My trip down South of India – Part I3, Feb, 2015, by Seema Bhatnagar
Are you a person who loves to travel different places and have a great taste to know something different? Travelling to know new places, people and learning to live life in a way which is strange or unknown to you is a great way to bring personal growth. I have been travelling on and off since last many years but I have not explored many places of the world. Have seen some really wonderful and amazing places across Europe but not beyond that and have not seen much in India also. Until last year, I was wondering, how would I explore some very interesting and beautiful places in India. India in itself is a world with unbelievable diversity of food, language and lifestyle. With an idea to enrich my experience of travelling and exploring India, I have decided to keep it as one of my 2015 goals.
With this thought in mind, after a long gap of years, I planned my travel and finalized 10 days trip down South of India which includes 5 days stay at Isha Yoga Center, Coimbatore and 5 days for Kerala sightseeing. My group included my mother and my two close female friends. We all had a good time and enjoyed every bit of it. This post is part I covering my experience at Isha Yoga center, Coimbatore, part II would be about Kerala trip.
About Geography - Cominbatore is a city in southern part of India, situated in the west of Tamil Nadu state, bordering Palakkad district of the state of Kerala. It is surrounded by the Western Ghats mountain range to the West and the North, with reserve forests and the (Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve) on the northern side. Read more about Coimbatore.
I have been following Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (founder of Isha) since last three years and developed a strong yearning to visit Isha Yoga Center. In the month of September, 2014, some random thoughts made me to think about spending my birthday at Isha Yoga. This thought was strong enough to give me a required thrust for finalizing the decision. Right from making required searches for best available flight fares to travel packages everything just fell perfectly in place and interestingly the rest 3 also agreed to this idea of visiting. All flights and bookings were finalized in the first week of October itself and final dates were - 2nd Jan till 12th Jan 2015. Interestingly, initially, I planned to visit only Isha but on finding the vicinity of Kerala to Coimbatore in map, I decided to extend my trip for another 5 days. Actually, with this decision I also started to execute one of my goals of 2015,:-)....I swear, what a perfect start.
After celebrating New Year 2015, we four were all set for our much awaited journey. On 2nd Jan, in the wee hours of wintery morning we boarded flight from New Delhi airport and landed at Coimbatore airport around 12:00 pm, check out an image of my ticket below. From there it was another 1 hour journey to ashram, I already booked a cab through Isha travel desk, which came for pick up at airport. It was approximately total 7 hours of journey which includes flight and road travel time.
Trip tickets, from 2nd Jan 2015 - 12 Jan 2015.
After completing check in at reception, I saw a notice put up on the board about special Darshan (special appearance) of Sadhguru in the evening. It came as a pleasant surprise for me as I never expected his darshan due to his hectic schedule of satsangs (discourses to groups) across country and sometimes abroad as well. But to be very honest, somewhere I had a desire to see him on my birthday and it just happened. It was a best ever memorable birthday gift I could have received.
Ashram is situated about 70Km away from Coimbatore Airport, somewhere in the forest area, spread across hectares. A special care has been taken in its landscaping for maintaining pristine natural beauty all over. There were rows of coconut trees, some wild trees, flowers, manicured grass carpet with well maintained pathways. I was amazed to see the discipline in volunteers, cleanliness at every nook and corner and care for nature. For everything there was a rule and each section of services was maintained professionally by people. Knowing the fact that Isha is completely run by volunteers, it was hard to believe how everything was managed so immaculately. All brahmacharees and brahmacharins (man and women who have taken a vow of abstinence) were absolutely disciplined in their work to the precision of second and were always wearing a sweet smile on their faces.
For accommodation, I booked a cottage without enquiring much detail. But it came out as an excellent place to stay, was full of greenery and complete silence, away from main pathway. The room was spacious and absolutely cleaned. I liked the décor of the room, it was black wooden furniture made out of teak wood, walls were decorated with paintings of Shiva and feminine deity, with soft lights and an iron rack in a corner big enough to accommodate luggage of three persons.
The quality of food was par excellence, completely saativ (completely vegetarian without use of onion and garlic) and was based on South Indian platter, though I am a North Indian but I relish South Indian food too so it was a special feast for me. There was no extra charge of food; it was included in accommodation tariff. There was a special name to this food, prasadam (a blessed food). It was “annadanam” (Sanskrit word), means it was a sponsored food, as an act of charity by somebody. If somebody make donations towards food or does annadanam, as a gesture of thanks his/her name gets displayed on the notice board kept near the entrance of Bhiksha hall (Bhiksha, a Sanskrit word, is a food offering received by monks as alms.). Bhiksha hall is a place where food is served daily to at least 1000 people.
There were strict timings for serving food, morning 9:45 am – 12:00 pm and evening 6:45 pm – 9:00 pm. It was a floor dining, food served by volunteers. All were required to sit on floor on mats arranged in rows and there were no bowls or spoons, except the main plate, by the way, this is a typical Indian traditional style of eating which now has become almost extinct. For those who couldn’t sit on floor there were special arrangements of benches and tables. As my mother can’t sit on floor, so she made use of bench and table. Before starting food all were required to chant Sanskrit chant (Om Sahana Vavatu) as a group prayer. Each one was required to clean and wash his/her own dish; there was a long sink with several taps in a lane to wash dishes.
In every meal, there used to be at least 5-6 dishes served. The food was so tasty that on many occasions I ended up eating more. But it wasn’t greasy and heavy so I didn’t experience any digestion problem. The dishes included starters (salads), main course (vegetable curry of 2 types, rice of 2 types), dessert, digestive drink (kanji, a special south Indian drink made out of whole grains.), menu was different every day but mostly the combination of dishes was like this. Mind it, there was nothing served in between, i.e. after morning it was only dinner straightaway. If one is feeling hungry, there is an option of restaurant where you can buy tea, coffee and other food items suiting to your craving, that also serves only vegetarian food. As per Hindu tradition, non-vegetarian food is an expression of violence and even the act of eating is an encouragement and equal participation for violence, so no religious and spiritual place serve any non-vegetarian food as a rule.
There was a big sadhna (practice) hall where one can practice asanans and kriyas. Every morning and evening there held a group prayer, with strict entry timings after which the doors get closed. The whole environment was echoing with Shiva chants especially during early mornings and evenings. I used to wake up by 5:30 am on hearing chant of “Yog yog yogeshwaraye” in Sadhguru’s voice on loud speaker. Oh..it was such a pleasant experience and possibly the best way to get up in the morning.
Everywhere and for everybody the most important activity was to do mediation. Really, one tends to feel like doing meditation in such an environment. It was a perfect environment to meditate with silence everywhere. All volunteers were completely dedicated to maintain silence at every place. Doesn’t matter whether you are having food, talking at reception or walking in the ashram you are expected and suggested to maintain silence in every possible way. I observed that some people were wearing a badge (pinned on their shirts) with a “silence” written on it. I was curious to know about it, on enquiring, came to know that if somebody wants to maintain complete silence should wear this so that others do not disturb or talk to them. Isn't it a wonderful idea? I really liked it very much.
Places to Visit
Dhyan Lingam temple which is a main site to be seen there was really a life time experience for me. Check out this video to know more about it, http://youtu.be/vwbiGiNmkDk. In my words, it is a place with its own grandeur and magnificence with complete silence and torrent of energy flowing, it has its own power to really touch anybody from inside.
The quality of my meditation has improved manifold after visiting Dhyan Lingam. I didn’t do much except sitting in its vicinity. It might sound Greek to people who do not believe in spirituality but I would say, spirituality is more about experiencing than simply not believing it and it really takes lot of efforts to reach this experience, it is not everybody’s cup of tea.
There is another temple of Linga Bhairavi, to worship feminine energy of universe. This is also a place full of vibrant energy of Devi. I offered the special offering to Devi by lighting a lamp, coconut, few flowers and a red cloth. This was available to purchase outside temple. The red cloth was returned after keeping it near Devi for her blessings. Keeping this red cloth (devi vastram) creates a presence of Devi and wards off any negative energy in the environment. I have kept it on my table where I work daily, see the red cloth in picture below, have kept it on my right hand side.
Red colored, Devi vastram on my table.
To make the best use of available time, I used to get up at 5:30 am, after having bath used to sit for my daily meditation and Yoga. Practiced meditation in different open places over there, that experience of being in meditation was simply unmatched, it was deeply peaceful and relaxing, and a silence that directly knocks at the core of self.
Each and every piece of construction and a décor expresses a deep sense of aesthetics. I was wondering about who was behind this creativity. On enquiring, came to know that Sadhguru approve and finalize each and every piece of creativity in the ashram doesn’t matter what it is. The small and tiny pieces were actually talking proof of his creativity. After every few meters you would see, a carved rock shaped to contain water, decorated with flowers. Probably it was kept for making water available to birds and also a good way to decorate floors. On every entry there was a rangoli designed (colorful design in floor.).
Photography was strictly prohibited except for few places but my friends got tempted to take some pictures even on knowing that it was not allowed at those places, out of my personal value of following the rules of a place, I requested them to delete. It sounded crazy for them but they agreed to delete to respect the rules of the place. On seeking permission, I took photo of Nandi (Bull of Shiva), it is indeed a marvellous piece of creativity, picture given below. This is the only piece of art which was allowed to be photographed.
Nandi at Isha Yoga Center
Isha has a Isha Rejuvenation section, which offers therapeutic ayurvedic treatment for various illnesses and I am a hard believer of Ayurveda. After completing a short course in Ayurveda some two years back, I am following Ayurveda in daily life also. Since my completion of course, I had been exploring good places for getting Shirodhara treatment. Had searched various places in Delhi but none could match my specification of authenticity and professionalism. Reaching to Isha Rejuvation was an end to my hunt on finding the perfect traditional set up and quality of employees providing services. I was not facing any health problem as such but I was looking more for an experience of deep relaxation which Shirodhara promises. On finding details, the whole treatment was on a costlier side but I still booked it, as I was keen on experiencing this. The whole therapy was for three days, 60 minutes per session.
It was such a deeply relaxing experiencing that at one point I felt as if I am bodiless and it is only mind which is thinking. Could literally feel how the unnecessary fatigue was getting released from hands and feet. It was a deep sleep of few minutes giving a feeling of 5-6 hours of sleep.
Personally, I would recommend Shirodhara for people who experience stress and anxiety on daily basis, it definitely adds up to personal capability of remaining calm and composed in stressful situations. Since it releases toxins from body and provide deep relaxation, its soothing effect stays in body for at least three months.
Isha Samskriti School
Sadhguru, with a vision to create children for the universe not for university has started a concept of Isha samskriti school, something very unique and unprecedented. It teaches children in an age-old Indian traditional way of Gurukulam, a concept where highest importance is given to the relationship between teacher and disciple, the teacher is worshipped as God by disciples and there is a zero tolerance for any indiscipline. The curriculum includes teachings of hatha yoga (asanas), meditation, knowledge of Ayurveda and Siddha (Indian school of medicines), Kalaripayattu (mother of all martial arts), Indian classical dance and music. The fundamental objective behind it is to create more conscious, equanimous and balanced individuals. We saw some children playing in a red kurta and off-white dhoti (shirt and draped garment for lower body), out of curiosity my friend approached one of those children to ask something about school. Suddenly, their teacher ran to her and stopped her from asking anything from children. She said, if you want to know something, please ask me only, this is to avoid any misunderstanding of outer world to children. Those children were really looking cheerful, joyful completely happy in that environment. Whenever I saw them, they were giggling with joy. Due to years of invasion in India, these traditional qualities and arts are slowly dying and Sadhguru want to revive these in every possible way.
A word of appreciation...
Overall, my stay at Isha Yoga has been very enriching from every possible aspect be it health, mediation, inner peace or food. Since I am a spiritual person, so the whole setup was conducive for me from every angle. Now, I have decided to keep it as a part of my yearly travel plan to visit this place at least once. Next time I would visit to practice more silence, since this time I was accompanied by others so could not practice it fully. I want to experience complete silence for straight 5 days with no connection with outer world, no cell, no mails no other compulsions of life. On daily basis I experience 4 hours of silence for sure but the rest of the day includes my exposure to mails and answering phone calls and other business related activities. Usually, I choose one day a week, mostly Tue or Wed, when I don’t check or respond to emails and do nothing, not even thinking, it is really very hard. This is just to experience that nothingness and lightness from inside.
It is my deep desire that more such places should come up throughout the world, where people get to see what it means by self-discipline and how to really grow in life with minimum essentials. Our society needs more of spirituality than latest versions of gadgets. I wish, people frequently visit such places to experience an altogether a different level of higher consciousness. Sincerely hoping that my wish would be fulfilled one day.
My trip down South of India – Part II
A Journey, inwards
Self-Discipline - 24 hours Meditation