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Nature, Gender and Social Justice: In context of Nath Yogi Sampradaya and Folk Deities of Rajasthan

3rd International Dharma-Dhamma Conference

Nature, Gender and Social Justice: In context of Nath Yogi Sampradaya and Folk Deities of Rajasthan

Dr Vikas Pareek , Associate Professor(Comp. Sc.)Dr. Urvashi Pareek, Research Associate(Music)Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan-304022.

Dharma has been a way of life in India. From the concept of Vedic Rit to the new age religions, it has always been an all-encompassing presence around us. Here dharma is not restricted to few scriptures, but it permeates the entire life. And the best thing about Sanatan dharma is its universality. This universality is not due to any claim of absolute truth, but due to its inclusive nature and its toleration towards diversity.

We, therefore ,have people worshipping trees, snakes, idols,rivers , even graves, and still co-existing peacefully. From the Rigvedic to the call for universal brotherhood by Vivekananda, we see a incessant tradition of mutual respect, quest for truth and love for life in all its forms.

And this quest of truth is an important part of Indian religion. From Vedic rishis, Buddha to Gorakhnath and subsequent bhakti saints,we see an unbroken chain of a burning desire to know the truth. Asceticism is an integral part of religion here. Breaking the bonds of desire is not an easy thing. Leaving the luxuries of household behind, to wander in forests, and to beg for food is not a cakewalk.So sannyasis are revered by everybody.Thats why such a high regard is given to Jogis, fakirs and saints even today.

There is a dilemma also. (Gorakh Bani)(If I go to forest, hunger torments me; and if I remain in city, desire binds me.)In the story of Raja Bhartrihari and Pingala(As in Jogi Mat Ja), we see this dilemma between the ascetic life and worldy luxuries.In this paper, we examine the role of N

In this paper, we examine the role of Nath sampradaya and subsequent folk religious figures like Ramdevji, Tejaji, Devnarayanji, etc. We see that Both the Nath tradition, and the subsequent sects ,have given a very high importance to the care for nature, gender equality and emancipation of women.

Having a paper on both Nath sampradaya and folk deities of Rajasthan is not an arbitrary choice. There is a very good rationale behind it. The entire sant parampara is indebted to Nath sampradaya in some form of other. Gorakh bani has inspired Kabir, Nanak, Mirabai, Gyaneshwar, Namdev and many other luminaries of the sant movement.

The religious figures in Rajasthani folklore are essentially linked with Gorakhnath and other Nath ascetics. Be it the story of Devnarayan or of Ramdev ji, the guru of the hero is almost always, Goraknath. And even their teachings are based on the tenets of Nath sampradaya.

For example, Gogajee is believed to born by blessings of Guru Gorakhnath, who gave 'Gugal' fruit as a prasad to gogga's mother Bachhal. Since the fruit of Guggal was cause of his birth, he was referred as Gogga.(Gogaji is popular as aDevtawho protects his followers from snakes and other evils. )Almost every village in Rajasthan has a Than (sacred place,generally a small temple) dedicated to him.

Gorakhnath is so deeply embedded in the psyche of Indians that from Kashmir to Kamakhya, from Sindh to Nepal, one finds footprints of Gorakhnath every where. The historical reason for the wide-spread popularity of the Nath literature throughout India is that the Nath movement was, and still is, an all-Indian movement -Obscure Religious Cults, Dasgupta

We would like to give a personal example. Our native place is Gulabpura (in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan.) It was named in memory of a famous Gorakhnathi saint Gulabnath ji. And importantly Gulabpura is situated in a area important even in Bagrwat mahagatha. We have a temple and a stepwell in the memeory of Devnarayan. Similarly throught Rajasthan, one will find memorials of Nath jogis along with the folk deities. The Nath panth has provide the theological basis for these folk sects.

Nath sampradya has its origin in the distant past. From the Adinath as the Mahadeva Shiva himself, and then through Matsyendranath, Gorakhnath and other Jogis, their impact on Indian religious horizon is still visible in the modern Hindu religion. Nath jogis influenced Hinduism in many aspects. Their emphasis on simple living, yogic lifestyle and love for nature is evident in many texts available. Many examples are available in Gorakhbani and other Nathpanthi texts.

Gorakhnath and Mastyendranath are also revered in Tibetan Buddhism asMahasiddhas(great adepts) and are credited with great powers and perfected spiritual attainment.Although the exact dates of Gorakhnath and other yogi saints cannot be ascertained , from available literary and historical resources, one can conjecture that he was born around or close to tenth century. There are references to Islam found even in Gorakhbani.So he must have been born around or after the arrival of Islam in India.

See:A true dervish is one who knows the divine gate.Who inverts the five breaths.Who stays conscious, day and nightThat dervish truly belongs to the class of Allah (Sabadi, 182 in Gorakh Bani Ed. By Barathwal)

And Nath sampradaya is not hostile to Islam.Many terms in Gorakh bani are of Sufi and Persian origin.In fact Sufi tradition has had a lot of interaction with Nath sampradaya.

In the medieval text- Dabistan-e-Majahib, one finds a mention of Jogis. Similarly in the story Kissa char dervesh by Mir Aman Dehlavi, we see the bani of jogis at many places.This religious tolerance finds a prominent place in folk religions also. Folk heroes didnt believe in distinctions like relgion,caste, gender,etc.

Ramdevji is called Ramsa pir by Muslims.Gogaji is given high regard by muslims.This inclusiveness is found in all the folk religions. There is no caste barrier in visiting shrines of these deities. Fairs held annually at Ramdevra, Gogamedi and sursura are examples of harmony and brotherhood.

Gender and Social Inclusiveness

Ramdevji, Tejaji and Devnarayanji (despite being from feudal high class families) never believed in the class elitism , and stood for social inclusion. They had disciples in lower-caste hindus also, and even muslims.

Dalibai ,for example, was a woman from downtrodden class who was a close disciple of Ramdevji. She was from Meghwal community, and an ardent follower of Ramdevji who is buried near his grave.And it is no surprise that people from backward strata of society give a lot of respect to Ramdevji and Nath jogis.

Even today thousands of lower class devotees throng to Ramdevra. Many of them walk hundreds of miles on foot to reach there.Similarly other folk deities like Tejaji, Pabuji, etc. are popular among socially backward sections of society. Though all of them are worshipped by all Hindus, and even to some extent by Muslims, Tejaji and Devnarayanji are worshipped mainly by Jats, Gurjars, and other peasant and working class people.

We have Pemal (wife of Tejaji) who was a Jat and Lachha Gujri, a gurjar as best friends in the folklore. Even a dacoit (referred to as Meena Sardar) is the rakhi brother of the mother of Pemal. Its a testimony of the fact that different social classes were co-existing and inter mingling with each other. Evidently, the saints and folk heroes played a vital role in cementing the bonds.

In Bagdwat Mahagatha,a treatise on the life of Devnarayan ji and his ancestors, the mighty Bagdawats, we find an interesting character- Patu Kalali. She sells liquor at a local tavern. But she is so wise and her discussions with Bagdawats are full of interesting insights into human life and contemporary culture. Despite being form a lower social class, she is given a high regard by Bagdawats because of her wisdom and etiquettes.


One can see a lot of natural imagery like animals (snakes and horses prominently), trees (Neem as in the case of devnarayanji),natural and rural ambience in their folklore.Gogajis shrine, referred as medi, consists of a one-room building with a minaret on each corner and a grave(Mazar) inside, marked by a Nishan( A symbol, a sign), which is made up of a long bamboo with peacock plumes, a coconut, some colored threads and some handpankhas with a blue flag on the top.They have helped a great deal in preserving nature. One can find gazelles and deer roaming freely around Bishnoi settlements till date.

The sect of Bishnois (literally observers of twenty nine oaths) founded by Jambhoji places a great deal of importance on preserving the nature. Some of their oaths are : Not to fell green trees, To provide a common shelter (Thhat) for goat/sheep to avoid them being slaughtered in abattoirs, Not to have bulls castrated In rural India.

During the Goga meri fair, It is a common sight to see people with snakes lying around their nakes. It is common belief among devotees that Gogaji will protect them from snakes. It is believed that if someone picks up even a stick from johra,it would turn into a snake. Devotees of Gogaji worship him when they get a snake bite and apply sacred ash (bhabhoot) on the bite as an immediate remedy.

We observe that the religious system of Nath jogis and other folk sects was very close to nature and helped immensely in the inclusion of downtrodden into the mainstream religion through their simple spiritualism and pious lifestyle.

The folk religious sects present a rich spectrum of religious lifestyle sans any complicated epistemology. They were close to the rural common life. Away from the sophistication of cities, simple, close to the mother earth and caring. Nath sampradaya and these sects provide us a path towards a universal religion dev