Ramdevra Pilgrimage (1): media attention and spiritual preparation

I had been in Setrawa less than a week when Helen and I left for Jodhpur to prepare for the 5-day, 200km pilgrimage from there to Ramdevra we would be making with the volunteers and participants of the Sambhali project in Jodhpur. The annual pilgrimage commemorates Ramdevji, believed to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and who lived around 500 years ago (‘ji’ added to a name denotes respect, as in ‘papa-ji’). Ramdevji’s charitable acts towards the untouchables alienated him from his family and friends in Pokran, and so he rode to Ramdevra on a white horse to continue his good work there. Ramdevji’s story is particularly pertinent for the girls of the Sambhali Trust in Jodhpur, all of whom are untouchable.

On the morning of the day before we began, the five of us volunteers were interviewed by the press (including the ‘Jodhpur Plus’ pull-out of the Times of India!). Unfortunately, though perhaps inevitably, the reporters were more interested in us than our affiliation with the NGO, or the NGO itself; apparently we are the first foreigners to make the pilgrimage since the days of the Raj, something I find hard to believe – I’m sure some ashram types must have given it a go back in the 70s – but which was repeatedly attested to by pilgrims we met along the way.

Once the press were satisfied with their ‘Western pilgrims’ scoop, we all set off for Jodhpur temple. Pilgrims making their way to Ramdevra from all over northern India (we met a couple who had walked the 1500-odd kilometres from Bombay!) will all visit Jodhpur temple, where they are blessed. The pilgrimage is considered incomplete without this preparatory stop.

The streets were lined with colourful tents set up to provide pilgrims with free food, water, chai, and rugs on which to rest. Most of these rest-stops were also kitted-out with speakers which blared out not so restful Bollywood and traditional Marwari favourites. We were greeted “Jebabari!” by other pilgrims, those manning the tents (and thus receiving good karma), and incredulous bystanders; the greeting can be loosely translated, ‘May baba (i.e. Ramdevji) grant you a blessed way!’

Outside Jodhpur temple we removed our shoes and left them, for a small price, under the watch of a nearby shopkeeper. We then joined the queue of women and girls which led up the temple steps – a queue which was, in fact, not so much a queue as a volume of people, closely contained within metal poles held horizontally at waist-height by uniformed guards. It felt how I imagine it feels in a cattle pen, but with fervent, Hindi chanting. The closer we edged to the temple door, the more frantic the pushing and chanting. When the last pole was finally lifted and we ducked under and into the temple, we were carried, in the press of elbows, clockwise round the temple’s small interior, pausing briefly and with much difficulty at the central alter. Here the women thrust coconuts at men standing on a raised platform, who smashed the coconuts – blessing them – before handing them back. I was splashed with holy water and adorned with a garland made of orange carnations before we burst out into the sunlight once again, and the next pen-ful of men entered the temple…

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Times of India

 

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Dainik Bhaskar
 

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Rajasthan Patrika

~ by Griselda Murray Brown on December 24, 2008.

One Response to “Ramdevra Pilgrimage (1): media attention and spiritual preparation”

  1. Hi Gris,

    Emma Agnew here. Just wanted to say that I have loved reading your posts thus far. The bit about hospitality reminds me so much of my time in rural mexico and nicaragua. I could not walk down the one street of my village without being invited to visit each house to be given the fruit they had picked form the mountains that day. By the last house I was always so full! But, like you, I was unable to refuse! It’s incredible how when someone has nothing, they want to give you everything.

    Keep having a wonderful time. I looke forward to your next posts and to replying some more. I’m very jealous. I am currently sitting in front of my computer writing an essay about Auditory Neurpathy. Wish you were here? I think not.

    Love xxxx

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