Yesterday, I had the chance to spend almost a full day, with a senior devotee and fellow blogger and care taker of the PlanetIskcon.Com website, Sitapati Das prabhu from Brisbane. Actually, I had a brief encounter with him on Saturday night, just when he was about to depart for a house program nearby.
It was a very enlivening talk that he gave to a room full of young Indian students. He stressed the importance of understanding one’s occupational duty through the eyes of Bhagavad Gita and how multinational companies are making millions of dollars using some of this knowledge. The crowd enjoyed the session as it related to their career and future. The students very easily warmed up to Sitapadi Das as he mixed his talk with jokes, personal experiences, sci-fi movies and what he does in his career. He started his talk at 8:30pm but finished only at about 10pm ! He must have enjoyed the session because he had 4 servings of a tasty fruit salad in Mango sauce, I think it was.
Sita Pati Das was in town for the 6th Annual International Yoga Asana Championship organized by the Bikram Yoga College of India. The previous evening, I had volunteered to take him to the venue for his competition. This was the finals and he needs all the support he can get. Basically, it was going to come from me…ahem…I am humble most of the time.
The next day, the 2 “blogs” met at the temple at 11am and drove down to St. Martins Youth Arts Centre at 44 St Martins Lane in South Yarra where the event was going to be conducted. St. Martin’s is a ‘not-for-profit’ organization dedicated to empowering young people between the ages of 5 and 25 within the performing arts by initiating hands-on projects, creative opportunities and exposure to artists and theatre practices of the highest standard. These guys offers a variety of spaces for event hire and the public can utilize them for hosting various programs.
We were one of the first to arrive. At the venue, perched on the fence slightly to the right of the above picture was a young woman from Adelaide to whom we introduced ourselves to. It was important to know what the competition was up to. We learnt that she was a professional ballet dancer and an acrobat. She had been training in yoga for the past 1.5 years and she was very much looking forward to the show. I noticed that she was remarkably cool and confident. Sita Pati Das was a little bit nervous I think, or perhaps tired as he had attended the 2 hr early morning practice session at the Bikram yoga studios as well. Later on, we decided to go for a walk in the little lanes near the venue. Just then, another devotee from the temple arrived – Jolie Mataji. I had seen her many times at the temple but this was the first time, we spoke. Almost, immediately we were like a gang of old friends chatting away. And now, we had “Sita Pati cheer squad”. Nothing can stop us! We will win !
After paying A$ 30 entrance fee (Grrrr!!) and demotivated because of it, we entered the inside of the theatre. Sita Pati had already hopped away for his time alone and I was just catching up with the Adelaide woman almost next to me. As I wished her the very best, I handed over a small flower that was given to me by Koti prabhu (a young hard working devotee) during the morning mangal aroti program. The white flower belonged to the gorgeous Sri Radha Vallabha deity at the temple. She was so taken aback. I told her it was from the Hare Krishna temple hoping she will be motivated to come to the temple some day in the distant future.
Jolie mataji and I sat at the waiting area. She continued with her day’s chanting rounds and I decided to continue with my people gazing rounds. Slowly and steadily, people began to wander in with their “High Octane” marked organic coffee cups, yoga accessories and I must say, they all looked very fashionable. Or perhaps, I was the worst dressed. Everyone seemed to be on high energy and wishing each other the very best. From my quick scan, majority of the crowd (spectators and participants) were women. I also noticed that I was perhaps the only Indian (or South Asian) at the venue. Truly felt exotic. Oh by the way, I was a victim of hard selling. An old and very sweet American/Canadian accented woman coaxed me into buying a raffles ticket. If I won, I would win all sorts of colorful yoga supplies. Oh Krishna, I broke the regulative principle of “No Gambling” 😦 I truly forgot it at the time. I thought I was just trying to help them out with the event. I didn’t win by the way.
After almost an hour, we were given the permission to enter the “Randall Theatre”.
Soon, the room began to get packed and all seats looked taken. Most of the spectators were students of the Bikram yoga centre and they were there to cheer their class mates. After some minutes, the master of ceremonies (MC) educated the crowd on the importance of silence, went through the program, the judges and the rules of judging. This was followed by a brief talk by a young Australian yoga teacher by the name Chris, I think, who had just returned from India. I think I heard him being addressed as a “former monk”. Not sure what this means but anyways, he gave a very nice talk on the importance of yoga, meditation and inner peace. He encouraged all of us to chant the seed syllable “Om”. Actually, when all the 300 or so people in unison chanted the “Om” mantra, it sounded like a Tibetan monastery somewhere in the Himalayas. It was nice. We did not chant it for 16 rounds though. Just 3 times.
Then all the competitors were introduced on to the stage. When Sita Pati Das entered on to the stage in his bicycle (or maybe aerobics) shorts, Jolie and I screamed our lungs out. We yelled “Yeaaaaaah !!! Hari Booool !!! Haaaaari Bol !!!”. I think the audience members nears us thought his name must have been “Hari Bol”. In fact, a funny incident happened. Jolie continued her chanting rounds inside the theatre, throughout the program and after it as well. The lady sitting next to her asked, “Are you talking to yourself?”. Ha Ha ha. I though that was hilarious. I will wait for Jolies feedback on this incident. Perhaps, the lady said something else..but this is what I heard. That was funny. She answered to the lady that she was chanting a mantra too like what Chris had asked everyone to do earlier.
Then the lights dimmed. The crowd quietend. The MC warned that we don’t clap when they take centre stage. I was tempted. But self-control is a virtue, of which I have plenty. The first entrant came on, stood on the laid out Kashmir rug (no kusa grass), took a deep breath and started his routine.
Five Compulsory Asanas (postures) as stated below and two additional asanas at the competitor’s option from the 84 asanas as derived from Patanjali all to be completed in 3 minutes.
1) Dandayamana Janusirasana (Standing-Head-to-Knee) (4 parts)
2) Dandayamana Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pulling Pose)
3) Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
4) Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose)
5) Pashcimottanasana (Stretching Pose)
6) Optional Choice Asana
7) Optional Choice Asana
NOTES FOR JUDGES & COMPETITORS
1. Each posture would be judged on a scale of 0 to 10 points.
2. The compulsory postures plus the two optional postures performed in the sequence within 3 minutes. If the performance is longer than 3 minutes the posture will be considered incomplete and disqualified.
3. Each posture is to be performed with stability and appropriate use of the time to finish the pose.
4. Contestants will be judged on the following criteria:
• General appearance
• Performance of postures
**Optional postures will be judged on the degree of difficulty and performance. Points will be deducted if there is a fall, unbalance and/or instability.
God. The whole event was nerve wrecking. A complete thriller. James Bond’s Quantum of Solace is no match for the entertainment that the yogis brought in. These guys could move their body in every way. There were lotus position in mid air, legs being brought to their unnatural state and heads touched the toes. People gasped, some clenched their fist tightly hoping that the participant don’t fall of the stage, some decided to close their eyes and some experienced yoga students whispered what they thought about the postures like Jolie Mataji who was a well trained yoga student/teacher too. In fact, she was to participate as well but decided not to. Sita Pati Das prabhu felt that she would have easily won it had she entered the competition.
The 4th person to take the stage was our SITA PATI DAS. After he was introduced, a few seconds passed. Jolie and I put forward a quick prayer to Sri Krishna to ensure all went well for him. Then he entered. Bold, upright, strong and walked majestically to the centre. You could clearly see his sacred brahmin thread on his topless body. People would have wondered what that was. He looked at the crowd. We were wondering if he could see us. There was pin drop silence. We were proud of the vaishnava. This is probably the first time, I had seen a Hare Krishna devotee take centre stage and was silent. Usually, they are singing kirtan and dancing like mad, giving out prasadam at lightning speed or pushing a book on the streets. Now, a devotee was standing alone on the dark stage, spot light made him visible…ready to take on the whole world.
Then he did each position. There was no hurry. In some poses, we could see his limbs tremble due to pressure on the body. He didn’t fall of the stage. We could hear his deep breathing. Everyone was watching. We were praying. The silence was deep like in a library only to be punctured with the camera clicks of the professional cameraman. 3 minutes seemed to never reach. Then finally, Sita Pati Das came back to his original standing position and faced the crowd again. He paid his “pranams” with folded hands to the crowd, a signal that he was done.
And we went berserk !! “Yeah!!!!!!! Sita Pati Ki Jay!!!!!! Hariiiiii Bol !!!! ”
Phew. We were done with this. So, glad that it was over. During one of the breaks, we manged to meet up with Sita Pati Das near the dressing rooms. We were so excited. We were so proud. We felt so satisfied. Later on, Sita Pati Das joined us in the theatre to watch the remaining performances. This was important for him I suppose as he could compare his routine with those of others. Perhaps, nearly 2 hrs later, Sita Pati Das left us again to take centre stage for the prize awarding session. We continued with our prayers. We were on stress again.
Folks, unfortunately, Sita Pati Das did not win the competition. It went to that bearded person, 4th from left (looking to his left). Neither did the Adelaide woman win. But what was important was that they all were truly good yoga students. For them, yoga was not some competitive sport meant to satisfy their reach for power. But it was a chance to exhibit their knowledge to the world, to introduce people to the exercise, its importance for world peace and to push on when the going gets tough. It was also a chance for the Melbourne crowd to see the intricacies and the fascinating world of an aged old technique of liberation, a process meant to reconnect with the soul. And personally, a chance for me to connect with a very fine and young devotee of the Lord.
Sita Pati Das Prabhu – Well done ! Looking forward to meeting you again.