| April 27, 2017
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Pilgrim’s progress

Muktiyatra by Binod Sadhak is a labor of love, and for anyone contemplating a tour of the holy places in the sub-continent it is well worth a read. Written in simple, straightforward Nepali, it is an account of the pilgrimage that the author and his spouse made to renowned Hindu temples, shrines and other sacred sites across the length and breadth of India as well as Nepal, at different times and over a span of two and a half years starting 2010 AD.



The author provides brief introductions to the various shrines as they come up in the narrative and describes what he and his spouse experienced at those places. Right at the outset of the book, an explanation is offered for its title ‘Muktiyatra’. A pilgrimage is a breaking away from the cares and concerns of the mundane life, a stab at mukti or liberation, the author says. He also proposes that the conventional notion of chardham or four cardinal destinations of the Hindu pilgrimage circuit, i.e., Jagannathdham, Dwarikadhishdham, Rameshewardham and Badrinathdhm, should be broadened to panchdham to include Pashupatinath. Good point. 


Indeed, the cover of the book features images of these five dhams, with Pashupatinath prominent in the middle. Incidentally, the book cover also depicts across the top an image of Mount Kailash, the renowned and spectacular mountain in Tibet that along with the nearby lake of Mansarobar is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, and others. Perhaps, that is where the author is next headed.


In its introduction, the book touches briefly on the notion of pilgrimage in its wider sense to include the journeys of saints and sages and superior mortals, in the realms of scripture, spirituality, righteousness, compassion and so on. But the body of the book dwells on pilgrimage. The book relates the vicissitudes of the road that is the lot of all pilgrims in all times. The author takes all this in stride, content in the knowledge that no pilgrimage would be truly meritorious without its share of hazard and hardship. 


There are also high points aplenty and other interesting experiences, as is to be expected of such a prolonged undertaking. At Yamunotari, the author is reduced to tears out of a distinct feeling that the great sages of the past and also his own departed forebears were keeping him company at that moment, at more than just a spiritual level. He describes it metaphorically as simply stumbling upon the right frequency as it were, thanks to those hallowed surroundings. And on the banks of the Yamuna river, the author’s spouse had an unmistakable vision of Lord Krishna himself dancing with his gopinis. The lady too was reduced to tears out of sheer ecstasy.

 
On the way to Pushkartirtha in Rajastan, the author and his spouse, who were with a group of other Nepali pilgrims, had a near encounter with bandits. The bus carrying the pilgrims broke down at some lonely spot and had to be repaired there and then. That was when some 20 muscular types with dark glasses began to take an inordinate amount of interest in the party. Fortunately, a kindly teashop owner nearby whispered to the pilgrims that it would be wise for them to make haste and complete the repair job in the next town, which they promptly did. The pilgrims felt that nothing less than divine intervention had saved them from a most unpleasant experience.
A word about Pushkartirtha itself – Of the Hindu holy trinity, Bishnu and Mahadev have temples consecrated to them all over the sub-continent. But it is only Pushkartirtha that is special to Brahma, says the author.


During the pilgrimage circuit covering Mathura, Brindaban, Gokul, Gowardan, etc., also known as the Bajramandal, a sort of donation terror reigned. The pilgrims were made to feel compelled by the presiding priest to fork out up to Rs 5,001. Inquiries established that even this was an improvement on the way things used to be. However, this practice obtained only in the Bajramandal. 


At Nasik in Maharastra state, the author comes across a small stream which is the original Laxman Rekha, or line in the sand in Western parlance, although it is known locally as Laxmanjhula. We are also informed that the Godavari river in south India is known there as the Ganga, and around this river too is a legend that parallels the story of Bhagirath bringing the Ganges down from heaven to earth. This Godavari also has a twelve yearly religious fair like the Godavari in the southern rim of Kathmandu Valley. 


At the Kamakhyamata temple in Assam people queue up for worship after buying tickets for amounts ranging from Rs 10 to 1,000. The length of time a pilgrim had to wait in queue depended on the price of the ticket. There was also a Nepali ‘lalmohar’ priest at the temple, which suggests some kind of official sanction from the establishment in Nepal for the said priest. 


The book is punctuated with such nuggets of information and much sensible advice. There is indeed a list at the end of some useful tips, such as not wandering off alone in a new locality or without informing the manager of the pilgrimage group. One is also advised that pilgrimages should be undertaken before the onset of old age, and that a pilgrimage should not be mixed with any side business.
The author says that while setting out on the pilgrim’s path, one would do well to contemplate how the destination one is headed for is described in the scriptures and other sacred texts, and also ponder why one is going there. It is such informed pilgrimage that can be meaningful and even transformative. Otherwise the whole undertaking might turn out to be just a waste of money and much needless trouble. Sage words these.


There is towards the end a collection of photos of the various pilgrimage sites covered by the author. It is a comprehensive panorama. This is followed by a tabular presentation of the holy places and the sacred bodies of water associated with them, their locations and the dates on which the author visited them. Another tabular presentation offers other useful information, such as the number of pilgrims in the groups on the various occasions, the means of transport used, the organizers, and more. Some maps at the very end wrap up this latest book by the dates on which the author visited them. Another tabular presentation offers other useful information, such as the number of pilgrims in the groups on the various occasions, the means of transport used, the organizers, and more. Some maps at the very end wrap up this latest book by the author.