Friday, July 24, 2009
The onset of the monsoon witnesses one of the biggest events of the Hindu calendar, one that is closely linked to Jharkhand. The Shravan Mela. Thousands of Shiva devotees called ‘Kanvariyaas’descend upon the state from all parts of the country. Before the outset of the project, I had always dreaded having to go for such an occasion. Crowds, Sweat, Pushing mobs, Dirt and uninhibited blind devotion are some of the things that would keep me away. My visit though was a minor surprise. Apart from the regular doses of religious fanaticism that one witnesses in such a space, there were some notable sighters.
The Sharavan Mela pilgrimage is like a marathon. Thousands, men women alike collect Ganga water at Sultanganj and walk the 105 kms to Deograh to offer it at the Baidyanath Dham at Deogarh. Bol Bum is the chant used by the pilgrims.Groups of pilgrims walk the distance barefoot. Some groups, most notably the Dak Bum and the Krishna Bum (a group from Nepal) do thejourney within 24 hours. The Dak Bum does the walk within 16 hours (average). The rumoured fastest this year was a Nepali girl who did the distance in 10 straight hours. Quite the marathon. Right outside the temple is a medical centre which tends to injured feet. Appropriately placed too. The myth behind the festival is an interesting one too. I don’t want to hurry it up here. It has Ravana in it!
The day I was at Deogarh, the estimated crowd was over 2 lakhs. This was Tuesday, one of the calmer days. Monday, had ended with a lathi charge and 70 Kanvariyas injured. The atmosphere around the area was tense. Atleast in the police camp, which is where I sat waiting for my escort and close childhood friend Raju bhaiya.
Raju Bhaiya appears smartly dressed in the uniform minus the boots. He takes one look at me, my orange shirt (co-incidental) and orders a change.
“You’ll never be able to get in wearing that!”
“Why? Isn’t this supposed to be the colour of the season?” I asked grinning widely.
“That’s all fine. But if you want to get inside the temple today, you’ll be better off in civilian clothing.” He grins back
“There was a lathi charge yesterday?”I ask him waving the hindi paper at him.
“Arey! Don’t ask yaar. These bloody bol bums. Some of these guys just don’t listen.”He mumbles away about a magistrate who got hit by a pilgrim who in turn got beaten by a constable. The constable was later beaten up by a mob (“Dhar liya”). In retaliation the police force is deputed at the area and a riot ensues. I drift off the conversation and soak in the crowd and the atmosphere. Thousands of pilgrims are taking a dip in the lake before going to take their place in the 15km long queue. I can see the two temples. One for Shiva and the other Parvati. The area around the temple is filled with people, all dressed in saffron. Raju Bhaiya suddenly pokes me.
“All this is the Panda’s fault.”
(Panda refers to the pandits in the temple)
“Huh! These people bathing!”
“Tsk! Arey, if those fellows didn’t accept bribes and shovel people in the temple breaking the queue none of this would happen.”
“Oh! But I’ll be breaking the queue too today.”
“Arey! Firstly you’re not here for darshan. Take that orange shirt off. And second you haven’t bribed me yet.”
“Is Deograh always like this?”
“Haha. Thankfully not.”
Come July and sleepy Deogarh is transformed into a sweating, fanatic horde, of human beings. Hinduism descends in full force and normal life is lost. Maybe it isn’t. As displayed by the sweet shops that make enormous profits everyday. Most of the shops are establishments that are open only this time of the year. Raju Bhaiya reckons they sit and count the cash they raked in for the next 11 months.
All around Deoghar during this time, Bum – another name for Shiva- is sprinkled liberally in the use of the vernacular. “Paani Bum!” “Khana Bum!” “Side dena Bum!” are phrases you’re not supposed to raise eyebrows at. Vrinadavan does something similar too. They add Radhe-Radhe to everything. But adding a ‘Bum’ is stepping over the line. Not to mention hilarious, especially when you ask someone the way to the temple and the reply swings between “Aage se right mein milega Bum !” to “Mujhe nahi maloom kahan hain Bum!” . As with most occasions related to the God of Destruction, this one too prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol before the ‘darshan’. The pilgrims don’t consider this a disadvantage though. Ganja and Bhang come at reduced prices, and at any rate are considered ‘healthy’by most who partake in it.
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