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Friday, April 06, 2007

19. Man and Women: Of Sins and Salvation

Men have for centuries lived in peace, but religions have not. The war among religions as we have mentioned earlier stems from a singular obsession of adherents to various faith and belief systems propounding the ‘superiority’ of their respective God (or Goddesses). Yet in reality religions have more in similarity that dissimilarity when viewed within its permissible precincts. Arguably no religion encourages it members to lie, cheat or kill, yet millennium man in our part of South Asia, more than ever before continues to be ensnared in a legacy of hate that finds it origin in the two hundred years of British imperial subjugation of the Sub Continent. Long before the British arrived in our soil, we do not find many evidence of sectarian or communal strife, and even though the Muslim rule of India was brought about by the sword, the centuries since have seen Muslim and Hindu’s live in peace and harmony. All of this was possible mainly due to the intervention into the mainstream culture by the Sufis (who predate the Mughals); Muslim liberals, that quickly assimilated and adopted the ways of life of the common man that marked a difference in the overall make up of South Asian culture. At about the same time the reformist Hindu movements led by such luminaries as Shri Chaitanyadeva or Shri Sankaradeva evolved to initially challenge and later do away with the demagogy of the dominant supremacist ruling class, the Brahmins. Every aspect of ‘native’ life during the British Raj was sadly brought under scrutiny and censure by this new, seemingly rich orthodox ‘educated’ class that subjugated the aspirations of a majority. The Baul had little to say as they were then only a microscopic minority, but it was the very nature of their belief system that made a difference. It was the Baul’s who perhaps stoked the first flame of revolt against imperialism by faithfully capturing and recording the prevalent controversies – within or outside their borders in their many songs and statements. They waged a protracted intellectual war against the status quo and this grass root activism at a later stage found bearings in an urban audience, resulting in a shift of thinking, with newer secular views gaining ground and momentum. Even amongst the caste Hindu’s at the close of British Imperial rule, the changes were noticeable.

Political expediency to further narrow minded ends was nonetheless rampant in every aspect of life, and as a catalyst filtered down to the entirely secret and sacred man woman relationship of the Baul’s, who then as even now, hold the most radical of positions on the subject. The institution of marriage until very recently was relatively unknown to many and there were reasons. Among Baul’s the position of women has never ever been the cause for any debate, because there being no clergy in the order, women intrinsically received the highest adulation and honor, without questions being asked – without being thought of as the ‘inferior’ sex. Thus with the advent of the so-called ‘modern age’ the man women controversy spiraled out of control and took roots in what is viewed today as sex and sexuality – with a perverse and somewhat vulgar overtone. Complicating the entire equation and making way for moral policing by the ‘powerful’ was the prevalence among the Baul’s, women who acts as consorts to the male and are termed Sheba Dashi’s. It is not uncommon for some Baul’s to have more than one Sheba Dashi as companion, and whilst they possibly ‘live in Sin’ as the ‘modern’ age paradigm may suit itself, essentially they share a lot of love and loyalty to their mate and live happily and in peace. Because among the Baul’s, sex and sexuality is a topic that is rarely discussed (limited mainly to Sadhu Sangha – or Assembly of the Wise) if ever, led on to both Muslim and Hindu clerics, branding them as ‘social nuisance’, ‘loose characters’ and heretics.

It was perhaps in great pain that Fakir Lalon Shah discussed the issue in his composition Paap Punyo (Of Sin’s and Salvation):

Ei deshey jaa paap gonyo/ onyo deshey punyo tai
What may be Sin in one nation/ could be salvation in yet another

paap punyer kotha ami/ kare ba shudhai
Pray who shall I ask about Sins/ and Salvation.

The first couplet lays bare the thrust of the argument i.e. where exactly does the dated notion of Sin and Salvation evolve? There being no easy answer here for on a relative scale, it is true that what may be good for one may quite be the reverse for the other. For the Bauls, in a round about way, Good and Evil live side by side - in harmony - as much as the so-called Sin and Salvation.

Tibbot niyom onusharey/ek nari bohu poti dhorey

In the ways of Tibet/ a woman may have many husbands

ei deshey ta holey porey/ byabichari dondo hoi
yet if that happens in our nation/ the punishment for adultery applies.

It would seem surprising to readers that some two hundred years ago, Fakir Lalon Shah was knowledgeable about the practice of polyandry (women having more than one husband) prevalent in Tibet then, as it is till this day, and used the example to argue that similar arrangements by a woman in our part of the world would be dealt with the sentence for adultery? The Baul believes that the disposition of the body is inherently natural and thus a very private and personal matter, and while polyandry has never been known to exist in our culture, (polygamy on the contrary being rampant) neither is the notion of modern day feminism, which is a product of the male status quo, its chauvinist establishment and thus susceptible to outright exploitation.

Shukor, goru duti poshu/ khaite bkleycchey Jishu
Pork and Beef are two creatures/ that Jesus asked us to eat

Tobe kyano Muslim,Hindu/ Pichey tay hotai
why then do the Muslim and Hindu/ shun them aside.

The Baul believes that what we eat, or how we are dressed has nothing to do with our religion or belief system. Among the dominant Baul order in Bangladesh the consumption of any animal flesh is taboo, and this has more to do with the serious historical misunderstanding than religion, that we will soon discuss. Ideally most Bauls are vegetarians and the only meat they consume is fish – yet there are some sects that consume beef and chicken. In our part of the world, Hindu’s revere the Cow as holy and Muslim look upon Pig being unclean and thus not fit for consumption. In the above couplet is captured the first clear idea, the first hints as to how the Hindu-Muslim divide over pork and beef came about. It is interesting here to note that in the Middle East where both Prophet Jesus and Mohammed were born, the cultures do not make any political issue out of pork or beef consumption.

The reference to Jesus in the song is purposefully bought in to condemn the British who were Christians, and who historically did very little to stop the Hindu-Muslim divide caused by fratricide following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Lalon criticized the British for failing to demonstrate compassion; that was Jesus’ teaching. It was to be the beginning of an of an era of sectarian hate that precipitated dangerously with intense bloodletting and continued if sporadically, until the Independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. All men of intellect and wisdom resoundingly condemned the British tendency (together with the Brahmin ruling class) to dangerously flirt with religious belief of the natives, and there are reports of Lalon being taken up by protracted grief when accounts of the carnage in Delhi came to the fore. What caused the Mutiny that left the British momentarily without control of India and percolated to a ‘great revolt’ all across, till date remains unclear. Some historians however attest the Mutiny was due to a rumour possibly circulated by agents of division that a new cartridge commissioned for use by both Hindu and Muslim soldiers of the British Imperial Army, and whose tip had to be ‘bitten off’ before use, was laced with both lard and beef fat! The very act of biting off the suspect cartridges was offensive to soldiers of both the Hindu and Muslim faith, but the tragedy of the Sepoy Mutiny is, it failed because the leaders of both communities were grossly divided and the British used the division to crush the revolt. Ironically, it was the Sikh hatred of the Muslim that ensured that they join the British and recapture Delhi by early 1858.

In Lalon’s song Of Sins and Salvation, the question ‘why then do Muslim and Hindus shun pork and beef’ has hopefully been aptly addressed.

Desh shomoshyar onshare/ bhinno bidhan hoitey pare
Every nation seeks solutions to its own problems/ in its own practiced norms

shukkho gyaner bichar korle/ paap punyer nai balai
viewed with the intensity of intellect/ there is no such things as Sin or Salvation

The universality of Lalon Shah’s thinking and wisdom can easily be fathomed in the above couplet. At a time when globalization was unheard of, the statement makes a pertinent plea for global peace. In the dawning of the modern age, coming in closely around the time the sage was at his prime, he believed that each nation has its own prerogative and thereby have the ability to solve its own unique problems, or arrive at its own justifiable conclusion/s. The uniqueness of problems transpose down to individual cultures and how they perceive the often contradictory principals of right or wrong. It is the same uniqueness that can be used to resolve conflicts peaceably – but everything hangs on a balance of reason; reason again being the end product, the creation of man’s intellect. In millennium thinking for instance, the action of George Bush in Iraq could be an example of a nation (The US) seeking a solution (for Iraq) – and on surface the intentions may appear to be very peaceful. The tragedy in Iraq as we all know, revolves around the failure of the US Presidency, the complete insensitivity of one man by the name of George Bush, a man who lives in denial of reality and reason, and all of it because of a lack of intellect. The Baul believes that in the deepest of all introspections, there is no such thing as Sin or Salvation. He argues that if there is a God, man will be judged not because of their Good or Evil, right or wrong, Vindictive or Merciful traits, but solely by their intentions. Salvation was guaranteed when the Soul was created, and the body has only to atone for its action for its time on mother earth.

Paap hoiele bhobey ashi/ punyo hoiley shorgo bashi
In Sinning we come to earth/ in Salvation we find Heaven

Lalon boley shei naam urboshi/ nityo nityo promaan pai
Lalon says such common examples/ I discover on a day to day basis

In our culture anything to do with sex or sexuality is considered ‘nongra’ or unclean, and in our so doing the grounded norm indirectly suggests that the very act of procreation, that of love and birth, is dirty and thus a Sin. Quite the reverse, i.e. a life of perceived good ensures a safe journey to Heaven! The above couplet is self explanatory, in that Lalon in his signature line opts out - demanding more than the banal or ordinary efforts in describing what is Sin or Salvation before finality can be reached, before a conclusion can be arrived at. At the end of it all the quest for Bauliana is unending and defies birth and or death. The process is in the NOW. Now is the time in our life to wake up to reality, and the reality is human kind exist, for the Maker exist, and its in the continuous reaffirmation to the present that we may shed off whatever may be Sinful in our Souls, and indeed reach the goals of Salvation, if there is any such word or any such virtue left to be achieved by Man.

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