Saturday, April 28, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Guru-chela parampara
By Khushwant Singh

THE institution of guru-chela is unique to the Indian subcontinent comprising India, Pakistan and Bangladesh: to the best of my knowledge it does not exist elsewhere in the world. We have had it in India since time immemorial; it become institutionalised with the Bhakti Movement and became the central doctrine of the Sikh faith. It also became an essential feature of Sufi Islam. Over a dozen orders of Sufi silsilahs (successive orders) flourished in India. The most prominent being Chishtiah, Naqshbandhi and Qadiri. Among the Chishtis we had Farid Shakarganj, Muinuddin Chishti and Nizamuddin Aulia. A remarkable feature of relationships between gurus and chelas, pirs and their chosen followers was that they were closer to each other than they were to their parents, wives and children. Chelas regarded their gurus as gods. The language they used for them was often the language used for lovers: khasam (husband), preetam (beloved), maalik (master) and terms of adoration loaded with sexual terminology. A good example is the relationship between Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Amir Khusrau. Khusrau was away from Delhi when Nizamuddin died. Pir sahib’s dying instructions to his followers were that Khusrau should not be allowed to come close to his grave lest he break the ordinances of Allah and rise from beneath the earth to embrace his friend. So a very tearful Khusrau was halted a few paces away from his pir sahib’s grave. He composed a memorable elegy:

What the world owes to Jainism
April 21, 2001
Exercising the mind with books
April 14, 2001
The great Maharaja of Punjab
April 7, 2001
Storm in a chat show
March 31, 2001
Paying the price for being upright?
March 24, 2001
World’s changing morals
March 17, 2001
A Chinese Nobel Laureate living in exile
March 10, 2001
Tagore’s offerings of love
March 3, 2001
Where has one come from?
February 24, 2001
Most educated Indians are bores
February 17, 2001
Sensing disasters before they strike
February 10, 2001
Mystery behind mystic numbers
February 3, 2001

Goree sovai sayj par

Mukh par daarey kes;

Chal Khusrau ghar aapnai

Saanjh paee chaun des

(My beloved sleeps on her bed

Her black hair scattered over her head;

Come Khusrau for you it’s also time to go

Shades of twilight over the land have spread)

Nearer our homes we have examples of Bengali mystics Swami Ramakrishna Parmahansa (1836-1886) and his chosen disciple and successor Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Ramakrishna remained totally absorbed in mystic practices in his math in Dakshineshwar. Vivekananda gave his teachings a practical shape. He travelled across India and the western world, delivering sermons everywhere. He was disgusted with the wretchedness of his countrymen: "Like so many worms on a rotten, stinking carcass...". And with Hindu practices: "Our religion is in the kitchen. Our God is in the cooking pot and our religion is ‘don’t touch me, I am holy’". Vivekananda set up a chain of Ramakrishna Mission ashrams to spread the message of Hinduism and social service.

Sudhir Kakar is an established psychoanalyst who has taught in many Indian and foreign universities and published several books, including Tales of Love, Sex & Danger, The Analyst and the Mystic, The Colours of Violence, a novel called The Ascetic of Desire, and a fictional biography of Vatsyayana, the author of Kama Sutra. He has turned his psychiatric insights and skills as storyteller to unravel relationships of gurus with their chosen chelas in his latest novel Ecstasy (Viking). He is of the view that there is a strong element of sexuality, albeit unexpressed physically, in the guru-chela relationship. His main character, Gopal, develops breasts at the age of 12 and when he attains puberty, begins to menstruate. He wears women’s clothes, is more relaxed in the company of females than among males and when he finds the guru he is looking for, falls headlong in love with him. His chosen mentor is a naked sadhu (Nangta) who accepts him as his chela with the following words: "I am your guru now," Nangta said, bringing his face close to Gopal’s and looking deep into his eyes, "Your Rama and Sita, your Krishna and Radha, your Shiva and Shakti. I am your mantra and I am your tantra. Wherever you will ever want to go, all paths will lead through me. Always remember that worship of the guru includes the worship of all deities".

Gopal is given a new name — Ram Das. In due course of time, he becomes a guru with a following of the own. His chief patron (and disciple) is a wealthy jeweller, Dhamani, who builds a temple for him, looks after his worldly needs and addresses him as Baba (father). The story is set in Jaipur and its environs around Independence, the merger of Jaipur with the rest of India. Among those who came to seek Ram Das’s darshan was Indira Gandhi. Kakar describes the fiasco:

It was Indira Gandhi who made him famous. This was in the spring of 1966. Indira Gandhi had come to Jaipur for a session of the All India Congress Committee six weeks after becoming the Prime Minister. Here, someone told her about Ram Das Baba and his visionary trances. Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru, her agnostic father who was more enamoured of Marxist than Hindu idols, Indira Gandhi was attracted by the spiritual side of life. Later, as her personality hardened, her nascent spirituality was debased by superstition and occultism; she consulted astrologers and soothsayers and is reputed to have carried out rites of propitiation and performed special prayers for political purposes. In early 1966 though, when she came to Jaipur, she was intrigued enough by the tales she had heard about the ecstatic mystic to ask the Chief Minister of Rajasthan to arrange a private visit to the Sitaram temple.

Baba was sitting with his disciples when Indira Gandhi, accompanied only by her social secretary, another woman, entered the garden early in the evening. The rest of her retinue, including her security detail, was left outside. Familiar only to readers of newspapers, her face was not as instantly recognisable then as it was to become in the next twelve years of her imperious rule. Her head covered by the pallu of her sari, she walked up to Baba with a firm stride and bowed as if to touch his feet. And then something very peculiar happened. Baba stumbled back as if stung by a wasp. Turning his back on her, he rushed into his room. Displaying an iron control over her emotions for which she was later justly famous, Indira Gandhi smiled wanly at the disciples, nodded to her secretary and walked out of Dhamani’s garden with measured, dignified strides."

Ecstasy is as eminently readable as other books written by Sudhir Kakar. Some buffoons who know no better have lampooned him (and me as his ardent admirer) as purveyors of pornography. This is arrant nonsense. Kakar is a serious writer who dwells on serious subjects. His latest book deserves the attention of all serious-minded people.

God, time and you

Notwithstanding the feelings of

KS routed through kind courtesy big KS!

I still have my reservations about God.

We all fight for women’s reservations,

Rail, bus and aircraft too,

Why should we shy about Him, who is true!

Who will control humanity during disaster,

Who will console humanity, at death,

Who will hold the hands of a widow,

Or wipe off the ears of a child’s eye.

Who will stand by the aged,

Who lose their progeny young,

And who will ....

Well leave it ...................

At this hour of empathy,

Politicians join only by way of lip-sympathy

They all exploit, to catch a vote,

Relatives for a while, the bereaved dote.

Then everything becomes isolated for the unfortunate,

Who are left alone to face the burden,

Of sorrow, of calamity, of distraught life,

The heavens have wrought upon them.

It is only then that Time and God unite,

For me and U,

To stand by our side

and bring back that distant Mile,

With an ‘S’ ahead

And make you Smile, all over and again.

( Courtesy: Col. S.K. Kohli, Noida)


Backward leap

As political clowns invade education,

By scholars and scientists forsaken

Manohar Joshi brings in astrology,

In this age of space technology,

A giant leap backward for the new generation!

(Contributed by M.G. Narasimha Murthy, Hyderabad)