Today, the yoga bungalow where we’re staying was decked out in its finery ready for puja, which is a kind of Hindu offering ceremony, and we were all invited. The offering was made to the Hindu gods Lakshi (goddess of wealth and good fortune) and Ganesh (remover of obstacles) in order to help bring success to the the yoga bungalow, as the busy season commences.
This was the first Hindu ceremony I’ve ever attended, apart from the wedding of our local curry house owner’s daughter a long time ago (yep, we were regulars at the curry house!), which is rather a blur except I remember that the bride had tears running down her face throughout the whole service, and definitely not from joy. I remember my dad told me at the time that, in Hindu marriage, the wife symbolically leaves her own family and instead becomes part of the husband’s family. My own eyes had welled up as I watched that poor girl sitting on the giant stage, looking so scared and lost whilst everyone partied on around her. Anyway, I digress…
For the puja, we were invited to sit on the floor around a small shrine that had been erected in the yoga hall. The shrine comprised a picture and statue of Ganesh on a low table, decorated in fresh flower garlands and fruit, with candles, incense and small pots of honey, milk and yoghurt beneath the table.
A man, who I was under the impression was BNS Iyengar, presided over the service, chanting in a deep voice, putting teaspoons of milk and honey on the statue and ringing a little bell. Seeing as BNS Iyengar is 89 years old, I spent most of the time marvelling at the age-defying powers of yoga, as this man was fresh-faced and mobile, with a full head of black hair. I only realised my mistake afterwards, as a grey-haired, bespectacled Iyengar shuffled in to take our pranayama course, every inch the grand old man – he did arrive on a scooter though!
Throughout the ceremony, the chanting barely stopped, and we were invited to throw fresh cut flowers onto the statue. We were then all given a bindi (a dot of red powder on our forehead) and blessed with smoke from the incense, then bowls of fruit were handed out for us to eat. The other yogis there, who have been in Mysore for a while, seemed to know what to do, so I guess these puja ceremonies are quite common – certainly you see many people, both Indians and westerners, with bindis every day. It reminded me a bit of Sundays when I was young, yawning and swinging my legs in church as the vicar droned on, but I was quite chuffed to have popped my bindi cherry – I’m sure it won’t be the last one!
Afterwards, free lunch was provided to all at our café – we were served a gorgeous thali (a mixture of different curry dishes with chapatti and rice) on a segment of banana leaf – an ingenious use of foliage to avoid both washing-up and extra land-fill waste.
I also had my first pranayama (breathing practice) class with the aforementioned BNS Iyengar today – it feels very special to be learning with one of the last remaining students of Krischnmacharya. He is old-school (I half expected to have our knuckles rapped when we made a mistake) and he has a thick Indian accent that was hard to understand at first. But he has a wonderful, open smile and a twinkle in his eye, and I really warmed to him. We are learning the basics first, which is perfect, as pranayama is something I have of course done lots of over the years, but have never studied in earnest before.
I am feeling so very happy to be here. Mysore brims over with friendly, warm and welcoming people – both the Indians and the huge array of westerners who flock here for the yoga. The yoga set is incredibly diverse – as well as the many yoga teachers out here, we’ve also met a Norwegian oil-rigger, a French interior designer, a Hungarian economist, a Finnish farmer, a German climbing instructor, a Spanish circus performer and the Ukrainian manager of ‘The Laughing Cow’, just to name a few – all united by a love of yoga and an urge to travel to its homeland and learn at source. It’s a magical thing… 🙂