The God of Poor…

A Varkari (devotee of god Vithoba) journeys fr...
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Whenever Ashadi Ekadashi comes near,  and coincidentally it comes during the pleasant monsoon season,  a new believer tries to evolve in the otherwise hardcore  atheist like me.  For some reasons,  i like this god amongst the very wide range of gods we hindus have. Not that i pray or follow the rituals associated with any god, but for reasons, i believer this god, truly represents the poor man, which is why i call him god of the poor.

Yes,  no second guesses, i am talking about Vitthal, or Panduranga or Vithoba of Pandurang. The God that has never stopped to amaze me since my childhood days.   This god and to equal measures his followers have  amazed the humanity since last 700 years.

I was always a curious student during my schooling days. My father, like me, was an atheist too and did not believe in idol worship or rituals usually associated with it.  My grandfather was a “Warkari“, a regular visitor to Pandharpur and whenever, he visited our place,  his unique clothing made him look special,  plain white colored clothes and all accessories that a warkari wears with his attire. He was a simpleton, and it took loads of convincing on his part to convince my dad to take all of us to Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi.

And there we were at Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi , for the first time during those formative years,  i saw that sea of humanity.  A totally different sect, where people from all walks of life came together, back home, they were ordinary workers, farmers, small traders,  here they were all the followers of  Lord Vitthala. No there was no discrimination of any kind that we usually see in our caste based country. No discrimination in lines with caste, creed, colour, sex, occupation, education. All mingled into unison. Each one would touch others feet and call him or her mauli (which meant mother, yes, the difference between men and women were left miles away and all were one in this melee). Yes, perhaps, this is the only god, which successfully breaks the barriers and preaches oneness to its followers. Hundreds and thousands of people both men and women bath together at the banks of Chandrabhaga River and no eyebrows are raised, such is the camaraderie, which i have never witnessed earlier. Yes one may try very vaguely to compare this with the Kumbha Mela, but, no this Pilgrimmage is totally different, for we see so many rivalries between Akhadas at Kumbha and the super sized egos of the Naga Sadhus.  Here we see people bereft of personal pride or ego.

If one carefully studies the profile of the warkaris we find that a very huge chunk of them are illiterates or semi-literates, and yet the very systematic manner in which around this congregation of one million people maintains and manages itself is a lesson to be learnt by authorities. They dont require any assistance from government.  They get even lesser support from the government anyways. But the masses that come together here don’t really bother.

We used to stay in Sant Tukaram Mandir and day in and day out one could only hear abhanga and devotional songs, the road down which led to the Vitthal Temple was abuzz with activity whole day and night.  And really the stay of seven days there was memorable one.

Why is this god so unique, and why do i call it god of poor after all. Well i can say that this god makes you forget the differences between human beings and people propagate real human values of loving and respecting others. No, there are no rituals attached with this god, no long mantras or other rigid rituals, which one have to perform while praying other deities.  This is the only god, perhaps, where you do not have to take any kind of offering, no, other gods too don’t ask for, but traditions have attached a ritual around their names, for example you have to carry leaves of Bel while visiting Shiv Temple, or crack a coconut while visiting Hanumanji. Here you do not have to carry anything. If only you have to carry, is your true feelings and devotion.  The other thing which attracts me to this  god is that though his followers are less educated,  it never spreads orthodoxy or superstitious beliefs. So you wont find any kind of animal sacrifice or black magic over here,  no followers pass on the wishlist to god with a promise something on  fulfillment of his wish.  Here, the relationship between the follower and god is like that of a mother and a kid. The warkari fathom all kinds of difficulties to get a gaze of his god or touch the feets of his god for duration which ranges to less than a second.  But, when the warkari comes out of the temple, one can see the shine in his or her eyes, that shine is of contentment.

My mother is on her wrong side of 70s and finds it difficult to walk even few hundred meters without getting breathless now. But come this season, she exhibits, same kind of exuberance of a child.  My mom and her temple friends, all old ladies, travel a good 600 kms and reach the temple, neither their trains are reserved nor their buses, do they care anyway. The power of “vithal vithal” which they chant continuously ensure that they reach their destination and come back hale and hearty.  Back home, every year i fight with my mom and insist her not going to Pandharpur, owing her frail health, and everytime she wins the argument saying “maza vitthal mala sukhrup neil ani anel” (my god will take care of me).  The devotion of this supreme kind provides motivation in my mother to travel a distance of around 1200 kms and return back safe every time.

And this is not the case with my mother alone, the magic and power of Vitthal has been spelling its magic for the last 700 years continuously.

Almost all the religions are uni-dimensional in their vision of God. The followers of these religions pray and worship only one God.  Hinduism perhaps is the only religion, which allows idol worship and offers the luxury to the followers of this religion to worship the God he likes.  The followers have the choice to pray according to his liking,  like a very big super specialty hospital, we have defined our gods specializing in various areas.  If you wish to be rich and affluent, pray to the Goddess of Wealth, Ma Laxmi Mata, If you wish to be physically and mentally strong and brave and courageous, Lord Hanuman, will bless you,  If you wish to excel in your studies we seek Goddess Saraswati‘s blessings and likewise.  Then you have Vastu Purush, the God which guards every household, the Sthal Purush, the deity of a particular area, Gram Devata, Kul Devata and et all.  All this maze is amazing, but, a curious look into defining the roles of various Gods, was deliberate, it aimed at involving as many kind of believers into its fold, Hinduism after all is like the streams and rivulets that ultimately merges to form a very big river.

Many a times, in our clamour to showcase our modernity, we almost blindly discard the older traditions and practices,  take for example the practice of observing 15 days  “sutaka” after death in a family. The main reason why the family of the departed had to stay inbound for the period of 12-13 days, those days, was to quarantine that family, as those days many deaths took place due to contagious diseases. The god fearing people of that age only followed traditions, when it were associated with God.

No, i am not casting my atheist skin as yet, but yes,  i admire, this god of common people, the God of the Poor.

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Art of Fooling !!!

My upbringing in a mixed scenario must have made me a less devout person afterall. For I don’t pray much, nor do i frequent temples a lot. More than half of my academic years were spent in Christian Missionary Convent School, which nearly had converted me into a Christian, I had started loving attending mass etc. Then in the later part of my childhood, after my dad’s retirement, we shifted to a pre-dominantly Marathi Locality, where, i re-converted to my original religion. But, not a staunch follower of it though. Not that I do not believe in god, or his omnipresent existence, but, i do not buy the argument that you require a medium to reach to him. Not atleast the present medium of Spiritual Gurus or Babas.

This cult of Spiritual Babas, healers, Gurus have mushroomed like anything of late. And it is not the case that they exists in Hindu religion only. Switch on the television in the morning and you will find their counterparts in Christians, the so called evangelists, the healers as they claim to be, cure the people by merely touching them !!! The blind gets vision, the leper gets cured, the crippled, by mere touch starts sprinting back to life !!! How can a rational person, with little bit of gray cells in his brain believe ?  But unfortunately, these healers, babas and spiritual babas have a huge mass followings. Herd Mentality, is this one ? 24/7 Cable TV and Spiritual Channels have further accelerated the growth of these babas i presume.

There is no unanimity in the discourses of these so called spiritual leaders, one will tell you to leave behind the worldly pleasures and seek that unseen heavenly bliss, that ultimate reality, ironically, these very gurus don’t practice what they preach, they stay in palatial ashrams, lead five star lives. Why then preach what you yourself don’t practice, is this not the kind of duping gullible people who repose faith in you ? The Other will tell you the exactly opposite of what the first one told, the next one will claim that don’t pray to God, pray to me, for I am the re-incarnation of Lord. The Other will instill fear in you claiming that the world will end in near future and he is god-sent to be your savior. What a joke these people play.

One baba recently was caught recently a sex scandal, another was caught dealing in girls, one baba with huge mass following is accused in murder of two kids in black magic, other one is caught in misappropriation of funds. One baba who was a former CA in London came back and entered into this profitable venture, he was caught on camera helping people convert their black money.  Back home in Maharashtra, this is a hilarious tale of a Baba from Konkan, who was a small time government employee and was removed from job because of some corrupt practices, announced that he is re-incarnation of a big saint and today he calls himself Shankaracharya with his followings in some millions.

If only these babas kept to their domain, it would not have mattered, but with increase in their following and their wealth, they start thinking that they are empowered to do anything. They advise not only on spirituality, they become, your de-facto doctor, they run their own pharmacies which deal in millions. One baba’s pharmacy generates income of whopping 11,000 crore/- . Recent happenings, show how the babas can exceed their limits and start indulging into politics, governance etc leading to disastrous results.

But how does this crop of babas grow?  They initially cultivate their small fan following, spread rumors of their mystical powers, powers of curing and healing and then the rest is history. Once their following increases, the vote-bank conscious politicians of all hues and shades start cultivating these babas. Babas involving themselves in politics, acting as middlemen for politicians is no new a phenomena. In 70’s, 80’s and even today they continue to do so unabated. Reason why their fortunes are never checked, they are not held accountable for any taxes etc. Many top leaders, politicians are often seen sitting near the feet of these gurus, singing pangs about their virtues.

I often question myself how this level of fan following they acquire, the reason behind it. I recently got an answer in one research article on this growing crop of babas. The article said that the growing stress level, with loss of structured joint family system which helped to absorb the pressure have shown a trend among even the well educated ones to seek asylum with these people. The article further stated that India lacked well trained clinical psychologists and that people are not comfortable visiting them, for they believe that only mentally unstable persons visit them.

The uncertainties of modern life, is taking a great toll on all of us, and we are seeking refuse to these people, who exploit our plight in return of unseen and unheard of happiness, well being and eternal peace and of course a ticket to heaven, for these babas are the custodian of these tickets.

Thankfully, i have stayed away from these babas, till date, that is..