The Salvation Of The Lunatic

Shrine of Tajuddin Baba by Asim Rafiqui

His clairvoyance resulted in his being consigned to a lunatic asylum where he languished for nearly sixteen years. The news of his miracles however spread far and wide and the king Raghoji Rao, a devote Hindu who also become a devotee, finally ordered his release. Today his shrine on the outskirts of the town of Nagpur is perhaps the most well-known sacred site in the region of Vidharba in Eastern Maharashtra.

But it is no longer a solitary shrine. As I walk around in the marketplace that has grown up around the central tomb, I come across a number of smaller tombs and shrines. Some are fairly large structures and are devoted to the close friends and relatives of Tajuddin Baba. Others smaller structures are for those who were devoted to the Baba and had given their lives in his service. Hundreds of people mill about what can only be described as a small village, complete with convenience stores and the usual set of shops selling flowers, chadors, knick knacks, and audio and video products devoted to the story of the saint.

One also comes across a number of holy men who have carved out small homes in various corners of buildings and stores. A number of them have lived here for years – Rehmat Bab an elderly man I met had been sitting in the same spot for over seventeen years. His only movements was from his bed – basically a small mattress stuck into a hole in the wall, and the carpet just outside it. There he received followers of all faiths and spoke to them, gently advising and blessing them. No doubt there will be a small tomb in his name when he passes away.

I am now collecting audio and video materials depicting the saints miracles. There is consistency to the stories that seem to grow around the saints – about battles against flesh-eating demons, the procurement of water, the curing of the ill and so on. Where they originate from few can remember. Perhaps the thousands of wandering mystics and holy men that traverse these regions carry them in their stories. I am not sure if anyone has investigated the origins of these folk legends. Perhaps because they can’t be corralled into our idea of ‘good’ history, they have simply languished in the hearts and narratives of the locals.

Perhaps it is best to leave them there for fear of reducing them to merely stories. Here at a shrine like Tajuddin Baba’s you can see people standing in front of TV screens watching the story of the saint acted out in made-for-DVD dramas. Poor production and amateurish acting seems to take nothing away from the intensity of the viewing experience. The devotees stand in front of the video stalls and stare in disbelieve and listen in belief. These legends have meaning, and most importantly, they offer hope for cures and possibilities that life may not suggest. To the millions who come to this shrine and watch these stories, this site is a source of salvation, of hope and of strength. These legends are real, and they are repeated between themselves as facts. You can sit at a tea stall and listen to groups of men and women discussing the legends as if they had seen them with their own eyes. They believe. And perhaps they do because it is the means to confront the deprivations of life, and to hold true to the belief that when there is no one else left, the saints will always be with you. Maybe this is all that the legends also offer; a promise that you are not alone and that greater forces will stand with you in times of trouble. In this they are even more important, even more relevant, than history. They are salvation.

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