I attended my first “jagran” – a post-sundown song, dance, and legend-based prayer session for the Hindu Mother Goddess, complete with a nativity play. (Jagran literally means an awakening; or a night vigil). Jagran can be a night-long affair that finishes after dawn or a half-night program that finishes slightly just-before dawn. I have never attended a jagran before, only heard it. Yes, heard it when some one in our neighborhood arranged a jagran to plead to the Mother Goddess to fulfill a prayer, or appease her after the fulfillment of one.
It was a strange experience at that time - with pillow heavily plopped on my head, trying to catch a wink, I would dread my sleepy-look the next day. I failed to understand the need to block the road with makeshift tents and disturb the community peace well into the night. I failed to comprehend the deep-felt need that the family hosting the jagran felt to sing in praise of the Goddess. It was a religious (and maybe spiritual) experience and need that I being an agnostic failed to relate to in my adolescence as well as youth.
Today, as an adult, I still cannot relate to the religious or even psychological aspect of a jagran. I can only understand the social context. A jagran gives you an opportunity to invite family and friends and treat them with some snacks and “prasad” and have a gathering of sorts in the name of a religious function. This is a good enough reason, I believe, to meet and know people better. But then it is just that – a social gathering! The religious and spiritual intent is still lost to me.
For one thing I cannot understand how the host family can concentrate on any form of prayer or worship, if they have hundred of things running in their mind. From the pooja preparations that range from cereals to fruits, to embellishments and finery, to catering and maintaining a regular inflow of tea and refreshments, and then cleaning up a messed-up house, the host family is on their toes most of the time.
Then there is involvement of money that makes me frown. So much money spent on the preparations and so much money given away by the participants (all to be pocketed by the people invited to perform at the jagran). I wonder why we can’t just give the money quietly and subtly to charity or to some one in need. I was slightly perturbed by the pouring of loads and loads of pure ghee to maintain the flame (jyot) at the makeshift place of worship.
Talking about the performance by the troupe invited at the jagran that also leaves one wondering how songs and legends set to the tune of music from the movies, and incomprehensible harsh diction through blaring sound systems promote a sense of spirituality. Is it too much of a deal to at least give original music and rhythm to the songs, or for that matter sing hymns and bhajans from the available religious and musical song collections. Times Music and T-series have given us our own range of original bhajans, and kirtans and some of them are really soul stirring. Why do we need Bollywood music to sing praises to the Gods and Goddesses!
And then why family members are forcefully called upon by the performing troupe to dance. Let the dance and the song flow from within. Let the music fill your ears and then your soul so that you break into a sufi-like trance and your feet tap with ecstasy and a spiritual high. Why are people supposed to deck up and jig away to foot-stomping Bollywood musical extravaganza!
Maybe I am being too critical; maybe I lost the message somewhere. Maybe a jagran is not a prayer service but a celebration of sorts, like our festivals. So I decided to enjoy the celebration and hear the message. I shifted focus to the actual content of the legends and songs that the lead singer of the troupe were rendering. I ignored the well-known lyrics of the movie song that played in my ears; I started following the words and the movements of the troupe. But alas! My absurd mind failed to appreciate their efforts.
I saw that they were more worried about distributing their visiting cards and encouraging people to invite them to anchor similar jagrans in their homes. The troupe was shamelessly commercial and was aggressively advertising it self and endorsing charity because the money would be collected by the troupe. The lead anchor was ill-tempered and was oft pestering the other members in the group with rude comments. So much for being a devotee; if she wasn’t at peace with herself and with other members of her troupe who earn for her, how could she spread the message of love, peace, charity, wisdom, penance and worship? As the old saying goes – “Do to others as you want others to do unto you!”
I realize I have been over-critical in this blog. But these are entirely my viewpoints for a system and mode of worship with which I can’t relate. I believe in a Cosmic Force, a Supreme Energy that shapes and guides my life and I have felt closest to this Unseen, Unheard force when I am silent, and meditative in solitude and tranquility. The Force or the Being has been kind to me and I hope the well being in my life continues, but maybe I need to be more vocal in prayer, more vibrant and more energetic. As I close this post, I am reminded of my mother’s favorite song by Jim Reeves, “So daddy, my daddy teach me how to pray!”