Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.





Saturday, June 18, 2016

23- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and me.


(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collins shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome)

Chapter 23.  Kashi.



Sense of thrill overcame me on entering this great city- A Harvard or Cambridge for learning in the ancient times. All the subjects, from Grammar, Science, Law, Medicines, Administration, Vedas and Upanishads were taught here by expert teachers. Kings of the time felt honored to host graduates form Varanasi and felt privileged if they can be employed by them. A king’s value as a connoisseur of arts, literature and philosophy was measured from the number of graduates present from Kashi in his court. Kashi-Graduates had to spend almost twenty years before graduating in any discipline and were taught to be always judicious and independent. Most of the graduates would decline to be in paid service of a king so as to maintain their fearless independence. For this reason, Kashi-Graduates were valued like trophies in the courts of Kings. My ancestor, a graduate from Kashi came for this illustrious heritage, who was invited by King Siddharaj Jaysinnh of Gujarat. Millions of people, since time immemorial have craved to come here, valued its education, spent lifetime dispensing knowledge gathered here. Their desire was so strong that if one is unable to make it to this city in one’s prime age, he would, at the minimum desire for his last days to be spent on this soil from where a non-stop series of life-illuminating scholars came to enrich lives of masses. Even death here becomes divine. So much is the magnetic pull of this city among devout that, those who could not make it while being alive, leave their last wish, to be cremated in Kashi. A long continuous queue of the dead bodies, awaiting their turn is its proof for everyone to see on the Manikarnika-Ghat or Raja-Harishchandra-Ghat. (Remember the story, King Harishchandra gives away his kingdom for the sake of truth and is forced to accept the job as menial as cremation ground laborer?) Even today, although crushed by centuries of oppression, massacres and destruction by brute muscle power of foreign invaders, Varanasi is considered one of the best places of learning Indian scriptures and Sanskrit language. Its “Benaras Hindu University” (BHU) is considered an elite place of learning, not only Sanskrit but also nearly all the modern and ancient disciplines. Varanasi attracts millions of pilgrims every year from all parts of the world and is still considered to be the one place; one should visit at least once-in-a-life-time. (More info on BHU at www.bhu.ac.in)

 

Above indeed reads like a magnificent account of the city. The readers are forewarned that battered by cruel history, ignored by socialistic-communist anti-tradition mindset of generations of Indian political leaders, the city has suffered in terms of civic developments, cleanliness and meaningful political or intellectual support. All put together only a real brave could today say that he still has some reverence left in him for Kashi. The city is dirty, roads narrow, crowded and unmanaged, short on electric power necessitating unannounced power cuts and in general the city is an embarrassment to any reasonable person. River Ganga is polluted to an extent that unless you are blind, you won’t be taking holy dip there. All this despite everyday flow of thousands of Indian as well as foreign tourists! It is as if, like the monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi, the civic administration sees nothing hears nothing and says nothing. Well, one day the administration and the intellectuals would wake up.

 

When we reached Varanasi in the early hours of morning, the city was still asleep. Took an Auto-Rikshaw and reached the hotel, not far from downtown.

 

Varanasi is situated on two confluences. River Varana comes from north to meet Holy River Ganga and a distance away at another place; river Asi comes from south to meet Ganga. These two rivers mark the location of this city on the route traced by holy River Ganga, which flows from Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal. These two rivers, never mind if they are tiny in comparison with magnificent river Ganga, but Indian seers chose to honor them with naming of the holiest cities on the bank of Ganga, the Varan-Asi. There was a good reason for this; it was the arena of intellectual struggle of ancient King Divodas.

 

City of Varanasi, otherwise known by its more ancient name Kashi is also known as ‘Benaras’, in anglicized version popularized during colonial times.

King Divodas


 

River Ganga is holy, but it is said to be especially so at Kashi. A dip there can rinse sins of whole life. It is said that death in Kashi gives Mukti, liberation from cycle of life and death. What was so special about Kashi? At one time, millennia ago, King Divodas ruled Kashi. He made Kashi a center of excellence in learning in every discipline. Graduates from here spread to all parts of known world at that time and illuminated lives of people wherever they went.

 

He brought about a major change in the way people looked at life, the the way they looked at God. He made everyone to understand that worshipping God sitting at home or in a temple is not enough. A God worshipper should go to public and demonstrate by self-example and preaching as to how to lead a good quality  life, a life of fulfillment, a brilliant life full of self-respect and efficiency; how not to succumb to greed and laziness and how compassion for others to convert into selfless work for others. Divodas showed that a true worshipper is that who rolls into one the ‘Gnyan-Yoga’ (Yoga of Knowledge), the ‘Bhakti-Yoga’ (Yoga of Love and Devotion), and the ‘Karma-Yoga’ (Yoga of Work and Action). Kashi became known as home of dedicated brilliant, loving and active youthful teachers. In their hearts was simply love for everyone and minds the knowledge. King Divodas became known for sending these teachers far and wide to impart the knowledge of healthy way of life. Great many people have preached love, non-covetousness, peace and non-violence. However life is not these values alone but has many more dimensions that need to be squarely understood, and put to proper use rather than rejecting or ignoring. Jealousy, pride, selfishness, self-esteem, gratefulness, fearlessness, adventure, duty towards self, society and God, bravery, arts, crafts, literature, creativity of every kind, disdain for wrong, jest, laugh, cry, romance, war, disease, disasters, death, every dimension is part of our daily life. Vedic philosophers have found a way to welcome every human impulse ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and put it to a wonderful use in human’s personal development and societal development. Devoid of this technique, today; no one, ‘civilized’ and ‘advanced’ Western world included, teaches us how respect every impulse endowed by us and use it for self-betterment.

 

Despite all the modernity and advances that we claim, we live our life by the jungle law of ‘survival of fittest’. Our mercantile laws have no chapter on ethics and there is no upper limit of profit. Our relationship with outside world is of ‘exploiter-exploited’. In the name of personal liberty we sabotage the society and some in the name of society kill the personal freedom. Our intelligentsia seems to be stuck in these ‘irreconcilables’. Our business model works on the principle of exploitation in the name of free trade and the people at opposite pole who follow Karl Marx, do not understand motivation is a principle of life and that everyone can not be equal, no matter what you do.

 

King Divodas created society that worked harmoniously for years and its population enjoyed material, as well as spiritual bliss and lived a fulfilled life. His city became a heaven on earth where king never failed in his kingly duties and his subjects from their natural duties. A father performed his duties to his best ability and son his; a teacher his, and a pupil his; a shopkeeper his and a customer his, an administrator his and citizens their; an employer his and employees their. Exploitation of others was unheard of. Everyone lived long, felt secured and felt needed. Life was considered as an opportunity for life-long learning and Death, not dreaded, a necessity in progress when the present body becomes weak enough not to support further learning. It was a world where people felt happy giving instead of taking.

 

Hearing the fame of Kashi, even Gods and Devas came from heaven and made Kashi their home. Bhagavan Shiva too craved to live here.  But a small technicality prevented Bhagavan Shiva from entering Kashi.

 

Story of ‘technicality’ begins in a remote past. World has witnessed several cycles of growth and decay in civilizational progress and human values; several appalling decadence and several glorious eras. At one time during an especially murky period King Divodas, a descendant of King Ripunjaya Vivaswan, became disillusioned with the decadent world around him. He thought, what king am I that seem helpless in reforming the voluptuous, greedy fellow rulers, the corrupted religious authorities, the money-centric education, selfish turned family life? He became very disheartened. Pained with the hopelessness, he sat down in meditation at some place in between two confluences, on the bank of river Ganga. Deep in the mediation he spoke to Bhagavan Shiva that the world has so much deteriorated that it is painful even to exist on this planet; that it is far better to leave this world. He asked Bhagavan Shiva to liberate him from the ‘terribly corrupt’ world. At that time, God tells him that his Liberation lie in the liberation the world from that hopelessness and in instilling character in his populace; it does not lie in trying to look for escape in the inaction. Liberation can not come by physical inaction. Divodas agreed with the guidance God gave him. God told him to work hard, work intelligently and work with a sensitive and loving heart; to work towards instilling fearlessness, purity, charity, self-discipline, truth, compassion even for animals, non-greediness, gentleness, forgiving nature, strength etcetera, considered as divine attributes. But Divodas knew that for putting God’s suggestion to work, he would need a long, enemy-free, peaceful time to inculcate divine values. Therefore, while agreeing with God, King Divodas made a simple one condition; that no one except his writ can work in Kashi.

 

It was this innocent condition, made in the earnest, accidentally precluded Bhagavan from Kashi. On one hand God can not be under anyone’s power, however on the other hand, as per his own promise, no one could have power over Divodas in Kashi. Thus Bhagavan Shiva and King Divodas became mutually exclusive in the territory of Kashi. No matter how strongly Bhagavan Shiva wished to visit Kashi, technically he could not.

 

Divodas, blissfully unaware of this technical dimension, always busy at work, at spiritual and moral upliftment of masses by providing them with proper education and sending his educated emissaries to neighboring kingdoms to convince them of correct way of living. However, at one stage he becomes aware, and feels sad that God is unable to come there due to his condition. He is much pained at being an instrument in preventing Bhagavan Shiva. Knowing what Bhagavan wished and also knowing that he has completed the work he had set for himself, King Divodas hands over the city to worthy successor and leaves the city that he created, nourished and loved so that Bhagavan Shiva can come and stay there. Salute to Divodas who created a city which captivated Gods and Devas and which even enthralled the Mahadeva (Bhagavan Shiva)! One more salute to Divodas for his instant and unhesitant renunciation of his beloved city. Way of thinking, way of life and way of worship inculcated by King Divodas was so ingrained in this city that for millennia, this city could guide humanity. 

 

Kashi became Bhagavan Shiva’s abode since that day. There He stays under the title of ‘Kashi-Vishvanath’. Every Hindu who knows what Kashi stands for craves for Darshan (glimpse) of Kashi-Vishwa-Nath, a dip in Ganges there, homage to King Divodas and if possible death in that city in the arms of God Shiva. It was to honour the achievement of a mortal Divodas that Bhagavan migrated to Kashi.

 

In jest, some poets and writers have invoked ‘worldly-wise’ imagery in their literary work; explaining Bhagavan Shiva’s eagerness of changing his residence to Varanasi from Mount Kailash. It was to move out of father-in-laws’s house! Mata Parvati is daughter of Himalayas, therefore His stay in Himalayas is like staying in the estate of father-in-law; which no self-respecting son-in-law could like. Poetically suggesting that perhaps, Bhagavan Shiva was taunted for his stay in father-in-law’s home even after marriage with Goddess Paravati! And Kashi being such a nice place under the rule of Divodas, it was but a natural choice. However for record’s sake, Kailash is His permanent address despite His other addresses.

 

Today, Varanasi has lost almost all its greatness; however its remnants are still potent for inspiring dedicated thinkers and action-oriented philosophers. Currently, it is a city that simultaneously lives in our times as well as in the ancient. It is one of the world’s oldest continuously surviving cities. As this city has been a continuously inhabited for several millennia, it has innumerable signatures of the ancient times and ancient personalities. To see and feel everything, no exaggeration, one needs to live in Varanasi for several months. Kashi is home to literally thousands of noteworthy temples. It was physically impossible for us to visit every place and hence after visiting Kashi-Vishwa-Nath temple, we sought advice from a tour guide and visited just a few among the more frequented holy places.

Kashi-Vishwa-Nath Temple, Ghats and Ganga-Aarti


 

Kashi-Vishwa-Nath temple is on the banks of holy river Ganga and is part of old city characterized by narrow lanes. The temple of Kashi-Vishwa-Nath is one among twelve most important places of Bhagavan Shiva, known as “Jyotirlinga” (Symbol with power to illumine or give knowledge). He is represented in Varanasi as a four-faced Shiva-Linga and is known to possess very high degree of spiritual power. This temple was destroyed several times and also was rebuilt every time. First time, about 800 years ago, it was looted and razed to ground by Mohammad Ghori in 1194 A.D. and he took away tons of Gold and other valuables. Second time, it was demolished by Kutbuddin Aybak. Third time around, in the year 1351, Firoz Shah Taghlak demolished it. Fourth time around was a double blow by Aurangzeb, who, in 1669 not only razed the temple, but he also built a large mosque at the very place, where once stood the consecrated Shiva-Linga. Till today that mosque exists there in a painful reminder to Hindus. Hindu organizations have made fervent, appeals to Muslim communities to give up that mosque.  Unheeded as yet, however I am hopeful, someday they may do the much sought reparation.

 

The temple, as seen now, was built by Maratha Queen, Ahalya Bai Holkar, in around 1780 at a place, just a few meters away from the mosque. She did not demolish the mosque tit for tat to make way for temple. A grand mosque, known as “Gnyanvapi Mosque” still stands there today. Originally Holy Bull, Nandi that was facing the Shiva-Linga is still there; however in front of him is not the Shiva-Linga but its enforced substitution, a mosque! Sikh King Ranajit Singh donated tons of gold to cover the domes of the new temple.

 

On advice from our guide, we removed our shoes and deposited our belongings with a shopkeeper, bought flaked-sugar as Prasad and entered the temple. Prayed before the Shiva-Linga, consecrated the flaked-Sugar and walked around rest of the temple. Next to the huge metal Nandi Bull, we saw the well, in where priests of the temple had hid the original Shiva-Linga in desperation to protect it from Muslim soldiers, before they were butchered by their swords. This Linga was later recovered and reinstalled at present location. Before leaving the temple, we went to the office of the temple as my mom had sent a sum of money that she had keenly desired to donate there. We approached a man who had a computer on his table and appeared to be the Cashier or Accounts-officer, among a few more officials occupying three or four tables there. He almost barked at us with impatience, when I was trying to extricate Indian Rupees that my mom had sent from the bunch that also had remainder Nepalese Rupees and Chinese Yuans. I was probably taking longer than his expectation and from the angle of my eye I had seen that he was in the midst of a game of cards on his computer terminal and I had disturbed him. But I saw no point in saying any word of my disappointment with him; I knew from experience that the religious trusts of all the famous and rich Hindu temples have been taken over by the government and my words would only be wasted. As it was express wish of my mom to donate there, I could not help handing over the sum and collected the receipt. Many people, like my mom, are not aware that the money donated by them to Hindu religious institutions for religious activities is squandered by government interfered entities over many non-religious or outright anti-Hindu activities. The vote-bank politics of independent India has set in motion a different set of dynamics. Government appointees have known to have disposed off temple lands, properties and released temple funds. (For more on this refer to various press reports and web sites. Famously, refer to tenure of Abdul Rehman Antulay, tainted ex-Chief Minister of Maharashtra when he was a trustee of famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Unethical disposal of lands belonging to Guruvayuer and Sabrimalai temples, allocation of Tirupati Temple funds for purposes of other religion’s activities etc. As of now most of the famous temples in India are in the fist of government appointees, who are subservient to their political masters and automatically, the assets of temple are utilized for their irreligious and outright unholy work)

 

Varanasi’s Ganga-Riverfront is made with sandstone steps, known as ‘Ghat’, or a place for taking holy-dip in the river. There are more than hundred Ghats, spanning a length of a few kilometers where thousands of pilgrims take holy dip every single day in the flowing waters of Ganga. Prayers are offered to Holy River Ganga by way of evening ‘Aarti’, an occasion that no tourist or pilgrim to this city would ever miss. The ceremony that lasts for about an hour provides a fantastic spectacle of moving huge burning fire in a ceremonial manner, honoring the River. It starts at 7 p. m. every evening. A large crowd of tourists had gathered on the ghats for this everyday spectacle. Ritual Aarti performers were strong and handsome youths, who wore traditional orange-yellow silken Dhoti. In their hands were huge burning lamps that they moved in clockwise as well anti-clockwise direction in front of Goddess River Ganga singing appropriate hymns. Crowd is usually huge, with a large number of white faces.

Durga Mata Mandir, (Monkey temple)


 

Durga Mata Temple is a 12 centuries old structure, made by a Bengal queen. The original temple however is of much greater antiquity. A plaque on the temple places its historicity to very ancient times, by referring to the 23rd Chapter of Bhagavat-Puran which narrates story of an ancient King Subahu of Kashi, who has established this temple in the honor of Mother Durga where She had promised to stay as was desired by the king. It is believed that Mother Durga lives here and protects people. We stood there for a while reading the plaque and watching devotees, mostly Bengali families, women in their trade mark cotton sarees going in and out of the temple. Flowers and Prasad items in their hands. Mother Durga is a fierce Goddess, a form of Mata Parvati. A water-tank style large pond with Ghat-style steps also forms part of the temple. Square shape and blood-red color seems to define this temple as everything here is fashioned in square shape and red color. The temple, its campus and the pond, everything is in square shape. This temple is an important Shakti-Peeth of Shakt worship, meaning, this place is a strong energy source for the worshippers. There is a large number of monkeys around this temple, earning it a nickname among western tourists as ‘Monkey temple’.

Tulasi Manas Mandir (Saint Tulasi Das)


 

Just a few minutes walk away from red temple of Durga Mata, is a Tulasi Manas Mandir. It marks the site, sitting where, Saint Tulsidas had written “Ram-Charit Manas”, the famous chronicle of Ramayana into local dilect with his own inputs for masses to easily understand story of Bhagavan Rama. Owing to his own intensity of love for Bhagavan Rama and Bhagavan Hanuman, and the divine insight that he had, his work, although written on the lines of original Sanskrit work by Sage (Rishi) Valmiki, stands on its own merit and has independent following of millions. His style is easy to follow yet has impossibly intense devotional sentiments. On the walls of the temple is inscribed complete “Ram-Charit Manas”. It was a nice white-marble mansion style temple and received many tourists who would read the verses written all around the wall. If one is tired, one can sit for a while and again resume reading. Especially among people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the “Rama-Charit-Manas” of Tulsi Das evokes more reverence than even the original text of Ramayana by Sage Valmiki.

Sankat Mochan Mandir (Hanumaan Temple)


 

‘Sankat Mochan’ in English is “Trouble-remover”. There is one and only, deity who is known for that benevolence, Bhagavan Hanumaan. An able assistant of Bhagavan Rama, Hanumaan is said to be alive even today and is said to answer one’s requests. This one temple I especially enjoyed as it is set within a garden like compound with many large old shadowy trees, with freely roaming monkeys. In fact due to presence of ‘monkey God’ Hanumaan and due to an army of monkeys on trees around, if this temple was called as Monkey temple it would have been more appropriate I thought. In large campus, there were many people and wee probably in preparation for some feast from their manners and big utensils I saw being worked on at a place behind a holy well.

 

Bhagavan Hanuman, is considered as Bhagavan Shiva’s incarnation.  He being alive, it is said that anywhere if one was to perform pooja of Bhagavan Rama, he would invariable show his presence there. Hanumaan is endowed with brilliant intellect, self control and total submission to Bhagavan Rama. His style of dedication is celebrated as a ‘perfect servant-master relationship’

Benaras Hindu University Campus, ‘Island of Tranquility


 

The new Kashi-Vishwanath Temple in BHU as well as BHU itself is a different world; very much within hustle and bustle of Kashi, yet completely removed from it inside its campus. It was a wonderful change of scene for us. A tranquil island in the midst of noisy city. Wikipedia describes BHU as world’s largest residential university and second in India in field of research. The University was established in the year 1916 after herculean effort by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a scholar and a person who loved Indian culture dearly. During its “Bhumi-Pujan” or Hindu  equivalent of ground breaking ceremony or foundation laying ceremony, many dignitaries came including Mahatma Gandhi came there on 6th Feb 1916. The land on which the BHU stands was donated by the then King of Kashi, Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, in the illustrious foot step of his ancient predecessor, the King Divodas. BHU was a dream of Pandit Malaviya during the colonial times. Predictably, a lot of conditions were placed by British administration before granting permission to build the university. One being, a fund of Rupees five million!! And second being that the ‘Central Hindu College’ started by Dr. Annie Besant be merged with the proposed university. Both conditions were met by Hindu leaders of colonial India and the permission was ultimately granted in 1915 by the British administration. (Dr Annie Besant was founding member of Theosophical Society, a British lady who was highly impressed by Hindu culture and its leading holy books, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Vedas. Her translation of Bhagavad Gita is said to have inspired Mahatma Gandhi. She also held presidentship of India’s leading political party, the Indian National Congress.)

Modern Kashi-Vishwa-Nath Mandir


 

The New Vishwanath temple was built on BHU campus from the donations made by famous industrialist and philanthropist Birla family. Temple is a replica of the original temple that was destroyed by Aurangzeb and is made from white marble. Temple is open to all and is spotlessly clean. We were impressed with professional conduct of the temple staff and wonderful quotes on its walls. All roads in BHU are tree-lined on both sides and are conspicuously clean. The area around the temple is made into a small touristic place with souvenir shops and restaurants and a garden. In the centre, a statue of Pandit Malaviya is placed before the sliding wrought Iron gates in memory of the creator of BHU.

Kaal-Bhairav Mandir, Fanatic Aurangzeb Terrified ?


 

To visit Kaal-Bhairav temple, one needs to pass through a very congested city area with a very narrow access lane. This ancient temple, in its current form was built by Maratha King Bajirao Peshwa II in 1817. Kaal-Bhairav is a terrible aspect of Bhagavan Shiva. He was so fierce that He is said to have done what no other God had done, cutting off a head of another God, no other than that of the creator God Brahma. As per the story, Brahma had five heads originally but after that episode, He is left only with four. Kaal Bhairav is also recognized as a ‘Kshetra-paal’ (‘Sentry’ or ‘care taker of territory’ in Sanskrit), and He is said to guard the area. Fanatic Muslim king Aurangzeb who had butchered his own brother (Dara Sikoh) and imprisoned till death his own father (Shahjehan, famed as builder of Taj Mahal) had ruthlessly demolished all the temples of Varanasi, however even he did not touch this one presumably, became nervous by the reputation of the patron of the temple.

Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service


 

Ramakrishna Mission is running a charity hospital, situated in downtown Varanasi, not far from Ghats. We had a good opportunity getting acquainted with its working. A Sanyasi (A renuncient, a Hindu monk wearing Saffron clothes, dedicated to education and service to society and self-improvements), who also was a doctor, was looking after this hospital. He ran us through history of the 109 year old hospital, initially set up by a group of friends, good Samaritans inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s writings. Many years thereafter, during one of the visits of swami Vivekananda to Kashi, they merged it with the Mission. Swami explained why the name of the institution was “Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service”; it is because: “we can not cure; it is only God who cures. We, humans can only perform the service”. This hospital has wards for nearly all the medical disciplines. Their large campus houses their own dairy with several cows to fully meet hospital’s milk requirement. It also houses laundry, kitchen, library etc. We spent a morning there, bought some books from their bookstore and made some donation. We also told about Swadhyay activity. Renuncient Doctor was well versed with Swadhyay and had high regards for its creator, Revered Pandurang Shashtri Athavale. We were discussing about the hidden delights of “Bhaav Feri” and “Bhakti feri” where Swadhyayees visit, uninvited, and at their own cost and consequences, the homes of strangers and how wonderful it becomes to know these strangers and invariably discover something or the other from hearts and minds of those strangers - Their life, their abilities, their skills, their love and the invaluable signature of the indwelling God. In the course of this discussion he referred to a book written by Swami Anand, “Dharati nee Aarati”, published (reprint of the old book) by Mahendra Zaverchand Trust. I, with a sense of modest pride informed the Doctor that Swami Anand happend to be our family, my uncle. He was brother of my great grandmother Diwali-Ba. In her old age, Diwali-Ba, known to us as ‘Ma’ used to live with her daughter, my favorite grandmother Saraswati Ben. In every vacation during my school days, I used to go to grandmother Saraswati Ben’s house who lived in Wadhawan, a town in Saurashtra region of Gujarat state in India. Because Swami Anand was real brother of my great grandmother Diwali-Ba, in relation he becomes first maternal uncle of my dad and consequently mine too. Swami Anand became a sanyaasi. He renounced the world and put on saffron robes when he was a young man. He spent all of his time in studies, meditation and in public service. He did not marry. He was a prolific writer but so self-effacing was he that he did not allow any of his writing to be published. At last bowing to wishes of his friends and associates, he wrote in his will that after his death, the books may be published. He was an associate of Mahatma Gandhi. Any one who has read preface of Mahatma Gandhi’s “Experiment with truth” knows Swami Anand as Mahatma’s mentor, at whose instance he wrote that famous book. My grandmother Saraswati Ben, whom we used to address as Moti-Ba. was famously partial to me over her rest of the grandchildren, indeed pleasing me but also embarrassing sometimes when I am preferred over my other siblings. For all her goodness for me like a jerk I returned her favors with my destructive mischief and pranks for which I feel sorry today. On one of the worst mischief, ever, I had dug up the cow-dung-flooring of her house for which I am inconsolably ashamed even now.

Pandaas, Rituals Performers-Record Keepers: A Vanishing Tribe


Pandaas are those Brahmins who help pilgrims to perform religious ceremony, escort the devotees into the temple or bathing Ghats at holy places such as Kashi, Haridwar, Nashik etc and maintain written records of lineages and family trees. But they are infamous for selling their services rather aggressively. They usually work as unsalaried or freelance priests or assistants to priests and their income is from ‘Dakshina’ (Fees for performing rituals) ‘tips’ or ‘commissions’ paid by pilgrims and main priests.  As per the ancient tradition, the pilgrim has the right to choose the amount that he is willing to pay to the performing priests and the performing priests do not have right to demand fees. However that practices is outdated and now as done in other businesses the price is set by the seller, i.e. the Pandaa. They came to acquire bad name when began aggressively selling their wares, demanding bigger dakshina and in a worst case scenario, extortion, cursing or even fighting with the pilgrims who does not give him business or gives smaller than expected ‘Dakshina’.

 

All Pandaas can not be blamed but most have this notoriety. In Kashi, I was surprised by the drastic reduction in the number of “Pandaas”. Apparently this tribe is on the verge of extinction and with them the entire database of millions of pilgrim.  Their database is a unique system, developed centuries before computers came into existence and still, till date, can win over it, hands down. A Pandaa can trace pilgrim’s ancestors, their place of residence and even connect to other relatives. Traditionally, Brahmins were more into education and God contemplation instead of in the art of business and multiplying money. There was a time when education and meditation commanded more respect. However, as always, time changes. Today, money is most valuable. Brahmins adapted to the change by selling their services and in due course became master at how to get most out of the pilgrims. They could not run their PR as masterly as what an insurance company, a cigarette company or a cosmetic company could do. This failure made their ‘product’ unwanted or unattractive and their income started to dwindle. Now hardly any Pandaa trains his son into his business. Pandaas’ children have happily become tour-guides, salesmen, clerks and whatever; only the son who is ‘good for nothing’ would take up father’s profession. Perhaps a harsh comment, perhaps not always true, but so it seemed to me.  Our own guide that we had unsuspectingly hired in Kashi, was a son of a Pandaa, completely devoid of any religious knowledge or Vedic mantras, who hardly even knew of glorious Kashi history, takes pilgrims to the temples in the morning, arranges for Pandaa, arranges for boatman, etc and in the evening works as roving canvasser whose task it is to bring in free roaming tourist to silk shops. Varanasi is very famous for its silk. We too were taken to a silk emporium, however our interest was different. We were told by the guide-cum-roving-canvasser that he would be paid by the emporium for each tourist that he can manage to muster into the emporium, irrespective of purchase or not of silk. So like a Good Samaritan, we allowed ourselves to be led into the emporium by that Brahmin. Hopefully that Marawadi businessman would have done the right thing. Marawadi is said to be an astute business community that originated from western Indian desert state of Rajasthan.

 

Before ending our Kashi trip I must admit that at one time Kashi was famous for its food varieties, like sweets and Golagappas. However they have it seems not been able to maintain lead over other centers. Now they are no where near the quality that one finds in Mumbai.

 

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