The Babadham Yatra (The Pilgrimage to Babadham)

It was the wet monsoon month of Shravan and there was much excitement in our village. Several of us had gathered at the house of Jamuna Prasad, also known as Vakil Saheb. He was a freedom fighter and great grandfather of Kedar and Siddharth., We often gather there simply to talk and share anecdotes over many cups of tea. But this was special and some of us decided to undertake the Pilgrimage (Yatra) to Babadham.

A few days later I reached the banks of the Ganga at Sultanpur which is in eastern Bihar. From here pilgrims collect the holy water (jal) of the Ganga (Gangajal) in a pot and trek barefoot over the next 4 to 5 days and 110 km to Baijnath Dham also called Babadham and offer Gangajal to the ancient Shiva Linga.

Sidddharth’s mother Sarojji had informed me that the Linga is so ancient that with countless water offerings it has denuded away almost completely – perpetually submerged in Gangajal you can barely feel its mound.

We started on Monday and barely covered 20 km on the first day. It was exhausting in the humid sun and, since we walked barefoot, my feet were sore. There were stalls every half a kilometre or so and many had makeshift provisions to rest for the night. We had carried our pots and pans and survived on Satto flour and rice ocaasionally buying some vegetables locally. The trek is by definition low cost.

Aided by a cool breeze and a mild drizzle the next day we walked more say some 30 km or so. But our feet were very sore, and little did I realize what was to come the next day. There is a long uphill trek and on its path are embedddedpointed stones which you cannot avoid inspite of your best efforts. This part is aptly called “Suiya Pahad” (Needle hill). We pilgrims being Shiva devotees are called Bams. It is only with loud resolute cries of encouragement to each other (“Bam, Bam”, “Bol Bam”, “Jai Shiv Shankar”) that we made it through with our feet lacerated and bleeding. We did not go far after that and rested frequently. People try to meditate and fail, but now only the single thought of Shiva filled my mind – it was the only way to banish the exhaustion of my body, the tirednesss in my legs and stabbing pain in my feet. We were consoled by the company of hundreds of other pilgrims from all over Bihar and ocaasionally some would would forget their own pain and massage the body and legs of older pilgrims – even those whom they barely knew. There were also female pilgrims. That nite as I lay down I listened to the lisping pitter-patter of the rains for a long time. The shrill notes of the cicadas formed a background score punctuated with the occasional raucous calls of bulfrogs. The memories of these sounds provide me solace even now.