,  takes the credit for the present day Bali culture and heritage. South East Asia was Hindu from Cambodia and Mauritius to Indonesia and Malaysia for centuries before Islam entered the scene. Hindu kings of south India had reached the far eastern shores of the world long before even Islam and Christianity came to India. Kedah of Malaysia was taken by Chozha king of south India who thus earned his title ‘Kedaram Kondan.’  But unlike the Abrahamic religions that unleashed terror and violence in India and world over, the Hindu Dharma as well as Buddhism spread in a gentler fashion to other parts of the world dispersing wisdom and peace in their wake.  Be it Bhutan or Nepal or Sri Lanka or Vietnam or Thailand or Tibet or China or parts of Jawa, Hinduism or Buddhism is still practised by a section/most of their subjects, albeit of an altered strain. Japanese Shintoism reveres Hindu God the elephant faced Ganesha. Angkorwat, the world’s largest Hindu temple in Cambodia is a world heritage site that draws tourists from around the globe.

Bali is predominantly Hindu I knew, but nothing prepared me for the overwhelming Hindu culture of a different genre that swept through the entire beautiful equatorial Indonesian island, steeped in mystique and charm to this twenty first century. After a day or two, i stopped clicking pictures of small chapel-like temples in front of each and every Bali Hindu home and office and business. A land of billion temples. Billion Hindu temples. That’s Bali. This is chief reason, Hindu culture could not be easily dismantled in Bali by the invaders. The last occupiers of Bali were the Dutch who wrecked havoc in the island during the second world war, leaving the native society battered and bruised.

Bali Hindu temples do not admit non Hindus strictly and even the Indian Hindus, except for a couple of shrines that are world tourist attractions. Mainland or other foreign Hindus may seek permission and be properly attired in local costume ‘Sarong’ (Sarong is Bali’s national/state dress. It is beach dress only for the rest of the world). The doors of Bali temples are otherwise closed to one and all except for the local island Hindus. Bali Hindus constitute about 80% of the island population.  Muslims, Christians and Buddhists make up for the rest. Balinese Hindus and Buddhists are naturally compatible as they share cultural values.

Indonesia, the muslim majority nation, fails to draw tourists of decent count. Only Bali, the Hindu island of Indonesia attracts global tourists and earns precious foreign exchange for the islamic nation.

Balinese Hindus still are not overtly rich, yet they are not poor either, especially by Indonesian standards. Indonesian Rupiah, one will have to carry by truckload and is a worthless paper. We paid millions and millions of converted Indonesian Rupiahs for our shopping and other needs.

Balinese Hindus are a bit westernized by foreign cultural influences brought in by guests from world over. Yet they seem to cling on to their belief systems with all the faith and moral strength they can muster.

I was surprised to learn that our PM Modi is a hit with Balinese Hindus. More than a couple of men told me, he is the last hope of global Hindus.

Allegedly, the islamic majority Indonesia is plainly envious of the Bali Hindu. Bali bombing a few years back was by Indonesian islamic terrorists targeting Australian tourists for whom Bali is like a second home. Australians seem to love everything about Bali. They are around for months, vacationing in the island paradise with their families every year.

The Hindu and the Christian cultural extravaganza in New year eve must have felt like a thorn in the islamic flesh of Indonesia. Over a thousand small and big and mid sized islands constitute the Indonesian archipelago. Yet, what hurts their islamic government and the Indonesian muslim majority is the staunch Bali Hindu survival. Out of the thousand others, it is the lone Hindu who is prospering in the otherwise total islamic republic, that does not go down well with average Indonesians. Their irritation and envy and restlessness seem palpable. Every other non Hindu/non Bali Indonesian you may come across in Bali is unable to hide his impatience and intense jealousy at Balinese success story. The unique Bali Hindu culture has remained unshakable over time.

I won the confidence of the Balinese Hindus who spoke to me from their heart, only because I was a native Hindu from India. Most Balinese Hindus dream of a day when they can set their foot in the holy Hindu homeland ‘Bharat.’

Never through the centuries, the Balinese confide, they have felt threatened by any invader or have feared for their existence. But now they reckon, their days could be numbered.

Every third muslim Indonesian is in Bali looking for work as well as Bali Hindu girl to marry. I said, we have an equivalent in India that we call ‘Love Jehad.’

For their part, the Indonesian Christians are not helping either. One Indonesian christian I met was intensely jealous of the Bali Hindu. ‘Hinduism is cumbersome, overtly ritualistic and expensive religion to follow; it is time consuming and complex to understand. Christianity is easy and therefore Bali Hindu has started converting’ said he. No surprise at the well disguised animosity towards the island majority.

Rafting along the Ayung river, I was rejoicing at centuries old Ramayana engravings, the life history of the Hindu God Lord Ram, etched in the rocks in dense forests of the banks. Very crudely overlapping the ancient sculpting screeched: ‘JESUS LOVES YOU, JESUS CALLS YOU’, obviously the handiwork of visiting tourists from west. Joshua Project in Bali or what? To go to so much trouble somewhere where your life could be at risk seems to point to only one thing: the christian missionaries will stop at nothing when it comes to their conversion spree.

Worshiping the Trimurthi: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the nurturer/protector) and Shiva (the destroyer), the Trinity of male Hindu Gods in Bali’s most ancient temples was a moving experience for me. Along side were the trinity of female Hindu Goddesses the Tridevi: Saraswathi (for wisdom/knowledge/learning), Lakshmi (wealth and fortune) and Shakthi (the power or energy). Everywhere I turned Hindu names welcomed me. Balinese Hindus perform Puja at their temples three times a day even in these hectic times with flowers and anoint their foreheads with a rice grain tilak. No taxi driver starts his day without Puja first to his cab just like we may do in India! No surprise, the Indonesian airline goes by name ‘Garuda.’ Reenactment of Ramayana in Uluwatu in a trance dance is a cultural heritage handed over generations.

Balinese Hindus I spoke to were quick to admit, they were not hostile to alien cultures. But of late they felt threatened by Islam. They were aware of various bomb attacks carried by islamists around the world. They  remain shaken by the Bali bombing to this day. Yet as they are aware, Bali is the money spinner for an economically downward spiraling Indonesia. There have been attempts by previous islamic governments of Indonesia to sell off Bali to profiteering American corporations. The Balinese have seen it all. They have held their head high and proud and have resisted every single move to destabilize them and and destroy them. How long they can keep up their bravado and will power and resistance is a billion dollar question.

Average Balinese Hindus are eager to receive Hindu visitors from India. Australians, Indians and Chinese are their major patrons. Indians though are worst time keepers, confessed a guide. He was sick waiting on rude and ill mannered Indian tourists who always delayed the tours.