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Bhagavaan Gopinath ji

 
 

Articles from Pre-1998 Issues 

Indigo Indian of Mystic East

by H. N. Kaul

I am no great believer in men who claim direct liaison with the GOD (emphasis nine). To me all Godmen are fraudmen, whom I dare not touch with a ten-feet-long barge pole.

Naturally, I hit the ceiling when my god- fearing and god-abiding wife asked me, one fine morning, to accompany her to a Godman, wrapping me up with a lot of crape about the supposed miraculous powers of the holy man and the likely material benefits I could get. I may have had a bite at the bait but before she could hook me up for the visit she slipped and that settled it for me. Being mortally afraid of droppers and junkies I put my foot down-and I knew I hurt her-when she told me the Godman was a hash-addict. It was in the winter of 1967- 68, hardly three months after my marriage.

In the summer of 1968, while cooling my heels in Kashmir on a sandwiched holiday, my wife continued her efforts to bring me round to a visit to the holyman and this time I had to thwart a two-pronged attack as my sister-in- law Jai, a committed devotee, had joined forces with my wife. But I was so scared by the mere thought of confronting a junkie that I refused to budge even an inch despite the provocations, temptations and nagging they tried to corner me with. And when it was time for us to say thank you to the vale and dale and tie our shoelaces for the return journey to our joint in Delhi, it happened. My wife trooped in, with puffed cheeks and blood-shot eyes, a picture of misery and grief and broke down: "He's left us."

And to my sympathetic enquiries she cleared the riddle amid sobs. The Godman was dead.

"Good riddance", I thought, and felt a surge of relief through me. But to show my concern for her grief I presented her my sympathies rolled in butter. I even volunteered to pay my homage to the saint by joining his funeral procession. This was great comfort to her and I had nothing to be scared of. "Who is afraid of the dead - even dead junkies.

I kept my word and was at the spot on the dot. But I was stunned to see the size of the crowd - a funeral crowd any national leader would have envied. And what struck me most was the devotion of the people more than their grief. They said their grief with rose petals and tears.

For some time curiosity welled up in me to know why so many sane people were drawn to a dope but the bustle of hectic life in Delhi, put the lid down on my inquisitiveness and I parked the thought of Godman in the closed shelf of my brain and forgot about him the way I forget all the trifles that cross my way.

But it was not to be so. One day when I returned back from my work very late, tired to the bones and ready to hit the sack, I failed to recognize my bedroom. A Godrej-size cane-rack had pushed the yacht-size bed to the corner and string of coloured bulbs had given the room a festive look. My wife, in lotus posture, eyes closed and string of beads in her hand was seated like a statue in front of the rack. I nudged forward and looked into the rack. An old man in typical Kashmiri Brahminical attire was staring at me from within the rack. He was supporting a six tier Muslim turban and wearing a 'pheran'. He was deeply drawing at his 'chellum' with the tongue of a flame licking his broad and furrowed blow and his luminous eyes were penetrating through me like X-ray. For a few minutes I could not take my eyes off him. It was an impressive photograph in a chrome frame.

I jerked my wife out of her reveries. She promptly introduced me to the Godman, pointing an enthusiastic finger at the photograph and she kissed the locket, with another mini-portrait of the saint studded in it, with reverence. And so the Godman, despite my apparent disliking, started staying with me right in my bedroom and in the heart of my wife. And I had to stay with him to compromise peace at home. I had my misgivings as I thought the ghost of the saint in my bedroom will be standing like a ten-feet-tall concrete wall between me and my wife. But it was not so. I managed peaceful co-existence with the godman.

Satya Sai Baba, a south Indian Godman with a liberal crop of Negroid hair that shaded his head like an umbrella was the most sought- after Godman those days and I decided to cash on his popularity to make a fast buck and steady my fast declining bank blue. Somehow, I managed to gatecrash and got an audience with the saint and wrote a 50 page sketch of my impressions. The booklet was sold before it hit the stalls. Though it fattened my bank-roll a bit, it did not make me any wiser about Godmen and I continued to love Godmen like plague. Then two small happenings softened me a bit and I began to waver but, yet, I was not fully sold to the idea.

I prize two things in life: my son Ashish and my liquor. One day Ashish suddenly doubled up in pain and his yelps and shrieks were piercing through my heart like lances. It was midnight and I was trying to ring my doctor out of his slumber when my wife brought Ashish to me, parked him in my lap, opened a rusty tin box, scooped up a pinch of ash and put it in the crying child's mouth. Suddenly like a taut wire let loose at both ends, the child's stiffness vanished and he calmed down. Within five minutes he was his giggling self again with no pain or sickness. I smiled through misty eyes in utter disbelief: How could a pinch of ash calm a child, who seemed dangerously ill? This was the poser that was raising its hood like a cobra in my mind and biting into my convictions. I had a mind to get the ash chemically examined but gave up the idea lest it may lose its healing touch for Ashish. Since then a pinch of holy ash is the first medicine we try on Ashish whenever he gets ill. Dr. Arya's regular visits for check-up are of course there but we have not taken the child specialist into our confidence about our potent drug. I might have been shaken in my convictions a bit but I was still unconvinced.

Doctors had advised me to cut down my liquor as my liver had lost its potency to keep track with my intake. Like all good things in life, I stubbornly disagreed with the advice and fell like a pole axe. I was not bothered much about the liver but the pain was unbearable and I had started living on pethidine shots and mandril tablets. But it was a temporary relief and I was not getting well. My guts were in mess. Touched by my plight, my wife tried her wiliest best to persuade me to swallow a pinch of the holy ash-she has a swell stock of the ash- but firstly because of the pride of my convictions and secondly because I never wanted her to score over me, I brushed her aside. I was writhing with pain but would not give up.

I was itching for a smoke and pleaded with my wife for a fag, despite doctor's strict warning. It was one in a hundred chance, if I know my wife as I should, expecting the usual harangue of: "liquor and cigarettes are poison to you", I was pleasantly surprised when she readily gave me a butt of a Charminar, she dug out from the folds of her purse. Though my brand is different and I don't relish butts but being off the fag for over a week I readily accepted her generosity and hungrily puffed the-life out of the butt. I felt a surge of relief passing through my body. It was all balm, blue and Sunny. I felt like a king lighter, happier and better. A fag after three days is just like posting maiden kiss on the lips of love and with these pleasant thoughts I slipped into deep slumber after five days of agony and tossing about in the bed. And when I came out of it my wife attributed my miraculous escape from the clutches of death not to the liver-extract and terramycine and the hundreds of tablets and capsules I had consumed but to the healing touch of "Bhagwaanji"-her Godman.

"How does your Bhagwaanji come in?" I asked partly in anger and partly in surprise.

"The half-smoked Charminar was Bhagwaanji's" she told me and showed me scores of half smoked cigarettes in her purse.

I decided to find out more about her "Bhagwaanji", whom she had now made the honorary physician in absentia of us both, me and my son Ashish. And my quest began in right earnest.

Indians seeped in deep superstition have elevated thousands of mortals to the status of Godhood all through the ages and this tradition of creating halo of Godhood around men and women has continued to this day. And it is the unflinching faith of the devotees more than the miracles of these Godmen that have made them great. Grapevine in India is the most effective medium of circulation. While the few among thousands of such Godmen have circulated all over the country, many more despite better achievements have remained obscure. At least fame is not all that Godly. And Gopinathji Bhan, whom his devotees identify with the God, or atleast with the God's closest circle has not reached all over the country like Satya Sai baba or all over the globe like jet-age Swami Maharishi Mahesh yogi, the once spiritual head of Mia Farrow and Beatles. Except within his own community in Kashmir and a few individuals outside the state, he has not been in the spotlight despite being spiritually more robust and miracle-wise more stunning.

Naryana Bhan was a man sold out to the idea of God and the devoted most of his time in pursuit of a chance meeting with the Almighty. But wordly-wise, he knew spiritualism was no substitute for a square meal and hence did business in pashmina wool. And like every good Kashmiri Brahmin, his spiritual pursuits did not prevent him from marrying and raising good many children. He martied Hara Mali, who her father believed was the incarnation of Goddess Ragyina-the deity who relishes milk. And Gopinathji Bhan was born off the conjugal explosion of tbe two spiritual sparks. He was the second of three brothers and two sisters. Naryana Bhan bequeathed property to his stepmother and spiritual legacy to his son. Some father!

Gopinathji cried his arrival on July 3, 1908 in his ancestrical house at Banamohalla, in the heart of Srinagar. But the family had to shuttle around thanks to the liberal attitude of Narayan Bhan.

Gopinathji was not averse to studies and passed middle. He lost his mother at the tender age of 12 and started earning his bread and butter at the age of 16 as a compositor. But born free, he shook off the shackles of subordination and opened a grocery shop. He carried on for ten years but then gave up.

He churned the gist out of scriptures and showed special preference for Gita and Vedas. Most of the time he remained within than without. No one, not even his biographer, Mr. S.N. Fotedar are sure about his Guru. Some say it was his father who initiated him into the realm of mystic while some others feel it was the holyman Balak Kaw but the majority opinion is that Zana Kak Tufchi, a local Godman should be credited with this honour.

Reason: Gopinathji attended the anniversary function of Tufchi religiously and even cleansed dirty pots at the function. Few of the staunchest followers believe that he was his own 'Guru' and got the word direct from the 'God'.

Guru or no Guru, Gopinathji knew the ropes and rose high in the coterie of local Godmen. He was so high in the estimation of his devotees that they started calling him "Bhagwaanji"-The God. Never before in the history of Kashmir has a mortal been elevated so high.

First it was deep study of scriptures, then brooding concentration to unfold the self, then visits to shrines, then burning ambers and pulls at the hashish-chellum. Step by step he climbed up and a few who saw in him the saviour, clung to his apron strings. He neither offered help nor shrugged them off but sustained their faith with a miracle now and then. The cult spread, his devotees had found a Messiah and they entombed him at Kharyar, a comparatively unknown temple in Srinagar. The faith spread, so did the devotees multiply and those who had not seen him in his mortal form did draw inspiration from his life-like statue. Faith, they say, is a horse, you can ride when in distress.

What miracles? Many devotees come forward with tales of the powers of this holyman. They are men and women whom it is very difficult to disbelieve. He showed many devotees, including Pt. Nila Kaul, Goddess Sharika in human form. Sixty people were served tummy- ful of lunch prepared for six souls. He predicted wars with the accuracy of the minute. He healed those given up by the best brains in medicine. He read thoughts, both wicked and noble, like an openbook. He was here, there and everywhere at the same time and many sane people vouche for it. His commitment was total. He gave everything without asking anything in return. He shunned publicity and abhorred fame. He carried his laurels with indifference. He was a Godman but never said so.

A piece of mind. Anniversaries, holy fires, books and pamphlets, 'Bhajans' and Kirtans are good. They keep the clan bonds strong. But look beyond the statue of the great man, untie the knots of talisman and don't freeze himin stone. It is polluting not honouring. Let the Indigo Indian spread the fragrance of mystic east for all to smell and refresh. Open the portals of Kharyar for the world to see that God is a man at his best.
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