Come Mahashivratri, Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore comes into limelight for its night-long celebrations, led by its founder and guru, Jaggi Vasudev. This year, the celebrations on February 24 are slated to be on an international scale, with nearly two lakh people attending, and over five crore devotees being part of it through 23 television channels. The highlight of the event is the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to inaugurate a 112-ft bust of ‘Adiyogi’(Shiva).
This has brought the allegations of environmental and land violations by the spiritual-yoga-meditation destination back into focus, with activists and locals getting into a flurry of activity.
It is a known fact that the Isha Center is embroiled in legal cases for several building and land violations, including a demolition notice for 44,000 sq ft of buildings issued by the Madras High Court in 2013, which the state government is yet to act upon.
The Madras HC, on February 17, heard a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by P Muthumal, President of the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society, seeking to demolish unauthorised construction, including a “120-ft Shivan statue” built on wet lands, restraining further construction, and action against Coimbatore District Collector TN Hariharan for allowing such unauthorised constructions to come up on land falling within the ambit of the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA). The HC ssued notices to the Government returnable by March 3.
The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) heard another application, by advocate M Vetriselvan of the environmental organisation ‘Poovulagin Nanbargal’, seeking an interim order restraining the Isha Center from holding the Mahashivrathri celebrations, from February 21 – 25, 2017, in the buffer zone intimated by the District Forest Officer, Coimbatore.
The applicant had pointed out that the high decibel level sounds throughout the night, huge influx of vehicles, powerful lights, and movement of nearly two lakh people in the area disturbed the normal life of elephants and led to the herds attacking devotees. He had also sought a permanent order restraining the Isha Center from holding any such events in the future.
According to Vetriselvan, here too, the Tribunal posted the plea for further hearing to March 27, much like in other cases, where they are either pending hearing, or the orders are pending implementation against Isha.
In the light of all this, the imminent arrival of the PM has upset not only the activists, but also the locals. The contention is whether the PM has agreed to inaugurate the statue knowing about the disputes and violations surrounding the Isha Center.
Activists maintain that PM Modi cannot be ignorant about the situation and must have made the decision to attend the programme in spite of this.
Srinivasan Kuppusamy, who has been fighting the cause for the last five years, has begun a petition “Modiji Please don’t attend the Sadhguru Jaggi’s function, destroyer of tribals and elephants” on Change.org.
Besides the environmental issue, his cause of concern is the construction of the Shiva statue. “All this while Jaggi Vasudev has been propagating the concept of Universal God. Why is he now consecrating a statue of a Hindu God in the name of Yoga?”
The Isha blog explains the Adiyoga statue thus: “This will be the largest face on the planet, recognizing the first yogi’s unparalleled contribution to humanity. This iconic face symbolizes liberation, representing the 112 ways in which one can attain to one’s ultimate through the science of yoga. As a tribute to Adiyogi, the Hon’ble Prime Minister will light the sacred fire to commence the Maha Yoga Yagna across the world: 1 million people will take an oath to teach a simple form of yoga to at least 100 people each in the coming year, and touch at least 100 million people before the next Mahashivratri.”
The locals and various other organisations are also planning protests across the city and especially on the route of the PM’s convoy. Since there is also an option for him to reach the destination by chopper, the locals are also preparing to hoist black flags atop all the buildings surrounding the Isha Center.
They consider Modi’s arrival as a sign of endorsement to the violations happening within the Isha Center. If what was going on inside was acceptable, then any citizen could build a house anywhere without the requisite approvals, they say.
Srinivasan views Modi’s arrival as a sign of being “party to the crime” being committed by Jaggi Vasudev. He is also surprised as to how more than 20 television channels have come forward to support this “illegal activity”.
Social media is also abuzz with the sale of tickets to the function being sold at denominations of Rs. 1 lakh or more.
Following the PIL hearing, Isha has responded on its blog thus: “A few days ago, some vested interest groups filed petitions making baseless allegations about the 112-ft Adiyogi statue. We would like to place on record that Isha Foundation carries out all its activities within the purview of the law.
The accusations laid down in the petitions filed against Isha Foundation in the Madras High Court are frivolous and a compilation of twisted allegations. We would like to clarify that it is a 112-feet statue of Adiyogi Shiva (the Source of Yoga).”
The statement goes on to say that it has obtained all necessary approvals from the authorities concerned and so the “question of violation does not even arise”. It has also asserted that it has been continuously working to protect the environment and that the “vested interests” were trying to exploit such celebrations to gain cheap publicity and sow discord.