Here is a picture being circulated around in the media; the Prime Minister dressed in a grey Jubba, a long traditional woolen dress favored by Garhwali men, a dark orange Patka around the waist and a bright yellow silken shawl thrown casually over his shoulders, walking on a red carpet towards the sanctum sanctorum of the holy shrine to Lord Shiva at snow bound Kedarnath. This was followed by a series of pictures showing the PM bowing before the shrine with a cameraman facing him (understandably across from the holy Vigraha, clicking his shutters to capture the moment.
Another one where the PM is standing outside with serious faced government Babus looking at some files ostensibly on the development going around the shrine. The last ones in the series show the PM sitting cross-legged in a cave upon a white bed against pillows, his body wrapped in a bright ochre shawl.
His glasses are on but his eyes are closed and we are told by the hyperventilating anchors sent there to cover this Yatra, he is deep into meditation till the morning. Outside a cheery Rawal (priest) tells the TV cameras that inside the sanctum sanctorum the PM looked as happy as a young married girl visiting her Maika, mother’s home. Everyone in the pictures is putting a serene and sober face and saying things that will cheer us.
But we know that while the PM makes progress as a noble pilgrim, one of the worst electoral wars India has known in the last 70 years, is drawing to a close.
The mountains, Kaka Kalelkar, the itinerant traveller and Gandhian once said, spell Sanyas, renunciation. The plains mean empires. He first travelled to Kedarnath Dham in 1912 when it was a quiet, hard to access shrine in the midst of snow capped mountains, far away from civilization. Only the strong of body and faith could access it. In 1959 he was dejected by the commercialisation of this holy abode of spiritual bliss. The man-made Bazaar culture has always been pushing back the forest based (Aranyak) culture of the saints, he writes. This will happen to both Badrinath and Kedarnath.
Kedarnath represents Shiva at his most elusive. Here he roamed as a bull and when the Pandavas tried to catch him, he dived into the earth. The Vigraha here is just a flat boulder said to be Shiva’s backside. As per Adi Shankara’s ruling the priests here are traditionally from Karnataka. Many years ago when I visited the shrine that could then only be reached after a 14 km trek, the Rawal was a stern man who made sure we carried nothing made of dead leather, no belt nor a key ring with a leather tab. This is an ascetic Lord’s home, he said. No colourful clothes, fancy head gear, flaunting of money or loud chanting is permitted he said.
He was right. According to the Markandeya Purana (34/42-43), backed by the Yagnvalkya Smriti(1?131) and Apastamb Dharmsutra(4/34-35) quoted by Dr V H Kane in his Dharmshastra ka Itihas, at the time of offering worship, the Sadhaka must not be dressed in travel soiled clothes or be wearing loud colours. Japa, they say specifically, can not be performed wearing red or blue by persons other than those who have formally taken Sanyas.
Today, obviously things are different when cameramen can squat next to the Vigraha, camera case and all. The worshiper walks a red carpet, enter the heart of the shrine with a posse of TV cameras, dressed in some no doubt, specially stitched Jubba with a resplendent waistband, trailing a silken shawl. That which the empire has given, can the mountains take away?