One wonders if the sacrifice of our sadhus is what it might take to shake Hindu society from its slumber.
It was the month of April and one could feel the heat gradually rise over the northern plains. The ominous advent of COVID-19 had pushed the whole world into the “new normal”. For Sadhna, the lockdown did not seem to have brought many drastic changes except that her husband, Ajay, worked from home and there was no travel on the cards. She carried on with the daily routine, as usual. She liked to do everything herself and had protested vehemently when Ajay employed a part-time help for cleaning, in the past. Sadhna felt the home was being invaded but this was never understood by Ajay and his family.
The in-laws were in another city and were expected to stay there until the pandemic settled. After many years of marriage, she and her husband had some time on their own. During the lockdown, Sadhna missed seeing her Krishan ji at the local mandir, near their home. It felt strange not to have had darshan for so many days. The beautifully adorned marble moorti of Venugopal and his loving glance at her was etched in Sadhna’s heart. After her morning puja, Sadhna would sit silently, and visualise every detail of His glorious image before her as the pleasing fragrance of the sandalwood agarbatti would envelop her tenderly. This mental darshan brought some solace and helped her start the day well.
With ample time and nowhere to go, Sadhna decided to start listening to the Bhagawad Gita discourses which she had discontinued last year, due to many distractions like weddings, house guests, health issue of elders, etc.
After wrapping up lunch, and relishing the first mangoes of the season, the couple sat together for about an hour before Ajay got back to his office-work on the laptop. This was the usual routine in COVID times. Sadhna stared into his laptop screen as he showed her some conversations on Twitter. He often browsed through as an observer but was not active in engaging. Sadhna only used WhatsApp with her family and some close friends. She had nothing more to do with social media. Sprawled on the couch in their living room, they saw some hilarious memes together, read about COVID related updates, etc. All of a sudden, a horrifying and shocking video popped up. Startled, they both sat up.
Ajay held Sadhna’s hand as they witnessed the brutal mob lynching of sadhus. This was in Palghar, Maharashtra. After a long pause, Sadhna stood up and burst out crying. She screamed aloud, “Hey Bhagawan! This mob needs to be hanged. How dare anyone touch our sadhus!”. Her voice shook with anger and pain as she sobbed loudly, “They give up all and search Bhagawan!”. Ajay hugged her tight and then, quickly got her a cold glass of water as she continued to tremble with a flushed face. He had never seen her in such a rage in the past eight years, ever since they had known one another. She continued to weep and finished half a box of tissues. “This mob and the policemen need to be shot dead by us,” she repeated a few times, “Let us shoot them all.” Ajay tried to calm her down and said, “Get a hold over yourself, darling. I am angry too but calm down and then we will think what is to be done.” “What else? We have to shoot them,” Sadhna emphasized. Exhausted with the intense anger and crying, Sadhna finally drifted into an afternoon nap.
An hour later she woke up with a startle. This was the kind of waking up she had experienced for some weeks, as a 7-year-old, when she witnessed the first death in her family. A relative had been shot dead in Kashmir. The whole family flew to Jammu for the cremation.
The little Sadhna asked her mother, “Was the terrorist caught by the police?” to which the answer was a no. Again Sadhna questioned anxiously, “Why don’t we go to Srinagar and shoot that terrorist if the police cannot? Maamu can find him. He is strong…mummy”. Her mother responded, “Bache, it is not safe to go there. The police will catch them soon. Do not worry. Go and play with Suhani, Deepak and Karan. You will miss a nice game. We have to discuss some things now…go”. Sadhna went to join her cousins who were immersed in a Ludo game but the pale face of the dead body with cotton wool stuffed in the nose haunted her.
Sadhna was a sensitive child. While she sat with the cousins, her attention remained on the conversations between the adults who sat around Subhash uncle’s body. The whole family was outraged – the elder ladies were beating their chests and sobbing loudly and men of the family were engaged in serious discussions. Sadhna understood that Subhash uncle was shot because he was Hindu. She even developed a disturbed sleep pattern for a while. Even after a few years of this incident, Sadhna often dreamt of being in the army and killing terrorists in Kashmir. Those who murdered Subhash uncle were not caught and his whole family moved to Jammu.
Thirty years had passed and the police had still did not found the terrorists who shot Subhash uncle, and now the police themselves got the sadhus killed. Sadhna felt helpless and hopeless. A heavy silence hung over the home.
This was indeed the sad plight of Hindus, she thought. The deep anguish did not allow Ajay to focus on work so he had made a cup of tea and kept going through details of this incident. He tried to give her some more information about the episode but Sadhna sat disinterested, staring out of the balcony with puffy vacant eyes. She sighed, “Krishan ji, kya karein hum?”. The wild fit of anger was over. The sadhus were dead and their young driver was dead, nothing else mattered to her.
The cruel mob lynching had happened a few days earlier, on the 16th of April, 2020. The two sadhus – Kalpavriksh Giri Maharaj (70yrs), and Sushil Giri Maharaj (35yrs) were from Juna Akhara. They were on their way from Mumbai to Surat to attend the cremation of their guru, Shri Mahant Ramgiri ji Maharaj. The sadhus were driven and escorted by 30-year-old Nilesh Telgade, who was a follower of Ramgiri ji Maharaj since childhood. The three of them were ruthlessly killed by a barbaric blood-thirsty mob at Palghar. Nilesh was the only bread earner of the family. He left behind a young widow and two small children of age 5 and 7 years.
The tragic event preoccupied Sadhna. It made her restless and she went on having spells of crying mixed with anger. The face of the innocent sadhu in the video and police literally pushing him into the mob to get butchered kept flashing before her eyes. When she sat to visualize her Venugopal, all that came before her eyes was this very gruesome picture.
She had to do something about this. But what could she do? She was just an ordinary housewife.
However, something had changed. Sadhna had already stepped out of her familiar world.
Ajay was concerned. In these few days, Sadhna had not even groomed herself properly. Her hair was dishevelled and she did not even wear her usual attire. Sadhna was in fact the only one in his family, in this generation, who was very particular about draping herself in a sari every day, rain or snow. He offered to help her in the cleaning but Sadhna expressed her wish to do it by herself. She cooked simple food. Ajay missed her aloo parathas but managed with the egg and toast breakfast without commenting. She was going through something.
As she mopped the floors, Sadhna imagined that she is washing away her grief from within. The tiles were sparkling. She offered to wash the dark coloured clothes that bled. This was normally Ajay’s department. He heard her beat the clothes hard as if venting her anger. In the afternoons she sat sloppily on the couch and spent a lot of time writing in her old tattered diary. She missed her evening strolls and instead, watched the sunset from the balcony. Ajay had never seen his chirpy Sadhna so silent and contemplative but he gave her time and space. The incident had jolted her.
A few days after learning about the Palghar tragedy, Sadhna broke her grim silence and said, “Today I could visualize Krishan ji. The emotions have settled but what we saw in Palghar still flashes before my eyes. This sacrifice of the sadhus and the young man must not go in vain. This pain and anger must translate into action. Sadhus represent complete surrender to Bhagawan. Would he take them away so ruthlessly, just like that? It is surely a tight slap on us sleeping Hindus of Bharat. We must do something…”.
As Ajay listened to her intently, his small piercing eyes brimmed up. He experienced mixed feelings. His Sadhna was back and he could not take his eyes off her. She looked fresh and beautiful in her neatly braided hair, as she sat draped in a vibrant yellow bandhej sari. As he stared at his beloved and held her hand, she continued on a very serious note, “Do you think I can do something? I do not even know what. I do not even know if I am capable of anything. And, I am just a small spec amongst a zillion others.”
Ajay smiled. Moved by her determination he responded lovingly, “You have decided to act. Seek and be patient. The direction will emerge.” Ajay’s statement made her feel better and hopeful.
Sadhna thought to herself that when the relative was shot in Srinagar she was just a little child, what could she have done? Now, she was just an ordinary woman, what could she do? There would always be an excuse to not follow what the heart says just because it may appear inconvenient.
Such thoughts kept racing in her mind. She wished the childhood incident had moved her enough to join the army. Those years were over now and she was nearing her 40s. She felt frustrated at the waste of her entire youth. What could she do now? Could she volunteer in some Hindu organization? How would that help in getting justice for those who were lynched?
Ajay was in a job that needed him to travel often. It was only the pandemic that gave them this break. She often joined him or, if her in-laws were in town, took care of them. There was no way that she could enrol anywhere as a dedicated volunteer. She also feared risking the safety of her family. They lived in a Muslim dominant region and their plans to move to another locality were just in the pipeline when this deadly pandemic sprouted. Ajay was hoping that property prices would rise after this was over and they could look forward to a new chapter in their lives where they do not need to hear blaring loudspeakers five times a day or imagine that something terrible may occur if the majority were to get unhappy for some reason – local, national or international.
Although Sadhna felt stronger she still did not have any answers to what she could actually do. Life had taught her that sometimes when you let things be for a while and continue with your duties, what you are searching for, suddenly appears right before you in the most unexpected ways. With this thought, she made a conscious effort to be more mindful and focused on her daily activities. She trusted Krishan ji would guide her.
On one Sunday morning, Ajay showed her a video of Kalpavriksh Giri Maharaj sing. She watched, teary-eyed as her heart sank. His playful bright face upset her even more and full of frustration she said, “Why did his life have to end like this?”
The same evening, Sadhna was listening to the discourse from the second chapter of the Bhagawad Gita. He explained that if someone has done their duty and lead a dharmic life, we must not grieve their death since they shall start from where they left, in their life to come. She had to learn from this, even though it was difficult. Imagining that the three of them must be having a better journey ahead, slowly ended her grief-stricken mood.
It had been a long time since Sadhna spoke with her close friend Madhavi, so she decided to call her since she felt more settled now. Sadhna imagined that Madhavi would also have been impacted by the Palghar incident. They had both attended a yoga camp together, back in college, and had helped each other memorize the Durga Dvatrinshannaamamala. They often went to the Anand Bhavan library to read books written by spiritual masters. The subject of sannyas had intrigued both of them in those years.
Today, the two women spoke about COVID-19, Madhavi’s children, Ajay’s work and other household matters. A few minutes down their chat, Sadhna mentioned the Palghar episode, briefly expressing her sorrow. Madhavi was surprised that the killing of some sadhus and their driver in a godforsaken town of Maharashtra was even something worthwhile a conversation. She responded with irritation, “Oh! Yes, it was sad. Vishwas has been yelling about it on TV. Honestly, Sadhna, they have no better news to talk about…everything is about Saffron these days. And, why are you so heavily concerned about this in particular? We anyway live in ‘lynchistan’. You remember that beef lynching issue that happened in a train a few years back? I think you must stay away from this religious stuff. We had started our spiritual journey together, after all.”
There was an uncomfortable pause after which Sadhna said, “Someone is at the door. Will talk later…”, and she hung up. She was appalled at Madhavi’s attitude and realized that they had completely grown apart. Perhaps, their roads shall never meet again. Madhavi was far better read and abreast with current affairs, unlike Sadhna. Hence, Sadhna was really surprised that her friend still did not know that the High Court had already declared that there was no communal or beef-related angle to this unfortunate killing on the train. She recalled Ajay telling her about this case and all the fake propaganda that was done.
“Why would someone as intelligent as Madhavi fall for fake news and what was her problem with saffron…or…Hindus?”, she thought rather naively, unaware of the breaking India forces. The conversation with Madhavi made Sadhna even more adamant that she, as a Hindu, had to act. She felt as if a gigantic sleeping warrior is waking up within her.
Sadhna told Ajay about her upsetting conversation with Madhavi. Ajay was a sharp observer. The couple had met Madhavi and her husband over a few dinners, in the initial years of their marriage. He was not surprised.
“I think I must keep abreast with the news from now on and read about these things,” murmured Sadhna, “I would have not known about the fake propaganda, had you not told me.” She did as she said.
In the meanwhile, Ajay’s phone rang. Baba and Ma ji, Sadhna’s in-laws, decided to return back home. They were not at ease being in another city for so long. In addition to being hot, which they were used to, it was also humid there. Ajay’s brother had made safe arrangements and had taken the special permits for them to travel back to us by road. Sadhna spruced up, got their room ready and stocked the house with all that they needed. They were to reach within two days. Sadhna and Ajay were happy to welcome them after almost two long months.
With the return of Baba and Ma ji, the woman was back into the deep of household activities, once again. Unlike the young couple, they liked three full and freshly cooked meals. Ma ji was fairly active in the kitchen with Sadhna every morning, while Baba sat the whole forenoon playing Patience (a card game) by himself.
The mandirs were not yet open to the public, so Baba and Sadhna went down for a stroll every evening. He refused to use his walking stick but his steps were not so sure any longer. Someone had to walk with him. For Sadhna it was enjoyable storytime as Baba related incidents from his childhood and college days to her. It was an entirely different era he spoke about. Baba was 78 years old. Ma ji preferred just to do her stretches in the early morning and seldom joined them for the evening strolls but she did start listening to the Bhagawad Gita discourses with Sadhna. Swamiji’s joyful disposition and easy explanations left them rejuvenated. Baba was often quite grumpy due to his health issues. The satsangs helped Ma ji cope better with his mood swings.
During the course of the day, Sadhna would manage to sit for a short but focused span of time to catch up with the news or read some articles. Ajay introduced her to some Indic websites. However, she often felt overwhelmed with information, most of which challenged all that she had learned through her education. Sadhna’s perception regarding many things was changing.
Daily, at sandhya, all four of them assembled together as Ma ji lit the diya before Radha-Krishna. They stood silently staring at Radha ma and Krishan ji who glowed in the soft light of the flame. Baba ji would often grunt with irritation if the aazaan would blare at the same time, which was often the case.
One fine morning, the doorbell rang. Ma ji opened the door and asked someone to wait. “Sadhna beti, get a kilo each of rice and dal and that extra bottle of vegetable oil I had kept in the upper shelf. Bring all the fruit we have and put all this in a bag. I am getting some cash. It is a tough time with the pandemic.” Sadhna did as instructed and handed over the bag to Ma ji. She followed her along to see who it was.
A saffron-clad elderly sannyasi stood at the door. As soon as Sadhna saw him, she was dumbstruck. It was as if her heart skipped a beat. There was a rapid flow of tears from her eyes. Ma ji seemed to know him from before, as she gathered from their conversation. She kept staring at his face which, to her, looked just like Kalpavriksh Giri Maharaj. She quickly wiped the tears with her pallu and softly said, “Pranam, baba ji.” The sannyasi accepted the offering, blessed both the ladies and left.
“Beti, what happened?” asked Ma ji, rather worried. Sadhna hugged her and broke down completely. Almost two months had passed since the sadhus were killed in Palghar. What had she done? Nothing!
All the memories came rushing back with full force. Sadhna told Ma ji about the whole episode and her turmoil. They had never spoken so intimately about any topic before, other than family-related issues. Ma ji held Sadhna’s hand tightly between her wrinkled one’s, “Beti, never think that you are too little to do anything. And, what do you mean you are not doing anything? You are doing so much. You do not even rest. But if this incident has made such a deep impact, Bhagawan may have some plans for you that we do not know yet. Some old samskars may have been triggered,” she said in a comforting tone.
Ma ji asked Sadhna to join her in her Hanuman Chalisa routine, “Take a sankalp for a month. Ask Krishan ji to guide you and also, take the blessings of the sadhu baba. Beti, do the Hanuman Chalisa daily with me. It will help build your strength and will power,” said Ma ji. Sadhna remembered how her mother made her do the same during exams to overcome anxiety. She followed Ma ji’s advice. It also occurred to her that Kalpavriksh Giri Maharaj was the mahant of a Hanuman mandir.
A couple of weeks passed. Sadhna’s mother was also very pleased about the Hanuman Chalisa recitation that Sadhna had started with Ma ji, and said, “Bache, you are lucky to be married in such a good family. I know the Palghar incident has been tough but whatever you take up, just remember that you must not neglect your duty towards Ajay and his parents. Bhagawan Krishna has given you the opportunity to serve elders. Do that gracefully. All else must be secondary.” “Yes mummy, I know…,” Sadhna responded.
However, a nagging feeling would arise within her now and then, urging her to act. Absurd thoughts gripped Sadhna. They did not even have children. Now, who would they pass on dharmic values to? But if they did, would she have been so impacted by this news of the sadhus or would she have been immersed in their schooling? And, is there any guarantee that those children would grow up to be strong Hindus? How would they have taken Ma ji and Baba for their teerath yatras then?
Sadhna still felt that she cannot allow practical difficulties to take her away from doing what was the right thing for her, as a Hindu. It is Hindu dharma, its values and practices that have given her a life full of love and abundance. She could recall on her fingertips how actual daily practices and teachings have helped right from a young age. One example being that of the yoga camp that helped her cope with stress during her college days. This list was exhaustive and she always found herself falling back on Hindu rituals and sadhnas in the search for peace and light. Could she imagine life without Krishan ji? Never!
Things had come down to such a pathetic state in Bharat. Sadhus, who are the embodiment of ahimsa and renunciation, were killed so brutally by an adharmic mob along with the police who are meant for protection. “What kind of mentality did these killers have? What value system are they following? They seem to have been severed totally from their dharmic roots. And, why are all the leaders silent? What can we Hindus do to keep the flame of dharma alive? What can I do?” she thought.
Sadhna felt strongly that Hindus have to fight back, and need to shield themselves and their culture in this hostile and callous environment. She silently wept while pondering on this predicament of the Hindus. She prayed, “Hey Bhagwan! Please show us Hindus the way to fight back and regain our lost glory. Please…Krishan ji, you alone can guide us.”
Sadhna was prompted into action. She went to Ajay’s section of the bookshelf and pulled out his old book on the speeches of Swami Vivekananda, which he seemed to consult for direction. Sadhna landed on a section where Swami Vivekananda was talking about how he felt about the challenges Hindu society was facing.
According to him, it was so, not because we were following our Hindu religion, but because it was not being applied to society as it should be. He said, “The degeneration of India came not because the laws and customs of the ancients were bad, but because they were not allowed to be carried to their legitimate conclusions.” In his speech, he urged us to study the past and said, “…whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation.” He emphasized the importance of educating ourselves and leading a life based on dharmic values.
What is the correct application of Hindu dharma in our lives? How will our past help us? And, how can all this help us Hindus fight this cruel aggression?
Sadhna stayed with the above thoughts and carried on with the day’s activities in the hope that she may get some answers. While at times it was difficult, Sadhna managed to keep up with the sankalp of the Hanuman Chalisa. She did not miss a single day. Ma ji congratulated her when a month was completed. Sadhna felt happy and confident. She decided to continue and took a sankalp to continue for three more months.
One afternoon, as Sadhna visited an Indic website suggested by Ajay, she read about how during ancient times, Hindus had to face unimaginably gruesome attacks and saw the constant destruction of their way of life, and mandirs during the Islamic invasions. She was angered again but kept calm and continued to learn more.
“We Hindus are still surviving after all that we had to deal with through the ruthless Islamic onslaught followed by the horrendous British rule!” she marvelled.
During their evening stroll, Sadhna discussed the above with Ajay. Ajay too wasn’t entirely sure of how the ancestors managed to live through these attacks. He knew that Hindus were a global exception in this matter. “Hmm…we are the only surviving ancient civilization. It is amazing,” he said.
Together, they read more and landed upon a collection of real historical accounts from across Bharat, on how we protected our deities from the Muslim iconoclasts. There were fascinating stories on how the mandir pujaris took their Bhagawan’s moorti’s to other Hindu princely states for protection. At times they had to even bury them to save them from destruction. The mandirs that were destroyed, were quickly re-constructed at the next opportunity Hindus saw. They recommenced their rituals and practices with even more devotion towards their Devi and Devatas. The Keshava Mandir at Mathura and the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, are such examples. Often there were unknown Hindus who quietly offered all their resources for the endeavour to rebuild. This was the kind of bhakti and connection people had towards their Bhagawan.
Ajay said, “I feel there may be an answer in these stories that would end our dilemma.”
“Ajay, but what can we build or restart and how would this help fighting back against the Palghar incident?” asked Sadhna, rather puzzled.
“Well, from the experience of seeing such things happen for years, I know for sure that the aim of the ones who are orchestrating these cruel onslaughts on us Hindus and our institutions is to break down the Hindu individual. This includes you and me. And, in that process, they wish to destroy Sanatana dharma from the inside out. If someone wants to destroy us by breaking our mandirs or killing us, then shouldn’t we take a leaf from our ancestors and build ourselves right back with even more vigour?” responded Ajay.
Ajay’s words were powerful and hair raising. Sadhna sat awe-struck for a few moments. “Please explain this a bit more,” she requested.
Ajay responded confidently, “A murder cannot be answered with murder in today’s world. About the sadhus and Nilesh ji, we Hindus can raise a voice and build pressure through social media and other ways so that the criminals are punished. However, we must remember that the larger goal of these perpetrators is the destruction of Hindu dharma and Palghar represents one such incident. This destruction of Hindu dharma, we must not allow. Each one of us has to resolve to practice our dharma with a far bigger determination than earlier. Even if it seems small, we have to start where we are and offer our time, efforts and resources towards strengthening our personal Hindu practices, value system and offer what we can to Hindu organizations and our mandirs. I take the sankalp to do this, here and now… Are you ready, my love?”.
A blissful silence surrounded them. Ajay’s eyes glittered with tears as he looked at Sadhna’s face beaming with a broad smile. She responded, “Krishan ji has heard my prayers. Yes, I am with you. I am ready to take this sankalp … here and now!”
Sadhna jumped up and hugged Ajay. She was crying and laughing at the same time. He laughed and said, “Let us all celebrate with some hot pakodas for tea time.” “Good idea. Baba and Ma ji will be so happy…” said Sadhna.
Ajay wondered where all this inspiration and wisdom had sprung up from. The words seemed to flow effortlessly through him in those moments when he spoke. He was rejuvenated.
Sadhna’s strength had multiplied a hundred times with his one statement and their resolve. As she mixed the besan batter for the pakodas, she told Ajay, “Swami Vivekananda said a similar thing. I read it in your book, the other day. That time, I did not understand what he meant. Your explanation has made it crystal clear. Oh Krishan ji! I am eagerly waiting for the mandirs to open.” “Yes. And, my dear, I will be joining you for the evening aartis on Thursdays, I promise,” said Ajay. Sadhna was in sheer delight. She always wanted this. Her Venugopal seemed to have called Ajay, finally.
Ajay had not opened this book of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings for a few months but he realized that over the years it had planted some potent seeds within in him. He felt grateful that they sprouted at the right time.
For Ajay and Sadhna, this moment opened a new, evolutionary chapter in their journey together.
The sacrifice of the sadhus – Kalpavriksh Giri ji Maharaj and Sushil Giri ji Maharaj, and the young man, Nilesh Telgade ji at Palghar, did not go in vain for this couple. It transformed their lives granting them a powerful purpose.