Turning Evangelist

I was trying hard to stay awake on the night of the Europa League finals game between Chelsea and Arsenal. It was supposed to air at 00:30 India time on 30th May, 2019. I had gotten used to sleeping early and hence it was being a challenge.

The challenge became easier when one of my friends working at Isha Foundation sent a message on my WhatsApp. It was a link to a blog post on a right wing portal. I have no prejudice, they’re a self proclaimed right wing portal. I gave it a click.

The blog was about an insidious event. A man – presumably a Christian evangelist or an evangelist messenger made a walk towards the bust of Aadi Yogi Shiva at the Isha Foundation in Coimbatore and starts shouting at the top of his voice about Jesus being the sole savior and aadi yogi a distraction.

Here’s the link to the video on a tweet that went viral.

The blog post went on to talk about how Indians have been talking about religious intolerance by the hindus while the act of religious evangelism by other religions especially Christianity has always existed and has encroached the fabric of Indian spirituality and religious heritage.

This topic of evangelism and conversions is always a sensitive and a difficult topic to talk or think about. Not because we have not been subject to or exposed to it but because the rationale behind it is a little confusing. Confusing as in unknown. The lack of empathy could be one reason.

Why is a person trying to convert someone else? Why do I want to stray someone from their path and convert and mould them into wanting to walk on my path? That’s the basic question.

Now that we’ve formed the question, we’re half way there. Most of our answers reside in Maslow’s work. After one has reached the pinnacle of the need hierarchy of self actualization, one looks to change other’s lives. It’s called the level of Self Transcendence. Hence evangelism.

That was easy – and a little academic. Let me try again. If I believe in something really hard, like to take a simple example if I’m a diehard fan of Chelsea football club, I would first myself be immersed completely in it, and the joy of being a fan is so elevating that I wouldn’t stop talking about it. I will talk about Chelsea with everyone and try to bring people to games who are not Chelsea fans, not even football fans. Without caring if they need or want to be Chelsea fans. Because I am so convinced that Chelsea is the path to absolute bills and liberation that I will try as hard as possible to make others see what I see.

Religious evangelism is similar to that, a little complex ofcourse as all games of grownups are. Not all conversions or evangelist activities are nobel. Because these are huge organisations with unreal goals – most politically and financially motivated too. So not always do the people trying to convert you want you to see the light or improve your life.

However, a Chelsea fan does want to improve your life so if you see a Blue trying to get you to a Chelsea game, just go!

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Kanyamagufa is Real

In the October of 2017, for no reason at all I took a 12 year oath.

I will witness and experience the next 12 Pushkarams in the next 12 years.

Ok, first there’s a technical term in the vow. Pushkaram – let’s define that.

Pushkaram in it’s bare sense is a river festival. Rivers in India, and in most other ancient civilizations of the world are worshipped as the embodiment of a life giving and cradling spirit. Ofcourse we always go overboard with our conceptions. No one knows when the attitude of gratitude and befriended living turned into an overzealous superstition. Naturally the river festivals became more and more superstitious.

Or maybe not? I won’t take a scientific approach to rationalize it, but let me use some common sense. India has many rivers and we cant say we’ll just worship one or two, hence they created a formula. A 12 year cycle to worship 12 prominent rivers. And what’s the measure the time? The heavens!

Jupiter is said to take 12 years to make one full circle. So if Jupiter is in Libra now, it will come back to libra next in 12 years. And each year, one river gets a chance, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 rivers and 12 years. Makes perfect sense. Now I am not going to comment on the spiritual side of the story or the scientific side, because I’m neither a priest nor a scientist. I’m just an experiencer. So I experience. And hence the lofty vow.

Let’s take a few examples to drive this home.

In 2017 when Jupiter moved into Libra, the river Kaveri gets the Pushkaram – It’s river festival.

Next year, the next sign, the next Pushkaram. That is, in 2018 when Jupiter moves into Scorpio, the river Bhima gets the Pushkaram.

Like this, the cycle goes on for years. The hype is not about maintaining this complicated calculation or about anything over religious, but it’s about river cleaning and celebration. Ofcourse some of the Pushkarams like Ganga – also called the Kumbh – river Yamuna and river Godavari attract huge crowds – running into tens of millions – these invariably end up dirtying the river more than purifying it. But hey, it’s a celebration and an opportunity to cleanse ourselves.

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Phew! Now let’s get into Kanyamagufa. Oops, sorry it’s another technical term, its actually a mythical place in Micheal Crichton’s 1980 book called Congo. It’s the place of the bones.

In 2018, it was the turn of the river Bhima, which originates in the state of Maharashtra, flows into Karnataka and merges with the river Krishna in Telangana. I decided to go-to a small place – almost a suburb or Pune called Tulapur.

Tulapur is famous because it’s has the tomb of Sambhaji maharaj. He was the eldest son of the great Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The river Bhima flows through Tulapur and hence I decided to go there to witness the Pushkaram – this was a mistake.

I first paid my respects to Sambhaji Maharaj and cooled down for a while under the shade of a tamarind tree. It was high noon and it was hot. The group of foreigners were turning pink to red to orange. Apart from them there were also students, basically couples who wanted some time quite place to be with each other’s words. And – my favourite, a bunch of old grannys, they must’ve been easily over 70. They all had earthen pots of spiced butter milk that they sold for 10 rupees. They had no teeth, and spoke with me warmly in Marathi, either they were complaining of the heat or of something else, but they just laughed and smiled at me because I was nodding and they figured I wasn’t understanding a word. I said my goodbyes and asked for a photo, the granny declined and so I just paid and left for the river.

There was no Pushkaram, no fairs, no tents, no music, no carnival, no people, nor any water. The place is a meeting point of three Rivers: Bhima, Bhamma and Indrayani. I’m not sure if it was the season or the rivers are going dry everywhere, but Tulapur was dry. I could see shallow streams of water and soft shiny pebbles exposed on the river floor.

I decided to take a walk upstream in search of water, I was actually walking on the river when it happened. I noticed a few pieces of bones. I ignored and walked further upstream. More bones. Some dried flowers and bangles too. Now I was getting suspicious. Is this an old battle ground? Do we have the tomb here because it’s where Sambhaji died? In a battle?

Since there was no carnival there was nothing to experience, and thanks to the discovery of bones, I wasn’t going to take a “holy” dip in the Bhima either. I started walking back downstream towards the steps. The view of the tomb, temple and the tall chimneys made a beautiful frame, I clicked a couple of pictures and continued walking. I sat down at the foot of the stairs on the bank disappointed when I saw the priest, he turned around and asked something in Marathi. But I understood he was asking me if I wanted to perform someone’s last rites. Was I looking that disappointed?

That’s when I understood why there was no carnival or festival at this place. It was a cremation ground. The chimneys were of an incinerator. And the bones were actually mortal remains of dead people cremated in this place. Ouch. Mistake.

I laughed at myself, gave the priest a headache, stood up and walked back to road feeling foolish. Ofcourse I did find a place where the Pushkaram was going on later – but that’s for another day.

Two years later, the pieces of bones on the dried river bed still haunt me. Not because of the dead, but because of what we are doing to our rivers. I wonder what would turn up if all the rivers dried? Bones? Kanyamagufa?

~*~