The Evolution of The Bellur Project as Seen Through the Eyes of Yoga Rahasya

By Michelle Mock

The B in B.K.S. Iyengar stands for Bellur, a small village in the Kolar district of the state of Karnataka, a village now famous for being the birthplace of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar. This ancient village has evolved in a positive direction thanks to Guruji's benevolent undertaking via The Bellur Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust, more often referred to as The Bellur Project.

The constructive growth of this village as a direct result of Guruji's vision and mission is nothing short of phenomenal. It is documented in the following editions of Yoga Rahasya. Follow the project's accomplishments and the village's evolution in notable Yoga Rahasya issues!

Vol. 10; No. 1; 2003: GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS
It is said that this little village existed during the time of the Mahabharata when it was known as Ekachakrapura. As the story goes, when the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, was crowned king of Hastinapura, his cousins, the Kauravas, were envious. They sent the newly crowned king and his brothers to live in a palace made of lac, with the evil idea of setting it on fire. The Pandavas learned of their cousin's plan, and built a secret tunnel through which they could escape when the time arose. One night, when the minister of the Kaurava camp sent a messenger to set fire to the palace, the Pandavas escaped through the tunnel. It is said that the Pandavas took refuge in the village of Ekachakrapura, in the house of a Brahmin. There is still a temple in the village which is said to have existed during this era.

The name of the village changed from Ekachakrapura to Bellur in later years when a silver tumbler was found in a tank close to the village. Silver in Kannada is "Bellu"; this is how the village got it's name, Bellur. Over the years, until the 20th century, this village became infamous as it was said the profession of many of the villagers was highway robbery.

Guruji's father Krishnamachar lived in the village with his family. He served as a schoolteacher in a neighboring village, as his own village did not have a school. Here Guruji was born on December 14, 1918, and lived the first six years of his life. Guruji had no connection with the village except that he carried it in his name; however he was attached to his roots. At the first financial opportunity, in 1968, he built the first primary school within the village, in memory of his father and mother. Having earned international acclaim, Guruji now feels that he HAS to bring yoga to his ancestral village. He has offered to renovate the ancient temples in his hometown. He has already registered a charitable trust called Bellur Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust which would be generating and managing funds for his dream.

Guruji's gesture to give back something to his roots, to the name that he carries, is unique. Most often we tend to forget our humble origins! We hope and pray that this ancient village of Bellur can get back to the fame and glory that one of her sons has so nobly brought her in modern times.

Vol. 10; No. 4; 2003: BELLUR COMES OF AGE
The village of Bellur must have been an important part of Indian culture centuries ago as it has several ancient stone temples with rare engravings and is rich in mythological stories. On September 8, 2003, one can well fathom the joy that Guruji must have felt while he inaugurated the Yogini Smt. Ramamani Sundararaja Iyengar Memorial Hall in his very own village of Bellur. As Guruji said in his inaugural talk, "I want this village to become a model village, not only in Karnataka (the state where it belongs), but also a model village in India."

Initially the villagers were a little skeptical. Lots of people talk about the "upliftment of villages," but are these "city people" really going to do something? But, the moment they saw things happening, their heart and soul was part of this project! It was a very touching scene on the day of the inauguration when Guruji came on the stage to be felicitated. He was literally given a floral shower from head to toe by several villagers, accompanied by thundering applause.

The inauguration was a big event because not only it is the initiation of the fructification of Guruji's dream, but it is also the beginning of the transformation of rural India. Dreams remain dreams unless the ideas are accompanied by hard work performed with a discrimative intelligence and devotion. As Bellur comes of age; Guruji indeed lives up to his words!!

Vol. 11; No. 1; 2004: AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE
Bellur Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust is formed by Guruji, his family and students. The object is to undertake educational, cultural, social and health-related projects for the upliftment of his native village Bellur and other backward villages in India. It is Guruji's ardent desire to provide basic amenities to the residents of Bellur.

His wish is to transform Bellur into a model village for the state of Karnataka,. The trust will convert this wish of Guruji's into a reality. Guruji and his immediate family have donated very generously to this cause; it is also a very good opportunity for all of us who have gained so much from Guruji's teachings to share some of our material wealth with the less fortunate residences of Bellur. The Yoga Rahasya requests its readers to generously donate to this noble cause. "Giving does not impoverish, withholding does not enrich." -- Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar

Vol. 11; No. 4; 2004: TRANSFORMATION of BELLUR
The Yoga Rahasya has made a few trips to Bellur in the last year and a half to report on the arduous task Guruji has taken on to uplift his native village of Bellur and other such backward villages in India through educational, cultural, social and health-related projects. This issue elucidates on the transformation that is evident in this short time frame of a year and a half, reporting on the accomplishments of the trust on various fronts:

The Yogacharini Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Hall: The hall was constructed over the school built by Guruji. It is to be used not only for yoga classes but also for social functions and gatherings. Regular classes for school students as well as adults are conducted on a regular basis.

Drinking Water Provisions: Construction of a huge water storage tank with a capacity of approximately 50,000 gallons of water serves the basic needs of Bellur and neighboring villagers.

Construction and Reconstruction of Temples: Renovation of The Hanuman Temple, construction of the world's first Patanjali Temple, a Rama Temple has also been built.

The trust intends to start a High School for Girls, a Vocational and Technical Training Centre.

The trust has purchased 16 acres of land adjacent to the village with plans to start a lot more activities for the villagers.

The quality of life, the overall cleanliness and the positive attitude amongst the villagers is already showing a change for the better! All this in a short time span: it is indeed a remarkable achievement. The Yoga Rahasya wishes the trust all the best in all their future endeavors and is certain that all of us will continue supporting this noble cause, this transformation, led by Guruji in whatever way we can!

Vol. 12; No. 3; 2005: HIGH SCHOOL IN BELLUR
Bellur happens to be one of the very poor villages of India inhabited by people belonging to the lower strata of society with reference to their social status as well as economic background. Education (one of the primary objectives of the trust) would indeed help to uplift the quality of life but the lack of high schools was a limitation. This issue reports on the establishment of the Smt. Ramamani Sundararaja Iyengar High School.

The genes of Guruji's father and the desire to provide education has been inherited not only by Guruji but his family too. Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar clearly mentioned at the end of the Yog-Sadhana December 2004 Convention commemorating her 60th birthday that all offerings/contributions would be utilized for starting a girl's high school in Bellur. In 2005, permissions were obtained from the government to start a high school. Guruji's enthusiasm and the speed which he works spread to the bureaucrats and construction workers. The school was officially inaugurated, on May 30, 2005, just a few days before the government granted permission not only for the girls but for the boys to attend the High School!

On admissions day Guruji sat through the interviews of the children as well as the teachers as Prashant S. Iyengar distributed books and material for school uniforms to the children. As of today (2005) there are 170 boys and girls enrolled for the eighth standard, some traveling as far as 40 kms to come to this school because they feel it is a true place of learning. The Yoga Rahasya thanks all those generous donors who have been silently contributing in cash and kind for this noble cause. It is pleasing to know that all the children that attend this school are provided with a free mid-day meal. Food for the tummy and food for thought all in one place!

Bellur, which had become a nondescript village, had an important place in Indian mythology. It was said that Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas in the epic Mahabharata, had spent some time in the village. Temples with ancient carvings more than 1,000 years old still exist as ruins in the village. Over the centuries, this village came to an appalling state of social, economical and cultural ruin.

Guruji started the Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust to improve the quality of life for the local villagers. The villagers are realizing the progress being made to reinstate the old glory of Bellur and are contributing by keeping the village cleaner and maintaining the temple complex. In the past Bellur rarely had any visitors, it is now getting more visitors including yoga students curious to see the birthplace of Guruji and wanting to visit the Patanjali Temple and the temple complex, a tourist and pilgrim's delight. A guesthouse is being built to provide a comfortable stay for these visitors, whose intent may be a pilgrimage, tourism or to assist in the activities of the Trust.

The trust is slowly but steadily progressing towards its goals and would like to thank the generous donors and the Trustees, who are working extremely hard to bring Bellur to its old glory!

Vol. 13; No. 3; 2006: VISION for BELLUR
Guruji once said, "Giving does not impoverish and withholding does not enrich." He lives by his word. Since the moment he made the commitment to improve the quality of life in Bellur, Guruji has been working very hard towards his goal. Along with other members of the Bellur Trust, he has been working to see this vision fructify.

On January 6-7, 2006, Guruji was in Bellur to inaugurate the free eye camp. Guruji personally supervised the arrangements and ensured that all went well during this camp. About three years ago the Trust was formed with four distinct objectives: to provide education, to provide primary health care facilities, to improve social standards and living conditions and to promote the cultural skills of the villagers. A lot has been achieved:

  • A hall has been built over the primary school serving a multitude of roles ranging from a classroom to a yoga room to a room for social get togethers.
  • A water storage tank was constructed to provide clean drinking water for the villagers.
  • Nearly 16 arces of land was purchased to accomplish the other objectives.
  • The Ramamani Iyengar High School was constructed and has a record number of admissions for the entire district. One hundred seventy of the 180 eighth-grade admissions in 2005 continued their education and progressed to the ninth grade.
  • The completed guesthouse, specifically constructed to provide accommodations for visitors to Bellur, is quite pleasant and could soon become a chosen destination for short holidays.
  • India's first mobile refraction unit was inaugurated at the Ramamani Iyengar School on June 6, 2006 with 800 villagers participating!

This entire complex has now been named as Ramamani Nagar in the memory of Guruji's beloved wife Ramamani. Although The Ramamani Iyengar Hospital's inauguration is scheduled for November 2006, its functioning has commenced with the eye camp. One saw a great collaboration between doctors, information technologists and philanthropists.

Neatly dressed in their checked shirts and grey trousers or skirts, the students of Ramamani Sundararaj Iyengar Memorial School, greeted us at the entrance of Ramamani Nagar with smiling faces. Most of the 350 students were present for the inauguration of the Ramamani Sundaraja Iyengar Memorial Hospital.

Many were from the village, but others were from neighboring villages. When asked if there were no school in their area they swiftly said, "This school is better," "The teachers are very good.," "The environment and surroundings are so nice!" When asked about plans after high school they said "Guruji will build the junior college!" And after that? "We will also have a technology institute here!" This swift interview with the children revealed how much they appreciated the education they are being provided by the trust.

Vol. 14; No. 1; 2007: WINNERS FROM BELLUR
The children of Bellur won the first three prizes in the district level yoga competition; they have made the most of the opportunity benevolently given to them. The children came to seek Guruji's blessing and show him their certificates during his recent trip to Bellur. When asked about their favorite poses, they cited Kapotasana, Padangustha Dhanurasana and Padma Mayurasana, which they willingly demonstrated on the stony ground, steady in their pose and gaze, unmindful of the sun!

Vol. 14; No. 1; 2007: NEW RELEASE: LIGHT on BELLUR
The Bellur Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust has worked to quickly achieve the goals that it set out in 2003. In November 2006, a pictorial booklet, Light on Bellur, was released; it highlight milestones in Bellur ranging from the ancient heritage temples to the birth of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar and the development of the Ramamani Nagar. With a photograph or two on nearly every page, this booklet gives an opportunity for all those who have not yet had a chance to visit this village to get an idea of what is happening there and experience the light on Bellur!

Vol. 14; No. 3; 2007: MEDICAL CAMP at BELLUR
Since the inception of the Trust, the life of the villagers of Bellur has been changing fast and for the better. One of the objectives of this Trust has been to "create awareness among the rural people of the importance of the individual as well as public health and to establish primary healthcare centres in the villages as well as other backward areas."

In June 2007, a free medical camp was held in Bellur. About 800 people took advantage of this camp; specialists from various medical fields came to Bellur to offer their expertise and consultancy free of cost. Residents of Bellur and 43 neighboring villages registered for this camp. But for this camp, many of these people could not have had their problems diagnosed and treated.

The camp also served to increase awareness among the villagers about their own health. All the expenses were borne by the president of the Trust, Sri Prashant Iyengar. The trust proposes to have more such camps in the future. We hope that many of you will consider sponsoring them.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, granted the Bellur Trust permission to accept donations in foreign currencies without prior permission. In the past, a foreign national who wished to contribute had to seek permission from the Government of India before donating any amount.

On Guruji's 89th birthday the Trust received the letter from the Indian government granting permission to receive foreign contributions without prior pledges or permission, a great coincidence! Hopefully, this will motivate us to contribute to the Trust whose aim is to improve the quality of life for the villagers of Bellur and other rural areas. The Trust mainly carries out activities pertaining to healthcare, education, vocational training, and rural upliftment and provides basic amenities to the villagers.

Vol. 15; No. 2; 2008: BELLUR: HEADING FOR A CHANGE
In March 2008 a Free Medical Camp was held in Bellur. This was a local and international collaborative effort! The camp was organized by the Trust; transportation was donated by a local contractor, sponsored by Neeta and Arun Datta, California. Seventy doctors from a hospital in Kolar volunteered their services, all in order to treat 600 villagers from Bellur and the surrounding areas.

This year nearly 170 children will take the Secondary School Certificate Examination given by the state government. This is not only a test for the children, but also for the Trust and the teachers, as this is the first state government evaluation on how these children have been groomed to face the competitive world. The Trust has organized special coaching sessions to prepare the children for these exams. The children seem to realize their good fortune in being granted these special sessions and they are not taking this opportunity to study lightly. The wish is for the children of Bellur to carve a future for themselves and one day bring light to Bellur like one of their forefathers is currently doing!

Vol. 16; No. 2; 2009: PUTTING BELLUR ON THE MAP
We, the students of Guruji, are aware the "B" in B. K. S. Iyengar stands for Bellur. However if you were to Google Bellur, you would discover many other famous cities named Bellur, but not this Bellur! When 300 students of Guruji visited this Bellur as part of Guruji's birthday celebrations, the change and transformation of this little-known Bellur in just five years was evident.

The first batch of schoolchildren from Bellur to face public examination passed, many in the first division! The school, the hospital, the resident quarters, the guesthouse and the performance of the schoolchildren indicates just how successful the activities of the Trust have been in this short time span. However, it will be awhile and take much more effort to bring this Bellur onto the map of the world.

Many of Guruji's students want to contribute to Bellur, in cash, in time, in kind and skills. There are many of us that want to do something but don't know what. The ideas stimulated by discussions, travels and celebrations may help us to identify how we can help. The list of ideas compiled includes conducting yoga sessions, identifying talent among children, spotting photographers, expressing through art, developing an eye for observation; learning the English language; training in sports; generating employment through crafts; medical camps; setting up horticulture and floriculture; and an adopting-a-child program. Many more ideas are bound to follow; we now need to see how many can be implemented and how each of us can contribute! Maybe then, this Bellur too will find its way onto the map of India!

Please note, these are partial versions of the Yoga Rahasya articles; refer to the Yoga Rahasya issues specified for complete articles.

Michelle Mock is a Introductory Teacher and a practitioner at The B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Studio of Dallas. She is dedicated to the tradition of Iyengar Yoga as a life-sustaining path to self-realization. She studies and draws inspiration from certified Iyengar teachers in the United States and globally, traveling to India every few years.