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Cauvery, a karmic connection for Sadhguru

On his birthday on Sept 3, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev launches one of his most ambitious projects – a 12-year-mission to rejuvenate the Cauvery river. In this one-on-one chat, we get a glimpse into what inspires the man who inspires millions.

Cauvery, a karmic connection for Sadhguru
Illustration: Saai


Should rituals be practised?” asks a young college goer, prefacing her question in context of religion. “Even brushing your teeth is a ritual,” retorts Sadhguru, “And thank god we all practise that ritual,” he adds, with a laugh. “Your mother taught you to start your day with this ritual, and you follow it and it’s a good thing. You may have been reluctant as a child, and demanded that you eat first, but over the years, you see the wisdom in this simple ritual. So, if it’s good for you, follow it; if not, discard it,” he answers.

Presiding over a session at an engineering college, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is in his element. His audience comprises a thousand minds, eager to listen and learn, and he effortlessly connects with the gathering; speaking their language, interspersing his conversation with warmth and wit.

The questions range from the mundane to the profound — taxes to music to meditation, He fields them all with a light touch. “Were you ever scared when you set out to seek answers?” asked another youngster. “I never got answers to any of my questions, so I was never scared. When you are young, even your ignorance becomes as asset,” Sadhguru replies with a smile.

We get an opportunity to chat with Sadhguru without the crowds and studio lighting on a long drive back to the city. Seated in a car, sharing a cramped space, I wasn’t sure what to expect in such an informal setting. But Sadhguru makes it easy. He’s warm, curious and friendly. And very observant.

One soon learns that being observant is not just a trait with Sadhguru - it’s his way of learning. “I am self-taught. I learnt by being still and observing everything around me. When your attention is keen enough, the entire universe opens itself up to you.”

Driving through the crowded OMR corridor, we begin by reminding Sadhguru that his birthday is coming up. On September 3, his 62nd birthday, he kicks off Cauvery Calling – a passion project to heal the river basin. Many decades ago, on September 23, 1982, he had a life-changing experience at Chamundi Hill where he had a spiritual awakening.

What is his connection with September milestones? “I never thought of September like that,” he says. “But when I look back, it could all be because of the Equinox. On that day I did not realise it, but for something exceptional to happen, all the planets have to align.” (The September equinox is a remarkable demonstration of the various astronomical forces that keep our Earth warm and lit – and cold and dark – as the sun and the Earth move around each other. This occasion is celebrated in many cultures around the world.)

why is Cauvery so important to Sadhguru? And of all the rivers that need saving, why the Cauvery? “Yes, all the rivers need saving. We are just starting with the Cauvery. As trees disappear, soil is being eroded, The Cauvery is drying up, and farmers are suffering. The river has depleted over 40% in the last 70 year, 87% of the basin’s original green cover has been lost.”

Is it a way of giving back to the two states – Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — that you can call home, we persist. And that’s when Sadhguru shares a story which he hadn’t revealed before. It turns out that his tryst with the contentious river began around the same time he started his spiritual journey . “I was a young seeker – with no roots. I used to pack all my belongings into a car and drive around. 

On one such drive, my vehicle got damaged so my friend organised a spare one for me. It was a beat-up Maruti, and although I lived in Karnataka, it had a Tamil Nadu registration plate. Those days, one of the most precious of my belongings was a voluminous manual I had written for farmers – a document I was very proud of, and thousands of poems I had composed.”

“This was around 1991, when Radhe (his daughter) was just one year old. While I was driving around in Karnataka, I hadn’t realised that the anti-Cauvery riots had broken out. (In 1991 the Supreme Court upheld a tribunal’s award following which widespread demonstrations and violence broke out in parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.) Having spotted my car’s TN registration plate, a mob attacked my vehicle and set it on fire. I managed to get my family to safety, but I lost everything - my book, poems, all that I owned...”

Now, 28 years later, Sadhguru is revisiting Cauvery. He is putting into practise all that was documented in the book that he had lost – including farming practices. Sadhguru intends to heal the Cauvery.

The next hour is spent volleying a mixed bag of questions at Sadhguru – politics, religion, the government, taxes, social causes and smart marketing. Colleagues in the media have previously hinted at Sadhguru being evasive with his responses to ‘controversial’ questions. But after interacting with him, it’s obvious there are no ‘short’ answers. He makes a genuine effort to contextualise his response, weave in anecdotes and get the message across. It’s his way of gently steering the lives of those who flock to him. He sees beyond the actual question, and immediately understands the dilemma of the seeker.

And he’s candid about sharing information. His wife’s passing was not an easy subject for anyone to understand. Yet, he chose to go public with it – took it head on, as he has done with many controversies that continue to hound him.

He’s passionate about saving the environment, but he’s also been accused of ignoring the impact of illegal constructions, encroachments. “I challenge anyone to prove that even an inch of the forestland that we occupy required the destruction of natural habitats,” he retorts. “I admit there was a small issue with permissions pertaining to one or two buildings, and the reason for that was an extraordinary delay in approvals.”

Yes, Sadhguru doesn’t shy away from being upfront. But he also doesn’t believe in dwelling on the negative. Prod him about the social issues that plague the country, and he tells you to be grateful that you are a part of democracy that allows you dissent!

This equanimity didn’t come easily, he admits.  “While I found peace through yoga and practising stillness, at an intellectual level, I was deeply distressed with everything in the universe – social and national issues, economic problems, social injustices. Riding my bike and trekking through the forests, I was peaceful within me. But my mind still questioned and sought an explanation for everything.”

Today he doesn’t question as much, but he sincerely believes in giving back. His 12-year mission starts today, and for Sadhguru, it’s a new beginning – and another September milestone.

On Bikes

Motorhead By Passion 

When I withdrew into my farm for a few years, all I wanted to do was travel around the world on my bike. I was riding since I was 11. When I got my licence at 18, and I drove till I reached the border. I wanted to ride around the world,  and I wanted to earn  money, just to do that,  I didn’t want anything else. Till today, I still enjoy the combination of freedom and control I get while riding a bike.

On Yoga

Wide Awake And How

Yoga ‘woke’ me up. When I was young, waking me up was a laborious process. It took hours – my sisters would start by shaking me up, they would douse me with water, then my mother would drag me out of bed. She would put me in the bathroom, but I would even fall asleep on the wet bathroom tiles. After I started practising yoga, there was a transformational change within me”. Even today, I wake up at 4 am; no matter where I am, I still wake up. This ‘waking up’ happened at all levels and that’s because of yoga.

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