Representing Marginalized Voices in Bhima Bhoi’s Poetry
Written by: Jayadev Kar
Since the beginning of civilization in this mundane world, man has persistently sought to find a logical way to reach God. To discover the ultimate truth, he has turned from pillar to pillar. The different religious orders are but the manifestation of the same thirst for the ultimate truth. From time to time some religions appear due to serious neglect of some low caste people.
Whenever the outcasts or marginal people of any religion feel ostracized, they choose a different path to find their personal God. The Sanskrit proverb ‘Atmartham Pritivim Tyajet’ is true here which literally means that one can give up the whole world for one’s personal peace. As such people have tried hard to find a way to reach God. Rigveda clearly says “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Badanti” which means that the truth is one but the wise speak of it in different ways. In the western part of Odisha, some people tried very hard to reach the ultimate truth by taking principles from all the prevailing religions of the time and that is Mahima Dharma. The founder of which is Mahima Gosain, who was made popular in India by the tribal poet Bhima Bhoi.
Historical records are mummified till the birth of Bhima Bhoi, the legendary tribal poet of Odisha. The birth of Bhima Bhoi is still shrouded in mystery even in the 21st century. However, he is believed to have been born in 1855 in Kankadapara village, which now falls under Rairakhol subdivision of Sambalpur district. There is also a dispute as to whether he was born blind or became blind later. Tradition has it that once Mahima Swami and one of his disciples named Siddha Govinda visited Bhima Bhoi’s home after being ordained by the Almighty when Bhima Bhoi was still a child. And they gave him the poetic vision to see the world with an inner eye. And from that day onwards Bhima Bhoi never looked back. However, Dr. Mayadhar Manasingh in his History of Odia Literature says that Bhima Bhoi lost his eyes during his childhood due to a vicious attack of small pox. Another noted critic Shri Chittaranjan Das also shares the same opinion. It is a pity that Bhima Bhoi did not leave behind a single portrait of himself. Bhima Bhoi was also bequeathed the task of spearheading Mahima Dharma as established by his Guru Mahima Gosain. Although he was blind, he could visualize the physical landscape with his inner eyes. They seem mostly to be the result of deep meditative and intuitive awareness. In his writings he made many intimate references to the activities of human life, childhood, the waywardness of youth, the mirage of love and sex, etc. He was the one who suggested Mahima Dharma. It is said that some Brahmins also became his followers, giving up their caste dominance.
Bhima Bhoi was like a blue mountain in Odisha’s literary firmament. His works have been translated into many languages, including English. One of his poems became so popular that it was inscribed on the wall of UNO Hall. The line reads “Witnesses the multitude of miseries on earth that man can bear; let the world be redeemed at my expense”. He was famous for his ‘Stutichintamani’ and ‘Bhajanamala’ and this article will deal with these two along with the historical aspects of Mahima Dharma. Stuti Chintamani is one of the best works of Bhima Bhoi. It consists of one hundred songs and each song is further divided into twenty stanzas. Thus Stutichintamani is a combination of 4000 lines which consist of 2000 stanzas.
Bhima Bhoi was deeply disturbed by the degeneration of social values. That is why it is reflected in his poetry. Stuti Chintamani has some confessional verses and is full of autobiographical elements. This long poem ends with a panegyric of Alekha culture. He also urges the suffering humanity to seek liberation from the one and only god Alekha and obtain his boon known as Mahima. However, before Bhima Bhoi, another Odia poet had written something about Sunya Niranjana, which means that the supreme god is invisible. In Stuti Chintamani Bhima Bhoi depicts his monomania about cosmology which can be described as follows according to Dr. Sitakanth Mahapatra.
“From the nameless unwritten Brahman, who was the embodiment of silence, emptiness was born. From the existence of this great void space and heaven were created. Colors came from the sky. Later, from Anama (the nameless one) were created the Sun, the Moon, the trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and all moving and static objects.
In the Stuti Chintamani, Brahma, Bishnu and Maheshwar have been given subordinate positions which occupy a lower position in Alekha’s cosmology. As the Mahima culture is based on compassion, one can see Bhima Bhoi crying for those who are sinners. According to Stuti Chintamani, men should avoid double standards and follow the new religious doctrine. If they follow the religion of Aleh Niranjan Mahima, then only they can get liberation or else they will be doomed forever by the Yoginis. Thus Bhima Bhoi predicts an apocalyptic end for people who are busy with sins. Looking at this, we can compare Stuti Chintamani as the Bible of Mahima religion. According to Bhima Bhoi, an inveterate sinner can also attain liberation through penance and devotion to the Almighty. He must completely avoid adultery, envy and greed. The man who seeks liberation must treat happiness and sorrow equally and treat woman as a mother.
To give a clear picture of his poetic sensibility, the summary of one of his Boli (Doha) can be summarized as follows:
Who can catch him that hath no foot or hand? He is such a supreme God that ordinary people cannot see him. He has neither belly nor breast, this I proclaim in the name of the master. Ordinary mortals cannot fathom its existence. In all the ether and air of the earth there is no giver of peace like our God who is formless. He bears shame, devotion, loss and gain. He never takes food to survive. He was neither born of a woman nor born by operation after being produced by intercourse. Being formless, he moves from glory to glory and dust cannot touch him. He sleeps but is awake, he is in motion but still. He goes wherever his devotees seek him and immediately moves away from evils. Such is our wonderful God who is formless. He has no eyes but sees, no ears but hears our prayer. He has no face but feels, no nose but smells. He can mix with both breeze and water, he is invisible but omnipresent. All his glory. Our mouths and tongues cannot describe it, for bliss flows from it from eternity to eternity. The three worlds are governed according to his sweet will, but he is formless. He is a keeper of his words who establishes virtue in this world. He moves in the void and is the root cause of all good that happens. Says Bhima, a tribal poet.
Bhima Bhoi was aware of the cosmic transformation that happens once in a thousand years. The concept of the South was an integral part of it. He believed that from Satyayuga to Kaliyuga society gradually degenerated from the best to the worst. This is evident in the 24th and 25th cantos of Stuti Chintamani. Like the revelation chapter of the Bible, the Stuti Chintamani speaks of an apocalyptic end in the closing stanzas. Bhima Bhoi feels that the end of Kali Yuga is very near and this is described in the last song of Stuti Chintamani. He issues a clarion call to repent of sins and recite Alekha Niranjan to get ablution from sins. Besides the Stuti Chintamani, he has repeated the same tone in one more text viz. Brahma Nirupama Gita. Nirvana Sadhana is an important part of the work on Mahima Dharma composed by Bhima Bhoi. The essence of Satya Mahima Dharma is emphasized as a path of nibrutti or detachment or liberation and not prabrutti or attachment in this work.
Cautisa Madhu Cakra is another great work of Bhima Bhoi. Chautisa is a famous poetic form in Odia literature. In this form he experimented with Odia literature to the highest extent. His Adi-Anta-Gita is almost a treatise where the secrets of the body are sought to be explained in metaphysical terms. Bhima Bhoi also wrote several bhajans. They can be sung individually or in groups or accompanied by a musical instrument. They are based on describing a spiritual experience in a simple and unadorned style.
Having discussed his writings, let us now proceed with his preaching work, for he was a Mahima Dharma preacher. As Bhima Bhoi was not satisfied with the situation and the declaration of Mahima sanyasi council in Joranda, Bhima Bhoi decided to establish monastic institutes according to his own ideology. He maintained the Mahima Dharma tradition in his own way. As he was not satisfied with the discussion and procedure, he clothed the Mahima Dharma in his own points of view. After returning from Joranda Gadi and after wandering here and there in Gulunda, Binka, Rugudipalli, Bhursapalli, he finally decided to settle at Haliapalli near Lachipur in Sonepur district and from that day onwards Haliapalli became the epicenter of his religious and cultural activities. The Khaliapali Ashram came into existence in 1877 and rapidly developed as a center of excellence for the propagation of the Mahima Dharma. The followers of Bhima Bhoi are popularly known as Kumbhipaia because they wear a rope made from the bark of the Kumbhi tree around their waist. They all worship a formless God whom they call Alekha and keep saying Alekha Niranjan. They are dressed in saffron robes and keep their hair tied on their heads. They hold a hanging bag and a palm-leaf umbrella over their heads, bow before sunrise and sunset and smear their foreheads with dust, eat from an earthen pot, and sleep under the open sky beside a burning log or dune. These people never touch prasad or tulsi leaves. That is why at one point there was a conflict between the followers of Mahima Dharma and the followers of Lord Jagannath. All works of Bhima Bhoi should be considered in the light of Mahima Dharma. According to Eshman, Mahima Dharma follows the Buddhist concept of emptiness and accepts the Hindu concept of Param Brahma. The code words often mentioned in Mahima Dharma are Alekha (indescribable), Nirguna (attributeless), Nirakara (formless), Anadi (eternal), Niranjana (pure as water), Mahima (grace), etc.
Also, followers of Mahima Dharma never take wives, share love, do business, store wealth for them and never tame animals or birds. Also, they never receive alms from astrologers, prostitutes, barbers, Kshatriyas, Brahmins and Chandals. They also never wear sacred threads and eat before sunset. All their lives they practice truth and non-violence. Like Shankara, the Mahimaites believe in monism but have no place for Maya in their scheme of things. Although this religion is a blend of Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Hinduism, it has its own identity. His supremacy is undisputed by any person or religion.
In conclusion, a summary can be made that Bhima Bhoi is a great poet of Odia literature whose philosophy struck at the very foundation of orthodox Hinduism and liberated the marginalized section of the Hindu society to a greater extent. The medium was his poetry. In this sense, we can compare Bhima Bhoi with Matthew Arnold, who had once declared that good poetry can correct society like any other work. Some people of western Odisha still believe that he was ‘Ajoni Sambhuta’, meaning he was not born of women but by some divine accident.
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Baumer, Bettina, Johannes Belts.eds. Verses from the Void:Mystic poetry of an Oriya saint. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers.2010.Print
Mahapatra, Sitakanth.Bhima Bhoi.New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.1983.Print
Not so, Bhagirathi. Historical aspect of Mahima Dharma. Bhubaneshwar: Bhagirathi Prakashan. 2004. Print
About the author
The author is a Lecturer in English at DAV (Autonomous) College, Titilagarh, Odisha, India. He can be contacted on email id- [email protected]