interviewed at Nabashan, Bankura
I tried to contact you over phone once or twice...,
Oh, had you called?.
Um... last month, I think..
Yes.? And I had also called you once earlier.
Oh! Was I out of station last month? Or did we speak over phone?.
No. We had spoken once earlier. You had said we would speak again. But... (coughs).
Are you ill? What are you suffering from?
It’s my health...I have arthritis..
You have been suffering from arthritis?
For how long have you been suffering like this?
I think it has been more than six months now.
Has it been more than six months? Are there signs of recovery?
No, the pain shows no sign of abetting. It aches here (points to his shoulder), here (his arms), here (his legs) and in various other parts of my body..
So Gnoshaida, how old are you now?
I am very old...indeed very, very old. What else should I say?
Come on, tell me. How old do you think you are now?
One hundred and four years.
One hundred and four years!
All right... Let me begin by first asking you, how many years has it been since the start of this great Utsav1?
Well, this Utsav... although I have forgotten the exact month, I came here in the year 1362 by the Bengali calendar. We began this Utsav in the year 1362 and it has been going on ever since..
Where had you lived before that? I mean, where did you spend your childhood?
Well, before coming here the two of us travelled to various places, like a couple of wandering itinerants..
We had thereafter established an Ashrama2?
In Burdwan. But I eventually left the Ashrama. There were a lot of hassles. The establishment and functioning of an Ashrama involves a lot of hassles. My own sadhana3 was getting hampered. That is the main reason why I left the Ashrama life. One has to live a very hectic and crowded life in an Ashrama. And that is why I left that life. From there we went to Nandarampur. After some time, we left Nandarampur and came here. I don’t wish to procure land and build a house for ourselves. That cannot bring me happiness. I do not wish that.
I know. You never had any such wish. What I want to know is why did you opt for Baul sadhana and this Baul way of life?
Why did I?
Well I saw... even Rabindranath Tagore had embraced Baul in his later years. He has done a lot for the people of this world. But in his later years, he too embraced the Baul way of life. There lies a philosophy within the Baul; it remains hidden, not every individual can have access to it. It is said that “the Baul does not sell his rice in the market” which means that every individual cannot have access to the Baul philosophy. The ‘rice’ cannot be sold. This means that a Baul will never disclose what lies concealed within the philosophy. There are certain aspects of the Baul philosophy which are meant to remain concealed.
These things will never be divulged by a Baul.
A Baul will share this secret only if she/he encounters another individual who manifests a similar way of thinking.
If the Baul begins telling it to every individual, what will happen?
It will likely be misconstrued. And that individual will narrate it to others. Without a proper insight, it will only inspire disgust. This is why when asked about her/his philosophy, the Baul only answers partially. She/he provides only a surface knowledge of this philosophy.
Can you please provide some insight into the Vaishnava-Sahajiya philosophy? What is it actually? What path does it advocate? I am not enquiring about the secret rites of the Sahajiya philosophy, but I want to know the basic essence of the philosophy.
They are the same thing. The two things you mention, the secret rites and the Sahajiya philosophy, they are one and the same. What you refer to as Sahajiya cannot be explained without referring to its secret rites. To explain the former, I will have to disclose the latter. A lot of people have asked me these questions. There was a woman who had asked me this once, and I had at once removed my clothes. She had had the courage to ask me questions about our secret rituals. And I had asked her back “Do you know what courage is?” and thereafter unclothed myself. She did not ask me anything after that. She did not have true courage. It takes true courage to interrogate the Sahajiya philosophy. If she had remained even after I had unclothed myself, I would have known that she possessed that courage. But she failed the test. And that is the ultimate test of your courage. You have to perceive the maternal within our philosophy. The maternal energy resides within Baul philosophy, and we have to worship that energy as mother during our sadhana. Yet, despite our repeated attempts at comprehending this energy, we have not succeeded. And so, we stray from our true path. If we succeed in following this path, it reveals itself to be? the path of enlightenment.?
An individual needs the guidance of a guru in order to pursue this sadhana. Am I right in thinking this?
Yes. Without the guidance of a guru, you cannot understand this philosophy. Hence there is that song – “Without the guru, you cannot know the unknown...” The guru tells you how to reach the other shore. You cannot tread this path without her/his guidance. We can explain and illustrate certain things. But every disciple does not have the same perceptive capability. So she/ he can only receive up to the extent that her/his capability allows. Even if the disciple initially has a limited perceptivity but shows an enthusiasm in sadhana, she/he is eventually able to comprehend and grasp the philosophy. If the disciple lacks enthusiasm, we might disseminate our learning, but she/he is not likely to practise it at home. And the next time they come, I immediately understand that they have not been practising. We provide them with a set of prescribed rules as to how to pursue this sadhana, but most of the boys and girls these days do not pursue or practise it sincerely.? Had they shown a certain devotion, we too would have felt enthused enough to guide them. But we rarely encounter such disciples any more. For you see, the Sahajiya is a complex philosophy... As the famous song goes—
“The Sahajiya is not sahaj (easy),
Complex is its essence.
You have to immerse the self,?
You have to see, to comprehend
And know that it’s one of a kind.”—
You see, the Sahajiya philosophy is unique and unlike any other. That is what this song is trying to state. Becoming a disciple may not be enough. For disciples, too, are not of one kind. There are few who manifest an eagerness to progress. These are the ones amongst whom we feel enthused to disseminate our learning. We think, here is someone who is progressing so well, it is through her/him that posterity will remember my name. This is how some of us tend to think.
You must be having many, many disciples? So, how many disciples do you have?
I cannot say. I have never kept track of their number.
Who was your guru?
One of my gurus was Krishnachand Goswami. My other guru was Bhagwandas Brajbhashi. Bhagwandas Brajbhashi lived in Vrindavana. And Krishnachand Goswami belonged to the Jessore district. He was a highly accomplished and learned person. None of them are alive today.
Yes, both of them are dead. My guru was one hundred and thirty-five years old when he died. He had come here to visit me at that age. And it was here that he died.
Tell me, how does the philosophy of the Bauls differ from the Vaishnava philosophy and other such philosophies?
There is not much difference. The disparities are more often than not exaggerated. At some basic level, each of these philosophies is closely interlinked with the other. Consider this as an example. Some of the worshippers of Goddess Kali practise the same rituals that we do. If you scrutinize these practices closely, you will find that they are very, very similar. ‘Ekameva Dwitiya Nasti4.’? That is what you will observe, ‘Ekameva Dwitiya Nasti.’ People do not understand this basic truth; hence there exist such feud and intolerance. Therein lies their mistake. I do not see things their way. Hence, these feuds hold no meaning for me. Sadhus and people with different beliefs are always welcome in my home. And why should I feel otherwise? Every person is ultimately in search of the Absolute. Those that harbour these feuds bring about their own downfall as well as the downfall of their faith. I think one should only have more respect for someone who follows a different path.
Can you explain the Sahajiya philosophy a bit? Can you tell me something about the path it advocates?
Why didn’t you enquire into this earlier? Why didn’t you enquire into this when you were younger? Now, ruminate in your mind the words spoken by the Great Ones. The easiest way of explaining the ‘Sahajiya’ philosophy would be by exemplifying Ramakrishna and Sarada Ma.? Ramakrishna had even worshipped Sarada Ma. He had addressed her as mother. For now, this much should suffice. I cannot explain anything beyond this.
But, both the male and female are required for pursuing sadhana, isn’t that so?
Yes, both are required. It would be erroneous if someone was to say that only the male is required and not the female. Both are required and both will have to practise the rites. Both must practise as per the individual capability of each. Otherwise, the mantra given by the guru will be rendered useless. My guru would come to visit me every subsequent year. He would observe me performing the rites and also test me. He would assess me to check how far I was progressing. I had spent really happy moments with him. As long as he was alive, I spent my days in happiness and contentment. And when my guru would come to visit me, he wouldn’t wish to go anywhere else. He would remain in my house for days at length...a month, two months, maybe even more.? Returning to the Sahajiya philosophy, there is a proverb that runs ‘even the basic Sahajiya is not sahaj (easy)/ for it is difficult, complex and esoteric.’ There are several stages one passes through during the process of sadhana. There are three kinds of eros, of which one is the piriti (love). This, too, is of three kinds— sthyayi (the permanent) sthiti (the abiding) and vilaas (pleasure).? One has to know the sthyayi and the sthiti in order to pursue vilaas. Ramkrishna, for example, had addressed/worshipped the yoni (vulva) of Sarada Ma as mother. This is simple if only it is so performed. But if one cannot hold oneself, especially at the crucial moment, the entire ritual ceases to have any meaning. It is highly difficult to master this.
Yes, it seems very difficult. The bauls whom I see...do all of them pursue this sadhana?
Most of them... Well, I have encountered this in various places. They do practise, but not in the way this sadhana was pursued in ancient times. There are indeed a lot of differences, the disparity is jarring. What can you call these? You see, this is the reason why I have not visited an Ashrama in fourteen or fifteen years. What will I go there and ask? No one will be able to provide answers to my enquiries. So, what is the use of my going there? If they were at least able to understand/ follow my words, my going there would still be fruitful. But even that cannot be expected any more.
Is that so? Do they not learn from you?
Maybe they will listen to what I have to say. But they will have forgotten it by the time I leave.
So, is this sadhana coming to an end??
No, it will not come to a total end. There will be a few who will keep pursuing it diligently, although their number is very limited. So, it will not come to a total end.
You mean to say that one or two will keep pursuing it assiduously?
Yes, but a half-hearted pursuit is futile. The sadhana will only be meaningful if one pursues it with absolute sincerity.
So, for an individual pursuing this sadhana, the first step is self-comprehension, right?
Yes, one has to first understand herself/ himself. One has to understand the concept of the Shat-Chakras5 (Six Wheels) and the way of transgressing these. One has to know the methods of sadhana and the ways of offering devotion. Only after the individual has mastered all these can she/ he embark on this path. Otherwise, her/his pursuit will only lead to inertia. And a state of inertia cannot provide inner peace.? I may memorize few words from a book and then argue with people, but I will only be speaking nonsense. Such learning is futile. You have witnessed, haven’t you, when I was in Kolkata there was not a single person who could sustain an argument with me?
Yes, so I saw.
It is all very complex.
Yes, so it is.
Yes, and I am not afraid of a confrontation with anyone. And that is how I used to be. It is only after coming here, in these last three or four years, that I have become like this.
Yes. It seems strange seeing you like this. I have seen you travelling from place to place, explaining things to others, helping others...All right, I seem to have troubled you enough...
It’s no trouble at all. All of you must keep coming.
Yes, I will. I will try coming next year.
All right. But tell me something, how long does it take to complete your learning? Can I suppose that...
Are you referring to the sadhana?
Well, if you are pursuing it sincerely, it might take you anytime between three to twelve years to master it. It might even take longer. But if one shows real devotion, one should be able to master it in twelve years. Nevertheless, one has to try very hard. How to, when do, in which way go about it, how to awaken the shat-chakras...these are things the individual has to eventually master. Without awakening the shat-chakras, you cannot pursue your sadhana further. There are many ways of awakening these shat-chakras. But you cannot follow these. You have to follow the path prescribed in our philosophy. Only then will you discover the essence of the Sahajiya philosophy. And if you do not tread this path, then the Sahajiya philosophy will elude you. There are always two roads aren’t there? It depends on you as to which one you opt for.
Well Gnoshai, this is part of an archive, an online website. You can access it through a computer. The gurus who were there, who have shown the path to others, those who are presently practising it... I am trying to interview as many of them as I can. This archive would have been left incomplete without you. I had heard that you weren’t well. But I decided to visit you nonetheless.
I am glad that you could come. It’s been quite some time since I last met you.
Yes, we haven’t met in quite a long while. All right, I won’t inconvenience you any further. Ma Gnonshai could not recognize me at first. She must have been thinking ‘who is this woman?’ How long have you stayed together with Ma Gnoshai?
Yes, she could not recognize you.
All right then.
It is raining. Wait a while till the rain stops.
Interviewed by Aditi Sircar
Camera: Shubhankar Bhar,