Magazine article The New Yorker

Om Sweet Om

Magazine article The New Yorker

Om Sweet Om

Article excerpt

OM SWEET OM

Alegend: In ancient India, a noblewoman named Parvati had a crush on the god Shiva. But he wasn't open to dating. His previous wife had died, and he was an ascetic; he meditated all day on a mountaintop, wearing only a tiger skin. Rebuffed, Parvati tried to woo him on his own terms. She took up an austerity regime--fasting, meditating for years in the wilderness. It worked. Shiva was impressed, and he came out of seclusion.

The Hindu ceremony of Shivaratri honors their marriage. Devotees fast and stay up all night to celebrate it with chanting. "It's a long haul," the yoga teacher Eddie Stern said the other day, at the Broome Street Temple, in SoHo. "But, once you get late into the night--2, 3, 4 A.M.--the whole atmosphere's pretty profound." Stern, who is pale, with a shaved head, had just arrived, late, from giving Madonna a yoga lesson. Would Madonna be coming to the ceremony? "She said she might stop by," Stern said. Stern is an expert in Ashtanga yoga, having trained with Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, who developed the technique. He founded the Hindu temple, in his Manhattan yoga studio, in 2001, to create "a little slice of India," he said. Since then, it has become an unlikely spiritual-pilgrimage site, attracting a mixture of Indians, downtown yoga ladies, and celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow; Mike D, of the Beastie Boys; Julian Schnabel; Russell Brand). The evening's Shivaratri ceremony was bittersweet: it would be the Temple's last. The space had been sold to developers, who want to turn it into a hair salon. "It's an emotional time," Stern said. More than a hundred and fifty yogis had R.S.V.P.'d for the all-nighter, and he said they'd be drifting in and out.

It was 5 P.M., and Stern's helpers were rushing around, making chai and rice for the guests. Near the back of the room, a white-and-gold shrine, like a cabin, housed a statue of the elephant-headed god Ganesh. A Hindu priest and other robed men sat on the floor in front of a mural depicting Shiva. Stern joined them and began to chant, as a crowd showed up. First came the after-work shift: Sangita, a paralegal whose parents are from Calcutta, said that she was there because "my mom's been pushing it. I think she wants me to find a husband." Rebecca Dias, a former yoga teacher from Chelsea, said that she was hoping to bring "auspiciousness" into her life.

The robed men chanted. A kirtan singer played a harmonium and sang, accompanied by her brother, on a tabla. …

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