How is Dharamastala
Here I should take off my shirt, Navin tells me naturally and throws his tank top over his shoulder. I do the same and follow him on the narrow path that leads clockwise and further inside. Navin repeatedly touches doorsteps or sits down briefly on the wet stone floor and prays for a minute. Shiva's whole family is present here, Navin knows, and points to the shrines - each for one of Shiva's numerous sons. Then there is a bang, and another. The bhramins swing the ghee lamps around the golden idol and all worshipers crowd in front of the open door to catch a glimpse of (the god's name) and to address their prayers to him. Navin pulls me into the crowd of male bodies and bald heads so that I can see directly into the sanctuary. It's raining harder, the bells, rattles and drums are getting louder. The believers hum "Omm Shiva" and I also try to fold my hands - squeezed between dozen reciting Indians in the glow of flickering lights and golden sculptures.
I am on the way to Dharmasthala. After Susi, a friend of mine who also voluntarily lives in Alangar, and I showed interest in yoga, Navya and Anviha decided to show us their college. This is located in the small town of Ujire, 9km from the pilgrimage town of Dharmasthala and looks like a fairytale castle made of turquoise painted stone. First they show us their hostel and invite us to lunch in the cafeteria. In (Indian) English “cafeteria” obviously means “mess”, otherwise I couldn't explain the big signpost with the inscription “way to mess”. Half amused, half serious, I read other signs in the dining room that warn me that wasting food is the greatest crime against humanity. Some teachers and supervisors are introduced to me on campus. I'll meet the director of the college later. I notice that I have a different relationship with authorities. Instead of being humble and dumb out of respect for their status, I see them here in India, just like others on the street, as people who can tell me something, whom I can ask questions. It might be a bit strange for the two students when I call their teacher by their first name and ask them, also because hierarchies are often more important in India than in the West. I think they are still happy and proud to show me and Susi around. They also got an extra day off for this.
The course that Anvitha and Nivia take is called "Yogic Science & Naturopathy". Yoga as it is taught here cannot be compared with the term yoga as it is understood in Germany. It is not only about the health of the body, but also that of the mind. Yoga encompasses much more than just the Assanas, it includes postures that influence the flow of energy in the body, methods of cleansing the body from the inside (such as swallowing a meter-long cloth and using it to clean the stomach) and moral recommendations for a good life (karma Yoga). Naturopathy is a complementary way of healing when something in the body or mind has become sick despite the practice of yoga. The interesting thing about it: There are no drugs. The only medicine used is nature. Hydrotherapy, steam baths, sunbathing, massages, fasting cures, acupressure, magnetic therapies and even treatment with colors (chromotherapy) are part of it. No wonder why I have never heard of it in the West: The pharmaceutical company that can sell water, mud, sun rays or paint has yet to be invented.
Sumana gives us a tour of the Yoga & Nature Cure Hospital in Dharmasthala. Like 700 other students at the college, she is currently in her practical phase as a doctoral student in this hospital. I have already been given a small tour of several hospitals, but I am always amazed how naturally we walk into rooms in which the patients are half-naked and / or in the middle of a treatment. They don't seem to mind when a couple of Germans watch acupuncture needles being stuck into their backs. Sumana explains to me that there are 12 so-called energy "meridians" in the body along which the needles at certain points start the flow of energy again.
Other rooms work with electricity or with mud that comes from the north of India. The area, which mainly consists of jungle, extends over 3 hectares. The buildings have 350 beds, 70 doctors and a new wing is currently being built in which the VVIPS, the absolutely most important guests who come from the richest parts of India and sometimes from abroad, can be accommodated. Many people come here with diseases that cannot be successfully treated in conventional hospitals and are cured. Even allergies, diabetes and even tumors can be eliminated. Sumana's professor suffered from severe leukemia and treated himself with yoga and what nature offered him. I'm still skeptical and ask a few questions that have puzzled me for a long time. At the Vipassana seminar in September I found out about Reiki, a healing method that supposedly only eliminates illnesses by laying on your hands. And another claimed to have only fed on light for a few weeks. Difficult to explain this hocus-pocus, I think to myself, but Sumana does not seem in the least irritated. On the contrary: Reiki would even be practiced in hospitals and has been proven to be effective. However, if one is not taught by an experienced master, one can harm oneself by passing the patient's illness onto oneself. And what about light food? There are too. And some yogis are known to eat no more food except air and sun rays. Enthusiastic, but somehow also confused, my western-rational mind leaves the Yoga & Nature Cure Hospital.
The six of us continue to Dharmasthala in a rickshaw. I make the mistake of spending the fare with my left hand and am immediately instructed. Even money is God, called Laxmi, so you only give and take it with your right, pure hand. In Dharmasthala I learn more about my yoga teachers. Anvitha tells me about her favorite book, the Hindu epic Ramana, which her mom used to read to her before going to bed. I think about my bedtime stories. These were often storybooks or stories by Michael Ende. If I imagine that children in India get to know their religious writings as fantastic fairy tale stories and later practice their faith in this awareness, then this takes on a completely different meaning. In a sense, I still believe today that Momo is a “true” story - not historically true, but true in its essence. It may be the same for some Hindus too. I am trying to explain this line of thought to Anvitha, but it is very difficult.
We see a garden of Shiva and his family. In the middle there is a pavilion with aquariums that are much too small for the many fish that live in them. We are amazed to discover a pink jellyfish swimming in a carp pool. Until it turns out that it is just a dummy and made of plastic. Before the rain sets in, we are already under one roof and have bought sweet corn in cups with chili spices and lemon. I get into a conversation with Navia that eventually leads to the subject of death. I want to know how Hindus deal with their dead and Navia doesn't seem embarrassed to talk about it. After death, the body of the deceased is washed and all hair is removed. The relatives mourn and perform religious ceremonies for twelve days. On the thirteenth day the body is burned or buried. Every year, on the anniversary of the death of the deceased, he is remembered and prayed for. It's not that different from Christianity. Whereby I have the impression that the Hindus allow themselves more time to say goodbye to a dead person and that after death the relatives still do a lot for the deceased in order to bring about a good rebirth.
Back in college, I meet the man whose lips I will hang on for the next few hours. Shakti is a teacher at the "Yogic Science & Naturopathy College Ujire" and is admired there by his students for his deep knowledge. I admire him for his humble, reserved smile and bright eyes as he answers my questions. I learn a lot about the eastern path of wisdom and the importance of a guru (master, teacher) on this path. "Everyone has to live, be healthy and be happy. So that's what we are learning here. "It's that simple to express spirituality. The idea of following a teacher, of surrendering to him completely, even of submitting to him in order to learn spirituality, has hitherto always been repugnant to me. I thought you should never give yourself up to someone like that, make yourself so vulnerable to manipulation. But Shakti thinks that master and student would come together anyway. All the student has to do is be ready. Like a flower that doesn't have to do anything but bloom to be pollinated by a bee. Even if the guru is a charlatan, he will help me along the way as long as my intention is to grow and learn. This reminds me a lot of the documentary "Wild Wild Country" about the commune of Guru Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, later called Osho. Even those of his followers who stepped out when things went downhill describe the experience as transformative and the break with their master as the most important step in their lives. Anyone who knows more than me can be a guru. He doesn't have to know the whole way. Just as a conductor doesn't know the whole way from Moodbidri to Udupi - he only knows the way to Karkala and there I ask myself further. A good guru will send me on when he can no longer help me. Shakti loves to speak in simple metaphors. We have to interrupt our conversation because then Susi and I will be admitted to the headmaster of the school. He's sitting in front of a whole armada of trophies, golden statuettes and prizes and, compared to Shakti, only has to offer tiresome chatter about the principal: How many students, what is being taught, etc. To be honest, he gives me the impression that he has even a proper yoga session necessary.
That's why I wait for Shakti after the meeting and ask him if he has time for a longer discussion the following day. He doesn't hesitate and invites me to dinner twice. When he wants to know where I sleep I say, somewhere in a cheap hostel, I have no claims. He thinks about it for a moment and offers me to sleep for free in the vacant second house of a friend who is a friend of mine. But before that, Susi and I eat Dosa Massala with him. When we start to pay our dosas, he just says with a wink: “I pay in India. You pay in Germany. “Indian hospitality is limitless. After saying goodbye to Susi, Shakti and I go to a restaurant and I order some North Indian food. The teacher has a meeting in this restaurant, but that doesn't stop him from giving me detailed information about Indian cuisine. Shakti absolutely wants me to try everything and orders more and more side dishes and sauces and explains to me the preparation and names of the dishes, because "Indian food is all about variety and combination". After a dozen small bowls and bowls, I'm full - and hundreds of tastes richer.
The next morning I attend Shakti's yoga class. Around a hundred students sit on their mats in the great hall and follow his instructions. Some sleep too. Yoga is so fascinating to me because it is a deeply connecting practice. Body, breath and mind are brought into harmony and after only an hour I feel that my energy and my perception have changed. Refreshed by the morning session, I drive back to Dharmasthala alone. This time to enter the temple.
As in every holy place, shoes are forbidden here too, which is why I want to leave my flip-flops in the care of the capable boy, who has probably been accepting shoes from visitors since 6 a.m., sorting them on shelves and scribbling numbers on small pieces of paper. There is a crowd in front of the little house and, curiously, a queue to the right of it. As a civilized European, I follow the sign and put myself nicely in the “Q”. The shoe boy doesn't seem to care about my good behavior, because he is just taking the shoes that are pushed most penetratingly in front of his nose. Nobody else seems to be outraged by the fact that whole hordes of pilgrims keep cheekily pushing in from the side. If you have decided to stand in the waiting line, you just wait. I want to at least use the time and learn more about the bald young man in front of me. I tap him on the shoulder and begin: “Sir, can I ask you a question? Why do you… ”He shakes his head and turns away. So that can happen to me in India too. Then I have to press someone else with my questions. I walk past the sales booth where coconuts are being hawked in plastic bags as an offering to the gods, and I squeeze into the endless waiting lock, feeling like an animal on the way to the slaughter: to the left and right meter-high wire grids, just a narrow one in front of me Aisle where the crowds push me forward one meter every minute. Fortunately, then Navin speaks to me, who is a curious contemporary and asks me about Germany. But first I want to know why he has a bald head too. His buddy Raganat answers wonderfully stupid: "Because he believes in god." Typical answer. But I won't give up and after telling Navin everything about Germany, I demand a meaningful explanation. He finally tells me the secret: He sacrificed his hair to his favorite god Munjarata in order to be more successful in his profession. And apparently it helped, because the real estate agent and father of two cannot complain about the deal. Some Hindus also shave their children's hair once a year and sacrifice it in the temple - whether this will benefit the children or parents remains questionable. And yes, I too could sacrifice my hair here and make a wish if I wanted. After more than an hour of being cooped up (a sign politely excuses it with the words: “We apologize for the inconvenience due to the great number of devotees”) we are allowed to go inside the temple. This is like a dim maze of corridors, narrow paths, barriers and shrines - luckily Navin takes me by the hand. We go clockwise, topless, around the gilded images of gods and are allowed to drink holy water on each side (I make the mistake of pouring it over my head first) and dab brown sandel paste on our foreheads. The rapid handling of the “devotees” by the temple staff reminds me of the pilgrimage sites in Rome, where millions of tourists are washed through every day. I would like to familiarize myself with Shiva's numerous sons and adoptive sons, but it is very difficult to be squeezed between naked men's bodies and always crouching at the nod of a sullen bhrami.
Freed again, Navin and his colleagues, who came from Bangalore especially to make this pilgrimage, invite me to breakfast. Then I climb a few hundred steps to see the Bahubali statue, which represents one of the 24 thirtankaras of Jainism. I am told why Bahubali was carved out of the marble as Nackidei. The Jain ascetics have no possessions, not even clothing. Her admirers, however, the groups of pilgrims I speak to, drive comfortably up the mountain in jeeps, click their photos, prostrate themselves in front of the great Bahubali and then jet to the next shrine. Meditation and abstinence can be safely left to the saints - just pray, that's important!
After lunch with Shakti in the hospital, he takes a little more time to answer my questions. In order not to be disturbed, we just sit on the back seat of his tiny Suzuki, in the teacher parking lot of the college. Shakti explains spirituality and yoga to me like this: We all - now that we are here - have to live, be healthy and be happy, that's for sure. There are an infinite number of ways to achieve this, all of which are different. But their goal is always the same. The best way for Shakti is to get back to nature. Because at some point in human evolution something went really wrong and we moved further and further away from our origins, Mother Nature, both technologically and emotionally. We lack intuition, a sense of the world, compassion. The yogis of ancient India could see much more than we do today.They knew how the energy runs through the body, how to heal illnesses on this level, when disaster or storm threatens and what happens after death. And how did the first yogi know? From the nature. That is why it is, Shakti explains to me, that so many Assanas imitate the postures of certain animals. Animals live with nature, not outside of it. All of these exercises should help to realize and break through the illusion of separation with all that is, with the universe, with God. "If you ask me how you should live, I'll tell you: like an animal." (That explains why people still eat with their hands in India today) Shakti has a lot more to say, but it is too much to write down. I have seldom been treated with such welcoming kindness and attentive benevolence, and no one has ever given me such a deep understanding of the meaning of yoga, spirituality, and belief in God as this smiling, bearded college professor.
After this uplifting, initially last conversation with Shakti, I treat myself to something else for my body: A full-body massage in the “Out Patient Department” of Naturopathy College by the two pranksters Yogish and Krishnappa. Krishnappa happily chants “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” while he beats my thighs and I have no choice but to surrender to him and sing along. In the evening I drive back to the Ashram Mount Rosary, revitalized and full of Indian wisdom.
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