Shepherds, Shepherdesses and a little bit of Spirituality...

by Navjot Randhawa

I was born and raised in a Sikh family. In Sikhism (an Indian religion founded in 1469), there is a lot of emphasis placed on “Ek”, The One. One is Reality. One is Truth. This Truth is often manifested in and around The Mirage. Nowadays one can feel this Truth all around in and through the Shepherds (Gaddis in Himachali language) on their way up to the higher mountains. A shepherd family is camping on the piece of land next to The Mirage. Their flock surrounds us like a protective thread. They are often grazing in the forest behind the heritage hotel.  The sounds they make add to the sacred atmosphere of the area. All meals are cooked by the shepherdess on the fire in traditional pots & pans in their make-shift blue tent. Simple conversations about their day and their challenges,  the little children’s gentle altercations with their father often beginning with “Baapu !!!” (papa) can be heard in the verandah where we often sit with the guests sipping a cup of tea admiring the snow-covered Dhauladhar mountains standing tall in a distance. Sometimes these gaddis come to the property with humility asking for water. They’ve been coming since many years now, so they know exactly where the taps are in the The Mirage garden. But still, they take permission and are so grateful.

Their whole energy blends so well with the nature around them that they seem to be a perfect example of being one with one’s surroundings, the very reason that makes us leave the city to go to the country-side. The very reason yoga is so popular. Yoga caters to the most basic human need to feel one with one’s body/being & the Universe at the same time. 

We are living in times where human ambition and human recklessness has put man’s own material needs over and above the sustenance of our planet itself. Even though all traditional wisdom talks about endless needs & desires of men/women being the cause of all suffering, humanity seems unable to break out of the habit of wanting more & more.

But these shepherds represent hope for me. Like the Good Shepherd who is the Guide in Christianity, these Shepherds who visit Andretta in two seasons, one in the Spring while going up and then just at the beginning of winter, coming down, bring with them so many subtle teachings. The importance of a harmonious family, looking after one’s need & not greed, humility, interacting with deep care with nature, animals & every one that one comes in contact with, being strong in the face of adversity (it started raining the other day & they still slept in their makeshift tent without making any fuss). Stoic & always smiling, they have so much to offer while they have almost nothing, on the material level.  

The biggest takeaway for me has been realising that one of the most important dimensions of Truth  is being at ease with the eco-system we live in. To give it back what we take from it. To be in balance. 

I spent the second half of November and December 2018 in Kashmir with Kashmiri shepherds & shepherdesses. They are called “bakarwals”. I was there with a film crew for a film in which I am playing a female shepherdess (bakarwali). The film is called “The Shepherdess & The Seven Songs”. I spent a lot of time with goats & sheep internalising the character. In the beginning, & perhaps if I am honest, right till the end, the most difficult thing was getting used to wearing their clothes that hadn't been washed in ages. They smelt so strongly of the animals & the memory is so fresh that as I type this I can feel what I felt then. I feel the weariness, both of the animals & the shepherds. I feel the joy of camping after having walked miles for days on end with horses, the latter carrying the gaddis’ whole world on their backs. 

During the film workshop, I had stayed in the mud house of one of the shepherd families. The goal was to reduce the distance and the divide between the character & “me”.

By the time the film finished, the boundary line between the shepherds and “me” had definitely thinned. They had given a part of them to me & I had left a part of me amongst them. We had all become “One”, in that sense.

I have seen guests at The Mirage achieving that same friendship with the shepherds in the past few days. The mud cottages were built with the philosophy of trying to offer to the spirit of the visitors an opportunity to feel one with Earth itself. The presence of the Gaddis in spring and autumn adds to this nourishing experience. Their attitudes & activities are in stark contrast to that of us, the “city-educated” village dwellers. If not anything else, at least having the Gaddis as neighbours for these two seasons makes us introspect. When they leave, fresh beginnings would have been made. The snow on the mountains would have melted. The soul, if there is one, would have been laid bare. 

These nomadic shepherds re-define happiness, journey, love, patience, joy, perhaps even art, if one looks closely. I looked out of my window just now and saw the shepherdess gathering her sheep. It’s like a painting, time is standing still. She is just standing there with a harmless branch in her hand. The way she moves in space gives the sheep an indication as to which direction to go in. Every movement of hers, every sound she utters matters. it’s poetry manifested. If one goes deeper into the moment, perhaps more epiphanies can be had. But I am after all a city girl and need to go to the next task. But just a glimpse into Oneness has been enough to make me want to stay on here. Hope you look out of your window right now and find yourself One with your current time & space too.