Sunday, May 31, 2009

Head Banging at Babulnath

Never got around to completing this post but posting it nevertheless..............

If the above title has intrigued you into reading this blog, you might be interested in attending the various Rock Satsangs organized from time to time by the A** of *i***g F********n. I have been to one of them. However, the guys with their Surf Excel caressed Kurta Pyjamas, Colaba trademark Om Tees, low waist patloons, wrists bewitched to look like a germination ground for colored beads and the girls with their clear skins, non existent waistlines, long dainty nails, rose petal like feet and cleavage exposing kurtas were instrumental in goading me to sever off ties with the human species and discover the sublime delights of vegetating through life for some time.

Coming back to the point, (I am sure you guys have written this off as random mumbling but trust me there is a point to it all…..!) this is all the blog title has to offer in the rock genre.

I want to talk about Babulnath- a mystical ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiv built by the great Raja Bhimdev, which today looks distinctly out of place in the bubbling cosmopolitan uber chic of South Mumbai; Hinduism, the religion I was born into and till now not found the intense, self consuming need to disown it and my experiences in the temple.

I go there every Monday. Yes, every Monday. Eligible, rich, good looking and single men listening- I also bathe and brush my teeth daily, cook lentil rice and potato curry, soak clothes in soap water and somehow manage to rinse them, laugh politely at jokes no matter how mind numbingly dumb, stitch, sew, knit and have no problems with onion breath or gaseous release. Interested men may please get in touch @ 99%^&@@@%8.

The temple has a seductively enigmatic attraction to it. Dimly lit stairs beginning at the end of a dark alley, populated with candles and cats, flanked by a Babul Tree, take you to the main temple where the unassailable presence of a harmonium Baba greets you. The temple and the alley house many small homes. The entire area looks like a large black canvass painted with cris-crossing lights from petromaxes, candles, 60-watt bulbs and tube lights. The area remains populated with clotheslines, running children and fat women defining lassitude. I am constantly trying to pry into such houses.
(Someone once told me that the trick to making it big in life lies in putting your natural prying and curious nature to good use. Look what it did to Einstien!!)

There was this one time when while trying to associate solid, discernable forms behind a heap of dirty clothes hanging in one such house, a dreadlocks Baba made it known by his obvious looks and action that he found such behavior abhorrent. His bloodshot eyes, thread bare orange robe, rudraksh necklaces, rib cage defining torso and vermilion stained forehead reminded me of the mad man whose ‘Dhamki’ my mother used to give when I refused to go to bed or drink milk or have food or wear clothes (ha ha interested are you?). I choose discretion to be my amour the next time I visited the temple and nowadays just glance sideways at the houses.

The Harmonium Baba, (a Mr Rajendra Guha who lives in Chembur naka) ever smiling and content, nods you into the temple. Mr Rajendra Guha seemed very interested in expanding his PR and very subtly but quite often indicated that he is not averse to performing, nay appreciating music in the company of other music lovers at jagrans, satsangs or samaradhanas. I took his leave just before he ventured to give me his mobile number.

In the hall adjacent to the main temple, sit two women who take care of your footwear while you are pleading your case with the Almighty. One of them is Varsha- young, thin and shy with a tired, resigned look about her. It was one such Monday when I saw that Varsha had a black eye. I didn’t think myself capable enough to face her embarrassment or pain by asking her for a reason. I just smiled.

The other is an old hag, who is conventionally, feature-by-feature ugly. Wrinkles sort of form the foundation on which her contours are etched. Beady and small eyes, yellowing with age make you want to look away from them and towards her nose that can make an eagle consider Rhinoplasty. Semi repulsed by her dark and large mouth you look at her head for a consolation factor but there is minimal hair there. This one on a crowded Monday evening with hundreds of people coming and leaving their shoes, will always ALWAYS remember where your sandals are. The real catch is, when you show your appreciation in the form of a “Thank You Aunty”, her mouth spreads into a huge, part toothed smile, which shuts off her eyes but somehow makes her entire face light up. She looks cute. Varsha and the Old Hag want money but are not explicit about it.

The otherwise quite and serene temple looks nothing short of a “Mela” on Mondays- Shiva’s Day. The temple remains open till 11:30 at night and the presence of zealous devotees is ubiquitous during the whole day. There is a portico like structure, where devout and aspiring vocalists and musicians chant hymns and bhajans.

I do not know as to when the Temple Aarti actually begins but the drum beating, conch blowing, hands clapping and “Har Har Mahadeving” sure goes on for a long time. There is a long queue for the darshan and inside the sanctum, a self declared disciplinarian is constantly egging you on to finish your Darshan, at a quicker pace than the scant 5 seconds you spend in bowing before the Lingam. Suffering in mild paranoia, you are confronted with images of being crushed to death before you leave the inner sanctum. Walking in constant peril of stepping over coconut shavings, milk, betel leaves, lotus petals and prostrated devotees you step on wet dirty stones where you see, squatting on rough boulder, grinding sandalwood into paste, a man who can easily pass off for a Marwari Seth.

It is a very personal and intimate relationship that a Hindu shares with his God. Under the phantasmagoria, the religious fanfare, the dogmatic traditions, the fatalistic superstitions, the eonian rituals, lies a very obvious desire of giving a tangible, conspicuous form to ones beliefs, to channelize hope towards something completely alien, to obliterate the ambiguity of the self.

And I can never understand the intense, consuming desire to touch the idols. Why must we push, pull, squeeze, get squeezed, annoy, get annoyed.... just to go near the idol (the lingam in this case) and have its surface touch our forheads? What is the compulsion to touch the block of granite shaped as feet, kiss it and then place the left part of the forehead and then the right part of the forhead on it? Do our prayers become more fervent this way? Why cant we pray from afar???

We cant pray from afar. Period.

Hinduism is my faith by birth and as I move on in life, my faith by choice as well. I see nothing in common between the religious fanatics who just got up one fine morning and smashed up an eonian mosque on the behest of protecting Hindu cultural identity and myself. There are so many paradoxes this religion has shown me. The religious frenzy that sanctifies the slaughter of three hundred goats in the small temple of Chittai in Uttaranchal is no more different than the dogged devotion that never lets the light fade away from the wicker of an ordinary earthen lamp in a Hindu household.

The superstitious foolhardiness that considers crossing of the seven seas to an alien land as blasphemous stems from the same people who innocently and selflessly share food and water with complete strangers under the shell of “Athithi Devo Bhava”. Neither is it a religion with one God, one religious authority, one religious book or a set of commandments.

Idol worship is an easy way out. Contemplation of space as the supreme and channelizing faith, humility and trust towards nothingness is infinitely more difficult than imagining potency in a block of stone.

Amidst the chaos, I find peace. Surrounded by dirt, my soul feels cleansed. My head vibrates with the chanting. My feet circumambulate with the drumbeats. The central force of attention, attraction for undeterminable, inexplicable reasons for such a diverse but collective audience is a black granite stone. How can life not exist in it??

It just starts feeling right. It just starts to make sense. Collective hope gives birth to a God. Desperate desire to believe manifests His presence and the plea of a billion heartbeats for peace and joy gives a tangible form to His abode.

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