Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrations, India Style!

So, forgive me for being an entire week behind! Last weekend we had our gala weekend of Indian celebrations. It was fantastic and fun! We started off on Saturday morning by skipping class and heading off to a wedding! Yes! Back when we very first arrived at our apartment in Pune, our landlady was there to meet us and make sure that everything was good to go. She very gracoiusly invited us to an upcoming family wedding, so that we could witness a true Indian wedding. What fun. It was her brother-in-law's son's wedding! ha ha! She called up her brother-in-law and he happily agreed to let us come along. How sweet! I've been to a couple of Indian weddings in my time, but it was brand new for Jen and Abbey and wonderfully fun for all of us. We got dressed up in our best Indian outfits, which in the end paled in comparison to the stunning ladies at the wedding. Everyone was decked out in their most beautiful sarees and COPIOUS jewels... it was a true spectacle. We couldn't pick between watching the ceremony or watching the attendees.

It was very nice having Asha, our landlady, there with us because she explained many parts of the ceremony to us. The official Hindu ceremony started around 7:30am, and we arrived around 8:30 am. People continued to randomly filter in for the next 2 or 3 hours. So different from an American wedding... people in the "audience" were openly chatting and conversing, kids running around, people greeting each other - meanwhile the priest and the couple were busy on stage. The ceremony was wonderful and truly packed with ritual. So much longer and more symbolic than the standard western wedding. Many different steps to go through, including certain individual family members on stage, or the groom's whole family onstage, or the bride and the groom tied together with string, or leading each other around the fire... many fascinating elements of the ceremony. This was an arranged marraige - the couple had known each other for about 6 months and were able to meet and make sure they felt good about one another before getting married. A combination of individual desire and family desire. One can see very clearly here how much importance is placed on the family, trusting your parents to make a good choice for you. The obvious assumption is that you love your family and your family loves you... which is very different from the strong trend in the U.S. toward independence and individuality. Seems like at home one is usually just considered very lucky for loving one's family so much... whereas here it is the base assumption!

After the ceremony we partook of a nice lunch at the wedding, and then got geared up for our next big event - the 33rd anniversary of the Iyengar Yoga Institute. How fortuitous to be here in Pune for the anniversary. It was a two-part affair - Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Saturday night's celebration consisted of a two-hour lecture on the "earth element in asana practice." I suppose that you know you are a real yoga nerd when you celebrated with such a lecture, but I can't deny that I found it wonderful, fascinating and informative. One of Mr.Iyengar's closest students, who is also a medical doctor (holding the mike in this picture) presented the lecture, with the help of some other Indian students from the Institute who did the asanas to demonstrate his points. His lecture focused on the role of bones in the postures (as bones represent the earth element in the asanas), and also how to practice the asanas in such a way that the bones are maximized and strengthened. Many wonderful and difficult postures were demonstrated, as well as many intreresting usages of props in more elemental poses. One of the more interesting aspects was when the whole lecture was over, Mr. Iyengar was invited up to critique the presentation and the presenters. Now, that's very different from the States! Relatively harsh words were offered about how the presenters could have done better. One super flexible man had demonstrated dropping back from Standing into a full backbend and after Mr. Iyengar pointed out many things he still had to work on, Mr Iyengar declared "He is still a beginner." :) It sounds harsh and punitive, but it was all done in a spirit of refinement and continued learning. As I see it, it was a way to ensure that all the folks on stage continued to possess an attitude of curiousity and study - rather than becoming blind with pride as we all clapped for them.

The next day was a bit more varied... it began with a lovely traditional women's dance performed by a group of 6 yoga students, a poetry recital, another yoga lecture ( a fascinating lecture on yoga and stress), and then the much-anticipated Children's Program. What fun! The children who attend the children's classes at the Institute did quite an impressive presentation on the concept of dharma (hard to translate its whole meaning, but often translated as "duty"). The presentation including singing, chanting, acting, readings, and dancing - telling tales from Indian mythology and Hinduism. It was a fascinating combination of ethics, discipline, religion, and moralistic stories. The children were adorable, of course. It's amazing to see how seriously they had tackled a rather heavy and heady topic, and made it into an entertaining program. It was also interesting to me how very Hindu the program was - although yoga is very much a philosophy (and not a religion) - India is a very, very deeply religious place and there is no need or interest on their part to distinguish between the two. I wonder if there are any Muslim children in the classes? Or Jain children? India is also very much a place of many different religions who coexist quite peacefully from what I see and read.

Anyhow, the whole affair ended with a lovely lunch of south Indian food - and then our non-stop celebration had come to an end!

Love to everyone!

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