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

22 Replies to “Bolava Vithal, Karava Vithal…jeeva bhave”

  1. ‘If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.’ and all these emotions are part of that journey. I hope you never reach the mountain though, because it’s these emotional upheavals that keep that heart beating. Bhakti rasa is the closest i’ve felt to understanding ‘an’ idol in ‘that’ building and as disillusioning the institution of ‘God’ is, the sight of a ‘Vasudev’ on the streets of any city/village, puts a smile on my face and warms my heart. I enjoy the experience with you sir and for me it’s a form of catharsis or escapism and i am glad to share the experience with loved ones 🙂

    “Mrudungache Bol, talancha kallol
    abhangache bol, aiku yeyi…
    aiku yeyi aissaa… namacha gajar…
    maher sasar nako vate…
    Nako vate ghar, Saunsara cha khel
    aali naad vel… muhurta chi… pandharis jaato” (samajhne vaale samajh gaye… jo na samjhe woh…)

    Jai Hari Vikibaba!

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  2. A soulful article indeed! Thanks for sharing your emotional journey and transformation through Bhakti Sangeet. Although I’ve not had the opportunity to listen to the above,( now it is on my wishlist) music has always been my constant companion through thick and thin. It soothes, energizes and gives me solace.
    I too am an agnostic as the religion taught to me by my parents was “be good and do good” but as you rightly said, we have to be grateful each day for what we have. And I don’t think I do it enough! And faith to me is believing in something when common sense tells you not to. Isn’t it Faith that keeps the candle of our life burning…..???

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    1. Faith is believing in something even when common sense tells you not to… yes indeed.
      Faith keeps the candle burning. Sometimes Faith causes such a conflagration that it burns many things in it besides the ego. And still like the traditional imagery of the moth and the candle: we flirt with faith and other things larger than self: Possibly with the fond hope that we will be engrossed and encompassed by that very Faith we follow.

      Your parents taught you well to be good and do good. but I think spirituality and faith also take us beyond one’s own smaller tight circle.

      The true joy of “samarpan” is in finding gratitude in this also.

      Tukaram puts it well : “Yene sose maan zhale havbhare
      Parat maghari yet nahi”
      transliteration : “With this my sensitive mind has become heavy with emotions
      And now it refuses to return back to me”
      JAI HARI VITTHAL

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    1. Thanks Madhulika. It was expression of my genuine feelings. and so I can understand why they resonate with others as finally all of us have a common experience.

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  3. Vikas superb analysis great reflection. I do pray thanking the ultimate for being partial to me.As any half wit I do question his ways.Now more confused.

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    1. Thanks Daduly. So happy to hear your praise. Means a lot to me.
      I see your point : we who question must be the half wits with half information and half knowledge.
      He who knows all must be watching us all blind mice getting confused. And hoping we quickly find out our way out of the puzzle.

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  4. Sir, thanks for making me realise that I shouldn’t have missed the wari this year . last 2 year I walked Pune to Saswad and experienced the unconditional devotion of Warkaris who walked through rains , heat and dust now for over 350 years . It’s amazing and touching ( I cried thru the wari) to see old warkaris – especialy women climbing mountains with Tulsi on their head and bare footed only for their Bhakti towards Vithal .

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  5. Have known you for last
    30 years. Adoring BHAKTI CULT is a welcome change which
    makes us humble down to
    earth.

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  6. Thanks Mimi. Your words of encouragement mean a lot to me.
    You are aware of the small Paani ki seva we are privileged to do every year at Dehu.It is a truy humbling experience for me to see the continuous stream of humanity outside Ramesh Mama’s house. The discipline of the Warkaris and their unquestioned faith is something which can teach us a lot. Ifeel blessed that I can attend that. And thanks to Metakuttys I can attend the Bolva Vithal programs every year. Life’s Good indeed.

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  7. How well you have described your experience and created the mood for Ashadhi Ekadashi. Your description transported me to Dehu , among the Varkaaris, lost in their devotion towards Vithu Mauli yet trying to find the meaning of their life and existence.
    All in all, a great read.

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  8. Sir, Iam lucky this transformation struck me at 40 i.e. last year and my feelings resonate yours. Though not agnostic, I was always trying to understand this great tradition of warkaris and the many abhangs associated with this Panth. Let me also submit that at times I was scepticle about there madness. But last year I happened to watch a serial on Dynyaneshwar and I was in tears literally every episode. I,then could relate to all this madness. Am lucky I could travel a part of wari last year and this year too. And thank you for capturing our common emotions so succintly.

    JAI HARI VITTHAL !

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    1. Sunil Jai Hari Vithal! The situation you describe is not new to me. I have heard that experience from many others. We are fortunate we got the call and answered it. I have yet to walk with the Warkaris as I am crowd phobic. But I hope in the coming years I will gather the courage and take the plunge. Your story motivates me.

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  9. Vikas philosophy and literature have taught me that bhakti lies in the heart and flows through your thoughts and actions. It does not need an external peg and those who peg it on god really lose more than they gain. So I in fact get surprised when people don’t get so immersed into the bhakti rasa that it wrenches their hearts and overflows through their eyes. What surprises others about me is my knowledge of religion and yet my declaration that I am an agnostic. The second you were the first I have seen you in since the last few years. Don’t worry you will have many a companion there. Only don’t forget your handkerchief

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    1. Blind devotion will not come easily to us. But spirituality and religion are 2 different things altogether. It is good that some of us have understood this and landed on the right side.

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  10. You have succinctly captured the feelings of many people like me about Wari and Vithoba. Interesting to read about your transformation and the way you have described it.

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    1. Thanks Sanjay. Faith and Trust are very basic feelings. And we require them to live. That is why in all languages and cultures we have so much music to keep us on the track : Sufi Bhakti Sangget and so many other genres. We are lucky to bevborn in India where this is so palpable.

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  11. Very nice and heartfelt article!!!
    Felt the same flood of Bhakti Ras a couple of years ago, when we visited Pandharpur.
    Just the nonstop chant of “Maauli… maauli… maauli… maauli…” gets one going, and into a different world.
    And when you hear stalwarts like Pt. Bhimsen Joshi recite “Naamacha gajar” or “Indraayani kathi”… a pleasant, dull sense of peace engulfs not just you or your surroundings, but in a way the whole world around you…

    Faith may or may not move mountains… but it does move something so deep inside you, and so beautifully… that it’s no lesser of a miracle.

    Jai Hari Vitthal… 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 🙏🏼

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    1. So rightly said Ameya.We grew up hearing Indrayani Kathi Deva chi aalandi Laagli samadhi and all the other songs. They have become a part of us. Point you make about Faith moving something inside is so well put.
      Sometimes I feel as intellectuals we are under privileged. We have to question everything. We do not have the luxury of blind faith.Maybe that is where ourr schizophrenia starts?

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