In Praise of Heritage
My Tryst with Yoga
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
It was long since in my mind to dedicate a piece on my tryst with Yoga and there could be no better a day than the International Day of Yoga the first ever where most of the countries are celebrating on the 21st June 2015 to connect with Yoga and Live life to its full potential. This day is also the Longest Day of the year, World Music Day and Father’s Day though we Newars celebrate on Bubako Mukh Herne Din on Kushe Aunsi that falls on Sunday 13th September later this year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while calling for International Day of Yoga with the motto Yoga for Harmony and Peace, had said that Yoga can change lifestyle and create consciousness and will also help us deal with climate change. “Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being,” he had said.
Before proceeding further as the countdown began with a number of information pouring in from every nook and corner people quite warmed up to welcome the International Yoga Day, a quick refresh and update I wish to share here, “The UN General Assembly declared June 21 as the International Day of Yoga following a proposal by Prime Minister Modi during his (maiden) speech at the UNGA on September 27 last year. The resolution for the Yoga Day was cosponsored by 175(177) of the 193 member nations in a short period of 75 days. Forty seven of the 56 members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries too joined as co-sponsors, in a telling example of the universality of yoga, said an official. While Pakistan did not co-sponsor it did not object to the resolution either, he added. Yoga events would be observed in 192 of 193 countries across the world on the day - another record. The only exception being Yemen which has been hit by civil war. (The Art of Living events planned to mark the Day in Pakistan has been cancelled due to the threat by extremist.) It is estimated that 250 million people around the world practice yoga, over 20 million of them in the US. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice day in the northern hemisphere when the daylight hours are the longest. A two-day international yoga conference will be held in Delhi following the event.” (Source: in.news.yahoo.com)
Another report reads, “In his message for the first International Day of Yoga, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he discovered the ‘simple sense of satisfaction’ it brings when he tried his first ‘asana’ during his visit to India. In proclaiming June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, the UN General Assembly has recognised the ‘holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations,’ Ban said. ‘And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practise, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability. I discovered this for myself on trying to do my first asana, a tree pose suited to beginners. It took a moment for me to gain my balance, but once I did, I appreciated the simple sense of satisfaction that yoga can bring,’ the UN chief said in the message. ‘… Yoga is an ancient discipline from a traditional setting that has grown in popularity to be enjoyed by practitioners in every region,’ Ban said. Yoga offers a ‘simple, accessible and inclusive’ means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. ‘Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. It promotes respect for one's fellow human beings and for the planet we share,’ he said. As the world gears up to host the first International Day of Yoga, Ban called on the nations to ‘see the benefits of this practice in terms of individual well-being, as well as our collective efforts to improve public health, promote peaceful relations and usher in a life of dignity for all.’ (Source: ndtv.com/india news)
During my early days in 1958 on my way to school I used to see a master of Yoga Moti Chand Pradhan*(30 July 1893 -7 May 1977), practising every morning through the window of the room of his official residence here in Development Area. He was the first person from the Sikkim-Darjeeling hills to have passed matriculation and “first Nepali to be a graduate from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim” as per Sir Charles Bell. After settling down on retirement finally at Kalimpong among other social/literary/spiritual works, he had been instrumental in establishing the Nepali Sahitya Adhyayan Samiti there that celebrated its Golden Jubilee recently. Ever since I had been inquisitive rearing back in my mind to know what was Yoga all about and how to go about it. In school we had classes for physical training (PT), gardening and carpentry alternatively in the afternoon while Saturday morning used to be for the group PT with students in black shorts and white shirts divided into four different groups, viz. A, B, C and D each taking four different corners of the playground. Scout classes were taken by our teachers Laxman Chettri* and John Isaacs* later when he joined TNA in 1958 but no Yoga classes as such though subjects like Sanskrit and Hindi were taught in class VII and VIII. While in the Darjeeling Government College during 1962-1969 too no such exercises but some students were in the NCC. As a student our priority was attaining our goal towards educating ourselves to get prepared to face the world better equipped. As such, we were more inclined towards our studies than health or general wellbeing that keep us off from relatively unknown Yoga that is so such helpful in upkeep of our body and mind that make them essential part of our daily life these days for those who follow and practise. Those were days, whatever we could know about Yoga was through some magazines brought out by religious institutions and those who were in close contact with those who practiced. We used to hear of the Beatles coming to India to learn the Yoga from Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh and having composed some beautiful musical renditions while here. Some years ago it was in the news that one of them Paul McCartney sharing his experience that he still practising was eye-movement exercise that benefitted him much and taking a cue I too to add it as a part of my daily ritual like some others. Early morning while still in bed along with closing both eyes tight and winking both eyes together and after long time working on laptop or watching television – splashing it with water at least three times a day every time coming home from outside. I am also using eye cup in the morning introduced by Bidhan Mama who learnt from his father Durga Shamsher Pradhan*. He was co-founder of The Chandra Nursery (1910) along with Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan* at Rhenock and practised naturopathy. His knowledge was converted into a book written by the well-known Nepali litterateur Radhika Raya* that was distributed free to the people in order to reach the message of its benefits at later stage of his life. His wife Bajai Jamuna Devi still practises and spreads the knowledge to all whoever comes to her with the problem of body pain. Even the well-known figure here Plantsman Keshab C. Pradhan shared with us once that he benefitted of solar mud-water treatment for his waist pain. Whole text of the booklet has been reproduced in the souvenir Smarika brought out on the occasion of Sahasrachandra Darshanam (i.e., sighting of a thousand moons attaining the age of 83 years and four months I May 2000) or Jankwa of my Buba Jai Shanker Lall Shresta* at Rhenock. Baba Ramdev and Pandit Balkrishna had not entered the scene as we find these days helped by the television to a large extent making things easier for those who were really interested on Yoga and Ayurved.
I fondly remember this day a senior colleague Tek Chand Verma*(17-9-1924 – 03-03-2005) who joined Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) on 19-3-1954 and whom I knew from my school days in Development Area to have turned really a Yogi not only assuming the name of Swami Maheswaranand in 1995 but also donning yellow robe after his retirement on 31.10.1983 after getting an extension of slightly more than a year as Advisor SNT. He was a staunch disciple of Yogguru Swami Sivanand of the Divine Life Society Rishikesh. He as the President of the Divine Life Society Sikkim Branch organised 18 Yoga Camps at Paljor Indoor Stadium, Central Pendam, Tashiding, Tingling, Sikkim Armed Police camp at Pangthang. These camps also used to have sessions on Acupressure, Naturopathy, Moral Education, etc. He provided accommodation to school children attending the Yoga Camp from outside Gangtok in his own building and some local hotels. He used to sponsor two candidates from Sikkim every year for two month-long Training for Trainers Yoga Course at Divine Life Society headquarters at Rishikesh. He used to visit us in the office and leave some publications to get the benefit of the messages contained therein. When serving Sports and Youth Affairs Department towards the end of my 35+ years long career in 2006, I had the opportunity to visit once again the Ashram at Rishikesh for the third time to pay my homage and familiarize myself how best we could propagate the message by sending our youth to undergo the course there under the newly started Capacity Building Programme and see the arrangements therefor. We (me with Ranjana) had stayed as an inmate to see the life of a yogi in the Ashram and it was indeed a wonderful experience to be in the dim lit hall before the day break when inmates gradually assembled silently for their Morning Prayer and meditation. For lack of better publicity with not enough time that year we could not send for any Yoga training since with much difficulty we could gather enough candidates for sending our youth for paragliding training at Manali around the same time. Our stay in the Ashram was made possible getting in liaison with the Divine Life Society at Rishikesh by Rajesh Verma, elder son of Yogi Verma nay Swami Maheswaranand. As for me of now not made to be a Yogi, I have the satisfaction of being a regular follower devoting an hour or so daily practising that keeps me fit enough to face the hurdles of life at this advancing age and time in this mundane world that would have otherwise been more difficult, I realize! (To be concluded)
This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. No wonder if some narratives are found read earlier also. Some names (*asterisk for those no more), places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9434022677 / 03592-202677 and at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.