In the garden of forking paths

Unknown becomes known, World becomes home, Distance becomes close, The other becomes brother’ - Rabindranath Tagore.

Author Dhritabrata Bhattacharya Tato’s thought process begins from something similar and finds form in Sufism: Its Spirit & Essence. But before we step in to understand Sufism, we must understand Bhakti  -the overarching school of thought that includes Shaivas, Viashnavas and also the Sufi strain that finds presence in the North-West part of India spreading well into the Middle-Eastern countries.

Bhakti is essentially defined as a complete surrender of self or focused single minded devotion to a personal form of God. A bhakta’s devotion to one form of God does not preclude his or her worship to other forms of God. Since the concept of ‘God’ in Bhakti is exceedingly personal therefore each bhakta is free to devote himself to the form he chooses. The word ‘Bhakti’ comes from the Sanskrit root – bhaj which means to unite. This is used in two completely opposite meanings- one being the ‘separation’ of self from worldliness and two- the ‘union’ with the divine.

Bhakti is seen as a religious path, with three main schools of Bhakti in Hinduism: Shaivas, who worship Shiva and the gods and goddesses associated with him; Vaishnavas, who worship forms of Vishnu, his avataras; Shaktas, who worship a variety of goddesses. It also includes the Sufi cult where they worshipped- Allah or Maula. Sufism for our author lies integrally in travel. A journey of a million steps towards the ultimate realisation of one self and of one’s god.

‘That Tagore’s poem found a new meaning in my heart. The word ‘thou’ is normally referred to God, but I realised that one of many abstract forms of connecting to the Almighty is travelling. Who does not love to travel? Travelling is a part of realising God, thus the two words become synonymous. Not to forget that travelling to the Holy City is one of the four major pillars of Islam that the Prophet had recommended. Pilgrimage is a part of every spiritual path,’ writes Bhattacharya Tato. His book gives an account of the contemporary state of affairs of Sufism along with the violent attack on Sufis that took place between 2011 and 2013. He also talks of Morocco, where the Islamic state protects and promotes Sufism.

The book also delves into seldom talked about topics like code of language in Sufis and gastronomy. ‘While travelling through the Indian subcontinent and beyond towards the west and the east, if you look out from the road, you would see a small piece of green/red cloth hanging from atop a tree or a post. It is a sign (nishaan) that indicates the presence of a shrine round the corner...the shelters (asiana) and the shirnes (dargah/makbara) serve as wanderer’s stopover (sarai) ...checking-in was not on the basis of currencies of gold and silver or was on the basis of the currencies of dream that you carried in your eyes...’ Pick up the book and begin your own journey.

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