A massive 30 feet Shiva statue, people practicing yoga in front of it and a photographer capturing their complex body twisting movements, this is one of the first sights that greets one when they enter the compound of the Isha Dhyanalingam. This scene brought back memories of childhood yoga camps and the place was so beautifully serene that it made me comfortable enough to perform Ushtasana , the camel pose. It is one of the very few yoga poses in which I look graceful enough to be photographed in. My dad who generally likes taking pictures of people and monuments was in his zone and clicked many pictures of the pose I was in. The temple is about 30 km from Coimbatore, which is where I live and it took two hours to reach there by car. The journey started with the hustle and bustle of the city and slowly the landscape changed from the city to the sights and smells of small towns and villages. These villages gradually transitioned into greenery and almost isolated places with very little human existence. The landscape was dotted with bamboo plantations, canopy of trees and lush greenery all around. Especially in the last leg of the journey, the canopy that the trees created were such a comforting presence and the experience had a beautiful, almost movie-like feel to it.
– Isha Dhyanalingam is a yogic temple dedicated to Lord Shiva situated at the foothills of the Velliangiri mountains. A yogic temple is a place which embodies the distilled yogic sense, a sense of attaining liberation from the material world and the union of the self with the Supreme one. The Vellingiri mountains is compared to Mount Kailash and has even been called “ Kailash of the South”. The temple was consecrated by Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi and a mystic and is part of the Isha Foundation. I believe a few of the reasons for the temple to be situated near the Vellingiri are isolation from the city life to an extent and the presence of the Siruvani reservoir which provides cool and fresh water at all times of the year. After its construction, the temple became one of the primary reasons for visitors to come to the mountains. The Dhyanalinga yogic temple offers a meditative space which does not cater to a specific religion. Even the Sarva Dharma Sthamba, which is a pillar at the entrance has been engraved with the scriptural symbols of religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianiasm and a lot more. I had been to the Isha centre 6 years ago but I don’t remember too much of the experience. This time, however, I will not be likely to forget the trip for a long time. It was unforgettable in terms of the experience as a whole. The journey to the temple, the architecture,, the peace that resonated there lent a sort of magic to the experience. One of the other aspects was the architecture of the yogic temple. The dome of the sanctum sanctorum with the Shiva linga was a massive structure and this is a well picturised part of the Isha Temple. Be it in Google images or pamphlets or newspaper articles, the picture of the dome is always shown. It was reminiscent of a chimney inside which we were all sitting. The space before entering the dome had been decorated with murals depicting the Kumbh Mela scene. Inside the dome, even a small cough is magnified ten-fold and echoes around the place. The dome has little boxes inside which one has to sit and meditate. In the middle of the dome stands the large Shiva Linga made of solidified mercury.
There are two ponds, the Suryakund and the Chandrakund, where people take a dip before entering the temple. These ponds with the marble-like stone steps and a sort of muted blue lighting which looked very ethereal and was a sight to behold. The temple of the Mother Goddess was constructed with brickstone which lent a rustic vibe to the surroundings.
The groups of people that I saw over there were very diverse. I spoke to a couple from Hyderabad who said that they came to the Isha temple every year. They said,” We had came to Coimbatore for the first time for a wedding and visited Isha yoga four years ago. Both of us make it a point to definitely visit the temple when we come here. The peace and calm of this place really awakens our inner spiritual being.” There were many families who had come there from the nearby villages. I spoke to two of them and they had a very different perspective on what the place meant to them. They said that they came as a family getaway and also because their kids enjoyed the place and the nearby fields for playing. I felt like Isha served more than just a spiritual purpose and especially with the increasing crowds in cities, families are looking for a quiet place like Isha yogic temple to drown out that noise.
Silence was a very crucial component of the Dhyanalingam experience. There were people from the temple committee popping out from random corners of the temple in their maroon, traditional robes and telling us to keep the volume down. My dad even said that he felt like he was back in school with the teachers. So it was very hard task to take a notebook inside let alone talk to the people who’d come there about their experience and reasons for coming there. There were also stations for collecting mobile phones at three places in the temple in case someone forgot to deposit it earlier. These were the stringent measures taken to observe absolute silence there. Before going into the dome for meditation, we were supposed to wait outside near the dome for a while and it was surprising that there was pin drop silence. Even the extremely young children in a large family that had come did not utter a word or make a sound. As someone who is generally rather loud and talkative, I found it a challenge to remain silent initially. But as time went by, the calm and serene vibes of the temple impelled me to absorb the feel of the surroundings by remaining quiet.
The Isha Yogic temple is very different from most of the temples which I have been to, especially in Tamil nadu. The priests who were performing the Aarti in the temple of the Mother Goddess were from the West. There was even a cafeteria where they were serving pizzas and puffs. This was a strange concept to me because the only food available in temples are prasadam such as Pongal and Puliogare rice. Even the restaurants that are situated near temples generally serve South Indian food like Idli and Masala Dosa. The pizzas were a welcome and amazing contrast for me. The foundation had its own restaurant outside the temple too. A shop selling clothes and organic products was also situated in the compound. There were many foreigners practicing yoga in front of the massive Shiva statue and a photographer was clicking pictures of them. All of them were from Korea and they said that they had been there for the past eight months. There was also a mention of them attending the 42-day Maha Shivaratri festival at Mount Kailash. These aspects gave the temple a unique identity of its own. The unique identity was that it ascribed to no particular religion and was mainly a centre for meditation and finding spirituality. A surprising aspect of Isha Dhyanalingam was its complex amalgamation of modernity and spirituality. Another striking aspect was the temple market at a distance of about 2 km from the Isha centre. They reminded me of the markets in the city even though it was from such a distance from there.
Finally, the trip came to an end and we set back home in the evening. My father and I had been in the Isha centre for almost three hours. It had become quite dark and it was a rather trip back home because I felt quite sleepy. My father was listening to Carnatic music which made me fall asleep even more. What could be a better end to an amazing trip than good food? We stopped at a restaurant that my father’s friend owned and ate Masala Dosa. Masala Dosa seems to be a recurring theme here because I absolutely love it and if I could, I would end everyday by eating Masala Dosa with sambar.
Featured images- http://www.indiaonrent.com/view/d/dhyanalingam-isha-foundationsivalinga.html