A Wagon Called the Body

A Wagon Called the Body

The past one-two months at work have been really hectic. The ordeal of pulling all-nighters, with no weekends off, has resulted in little or no time to groom oneself beyond the basic shower and dress-up routine. A colleague who met me after two weeks remarked, ‘It looks like you have aged another five years over this fortnight’. And suddenly I noticed the deepening lines on my face and new streaks of silver on my head. 

Yet another colleague, who has been on field work the last whole month, came to office severely tanned and his hair all tousled. It invited both snarky and funny comments from the whole floor. Though there was no malice in any of the comments, I found him brooding that evening. ‘I really need to do something to de-tan’, he said. ‘There must be some homemade skincare routine, no?’ I nodded. But all I could think was that he is only 22 years old and skincare seems to bog him down already.

While discussing the timeless text Bhaja Govindam with a group of Chyks, we went around answering honestly how much time in our day is devoted to how we look. What amount of time we spend in front of the mirror. How frequently. And also how we assess ourselves body-wise. In this day and age, though body-shaming will never pass, there is also intense body-consciousness. We have whole marketplaces which are devoted to beauty products, which promise to ‘retain youth’. Adi Sankara must be laughing wherever He is. Yauvanam, or youth, is one thing He says which is so fleeting that taking pride in it will only lead to misery. 

And whether we associate youth with energy or vitality in our hearts and heads, we surely associate it with the prime of our looks. Hence, the meltdowns when we spot acne, a new grey strand or a slowly creeping-in wrinkle. Almost a pre-emptive alarm that our body is degrading and that our youth is vanishing. No one wants to accept that.

While thinking about all these things, I was wondering about these saints whose stories I have heard so often. At least two of them, with the least regard for their body, and even less identification with it. Sadashiva Brahmendra, a saint, who lived in Karur, Tamil Nadu, was so lost in thoughts of Lord Shiva, that he walked past a queen’s garden fully naked. The enraged king ordered his guards to chop the saint’s arm. When that happened, Brahmendra kept walking on, without even a wince. He had completely dropped his body identity and merged with the Lord in his thoughts. The king repented immediately and sought refuge with the saint. 

Akka Mahadevi, another saint from Basavakalyan region of Karnataka, walked out of her home when she was accosted with marriage requests from the king of the region. It was said that the king was smitten by her beauty and her long tresses. She renounced not only her home, but even her clothes to prove a point, and walked only with her tresses covering her body. She openly declared that the body is nothing, when her all belongs to Lord Shiva.

Though that level of enlightenment and awareness is definitely not replicable, the least we can do is to remind ourselves that the beauty and vitality of youth is only temporary. This body is nothing but a wagon carrying the soul, yoked to the mind and intellect, and driven by the organs. It can save us from many woeful moments when the wagon breaks down or is in a state of disrepair. The wagon has to be kept functional and operational to meet life’s purposes. But it doesn’t make sense to obsess over it, decorate it and parade it for the material world.

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Chinmaya Udghosh