An acquaintance, a lady in her sixties, was very distraught two weeks into the lockdown. While she was blessed with access to basic amenities, and she didn’t miss her morning walks, for which I am sure she was pushed out of the house by her husband, she did miss one social activity that brought her much joy; her kirtans. She missed meeting up with her bhajan mandali, singing songs with them and then staying back afterwards to chat a little. But now she tells me that her bhajan mandali has moved to Zoom. And why not! If kids can have their classes and playdates online if work from home folks can have conference calls through Zoom, then why not kirtans? Since this crisis is far from over, and we will be spending a lot of time inside our homes in the near future, is it safe to say that this is the new era of virtual satsangs?
- Online classes, meetings, and yoga sessions, kirtans have gone digital too.
- Bhajans or kirtans are not just about devotion. They are a way for women to socialise and stay connected with friends.
- Online kirtans can help women stay connected and find the support from friends in such testing times.
If kids can have their classes and playdates online, if work from home folks can have conference calls through Zoom, then why not kirtans?
Now, my personal equation with religion, devotion and God has been a roller-coaster ride. But when I was young, I remember sitting through bhajans with my aji (grandmother) who use to play peti (harmonium) in her bhajan group. Being the youngest member of the group I was assigned the duty of playing manjeera. I took my job very seriously, and while my focus would be one hundred percent on the manjeera, I could see women, mostly retired Maharashtrian ladies, wearing soft, worn-out cotton sarees, smelling of Afgan Snow in winter and Ponds talcum powder in the summers (basically just variants of my grandma) putting their heart and soul into their bhajans. A bliss would crack through there creased faces, and many would rock gently from side to side, while singing with their eyes closed.
After the bhajan, there would be a call for tea and coffee, which meant whipping up sugar and sugar-less versions of both as per instructions from these elderly women. When I think of those gatherings that I witnessed as a child, I now realise that they were not just about religion. Yes, devotion is at the heart of kirtans, but they are also about socialising. A way for women to connect with like-minded ones, to share their experience, routines, and travails. The bhanjan mandali women were the last group of friends and acquaintances that my grandmother had. Some outlived her, while she outlived most of them.
In such distressing times, technology is bringing us closer, it is helping us shape an alternative lifestyle for us, and it is providing us with an escape.
I wonder what my grandmother would have thought about these online kirtans today. I think she would have been happy, and relieved at not having to endure all the fuss about with sugar/sugar-less tea and coffee and snacks. She could mute any friend criticising her harmonium skills. I think she would have learned to manoeuvre a smartphone just so that she could be a part of online kirtans.
This digitalisation also means that women of a certain age group would learn digital skills willingly. In such distressing times, technology is bringing us closer, it is helping us shape an alternative lifestyle, and it is providing us with an escape. If online satsangs and chowkis are helping people stay positive, giving them a reason to shut all the negativity out right now, then I think this is something we can wholeheartedly embrace. Who knows, this change might end up redefining religion in the long run.
Image Credit: Jagriti Sansthan
The views expressed are the author’s own.