A Lantern for Mr. Iyengar

On the island of Martha’s Vineyard, there is a neighborhood of exquisitely preserved Victorian cottages in the town of  Oak Bluffs that celebrates the end of summer in the most enchanted way.

But first, a little history: In the mid-Nineteenth Century, just after the Civil War, Methodist devotees retreated to the Vineyard for tent revivals and to be close with “the Devine.” Their rustic marquees quickly evolved into permanent dollhouse-like structures, which face into an open-air tabernacle. Now, one-hundred-and-fifty years later, Cottage City has been deemed a National Historic Landmark and tourists from across the globe flock to feast upon the vibrant colors, lacy frills, and intricate detail-work in this racially diverse town.

Back to summer’s end: Each August, the owners of these houses hang lanterns from the rafters and beams, which are lit at twilight in a celebration known as Illumination Night.

Hundreds of paper beacons bejewel the cottages, a live orchestra plays, and swarms of people saunter around the Campground in a counter-clockwise promenade, like restless spirits guided across the Styx. It’s a mesmerizing experience.

This year, Illumination Night was held last Wednesday, August 20, on the eve of Mr. Iyengar’s passing. And how perfect a passing it was.

As I walked through this beloved evening, I drew parallels across all spiritual practices. In most wisdom traditions, light is regarded as the Ultimate. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims alike drape their centers of worship with flickering lights. Diwali, Tazaungdaing, Christmas, and Hanukkah are just four of the festivals to use lights as a gathering force. And flames are usually fanned for those passed to celebrate their lives and to acknowledge their influence.

B.K.S. Iyengar’s influence was undeniable and a blog about his deeds is redundant. His work will echo in every yoga space, in every folded blanket, on every stacked block. Allow us to shed light on him just as he shed light on yoga for us.

Mr. Iyengar, we thank you. The lanterns at the Tabernacle this year were lit for you. Sleep well.

–Michael Laskaris

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