Dressed in bright coloured traditional clothes, with a tanpura in his left hand, and the akshayapatra atop his head, Jagannadh’s voice reaches you before you see him. The Haridasu (literally meaning the slave of Hari), who wanders on the streets during Dhanurmasam, is no longer as frequent a visitor as he once used to be. And so, when the Yo! Team crossed paths with him, we simply had to interact.
‘Legend goes that Lord Vishnu once took this avatar during Dhanurmasam, which ends with Sankranti. So every year, we dress as such and roam the streets singing in his praise.’
Playing the traditional instruments and with a vessel atop his head, the Haridasu sings in pure Telugu and Sanskrit. He narrates verses with clarity and sings in beautiful melody. Hailing from Bhogapuram, where he runs a shop, Jagannadh, who once walked only in the villages, comes to Vizag and stays in a rented room at Seethammapeta for the entire month. He leaves behind his wife and three children to make this annual trip.
‘The tradition of Haridasu has been prevalent for long. My grandfather practiced this art form, followed by my father and now it’s me. My children aren’t as interested though, because they want to study and do other work.’
Haridasu form part of a cultural community, where the knowledge is imparted from one generation to the next. Jagannadh learnt the art form from his Guru in the style unique to their family, thirty years ago. Formally educated only till the ninth standard, his family worked as a theatre group, putting up street plays, narrating Bhagavatam, bommalaata and showcasing mythological dramas like Sundarakanda, that have lost the battle to modern times.
‘I get up early, have a cup of tea, bathe and get dressed in this attire. Once I’m ready, I don’t eat or drink, neither do I talk, nor do I ask for bhiksha. I put the akshayapatra down only when it’s full or when I have completed my rounds for the day.’
The culture of being Haridasu isn’t easy. He takes donations in the form of rice, money or clothes only from those who come forward to give. While there are some generous givers, the numbers have declined over the years. What is even more amazing about Jagannadh, is that he doesn’t have a right hand, a disability he doesn’t even bother to mention about.
‘Haridasu will probably stop coming with the end of our generation.’
It isn’t easy work, and with the art form not receiving much recognition, it is fading fast. While Jagannadh roams the streets around Seethammapeta, CBM compound and at times Rama talkies, there are many more such Haridasulu within the state. They all come from lower income groups, and have other sources of income to sail them through the rest of the year.
‘Only when we give, do we receive. We see the rich turn poor and the poor turn rich. But the life of a human is the highest form, and so we should do good deeds. Feed the hungry, provide for the needy, for only when we give, do we get it back in return.’