They bring gods to your door, Chandigarh artist paints them on canvas

  • Nirupama Dutt, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 15, 2016 14:08 IST
A woman worshipping a cow pulling a temple on wheels. (HT Photo)

Carts bearing bright coloured tin temples painted with pictures of gods, a tinsel curtain encasing an inner chamber that has the special deities along with ‘prasad’ and ‘charanamrit’, incense sticks vermilion ‘teekas’ and CDs playing bhajans are driven by healthy cows from home to home in Le Corbusier’s city. Well, why not? In this day and age of home delivery of just about everything from pizzas to groceries, bouquets to vegetables, why not religion at your very doorstep.

This phenomenon which is a couple of years old in the city seems to find its takers who touch the cow for purification, pay obeisance to the gods, receive their ‘prasad’ and give what they can by way of offering in cash or kind. A religious woman in Sector 19 says, “I never let the cow go away without something. This winter, I covered her with a blanket’.

The colourful temples on carts with orange satin flags may have been dismissed by many of the residents as some passing religious activity, but attention has been drawn to them by a city-based artist Ram Pratap Verma, who has made them a part of his art in a show opening at the Punjab Kala Bhawan on February 25. Not only are these carts a motif in his paintings in which he has been portraying the changes in society over time but a cart, minus the cow, is also going to be part of an installation at the show.

A painting by Ram Pratap Verma (HT Photo)

In a case of art not just imitating life but commenting on it, Verma says: “One had to climb many steps to reach temples in the past so that one makes an effort to reach a higher spiritual level. But now in this fast world where everyone has little time, the act of worship has been made easy by reaching your very doorstep.” Interestingly, these cart-owners prefer densely populated sectors with smaller-sized government quarters and homes, colonies and rural areas around the city to the posh sectors with sprawling homes. A cart owner says: “People living in big ‘kothis’ never come out when we are doing the rounds.”

Who are these cart owners? They are traditional nomads of Maharashtra called Gosain and move from place to place and stay in make-shift tents with tarpaulin stretched on metal rods with women looking after the well-bred cows. A ‘Baba’ who is the head of a camp and young men take out the temple carts on morning rounds. Shankar Baba of a camp in Manimajra says, “We travel on foot and cover the entire region and go up to Jammu and Vaishno Devi. Both Hindus and Sikhs worship the cow and look after them. We get a very warm welcome in rural areas.” The Baba reveals that it is a sin for them to sell milk but the children of the nomads get some share of it and the rest goes to calves.

At another camp nearby, the men are away and Shanta Bai, a senior woman, says, “The temples on the carts are fashioned by craftsmen at Shirdhi in Maharashtra. Our people have always reared cows. Just see how strong and beautiful they are.” When asked if they are troubled by authorities and have to move on, a younger girl pipes in saying, “All the time. We are allowed to stay here only for eight days and then we will move to Mansa Devi. A camp can also be seen close to Attawa Chowk and a few carts can be seen in Sector 34’s exhibition ground.

Verma reveals that they all belong to the same clan and during Navratri, they take large idols of the Goddess Durga from house to house too. The idols that are housed in the temple carts include Shirdi Sai Baba, Durga, Krishna and Shiva. Some of the younger men say that nomadic life is difficult and children do not go to schools but they walk on with their elders, few possessions and carts as nomads learning from the book of life and always on the move in a changing world.

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