Impressions of a festival: Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar's 80th Birthday Celebration

By Kevin Durkin

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What would it be like to celebrate your 80th birthday for two weeks with 700 of your closest friends and devotees? I daresay few of us will ever have that first hand experience. This contributed to the "once in a lifetime" feeling that permeated Guruji's birthday festival. And, a once in a lifetime event it was. This event of ambitious proportions was held at Ambrosia, a beautiful hotel resort in the hills outside of Pune. From our 6:30 a.m. bus ride to Ambrosia, until our our 8:00 p.m. bus ride back to the institute or days were filled with food, music, dancing, food, lectures, asana classes, food, snake and magic shows, flowers, Brahmin priests, vedic chanting, more food, pranayama, fire puja, and did I mention the food? Such sumptous Indian feasts made with foriegner's in mind. I was so grateful for this. On my previous trip to India I found the food so searingly hot that I ate very little. One of my most memorable moments was the tone of saddness in Sam Motivala's voice as he said "Our kitchen staff is shocked to see food being thrown away. We are a poor country, we do not throw away food."

The first two days were held at the Shivanagar auditorium in Pune. We observed hours of Puja (devotional ceremony) by Brahmin priests to honor Guruji. The continuous Vedic chanting of the priests was absorbing, hypnotic, and, with close observation,humorous at times when the priests would vie for microphone time and, oh so subtlety, cajole each other on or chastise each othe for mistakes and deal with their own stage fright. The best quote of the two days wasfrom Ramanand Patel, at the end of hours of chanting, the Brahmins were handed envelopes. I overheard Ramanand say, more or less to himself,"Ah, the priests are being paid, that's a good sign."

The first day at Ambrosia we began with the beautiful event of planting 80 trees. One for each year of Guruji"s life. Some senior teachers and respected guests were honored with the responsibility of planting a tree. To which Guruji came to each tree and gave the final spade of dirt and ceremonial watering. May these 80 trees grow and live beyond all our lifetimes.

The honor that so many of us came for was the opportunity to study directly with Guruji. Several months before the festival we recieved letters stating that at this stage of Guruji's lifeit is now time to devote himself completely to God and contemplation. Therefore,he would not teach the classes. Even though his son and daughter, Prashant and Geeta are held in the highest esteem, we could not help but feel a sense of disappointment at nothaving the Yogacharya himself teaching. But to all of our elation Guruji took the stage and once again demonstrated to all why he is the world's formost master of Yoga. The detail and minutia of each posture nad physical action was revealed as only the Lion Of Pune can, with fierceness, and a challange to grow, and the pride that can only come from total mastery. During both my previous studies with Guruji and this festival I realized that the core essence of his teaching is to honor the Raja Yoga of Patanjali. The intelligence that is present in the universe is percieved directly by the body. If the Asanas are studied within the context of the eight petals of the Ashtanga ladder the student rises to the awareness of Samadhi. And that my friends is spiritual Yoga.

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