Lights, trippy performances, non-stop dance music, an exuberant all-night party with folks in ecstatic states – that sound like a rave to you? Well, yes, it is, of a certain kind. Isha’s annual Mahashivratri celebrations, which take place at Isha Yoga Center, Coimbatore, have become the place to be in past few years, and this year too, in spite of the pandemic, the Foundation managed to throw a hell of a bash on the night of March 11. Sure, the numbers were restricted (a few thousands compared to the lakhs that throng the gathering each year), there were masks and social distancing but nevertheless, they pulled out all the stops. The event was live on all Sadhguru’s channels on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. It was live-streamed in 15 languages, and was broadcast across more than 120 TV channels, reaching an estimated 100 million viewers across the globe.
Mahashivratri 2021 at Isha was a curious combination of things – spirituality, meditation, bhakti, spectacle, culture, fun, exploration and a dash of politics. Among the first things that hits you is the palpable devotion. Everyone present is intensely focused on Shiva – and in particular, on Shiva as Adiyogi, the first guru to teach humankind the methods and technologies to attain one’s ultimate nature. The night, as Sadhguru explained, is one of those times when there is a natural upsurge in the human system. By staying awake and alert, seekers try to ride the wave and make use of it instead of being overwhelmed by it.
This Mahashivratri saw a new aspect that they’re calling Rudraksha Diksha. Named the tears of Shiva, and traditionally held to be of immense value for spiritual growth as well as general wellbeing, these are high quality rudraksha seeds that also adorn Adiyogi. A whopping 3 million people have already signed up to receive a rudraksha each. Not only is the offering free but get this – the Foundation is couriering these to recipients in India free of charge! The Adiyogi bust, which towers over the night’s proceedings, had large mounds of rudrakshas around it. Just before midnight Sadhguru covered the Elaeocarpus seeds with bilva leaves as part of the consecration, and the seeds will be sent out across the country in the weeks to come.
Another tangent of the night was the honoring of the native cattle breeds that Isha is nurturing. Farmers from the local, award-winning farmer producer organization (FPO) Velliangiri Uzhavan also gathered to greet Sadhguru. The FPO is ranked among the best in India and their success prompted Sadhguru to say that the largest Indian corporations in the future will be farmer organizations.
Continuing with an urgent issue he has been raising of late, Sadhguru made a strong passionate pitch to free Tamil Nadu’s temples from governmental control. Making the demand ahead of elections in the state, Sadhguru spoke of the heartrending condition of temples, which are controlled but poorly managed by the State. Lashing out against the tendency to see temples only in terms of revenue, he spoke compellingly of how India’s cultural and spiritual heritage will dwindle if left unattended. The movement is gathering considerable support and momentum on social media with the hashtag #FreeTNTemples.
The all-nighter had a long list of performers lined up: there was Mangli, the singing sensation from Telangana, Carnatic vocalist Sandeep Narayan, singers Parthiv Gohil and Manasi Parekh, The Kutle Khan Project, a group of Rajasthani folk performers, Kabir Café, Thappu drummers of Tamil Nadu and Anthony Dasan, the inimitable Tamil folk artiste who collaborated with the nadaswaram to bring the crowd to its feet. Apart from these, there was the immensely popular home-grown band Sounds of Isha, which punctuated the night with its own offerings but also supported the various artistes. There was also a superlative ensemble dance performance by Isha Samskriti and a truly stunning fire dance by Isha residents.
As group after musical group paid homage to Shiva, the audience surged to its feet to dance, free and unfettered. A large number of those gathered were young – in their twenties and thirties – but truth be told, energy was high across all age groups and there were hardly any signs of flagging. There was an odd observation to make of the crowd: although they were loud and wild in their celebrations, the very same people settled down in utter stillness when called upon to sit for the various meditations that Sadhguru guided the gathering through. Exuberance and a profound, soul-deep silence going hand in hand.
Finally, dawn came and the party-goers loped off to bed, punch drunk on happiness, lack of sleep and the magic of Shiva.