Why is Punjab increasingly turning to new gurus for comfort?

In the last 15 years, novelist and writer Desraj Kali has seen Punjab undergo some striking changes. But none is as striking as its gradual religious revolution.

A growing number of people in the predominantly Sikh state, he says, are now visiting Hindu temples. Not those of principal deities like Vishnu, Shiva and Rama, but of Shani, the elder brother of the god of death Yama, who is notorious for his malefic influence on life.

More than ever before, Kali says, people are visiting the gurudwara of Baba Deep Singh in Amritsar. According to legend, Deep Singh, a Sikh warrior, was decapitated while battling the forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan. In a niche in the perimeter of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, there is a painting depicting the storied aftermath: Deep Singh, holding his severed head with his left hand and swinging a massive sword with his right, continued to fight, and died only after reaching the Golden Temple.

There are more, says Kali. People in increasing numbers are placing chadars at Pirs’ mazaars. There is a “thousand-fold” increase in the number of tantrik ads in the local media. Eeven orthodox Sikhs – Amritdhaaris, who carry the sacred dagger called kirpan – have begun visiting “non-traditional deras”, religious centres with living gurus, though Sikhism expressly forbids worship of individuals.

Baba Ramdev sets out to cure corruption

On Thursday, more out of curiosity than anything else, I tagged along with a friend who was heading to Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan. Baba Ramdev who was, till now, trying to clean the body through yoga, is now out to cleanse the body politic (thanks for the line, rama). And has consequently announced that he will begin a fast, from saturday onwards, till the government agrees to to his suggestions on how to crack down on corruption.

The whole thing is fascinating. Like Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev is fasting not to get his grievances registered. But to have his recommendations accepted as policy. You, dear gentle reader, can read about his demands, in this quick and dirty story I filed after that little traipse through Ram Lila Maidan.

I am still processing what I saw there. Talk to the people there and you hear one uncomplicated narrative repeatedly: India was once a ‘Soney Ki Chidiya’ — the golden sparrow, the need to restore that state of affluence, the allusions to an ancient, akhand bharat that also comprised Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan and Nepal, etc, etc, etc. My friend Rama calls this Vedic Nationalism. I need to understand this way of thinking. Hmmm.

Also, I switch on the TV and I hear talking heads banging about the illegitimacy of Ramdev as a leader. Or mocking the views of these people. To me, Ramdev seems to be as legitimate a leader as any — a large bunch of people have voluntarily agreed to follow him. As for the views, the fact that they think differently from us English speaking elite doesn’t mean they are wrong. Right and wrong, as my academic friends would say, are premodern concepts.

Am heading back there later today. More for my own understanding than anything else.