an interesting meeting

2010 February 12
by admin

london-india-092-mediumSitting in the club at the top of the hotel overlooking the Hussain Sagar Lake. It is very beautifully appointed,  with silk sari wallpaper and leather chairs.It is very peaceful here. This is the club for business visitors, so I am very lucky to be the only guest, as all the other guests are out and about in the city.  I am being pampered by the staff who bring me perfectly made coffee with frothy milk on the top. It is a contrast  to the hustle and bustle below.

Today is Maha Shivaratri (Night of Shiva)  a Hindu festival, celebrated all over the country with much enthusiasm. The festival is exclusively dedicated to Lord Shiva which is known by hundreds of names. The legend is of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, in which the gods inadvertantly unearthed a poison that threatened to destroy the world. Shiva saved the day by drinking the poison, which accounts for his blue throat in some Hindu art. india2-060-medium

It is said that Shiva was strong enough to handle the poison, but he had to stay awake all night as part of his healing. The other gods helped get him through the night by entertaining him with dances and other distractions. This is commemorated on Mahashivaratri, when Shiva’s followers keep him company through the night. Many Hindus fast throughout the day and offer prayers at the temples. Offices and schools are closed. My guide picked me up this morning with joyful music on the radio, and we visited the temple. We took our shoes off as we entered and joined the crowds walking on polished marble floors. This is an outdoor temple with relief sculptures telling the story of Shiva. Within the larger temples areindia2-063-medium-2 sanctuaries for individual gods, including Hanuman and Shiva. As you walk up to the temple, everyone stops to pray and rings a brass bell several times. The priest offers you a handful of coconut milk and a strawberry. Then he places a silver cap on your head, a blessing. Some people knelt down and kissed the floor, some chanted. Candles were lit and there was much celebration. It reminded me of going to communion! These traditions we have studied are starting to feel more familiar as the gods come to life in the temples and all around me, in shops and hotels, statues in the parks. This is for real- a way of life that is constantly present for the people here.

I have finally gone to a yoga studio. As we drove, you could see the city begin to change, and the streets become cleaner, and the houses looked  like houses instead of a blend of shops and shacks and beautiful temples. The studio reminded me of the Prancing Peacock! Again a beautiful breeze was coming through. I have gone twice. The first day I met my teacher, Salil. He is an ex-business man who retired and is doing what he loves. We sat at a desk in the studio and he began by asking me about my yoga experiences. Since I am familiar with the asanas, he decided to focus on the yoga sutras! It was wonderful to sit with him and discuss the sutras. india2-055-mediumHe did some pranayama with me and some meditations. After our session, I was invited to attend his wife’s Vedic chanting class. As I waited for class to begin, 6 Indian woman began to gather, with mantra textbooks in hand. She spread out 2 rugs, which we sat on, and the class casually began with a discussion of what chants to do that day. Then she opened with a prayer, and they began to chant! I did not have the text, so I just listened to the chanting. What a wonderful way to spend the morning. I was sad I would not be able to attend again. (You know what this means! Chanting classes at the studio!)It was nice to hear them done so well, and they were preparing for the festival today by chanting shiva’s mantras.  These chants, once you get the words down, are very healing, and it is almost as they flow from you by themselves.

The second day was an additional teaching on the Sutras. This non-asana practice was not what I expected, but I knew that whatever I needed to hear would be there and I opened myself to whatever he decided to teach me.  There is so much to learn! As complicated as these texts seem, the message is so simple. Mindfulness, compassion and being present in the moment. The asana practice is  just another tool, like meditation, and chanting. The texts encourages you to allow the yoga, in any form, to begin to extend into your life- to bring it off the mat. It is within us, we are just remembering it a little at a time- or maybe all at once! It is really like common sense. We know the right things to do,we just do not always listen!

So this stay in Hyderabad is almost over. Tomorrow we will travel to south India, Kerala. It will be very different, green and lush. I am getting used to the city but will be glad to have some space around me again.

Om namah Shivaya!

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