The Unforgettable Song of Sahajo

Many summers ago, when my brother and I lived in Pune with our spiritual teacher Swami Chaitanya Bharti, we were part of a spiritual music company called ‘Oorja Music’. Our teacher had three decades of experience in creating ecstatic states using kirtans, and this company was founded to create such transcendental music.

One of the albums was a semi-classical rendition of the poems of the 18th Century enlightened female mystic named Sahajobai.  I had never heard of her before. For the inlay card, I was tasked with translating her songs into English.

And I was blown away.

As a person who had grown up reading everyone from Dylan Thomas to Pablo Neruda, I found a stunningly modern voice in Sahajo. What’s more, she did not romanticize love but wrote about things I did not think could be written as poetry, with imagery that burned into your brain. The one poem I cannot forget even today was about the dream-like nature of our life – ‘Sahajo, Supney Ek Pal’. Here’s a rough translation:

Sahajo, dreams last but one moment
Though within them, fifty years may pass.

The world is like the last morning star,
Sahajo says: it will not stay.

Just as the dewdrop appears to be a pearl,
Just like water cupped in the palm of your hand.

The mind hallucinates a fortress in smoke,
And imagines glorious kingdoms there.

It is a game of hide and seek, Sahajo.
Nothing happens. No truth exists here.

I was amazed that a traditional Indian Rajput woman in the 18th century with no education could express such lucid non-duality in verse form. Her own life story, according to historians, was no less amazing.

She was born into a traditional Rajasthani family in 1725. As was the custom in those days, her marriage was arranged at the age of 11. A notable spiritual teacher, Charandas, who was her cousin, met her a few hours before the celebrations began. As beautiful little Sahajo was being meticulously dressed up in her bridal finery, Charandas said to her with a smile:

Oh Sahajo! Why beautify your face for mere married bliss?
When one must die, you cannot say.
But we all must go, of that you can be sure
Would you trade your head for such a fickle conjugal bliss?

It is said that upon hearing these words, the not-yet-teenaged Sahajo had an epiphany: she took off all her wedding jewelry and announced to her family that she would seek the Divine for the rest of her days.

(Some historians take the story a step further: they say that as the bridegroom’s party approached, the groom’s horse was startled by a fire-cracker, tripped over a branch and fell. The groom died instantaneously. Impressed by what he considered to be Charandas omniscience, Sahajo’s father blessed his daughter’s wish.)

From that day on, Sahajo became devoted to her teacher. She practised yoga and meditated on chakras like his other disciples and attained self-realization. It was a time when in many parts of the world, women were still being burned for challenging religious paradigms. But Sahajo stood her ground even when she was mocked – even standing alone against society, she did not lose her femininity. And when she did write about love, it was about a love like no other.

Those gone mad in love,
All of life is transformed for them.
Sahajo says: They don’t see
Who is a beggar or a king.

Those gone mad in love,
Caste and color have disappeared for them.
Sahajo says: The world calls them crazy,
And everyone near runs off.

Those gone mad in love,
Sahajo says: Their bodies waver
And their feet stagger out of control –
Then the divine takes care.

The mind is blissful,
The body is drunk with ecstasy.
Sahajo is with no one,
No one is with Sahajo.

It is sad that there is so little written or spoken about such women in our history today. There is no wikipedia page for her. For once, even Google has little to say: two books and a few forum caches are all that remain as testimony to a spirited woman who made her whole life a love-song to the Divine.

I thought it would be worth writing this blog to remind us about Sahajo – a gutsy woman who stood up and shone. Please help to spread her love and courage and poetry by forwarding to all the beautiful women in your life who are standing up for Consciousness today.

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