A novice’s sadhusongo | The star of the day

Deborah Zannat at Fakir Nahir Shah’s Hemashram in 2016. Photo: Olivier Remualdo, All rights reserved

“>



Deborah Zannat at Fakir Nahir Shah’s Hemashram in 2016. Photo: Olivier Remualdo, All rights reserved

In the early 2000s, a concept restaurant was opened in my hometown, Paris, France, called “In the Dark.” Customers walk into a completely dark space and are served a set menu which they obviously cannot see. I have never been to this restaurant. But when I think back to the first time I came to Bangladesh in early 2016, it comes to mind what I imagine a dinner at “In the Dark”. As a lifelong yoga teacher and spiritual seeker, I had come to Bangladesh driven by curiosity: I wanted to see a sadhusongo. There was no set plan, only a contact from a contact in Dhaka and a strong belief in luck (or fate, as one might choose to call it). Through some research online and after watching a video produced by UNESCO, I learned that these were festivities organized by members of the lineage of the world famous spiritual master Lalon de Cheuriya (Kushtia), who usually last 24 hours, take place in remote villages. , and include music and food. I was unprepared for what I was about to witness and the upheaval it caused in my life.

I was accompanied by a close friend, Olivier Remualdo, who took the photos that illustrate this article. Olivier and I had spent a lot of time in South Asia, him as a professional photographer, me as a sadhak and university researcher. Like most Western city dwellers who have visited the subcontinent before, we expected sensory overload and a chaotic loss of personal space and privacy, even agency. The divine importance of hospitality is not specific to the region, and it does not generally involve being considered the property of the host – guests tend to remain strangers, even if they are welcome. As we boarded a bus from Dhaka to a village we didn’t know the name of, much less the location on a map, I had absolutely no idea I was about to find a place I could really call home. I referred to “In the Dark”, as I did not understand Bengali then, and to participate in an intimate sadhusongo in a small village on the border with India based solely on sensory observation, the empathy and intuition was a profound experience that I will try to summon here. I understand that the society that welcomed me afterwards, and the festivities in which I now regularly participate, are as foreign to some Bangladeshis as to me then. May this article be as interesting to the reader as if I invited him to this concept restaurant – the degree being different, of course.

Bowing to the gurus during “bhakti” (Arshinagar, Ada Baria, February 2016). Photo: Olivier Remualdo, All rights reserved.

“>



Bowing to the gurus during “bhakti” (Arshinagar, Ada Baria, February 2016). Photo: Olivier Remualdo, All rights reserved.

Most living things rely on their senses to organize their environment and make sense of the world and their own lives within it. The sensory overload that one can feel in the villages of Kushtia is first provoked by the vigorous relationship with the elements: the strong presence of water and the always blowing wind, the use of wood fire for cooking, the intense smell of the earth and lush vegetation, in which so many insects and birds find refuge. Our first night in this sadhusongo adventure was spent at Hem Ashram, the akhra of the sadhu who is now my guru, Fakir Nahir Shah. Razon Fakir, one of his close disciples, who became my husband in 2017, reverently cooked rice on an earthen stove outside, under a starry sky lit by both a myriad of stars and fireflies. The feeling of peace and wonder, of finally arriving home, required no language. Looks and smiles were enough.

We left for sadhusongo the next morning, on a “pakhi van”. The sight of fields filled with mature tobacco plants, and the smell of smoke as they are processed by hand in small adobe houses, induced an even deeper sensory release. We were hosted by Fakir Mohorom Shah, the sadhu who organized the sadhusongo, on the anniversary of his wife’s death. After a short walk on a narrow, raised dirt road between two ponds, we settled into a large makeshift tent, in which other members of the congregation were already settled. Within moments, everyone was called to sit in line, while a group of disciples began to organize the washing of hands and plates, and the distribution of lunch dishes, rice, vegetable curry and lentil soup. Thick incense smoke was passed through heavy earthenware holders to sanctify the meal, one plate after another. The sadhus gave a short blessing and then started eating, and so did we.

No one will doubt the vast difference in taste, emotion and intent between commercial food and homemade food. But as I was to understand later, in this community food is prepared as devotion. The acts of cooking and eating are entirely turned towards the God within, an offering to this deep mysterious presence in the heart of the human being. And so, the food is not tasted while it is cooked, nor eaten until it reaches the sadhus’ plate, just as “prasad” is offered in temples all over the subcontinent . In sadhusongos, the taste that can be felt on the tongue, the smell of food, however pleasant it may be, is not as satisfying as the deep taste that awakens in the soul. Having spent time in yoga ashrams in Europe and India, I had read about these concepts, the philosophy of this type of cooking and eating. As a lifelong vegetarian, I was already convinced that in the food department, you had to eat to stay alive, healthy and happy, rather than live to eat. However, this lunch was my very first direct experience of what is called “seba”, or “devotional service”, as it can be linked to food. The profound experience of “seba” was renewed as many times as we were served food. Two traditional meals still evoke strong sensory memories of that very first time I tasted them: jhal muri in the evening, rice pops mixed with fresh cilantro, finely chopped green chili and mustard; and the breakfast of chira, or rice porridge, with tree-ripened banana and homemade hyperlocal fresh cow’s milk yogurt.

Deborah Zannat and Olivier Remualdo with Fakir Nahir Shah on the “pakhi van” at sadhusongo, February 2016.

“>



Deborah Zannat and Olivier Remualdo with Fakir Nahir Shah on the “pakhi van” at sadhusongo, February 2016.

Sadhusongos are strange occurrences. People from all walks of life temporarily leave their worries behind and come together in a time-space beyond ordinary time and space. Free time was also offered at various times during the event, allowing me to try my hand at making chappatis (rotis) and take short walks around the village. The attraction of two strangers in this remote village did not allow me to spend time alone, and rather than fight against the current, I chose to “go with the flow”. I started to listen more carefully to the rhythm of Bengali, which I found particularly pleasant. For some reason Bengali reminded me of Spanish. As I later devoted myself to learning the language, I was able to understand that Spanish and Bengali grammar had some commonalities. But for now, children and women were pointing at different objects around us and saying the word Bengali, sometimes even remembering the English translation. As a very independent-minded, self-reliant Western city dweller accustomed to solitude, the concentration of people was both exhilarating and tiring. Many people in the villages never have the opportunity to meet a stranger, and their spontaneous curiosity caused some laughter, as well as some unease. One occurrence of the latter was waking up from a short nap and being met by a woman’s face staring at me inches away. One of the first cases was to be dressed in a white sari in the style of fakiranis by one of the aunts, and the shape of my lean and athletic body drew awkward looks and polls, which I dispelled with a few jokes. The smile is an international currency that requires no knowledge of economics.

The way of the Baul-Fakirs of Bengal is often referred to as “humanism”. But it does not only place the human being at the center of life. It has also shifted most of the region’s religious practices, refocusing them on particular humans who, through their spiritual application and the grace of their guru and lineage, have developed the qualities that liberate humanity from his instinctual nature. According to the basic teachings of the Baul-Fakirs, a list of qualities – called the ten directions, to echo the ten directions of the world, in a microcosm-macrocosm mirror game typical of esoteric lineages – must be acquired by the disciples so that be considered religiously accomplished. Two other sets of three concepts complete the injunction. The final set, namely faith, unity and discipline, crowns the previous thirteen aspects. They imply that personal achievement and social participation are, again, different scales nested like old-fashioned Russian nesting dolls. As the various chapters of the event unfold, primarily through music, discussions, devotional prostrations, offerings and sharing of meals, these three qualities are embodied and revealed.

Deborah Zannat receiving a blessing from Fakir Nahir Shah (Arshinagar, Ada Baria, February 2016). Photo: Olivier Remualdo, All rights reserved.

Deborah Zannat receiving a blessing from Fakir Nahir Shah (Arshinagar, Ada Baria, February 2016). Photo: Olivier Remualdo, All rights reserved.

About Harold Hartman

Check Also

Women in Christianity | News, Sports, Jobs

Women are the vilest of creatures. To be a woman is to …