It was the first day of the dark fortnight of the Shravan month. The villagers were in a quandary. How would they celebrate the first 7 days in worshipping Merbai? Would Ramjibhai conduct the rituals? Would Mohanio join the celebrations?
“Any idea what they discussed with Dada Maharaj last night” Chhanu instigated his friends.
“Why don’t you ask the Sarpanch kaka?”
The evening saw Dada Maharaj leading Mohanio and the rest to the shrine of Merbai, singing prayers.
“What are they up to? What is the disgraced Mohanio going to do?” they shook their heads in disapproval. But how could they find fault with the wisdom of their Dada Maharaj? He had to know the best.
Dada Maharaj made Mohania sit in front of the shrine, facing the image of Merbai. His face lit up, his arms spread to hail the Kuldevi and he broke into a bhajan. Dada Maharaj, his entourage, Ramji, and Reva joined Mohania in reciting the bhajan, full-throated.
Everyone gathered there joined impulsively. It was celebration time once again. When Mohanio paused to catch his breath Dada Maharaj picked it up from there to start a bhajan in praise of Lord Krishna. The villagers were ecstatic, singing, dancing, and praying. The turmoil that they had gone through began to recede in the background. What did Dada Maharaj do? What is going to happen now? No one cared.
The spell of bhajans lasted almost three hours. Mohanio sat through the proceedings, clutching the tiny image of Merbai in his right arm, oblivious of the vast gathering around him. After the distribution of Prasad to everyone, Mohanio got up and walked back to his room. Was he back to his senses? Had he given up on the crazy idea of marrying the Kuldevi? No one knew except the members of the panchayat and his parents. Had the mahatma cast a magic spell on Mohania?
Ramesh and Dhiru called up their friends for a secret meeting of their own.
“I hid behind the Dharamshala to hear whatever was going on in the meeting with Dada Maharaj” Ramesh broke the news to his friends.
“Did you hear anything, Ramshaa?”
“No, they were talking in very low voices. I just saw Mohanio nod to whatever the Mahatma was saying to him.”
“Oh that means they have persuaded Mohania to give up the idea of marrying Merbai” Dhiru concluded.
“Right, bhai, good for the village”
The next day in the evening, the celebrations began exactly like the first day except that Mohanio looked soberer. The next day even more sober……
The celebrations continued in the evening every day for the first 7 days of the fortnight.
The Eighth Day – Janmashtami day – the day Lord Krishna was born and the day that Merbai sacrificed her life.
The day began with thunderous clouds threatening to unleash. The river was in spate since the previous day. The tank behind the shrine was full.
They were all eagerly waiting for the grand celebrations of the birth of Lord Krishna. A huge pandal was erected around the shrine of Merbai. The Sarpanch had made arrangements to make it a memorable affair; the jhoola (baby cradle) for the image of Krishna, the band of musicians, the sumptuous dinner.
But where was Mohanio? Where were Ramjibhai and Reva? Still in their house?
Dada Maharaj appeared first at the venue, with his group of disciples. The crowd gathered around, waiting to hear him give his special discourse on the occasion.
Dada Maharaj blessed everyone by raising his hands and motioned them to sit down. It started raining. The thunders grew louder.
“Brothers and Sisters, my Pranam to all (Salutations). On this auspicious occasion of Janmashtami, it is indeed my privilege to be with you all, in the very village that I can still call my own.
It is also my duty to do whatever I can to ease the pain that you all have gone through in the last one month. Please forgive me if I do not measure up to your expectations in any way but, in consultation with your elders and of course the poojari family we have decided to hear our inner voice, instead of clinging to the dogma of traditions.”
Kashi made a quizzical gesture with her hand at other women. “What does he mean?”
“Keep quiet you silly woman” the woman next to her shut her up.
Dada Maharaj continued, “Our principal focus has been to understand whatever has been going on in Mohania’s mind and treat him first so as to make him sane in our eyes. Ramjibhai is getting old and cannot carry on forever. Who, other than Mohania, can fill in the void? So I proposed that we go through the ritual of Mohanio getting married to the image of Merbai ….”
The rain had intensified into a torrent. Would the river breach the banks and merge with the tank?
The crowd became restive.
‘Quiet please; first, listen to what our Dada Maharaj is saying. He is the best person to guide us”, the Sarpanch had to raise his voice
“So this is going to be a ritual only to satisfy Mohanio. We think this will help him regain his sensibilities. All of you have seen how his outward behavior has changed progressively in the last seven days. You will see a total change once he goes through this ritual. I am sure of it”
“But what about the immersion ceremony for the image of Merbai?” Chhanu asked pointedly, looking dazed at the scary sight of the river in spate.
“That too will happen. Patience…”
It was about time to start the celebrations. Mohanio emerged from his house, fully decked up as a bridegroom, accompanied by his parents, the image of his bride firmly in his right hand.
“He is looking regal” declared a young girl.
“This is going to be a farce and nothing else, Dhiru” Ramesh sighed, “Oh, Mohanio is marrying an image? He can still have another real wife from among the lovely girls of our village!” provoked Ramesh
“Shut up, will you?” Dhiru threw a dirty glance
The musicians joined the bridegroom party as it neared the venue. Mohanio sat down with his bride next to him.
Dada Maharaj started reciting the Sanskrit verses in a hurry to get on with the ritual. Mohanio looked unperturbed, with a benign smile on his face.
The rains forced some people outside the pandal to leave the venue and position themselves in the verandah of houses nearby.
The relentless downpour forced Dada Maharaj to hurry up with the ritualistic chanting of verses. The musicians signaled the end of the ceremony by raising the sound of drums. Mohanio garlanded the little image to signify the sacred union.
It was now the time for the final ritual of the couple going around the shrine seven times to complete the ceremony.
The sound of the drums, the thunder, and the strange ritual all combined to give a feeling of foreboding. The story of Merbai that Dada Maharaj had narrated kept flashing by in the minds of the people. Mohanio looked calm; strangely calm for the occasion.
Ramji motioned Mohanio to begin circling the venue. He lifted the image of Merbai and started circling; the first round, then the second, then the third, fourth, fifth, the sixth……
Mohanio and his bride were now ready for the final round of vow, the fury of rains reached a crescendo, no one could see anything clearly except that Mohano disappeared behind the shrine for the seventh round, the drums beat even faster and louder.
Halfway through the seventh round behind the shrine Mohanio halted. He heard a strange voice, that of Merbai. “My Mohan. My Krishna, now is the time to jump in the waters together; don’t you want to be one with me, my Lord, my Krishna? My Mohan? The voice grew louder every second; the people standing in the verandah shouted “Immerse Merbai in the tank, Mohania, quick”
Mohanio walked ahead a bit, saw the great body of water in the tank, raised the image he was carrying to throw, and in a flash jumped in the tank, clutching his bride firmly. The river water that had entered the tank sucked them deep into a Jal Samadhi (watery grave) forever.
The crowd was stunned. It was incredible! Mohanio performed the ultimate immersion. The stoic Dada Maharaj folded his hands high up and bid them goodbye.
They discovered a manuscript book of bhajans composed by their Mohan – the modern incarnation of Lord Krishna.
Merbai the incarnation of the 16 th Century Saint Meerabai finally found her Lord.
They constructed a new temple and installed the image of Merbai and Mohan together. Ramji lived on for many years to worship the images and recite the new story to future generations of the village.
Mohan-Merbai ni je.