Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Travelling Godmen are wanderers that travel from village to village, restricting themselves to a particular geographical area (usually dictated by the language).
They sell spirituality and its benefits in different forms. There is no one place in which they may be found – except the occasional religious fair – and therefore it is a matter of ‘luck’ or ‘chance’ (or of ‘luck-by-chance’ as said in the special form of indlish)to come across these travelling mendicants.
The following pictures were taken on serendipitous encounters across 5 years in India – an idea of the rarity of finding these people.
First is a couple that belongs to a group seen in Maharashtra. The women provide the sound effects with the drum that is ‘rubbed’ by a stick (not beaten), while the men create a beat with the jhanjhars(bells) on their feet, and dance in a trance like fashion as they whip themselves with the heavy rope. They provide spiritual services through fortune telling which usually contains a good dose of negativity, but for a small fee paid in the form of faith and fanams, they offer to save your souls. Note the beautiful colours and contrast of their dress and costume !
Another two boys from a similar ‘back-whipping’ group from South India:
One more whipper
Next are two travelling godmen encountered in Goa, a place they were exploring for the first time with the aim of spreading ‘jan – jagruti’ or enlightenment among the people. They walk about in residential areas, early in the morning, with castanet-like musical instruments singing bhajans or hymns in deep captivating voices that filled up the neighbourhood with enchantment!! Their hymns are all devoted to Krishna / Vasudev and they call themselves Vasudeva Janaa, hail from the Pandharpur area, and have forsaken the ‘householder’ life to spread enlightenment. Amazing experience to be woken up by their clear beautiful singing!
Encountered next were the ladies from Karnatka – Shaivite worshippers of Yellamma, whose portable deity they carry from village to village and receive money from people as offerings to the goddess and her son. Language, unfortunately became a barrier in finding out more about this group.
After a gap I cam across another pair of Vasudeva Jana – this time in Mumbai – 2009 – where I managed to shoot pictures of an ON-THE-ROAD counselling session.
The last set is that of the whipping boys with the women – carrying photographs instead of deities – encountered in Vile Parle in 2009.
May 2011 :The light-green eyed soothsayer from Warangal Andhra Pradesh with his grey-eyed wife set up shop near my home in Bombay. A passer-by stopped to ask his fortune and the soothsayer spent about half an hour with him. The little shop they set up included interesting items like peacock feathers, the scalp of a bear or goat, bones and roots and herbs along with red and yellow powders…. all very intriguing and curious objects brought in to create a mystic air and evoke faith in the un-understandable!
This photoessay “hopefully” isn’t complete yet….am looking forward to experiencing and sharing more of these intriguing & hard-to-find groups of people …
Read a related article on the Street Shrines of India here