As a result of the initiatory rite of inserting a heavy earring (mudra) into the pierced cartilage of each ear, they are known as khanphata (having split ears). Tales such as Gopichand's embody their beliefs: emphasis on conquering death and achieving immortality of the physical body, and rejection of sensual pleasure, especially congress with women. They worship Gorakhnath as one of the nine Naths (lords, masters) and reckon Gopichand as one of the eighty-four Siddhas (adepts).
The Naths were largely responsible for spreading Tantric beliefs and terminology among the masses of northern and central India, through their popular sayings or Gorakhbani. Yogis of the Nath sect established a formidable reputation among the villagers as curers, magicians, and masters of the occult. Most importantly they also functioned as singers, musicians, and popular entertainers. Through songs and stories such as that of Gopichand, they elaborated a redoubtable body of folklore to spread their sectarian message. Nath oral traditions are one of the main sources of the early Swang stories, and the yogis themselves may have been a primary conduit to the popular stage.
The Nath community had a substantial geographic reach. Its chief pilgrimage sites and monastic centres ranged from Hing Laj in Baluchistan, to Dhinodhar in Gujarat, Tilla in Punjab, and sites in Nepal, West Bengal and Mumbai. Nath yogis lived in settled caste units as well as in monasteries, and they also travelled in bands. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, these bands gained an unusual degree of political and economic clout in the absence of a strong central authority. Ascetic orders were heavily involved as mercenaries and traded, lent money, and owned property.
Not all Naths were bards, but the evidence from various caste groups suggests the sizable domain of their storytelling art. The involvement of many jogi groups, in playing musical instruments, singing ballads, and preserving religious songs. Although jogis have been professional raconteurs perhaps for centuries, there is no explicit evidence of their organization into Ramlila troupes in the nineteenth century or earlier.
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