Thursday, July 8, 2004

Pattabhi Jois was born on July 16, in either 1915 or 1916; I can't remember which. According to the Indian custom, however, he celebrates his birthday on the first full moon in July, whatever day that may fall; this year it was Friday, July 2.

I've never been to an Indian birthday party before, let alone one for a Brahmin vidvan and internationally renowned yoga teacher. The party was held in the main shala, and the birthday boy was positioned on his customary chair/throne, which sits on the foot-high stage at the front of the room. Shala doors opened at 11 AM. Students trickled inside in groups of twos and threes.

Many of the ladies went all-out for the festivities, and arrived resplendant in saris. Many had to seek the help of landlords and neighbors for instruction on how to put their saris on, a long, involved wrapping process.

Everyone sat down and faced Guruji as though he was going to produce rabbits from his lungi. A group of musicians performed, stage-right; otherwise, the room buzzed with the muted sound of conversation.

At one point, another much older and much thinner Brahmin was led into the room to join a third aged Brahmin. I found out later the older men were Guruji's younger and older brothers; they'd made the trip from the family village especially for the occasion. The Jois family must be made of hardy stock, because how often do you hear of an 89-year-old man having both a younger and older brother?

The extended Jois family and the various people who orbit the shala were also on-hand for the festivities. We all watched Guruji for perhaps an hour-and-a-half. He watched us from his vantage point on the stage, smiling and nodding.

The students from chant class had been working on a chant to the guru, and they recited it. A cake was brought in, and Sharath helped his grandfather cut the first piece. The spectacle broke up and the darshan/photo-op line formed.

Everyone had lunch in the parking garage downstairs. All the partygoers filtered in and wedged themselves behind long, thin tables, which were topped by banana leaves. The food was catered by a Brahmin catering company, so the servers wore only lungis and their threads.

The food was South Indian thali. It was brought out course-by-course in large steel pails, with the portions troweled on the banana leaves and eaten by hand.

It was the first time in seven days that I had eaten anything besides toast or curd---but that's another story. As I'm also a giant wussy, I found the food ridiculously spicy. My face reddened, tears squirted from my eyes, and I started hiccuping immediately.

I wished Guruji a happy birthday. Sharath pulled Sherrie and I aside to say that Tim had called earlier to wish his guru a happy birthday. He'd also told Sharath to say hello to us. It was a heart-string moment.