A few years back Rajdeep (a close friend, and an avid trekker and traveller) and I had been on a 5-6 day trip to Madhya Pradesh – Sanchi (Stupas), Bhimpetka (Cave paintings touted to be 50,000 years old), Bhopal, and several other small and relatively unheard of temples of various religions of India.
As we were spending the dusk walking around in Sanchi after having visited the Stupa, we passed by a small village temple, with some 15-20 people sitting in its compound and singing Bhajans. They sang with so much freedom, abandon, joy and faith, that I wanted to run there, sit with them, get lost amongst them and sing – sing bhajans with them. I shared with Rajdeep that I would like to sing with them, and since no one knew me, I could do that with relative abandon, and without attracting any attention. Rajdeep ofcourse thought that I would, being from city, and certainly showing it with my clothes, would attract more attention on the contrary. Even though I disagreeed, I could not muster enough strength to sit with them and sing with that abandon and freedom.
But that feeling and that sense of freedom I became aware of that evening stayed with me I guess.
Later, back in Delhi, next to happenning Aurbindo Market, once again, in a makeshift roadside temple, I noticed some people sing with the same abandon and freedom, one evening.
This was not only the case with the village temple at Sanchi or this makeshift temple, but with, probably, most village temples (including those within cities but built by the rural folk – possibly migrants from rural areas). These temples I believe are a an outlet for self-expression and surrender, every evening, for people who have laboured during the day, in making ends meet.
The expression “making ends meet” has, I believe, resonance with a lot of us out there, but in our own view of what our ends (read needs or luxuries) are; and I guess a whole lot us wish to surrender, to unseen divine forces, as we seek to comprehend, and also give meaning and purpose, to our lives.
I certainly do, and this feeling has grown over the years. This is not a feeling of depression, as some of you may sense, but a very liberating and joyous sense of being – just BEING. You may have had this sense if you’ve heard (and ofcourse related to) Indian Ocean. Their songs – Teevra Aandhi, Kandisa, Maa Rewa, Bhramanadam Paramsukhdam (sang in Khajoraho), evoke these emotions in me, every time I listen to them (they are even more enhanced when the lights of the room are off, and this beautiful music is playing very loudly).
Living in a city, Indian Ocean was the closest I could get to evoking this feeling with some regularity.
Till I went for Art of Living (AOL).
After the completion of the Basic Course, there was a Bhajan session where, our extremely rich and successful teacher (who was a volunteer with AOL), invited us to sing and clap and dance. I went into my shell immediately, and told him that I don’t believe in bhajans and all (I’ve been witness too many of those merciless Mata ki Chowkis, which blare music, late into the night in our cities; as also to the T-Series music with even a so-called bhajan made out of the erotic (atleast they attempted that ) song – “sarkai liyo khatiya jaada lage”, which plays all along the climb to Vaishno Devi). I did not trust city people to come together and sing as villagers do.
Then these volunteers sang; and that, so beautifully, with such abandon and emotion – it left me completely amazed. Nevertheless, I was determined, not to shed off my reservation, and atmost managed to clap in 1-2 of these.
Weeks later I realised, that these bhajans were a regularity, each Saturday, at the Vasant Vihar centre, and I guess I started enjoying them a bit.
Then I went for the Advanced Course, and became witness to over 1500 people singing together, each of those 4 days, with the numbers swelling up, on the last day when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was to give a discourse. These, possibly over 2000 or more, people sang, with abandon, and swayed their arms, clapped with eyes closed, swirled like Rumi.
Before that evening, I could only imagine the environment and energy created when tens and hundreds of people sang together and each one having similar feelings of liberation and abandon. That evening I felt it.
My parents had come as well that evening, attracted by the bhajans, and believe me, they have never seen me sing bhajans – so to protect my reputation – I ran away from them, and mingled among the unknown hundreds, and sang out aloud.
Very often, my eyes became wet, with an intense unexplicable feeling of happiness, intense love (for what – I don’t know) and a sort of feeling of having arrived (having achieved what you’ve been longing for).
Since that day, each week, I wait for Saturday. Each week (ofcourse I miss these sessions, often, for family and other engagements) I come out of the session self-expressed, full of energy, enthusiasm, and feeling light (now tears have started rolling down my cheeks as well , and I’ve stopped resisting them).
The play on letters between Nehru and Gandhi, I have written about in this Blog earlier, had references to Bapu’s Dandi Yatra. Nehru was complaining to Gandhi, that he had these wierd ideas of independence (Nehru could not comprehend the difference between Independence and Gandhi’s version of Poorna Swaraj) and that he criticised (Nehru thought) the Congress and him for imposing their notions of Indepence on the people of India, and asked him what would be his proposal to counter the Tax on salt? Gandhi replied, “I’ll walk to Dandi”. Nehru joked, “…and you think millions will walk behind you forcing the British to abandon the Tax? Bapu, be realistic”.
A week or so later, Gandhi, who believed he was a “puppet at the hands of the Divine” and was acting out of “His Will” walked. He started his march to Dandi, and millions joined him.
Nehru wrote to Gandhi, “Bapu, you are a magician.”
Yesterday, after another session of tears rolling down my cheeks, evoked by an extremely beautiful chanting (by about 50 people or so) of “Om Namah Narayanaya”, I shared this incident with my co-bhajanists . I shared that I have the same emotion for this man – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, as Nehru did for Mahatma Gandhi…
“Guruji, you’re a magician”.