Sadhus from all over the country come to Harisar Dera in Ludhiana district of Punjab to
Harisar Dera at Kila Raipur in Ludhiana district is a classic congregation of distinct regional identities of the country. The colony compound is a unique ensemble of an ever-floating population of sadhus, who come here and meditate till they want and leave for other destinations as a part of their unending search for the ultimate truth. During his recent visit to Harisar Dera, this writer met sadhus from Nepal, UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Orissa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. "We live in a mini India. This is Bharat as was dreamt by our ancestors", says Shravan Kumar from Gorakhpur.
Every morning a group leaves the compound for a ‘spiritual journey to a distant land.’ There is a rush of new visitors to occupy the vacated accommodation. At a time, the dera houses between 150 and 200 inhabitants. There are no official registers for the names and numbers of visitors. Some stay here for days, some for months, and a small fraction continues to stay on even for more than a year at a stretch.
Swami Mithilesh Giri came from Kashi more than four years ago. He found it difficult to communicate with a sizeable majority of the inhabitants because of language and regional barriers. Over the years, he has mastered the art of effective communication, and has been appointed the kotwal of the dera. Besides overall management, one of Giri’s main jobs is to check the authenticity of the entrants to the premises. The establishment has to keep guard against regular attempts by outsiders, who think they can manage to get in merely by claiming to be devout sadhus. Swami Mithilesh Giri says: "We have many methods to find out the genuineness of any new entrant. There is a code language in which we pose questions. An imposter can be easily tricked into a confession. The body language, too, easily gives away the pretenders".
Located in the heartland of Punjab, the complex has a universal acceptance in the entire neighbourhood, where it has been in existence for more than a century. Surajpuri, the officiating dera in charge, who is residing here since 1954, says: "The colony is accepted as a part of the normal local life. Good Samaritans never cease to drop in at our kutia. The offerings flow in from those seeking divine favours. The beauty of the fact is that people keep our stocks full, even though we do not offer them much in return".
Besides endless offerings from devout followers from all over, the local population chips in voluntarily with food items, clothes and other necessities. When The Tribune team visited the site, a lunch was in progress, which begins after recitation of hymns. The mess in charge says: "I have been working in the kitchen for the past 40 years. Our kitchen has never missed preparing a meal." The food is always cooked in desi ghee.
During the days of terrorism, some unruly elements also used to come here for meals. However, never did the dera management face any problems with them or with the government authorities. There are more than 200 sadhus and other visitors staying at the dera at any given point of time. Interestingly, the saffron-clad sadhus never go out of the premises with begging bowls. It is the responsibility of the management to take care of their meals.
These sadhus regularly read scriptures. Small groups can be seen engaged in animated discussions on life and religion. Surajpuri says: "The inhabitants are engaged in higher moral and intellectual activity. They come here not in search of food and shelter only. The sadhus are not expected to do menial jobs. We have enough sevadars." Sewapuri, a sadhu from Kaithal, says: "We are not believers in any particular God by name. We are believers in one supreme force.’’ During conversation with a cross- section of the inhabitants, I discovered that at the onset of their journey in search for the ‘ultimate truth,’ all of them had heard of the dera and its peaceful surroundings and blissful living. Kamal Giri from Mathura does not like to talk much. "How would it matter if I tell you where I came from? I came here only in search of the truth, and I know nothing else."
Mahant Premgiri from Theog in Himachal Pradesh says: "The colony has a neat routine. We have two satsangs in a day when all of us gather at the same place. For the rest of the time, we are free for reciting prayers in our individual ways". No one is bound within the boundaries of the complex, which has no gates on any side. Anyone can walk in any time.
The main retiring room of the sadhus has 12 doors. This room has more than 100 beds neatly laid out under the same roof. The belongings of the inhabitants, folded in cloth sheets, hang from the ceiling of the room. Some of these have been hanging from there for the past several decades.
A number of sadhus leave their belongings behind when they go. Some say they will come back, while others say they don’t need these. Interestingly, the luggage and other belongings of the sadhus left behind remain untouched.