Days of Song and Bharfi

Remembering Here&Now

Aradhana’s memoir of the Osho Kirtan Mandali, 1973

I am sitting in a steam train heading north from Bangalore to Delhi. I have a berth prebooked in a ladies’ compartment which is very nice and affords a lot of privacy. It is small and enclosed, and has four berths, two of which fold down during the day to form backrests. I have a tattered book, DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow, which I bought in a second-hand bookshop in Bangalore. I need something good to read as this journey is going to take three days and two nights on one train, after connecting in Chennai.

Periodically the train stops and other people enter the compartment. A Muslim family comes in, the mother and two small daughters covered from head to toe in black burquas. The father helps them to remove the burquas, as they are now in private, and settle down. He then leaves to find his seat in the other part of the carriage. Like all Indians on trains they soon take out their tiffin with an assortment of food. The little girls call me ’auntie’ and offer me food which I gratefully accept.

Kirtan by Aradhana

Some weeks earlier I had spoken with Osho in his room in Woodlands, Mumbai about what to do after the meditation camp that I had just participated in. It seemed he liked to see his Western sannyasins (there weren’t many of us) after the camps to speak with them. I asked him if I could join Kirtan Mandali and he said, Yes. The mandali were a bunch of Osho sannyasins who travelled around India singing and dancing in the streets and talking about Osho.

There was an interim period before the next tour was due to begin, and Life was taking me to South India. I did not want to remain in Mumbai as India was not a tourist destination as it is now, and there was very little accommodation for travellers. Osho lived in Mumbai at the time, despite the fact that it was always hot and humid and generally not a pleasant place to hang out.

A few days before I was to meet up with the mandali I climbed aboard said train for Delhi. It was going to be a long journey, chugging up through the centre of the whole subcontinent. Trains were slow in those days but I found myself in a balanced, flowing state after recovering from the meditation camp. The camp had been strenuous; it included three active meditations a day for ten days. Having participated totally – without missing a single one – and not being physically strong, it had exhausted me. It seems that Osho’s methods are just to exhaust us; I have heard him say that.

I sat in this ladies’ compartment in my orange robe and mala, the dusty plains of India roll by and reading DH Lawrence. Sometimes other ladies got in, stayed for some time, chatted with me, then disembarked. It was all very peaceful. I bought chai and food from station vendors through the window at train stops. It would be something like potato stew and chapatti served on a banana leaf plate which, when finished with, would be jettisoned through the window to return to the earth, fertilise the soil and continue to feed India’s millions. Not a very high protein meal, but in India you took what came. At night I raised the backrest to horizontal, unrolled my sleeping bag, climbed up, and went to sleep.

Eventually the train reached Delhi and I disembarked. I had to get to Narnaul in Haryana, a village north of Delhi, where the mandali were meeting up. I had no idea how to get there but had the address and phone number; I made a call from the station, then took a local train and a horse-drawn rickshaw to the house of a sannyasin where I met the other Mandali members.

Kirtan Mandali

Most of the troupe were young Indian men, sannyasins, and I remember Vairagya, Pratap, Nirmal, Vijay, Samir, Sant and Krishna Kaivalya, a graceful young man who wore that type of chappal made entirely of wood, with a wooden toe-post and disc on top to keep it on the foot, that went clack, clack, clack down the road. German Haridas and Priya were with us for a while and Australian Anandadas.

The women were Madhu, Bharti and me. Madhu was a short Indian lady who was one of the very first of Osho’s sannyasins. Her job was to organise and keep us in check, which she was good at, having formally been a school teacher. Bharti was a tall American girl with long fair hair and the cheek-bones and bearing of an American Indian. We quickly chummed up.

Unlike the plains of India the air of Haryana was clean and fresh. It was less densely populated and there was barely any traffic. After the first night in the meeting house we prepared to move on. The Mandali had a little PA system and some tables, but no-one had much personal luggage. I had a small bag with a change of clothes, a towel and a sleeping bag. We used to travel by car, truck or train, whatever was available. It was quite pleasant sitting en plein air in the back of a truck coasting down the long empty roads of Haryana, past fields of wheat and carrots. Nothing went fast, if it went at all.

After arriving at our destination we would look for a space to lay down our sleeping bags. We often stayed in a dharamsala which was a simple building made in the old days to accommodate travellers free of charge, or for very little money. We then went out for a meal, which was often provided by a local well-wisher – probably an old tradition. The first night we went to the home of an old man who served us kitcheree, which is rice and dahl cooked together. We sat on the ground in front of his stone house and were each handed a plate of this fare, topped with a large spoonful of ghee. The ghee was a bit smelly so I tried to avoid it, and have avoided it ever since! The old man was at pains to tell us he was a brahmacharya, a celibate; not surprising really as he was so old and decrepit!

Every morning we were rounded up by Madhu to do Dynamic Meditation, as instructed by Osho, but not too early, maybe 7 or 8 am; then showers and brunch, probably bread and chai. Next we went out into the streets to ‘work’. The local people were a heady mix of Hindus, Muslims and tall Sikhs in turbans, and they came out in droves to see us. We usually went to the village square in our orange clothes and malas, taking the PA system with us, and stood in a circle. Vairagya had a little hand drum that he beat with a short dumpy stick and Nirmal would take the mike.

Tall and elegant in a smart polycot* lungi suit, Nirmal sang the first line of a song and then we all sang it after him. This is Kirtan, a simple ancient song form: the leader sings one line and the rest of the singers repeat his line. We often started with Govinda bolo hari, Gopala bolo; Radha Ramana hari, gopala bolo which would be sung over and over again, but with the tune rising on the second repetition. It roughly translates as: Krishna we call you, Radha Ramana, we call. This is the best known Kirtan song. These were the days long before any of our much-loved sannyas songs had been written, hence we adopted old Hindu devotional songs.

We started to sway as we sang, then Nirmal began singing faster and we also sang faster and eventually danced like lunatics. We must have been quite a sight for the locals in those small towns where not much happened out of the ordinary: a circle of orange-clad, singing and dancing individuals, including two western girls with long hair flying in the sun, Bharti fair and me, red. Each song lasted 5 to 10 minutes and then on to the next. After an hour or so we wound down and Vairagya made the announcement of the talk about Osho that would be given later in the day.

Kirtan by Aradhana

In the afternoons we went out again in ones or twos to sell a publication by Osho called Anand. It was a basic pamphlet printed in Punjabi, stapled together and sold at one rupee each. Some days I went out with Vijay – we made a good selling team – but other days I went alone. Armed with a stack of Anands, I strolled around the empty streets in the afternoon sun calling out “Anand, Anand!” (bliss, bliss!).

One day an old man, leaning on a staff and dressed in rags, approaches me asking, “Ketna?” (how much?)

“Ek rupee,” says I.

“Ek rupaia! Chaar annas?” he yells and with the Indian equivalent of ‘bah!’ stomps off.

In the peace of the afternoons, shopkeepers with little custom visiting each other in their shops and discussing philosophy and religion often called me in to have a look at Anand. I never felt afraid or threatened in any way on those streets.

In our free time we washed our clothes, relaxed or went for a wander. Bharti and I used to go for a stroll in the streets nearby, which were always quiet, and sample the local street-food. There were peanuts roasted in their shells, puffed lentils seasoned with salt and chilli, puris and various sweets. Some of these sweets were sticky and chewy, but my favourite was bharfi; it is made of milk, flavoured with cardamom, heated and stirred for some hours until it becomes like fudge. I ate a lot of it. The best did not have any added sugar and was entirely made of milk.

One does not usually think of India as being a country of cold weather, but now well into December, Haryana was getting pretty chilly. Bharti and I were a bit short on warm clothes and there was not much to be bought. Vijay had a spare rust-coloured woollen jumper which he lent to me but Bharti had to buy one which was khaki coloured – that was all she could find. Nights were really cold. We heard that homeless people in Delhi were dying in the streets, and even in the dharamsala where we stayed I was not able to keep warm at night. Fortunately a woman and her daughter dropped by, saw my old sleeping bag that was getting thinner through use, went home and came back with an enormous mattress, big enough for me to lie on one half and fold the other half over me. Thus I survived those cold nights.

In the evenings Vairaga or Madhu would give a talk about Osho in the local town hall, if there was one. People piled in to see us as there was not much else for them to do. We all went and sat on a sort of dais, but as the language was unintelligible to us Westerners we used to get restless and fidgety, and were relieved when it was over. Many of the people were curious about us and would surge forwards to get a better look as we left. Madhu briskly hailed a horse-drawn rickshaw and shoved us in, instructing the driver to take us away fast. It was a bit like being famous rock-stars!

Christmas eve came and Madhu was curious about the Christmas story and wanted us to do a little enactment, so Anandadas played Joseph and I was the Virgin Mary. We did a little charade riding to Bethlehem on our imaginary donkey, or was it a camel?

Eventually my weeks with the Mandali drew to an end. It had been a great adventure but January came and it was time to cease touring for a while as the next meditation camp with Osho was imminent. I had enjoyed those sunny days but it was time to pack the bags again and head for the station to catch the train for the long journey to Mt. Abu.

* cotton and polyester cloth

Article and illustration by Aradhana – photo of another Osho Mandali credit Anand Bharti

AradhanaAradhana grew up in the country in Lancashire, northern England, and studied to become a fashion designer at art college in London. However, theatre suited her more so she became a theatre costume maker. She took sannyas in London in 1973 and was in Samarpan commune in Gujarat. She is now retired and enjoys Chinese painting and growing plants from seed. She lives just outside Brighton.

See Aradhana’s artwork
When Ink and Paper Marry Each Other

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