It’s Bakrid, and one would imagine that Syed Basha will be busy with the festivities. But this most loyal servant of Lord Anjaneya is busy stringing flowers for him
It’s 5.30 in the morning, the night’s darkness is still putting up a fight with the rising sun, he’s there. Busy. From his huge bag of flowers, he is separating mallige (jasmine) from sevantige (chrystanthemum) from jaaji, sampige and the other lovely fragrances that fill the morning air. As usual — in the same designated spot of the sprawling Ragi Gudda Anjaneya temple premises — Syed Basha doesn’t even have the time to lift his head, forget answering our curious questions.
Basha has hundreds of reasons to be busy. Two days ago it was a special puja at the Ganesha temple, yesterday was navagraha homa in the other, and today it is Saraswati puja and tomorrow is Satyanarayana Puja and there’s more. He brings a by-two coffee and says, “I wake up at 3.30 a.m., catch the 4.15 bus from Jigani to the temple. After distributing flowers, I have to rush to City Market to buy flowers for tomorrow.” Basha has a quick lunch on reaching home and settles down with his wife and children to string flowers for the next day. This has been Basha’s routine for the last four decades, from 1972.
Pointing to the Anjaneya temple on the hillock, “Aa nammappanna nanna bhujada mele hotkondu hogidini (I have carried that God, my father, on these very shoulders),” he says, remembering the 1968 incident when the idol was found at the foot of the hillock. “This is the spot,” and then Basha stretches both his arms for me to see, “Look how strong and sturdy I am. I’m 64, can you tell? It’s all my God Anjaneya’s grace…” As a young boy, he was disinterested in studies and it often triggered his father’s anger. “He used to scold me everyday. One day I fought with him and left home. I came here from Jigani, and sold greens right in front of this temple in 1968. This was even before this temple came up…” recalls Basha, who comes from a family of muezzins.
Subramaniam, of the Ragi Gudda Temple Trust, took Basha into his fold, and ever since he has been associated with all the temple activities. For many years, Basha used to live in Subramaniam’s house and work for a salary of Rs. 2 at the temple. In these early years, Basha had even tried to runaway for reasons he doesn’t know himself, but had come back after the Lord Manjunatha at Dharmasthala said he was destined to be at the Ragigudda Temple. Someone even offered him a job with BTS, “but that was not to happen. Each time I made attempts to do other things, my god Anjaneya has brought me back,” he explains, wishing the temple priests who had just started arriving. “I ran into financial difficulties and even attempted suicide.” But Shivaramaiah, who is also associated with the Temple, came to Basha’s rescue. “Subramaniam and Shivaramaiah are godsend. They’ve taken care of me like their own…avaru nanna prana (they are my life).”
Basha started bringing flowers for the temple in 1972. And soon he started giving flowers to many Hindu households around the temple. “They love me so much, and trust me with everything. Any festivity, any family function, I’m there. In those days, I used to love watching films and many of them gave me money for the ticket,” Basha recalls with glee. He was such a pious and loyal servant of the Lord that the earlier priest used to take Basha into the sanctum sanctorum to help him decorate the God with flowers.
“As soon as I came into the service of my father Anjaneya, I gave up meat. My family and relatives used to get very annoyed with me. Now, they’ve given up. They call me a Brahmin. Even at my daughter’s wedding I ate only kheer. The puliyogre and mosaranna that is served as prasada is what I enjoy most,” says Basha, who survives on a staple of rice and bele saaru at home. Whenever meat is cooked at home, he cooks his meal separately and eats on a plantain leaf.
Basha is a devout Muslim, but says he has no time to go for namaaz regularly. However, on Fridays, come what may he goes to the mosque. “What do people who want to divide us know off the similarities in the Koran and Gita? I, in this very temple premises, have listened to so many religious discourses and I know that the essence of both the religions is the same,” holds Basha, who knows all the mantras and the various chants that is recited for the Hindu gods, but refuses to say it. “It’s to be said in my mind. Not before anyone. Every night when I go to bed, both Allah and Anjaneya come before my eyes. That’s the truth,” says Basha, whose family performs a puja at the temple once a year.
During Bakrid and Ramzan, Basha gets no help from his family to string flowers. “They are immersed in festivities, while I have a bath and settle down to do it myself…,” After his morning duties at the temple, Basha goes to the mosque, and returns to the temple. Once, the mullahs at the Puttayyanapalya mosque expressed their displeasure at Basha’s way of life. “I told them – my food comes from the feet of Anjaneya, and yours from Allah’s. It’s all the same.”
Basha doesn’t believe it’s a mere turn of events that landed him in the service of Lord Anjaneya. He has an interesting story to argue that fate had a hand at it.
His grandfather had an orchard of betel leaves. Monkeys would often attack it and destroy all the plants. “My grandfather was frustrated, and once, he doused a bamboo stick in kerosene and hid it among the plants.” No sooner the monkeys attacked, it was set on fire and 50 monkeys died. Basha says his father, who was born later, looked exactly like a monkey. “He had a hairy body and every inch looked like a monkey. In fact, my father was called ‘kothi saab’ by everyone.” Basha pauses, looks at me to see if I’ve made the connection. “You’re right, I’m serving the Lord, atoning for the sins committed by my grandfather….”