Title: Bol Bam: Approaches to Shiva; Author: Scharada Dubey; Publisher: Tranquebar; Pages: 243; Price: Rs.350
This is an outstanding spiritual travelogue. Scharada Dubey, an "incurable Hindu", would have scored high marks had she been a journalist. This is reportage at its best, a perfect blend of her love for Lord Shiva with the numerous interviews conducted with mainly poor pilgrims she meets at some of India's most prominent Shiva shrines.
"Hinduism is not the easiest of religions to preach or translate for those unfamiliar with its labyrinthine maze of stories and symbols, its multiplicity of forms and the contradictions inevitably thrown up in discussing the various aspects," she says -- and rightly so. But Dubey beautifully succeeds in unraveling the many mysteries and mythology associated with Shiva, one of the Trinity that dominates the Hindu religion, without drowning us with needless history and religious jargon.
She takes us to Gauri Kund, Guptkashi and Tirjuginarayan in the hills that are associated with the marriage of Shiva and his consort Parvati. We travel with her to Kashi, Shiva's hometown outside of the Himalayas, the Shiv Baba Mandir at Akbarpur in Uttar Pradesh and Jageshwarnath near Damoh in Madhya Pradesh. There is the Bada Mahadeo cave and the Chauragarh temple in central India where thousands of trishuls stand in colourful clusters. The Somnath temple comes alive in the book, and so do the many ancient shrines in Tamil Nadu. There are many more. The chapter on Tamil Nadu, where worship of Shiva is a way of life, is enthralling.
Why worship Shiva? Indeed, why worship God?
"I began seeking God as a friend who would understand me when it seemed no one else did," the author says. Her cousin Sanjay explains why he chose Shiva, a reason echoed by many others in the book: "He is the most easily pleased." Shiv Gopal in north India agrees: "He can be pleased with a 'lota' of water and a few leaves." Shiva indeed is an elemental deity worshipped in the simplest and most basic of ways. The Kaanwariyas - whose slogan 'Bol Bam!' is the title of the book - she meets at Haridwar agree.
But this book is not just a book about Shiva or Hinduism. That would have narrowed its appeal. Dubey speaks about what keeps the Hindu faith resilient and resistant to a single, totalitarian dogma, and how attempts have been made to replace the multiplicity of Hindu belief and practice with a single-point agenda. She also focusses on the secular discomfort with the idea of God, and the dangers posed to the Hindu religion by Hindutva. She is ill at ease with those who use Hindu symbols to kill and destroy.
She admires the mass of poor she meets at pilgrim sites who "have nothing, or very little, (but who) seem to feel it necessary to prove their devotion" in contrast to the rich who have every comfort money can buy but who "don't seem to feel it necessary to give thanks to God in equal proportion". Hurt by the inequities and suffering around her, she prays to Lord Shiva: "Make this a democracy in the truest sense, by empowering every one of these people."
This is a must read for anyone who worships Shiva or who simply wants to know the Hindu religion and India better.
(06.02.2014 - M.R. Narayan Swamy can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)