Madonna to Russia, Varanasi rules

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Varanasi
  • Published 1.02.07
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Varanasi, Jan. 31: Madonna might be his most famous student, but it is visitors from the erstwhile Soviet Union who are keeping Vedic scholar Bhagirath Prasad Tripathi busy.

Better known as Vagish Shastri, Tripathi had helped the pop star with her Sanskrit pronunciation back in 1998. Madonna’s recital of Sanskrit shlokas for her album Ray of Light was less than perfect. So she got in touch with Shastri, who runs the Kundalani Yoga Peeth in Varanasi, and took lessons over the phone.

It took her two days to get the pronunciation right, says Shastri, as students from Russia, Ukraine and other Soviet countries pour into his peeth.

On Makar Sankranti — January 14 — Boris Bidichev, a Ukrainian teacher, took Bhairav Mantra diksha from Shastri. He was followed by Igor Danylov, rechristened Ishwaranand Nath, who took Panchakshar Mantra diksha.

“When I return to my country, I plan to impart lessons in yoga and tantra in Ukraine and Russia,” says Igor, a post-graduate in modern history, dressed in loose saffron clothes. “I have already acquired some skills in yoga and have been given the epithet of Kul Chakreshwar. I will learn tantra skills and Sanskrit.”

When Igor was being inducted in the Vedic classes by Shastri last week, guests at the programme included five other Russians and Ukrainians, including Matsyendranath Maxim, a yoga-tantra practitioner, and Gorlov Ilya, a yoga teacher from Moscow.

Igor had been practising yoga for seven years in Ukraine before he was brought to Varanasi by Matsyendranath Maxim.

The visitors claim that the collapse of the USSR is one of the reasons that so many of them are joining the quest for spiritualism. “It was obsession with communism till USSR lasted because the Soviet communist ideology ruled us at that time. The disintegration of the Soviet Union paved the way for a kind of disorientation among people. Soon, people began to turn to uncharted areas in search of solace. People began to explore religions, including Hinduism,” said Maxim, a painter who became a yoga-tantra practitioner after meeting Shastri.

“Most yoga learners are inquisitive about its spiritual dimensions and then they take to tantra. You will be surprised to know that Tantrik Chakras (tantrik communions) have sprung up in Ukraine and Russia, too,” he added.

Shastri echoes him: “During the last nine years, many students of yoga and tantra from former USSR have come to me for diksha.”

At his peeth, there are students from France, Germany and the US as well. Some are professionals curious about Indian culture, others are research scholars.

Students living abroad are taught shlokas through video-conferencing, much like Madonna was taught through tele-conference.

Shastri claims that the pop star was eager to visit India but could not because she was pregnant. But she made necessary pronunciation corrections in her album, where she had recited shlokas from the opening hymn of Yoga Taravali, which summarises the highest teachings of yoga.