t Isha Yoga Center, I had a wonderful opportunity recently: to spend some time at Isha Craft, trying to understand more about it. This is definitely a glamorous department – the source of all those beautiful products lining the shelves of Isha Shoppe, Ishana and other outlets.
I already knew that Isha Craft was once an offshoot of Isha’s ‘Action for Rural Rejuvenation’ project; and that men and women from surrounding rural areas were involved in crafting many of these natural, eco-friendly products. So I trotted off excitedly to meet Usha akka (Usha Rao), who looks after the department. Even as we had said our hellos, I was swept up in the excitement that must be part of daily life here. Some visitors interested in particular items had been directed here by the people at Isha Shoppe and the ladies were here, wanting this lamp or that decorative piece with the bull’s head. “I will send out to you, I promise,” Usha akka was assuring them, “as soon as the next pieces come in. These are already reserved.”
I looked around me interestedly. Outside, the corridor was full of scattered stone objects: urlis (shallow basins) of various geometric shapes including modernistic triangles, more ornate traditional-looking circles. Inside, the tailoring unit occupied one side and metal sheet items were stacked at the other end, covering most available surfaces. People were bustling about, carefully packing various consignments to several parts of the world. Some were going to Sadhguru’s upcoming programs, some to buyers and some to Isha stores elsewhere.
Bhanu, a young designer, showed me around the tailoring unit, where ‘masters’ (as they are called in India) and seamstresses worked at sewing machines. It was great to see the actual making of the items that I had seen on the store racks. The bags, pouches, the handles and even the smiling dolls that were sewn onto bags were here… all being put together to finish the product. I was also pleased to see the making of outfits belonging to the Mahabharat line. This was a range of high-quality, high-end garments that were made for the recent Mahabharat program – anarkali kurtas, flowing kali skirts, suits made with kalamkari and mangalgiri handloom cloth, trimmed with rich, heavily-worked borders. This was the first time the Isha Raiment unit had tackled such high-quality products.
Then I stepped out to see the stone unit with Swami Arjitha as my guide. A few sculptors worked on a few pieces, chiselling away to form interesting patterns and scores on the rock face. A huge block of granite with some tentative markings caught my eye: it stood, as if waiting to be cut. This will be yet another large urli much like the ones that grace the entrances of Spandha Hall and Aadi Yogi Aalayam. There was another, close to being finished, with slender snakes writhing along the border and into the shallow trough. They were beautiful, and would look even more so with water in them, adorned with flowers and ferns.
Stones and metal, I was told, were two materials that absorb and disperse energy very well, which is why they take the pride of place among Isha Craft’s line of products. At the metal workshop, I saw various elements made with moulded sheet metal. Usha akka showed me a new line of lamps that promised to be a raging success; these have been inspired by an old style of metal-work that was once used in South Indian temples.
As I spoke to Usha akka, the story of this fascinating department emerged. Isha Craft had its beginnings around 2004-2005 and, at that time, it mainly served the needs of the ashram and its residents. It supplied the backdrops for Sadhguru’s appearances and natural linen and fabric for the residents and brahmacharis. But it grew and now offers an impressive range of products, from raiment to accessories, soaps to incense as well as the trademark stone and metal products. They all carry a distinctive Isha ‘look’ and feel: natural products as far as possible, with lovely textured packaging.
Snakes, of course, are a recurring motif – in the jewellery, in the bric-a-brac – as they are everywhere in Isha. How did the Isha Craft aesthetic come about, I ask. Usha akka’s answer is definitive: “When I came to Isha for the very first time, I was blown away by the architecture of the Dhyanalinga temple. I looked up at it and thought: ‘The whole world should look like this.’” Clearly, Isha Craft is a step in that direction.
- Sheetal, Hyderabad volunteer