Life Aims and Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims

Author: 
Gold, Ann Grodzins
Year: 
1984

     Journeys to gods and other powers, performed by Rajasthani villagers, are the subject of this study. These journeys are described, and their motives and meanings analyzed, from a particular perspective and with certain, partially preconceived questions in mind." The study first describes "essential geographic-historical and social cultural aspects of the fieldwork situation: a region and its history; a village community and its divinities. At the end of this segment I evoke the 'goddesses-and-gods' (devi-devata) of my village, Ghatiyali, and pay most particular attention to four special personages among them: Four-Armed Vishnu, King Jaipalji, Mahadev of Meditation Seat and the Cave-Baba." In the next chapter, "consideration is given to the different but often intermeshed results of mortality, and their implications for life and life cycles, as a necessary prelude to considering the aims and fruits of different kinds of journeying. . . . The first section of this chapter treats the spirits of the dead who don't go away but take up residence in their former homes. . . . In the next section, one old man's demise . . . is followed from sickbed to funeral feast. . . . The third section uses an esoteric approach, studying ideas of death expressed in the secret rites, nirguna bhajans (hymns praising God without qualities) and legendary traditions of the Nath caste. . . . The final section of this chapter reports a fourth approach to the subject of death and renewal of life through analysis of women's rites and play on the day of 'Calf Twelfth' (Bach Baras). . . . The organization here prefigures in part the organization of the subsequent chapters as well as following a logical geographic sequence from near to far. . . . The first three sections . . . -- on harboring, transforming and releasing the spirits of the dead -- thus describe three aspects of the meaning and nature of Hindu death, each stressed in, although certainly not exclusive to, one of three kinds of pilgrimage."
     Thus the third chapter describes how the "identity and wishes of spirits of the dead who take the form of household deities are often identified through short journeys to nearby shrines," and the subsequent one, how the "spirits of those who die at a ripe age are normally transported, embodied in their 'flowers,' to the Ganges." This chapter also describes "two possible sequences" for the pilgrimage to the Ganges: "the simplest, to Hardwar and back; alternatively and more elaborately, a circuit involving three major crossing places: Prayag, Gaya and Hardwar." Then the final chapter describes how the "message of Nath funeral bhajans -- that release is attainable only through detachment, divine grace and inner knowledge -- is consonant with an ambivalent ideology described for protracted journeys made to wander, to view the gods and to bathe in 'crossing places' (tirthas)." Two round trips are described here. "The first journey is a loop, from Mehru village in landlocked Rajasthan to the Lord Jagdish of Puri and the sea -- and back. The second is a conceptual exploration of equally circular passages: between inner and outer deity, inner and outer devotion, inner and outer wandering. Through these two peregrinations I investigate in two ways the rationale of yatras made neither particularly to obtain boons nor to sink the bones of the dead." While previous chapters show "how the articulated desires of pilgrims traveling to regional shrines, and to the Ganges with flowers, are closely linked to their aspirations within this current life cycle, and acutely tuned to social and domestic pressures. Here, dealing with still a third style of yatra, and continuing to draw largely on interview statements and texts from oral tradition, I focus on another set of values. These are connected . . . with the life aim of moksha in the sense of total liberation.

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