Spiritual thoughts that knit India

Geetha has also included a glossary, for the readers to understand the actual meaning of words.
The book was launched by scholar Dushyanth Sridhar (R)
The book was launched by scholar Dushyanth Sridhar (R)

CHENNAI: Around fifteen years ago, Geetha Gangadaran had a usual day at work which involved generating ideas, planning stories, and gathering research materials for WE magazine’s Pongal issue. A columnist for the ‘Tradition’ page of the magazine, Geetha decided to write about Thiruvalluvar and his magnum opus, Thirukkural. “Pongal festivities in Tamil Nadu are incomplete without celebrating Thiruvalluvar. So, I wrote about the poet’s life and works, out of my knowledge acquired from various sources,” shares Geetha.

That particular issue received positive responses from the readers. “Mr Dharma from WE asked me to make this a regular inclusion in my column. So, once a month I wrote about saints, poets and reformers,” she shares. Cut to June 2024, Geetha recently released her new book Saints of Bharat, published by Shree Book Centre, Mumbai. It explores the lives of 31 well-known Indian saints in short stories, emphasising their teachings, accomplishments, and importance in Indian spirituality and history.

The author believes that the religious paradigms and the humanistic ideals these saints uphold have been superseded by social and political developments (invasions by various rulers), the ritualisation of societal problems (people asked to perform pujas for happiness, donations for prosperity), and other developments. Therefore, the book highlights the attempts by Indian saints to demystify ceremonies, rationalise religious practices, and simplify religion, God, and salvation. “India, sometimes known as Bharat, has been the home of many saints, who have left tales of their spiritual experiences and interactions with God. These saints have always preached that all people are made in the image of God and that it takes a lifetime or more to realise one’s divinity,” she points out.

Geetha’s writings seek to close the gap between conventional wisdom and contemporary comprehension, making them understandable. Hence, this book targets young adults. They can use it as a resource to learn about significant individuals and how they have influenced Indian society and culture. “The young adults are impressionable and misunderstand the concept of religion and salvation. Religion is for service but was never conceived to differentiate man from man but for liberation,” shares the author.

To captivate the attention of young readers and for them to learn life lessons from the book, Geetha has colourfully added the miracles that happened in the lives of these saints in boxes. “This one time, Thiruvalluvar had called on his wife, who was fetching water from a well. The instant he called her the pot stood still in the air. It was in the same position until she got back to the task,” she narrates. Sharing one more tale from the life of Ramanuja, who was taught the great lesson of Om Namo Narayana, she says that he was asked not to disclose the learning to anybody or he would not attain mukti. But Ramanuja being the person he is shared the teaching with everybody. “Through this, the adults learn the habit of not keeping things to themselves but sharing the joy. When you read the miracles, you could experience that feeling for a moment,” she shares.

Price Rs 450
Price Rs 450

Geetha has also included a glossary, for the readers to understand the actual meaning of words. “One of the other intentions of the book is to familiarise the North Indians with the saints of the south and vice versa. What Mirabai did in the north, Aandal did in the south. The book has travelled from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, the Indus region, Kashmir, Haryana, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Orissa in chronological order,” she says.

Dedicating Saints of Bharat to her amma and appa, this 72-year-old has written this book following extensive research, her experiences, and knowledge. She has not just researched about the saints, but has also gone through their works. This extensive work made her acknowledge, “There is nothing called caste, and mukti can be attained by being good and kind.”

Know your saints

Some of the saints mentioned in the book include, Eknath ad Chokamela from Maharashtra, Jhulelal from Sindh region, Guru Nanak from Lahore, Mirabai from Rajasthan, Kanaka Dasa, Akka Mahadevi, and Purandara Dasa from Karnataka, and Lalleshwari from Kashmir. ‘Saints of Bharat’ is available in bookstores across India.

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The New Indian Express