By Akanksha Joshi
The river Macchu flows silently. But sometimes, she speaks. And when she does, her voice can be heard across time.
I woke up early. The sun had not yet risen. Birds were asleep. Breeze, playful. The moon and stars were dancing on the river's surface. Stretching herself wide; the river lay awake, whispering, throbbing what can only be called a woman's throb. I went close. And heard a story. Of a nameless love, a timeless temple.
I am living in Darbargadh Palace these days. Mansukh Bhai is my new friend. A cheerful philosopher, a masaledaar story teller, and the most unguarded guard of the palace. His voice has a deep giggle that bypasses the mind-politik, a direct heart-to-heart. Every time i pass the gate, I get a chance to taste one episode from Mansukh Bhai's pitara of stories.
Morbi is a buzzing little industrial town in the Kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat. Famous for its clocks, CFLs, and ceramic tiles. A river called Macchu runs in between the town. On one end of the river is a statue of an elegant-looking man riding a horse: Wagh Ji II, the erstwhile ruler of Morbi, and for all practical purposes, its patron-saint. Any time, day or night, there is someone worshipping his statue, asking for a wish to be fulfilled.
The royal history is a little dusty. Many footprints. Mansukh Bhai says Wagh ji II was a shepherd's son adopted by the Jadeja Rajput king. Not caste, not bloodline, but the grace of God made him worthy of the kingdom. Some others say he was a farmer's son. Many others don't believe in the story of adoption. But almost 150 years since Wagh Ji's reign, all agree he was blessed.
"Queen Victoria ka muh bola bhai tha!" says Mansukh Bhai with a hearty giggle. 1877-1922, Wagh Ji caught the pulse of time, rode on its wave, modernized his state. "Ben, pacchaas saal… Fifty years he was the father of this land. He made trams, roads, schools, reservoirs, bridges, ports. Worked endlessly for us. Our rulers today, these politicians … they are all beggars, begging for votes. Our Bapu, he was a maharaja!"
A Maharaja must inhabit various level of this world, patal lok (netherworld) included. They say the Sanjivani Vidya, the secret of renewal and regeneration, lies there. Mansukh Bhai leads me to Wagh Ji's underground life - a surang, a secret tunnel that connected him to Mani. Bapu had four queens -- daughters of the Thakore Sahibs of Palitana, Sayla, Tharad, Chuda. Each queen brought with herself an agreement with her father's kingdom -- economic, political ties and a robust dowry. Palitana queen's dowry, however, included a special little jewel, a young maid named Mani.
No one knows how it happened. But, it happened. The maharaja, the king of kings, the Bapu of Morbi, fell in love with a dasi, a common woman. No clout. No agreements. No lineage. In the railway station, the cricket field, noisy roads, paan shops -- the story of his love is recounted with a factual ease: "Mani Bapu ke lover the. Ben, have you seen her temple? You must …"
Mani died young. She could never have a palace. He made her a temple. The world's only temple to a dasi, a lover.
"Taj Mahal kya hoga, ben! Wo to Rani ke naam, ek kabr hai. Ek premi ke liye, wo bhe das … uske liye to sirf Mandir chalega! " [What is the Taj Mahal before this? That is a mausoleum of love, for a queen. For a beloved, and that too a maid … only the most sacred will do.]
Saints in India speak of love as an elemental energy continually seeking refinement. In its raw form it is kaam - lust; with the meeting of minds it becomes prem - love; with the merger of souls it becomes bhakti - devotion. The first is a momentary union of bodies; in the second the union is poetic, deeper, but still gross; in the third, both dissolve, only the universal throbs.
Mani Mandir is a stunning testimony of exquisite temple architecture and excellence in craftsmanship. Spread in a huge area at the centre of the Mani complex is a temple of Radha-Krishna. It had to be. The echoes of a nameless love from a mythic past come as waves across time to make real the highest possibility of human union, again and again.
I sit outside the palace gate, bags and all, sipping a cutting chai and saying a final goodbye to my friend. But Mansukh Bhai is stubborn. He will not give me a full-grin-smile on camera. I even try emotional blackmail.
"I am leaving, Mansukh Bhai…"
But Mansukh Bhai will not budge. You see, he has lost about five of his front teeth and the remaining -- painted various shades of red -- look like they are about to pop anytime. "Too much paan, Ben! I can't smile for your photo!"
The taxi arrives. Mansukh Bhai loads my bags. I sit inside. Pointing one last time to my camera, i take a chance: 'Smile?!" Mansukh Bhai giggles the heartiest giggle I have ever heard. He shakes his head in a "Can't", puts a hand to his heart and, as the taxi drives away, I hear him say, "Hum aapko hamesha yaad rakhenge." [I will remember you, always...]
Perhaps it is the river. She speaks rarely, but when she does, her voice resonates… through individuals, across time.
Akanksha Joshi is an independent filmmaker and photographer with a passion for retelling oral histories. Discover more of her films at Earthwitness.tv