A Marriage of Three

Din Thakite Tiner Sadhan
Kenore Tui Korli na

O my spirit!
Why did you not seek the sadhana of three,
While the light of day was still with thee?

It was at the Nabasana Ashram that I first met Ma Goshain and Hari Goshain in 1985, during their annual mahotsava, held straight after the Shonamukhi Mela in April. Deep in the shade of a grove of trees, lay the Nabasana Ashram. My two small children; my daughter was five and my son, seven years old then. We crossed through forest and field to reach there with Paban and a group of baul singers. While the entire countryside smoldered in the blazing dry heat of the Bankura April, the ashram was a haven of peace, in a thrall of festivities.

While Hari Goshain stood discoursing with his fellow sadhus disciples. He was straight and tall, a fierce old patriarch, unapproachable and intimidating.
Ma Goshain, on the contrary was gay, tender warm and smiling and cool in spite of being in front of giant fires, monitoring activities in the giant kitchen which provided food and refreshments for every weary pilgrim.
She took charge of me immediately, calling out to the sadhumas and vaishnavis who surrounded her in the kitchen. Soon we were all bathed and changed and she fed the children with her own hands and stroked my head affectionately.
You remind me of myself when I was young, she said to me, I too had two little children when I met your Father.

Most of what I know about Baul Guru Ma, Nirmala Dasi whom we called Ma Goshain before she became the sadhan sangini of the great baul guru and hatha yogi, the legendary Shri Haripada Goswami, comes from Narayan Adhikary, baul singer and dotara player, her contemporary and singing partner, who saw her metamorphosis from a simple housewife impassioned by baul songs into a powerful Guru Mother.

She fled East Pakistan sometime in the 1950’s and arrived in a refugee camp for East Pakistan Displaced Persons (EPDP) at the Bongaon border. Her husband was a police officer in Jessore. He died leaving her to fend for herself and their two young daughters. Narayan did not remember the exact circumstances of his death.

She was later transferred to the Gopalpur EPDP refugee camp near the Durgapur steel city along with other refugees who were settled along the banks of the river Damodar by the Indian government at the time.

The picture which emerges from the very first memories of Narayan is a woman of amazingly strong character, brimming with artistic talent, shrewd intuition, a mean gift of the gab, a great cook with a huge appetite.

Narayan Adhikari, who arrived in the Gopalpur camp around the same time as Ma Goshain did, tells us that she was already an accomplished baul and kirtana singer. Moreover, her wit and intelligence, her acerbic tongue, her repertoire of baul songs and her mouthwatering cooking abilities soon won her a pole position in the refugee camp.

Spiritual power, say the baul gurus, comes from a power over the self. I tend to think that spiritual power also comes from power over others. Let me qualify. There is no black magic involved. The power of the baul gurus is that of the transmitting knowledge to transform others, to release the bonds which tie in their spirits, to indicate the way towards discernment and dynamic action in any given situation.

Ma Goshain is the perfect example. Just a couple of months after her arrival at the camp, she had the Officer-in-Charge eating out of her hand.

With her experience of crime as the wife of a police officer, she was quick at ferreting out unlawful activities. Corrupt nocturnal practices abounded in the refugee camp, especially the trafficking of food and medicines to be sold on the black market, and hells bells, when she discovered that hapless women and innocent children were being auctioned to agents and kutney buris, she was mad as fire. To make matters worse, the Officer-in-Charge who received a cut in all these transactions looked away from these macabre nightly scenes instead of putting a stop to them.

Nirmala effectively used this information as a leverage to change the dynamics of the refugee camp. She shouted out loud at the officer and threatened to reveal all to the authorities unless he stopped these activities. She demanded that he provide proper food, care and work to the camp dwellers. Most of them were unable to fend for themselves, weakened physically and morally by the ordeals they’d had to endure during their forced migration in a riot stricken country. Her neighbours in the camp shushed her. She was putting herself in danger in the eyes of the camp mafia, they warned her, and putting them in danger as well. Paying absolutely no attention to their whispering, she carried on her campaign against the camp boss with her extempore improvisations and satirizing.

To everyone’s surprise, her wit and sangfroid put an effective stop to trafficking in the camp. Her words and actions saved many a person from prostitution and slavery, orienting them towards taking possession of their own destinies.

This made her into a truly popular model figure in the environs and her reputation as an extraordinary mother figure began to spread from camp to country.

It was Subal Das Baul, always on the look out for new, young talent to add to his team, who heard through the baul network about a charismatic new woman singer who had arrived at the Gopalpur camp and went to meet her.

They got on like a house on fire, as they were both Rasik Pagols, both from Dhaka district, known for its tradition of oral humor and soon, the two of them had everyone around them in splits of laughter. They had, moreover, a repertoire in common and were soon exchanging songs and singing together.

Subal Das Baul lived at the time in Kalna at Bhaba Pagla’s ashram as the resident baul. He was already well known as a great interpreter of baul songs with a voice as large and polished and shining as the great river Padma. Besides this, he had another special ability: that of being a cunning match-maker in the baul community. He would now put this ability to terrific use with long lasting repercussions on the baul community.

Subal knew from his guru brothers and sisters that Hari Goshain, was looking for a sadhan sangini, a life partner with whom to take the baul route of jugal sadhana. He invited Hari Goshain to a ceremony in Nabadwip Dham during the Rasa Lila to which he had also invited Nirmala with her two young daughters. He said nothing to either.

The news spread like wildfire among Hari Goshain’s two thousand odd disciples in the area who were all on the lookout for a suitable bride for their great guru. They were looking to their guru to settle down in an akhra somewhere near Mana, where they were settling. This flock of Hari Goshain’s disciples had migrated with him from Barisal district in the fifties to Nabadwip Dham. Their opinion on the future mate of their spiritual Guru Ma was of fundamental importance to them. They would have to accept her presence in their most intimate lives if they should decide to be initiated.

Hari Goshain was a tiger among the sadhu gurus and was known for the arduous rigor of his discipline as an authentic hatha yogi. He had been initiated into yogic practices by none other than the legendary Dharmadas Naga (who saved the Raja of Bhawal from death by poisoning}. He had wandered as a sadhu in the Himalayas with this redoubtable guru from the age of eleven wearing nothing but a silver kopine learning all about Naga and Amar Sadhana. He had found no spiritual satisfaction from these tough disciplines and had lately given allegience to Guru Krishna Das of Vrindavana who advised him to find a life partner to practise sringara rasa and jugal sadhana. No ordinary woman could become his companion.

Here, at last, in the person of Nirmala, was someone who could match up to Hari Goshain. Subal pointed her out to his guru Hari Goshain when she arrived in the akhra and told him to watch out for her when she sang.

In the evening when Nirmala Ma got up to sing, along with Subal and Narayan, ektara in hand, it was love at first sight for Hari Goshain and his disciples. She appeared in a simple white widow’s cotton, a string of tulsi beads shining on her neck and nothing indicated any trace of the reputation of a virago she had acquired. When she began to sing in a state of pure rapture, they were electrified.

Hari Goshain and his disciples bathed in the flow of rasa of the Bangladesh they had left behind years before, hidden among the crowds who listened enthralled to her singing and joking with Subal and Narayan, as she belted out song after glorious song of Lalan Fakir and Haore Goshain, Bhatiali, Bhawaiya. Dhamaila, Kirtana, railed and provoked the audience with her questions about the nature of religion, of man and of woman, of Brahman and Chandal, and the crucial importance of an authentic guru to lead a human being towards a knowledge of the self.

Her songs struck Hari Goshain and his disciples like sheets of lightening. This was more than a coincidence. It was a heraldic message of a possible divine union. The union of two true souls and two practised human bodies coming together in an antique cycle, old as the gods of yoga. When the disciples looked into the face of their great guru, his eyes were turned inwards. He was in a state of Samadhi. Bliss. Nirmala was already seated in his heart.

Opening his eyes, he looked at his disciples and smiled as though he had read their thoughts and nodded his head.

Their approval of his future spiritual spouse and partner was essential to his decision, he told them and he asked them to propose to her on his behalf.

I can only imagine now the test which Nirmala Ma had to face in this situation. Looking at this epic scenario from a distance of many years and many miles from the place where these events took place, in the district of Nadia in West Bengal, I must add at this point that there exists since time immemorial an ancient network of ascetics.

Did she really have the liberty of designing her own life? Was she not just an object of use for millenary tantric practices? The borderline between the sacred and the profane is hardly visible.

Match-making in the community of sages often has the colour of human trafficking. Many a sadhu, guru and vaishnava transform into pimps, proxenetes and worse. Poverty is only partly responsible. It’s perhaps only one of the conditions which transforms good men devoted to the adoration of the Mother into monsters and oppressors of women. Where women become fools and men are always kings.

Baul sadhus help women to move away from abjectitude and subservience and teach them to recognize their own sensuality and always stress on the singularity of each individual.

Saraswati, in popular Bengali culture is worshipped as Mahavidya.
The goddess personifies Knowledge.
The word Saras means “Fluid/Flowing/Aquatic” Wati means “Bata:the Word”.
Prostitutes are known as the Vidyas.
There’s many a sadhuma who was a former prostitute.

How did Ma Goshain deal with this situation? In the case of this redoubtable woman, her actions are lessons of how courage and conviction contribute to clearing the way for a spiritual life.
Spirituality is not a vaporous substance, but engrained in the very nervous system of culture.

The disciples of Hari Goshain, in a delegation led by Subal Das Baul went to see the marvelous woman they had chosen as the right partner for their guru. They gently revealed their desire to her. Would she accept becoming the wife of the great Hoira?

She was, at first, thunderstruck. How could she, just an ordinary widow, become the companion of the great sadhu? What would happen to her daughters?

They promised her that Hari Goshain along with all his disciples would take care of all the needs of her daughters and promised to provide an education and to find them good husbands when they were older.

Nirmala Ma, realizing that she had been blessed by the heavens, that she was in the middle of nothing short of a miracle, left the camp to meet him in Nabadwip. When they met, she bent to touch his feet. He stopped her immediately crying out:

Stop! Stop! Radha is Krishna’s guru!
Then he threw himself at her feet and wept:
Save me from myself, Ma!

Nirmala was overwhelmed with emotion and tears streamed down their eyes. Their bond was soon finalized by a simple mala chandan. Immediately after, the newly married couple took a train to Vrindavana, waving goodbye to her daughters who had been adopted by the community of disciples. They looked perfectly happy playing with the other children.

In Vrindavana, Hari Goshain left Nirmala with his guru Shri Krishna Das Bairagya for seven long years to learn the path of yoga and sringara rasa. Slowly she matured in body and soul and learnt all the rites and rules of baul sadhana. At the end of this period of apprenticeship, Krishna Das sent for Hari Goshain and bound them together with a mantram of sanyas. It was a successful marriage of three, the wife and husband with the spiritual master.

The very next day, they left Vrindavan. For the next twelve years, Hari Goshain and Ma Goshain wandered the country as paribrajak till at last, accidentally, they arrived in the village of Nabasana in Bankura district.

Here, the divinely blessed couple established their ashram in the Bhairavasthan. It became a magnetic field, a training camp and launching pad of many a disciple, whether farmer, baul singer or vagrant woman.

Today, the ashram lies neglected as Hari Goshain and Ma Goshain left us a few years ago. The precious oral heritage which they left behind remains with the community of his disciples, a few baul singers and mainly farmers who live in the Mana area in the Damodar Valley and in Nabadwip and Kalna.

Our dream and ambition is to revive this precious chain of knowledge and of nourishment which was created by this sacred couple: food for the body and food for a soul.

Joy Guru! Joy Ma!

By: Mimlu Sen

Mimlu Sen lives between France and India in tandem with Paban Das Baul since 1983, through her Association LUNA, creating networks throughout the world to spread knowledge about Baul songs and Baul singers of Bengal through encounters, writings, translations, recordings, radio programmes, concerts, book readings, theatre workshops, baul festivals and artistic residences. She is, at present, in a retreat in Merville, in the Toulouse region, writing a new collection of stories based on her travels entitled: Migrating Heart. All Rights Reserved by Author.

Books by Mimlu Sen:
Baulsphere, The Honey Gatherers