Ghumakkad Swami by Rahul Sankrutyayan is the story of a wandering Swami who travels across the length and breadth of North India. It is the biography of a wandering seeker who travels across the sacred geography of India including Kailash Mansarovar, while he is jumping sects. He is essentially trying to find the right spot for himself in the spiritual map of India. Joins the sects of wandering yogis, he follows the path of Yoga. He practices Ayurveda and goes in search of herbs. And he even sets up labs to experiment with herbs. Finally, he launches his own Ayurveda company. At a personal level, he settles down in a worldly manner by getting married and living with his wife.
What I told you is the outline of the story that Ghumakkad Swami tells. Built in this story is the story of each of the destination that the Swami visits. The story is placed in late 19th & early 20th CE. So, for our generation, it becomes a contemporary account of the places as they were 100 years ago. Since the country has seen a lot in last 100 years. Including getting independence from British as well as the partition, these descriptions make a lot of sense. Rahul Sankrutyayan being a seasoned travel writer, he goes into the history of each of the places that the Swami visits. You learn etymology and interesting facets of the city along with, of course, its landscape and its quirky little details.
At another level, you get introduced to the world of Sadhus and Sanyasis. These are the people who live outside of the society but are still very much dependent on the society for their basic needs. They may want to go and live in the forests. But they need at least a meal a day from some home to survive. So they must stay close enough to the society to be able to go and fetch their food. It gives you insights into how the myths are built. And how the groups of Sadhus come together to build their own brands and even have a professional language that only they understand. Through the journey of Haridas Swami, the author introduces us to different types of Sadhus and their practices. By living with some of them for some time, the protagonist gives you the inside view of all of them.
While reading I wondered how it would be if one went into the posh ashrams of the 21st century that are more luxurious than most other places we know of.
Towards the latter half of the story, we get into the herbs of Ayurveda as our Swami is setting up a full-fledged business of Ayurveda. How getting investors for his venture is such an easy job for him reminds you of new age Ayurveda ventures.
What is interesting is how after all the spiritual experiences, the Swami finally yearns for a companion – a companion who would always be there for him. At an advanced age, he decides to marry. Given that the book was written at the time of nationalist movement, he marries a young widow who proves to be an ideal wife. Is that a life lived in reverse? Or is the author telling us the futility of spiritual seeking? Well, it is pretty much left to your interpretation.
What amazes me the most is the inherent local knowledge built into the story. Be it the knowledge of flora and fauna of every region mentioned. Be it the knowledge of people and their traits or be it the knowledge of herbs that grow in every region. Put together all these elements re-create the essence of the place. You do not just get the physical features of a place, but also the life there with all its nuances.
He brings out the traveler that he claims exists inside each of us. He talks about the traveling life, pretty much like Mira’s Bhajan – Karna Fakiri fir kya Dilgiri – when he talks about having too much to eat one day and bare minimum the other day. As a travel blogger, I could connect to so many situations that he mentions in this travelogue.
In Hindi, it is a small 100 odd pages book. Though the print is so small that in a standard font and format it would be almost double of that. It was not easy to read as the language of Rahul Sankrutyayan is never easy. I tried looking for an English version of this book but on the Internet, I could not locate any. If you come across one, please do let me know.
Read it if you can read Hindi.
You may buy this book in Ghumakkad Swami by Rahul Sankrutyayan at Amazon.
Other Book by Rahul Sankrutyayan – Volga Se Ganga