Bathers at Sangam, Allahabad
I was born in the south but for me home is Uttar Pradesh.
U.P as we called it was this massive state that laid across the lap of north India like a cow on a busy road. I identified U.P with history, holy places like Varanasi, pretty uninspiring landscapes and the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. It was poor, the people quaint and folksy. It didn't have the glamour of a Rajasthan or the money of Gujarat or the lushness of Bengal. It just was. Pretty ordinary really.
But because it had so many people (we used to quote the figure that if U.P had been its own country it would have the 11th largest population in the world) and so many politicians (Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Shastri, just to name three of the early Prime Ministers of India) I think we U.P walas puffed out our chests a bit more than we had the right to. U.P may have been the Cow Belt of India but don't forget, cows are holy in India!
I went to a boarding school in a hill station called Mussoorie and spent my winter holidays in the holy and historic town of Allahabad. Travelling between those two towns and elsewhere in the state was something that never bored me. Rather I was always VERY eager to hop on a train or bus and see what U.P would offer up.
Too many tales. Too many half remembered ones.
But one of my favourite activities during the winter holidays was exploring Allahabad on my Robin Hood cycle. Many times I wound up at the wide river flats of the Ganges (Ganga) where at any given time and day devout Hindu devotees could be found doing puja and bathing in the murky water. Most of the activity was around a place called the Sangam, where the Ganga and Yamuna, north India's two mighty streams, come together in a swirl of brown and blue. A third river, they say, invisible but more powerful than the others, named the Saraswati, bubbles up from underground. And to bathe at this triveni (three waters) is auspicious. When the planets are aligned just so (usually in the January or February) to bathe in the Sangam is to wipe many lives of sins from the soul. Once every 12 years the astrology and astronomy come together and upwards of 20,000,000 people visit Allahabad and the Sangam to earn extra blessings and salvation. At those times Allahabad is host to the largest congregation of humanity anywhere in the world.
|Astrologers flags, Allahabad|
The flat lands by the river (sometimes mud, sometimes hard cracked clay) were a mini cosmos with all manner of activity (secular, holy, criminal and silly) going on all the time. Pandits (priests) and astrologers flew their flags like holy advertisements to attract the troubled and curious. Restaurants cooked up sizzling pakoras and samosas.
|V.P. Singh, one of India's many Allahabadi Prime Ministers|
Political parties had stalls shouting the virtues of their candidates. Beggars by the score sat patiently in long rows collecting the small coins tossed their way by the millions of pilgrims.
Music was everywhere. Bhajans, folk songs, political songs and love songs.
Tonight's collection by the wonderful little company Beats of India features some of these songs from the great expansive, hard to nail down but essential state of Uttar Pradesh. I heard all of these sounds (if not the songs themselves) many times down by the Sangam, but also on the trains, buses and bazars of the State.
01 Dihe ke Manavan (Devi)
02 Baba Nimiya Ka (Var Khojai)
03 Sada Bhavani Dahini (Chhapeli)
04 Gangoli Haat Ma (Chhapeli)
05 Baajat Aave Paijaniya (Hori)
06 Hamke Jai de Naiharva (Dhobiya)
07 Janata Party (Geet)
08 More Pichvara (Geet)
09 Jhir Mir Bahela Bayar (Jantsar)
10 Ke Tohra Sang Jai (Nirgun)