I recently finished reading Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God, a retelling of the Ramayana while the author, Jonah Blank, follows Rama’s journey through India and Sri Lanka. (Highly recommended.) Blank visits a Kala Rama temple on Rama’s birthday in Nasik, said to be the site where the hero and his wife built their ashram in the forest. Devotees in the town are so excited to get in to the temple on this auspicious day, that it becomes a near-riot: pushing, shoving, even coming to blows. Sounds familiar; I’ve never heard of anyone getting punched outside the shala in Mysore, but excitement is there. Pushing and shoving are there, in a slightly more WASP-y way. Blank has this to say about it:
“Even as I savored the rush of adrenaline that accompanies both giving and taking pain, I felt ashamed to be a part of the scrum. Beating up on other people solely to gain entry to the house of God–there could hardly be a greater hypocrisy.
“And yet in a sense the struggle outside the temple was every bit as much a religious rite as the offering of flowers at the altar. A bhakta’s faith is no shallow, safe, credo. It is a flame burning deep within the soul. The near-riot on the mandir’s steps in Nasik served to stoke this flame, to rekindle its ardor, to build it into a fervent blaze of holy passion.”
The practice of Ashtanga could certainly be described as “no shallow, safe, credo. It is a flame burning deep within the soul.” While this doesn’t excuse the elbowing at the shala gate, it might serve to explain why normally peaceful, kind yogis suddenly become like rabid dogs– that, and wanting to avoid practicing in the changing room, probably.
(image taken from here)