Kerala, which means Land of Coconut Trees, is believed to have been built by God itself with 44 rivers, backwaters and 600km of coastline along with forests covering a third of the land. Its name already hints at its beauty and peacefulness, making it a great vacation destination. It is said that in Keralan cuisine and life, the humble coconut features so much that without it, they would not know how to live.
Trivandrum, Kerala is home to a beautiful ashram which is part of the famed Sivananda lineage, the Sivananda Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram. There are 3 Sivananda ashrams in India – in the Himalayas, Kerala and Madurai. Ashram refers to home of a guru or saint. While physical postures or asanas are what yoga is commonly known for, in the yoga sutras of Patanjali, they are only 1 part of an 8 limbed path that guides a yogi’s life.
This stems from the belief that only in a healthy body does a healthy mind live. In asanas, one uses the body as an instrument to eventually connect with the higher self and universe. For visitors, it is advisable to visit the ashram from June to March, avoiding the sweltering summer months of April and May. For those interested in Ayurvedic treatments, it is best to go during the monsoon season of June to August when it is cooler as many techniques incorporate steaming.
It was at this time that I learnt from the guides who accompanied us that the many gods in Hinduism merely represented pieces of the whole puzzle, each showcasing different facets of the universal truth. It is said that humans created these stories in order to help them grasp the vast concept of the One.
My personal favourite is the story of Ganesha, the popular elephant God with an elephant face and a human body, the God of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles. His big elephant ears and long nose remind us that one should learn to listen and breathe through life’s challenges. His small eyes signify concentration. His four hands hold on to objects like the axe which notes that in life, problems may come from attachment and there is a need for balance. In another hand he holds a rope, by which farmers used to control a cow, indicating how we should be able to control ourselves and our five senses from harm. Next, he holds a tusk, used to write, inspiring the attitude of constantly learning. Finally, he holds a sweet to remind us that life is still beautiful. And to top it off, he rides a tiny mouse as his vehicle of choice, to illustrate how contradictions can always exist.
All in all, India has been both nourishing and yet entirely educational, opening one’s eyes to so many extremes, contradictions which exist next to surreal idealism. It is certainly a place which lends itself to multiple trips, revealing new glimpses into India with each visit.
NAJIAH RAMLEE is a yogi in the works, who was pleasantly surprised to find greater peace and acceptance by going with the flow in the loud hustle and bustle of Indian cities. The multitude of curries, doughy treats and cottage cheese must’ve helped!