Day 4: Mahashivratri Gossip With a Few Unusual Suspects

#MahashivratriGossip Day 3 – Sounds of Isha: Beyond the Music

Tune in for a unique day-long live blog and get to know some of the most exuberant players of this year’s iconic Maha Mahashivratri.

#MahashivratriGossip Day 2 – Stories from Down Memory Lane

2015: Shiva Shiva Shivaya!

A brahmachari remembers, “I will never forget the meeting in which Sadhguru asked all of us to improvise a jig on ‘Shiva Shiva Shivaya.’ Spontaneously, many of us came forward joyfully and showed him various moves. Some did bharatanatyam steps, some showcased their bhangra steps, some imitated popular western jigs, even the macarena – it was an unforgettable treat. Sadhguru laughed so much seeing us doing all kind of frolics!

And in the end, none of our antics ever made it to the final cut!”

2012: Ramping It Up For All

Once Mahashivratri participation numbers began touching hundreds of thousands, people at the back of the venue were no longer able to see Sadhguru for a face-to-face greeting. So, Sadhguru asked that a 300-foot-long ramp be setup to walk on. Now, all participants, no matter where they were seated, got to see Sadhguru walking within 50 feet of them!

2011: A Year Without Dholu Kunitha

Since 2000, all Mahashivratris started with the high energy beats of Dholu Kunitha drummers, a popular traditional drum dance of Karnataka – huge men carrying equally huge drums, jumping around in complex patterns with amazing intensity. They provided a truly electrifying start to Mahashivratri.

In 2011, they were replaced with Kerala drummers. Though the Kerala drummers were very skilled, many missed the Dholu Kunitha’s intensity, including Sadhguru. And they were back in 2012!

2010: Shivamani: India’s Own STOMP!

Shivamani is known for playing many unusual instruments, but no one expected that when he arrived on Mahashivratri, and was taken around the ashram, wherever we went, he took some items from that place to play onstage.

When he went to the dining hall, he picked up plates and spoons. At the kitchen, he picked up pots and big serving spoons. At the cottage he was staying at, he picked up a large empty water can. That evening he also brought his own suitcase onstage. Getting to hear him play on all of these odd knickknacks, making exotic, interesting music, was a fascinating experience.

2010: “I was relieved to hear that we had to start all over again”

A brahmachari shares, “On all previous Mahashivratri mornings, my story had been the same: Come back at dawn from the venue, have a bath, do guru pooja and minimum sadhana, and rush back to the venue to ensure that the stage was set up for the evening performance.

The morning of this year is so vivid in my mind because it was totally different from any of this. For reasons I can’t recall, or perhaps the planets were in the right place – whatever it was – we finished the entire set up the night before; we even taped the wires of each microphone.

So I got up in the morning, finished my asanas, started my kriya… it was too good to be true, I thought. To be so relaxed and jobless on Mahashivratri morning somehow felt so wrong... Until I received a call from another brahmachari saying, ‘Swami, please rush back to the venue! Shivamani wants to shift sides with Sounds of Isha. We need to dismantle everything and vacate the place for him.’

And everything felt right again!”

2009: The First Pancha Bhuta Aradhana - A Whirlwind Tale

When we started preparations for the first Pancha Bhuta Aradhana, arranging the fans for the wind dance was probably the most complicated aspect. We had to get two 8-ft fans constructed by the fabrication department and getting the right shape turned out to be quite difficult. The first avatar of the fan looked more like a giant O with a tail, rather than the P-shape Sadhguru had advised. It took a few tries before we were finally able to arrive at the intended shape.

Getting the fans ready was one thing, dancing with them was a different matter altogether! During a trial run of the dance, where we were visibly struggling to keep the fans in place, Sadhguru asked to look at the fans and made some suggestions to make them easier to hold.

However, the decoration turned out to be the real issue. Despite having left everything with the decoration team the previous night, we were left the next day with 2 metal skeletons of the fans and just a few hours to complete the decorations before the Aradhana! With the help of volunteers and a group of local Thanikandi children on an ashram visit, we quickly wrapped the fans top to bottom in dried banana bark, then strung together white flowers and vilva leaves as decoration. Once the fans were finished, I had just enough time to go take a shower, change and run back to the temple. After that, no time to think about the dance – it just happened on its own!

2008: Sounds of Joy and Ecstasy

“I started watching the live Mahashivratri webstream at 6 am” says a meditator from Chicago. “This year too, the event was packed with stellar artists – Shivamani, Dr. Balamuralikrishna and Shankar Mahadevan.

Shivamani in particular seemed so overwhelmed with the energy and presence of the space that after his performance, he came down from the stage, offered his drumsticks to Sadhguru and literally fell at his feet.

I was totally exhausted dancing through the day, but my body somehow still felt light and blissful. When Mahashivratri actually started in Chicago, I was so tired that I fell asleep halfway through it!”

#MahashivratriGossip Day 1 – Stories from Down Memory Lane

Every 30 minutes, we’ll bring you heartwarming stories from the last two decades of Mahashivratri at Isha as reminisced by Isha Brahmacharis and residents. These will be interspersed by peeks into what Isha volunteers, Yoga Veeras, are doing at the Isha Yoga Center to make this "Maha" Mahashivratri happen.

Glimpses from Darshan with Sadhguru

Break for evening darshan with Sadhguru

We are breaking for evening darshan with Sadhguru. Stay tuned for glimpses from darshan.

2006: A Flurry of Firsts

So many things were introduced in the year of 2006.

Fire Dance: An enthusiastic Isha resident plays with fire.

Sadhguru Sannidhi: Imprints of the Guru's feet filled with sacred vibhuti and consecrated in Dhyanalinga. These Sadhguru Sannidhis were taken to local Isha centers to create a conducive atmosphere for local Mahashivratri celebrations. One of them graced the Mahashivratri venue at Isha Yoga Center as well.

Theerthakund (which later became Chandrakund): Spur of the moment consecration of the subterranean body of water.

Trimurti panel: Rudra, Hara, Sadashiva (from right to left), the three faces of Shiva

An elaborate kolam: The only time ever to adorn the wall of Dhyanalinga entrance

2006: A Snitch From The Camera

One of the artists invited this year bonded very closely with the volunteers and Sadhguru. It was as if she had known everyone for many years. At one point during her performance, she just got off the stage, pulled one of the Sounds of Isha drummers by the arm onstage when he was attending to other duties, put him behind the drum playfully and gestured him to play along with her troupe.

He played for a while. When she was not looking, he snuck back to his duties. Thank goodness that there were not many cameras at the time to catch him tiptoeing offstage.

2006: Mahashivratri’s First Contemporary Fusion Artist

Remo Fernandes was the first contemporary fusion artist to perform on Mahashivratri. He was so down-to-earth that on the morning of Mahashivratri, he went around the ashram without informing any of the volunteers and visited the Dhyanalinga on his own. Luckily, many didn’t recognize him, or rather they did not expect him to be the famous Remo, and so he didn’t go through much inconvenience.

2005: Pandit Jasraj Graces the Stage

“I was excited when I was assigned to take care of Pandit Jasraj,” a brahmachari shares. “I wondered what it would be like meeting such a great musician. As soon as I set my eyes on Panditji at the airport, it was humbling to see what a simple person he was. Later, I asked him about his diet requirements. ‘Please don’t put any tamarind in your south Indian sambhar daal for me,’ he promptly replied. ‘Otherwise you will be responsible for my bad throat,’ he chuckled.

Sometime later, a few volunteers asked me excitedly to tell them a few stories about Panditji. At one point, when I mentioned that bitter gourd was Panditji’s favorite food, one of them commented matter-of-factly, ‘Oh! Now I know why I can’t sing!’ We all laughed so hard.

2005: Mowing the Backdrop

This year saw a huge shift in the celebrations, literally! The Mahashivratri stage was moved to the Nalanda grounds to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers. Dais decorations also took a creative leap forward.

A volunteer recalls, “With much effort, the decorations team grew some exotic grass on wooden planks before Mahashivratri. I remember how they were protecting it from birds, breeze, and us, ensuring that it was dense and level enough to give the feeling of a natural lawn in the back drop.”

With oil lamps adorning this grass-covered wall, it was one of the most talked-about backdrops for a while.


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2004: A Sacred Entrance

This was the year the Dhyanalinga mandapam was completed. Despite the frenzy of several other activities, volunteers made a huge effort to complete the construction in time for Mahashivratri. And it was – right on the day of Mahashivratri!

2004: Level Up!

By 2004, the number of guests at the Mahashivratri celebration was in hundreds and thousands.

A brahmachari shares, “I remember Shivkumar Sharma, the santoor player, looking overwhelmed and saying: I have never played for such a large crowd before! A ten-member team had to clear the crowd for him to reach the stage.

Once near the stage, he wanted an elevated platform so that people could see him properly. Not knowing what to do with this last minute request, we snatched away the small platform that the video team was using to capture the event, and put that on top of the stage for him.

“The video team did not forgive us for a very long time!”

Shivkumar Sharma shared later that he had not expected such a large crowd to be so quiet and still.

2003: Brahmamokkate Sung by Sudha Ragunathan

2003 was Carnatic singer, Padma Bhushan Sudha Ragunathan’s second performance at the ashram.

She had earlier performed on November 23, 2000, the day Dhyanalinga was offered to the world. Back then, when she was invited to sing inside the Dhyanalinga after the Guru Pooja, she sang a specially composed piece. At the end, she sang Brahmamokkate Para Brahmamokkate, composed by Annamacharya. The intensity with which she sang had Sadhguru in tears.

Sure enough, she sang Brahmamokkate on Mahashivratri as well!

Feb 16, 2017 10:30am

Yoga Veeras in Danikandi village – Inviting local villagers for Adiyogi Consecration. Velliangiri anna shares his experience.

Feb 16, 2017 10:08am

Yoga Veeras in Danikandi village - Inviting local villagers for Adiyogi Consecration.

2002: Bombay Jayashri and an Isha Crafts Bag

By 2002, Sadhguru had held several Inner Engineering programs outside Tamil Nadu, so the crowd at this year’s celebration was a record-breaking 50,000! Bombay Jayashri, a renowned Carnatic singer and an Oscar-nominated artist, was invited to perform.

A brahmachari shares: “To bring Bombay Jayashri to the venue, we had to wade through a sea of people. The crowd was so large that we decided to take the artist to the dais an hour in advance.

We set out, I in front politely making way through the crowd, and Bombay Jayashri following close behind. Every minute, I looked back to see if she was still following. At one point, I got distracted by something. When I looked back, she was gone!

I searched for her desperately, trying to catch a glimpse of her bright orange sari, but all I could see was a sea of heads. I did find her eventually, at a craft stall shopping for bags – like any other participant! It was amusing and refreshing to see such simplicity and a human side to an artist of her stature!

We did reach the dais with plenty of time on hand.”

2000: It Can’t Get Better Than This… Can It?

One resident recalls how many at the ashram felt 2000’s Mahashivratri celebrations set a new level for Isha, which couldn’t be topped. They stand corrected now!

The ashram was growing fast and Mahashivratris were becoming grander. This Mahashivratri was a treat… stone pillars, three levels of stage, and a proper roof over the dais that wouldn’t fly off! It seemed like a monumental task had been achieved.

International artists like the Gundecha brothers came to perform. It couldn’t get better than this we thought… of course, we didn’t realize back then what Sadhguru had in mind for future Mahashivratri celebrations!

1997: The Oriya Legacy

A record-breaking (get used to that adjective!) 11,000 people this year. Volunteers worked day and night for weeks to prepare for this Mahashivratri. This became the norm over the years.

Prasanna, a professional local artist, and Samaleshwari, a Bhajan group from Odisha, performed. Sadhguru had first heard the Oriya group just a few months before, during the Karma Yatra in December 1996.

Though the group sang in Hindi, they were a super-hit – no one was left untouched by their moving devotional songs and high energy. They were invited for many subsequent Mahashivratris.

Feb 16, 2017 8:35am

After completing their sadhana before Adiyogi, nearly 500 Yoga Veeras enter the Dhyanalinga in full devotion - at 7 am. Half an hour of intense meditation follows.

1996: Bigger Ground, Fancy Stage, Mystical Music!

Since more people were expected, the celebrations were moved to the field just outside Kaivalya Kutir. This remained the Mahashivratri venue until 2004. Over 5000 people turned up – simply by word-of-mouth – making it over five times larger than the previous year.

The stage was decked in traditional fashion with banana leaves. A local Shehnai player named Shiva was invited to perform. He kept playing snake music, and many meditators began to dance like snakes! The night ended with another movie on Shiva!

Feb 16, 2017 8:08am

These Chinese Yogaveeras have been in the kitchen since 5:30 am preparing breakfast for 120 participants of the Inner Engineering retreat. 109 of them are Chinese. The Yoga Veeras are coming in batches to do sadhana in front of Adiyogi, so that they can make it happen for others. This is the third batch.

1995: 80-Year-Old Chennai grandma Hits the Stage

Following Sadhguru’s discourse, volunteers and residents sang devotional songs. But the highlight of the event was Chennai Paati. (No one knew her name. So we affectionately called her Chennai Paati or Grandma from Chennai.) Over 80 years old, she wasn’t even able to talk properly. But the moment she sat in front of Sadhguru, she sang “Shankara guro” with a fervor that took the whole hall by storm. After every song, with folded hands she turned to Sadhguru, silently asking his permission to sing one more bhajan.

We fell in love with paati. Her devotion and above all, the silent communication between her and Sadhguru moved us all to tears. At 3am, the cultural performances ended and we watched a Shiva movie with Sadhguru.

Feb 16, 2017 7:53am

"There has not been a single day when I haven't had tears in my eyes during my sadhana in front of adiyogi." - Gayatri, full time volunteer

"Always depended upon somebody for love and joy. Came to the ashram with a heavy heart. This nearly 40- days journey at the feet of Adiyogi has filled me with love within. I had never imagined. Not dependent on anybody anymore." - Padma Iyer, Neurologist, Bengaluru

"I don't want to miss anything that is happening around this once in a lifetime event. Want to take in all. Not thinking what it gives me what it doesn't. Feel wonderful being busy making it happen." - Sumit, Mumbai

"As we finish our sadhana at dawn it's like the dawning of a new...something within me. I feel I am standing on sacred ground, with joy in my heart." - Anne Hatting, Yoga Veera, South Africa

1995: The First Crab Claw in the Ashram

A brahmachari recalls the rest of the night.

The celebrations took place inside Kaivalya Kutir. This was the single-roomed hut in which Sadhguru conducted the 90-day Wholeness program in 1994. It had a mud floor, thatched roof and walls of dried coconut fronds. In the mornings, wild peacocks often flew in to perch on the roof. Today, after so many years, many of the peacocks are quite comfortable with us. They roam around without fear, and seem quite at home!

Tarpaulins and carpets were spread across the mud floor. The dais on which Sadhguru would sit, usually clad with a simple white cloth, was now decorated with flowers for the first time. An exotic tropical flower, the Crab Claw, was used to decorate the backdrop. We were completely awed by it!

900 Isha meditators packed the room. The annadanam menu we served on this Mahashivratri has remained the same till this day.

Feb 16, 2017 7:14am Yoga Veeras doing their sadhana in the lap of Adiyogi, welcoming the Sun with their intensity and devotion.

1995: At the Sacred Spot

The first Mahashivratri celebrations began with Guru Pooja by Sadhguru at the very spot where Dhyanalinga now stands. Of course, none of those present on that day – except Sadhguru – knew that this would be where one of the most phenomenal events in human history would unfold. The first group of Isha brahmacharis were also initiated on this day.