‘I was a very confused child’

NPR’s Morning Edition today featured one of the world’s greatest tabla players: Zakir Hussain.

The link is right here. The feature is part of a week-long look at “beats,” aka drummers. There’s a “listen now” feature but, as best as I can tell, the written story is the same as what you hear.

The story also includes the below YouTube video of Hussain and his father:

A quick excerpt, with a storyline that sounds familiar to Ashtanga:

Hussain was 7 when his father first approached him and asked if he was ready to learn the tabla for real. The lessons were to begin in the middle of the night.

“I was woken up at 2:30 in the morning, and that’s when we sat and talked rhythm,” he says. “And he told me about the history of our tradition and the great masters of the past, and what it all is — just kind of developing inside me the whole idea of existing in this world.”

Hussain says that nocturnal ritual would be repeated every night for four years, his demanding school schedule notwithstanding.

“It didn’t matter to me; I was so happy. To be in his presence was great,” he says. “From about 2:30 on, he talked to me, and then at 6:30 I would go to the local Islamic school, the madrassa, and learn to recite the Quran. When that was over, I’d go across the street into my school, which was a Catholic school, and we’d sing the hymns and then go to class.” He adds, “Doing all of that in the space of, like, five-and-a-half or six hours, I was a very confused child.”

Following his father’s lead, Hussain would get involved in world music and play with artists including George Harrison and the Grateful Dead. There’s a funny exchange recounting that experience.

Posted by Steve

Comparing Harvard and Mysore

Fun little article in The Hindu about Westerners coming to Mysore to practice Ashtanga:

President of the Mysore Yoga Okkoota Ganesh Kumar said there were about 150 to 160 yoga centres in the city and 15 to 20 of them enjoy the patronage of foreigners. “At any given time, there are around 700 to 800 foreigners learning yoga at these institutes. Their number increases during the holiday season in December and January. Around 10,000 foreigners visit the city to learn yoga every year,” he said.

Many yoga students from foreign countries join more than one institute during their stay here. “If they join Pattabhi Jois institute for Ashtanga yoga, they join others for meditation or pranayama,” Dr. Kumar said. Pattabhi Jois’ grandson R. Sharath Jois, who now runs the institute, counts Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, and William J. Dafoe among the well-known Hollywood personalities he has taught.

This influx of yoga enthusiasts has also translated into a boost for the local economy. “There is a lot of demand for accommodation, autorickshaws, and eateries,” he said. Awareness on yoga was slowly increasing in India, he added.

The Harvard reference is from a quotation in the story.

Posted by Steve

Yatra news: Study with Sharath in the Himalayas

Big news from Namarupa. Sharath will be involved with a section of next year’s Yatra — appropriately enough the Ashtanga Yoga Sadhana part.

All the details are at Namarupa’s site. You really need to check it out. This time, Robert Moses — co-founder of Namarupa with Eddie Stern and twice our Yatra leader — has arranged a variety of possible yatras to fit, I suppose, both time and budget.

Here’s a little description, but the real bounty is at the online brochure:

Yatra, Tirtha and Darshan The ancient Puranas of India are huge volumes containing stories of the makings of the universe as well as thrilling tales of innumerable gods and goddesses. The geography of the Puranas coincides with that of the entire Indian sub-continent. Countless places mentioned in these ancient texts are alive today and are important places of yatra (pilgrimage). Within their sanctums, worship of the resident gods and goddesses is performed daily in a tradition that reaches back to antiquity and beyond. These places where the sacred stories unfolded are sometimes called tirthas. A tirtha is a place of crossing over and most literally refers to fords of rivers. It also refers to a spiritual crossing place, where the divine is more easily intuited, recognized or experienced. Daily, vast numbers of yatris (pilgrims) visit the sacred places to have darshan of their favorite gods or goddesses. Darshan is both seeing and being seen by the deity. It is a source of spiritual renewal. Namarupa Yatras are centered around the experience of darshan.

As Robert would expect of me, I have to note that Radha-kunda Das will be among the leaders. He’s my favorite thing in and about India.

According to the brochure, Sharath will be teaching two Led Primary classes each day as well as leading discussions. This part of the Yatra — the full one runs Oct. 1 to 30 — runs from the 12th to 17th. But, as I noted, there are multiple — seven in all — variations you can consider.

Posted by Steve

Momentum growing for an International Day of Yoga

Among the many things Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about at his United Nations speech a month ago was the idea for an International Day of Yoga.

His call is gaining some serious momentum, as this Times of India story makes clear:

As many as 50 countries – US, Canada and China most recently — have signed up for co-sponsorship of a draft resolution which India’s UN mission is preparing for declaring June 21 as international Yoga day.

The resolution will be submitted soon to the UN secretariat with the government looking to aggressively push for its adoption before the end of this year. Perhaps India’s most significant export to the world, the ancient art of Yoga is fast taking centre-stage in Modi’s soft power push.

I’m thinking maybe Asana Across America? (You read that here first.)

Posted by Steve

5,000 students do yoga to promote world peace

This one’s all about the pictures; unfortunately, all the photos are from Getty Images, which is extremely protective of its copyright, so we won’t risk re-posting here. But check them out at the link above. A little write up from the Daily Mail:

Now that’s what you call a yoga class. 

Almost 5,000 teachers and students started this morning with a massive stretching and flexing session in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.

The group from Delhi Public school, which has branches in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, performed seven classic yoga postures while reciting prayers for world harmony and peace. 

Yoga was developed in India between 600 and 500BC and is used in schools across the county to prepare students for a day of lessons by helping them relax and focus their minds. 

I believe it took place early Monday.

Posted by Steve


This may be the yoga documentary we’ve been waiting for

Back in March, we highlighted a yoga documentary being shot in India by a high-profile director. (Post link is here.) There wasn’t a lot of detail yet, and I ended with a cautious-sounding “we’ll see where it goes.”

Well, it’s gone pretty far. And here’s a trailer to prove it:

(BKS Iyengar appears at about 1:28. And is it the Mysore shala at about 1:50?) It’s actually trailer no. 2. And the film now is titled, “Yoga — An Ancient Vision of Life.” Here’s the quick description accompanying the trailer:

This epic documentary is made for CountryWide Projects by the famous culture historian Benoy K Behl. It is shot across India, as well as across Germany and USA. It includes interviews with the leading teachers of Yoga and practitioners, as well as doctors and scientists. The film conveys the true and deep meaning of yoga.

And they’ve just gone on Facebook.

I’m told the film will be released in India in December, with the international release to follow.

We’ll keep an eye out.

Posted by Steve

WWKD? WWVD? WWSD? A quick look at Hinduism

Interesting and worthwhile Q&A is up at the New York Times — I’m guessing only online, although that matters less and less all the time.

Two reasons to highlight it: Good content for us as well as wanting to see what mainstream people (at least those checking the NYT’s religion forum) are reading about Hinduism. The series is run by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. This time he interviews Jonardon Ganeri, a visiting professor of philosophy at New York University Abu Dhabi. He also is the author of “The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450–1700.”A few highlights:

G.G.: What do you mean by “non-theistic” concepts of the divine?

J.G.: One such concept sees the text of the Veda as itself divine. Its language, on this view, has a structure that is prior to and isomorphic with the structure of the world and its grammar is complete (although parts may have been lost over the centuries). The divinity of the text inverts the order of priority between text and author: Now, at best, assignment of authorship is a cataloging device not the identification of origin. Recitation of the text is itself a religious act.

Another Hindu conception of the divine is that it is the essential reality in comparison to which all else is only concealing appearance. This is the concept of one finds in the Upanishads. Philosophically the most important claim the Upanishads make is that the essence of each person is also the essence of all things’; the human self and brahman (the essential reality) are the same.

This identity claim leads to a third conception of the divine: that inwardness or interiority or subjectivity is itself a kind of divinity. On this view, religious practice is contemplative, taking time to turn one’s gaze inwards to find one’s real self; but — and this point is often missed — there is something strongly anti-individualistic in this practice of inwardness, since the deep self one discovers is the same self for all.


G.G.: What sort of ethical guidance does Hinduism provide?

J.G.: One of the most important texts in the religious life of many Hindus is the Bhagavadgita, the Song of the Lord. The Gita is deeply philosophical, addressing in poetic, inspirational language a fundamental conundrum of human existence: What to do when one is pulled in different directions by different sorts of obligation, how to make hard choices. The hard choice faced by the protagonist Arjuna is whether to go to war against members of his own family, in violation of a universal duty not to kill; or to abstain, letting a wrong go unrighted and breaking a duty that is uniquely his. Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna with the philosophical advice that the moral motivation for action should never consist in expected outcomes, that one should act but not base one’s path of action on one’s wants or needs.

G.G.: This sounds rather like the Kantian view that morality means doing what’s right regardless of the consequences.

J.G.: There are ongoing debates about what sort of moral philosophy Krishna is proposing — Amartya Sen has claimed that he’s a quasi-Kantian but others disagree. More important than this scholarly debate, though, is what the text tells us about how to live: that living is hard, and doing the right thing is difficult; that leading a moral life is at best an enigmatic and ambiguous project. No escape route from moral conflict by imitating the actions of a morally perfect individual is on offer here. Krishna, unlike Christ, the Buddha or Mohammed is not portrayed as morally perfect, and indeed the philosopher Bimal Matilal very aptly describes him as the “devious divinity.” We can but try our best in treacherous circumstances.

There is plenty more. Big hat tip to Robert Moses for sending the link along to me. It is good timing as we try to synthesis all our experiences from our Yatra — challenging and easy alike. There is another in the series on Buddhism, and you can find them all under a search for Gutting’s name (or just click here).