Bolava Vithal, Karava Vithal…jeeva bhave

Somehow I was born with no “faith bone” in my body. I never go to a temples. No angst like Amitabh Bacchan. But I believe that I am well off without constantly remembering god. My feeling is the poor guy has lots and lots of issues to sort out anyway. So why bother him by adding our petty matters to his burden? Remember the song from Sagina Mahato ” Upar wala dukhiyon ki nahi sunta re
Soota hai….Bahut jaaga hai na?”

Unlike Amitabh, I have no active fight with Him. If he is there he has been more than fair to me. I have absolutely nothing to complain. A nice small family of a wife and cute daughter who loves us both. Am the only son in the Sharatchandra ( my father} wing of the family. And as an only son amongst 3 sisters, I got extra love not only from my parents but also from my 3 sisters. The Powers that Be got me into some great MNC corporations. I have good money and savings. And really LG: Life’s Good! So in a way I have lots and lots to thank for. And I am grateful. But G. O. D.? Who or What is that? and why should I bow before him? I have always revered my parents, respected all elders, been a good friend to all, loved my family : and all this has repaid me with an amazingly nice life.

So where does GOD come in all these confabulations? Is Faith important? Should we believe Him? and be in gratitude for all that we get?

Robert Browning sang in the Pippa Song way back in 1800s:
Morning ‘s at seven;
The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;
The lark ‘s on the wing; 5
The snail ‘s on the thorn;
God ‘s in His heaven—
All ‘s right with the world!

Since childhood I have interpreted this as “God is in his heaven (too far to interfere with us and meddle in our lives and so) all is right with the world, (including my life)”. So my effort has always been to keep my head low, not draw too much attention to me and my life, let God be in his own circuit. I will not trouble Him. And hopefully he will leave me alone!!

But the other famous poet ( how well the classical poets understand our human condition) Robert Burns sang in “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” exactly what happened in my life:
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
Here I was all of 50 years old, minding my own business, leading my own life, staying under the radar, never attending mandirs and pooja archanas so that God will not be able to see me from his high perch in the Heaven. And then the best laid plans of this timid mouse “go all askew”(Gang aft agley). Some inopportune (?) moment 10+ years ago I went and attended the Abhangwani program of Pancham Nishad. And as Robert Burns had predicted in 1785, that experience scarred me for life. it left me with “nought but grief an’ pain” instead of the “promis’d joy”. I was infected with the Bhakti Rasa bug. And it went deep into my heart.

Maharashtra has long history of Marathi saints of Varakari religious movement which includes saints like Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Chokhamela, Eknath, Muktabai, Janabai and Tukaram and many many others which forms one of the base of Marathi culture. The Abhangawani consists of compositions of all these saints in praise of Vitthal, who resides at Pandharpur. There is a 800 years’ old tradition of Warkaris (the bhaktas who come from agricultural background and do the Wari) annually assembling at Dehu (the residence and karma bhumi of Sant Tukaram) and Alandi (residence and karmabhumi of Sant Dyaneshwar) and then walking in “dindis” singing praises of Vithal/Vithoba. They walk every day for 21 days to reach Pandharpur, their destination. The wari culminates in Pandharpur on Ashadi Ekadashi, which will be on 4th July Tues this year. For a person like me who has no faith, it is unbelievable to see people walk the distance of 250 kms, spread over 21 days. And there are women, men , children, even old people who can barely walk : all of them do the Wari, year after year. Last year there wereover 700,000 people in the wari. Viva la Faith!!!

To keep up their spirits, they sing Abhanga which are devotional poems. Considering the people who sing these devotional songs of praise, all the saints have written these songs in simple marathi. Many good classical singers like Bhimsen Joshi, Jitendra Abhisheki, Vasantrao Deshpande, Kumar Gandharva, Hirabai Badodekar & Kishori Amonkar began the tradition of rendering these songs in a Hindustani classical style. That is carried forward by Rahul Despande, Anand Bhate, Jayteertha Mehundi, amongst others. Once I heard the dulcet singing of the bhakti sangeet, understood the simple marathi words I was beside me. Sold , hooked, gone line and sinker. I lived the truth of Sant Tukaram’s abhang “Pandhari che bhoot mothe
Alya gelya dhari wate”
Translation: The “ghost” of Pandharpur (Vithoba) is BIG : he catches anyone who travels on that road.

With all humility, I must confess now Vithal is no longer in Heaven. He lives in my heart. I get shaken and stirred whenever I hear any of the abhangs. I try to follow each and every word and nuance of the Abhang. And I have no hesitation to say openly that every time I hear and understand the words I am sobbing and crying openly. Tears just flow from my heart and my eyes. I am just overwhelmed by Bhakti and the lyricism of the Abhangwani. Bhakti can never be explained in words but I again take recourse to another lovely abhang of the Mahar saint Chokamela (very like the outcast I was)
” Johar Maibaap Johar
Tumchaya maharcha me mahar

Bahu bhukela zhalo
Tumchya ushtya sathi aalo
Chokha mhane paati aanli
tumchya ushtya sathi aanli”

Transliteration :
Oh My Lord/Master & my Father/Mother
I am the low caste servant (Mahar) of your servant (Mahar)
I am now very hungry
and I have come to receive your left overs
Choka (the saint) says I have brought a begging bowl
to receive the crumbs and left overs from your plate

There I go go crying again. Now you understand the last 2 lines of the quote from Robert Burns
“lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!” I cry. And I cry with my heart over blown.

Ashadi Ekadashi is on Tues 4th and Abhang wani of Bolava Vithal will be sung at Shanmukhananda hall.
Do come to cry with me : vikas