2009 was a year for auspicious beginnings and none more impressive than the installation and blessing of the new Patanjali murti at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. It was an honor to be apart of this ceremony and particularly fun to see the community come together, re-up on some old friendships and eat some very tasy cake. — NC
This post is in honor of Sri BKS Iyengar’s 91st birthday, December 14, 1918.
Patanjali Puja at IYILA
The date, Sunday July 12, 2009 and hour, 5:30am had been chosen according to Indian astrology as most auspicious for the sanctification of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles and installation of its new Patanjali statue. Indeed, the stars did align for IYILA on that morning. Not only was the Institute fortunate to receive a Patanjali murti (image) made by the hands of the very same sculptor who, under Guruji BKS Iyengar’s close direction and guidance created the image for the only Patanjali temple located in Bellur, India, but Sri Nataraja Shastri, Guruji’s personal Upadhyaya (family priest) happened to be in Los Angeles at the appointed time and date to perform the puja (ceremony).
With over 200 students present, Sri Nataraja Shastri began by blessing the space of the Institute, all of its students and yoga practitioners. Having previously requested a list of the current Institute faculty, he performed a special blessing for all of the teachers on staff. At the conclusion of the blessing of the Patanjali murti with traditional offerings and Abhisheka (ritual bathing accompanied by the recitation of mantras), he led all in attendance in the call and response recitation of the 108 names of Patanjali. Each name refers to qualities of Patanjali’s teaching as well as his contributions to yoga philosophy, Ayurveda and Sanskrit Grammar.
Nataraja Shastri continued the puja by chanting the 1,008 names of Vishnu and numerous mantras (sounds, syllables, or words used as objects of meditation in order to lead to transformation) chosen by Geeta Iyengar especially for the purification of the Institute and yoga practitioners. “The mantras, though difficult to understand, if one… listens with attention whole heartedly, can bring citta prasadanam [graceful diffusion of consciousness]. They lead one to establish calmness, quietness and peace.” Referring to Sutra I.7 Pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani (Correct perception arises from direct observation, inference and the words of the wise), Geeta advises that jnana (gnosis) gradually develops through listening to the chanting of the mantras. The Sanskrit mantras are considered to be sacred sounds, in which the vibration of syllables voiced with correct pronunciation and accent have a purifying effect on the body and mind of the listener.
Nataraja Shastri is an internationally respected vedic scholar and it was an extraordinary experience to witness his breath control while chanting in proper Sanskrit recitation, which often necessitates uttering long phrases in a single breath. He has committed all of the mantras as well as copious texts (as those who have seen him chant for three consecutive days on the occasion of Guruji’s 80th Birthday can attest) to memory. In this way, Nataraja Shastri is part of one of the oldest unbroken oral traditions in existence, one responsible for the preservation of the ancient vedic texts.
The Institute’s new Patanjali murti provides students of yoga with the opportunity to contemplate the philosophical underpinnings of the practice and to forge an emotional connection with the long unbroken line of yogic transmission. Like the invocation to Patanjali that is recited at the beginning of yoga classes, the puja rituals are not religious acts and the symbolic imagery of the sculpture is not an object of worship, rather both are meant to serve as an aid to the practice of yoga as an inner journey toward our truest self.
This article will appear in the Winter 2009/2010 Yoga Vidya, the journal of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Southern California
About Sri Nataraja Shastri
Sri Nataraja Shastri is one of the highly regarded and most revered Vedic Scholars in Pune, India. He has been providing Vedic Ritual Services in India since 40 years and has continued to be guidance for a flourishing list of Yogic Aspirants. He has been flown to foreign countries several times to Conduct Vedic rituals and is the Chief Pundit for the Yoga Guru B.K.S Iyengar. His Vedic Chanting have been recorded and listened to by thousands around the world and has a huge following in North America.
Sri Nataraja Shastri is a patron of huge number of Temples in India and supports their maintenance. He was appointed as the Head of Committee of Satara Temple in India by His Highness Late.Shri.Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt. He is one of the pioneers to lend support to the Sakatapuram Mutt near Sringeri, Karnataka and continues to be an active sponsor. Currently Sri Nataraja Shastri resides in Pune and frequently travels abroad to share his Vedic knowledge and Wisdom.
“During the ceremony, all the four vedas namely, Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharva Veda were recited by 20 Brahmins.” – Geeta Iyengar, on the occasion of Sri Nataraja Shastri 50th B’day