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The hungry artistes

Spirited Why can’t Muslim yogis sing of Hindu saints in Gorakhpur? Paramita Ghosh reports.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2010 00:04 IST
Paramita Ghosh

For 10 years, they shut me up and now you want me to sing,” says Durga Kasim plucking the strings of his sarangi while his wife glowers in the background. For a Muslim yogi, who wears saffron during performance and sings songs of Yogi Gorakhnath in a communally sensitive town, there are many pressures. The little domestic scene we witness on request of a song is the least of them.

For years, says Gorakhpur-based historian Ramkrisnamani Tripathi, the cult of Gorakhnath (the 11th century mystic who is the patron saint of Gorakhpur), counted this tribe of wandering minstrels in as believers. “From the time of Mahant Digvijaynath, the town, till then an example of religious harmony, became a focus of Hindutva politics,” says Tripathi. Digvijaynath joined the Hindu Mahasabha; Avaidyanath, Adityanath’s (present-day head of the order known for his anti-Muslim views) mentor joined the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. The Muslim yogis also faced social boycott from hardliners among Muslims especially after the Babri incident.

So, for the past 15 years, there has been no place for them in any kind of tradition — social, economic or artistic. What art can be produced anyway by men who tend to a patch of land “fit only for growing garlic”, asks Phul Mohammed, another artiste. Durga helps him tie his turban while his family fidgets. Durga’s nephew Salahuddin, a B.A. student, is sniffy. “Why should they sing? It seems like begging,” he says. “No wonder aunt had locked his sarangi away.”

For Durga Kasim and seven other yogi families in Jogi tolla, the city, as a centre of patronage and a land of the arts, has gradually become off-limits. “Years ago, we would sing of Kabir and Gorakhnath, and come back with grain and milk. We sang, they gave. We would offer khichdi at the (Gorakhnath) temple,” says Shambhu, another yogi. How does one explain this sentiment? The Nath tradition to which Gorakhnath belonged did not recognise caste barriers and its teachings were adopted by outcasts and kings alike, he says.

So, we don’t do a double-take when we meet people of that community with one Hindu name. Durga Kasim, for instance, doesn’t make much of the fact that he keeps both the Ramayana and the Koran at home. “He (Ram) went into exile and that’s when things started to go wrong,” he says.

Sixty five kilometres from Yogi tolla, Adityanath the yogi-turned-BJP MP of Gorakhpur, offers his reasons for the fringe following. “Ninety per cent of Indian Muslims are sons of Hindu mothers. Indian culture has just one source — Gangetic.” Documentary film-maker Sanjay Joshi who is researching the lives of the Muslim yogis for a film, however, sees their art as a cultural challenge to this homogenisation. “By preserving the original Gorakhnath tradition of inclusion, they are posing an alternative tradition.”

For Durga and his family, however, time is running out. There is an offer for them to perform in a folk festival. Durga is happy but pragmatic. After the show is over, he may have to hit the road to sell pressure cookers. Sheila, a member of his family, “will be dancing to (recorded) music, for nautankis nearby,” he says.

“Try me out for a DJ,” says Durga suddenly. “I can do film roles too. Want to see my Chambal ki kasam?” These days he is ready for anything.

Inputs by Manoj Kumar Singh