Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gnostic Embrace of Warkaris in the Monsoon Season around Pune: Part III Kanifnath, Kanoba, and Syncretism

This is the third part of this blog trilogy on the intrinsic Gnosticism of the warkaris in the palkhi procession during the monsoon season. These blogs have little on actual warkari aspects. They instead dwell on a possible evolution of the (Gnostic, a difficult word to define) mindset of these warkaris from the religiosity of their environment.

The more intriguing aspect of this shrine is the presence of seemingly muslim tombs covered with saffron cloth.

This blog has been written mainly to explain (to myself?) some imagined contradictions in giving a muslim identity or not to the shrine. This is a trivial matter for an warkari.

I have no professional (and very little) amateur background on anthropology. These blogs are what they are --- just blogs of a nomad, say, with the independence to identify the deity to worship for the moment. The truth that one seeks is the inclusive peace with one's environment without being intrusive.

The blog will most likely meander through various seemingly disconnected points of view and records more from a personal point of view without requiring a quod erat demonstrandum at the end.

The inputs that I refer to depends mainly on the internet and is mainly based on extracts from published books of the academic kind.

I also do not need to depend on historical records. Historical records are the products of empire building and are most times rendered empirical because of political constraints. Moreover, in a tradition of impermanence (not fickleness) that characterize our early lifestyles based on tropical abundance and fast decay there cannot be a record … only an emerged lifestyle and philosophy that does not really depend on a holy testament or script. The worshipper is truly independent even if socially constrained and contributing all the while to a changing socially viable swarm intelligence.

The numbering of figures continue from the previous blogs in this series. Click on figures to expand.

Kanifnath Shrine

The drive away from the khandoba mandir (see part II) towards Saswad was especially pleasant being through green flatlands with rustic scenes of buffalos grazing (fig 12, left), and distance red-tiled roofs of villages and temples (fig 12 middle). The chaturmukh cone and ridge is visible to the left of the hill slopes of Fig 12 left. On the way to Saswad we decided to take a left turn at a corner where there was a large collection of freshly painted saffron (the present politically correct colour) worship stones on the ground.

The road led to a kanifnath shrine on the top of a hill. I did not know much about Kanifnath before this trip. The only thing we knew about the shrine was that there is a cave containing the Samadhi of a saint. The kanifnath shrine is located on a hill (fig 12 right) which is shaped something like the hill in Fig 12 middle. There are many such hills around. There are also many hill-top shrines and probably many samadhis.

Most of all that I have written below has been obtained from the internet after this trip, although as a Bengali, I should have known much more. What I did learn fits in very well with this Gnostic warkari theme .

The nath movement has a very complex tradition which, I gather, is predominantly generated from the very early bon (see my blog Bon of the Bongs) Buddhist tradition of eastern Bengal. The nath movement is religious by all accounts having elements of Buddhism, Jainism, baul movement (see my blog “Pulling strings for Joy: the ‘baul’ of Madhugiri”) and its vaishnavism, and has some of the external manifestations of Shaivites. The actual nath tradition is thought to have been started around the 12th century by Matsyendranath. They abhor brahminical rituals and they are followers of Adinath, lord of origin (to give it a Tolkienian name).

Adinath is the "big bang theory" of the universe?

The nath jogis probably appeared in written records on Bengal for the first time around the end of the 12th century. It was about this time that sufi-ism of Islamic wonderers also arrived in Bengal. The question is then often asked about who came first the nath or the sufi.

If we consider the life-style of the bauls of Bengal (I will mean the east bengal of the bon buddhists with its shamanistic or tantric traditions when I refer to bengal) to be the precursors of the nath as well as the sufi minstrels there is little doubt (in my intuition) that the bon Buddhists of Tibet came first (the tonsuring of the heads of Bengali Muslims has often been attributed to the inheritance of this custom from Buddhist monasteries of their ancestors). After all, the yoga of the naths, with its emphasis on breathing, follows a Tibetan practice.

A recent (1995) Stockholm thesis entitled The Ocean of Love: Middle Bengali Sufi Literature and the Fakirs of Bengal by David Cashin, comes to the conclusion (with which I must genetically agree, being a bengali) that the main part of the sufi literature with its emphasis on yoga is derived from Nath sources. Attention has been drawn in a review of the book by Carl Solomon ( in The Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1998 ) to the role of the nath yoga manual, Amrtakunda (Pool of Nectar), in providing a historical context to the nath influence of sufi literature. The Sanskrit original of this text has been lost (in keeping with Indian habits of losing important documents that prove a point, be it a scam or a truth). The Persian and Arabic translations of this text survive, we are told. Such translations are thought to be vague about their origin (see The Islamization of Yoga in the "Amrtakunda" Translations by Carl W. Ernst) so that it is difficult to prove a point “scientifically” by depending on some written records.

In der Zwischenzeit, Carl W. Ernst would discuss the sufi-nath origin debate in the context of the third century writing in the Gnostic “Acts of Thomas” which describes Apostle Thomas’ acts during his Evangelical mission before he was killed at the St. Thomas Mount in Madras (Chennai) for converting people to his faith. Ernst would discuss in particular the way an ancient text (Hymn of the Pearls) was treated by Islamic texts and concludes (I think) that there is islamisation of Amrtakunda in sufi texts just as Hymns of Pearls was Islamized.

Indians historically rely on their memory and the spoken word; even the spoken word will be understood only on the way one nods one’s head or the intonation when one speaks, or the bhava of the eyes becomes very crucial in conveying understanding, trust, or emotions. There is no way to "objectivising" the spoken word and so one has no history to write about in any case, This is why we sometimes cannot avoid the temptations to lie and/or not to keep records; this could be especially so when we give everything to the lord’s dependents, forgetting that we also take from the lord’s dependents (sometimes more than we should if we could). For this reason it is difficult for us to claim to be historically first in many things including the patenting of natural products.

The question of who came first the nath or the sufi is irrelevant for the warkari because there are so many more important things to sing and dance aboout.

It is not quite unlikely that the Bengali naths and sufis came to the western region before it reached Persia and Arabia (through the silk route?) . Their Gnosis could have permeated into the local conscious much before the actual sufi or nath texts were written. Remember in matters of Indian history we require only traditionally spoken truths, if we throw away the confining yoke of Christianizing or Islamizing texts.

As the warkaris may say, does it matter for things spiritual?

Be that as it may, the bauls and the sufis and the naths follow the basic practice of love and humanism which is the religion of the common people, the warkaris, without adopting firmly theocratic rituals and symbols. It is this which has contributed to the amicable geographical and cultural milieu throughout the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. Imperial rulers could not disrupt this environment.

Strangely, the political power of independent democratic republic that India now claims to be is highlighting antagonistic intolerance, instead of highlighting our intrinsic Gnosticism.

The basic gnosis of the warkaris and bauls may perhaps be seen in this video clip of the baul singer krishnendu das (with a lovable typically Indian chalta-hai phase-lag between sight and sound). This clip captures some essence (even if it may be staged and hence not spontaneous) because of the architectural style of the place where it is sung which has some resemblance to that of the Kanifnath shrine we visited.

The shrine is seen from far away (Fig 12 right) and the main dome is rather modern looking (Fig 13 left). Kanifnath is thought to have discovered the cave on which the shrine is built. The shrine itself resemble the Vajreshwari devi shrine which is also built on a hill formed from a volcanic eruption (according to Wikipidia).

The location of Vajreshwari shrine on a old volcanic hill would support our conjecture that the chaturmukh of Warwadi is to be associated with a volcanic hill. Since we are free to conjecture in a blog, we also propose that the Kanifnath mandir located on a hill at Pisalwadi, near Saswad (as indicated by Wikimapia) is to be associated with (what seems to be) a volcanic hill on which there are “craters” (Part I, Fig 7, right) that seems to be of the same size as the chaturmukh craters (Part I, Fig 7 left).

Very little is known about the navnaths except that they were thought to be more powerful than the traditional gods. This itself could be good news.

The relationship between the nath movement and the Kanifnath shrine has to be imagined, I suppose. Gorakhnath, under whom the nath movement saw the maximum expansion is thought to have his Samadhi in a Nath mandir near the Vajreshwari mandir. Matsyendranath, who is considered to be a founder of the navnath parampara served Vajereshwari devi.

Inside the Kanifnath mandir there is a hall where ladies are seated watching bare-bodied men crawling in and out of a small hole in a decorated silver-panelled wall (Fig 13 middle). The hole looked, quite contrary to expectations, as if it was 12”x12” which will make it diagonally 18” long. That would not be too small a size for a man to go crawling in (head first) and out (feet first) as they usually do without much problem. It is easier if you go in without your top clothes so that the rule that men should go in bare-bodied is rather sensible. That women are not allowed inside would also be sensible in this case.

The view from the top is rather scenic if you are not looking at recently developed structures (Fig 13 right).

If one goes around the temple there are signs of worship of stones with embedded eyes (Fig 14 left) coloured saffron and further sanctified by a trishul. The flowers used for worship includes the shiuli (paarijaata) flowers; there is a shiuli tree that is also seen at the chaturmukh mandir (PaRT i; Fig 4 right). There is a stone couple (Fig 14 middle) whose identity I now forget but whose features are similar to the one under the “60,000” year olf banyan tree (Part I, Fig 5 left). There is also a tolerance for dogs at the temple (Fig 14 right).

Some of the interior craftsmanship inside the temple is typical of Jain temples (Fig 15 left).

The more interesting aspect of the shrine is not the cave, but the presence of rectangular tombs or tombstones that are characteristic of Christiam or Muslim tombs. The tomb is similar to that of the dargah in Khed Shivapur where the tomb is covered by a green cloth as expected for a Muslim tomb. The tombs here is covered with saffron.

On going back down the steps one sees giant painted frieze/sculpture of a bearded Hanuman with long black hair, to keep up, I guess, with the images of the very primordial sculptures in the complex of the nine learned men, navnath, of which Kanifnath is listed as fourth in the order.

The nath movement introduced yoga in the Indian context having benefited from the Tibetan connection of the bon Buddhist’s association with the early Bengal or vanga (see my blog “Bon of the Bongs” for the way I look at it). These nath yogis are thought to have introduced the concept of Samadhi to the modern world. In Samadhi the spiritual and material bodies are separated. The spiritual body dominates in Samadhi and the material body is left behind so that the sense of karma and duty is not there. The yogi is immersed in Brahma.

So we make another conjecture. The chaturmukhi mandir of Warwadi is claimed to be a Brahma mandir simply because there is a tradition of an ancient Samadhi there of the nath yogi type?

The question of whether it was a sufi dargah or a nath samadhi would not have arisen "60,000" years ago.

In My People Uprooted: A saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal, Tathagata Roy writes “Popular religion in Bengal often displays syncretism, a mixing of both Hindu and Muslim folk beliefs, deities, and practices. Bengal is famous for its wandering religious mendicant folk musicians (e.g., the Bauls, who disdain caste and conventional Hindu/Muslim religious distinctions in their worship and way of life). In addition to formal worship at Hindu temples and Muslim mosques, popular worship involving religious folk music is widespread, especially at Vaishnavite gatherings ( kirtan ) and among Muslim followers of several Sufi orders ( tarika ) present in Bengal. Bengali Muslims are also known for their practice of "pirism," the cultic following of Muslim saints or holy men (called pirs )”.

The so-called pir cult comes from the spoken anecdotal panchali sing-song narratives extolling established deities as well as folk deities without worrying about established religious perspectives of different communities. The panchali texts that are popular include those concerning Muslim Kalu Gazi and Satyapir or the Hindu Satyanarayan thereby indicating the common folks' disregard for religious implications. The symbiotic syncretism of sufi saints and nath yogis has survived within India till now. The Bengali satyapir panchali which spreads harmony and maintains communal feelings among all seems to have now become satyanaryan puja which is observed all over India.

This communal hamony is very fragile now because of the growth of the poer of vote-manipulating democracy and multi-channel TRP-rated television which provides the fodder for tempting junk-ism and screechy animalized jockeys and moderators who appeal to the lowest common denominator.

In Murali Ranganthan’s English translation of Govind Narayanan’s Marathi description “Mumbaiche Varanan” there is an important description of life in Bombay (“Govind Narayan’s Mumbai: An Urban Biography from 1863”). Part of the description relevant to this blog in the context of khandoba is summarized in what follows in this paragraph, Bombay around 1850 Bombay was full of maths (hermitages) owned by people other than Brahmins. Kanoba’s maths are ordinary rooms or houses in which a bhagat (devotee of Kanoba, who could be Krishna or a “great devotee” of Krishna; we note in passing that Tukaram, a great devotee of Krishna, had a brother named Kanoba) resides.

It has been said in this book that the idol of Kanoba is a combination of the idol of Balakrishna and the panja (impression of hand) of a Mulim pir (much as satyapir). The worship of kanoba is supposed to be strictly unbiased between Muslims and Hindus being based on the principle that Rahim and Ram are the same (this was before BJP). In practice the Muslims did have a tacit superior status according to Govind Narayan.

The Kanifnath shrine at Madhi is also known to Hindus as Shri Kanoba’s shrine

The members of this kanoba cult are said to be followers of a Syed Sadaat, a devotee of Vishnu from paithan, who converted to Islam, some say in the ninth century. This would make the kanoba cult earlier than the moghul or muslim influence in India and could be attributed to non-empire contacts such as baul or their muslim (probably Bengali) sufi mendicants that must have been accompanying the ordinary people, say merchants and sea-farers.

When sites of burial, revered as sacred sites by communities with syncretic/symbiotic sharing of religion, becomes subjects of competition between the communities later with the influence of powerful patronage (usually due to political or commercial aspects of an empire). For instance, There is sacred site shared between Hindus (Kanifnath’s Samadhi, where his body is shed) and Muslims’ (Shah Ramzan Mahi Savar’ dargah where the body is entombed ) in a village called Madhi, in Maharashtra. Around the end of the nineteenth century, the site resembled more a dargah, according to a Bombay Gazeteer report.

Robert Hayden records an instance in (in his book Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites) late twentieth century when the site was raided by members of a political party which named itself after Shivaji and who resisted Muslim influences. All evidence of a Muslim dargah was supposed to have been removed from the site by these raiders of the political kind.

When the bauls and sufis speak of religion and live by the charity of the public as mendicants, they must not offend, like politicians seeking vote. So they transcend religion and their kathas (discourses) may be heard by the ordinary people without fearing the wrath of the god of their structured religion. It is then but natural that the more popular the mendicant the more secular spiritual recognition they get till they become saints in popular parlance. I am sure that our and popular bollywood stars or lyricists or script-writers would have become secular saints by now.

So, when does a Samadhi become a dargah? When the Samadhi fails?

I suppose one may be in Samadhi for a few days instead of forever.

It is probably important to see a real-time Samadhi to believe it. In Romalia Butalia’s book ‘In the presence of Masters’ there is a description of a lady disciple (Yogmatta Shraddha) of a sadhu (Pilot Baba) going into samadhi by descending into a hole using a ladder, being covered by a tarpaulin sheet, then by tin sheets and finally by soil and mud.

She was there for three days and nights during which time “Devotees and disciples came in thousands to pay their homage outside the barricades of the site. Within it, at all times, there were one, two or more of Baba’s close associates who kept vigil. Throughout the day, several people sat just outside, keeping a watch. During the nights, several sadhus kept protective vigil at the Samadhi sthal. “ …”The tarpaulin and tin sheets were removed from overhead so Baba could descend into the pit. A ladder was placed. He descended and stood beside Yogmata Shraddha, who sat in samdhi. He placed his hand over her head. Instantly, she rubbed her eyes exactly as Baba instructs at the end of a meditation. Her hands automatically went to Baba’s feet as she bowed before him. … … The crowds were almost uncontrollable.

The notion of going into a Samadhi is always intriguing. Long space travel would benefit from such a state. You also wonder what physical process is there that can slow down your biological processes that time stands still for your body and your soul persists to be alive and perceiving and intelligent unless your soul is that part of your being which is a part of swarm intelligence of the entire society.

In The New Accelerator, H. G. Wells , Professor Gibberne who works on the action of drugs on nervous system, discovers a drug that accelerates awareness processes. The effect after taking the drug is described thus '"Roughly speaking," said Gibberne, "an object in these latitudes falls 16 feet in the first second. This glass is falling 16 feet in a second now. Only, you see, it hasn't been falling yet for the hundredth part of a second. That gives you some idea of the pace of my Accelerator." And he waved his hand round and round, over and under the slowly sinking glass. Finally, he took it by the bottom, pulled it down, and placed it very carefully on the table. "Eh?" he said to me, and laughed. … … An immovable cyclist, head down and with a frozen puff of dust behind his driving-wheel, scorched to overtake a galloping char-a-banc that did not stir. I gaped in amazement at this incredible spectacle.'

Instead of an accelerator a man in Samadhi would require taking a decelerator drug when every process would relatively accelerate around him (limited only by the speed of light? Imagine that?!!!) when 60,000 years would be very manageable in the real time of the decelerated state. I suppose if acceleration gives a relativistic increase in mass, heavy deceleration would give a loss of mass and one eventually becomes a spirit?!!!

Being in Samadhi for three days and starting a religious movement for “uncontrollable crowds” is a possibility. We don’t know to what extent Christ’s resurrection after three days of burial was not similar to that of Yogmatta Shraddha. Nor will we know whether the more recent miracle of Shriddhi Sai Baba’s open-air quasi Samadhi was not an yogic spectacle; nor will we know (we do not require knowing in any case) whether the temple priest (mhalsapathi) of the khandoba mandir at shridhi who stayed by Saibaba’s side throughout this three-day Samadhi-like fast is not similar to the role of Pilot Baba. Muslim Saibaba’s final resting place is now treated as a Hindu Samadhi . and not a dargah, reversing the case of Syed Sadaat in the kanoba controversy referred to above.

It could be asked whether there could be a relationship between kanoba and khandoba other than the mere phonetic. The relationship between the Sanskrit word kona (Celtic word cairns) and kanoba is phonetically nearly the same as that between Skanda and khandoba. In this case the all important feature is the corner boundary stone pile, Cairns with which we may be marking a kanoba or khandoba. The rest is merely the structuring of religion.

As we left the warkari country for Pune through the Bopdeo ghat and Kondhwa, we encountered some young revelers who had the carefree attitude of youth who were going out to get into some mischief for the evening. The warkari effect had gone and the young men (Fig 16 left) typical motor-bike riding hep youths who could have become any of the modern skinhead or other gangs if a TV-initiated swarm effect roamed around. They stopped to make fun of me while I photographed a tree (a villager had told me once that tree he had planted in his late father’s plot it grew fast and tall with its three branches shaped like a trisul) which I thought had to be photographed in black and white. The young men had the anticipation of the beer-filled revellers in a train to London, who dared me to sing the song of their football team with them; they were angry that I did not know which team the song was for. It was a little frightening, this football-song-singers who were quite unlike the warkari singers.

Lalitha later informed me that the day (Aug 10 2010) was Gatari Amavasya, a Marathi regional festival that is celebrated on the No-moon-day of the month (Ashad Amavasya) which signals the beginning of the month of Shravan when there are religious restriction on food or drink. Gatari Amavasya is thus the last day of indulgence; one is expected to drink till one drops into a gutter. Some news paper gave numbers of about three million litres of hard liquor being drunk and 2 million chickens and 50, 000 goats being slaughtered on that day. The warkari influence must have been definitely over by that time and a fresh cycle was to start.

There were dreams to be fulfilled including, say, an airport on one’s roof where a plane could land IFig 16, right) or take off (in a modern version of samdhi?).

How long more, do you think, it will take for the gnostic embrace of the warkari to continue to survive in nature's monsoons around Pune?

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