Isha MahaShivRatri Celebrations — What is the Truth?
There are a few news magazines and online activists raising questions as to why Isha Foundation is having a pricing in first place for their MahaShivRatri event. There are also questions as to why there is differential pricing to suit some rich people.
Along with these questions is a blame slid in the typical under-the-carpet style that poor people who cannot afford that cost cannot attend the Isha MahaShivRatri celebrations.
As somebody who had volunteered to organize some of this event’s aspects, I wanted to throw some light on this and provide clarity for those really seeking the truth.
Facts, Facts, Facts
Let’s see some facts regarding the Isha MahaShivRatri celebrations this year:
- Close to 1 Lakh people registered for this event ‘willingly’
- Close to 3 Lakh people had their dinner as Annadanam Prasadam offering on that night from Isha Foundation’s celebrations
- Over 120 stalls were organized by the Isha Foundation where Annadanam was offered
- There were close to 100 temporary toilets installed & maintained throughout the event
- Over 50 water points were arranged to provide clean drinking water and a similar number for washing hands after food
- Over 100 temporary dust bins and 15 to 20 huge waste bins were arranged for collecting garbage
- Ten top artists of India were invited for performances during the MahaShivRatri event
Hidden costs in organizing the event
Beyond 100 feet, the visibility significantly falls during the night. So, huge LED screen displays were set throughout the venue for people sitting beyond 2nd bay to be able to see the celebrations up-close & participate.
Tens of thousands of chairs were arranged for people in ALL bays to sit and enjoy the whole event.
Huge lighting facilities were arranged throughout the vast area so that people have no difficulty in finding their bay or walking to the annadanam area.
Parking facility for over 1000 big vehicles was arranged.
Thousands of Volunteers had been working to make the event happen and they also need to be fed and provided shelter for!
Why have paid tickets at all for this event?
All these arrangements cost money and without enough money, providing the required facilities for everyone would not be possible. None of these media channels or activists accusing Isha would raise their little finger to provide next meal for the needy.
Even if the Foundation did have pricing for different tickets, one needs to note that it was only for about 20% of the whole seating. The accusing media is simply hiding the fact that 80% of the seats were FREE (including the set of Tamirabarani bays) along with those allocated for Shivanga devotees and the Isha Yoga Center residents!!
Here is the clear image of the seating plan that the foundation had published which proves this.
Just imagine feeding over 3,00,000 devotees over a 12 hour period and the mere logistics involved is simply mind-boggling. If anything, Isha Foundation needs to be appreciated for this gesture and more support on this front.
Typically whenever such free Annadanam is being offered, there would be a stampede. But thanks to the extensive planning and arrangements by the Isha Foundation volunteers, queues at each counter were so small. Amazingly, the offering of food went on beyond 3 AM with people simply pouring in.
Not a single person was asked what caste, creed or religion he / she was before being offered the food. It is called ‘Sama Pandhi Bhojanam’ in Tamil. This miracle from Tamil culture, where people of all castes have their food together, is something that Isha Foundation has been restoring over years now. Similarly, neither at the AdiYogi’s statue nor at the Dhyanalinga meditation temple are any restrictions regarding someone’s religion or caste because these are maintained as meditative spaces only.
Were people really denied seating?
No one was denied because they could not pay. That is not true at all!
Those who registered prior to the event were given the tags for easy identification of bays to sit in. Not just as a helpful visual indicator, these color coded tags are also easy to spot someone lost & guide them.
These tags were provided for devotees who registered for the buses arranged by Isha Foundation Volunteers from many cities for this event and also for those arranging their own transport.
Such pre-registration is needed for events of this scale to provide the bus facilities, food arrangements and also to arrange chairs for everyone to sit. There have been several security threats to Isha Foundation and Sadhguru. So, this pre-registration process helps weed out such issues as well.
Those who did not register before the event day were also allowed in till ALL the free bays got full. They had been issued passes upon arrival. It was on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Obviously, once the venue is full and brimming with more people, some people would have to stay out if they have not registered. But no registered participant is complaining that he / she had been denied a place.
The Live YouTube feed for the whole MahaShivRatri event had been viewed by more than 1 Million devotees:
The program was also telecast live on over 60+ channels for devotees all over the world to be able to see and participate.
Critical questions to ask
Now the key questions to ask people spreading such rumours about Isha Foundation are:
- Who was denied a place in the venue because they registered and were not let in? Do they have a proof for this?
- Who was denied a place because they did not pay? When did this happen and is there a proof?
Anybody can make an off-the-cuff remark and go off. But the truth of the matter needs some serious thought and analysis.
Apart from all this, people who are registering clearly know the purpose behind such registration. Not a single person was ‘forced’ for their registration.
What is my final take?
My final take in this case is that Isha Foundation may not be a perfect organization. When any organization conducts events of this big a scale, there are bound to be some confusions and chaos. It is just that merely conducting such a huge event with so many celebrities without any security issues or people issues in itself is a huge thing. Am surprised that rebuke is being a reward instead.
Definitely there was a bit of confusion regarding where the different bays are located in that huge area and more directions could have been provided to the volunteers. However, this is a very minor glitch and can be improved definitely.
I also like to highlight some of the positives I saw from the event:
- The event brought together tribal community from all nearby villages. They participated very enthusiastically in the event throughout.
- Sadhguru also said that there will be many trainings provided to the farmers community.
- The cultural events showcased the dying dance & musical art forms in TamilNadu and how Isha has been vital in trying to keep them alive.
- Lot of people were served drinking water in reusable tumblers and not in water bottles.
All in all, mistakes may happen by any organization and highlighting it could be done constructively. But spreading completely false news is definitely unbecoming of media ethics.
If someone has a really constructive suggestion on how the event could have been done differently and still keeping it effective, please suggest it. Isha Foundation’s organizing team would love to hear such suggestions.