Yoga – Unearthing its True Essence

Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being – a phrase that we keep hearing and using randomly but do we really comprehend its true meaning? I didn’t. Yet I never shied away from using the phrase liberally here and there and everywhere. Afterall, I have been practicing yoga (or, I thought I was) for 5 years now. I certainly knew what I was saying!

Last month I participated in a Yoga Teacher Training Course, just on a whim. My impulsive nature always catches me off-guard even though I have been deliberately trying to be more calculative. I NEVER harboured any ideas of being a Yoga teacher, yet I landed up with this course. I might have secretly wished, I guess, but I am really not sure. It could have been one of those fleeting thoughts that get no importance in one’s life. The entire experience feels surreal today. I just happened to chance upon the program the night before the course was starting. I have no idea why the thought of participating got planted in my mind. There was no time to research or even think about it. I had to take a decision that very moment.

Pic 1: A random picture from the ashram complex.

Doing a Yoga Teacher Training Course wasn’t something even remotely present in my mind. I had some time to spare and was toying with the idea of going on a trek to the Himalayas, something I haven’t done since the pandemic. While I debated between Sikkim or Nepal, I found myself at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kenda (BYVK) instead. Now, as a certified Yoga Instructor, I can say this has been one of the best impulsive decisions of my life. And, I can only express my gratitude to the power of the Universe that’s beyond the understanding of our limited human minds.

BYVK is an initiative of The Satsang Foundation and was founded by Sri M. It is recognized by the Government of India and Ministry of AYUSH. The 200-hour long course, which spans across one month, has been immensely fulfilling and enriching. So much knowledge gained and so many myths broken. [You can read about the myths I had HERE.] The curriculum is based on ancient yogic texts, like, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. The course design follows the blended methodology of learning – 15 days virtual and 15 days residential. The crux of the experience naturally lies in the residential segment.

Pic 2: The Yogashala, also called as Patanjali Temple. This is was our classroom.

The residential segment was held at The Satsang Foundation ashram at Madanapalle, a small town in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. (Madanapalle is a distinctive town for many reasons. One of them is that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had translated his Bengali poem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ into English as ‘Morning Song of India’ while he stayed at this place during his tour of South India. The tune of our National Anthem was also conceived here.) The calm and peaceful ashram ambience was a huge contributing factor towards all the knowledge we imbibed in the short span of time.

Pic 3: Graffiti at the ashram goshala (cowshed).

We had a packed schedule with our day starting at 5 AM and ending only between 9.30 and 10.00 PM. Asana classes that included pranayama and meditation techniques, theory classes, mantra chanting, silent walks, Karma Yoga, are some of the sessions spread through the day. We remained physically and mentally occupied all day long. The program design left no room for idling both in body and mind, which I think was done on purpose. A lot of content had to be covered in that short span of time. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single iota of exhaustion. We were always in a cheerful and joyful state of being. Mindfulness and being present at all times was a natural state of the mind. Having trekked in the Himalayas multiple times, I was quick to draw parallels and equate the state of mind in both the situations.

In between the tight schedule, we had to carve out slots for personal study as well. We had two exams to appear at the end of the course. One internal, conducted by BYVK. The other external, conducted by Yoga Certification Board belonging to Ministry of Ayush (Govt. of India).

Pic 4: A picture from our first silent walk. PC: thesatsangfoundationofficial (Instagram handle)

As I already mentioned, I have been practicing Yoga asanas for 5 years now. More than half of this time, was in a studio which was my first training ground. But while practicing the same asanas in the training, I realized that I was doing many of them incorrectly. Since this was a teacher training course, a lot of time was spent on every asana leading to perfection in alignment and also in understanding the benefits and contraindications of each asana.

To add to the experience, I was blessed to be in the company of ten wonderful people, who were my classmates. Being bound by a common purpose, every one of us felt a great connection with each other. There was great team energy and the positivity was palpable. I need to mention the teachers too, who were not only knowledgeable but very kind and patient too.

Pic 5: All smiles on successful completion of the course.

This program has been a life-changing opportunity for me and I don’t want to take this for granted even once. It’s a blessing in the truest sense. Our ancient wisdom is so profound and insightful. It’s a pity that many of us know nothing of it and here I have just scratched the surface. The invaluable knowledge that I have gained is something I will carry for the rest of my life – the theoretical as well as the practical aspects of the Science of Yoga. I can now say with full understanding that Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being.

Most importantly I learned that our bodies and minds are what we make them to be, and all it takes is the consciousness of our breath. Not only can we hold complex asanas for long durations or sit still with complete focus, we can reign in our emotions and show humility and respect towards fellow human beings or other beings that co-exist with us on this planet.

Pic 6: A picture from the goshala (cowshed), where the cows also appeared to be meditative. Her name is Hemavati.
Pic 7: As part of our Karma Yoga, we had to clean up the goshala, bathe the cows, feed them, make dung cakes. This activity was the best of all the Karma Yogas we had to do, which also included, campus cleaning, Yogashala cleaning, kitchen cleaning.

This experience has been so deep and intense that even the best of my travels doesn’t match up. I would highly recommend trying something like this at least once in your lifetime. Not to be a Yoga Teacher but for your self-development. It’s worthwhile to invest your time and energy in yourself by turning inwards rather than outwards. Self-reflection enables a harmonious balance between ourselves and the outside world, which then translates as wellbeing and happiness in everyday life.

Pic 8: I cannot end this post without mentioning the healthy and nutritious, yet mouth-watering ashram food. Just a little of this food and our mind and tummies would be completely satisfied. Our food intake was always comparatively less even after being so active for the whole day, which is another thing that amazed us. It surely has to do with the overall calm, peace, and contentment we experienced during those days.

Bold and Beautiful Balcony Beauties

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

Hans Christian Anderson

I had been noticing the plant for a couple of days that lay abandoned in the common passage area outside my flat. The soil in the flowering pot was hard and dry, devoid of any signs of moisture content. I wondered if it was left behind by the tenant of my neighbouring flat, who had vacated a few days ago. The plant had a strange appearance. There were hardly any leaves, perhaps just 4 or 5. It had a thick stem of about 30 cm. arising from a bulbous and twisted base. I had no clue what plant this was but it’s unusual look attracted me.

This was before the pandemic, more than 2 years back. I got it inside my home, replanted it in a different pot and found a place for it in my balcony. Soon enough the very few leaves of the plant withered away and the stems wore a bare look. I wondered if the plant was about to die. A few days passed and it remained the same, even though I watered it regularly. The thick stem and its bulbous base seemed alive, but I was certain that its days were numbered. I let it be without bothering to give any special care.

More flowers than leaves!

A few weeks passed and one day the leaves reappeared, just three or four. Needless to say, I was very happy. A few months down the line, the plant threw up a huge surprise for me. I noticed tiny buds appearing and there were several of them. Extremely excited and intrigued beyond words, I spent the next few days in patient eagerness. I had no idea this was a flowering plant! I have always had only green plants and succulents in my balcony, which was quite by choice. I always maintained that flowering plants need more maintenance and they look good only when the flowers bloom. Ornamental greens on the other hand are evergreen. An opinion that was about to change.

The first thing I did every morning was observing the buds as they grew and changed every single day. One morning radiant bright pink flowers bloomed in my small plant. And there wasn’t just one, but multiple. Luscious and ravishingly attractive. My elation knew no bounds. Each flower lasted several days, before withering away. The blooming continued profusely for few weeks adding colour to my balcony and joy to my heart. I learnt this was Desert Rose or Adenium obesum.

Right now, my Desert Rose plant has bloomed once again. The resplendent, pink, trumpet-shaped flowers are adding exuberance and profound joy to the monotone called life!

The bud flowers!
Random Tit-Bits About Desert Rose or Adenium obesum
  • It’s not a Rose and has no similarity to the Rose Plant in any way.
  • It is an evergreen xerophytic succulent shrub, native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar.
  • It’s a good candidate for bonsai plants, given the thick succulent trunk, thin and delicate leaves.
  • It typically blooms for several weeks throughout spring and summer.
  • Its flowers may be red, pink, or white. Pink being the most common.
  • Its sap is toxic and if ingested can be lethal but has medicinal properties too.
  • It is a sun-lover and thrives in bright sunshine.
  • The pink flowers symbolize rejuvenation and is associated with peace, happiness, and prosperity.

The Grace of ‘Girivalam’

The first day of 2022…

“Are you planning Girivalam on the first day of 2022?”, enquired my friend when I told him that my sister and I were considering a visit to Tiruvannamalai on the New Year weekend. I had never heard about Girivalam before. Not surprising as I come from East India, so what if I have lived in Bangalore for more than a decade now. I am not aware of all the traditions and customs of South India. And, though I am deeply spiritual, I am not as much religious. My sister and I were just thinking of visiting Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram or Ramanashram, which we have been wanting to do for a while now.

Pic 1: There were several ponds along the Girivalam path, this is one of those.

Tiruvannamalai is an ancient temple town in Tamil Nadu situated at the foot of Arunachala Hill, a low rocky hill rising to a height of about 3000 feet. Believed to be the living manifestation of Lord Shiva, Arunachala has been mentioned in several ancient texts including the Puranas. Besides Arunachala, the temple town is famous for Annamalaiyar Temple and Ramanashram. There are several other ashrams and temples as well.

When we set out for Tiruvannamalai, our main interest was Ramanashram. However, now that I have completed Girivalam, it feels as significant as my experience at the ashram.

Pic 2: A huge Banyan Tree somewhere along the Girivalam route.

Girivalam (for the uninitiated, like me) is the age-old practice of circumambulation around the sacred Arunachala. In Tamil, ‘giri’ means mountain and ‘valam’ means to circle. It involves a walk of about 14 Km. around the sacred hill. A visit to Tiruvannamalai is considered incomplete without Girivalam. My sister and I decided to go for it. I enjoy walking anyway. The usual practice is to perform Girivalam on full moon nights, but it can be done anytime. Practically, the hot weather conditions of Tamil Nadu would make it quite difficult to perform Girivalam during the day. Ideally the walk is done barefoot.

It was Winter Season and first day of the year 2022. We embarked upon Girivalam around 6.30 AM, after paying our obeisance at the Annamalaiyar Temple, also known as Arunachalesvara Temple. The cool January day was even cooler with a light breeze and sporadic light showers. The weather was clearly on our side, a blessing from Arunachala.  

Pic 3: The tree-lined Girivalam Road. There’s a broad sidewalk too but in most places it remains occupied by Sadhus leaving people to walk on the road itself.

We started walking on the asphalt road that surrounds the hill, like most people do. There’s a way through the wilderness too at the base of the hill, but it cannot be done unless you’re with someone who knows the way. A large part of the road is through tree-lined roads with forests on either side. A part of it passes through the highway too. Some sections of the road is also flanked by surrounding villages. All through the road vehicles ply continuously, which isn’t a pleasant experience, but you don’t need to be worried about being run down as the drivers are cognizant of all the Girivalam walkers.

A large section of the path does have a broad paved sidewalk, which makes it easier to walk. Dozens of temples line the route. The most prominent of them are the eight lingams or asthalingams, that pilgrims stop by on the way. Each lingam signifies different directions of the earth. They are as Indralingam, Agnilingam, Yamalingam, Niruthilingam, Varunalingam, Vayulingam, Kuberlingam and Esanyalingam.

Pic 4: A visual map of the Girivalam route, present at regular intervals, provides guidance to the devotees and walkers.

There were several people walking that day, but it wasn’t crowded. Nevertheless, we made sure we had our N-95 masks on all through the way. I believe the crowd would swell on full moon nights or during specific festivals. Walking barefoot wasn’t an easy task, given that we aren’t used to it. The gravel and other particles on the road prick your soles and your feet invariably starts paining. After a certain distance, the pain in my sister’s feet heightened and she was unable to take another step. We bought a pair of thick socks from a shop that was just opening its shutters. The socks provided much needed relief and she was able to continue with the walk.

Pic 5: The sacred Arunachala partially hidden in the clouds.

The majestic and divine view of Arunachala from various angles kept us going. We walked at our own pace, slow and steady. After a while, the pain in the feet didn’t bother us anymore and we started to enjoy the walk. We stopped once at a temple where a local family was offering food to the pilgrims. It was fresh and hot home cooked food. Nothing could have been a better breakfast than this. The second time we paused was halfway through, craving for a cup of tea to recharge and refresh. After walking for 4.5 hours, we were back at the temple entrance, where we had started walking, completing our circumambulation around Arunachala.

Pic 6: Several such colourful temples and ashrams can be seen all through the Girivalam route.

Arunachala is captivating to say the least and it grows on you. Back at Bangalore, the visuals of the hill from the various angles keep flashing in my memory. I am certain that I will go back. And, in case I decide to perform Girivalam again, I’ll make sure it’s on a full moon night. Some experiences are extraordinary that have no logical explanation and Girivalam is certainly one of those.

Someone at Tiruvannamalai told us that Arunachala is like a magnet. If you come here once, you come here several times. Guess he was right!

Reminiscing 2021

The Year That Was

It’s difficult to believe that we are at the last day of 2021 and here I am writing my usual year end post. It feels like we blinked, and all the 365 days of this year got over. Though I must admit that this is exactly how it feels every single year.

The first thing that comes to mind as I reflect upon the year that’s gone by is that my writing and blogging effort has been below average. That doesn’t make me feel good at all. Well, let me take a pause and focus on things that makes me feel good instead.

  1. The year 2021 had started off with an unplanned trip to Horsley Hills, which happened on the very first day of the year.  Horsley Hills is located in Andhra Pradesh and is a great place for a day trip or a short weekend trip.
  2. Amidst all the things that kept me busy, I maintained my focus on health and well-being. Thankfully there hasn’t been any lag on that front. I continued with my routine yoga, meditation, and jogging sessions. In fact, I believe that I have gained greater focus and concentration during my daily meditations. I have also doubled my meditation time.
  3. The highlight of this year, however, has to be my trip to Varanasi and Lucknow. It has been a memorable trip for reasons more than one. Most importantly, I took my father’s remains to Varanasi to immerse in River Ganga. He always wanted to visit the holy city, but it eluded him and he could never make it. Hence, we decided to immerse his ashes there. A very special friend accompanied me, making it a very special trip. The entire event, right from planning to execution, happened in a way like it was pre-ordained. We spent 5 beautiful days in Varanasi. We also visited Lucknow, where we stayed for 3 days.
  4. I did three local hikes exploring ruined forts in and around Bangalore – Hutridurga, Gudibande, and Gummanayaka. No Himalayas this year, which I do miss. Sometimes in the corner of my heart I feel there may not be many more Himalayan treks for me, but I’ll let time decide on that.
  5. Circumstances led to my cousin and brother-in-law visiting me twice this year in Bangalore. They happen to be my favourite relatives. Both the visits were related to medical reasons, but we did end up having a lot of fun too. We even made a short family trip to Mysore. I cannot be grateful enough for having spent such quality family time.
  6. I have always wanted to drive around in the outskirts of Bangalore but neither do I own a car nor do I know how to drive. So, I always land up hiring a chauffeur-driven car. This time my long-standing wish was fulfilled when we went on a on a roadtrip to Sakleshpur with my brother-in-law and my friend taking turns behind the wheels. During this trip, we also visited the famous Belur and Halebidu Temples.
  7. This year has blessed me with the opportunity to teach a few underprivileged kids, something I have wanted to do for a very long time. The four kids have enriched my life in ways more than one. I look forward to my time with them and it’s a lot of fun.

That’s quite a list and it does make me feel quite elated right now. However, life is not just roses and here are a few things that haven’t been so pleasant this year.

  1. I could not visit my Shillong home this year and neither could I attend my father’s first year death anniversary. All thanks to how non-tribals (especially Bengalis) are alienated in Meghalaya and made to feel like outsiders in their own home. I will not go into the details as I don’t want to, and the rest of my countrymen cannot relate to it. But all of this has seriously injured the immense love I had for my hometown, the city of my birth, and where I spent all my growing up years.
  2. The beginning of this year found me seriously ill, all because of a wrong treatment that I can easily attribute to the pandemic. I became well eventually but landed up with a permanent damage on two of my front teeth.
  3. My WordPress activity has come down drastically and I need to make amends sooner than later. I can blame this on nothing but myself. Blogging has given me so much, most importantly connected me to such wonderful people, and I don’t want to take that for granted ever.

Though New Year is just another day like every other day but let’s hold on the belief that we’re ushering in something new, which gives us hope and something to look forward to. A warm hug and goodbye to 2021. As I step into 2022, I pray to the Almighty is to guide my steps to be able to comprehend myself a little better so that I can make those positive changes towards becoming a better a version of myself.

Till We Meet Again

Last year this day, my dad had suddenly left us. A year has gone by and just too soon. It’s unbelievable where all the time goes. His absence doesn’t seem to be real even for a second. It just always feels like he is around, and I’ll see him soon. The latter must be true but in another sense of the term.

And, here’s what I think he may be up to right now:

In the garden of eternal bliss

Squatting in your little corner

Busily you inspect the blooming bud

Fluffy white clouds whisper into your ears

Disapprovingly you wave your hands

Your very own characteristic way
 
Lessons in gardening is not what you need

They don’t know it – the fluffy white clouds

Little fairies hover around you

Their playfulness you always seek

Radiant bees and dazzling butterflies
 
Gleaming caterpillars and lustrous lady bugs

Cheerfully hang around here and there

Ramifying into a full-grown iridescent flower

The blooming bud twinkles and beams

Smiling away from the corner of your lips

Your very own characteristic way

It’s time to go look for the pond

Where the rainbow shimmers day and night

The exuberant golden fish eagerly awaits

It’s time to share, time to debate

Your very own characteristic way

Revenge Tourism

Revenge Tourism! What the hell is this? I exclaimed as I heard this term for the first-time last evening.  Apparently, it’s been doing rounds of social media. Having stayed away from Instagram (the only social media I actively pursue) for a while now, naturally I have no clue. Being overly occupied in certain other aspects of life also does its bit in contributing to such ignorance. Quite often, I find myself staggering behind and completely lost about these current trends and other such things brewing out there. Certainly, they aren’t important and hence don’t matter. But people pick up these terminologies and casually use them in everyday conversations. Sometimes, they go a step ahead and make you feel foolish and dumb when you express your unfamiliarity. I couldn’t care less though!

Revenge Tourism, as I understand, means tourism with a vengeance to make up for all the times people couldn’t travel. The phrase feels somewhat negative to me. Are we challenging Mother Nature in some way? – was my immediate thought. Probably, I am being judgmental as I have no idea how this terminology came into being and under what circumstances it might have been coined. Probably I am just envious as I haven’t had the opportunity to participate in Revenge Tourism just yet. However, to travel with a vengeful mindset feels strange and weird, doesn’t it? Afterall, what we think is just as important as what we say and do. Our thoughts matter, they make us who we are. It’s important to be mindful, not just of speech and action, but thought too. I wouldn’t dare to invite Mother Nature’s ire by indulging in any form of activity that might upset her, least of all by making a blatant display of my arrogance.

Revenge Tourism or Reward Tourism or whatever Tourism be it, the most important thing to remember is the entire economic angle around it. Tons of people have their livelihood dependent on tourism. So, let travel happen while making sure that protocols are adhered to and the right amount of balance is maintained.

To me travel still feels like a faraway dream, at least the kind of travel I used to do. Pre-pandemic travel sometimes feels like a thing of another life – a past life. I would go on long trips at least thrice a year and that would be interspersed with smaller trips to nearby places. All of that, feels like a dream now. I shouldn’t be just blaming the pandemic though. Life has changed personally in certain other ways too and it feels like a new phase. I had never given much thought to the fact that travel can be dependent on extraneous factors, many of which aren’t in one’s direct control. Well, life waxes and wanes and all we can do is just flow along.

Now, I hadn’t set out to put down my thoughts around Revenge Tourism today. Neither did I plan to tell my travel sob stories. This post was supposed to be about something else altogether. I wanted to sum up all the things I did between the end of December and beginning of January, which incidentally includes some bit of travel too. Let me just keep that aside for my next post.

The Frustrations of Travel Sabotage

Ever been in a situation where your travel was sabotaged by fellow travelers or others? If yes, I feel your pain. After navigating such situations a couple of times, I made some simple travel rules for myself. I can’t always stick to them for reasons beyond my control but do try my best to adhere to them whenever possible.

An important lesson I learnt in the hard way is that a great friend does not necessarily translate into a great travel partner. Habits and the way you go about doing things, which do not affect you otherwise may become a major mood spoiler in travel scenarios. For e.g. a friend of mine regularly spends a long time in the shower. I don’t care about that and why would I. When we traveled together this became a big botheration to me as I can never imagine spending precious travel time in routine activities. My friend on the other hand would not relent. She was here to relax, it was a holiday afterall. Not my idea of relaxing in any way.

I have a list of multiple such incidents. Let me narrate two.

At New York

The first time I went to the US, I had a connecting flight from New York, both during the onward and return journey. Obviously, in no way could I miss the opportunity of visiting the Big Apple. The plan was to stopover for the weekend in NY. A colleague, who was traveling with me, joined in only to leave me in the lurch by changing his plans at the last moment. Irrespective, I went ahead with my plan.

L: Times Square; R: Staten Island

A cousin’s girlfriend was stationed at New Jersey, during that time, and it was decided that I would stay with her for that weekend. I had never met her before but that didn’t matter as my only interest was exploring NYC. My cousin’s girlfriend, on the other hand, had a different idea about entertaining me. She wasted more than half a day cooking and feeding me. That I am not a foodie and I wasn’t there to eat was none of her concern. Moreover, she wouldn’t let me venture out alone. By the time we could step out it was late afternoon and soon it started snowing. My Saturday was bitterly spoilt. Left with only Sunday, I wasn’t going to let that go waste. It was a sunny day, I ventured out early in the morning and spent the day in my own way, salvaging whatever little I could of my most looked forward to NYC trip.

Trying to be the best host, my cousin’s girlfriend missed the larger picture that defeated my very purpose of visiting NY. The saddest part is that in most likelihood I will never make it to NY again.  

At Miami

The second incident is also associated with a trip to the US, though this is purely coincidental. Just two months before WHO declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, we were at the city of Miami on an official visit. Among the various places I planned to visit, I wasn’t going to miss Everglades National Park. Unlike other official visits that are quite crammed with meetings and events, this trip was quite relaxed providing us ample time to indulge in personal activities.

The picture on the left is significant for the date, we had no idea what awaited us for the rest of the year.

Two of my colleagues (or friends), whose travel ideas are drastically different from mine, started accompanying me everywhere translating into a kind of an unsaid rule that we would always go out together. And, all the trips would mostly end up in malls, shopping, and eating. Neither would they let me be nor would they do what I liked to do. They were simply being well-meaning friends without realizing that they were interfering with my ideas of experiencing the Magic City of Miami. As a result, I couldn’t visit half the places I had in my plan. Everglades National Park didn’t happen too. And once again, the saddest part is that in most likelihood I will never make it to Miami again.

While I can be quite accommodating and adjusting in other aspects of life, when it’s about travel it utterly frustrates me. Compromise in travel I shall not do! Can’t live upto it always though…

Karnataka’s Twin Waterfalls

I stood there staring at the gushing cascading waters, aggressively bouncing off the craggy moss-covered rock cliff. It always feels happy to be near a waterfall and this was no different. The white shafts of water complemented by the surrounding greenery of various shades did their job of lifting my spirits and boosting my energy. But my mind was agitated. It kept slipping into the past as scenes from the last time I was here fleeted before my eyes like a motion picture.

I was at the exact same spot a decade ago when I had just shifted to Bangalore.

The waterfall is just the same, but the surroundings look quite different – the usual story of manipulating the natural surroundings to make it more touristy. Such ugly human interventions always disturb the nature lover in me. Today, however, my mind was consumed with other thoughts – the memories of my last visit here. I was here with my parents (dad). Life’s changes are just too fast. And, the decade ago visit feels like it happened just yesterday.

Pic 1: This was clicked during my previous visit. The serene pool formed at the bottom of a waterfall always seems to me like the water needs a quick rest before carrying on.

We were at Barachukki Falls – one of the two waterfall that are collectively known as Shivanasamudra. The other one is Gaganachukki Falls. Shivanasamudra, literally translating as Shiva’s Sea, is formed by the dropping waters of River Cauvery as it makes its way through the Deccan Plateau. The river splits into two branches resulting into the two perennial waterfalls of Barachukki and Gaganachukki. While Barachukki is the eastern branch of the waterfall, Gaganachukki forms the western branch. In between lies the island town of Shivanasamudra that marks the boundary of Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district and Mandya district.

Pic 2: The segmented cluster of Barachukki that spreads broadly across the cliff.

Located 140 kms away from Bangalore, Shivanasamudra has another claim to fame. It boasts of the second hydro-electric power station set up in colonial India in 1902. The power from this station was primarily used to run the Kolar Gold Fields during the gold rush of the early 1900s. [The first hydro-electric power station in India was set up at Darjeeling. These two were among the first ones in Asia.]

The twin waterfalls of Barachukki and Gaganachukki are separated by 10 Km. and can be covered just by a drive of 15-20 minutes. The twin waterfalls do not have much resemblance to each other, and they stand out significantly in their look and feel. The only similarity, I thought was the topography of their surroundings.

Pic 3: The horsetail parallel gushing and vivacious streams of Gaganchukki.

Barachukki gushes down fulsome and enthusiastically in all directions. It constitutes a cluster of segmented waterfalls that spreads broadly across the cliff, falling from a height of 69m. The multiple side-by-side waterfall is a consequence of the water dividing into several channels before dropping off the ledge. Gaganachukki is a steep waterfall that thunders down from a height of 98m. with an incredibly fierce velocity. It consists of two large parallel streams, quite aptly referred to as horsetails that cascade down through the rocky bed.

We were there in the month of December, 2020. It being the season of winter, the quantity of water was less in both the falls.

Barachukki Falls also has a flight of about 200 concrete steps, well-guarded with railings, to reach the bottom of the falls. During our visit, this was temporarily closed. It was pandemic times, so not surprising. During my previous visit, I had also seen people taking coracle rides right up to the falls. This time there were none. There is no way to reach the bottom of Gaganachukki and it would be dangerous to do so, given the sheer force of this falls.

Pic 4: L – A decade ago with my parents. R – This time with my sisters.

The Saga of Savitri Brata

I was on the usual everyday call with my Mom. But something was different today. The awkwardness in our conversation was just too obvious. Both of us were consciously staying away from ‘that topic’.

“It’s high time to do away with all this!”, I would have repeated umpteen number of times, persuading her to stop participating in Savitri Brata. Each time she had the same response, “I’ve been doing this right from the time I got married, can’t stop now.” This would be followed by give-away pretentions of blaming my grandmother (her mother-in-law) for initiating her into practicing the same. Nothing is ever enforced in our family, so we both knew how lame her accusations were. The feminist in me would sometimes struggle to understand her sentiments.

Savitri Brata is a religious event consisting of Puja rituals where women pray for the well-being and long lives of their husbands. I have been witnessing this annual tradition right from my childhood till the time I left home, a good decade-and-a-half ago. Prevalent in the East Indian states of Bihar, Bengal, Assam, and Orissa, this festival is celebrated mostly by the Bengalis, Maithilis, and Odiyas. It’s essentially a counterpart of the North Indian festival of Karva Chauth minus the fanfare and extravagance of dressing up as brides, adorning mehndi, and seeing your husbands through sieves against the backdrop of the Moon. Savitri Brata is relatively a quieter affair of getting together and participating in Puja rituals with the accompaniment of some harmless chatter and heartfelt laughter.

Usually Savitri Brata happens around the end of May or early June, the dates depend on the lunar calendar. This year it’s happening now. My mother used to actively participate in the annual festival and has been doing so for the last 40+ years. With my father’s demise, the very purpose of this festival doesn’t exist for her anymore. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for her!

The description of the rituals I provide in this post is based on how I have seen the festival celebrated in my home and in the neighbourhood. Hence, this is an account of the manner in which this festival is observed by the Bengalis living in Assam, Meghalaya and other states of North East India. The rituals and traditions in other states could be different, I have no idea.

Savitri Brata is spread over three days. Women wear new clothes and partially fast, living on a diet of fruits for the whole of the first two days and half of the third day. Preparations begin 2-3 days in advance. The sacred grass Durva (Bermuda grass) is collected from the garden, cleaned, and sorted. They are bundled into neat packs of 108 along with flowers. During the Puja, each woman dedicates a bundle to their respective husbands.

Long ago, when my grandparents were around, the puja was done exclusively by a priest at our home and was attended not only by women in the family, but those in the neighbourhood too. As the years passed by, the elaborateness of the puja coupled with reduced manpower made it challenging for my Mom and Aunts to continue conducting the puja at home. Now, the puja is conducted at a centralized location where everyone assembles (except for the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021).

Many a times, we have urged Mom and Aunts to quit the puja. My Dad and Uncles also persuaded to the best of their abilities. They disliked the additional task of making the necessary arrangements and ensuring that everything was in place. Moreover, carrying the psychological guilt of not doing something similar for their wives didn’t make them feel any better. But the women, in a world of their own, were relentless. In fact, they would enjoy those three days of merry making in the form of prayers, get-togethers, laughter, incessant chatter, new clothes, and not to mention the special attention. Logic, blackmail, humble cajoles, we tried it all. Finally, we just gave up!

However, like many other traditions and rituals, Savitri Brata will soon be gone without a trace. I don’t know a single woman of my generation who observes this festival. In just a few years, it will become a forgotten thing of the past.

Many may condemn this as a regressive affair reflecting our inherent patriarchal mindsets. Probably they are right, but over the years a new realization has dawned upon me. I see nothing wrong in following rituals or traditions, especially when they do no harm to others. Rather, they bring forth few moments of joy and happiness. If offering a prayer for your husband/partner puts a smile on your face, there cannot be anything wrong with that. It’s all about individual choices.

Legend of Savitri Brata

(Source: Wikipedia)

The brata was named after Savitri, the beautiful daughter of King Aswapati of Madra Desa. She selected Satyavan, a prince in exile who was living in the forest with his blind father Dyumatsen, as her life partner. She left the palace and lived with her husband and in-laws in the forest. As a devoted wife and daughter-in-law, she went to great lengths to take care of them. One day while cutting wood in the jungle, Satyavan's head reeled and he fell down from a tree. Yamraj, the God of Death, appeared to take away Satyavan's soul. Deeply hurt, Savitri pleaded to Yamraj not to be separated from her husband. If anything, he would have to take her along too. Yamraj, moved by the devotion of Savitri, returned the life of her husband. Soon Satyavan regained his lost kingdom too. 

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A Kick in the Teeth

The pandemic has spared me so far, none of my family members or close friends and relatives have been affected. The virus did catch a few acquaintances, but they got away with hardly any troubles. My sincerest gratitude to the Almighty. By saying this I absolutely don’t mean to negate the unfathomable hardships many people are facing in various parts of the country (world).  And of course, I could be next in line.

I have stopped following the news and reading stories of death and devastation. This was after the two fateful nights when I couldn’t sleep a wink, having watched some visuals displayed on a television news channel. Added to that were some articles and stories that I had consumed from the Internet. A little deliberation and I realized these aren’t things in my control. I can do nothing by thinking about the sufferings people are going through. Either I go out in the field and make a difference by doing something meaningful or I better shut my mind off. I’ll cross the bridge if and when I need to. Selfish? Yes, but my wellness and sanity are my responsibility.

Right now, I am already fighting my very own battle. Though I am fully cognizant of the fact that in the current scheme of things what I’m going through cannot be categorized as a problem at all. But then, every single waking moment I am aware of it. It’s bothering me constantly and I am struggling.

This goes back to the month of March when I fell sick and had two blackouts resulting in a broken front tooth.

The dentist I was visiting had a very fancy clinic and several degrees under his belt. I did feel unnerved by his extraordinarily fancy clinic when I first visited him. It was my intuition at work, which I had failed to recognize. Afterall, he was recommended by another doctor who was a friend’s friend. His fee was exorbitant. My mind felt repulsed. Once again, I ignored the warning signs and instead told my mind to shut up – quality comes at a cost I concluded.

Now, I am at the receiving end of a treatment that’s gone horribly wrong. The dentist screwed up my teeth so much that the entire alignment of my jaws is messed up. The damage is permanent as he resized my original tooth and made them smaller in order to fit a crown over them. Not just that, I had broken one tooth, but he convinced me that the procedure is required on two of my front teeth. Now I am dealing with multiple problems – unable to chew my food, certain words just slip out of my mouth, and many other associated problems.

These teeth are cosmetic, not functional – he stated callously after completing the procedure and taking all the money. Something he ought to have explained before the procedure, which would have enabled me to take an informed decision. When I countered him, he was uninterested and gave illogical justifications.  This is one of those times when I feel that I have S-T-U-P-I-D written all over my face and people just easily take me for a ride. An online consultation with another dentist confirmed my fear of the wrong treatment and a permanent damage done. Now, I have no idea if the situation can be salvaged so that the feeling of discomfort eases a bit. That can happen only when another dentist examines it, which would not be possible until the current Covid scenario improves.  

My teeth problem is nothing compared to the Covid Problem. But I am unable to ignore it with the immense discomfort I am facing every single moment.