I thought I was dreaming, when I heard a peculiar sound of a ‘dholak’ creeping in my ears through the mosquito net, but as the sound got more defined I woke up and saw the time, it was 3:45 in the AM. Groggy eyed, I followed the sound outside the door and saw Srimant warming his hands in rhythm on the percussion instrument. “Chalo bhaiya, gaon mein satsang karte hai,” (come brother, let’s go do satsang in the village), he said in his ever enthusiastic voice. ‘Satsang? At 3:45 in the morning? You got to be kidding me,’ I thought in my half sleepy half scandalized mind. I washed my face and put on my slippers when he smiled and said, “No need of slippers, we go bare feet.” He gave me a pair of ‘Jhaal’ (a pair of copper cymbals, which gives a blend of a bell and a percussion sound when hit and rubbed together in rhythm), and I followed him and Sandeep out of the ashram, under the sky that was trying hard to come out of the dark.
‘Prabhat Pheri’, which literally means ‘early morning rounds’, is a tradition or a ritual lost in the façade of modernization. Long time ago, during the yesteryears of ethnic India, people from the villages would get up early in the morning much before the sun’s rays peeped from the sky, and take rounds of the village chanting and singing ‘bhajans’ and playing ethnic instruments. It is believed that this ritual invoked the good spirits, and would chase the evil spirits of the night, further welcoming the morning with good vibrations. It used to happen everywhere across the country, and it continued till it got shadowed by late night partying and morning hangovers. But, it is acknowledging to know that in some of the villages and tribes where belief is not considered as superstition, people still get up in the morning, and roam around the village invoking the good spirits with chants, and music and rhythm coming out of eccentric instruments.
The three of us, Srimant, Sandeep and me walked to the small temple, where the rest of the men (women still have inhibitions about coming out of homes early in the morning) would gather. Walking bare feet, with the cool earth and the pebbles massaging the feet not only acted as acupressure, but also gave a nostalgic feel of childhood when slippers and shoes weren’t a whim. We reached the temple to find five more men sitting around Lord Shiva, waiting for Srimant and Sandeep, the leaders of the group. After a quick bow and lighting of incense, Srimant broke into an eccentric beat with his ‘dholak’, a beat without a structured composition, but followed an esoteric pattern. A few minutes of playing the ‘dholak’ which almost led me into a trance, he let out a chant of ‘hari hari bolo’ and everyone repeated after him. Chanting, we all walked out of the temple and into the organic lanes of the village. The route is mapped, leading to another temple of Lord Shiva, roaming the village such that every house is covered. As we walked, more people and kids joined the group. Some with gongs and bells, Bhura with a one stringed instrument particular to the ‘bauls’ of Bengal, (a wandering mystical group), walking with them, as one of them I could actually feel the vibrations and the energy in the atmosphere.
The villagers were oblivious about this early morning ritual. After the Patamda Ashram was constructed, Srimant, Sandeep and few other boys from the ashram started the early morning procession. Curious, the villagers found it interesting and slowly started joining them, and since then it has been a ritual that is followed every morning, without fail. Most of the villagers would drink alcohol in the night, get wasted and sleep till late morning, but waking up for the morning procession meant no alcohol in the night. This way the habit of alcohol started reducing; more men joining the procession meant more of them losing the habit of alcohol. Besides purification of the atmosphere, the early morning procession started to purify the men of the village too. That is the effect of spirituality; it breaks bad habits, and forms new habits which are conducive to health and life.
Every morning for the next seven days, I experienced the bare footed-strange-but-beautiful procession. Dripping in high energy from the chants and the ‘bhajans’, the mornings were a bliss, and the nights were a wait, a wait to wake up to the eccentric beat of Srimant’s ‘dholak’.
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Writer: Eben Felix, Graphics: Niladri Dutta