As Isha Gramotsavam 2015 approaches, here’s the experience of Chellakumar from Tamil Nadu, who single-handedly transformed his village into a healthy, vibrant community – all thanks to volleyball!

Here’s a typical day in the life of many a villager in Tamil Nadu, and in fact much of India: They wake up, they eat, they do whatever work they are employed in, or work at their farm, or in the absence of either of these, probably smoke, drink or play cards. If they can afford a television, they spend quite a lot of time in front of the “idiot box.” In short, the enthusiasm, vibrance and joyfulness that was once an integral element of Indian culture has completely disappeared from most of their lives.

But things can change, and change quickly. All it takes is the power of One – One dedicated individual and One ball! Here’s how a transformation was wrought in the village of Perumugai, near Gobichettipalayam in West Tamil Nadu.

Chellakumar was quite taken by the game and saw the potential it held for creating health and community bonding. He went to every home in his village with a Thambulam, inviting everyone to play volleyball.

Chellakumar, a farmer and also the secretary of AAVIN milk cooperative, initiated the process of change twelve years ago. He recalls that volunteers from Isha stayed with the villagers and taught them volleyball. Chellakumar was quite taken by the game and saw the potential it held for creating health and community bonding. But many others weren’t as enthusiastic, and many were downright against the idea of playing with “lower castes”. But Chellakumar persisted. He went to every home in his village with a Thambulam, inviting everyone to play volleyball. A Thambulam is a plate covered with a white cloth on which various auspicious materials are offered. It is traditionally used to invite someone to a marriage. Chellakumar’s lack of adherence to caste divides in his efforts brought him much trouble within his own community. But he stood firm, and in the last twelve years, his steady efforts have created a community where rich, poor, men, women and children, irrespective of caste or creed play together.

Other wonderful changes have come about thanks to his efforts. He says, “I am 42 years old now and have not suffered from cold, fever or any ailment. A number of my friends who had a smoking habit dropped their addictions so they could perform better. Today, volleyball players are considered assets in our village. Two youngsters from the village who were consistent players have been selected into the Indian Army as well. The game has helped in the growth of good citizens with a healthy physique, mental sturdiness and a fervor to serve the nation. Without this game, many from our village would not have advanced so much in their life. The game unites the villagers in social festivities and in all other social activities also.”

He elaborates how games have re-infused the celebratory spirit in their lives, a very important element considering the toil involved in agricultural activities. “In a village, we have to work for our survival continuously. Unlike schools or offices we do not have any holidays. We have to tend to the cows and take care of the ceaseless work in the farms – be it irrigation or weeding. We take a longer break only during the Pongal festival. Even then we work but we are in joyful and celebratory sprits.

Today, volleyball players are considered assets in our village. Two youngsters from the village who were consistent players have been selected into the Indian Army as well.

Pongal is an important festival for our cattle and us. Generally, the womenfolk did not come out and participate much. Earlier, they used to play “Kummi” (a traditional dance), but with the advent of TV this had disappeared. So we give more importance to the participation of women and children during this time. Every year, we visit each house to invite the women and give them prizes for even participating. A lot of generous people have come forward to give the prizes. It is so delightful to see all the winners. Whoever comes, we just involve them in some game or the other. The exhilarating discussions remain the talk of the town for the next one month!” says an emotional Chellakumar.

Chellakumar explains how though there was a lot of initial resistance to games and a team beyond caste, the elders in the villages have come around tremendously. “Every year, under the guidance of Isha, we conduct volleyball games and other activities for the children. Four years ago, we were also a part of Isha’s Rural Olympics. The winning teams from various villages in Tamil Nadu played with us in our village, which put us in the spotlight. This made not only the players, but also the elders very happy.”

We see this as a totally motivating recreation. The youth of our village hardly watch TV anymore. It cannot be forgotten that the same people who were living with envy and infighting are living in good camaraderie now because of the game.”

Sadhguru has said that a ball can change the world. Chellakumar’s experience is proof positive of that. Isha Gramotsavam is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get involved in this life-transforming possibility, and experience the joy of being game for life!

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for updates on Isha Gramotsavam 2015. Visit isha.sadhguru.org/gramotsavam for more information.