Who the devil is singing this loud! Are they praying for themselves or the whole complex?’, I snapped at the sound that entered my house cutting through the sound-proof French windows to ruffle my quite morning. I rushed out to find the source so I could rain more curses on whoever that was. As I listened intently, the notes sounded familiar, so did the words. Yes, I’d heard them before .And suddenly, I choked. Tears moistened the lashes. They came from my childhood. But where was he? I tilted and craned my neck in desperation. And slowly, from the dense verdant foliage, he walked into the frame. Vasudev! My childhood Vasudev.
Dressed in conical hat adorned with feathers of a peacock, saffron sack hung on one shoulder, he stopped for someone. His divine, sharp, high-octane voice flowed seamlessly through swaying branches, drifted up and filled the cold monsoon air. That melancholic, heart-melting voice accompanied by cymbal and chiplya, dragged me out of the house and on to the road. I ran down with some money and whatever food I could lay my hands on.
He greeted me with a warm smile and so did I. This image harked back to early mornings around 35 years ago. I wasn’t just going to hand over stuff and leave. So we stood there talking…
Vijay Vasudev is a native of Pandharpur. Vasudev isn’t his surname. It’s the name he’s attached himself with after his inception into this community.
He’s travelled a long way to Mumbai, commencing from Pandharpur, pausing numerous times to visit temples, walking the streets singing and gathering alms. He has two more halts before culminating his journey for the much revered annual pilgrimage – Pandharpur Chi Wari.
So who are Vasudev? They’re a Maharashtrian community who worship Lord Krishna devoutly, wandering through towns and villages, singing devotional songs and surviving on alms. This shouldn’t be mistaken for begging. They accept whatever people wish to offer. In return, you get kindly words to describe you along with a sprinkle of astrology. That is, if you have a ear to listen.
In earlier days, alms were their only source of livelihood. Farming and cattle help sustain their families now.
Origin of Vasudev dates back to nineth century, having its mention in scriptures too. When a male member decides to become a Vasudev, he’s inducted into the community after an elaborate ceremony, proceeded by training in musical instruments, singing, dancing and scriptures.
I hadn’t seen them for decades, which kept me under a painful impression of them being obsolete. Maybe they are…in cities, where life moves faster than a jet and empathy seems to have lost its way.
Speaking to Vijay I realised how little I knew about this self-effacing, unpretentious community that had added so much of beauty to my childhood mornings.
Maybe even before I finish writing about him, Vijay Vasudev is already on a bus back home…taking his soulful voice, divine music, distinguished attire and precious words of wisdom with him. I gained a lot from those 10 minutes. But in those few moments, he’s left me with my childhood, I’d go back to in a heartbeat…
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