They don’t hype. They don’t publicise. Yet they are simple moving souls, tirelessly reviving Vedantic ideals, the roots of all human religions in the remote villages of Odisha for last one and half century.
They are the followers of Mahima Cult, men, who lead a life of poverty, celibacy, piety and constant movement. Like Buddhist monks, they don’t constitute a priestly class and don’t control over the lay devotees. They don’t worship any idol; instead the supreme Lord of the indescribable grace (Alekha) is worshipped. They are forbidden to adultery and violence, and consumption of any intoxicants and meat. They leave their beds at 4 AM and perform saran/darshan before sunrise. It is an act of complete surrender of self to Mahima Prabhu. This is repeated 3 times a day including noon and evening before sunset. They wander everyday because they are not allowed to sleep in the same place on two consecutive nights, nor take meal twice from same house in any day.
They are a tiny community of monks, wearing only a small saffron coloured cloth to cover their loins and knotting their hairs, but their mission is to bring world peace, restore universal love and compassion in an era that is so addicted to the world of materialism and consumption.
In my childhood I had often sight them at Khandagiri, then used to be an outskirt of Bhubaneswar or on roads winding through rural Odisha. As I grew I developed curiosity about their strange look and behaviour and finally got to know them closely during a visit to Jaronda, a small village, headquarter of the cult, in Odisha’s Dhenkanal District. It was a soul moving experience listening and sharing a moment with the resident monks on the philosophy and about the practice of the cult.
Mahima Cult had evolved in the 19th century Odisha as a movement against the spread of Catholic missionary and Hindu Bhakti Cult. Historians interpret it as an influence of Brahmo Samaj that had swayed in neighbouring Bengal rejecting icon worship and reviving Vedic institutions. Some even attributes it to neo-Buddhism. However, the Mahima cult had its own philosophy. Its foundation was based on the voices of depressed and downtrodden people who had often been sidelined in the main stream Hindu practices.
Mahima Cult was founded by Mahima Gosain in 1826. It is still not clear about the early life of Gosain. According to some tradition in his teen and youth he had wandered in the Himalayas and lived in caves in complete silence for months together. In 1826 he reached Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath. People called him Dhulia Baba as he used to sleep on the sandy plains of Jagannath Road. It is said that Mahima Gosain often had intellectual argument with the priests of the temple on the concept of idol worship. But somehow finding unable to influence the priests, the Gosain left Puri and headed for Kapilas Hill (a hill in Odisha’s Dhenkanal District) in 1838. During his stay in Puri, Gosain never took food and lived only on water. In Kapilas, he gave upon his cloths and used the birch of Kumbhi tree to hide his loin, a practised still followed among his trusted followers. For 12 years he engaged himself in severe penances and yogic practices and used to live on taking fruit only. For the next 12 years through attaining perfection he lived upon only taking milk.
In 1862, he descended from the Kapilas Hill and spread his learning on the plains. It attracted bands of people, who became his disciples and were known as Abdhuts. Joronda became the centre of Mahima activity, where he took his Samadhi in 1876. His Samadhi sthal is known as Mahima Gadi.
When we visited Joronda, the annual fair had just got over. It was not a scenic place yet spiritually quite charged. The temple which is devoid of any idol was yet another attraction. The monks we met and chatted were quite hospitable and they were keen to share their way of living. We were offered lunch, which was simple, yet tasty. In the busy urban life, it was a moment of connecting heartily with monks who despite their humbleness and isolation are quietly transforming lives of thousands of people through their invisible practice of austerity.