On a sunny Friday morning, a woman and a six-year-old boy steps into the Jalaram Bapa Dham in Mattancherry, Kochi, in Kerala. After striking the bell that hangs from the ceiling, they stand with folded hands in front of a marble statue of Jalaram Bapa. The idol is wearing a red pagdi, a white muslin kurta, a bright red dhoti, and holds a wooden stick. The other idols, made from marble from Makrana, Rajasthan, include ones of Lord Ganesha, Rama, Hanuman, Krishna and Radha. The canopy is inlaid with 24-carat gold.
Welcome to the newest religious structure in Kochi. The 9,000 sq ft three-storey building is gleaming white and is already an eye-catcher in the area. “It took us three years to make it,” says Mahesh M Joshi, vice-president of the Shri Jalaram Dham Trust. “We started with an initial corpus of just Rs 5 lakh and then the money just flowed in, all thanks to the blessings of Bapa.”
Jalaram Bapa is one of the most prominent saints of Gujarat. “There are Vaishnavs, Jains, Marwaris, Brahmins and Patels who are his ardent devotees,” says Joshi. “Undoubtedly, he is not known among non-Gujaratis.”
Bapa was born in Virpur, Rajkot district, in 1799. From his teens, he was engaged in serving pilgrims and sadhus. A devotee of Lord Rama, Bapa showed no interest in his father’s business. At the age of 16, Jalaram married Virbai. Soon after, he became an ascetic. Virbai was also a pious woman and remained steadfast beside her husband. At 18, Bapa became a devotee of Bhoja Bhagat of Fatehpur. With his guru’s blessings, Bapa started ‘Sadavrat’—a feeding centre where sadhus as well as the needy can have food at any time.
Soon, miracles began to happen. A tailor, Haraji, suffering from severe stomachache prayed there and was cured. He fell at Jalaram’s feet and addressed him as Bapa. Since then he began to be known as Jalaram Bapa. His fame spread far and wide, and people came to him with all sorts of problems—both Hindus and Muslims—who became his disciples.
The main shrine of the Bapa is located at Virpur—the house where Bapa lived before he became a saint. It contains all his erstwhile belongings, as well as the idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. The singular attraction is the portrait of Bapa.
In Virpur, thousands are fed every day. “We will be adopting the same practice soon,” says Viren Kalyanji Khona, the treasurer of the Trust. “Since 1999, we have been giving food packets to 400 needy families, irrespective of caste, creed, or religion, every Thursday, which is regarded as Guru’s Day. We also give buttermilk during the summer to thirsty wayfarers. On an average, 500 glasses are consumed every day.”
Even for devotees in Kochi, Bapa does miracles. When a devotee makes a wish, the pujari will take out a red satin cloth bag, and place it in front of Bapa in a small wooden case. This contains wheat grains. This is then placed on the devotee’s closed eyes. Thereafter, the bag is placed near the mouth of Bapa and the pujari will say, “This person has a desire, please fulfill it.”
Inevitably, it is fulfilled. “People give donations in gratitude,” says Khona. “I had a dream of living in my own house and Bapa has fulfilled it.”
Says Joshi, “We are so happy that, finally, we have a dham where we can
worship our Guru, even though we live so far away from Gujarat.”