Adiyanath ruled Gorakhpur, like a robber baron, being voted into Parliament several times by his unruly mob of RSS platoons, recreating with ardour his sense of male chauvinism. Gorakhpur is the site of a pristine temple, its white neat structure, nestling in a grove of trees. People come from all over UP to worship, and taxi drivers describe the kanphatta (a sect of yogis) monk as having a large diamond in his ear. The excessively large glittering diamond in his pierced ear says it all.
The rural lumpen proletariat is in awe of him. They describe him as having authority over scriptures, holding classes for them every day, and generally providing samosas and tea as part of their everyday sustenance as they work hard to fulfill the criteria of being foot soldiers for him. Gorakhpur represents Shaivaite splendour, martial Hinduism, in which the Gita printing press and the town itself become the manner in which a millennial old renunciant tradition of gathering itself into continual martiality is
Gorakhpur has fields which are rich with rice and sugarcane, the markets brim over with vegetables, and the people are representative of Indian villages, where subsistence farming allows them to survive. However, education and health benefits are what the State provides, and given a routine lack of attention to them, the hospital tragedy where infants died of encephalitis is seen as a “normal” aspect of life in the monsoon. BEMARU states represent that borders are infact osmotic, and the people catch overcrowded trains to various parts or Bihar, Maharashta, Rajasthan and Utta Pradesh, to become a floating population of labourers who provide India with it’s resilient work force. Nepal lies very close, and the king of Nepal often visited Gorakhpur in the past. Cows and bulls eating plastic in filthy garbage dumps is a typical scene in Gorakhpur.
Kushinagar, 53 km from Gorakhpur, is in the excellent hands of the Patna Archaeological Circle. The immense statue of the Buddha in eternal sleep (parinirvana) is the site that pilgrims from Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand visit. Guest houses have been built for them, as they are well paying tourists, who have come to see the gilded Buddha who sleeps in the company of mourners, most of whom are Dalits from the town, simple people, without mobiles or movie cameras.
The Gupta rulers left us a monumental legacy in this small hinterland town, companion to the larger untidy, crowded, eternally noisy Gorakhpur. Here, there is a silence, large empty roads, and beautiful lawns around the memorial to Buddha’s cremation. Kushinagar is emblazoned by Maurya stone and brick work, the austere compounds and relics sufficient to remind us of the Buddha’s constant presence in architecture that commemorates his life and teaching. The anguish of the Dalits as they mourn his death is so palpable in Kushinagar, because local legend has it that he shared their food, and died because what they ate was habitually rotten stale food. If there is an intensity of suffering it is there, in the room, where the immense image of the dying Buddha lies in deep sleep, coated in gold metal.
Mediating these two towns, Gorakhpur and Kushinagar, are woods, where Buddhiyama holds sway over pilgrims. They believe in her ability to save them from drowning by water. She is as integral to our understanding of small towns as the legends which inform them are matters of everyday practice. In these towns with agrarian hinterlands, and many stagnant pools, children often drown to death. Buddhiyama is not a footnote to Shaivaite authority, she is the divinity that protects the householder. In the woods, in a temple built to her, she is visited and beseeched to. She provides the fulfillment that householders seek in the virtue of their ordinary lives. She does drown some, though, according to legends and fear compounds pilgrimage. The gods do as they will, and human beings respond, sometimes by fearing them, and sometimes forgetting them.
The poor who visit Buddhi Ma bring their families to this site so that they may eat and drink festival foods, buy clothes and toys, have their hands henna patterned, balloons and amulets purchased. Since Indians believe in karma, it’s a little frightening, when we see politicians behave as they do, uncaring of the poor and the disabled.
It’s essential that we return to the secular frame of our constitution and demand human rights as the basic platform for our negotiations across party lines, or religious faiths. We must invest in our children the right to freedom of expression, and the possibilities of religious variation. Masculinist theologies, whether secular or religious tend to see power and domination as the curricula of post modernity. But it is the hidden away, the unspoken, the secreted, that appears as a contrast.
(The writer is professor of sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)