Monday, November 19, 2012

In honour of Jalaram Bapa

A brand-new structure in Kochi houses the idol of one of the most revered saints of Gujarat

Photo: Manu R. Mavelil 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a sunny Friday morning, a woman and a six-year-old boy steps into the Jalaram Bapa Dham in Mattancherry, Kochi, and strikes the bell, hanging from the ceiling. Thereafter, they stand with folded hands in front of a marble statue of Bapa. He is wearing a red pagadi, a white muslin kurta, bright red dhoti, and holding a wooden stick in his hand. The other idols, made from marble obtained from Makrana in Rajasthan, include Lord Ganesha, Rama, Hanuman, Krishna and Radha. The canopy is inlaid with 24 carat gold. Meanwhile, the pujari, Bharat Bhai Pandiya, offers prasadam to the mother and child. And they step out.

Welcome to the newest religious structure in Kochi. The three-storey building, 9000 sq. ft. in area, is gleaming white and is already an eye-catcher in the area. “It took us three years to make it,” says Mahesh M. Joshi, Vice President of the Shri Jalaram Dham Trust. “We started with an initial corpus of just Rs 5 lakh and then the money just flowed in, all thanks to the blessings of Bapa.”

Jalaram Bapa is one of the most prominent saints of Gujarat. “There are Vaishnavs, Jains, Marwaris, Brahmins and Patels who are his ardent devotees,” says Mahesh. “Undoubtedly, he is not known among non-Gujaratis.”

Bapa was born in Virpur, Rajkot district, in 1799. From his teens, he was engaged in serving pilgrims and sadhus. A devotee of Lord Rama, Bapa showed no interest in his father's business.

At the age of sixteen, Jalaram married Virbai. Soon after, he became an ascetic. Virbai was
also a pious woman and remained steadfast beside her husband. At 18, Bapa became a devotee of Bhoja Bhagat of Fatehpur. With the blessings of his guru, Bapa started 'Sadavrat', a feeding center where sadhus as well as the needy can have food at any time.

Soon, miracles began taking place. A tailor, Haraji, was suffering from severe stomach ache. Jalaram prayed to God and Haraji was cured. He fell at Jalaram's feet and addressed him as Bapa. Since then he began to be known as Jalaram Bapa. As a result, his fame spread far and wide, and people came to him with all sorts of problems. Both Hindus and Muslims became his disciples.

The main shrine of Bapa is located at Virpur. This is actually the house where Bapa lived. It contains his belongings, as well as the idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. The singular attraction is the portrait of Bapa.

In Virpur, thousands of people are provided meals every day. “We will be adopting the same practice soon,” says Viren Kalyanji Khona, the treasurer of the Shri Jalaram Dham Trust. “But, since 1999, we have been giving food packets to 400 needy families, irrespective of caste, creed, or religion, on every Thursday, which is regarded as Guru's Day. We also give buttermilk, during the summer, to thirsty wayfarers. On an average, 500 glasses are consumed every day.”

Even for the devotees in Kochi, Bapa does miracles. When there is a request to Bapa to fulfill a wish, the pujari will take out a red satin cloth bag, placed in front of Bapa in a small wooden case. This contains wheat grains. This is placed against the two eyes of the devotee. Thereafter, the bag is placed near the mouth of Bapa and the pujari will say, “This person has a desire, please fulfill it.”

And, inevitably, the promises are fulfilled. “People give donations in gratitude,” says Viren. “I had a dream of living in my own house and Bapa has fulfilled it.”

Says Mahesh, “We are so happy that, finally, we have a dham where we can worship our Guru, even though we live so far away from Gujarat.” 

(The New Indian Express Sunday Magazine, South India and Delhi)  

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