I grew up with no religious beliefs drummed into me. My parents had decided not to stuff God and religion down my throat. For the longest time, I considered myself lucky. I thought I was free to choose or in fact free enough not choose at all.
Here I am in Rajasthan, in an unknown place, with unknown people. Last night was a very depressing night.
It was dark. I was in bed, cold, frigid and hopeless. I felt myself losing my self-confidence. I want to be a writer. Although lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m not good enough. I felt extremely lonely.
At such moments, I wonder if it helps to have blind unquestioning faith in someone or something. God, maybe? Would it have helped if I could sleep knowing that God will fix this by tomorrow? My education and rationality act as an impediment for me to instill my faith in something so intangible. I counter question, I analyze, I rationalize and knock myself on the head and tell myself that God doesn’t exist. But last night, all I wished was to be able to put my faith in a safe locker and know that it was going to be okay.
I’m reminded of one particular incident that took place during my childhood…
Until the age of 12, I used to spend few weeks in summer with my cousins. We were 5 hyperactive kids. We used to spend most of our day battling the sun and soil. By around 6pm just as the sky turned amber my aunt would holler from the little kitchen window. It was our cue to drop everything and sprint indoors. She would usher us in with a stream of strict instructions. We cramped into the little washroom under the staircase, scrambling about to reach the water pipe. Five of us would giggle and wriggle inside that tiny washroom. In lightning speed, we would be out of it too. Clean limbs, hurriedly washed faces, the water still dripping off the tips of my elder cousin’s hair, we would position ourselves in front of the small puja room. One of my cousins would light the lamp. Once the lamp was lit, all other lights in the house would be turned off and the smell of pear soap and agarbatti (incense stick) would waft through the air. Up until this moment I was in tune with the happenings around me. Then they’d start the recital of shlokas. All of them knew it by heart. They would press their eyes shut, sit spine erect and sing a stream of Sanskrit words that made no sense to me. I remember the feeling of isolation that would sting me. They all knew something I didn’t. When one you’re 9yrs old this is a sure heartbreak. My ego, of course, wouldn’t let me show my embarrassment. I would sit hunched back, drawing dust circles on the floor. Occasionally, I would try and lip-sync with them but their speed of recital would be too overwhelming that after a minute I would resign to being a silent artist. Back then, I pretended to be indifferent as if it didn’t matter to me but God knows it did.
Now, even in Rajasthan, after a long time I’m surrounded by this innocent blind faith yet again. The Raika are religious people. They worship Lord Shiva. Their large amount of opium consumption was enough to prove this fact. The Raika follow a complex system of worship. Although Shiva is their main God they also worship local heros. One of the most fervently worshiped hero amongst them is Pabuji.
Pabuji, a Rajput chieftain belonged to the 14th century and lived in Kolu. Known to be the cattle God he was part of the Bhomiyo – ‘Cattle Heroes’. Songs in praise of Pabuji often echo the mountains and forests where the Raika camel herders graze their animals.
Another such local hero who gained divine status among the Raika is Mamaji. I visited a Mamaji temple, a small structure that stood discreetly by the side of the road. Few old men sat inside smoking a chillum and looked at me very skeptically. It was only later when I was told the story of the Bhopa that I took fascination to the little stone structure. The Bhopa is the person into whom god descends on every full moon day. There requires no criterion to become a Bhopa. A Bhopa realizes his identity by the time he is around 20. He does not represent a village or community nor he is not bound by caste or color. However, it is the Raika men who largely have a tendency of being Bhopas.
Every 15 days on the day of Chandnapak, the Bhopa visits Mamaji–ki-Mandir (Mamaji’s temple). He sits down before the idol and begins his prayers. Soon the Bhav enters him. Bhav refers to the possessed state of being that the Bhopa assumes after Goddess Durga has entered his body. Once Bhav possesses the Bhopa, his whole form alters. His voice changes, he grunts and hisses a lot, his body language becomes more authoritative. The Bhopa also follows a ritual where he flogs himself. After this, the he assumes his position on a stool. He is now ready to face the community.
For the men and women visiting the Bhopa, sitting on the pedestal is not a man but an incarnation of the Goddess herself. They now take turns to consult the Goddess about each of their worries. The Bhopa advises them with philosophical as well as practical solutions.
For an institutionalized sheep like me, this felt utterly superficial. Even as these stories were narrated to me, my mind buzzed with doubts and suspicions. How could one believe in God and such practices as the absolute truth?
However, last night while I lay so utterly hopeless, all I wished for was the ability to be able to believe something, anything. Somehow, I’ve only seen those men who believe in God be able to do this. I wanted to simply close my eyes in prayer knowing that a miracle is bound to happen.
At the end of the day shouldn’t one’s education and conditioning equip one with hope and confidence more than anything? But at the end of the day, what has all this questioning and rationalizing given me?
“It has given me this night of hopeless loneliness. This night is the result of my intellectual capabilities that I strive so hard to achieve on most other days”, I thought to myself.