Sons of the Spiritual Soil

People

Sons of the Spiritual Soil

Illustration: Namaah/Arré

T

he story is a heartbreakingly familiar one. Every year, drought-ridden farmers from across different Indian states queue up to collect government handouts – pegged close to ₹6,800 per hectare. It is woefully inadequate in the face of colossal losses they have incurred due to the vagaries of the rain Gods, but there is no choice. In Karnataka too, the narrative is no different – last year, the state faced its worst drought since 1972, with 107 farmers committing suicide in 2015.

But in a northeastern corner of the state, in the parched Jagerekal village, as others lined up for the handout, Siddalingappa Patil stayed away. He didn’t qualify for the handout because he had reported an above-average crop of cotton.

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The 42-year-old farmer’s “secret” was that he’d spent the last few months walking around his cotton field, sprinkling “sanjeevani shakti” or divine energy on it. He has given up fertilisers and pesticides and has taken to sitting cross-legged in his baked field, twice a day, chanting mantras for half an hour.

He’s been using this rather unorthodox farming practice since he attended a kisan shivir, led by the saffron-clad Avdhoot Baba Shivanand, in a nearby village. He and six other farmers from Jagerekal were the only ones who took the unheard-of decision to meditate on their soil, on the instruction of the baba.

Siddalingappa’s peers thought him crazy but he didn’t care. He reposed all his faith in what he’d learned at the shivir and waited to see the result. In December, the farmer, who has seven acres of land, reported harvesting nearly 30 quintals of cotton.

Photo_2_-_Initiation

Avdhoot Baba Shivanand is virtually accessible to his flock of distressed farmers.

Photo Courtesy: Shiv Yog Foundation

The words “Emerging Infinite” leap at you when you visit the website of the Shiv Yog Foundation, an organisation dedicated to “spiritual uplift”. The foundation claims to uplift everyone from suffering farmers to animals to the aged to Mother Nature herself.
Not much is known about Avdhoot Baba Shivanand, revered as Babaji by his followers. But Shiv Yog has offices in Indonesia, Canada, UK, all the way to Brisbane. It is not surprising then that Babaji is only virtually accessible to his flock of distressed farmers in India.
The farmers’ programme is carried out through special two-day kisan shivirs held in different villages – it could be a krishi mand in one village, a temple in another. What all shivirs have in common is a sofa set at the centre of a dais, awaiting the arrival of the Baba, who almost never turns up. In September, Patil attended one of Babaji’s free kisan shivirs. The sadhu’s virtual presence was enough to inspire Patil and 15,000 others who thronged the camp to get a dose of what Shivanand’s volunteers term “sankalp shakti”.

As the farmers settled down, they were told that Babaji would empower them to turn around their fortunes. Not everybody understood how, but they listened anyway. “The Green Revolution has made the soil impotent,” Babaji intoned, with both arms raised in blessing. “Yields are in decline because crops can’t grow without pesticides… The current produce is poison on a platter. No need to spend a fortune on fertilisers and pesticides.” This “holistic agriculture” practice, Babaji claimed, is from the Yajur Veda. The results ranged from yield improvement, to pest-management, to even handling troublesome goats that eat produce. Babaji spoke forcefully and eloquently during his virtual telecast and desperate farmers with no recourse were spellbound by his promises.

Patil too was hooked. “Matter is made up of energy. Low vibrations produce negative energy, which leads to negative results, Babaji preached,” recalls Patil. “He explained how to raise the vibration of seeds and the vibration of fields after they are sown.”

By now it should be no surprise that Babaji’s advice finds resonance in the central government. Last year, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said that “yogic farming” had the support of the Centre. “The idea behind yogic farming is to empower the seeds with the help of positive thinking. We should enhance the potency of seeds by rays of parmatma shakti,” he said. The objective, Singh added helpfully, was to “contribute in making India sone ki chidiya once again.”

The mantra that Babaji tells the farmers to chant twice a day is Durga Saptashati, a 700-verse epic in praise of Goddess Durga’s nine incarnations. Patil has grown to like it. He says it gives him confidence, not to mention those 28 quintals of cotton. Everything, Patil now believes, is predicated on faith and how much energy you put into your meditation. “A neighbouring farmer meditates more sincerely than me, and his two-acre farm gave a yield like it does when the monsoon is normal,” he believes.

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Last year, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh had endorsed “yogic farming” – empowering seeds with the help of positive thinking.

Photo Courtesy: Shiv Yog Foundation

Naturally, Babaji has detractors. Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative or IFFCO, the world’s largest fertiliser cooperative, dismisses these stories. Its spokesperson Harshendra Singh Verdhan reacts to this trend with amusement and scepticism. “What’s the logic? It’s better to talk with facts and figures.”

Shivanand’s side counters these dismissals with trials of their own: A group of Austrian disciples have conducted their own field research. One of the practitioners, Dagmar Willnauer, presented the findings at the “Energising Cultures” seminar hosted by the Gujarat University. She said that her lab technicians were initially dismissive, but changed their minds when they examined the “spiritually-charged” soil. According to her, the lab reports showed that over 21 days the level of heavy metals in the soil had plummeted, while that of friendly elements like phosphorous, nitrogen and magnesium – the same elements in fertilisers – increased. The iron content had nearly doubled.

Not one of these studies was peer-reviewed or validated by an independent scientific body. Unsurprising, because the woefully tiny tracking period of 21 days, would get the “scientists” laughed out of any convention.

At the seminar, where 1,000 papers were presented, about 150 farmers took to the podium and shared their experiences. One of them was an upbeat and confident Patil. “Everything is in nature,” he said, channelling Baba’s words that are now gospel for him.

He can’t wait for the next sowing season to begin.

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