Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts across Cultures

By Sarah Strauss | Go to book overview

2
Lives and Histories: Rishikesh, Sivananda,
and the Divine Life Society

Rishikesh, India – January, 1992

The “deluxe” bus lurched along the Hardwar Road, carrying us from the dry, flat
landscape of the Gangetic plain north of Delhi to the abrupt topography of Rishikesh
and the lush first reaches of the Himalayan range. We arrived just after dawn. Pink
and yellow rays of cool morning sun reflected off the smooth surface of Ganga Ma,
the River Ganges, as we climbed down from the bus onto the sandy beach by the
river. A few scooterwalas stood by their three-wheeled vehicles, and several men
milled around a makeshift tea stall, sipping from steaming cups. Gathering up our
large collection of luggage, the “needful” for a year of field research in northern India,
my husband and I surveyed the scene. Across the river to the east, we noted the
long line of brightly painted buildings and temples comprising the Swaragashram
district, known for its numerous ashrams and dharamsalas (rest houses) catering to
both serious religious renunciants and travelers on the way to mountain pilgrimage
destinations. Beyond the buildings, forested hills shimmered gray-green in the light
breeze. Downstream, in the shallows by the many concrete ghats (landing places),
men and boys bathed in the sacred water. Others, both male and female, sat or
walked along the banks; some were engaged in prayer or meditation, while others
dressed or combed their hair. We had spent less than a week in Delhi, but it was a
great relief to get out of the city. Walking away from the dieseling buses, the predomi-
nant sensation was one of profound peace. Everything I had read or heard about
Rishikesh as the “place of saints and sages” suddenly made sense as I breathed
deeply of the crisp, clean air, purging the red-black residue of city grit from my body.
The peace was short-lived, however, as we began to contemplate how to stuff our
bodies and our luggage into one of these tiny, semi-enclosed scooters. Fieldwork
had begun.


Locating Rishikesh: Situated Lives, Intersecting Histories

In Chapter 1, I introduced yoga as a transnationally generated and globally recognized set of bodily practices, and suggested that we could use yoga to explore how the values of health and freedom have developed over the past century. Rishikesh

-23-

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Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts across Cultures
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Glossary and Orthographic Note xiii
  • “Lineage” of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh xvii
  • Preface a Note to Anthropologists and Interested Others … xix
  • 1: Re-Orienting Yoga 1
  • 2: Lives and Histories 23
  • 3: Balancing Acts 53
  • 4: Moving Out 87
  • 5: Yoga 115
  • Afterword: Virtual Yoga 141
  • Notes 145
  • Bibliography 157
  • Index 177
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