September 6, 2015 12:02:39 am
Badni Devi Daga, 82, took up santhara on July 25, the 24th anniversary of the death of her husband, who had also taken the vow during his last days. For more than a month now, Badni Devi has been surviving only on a few teaspoons of water at their home in Gangashahar, Bikaner, fed by family members using a silver spoon.
It’s the second santhara in the family. “And the fourth in this lane,” says Mahendra, Badni Devi’s middle son. While two of Badni Devi’s sons, Kiran Chand and Surendra, and daughter Sudha live in Gangashahar, Mahendra has a retail business in Siliguri.
Now that their mother is in santhara, they sit around her bed, chanting hymns.
Badni Devi looks extremely frail, but the family says her vital parameters have stabilised and her condition only improved since she began santhara.
Badni Devi has had respiratory complications for seven-eight years. On July 8, her oxygen supply was unplugged and doctors said she wouldn’t survive beyond 72 hours. “On July 16, mother woke up and said she wanted to take santhara, like many of her friends,” says Mahendra.
That day, Badni Devi called family members and asked them to cut all material-emotional ties with her. In a symbolic gesture meant to represent giving up of wealth, she gave a silver coin to each family member.
The family then sent an email to Acharya Mahashraman Chaturmas in Nepal, seeking his approval to start santhara. On July 25, she was initiated into santhara by nine sadhvis and sadhus.
“She was very unwell, but when her family decided to take her off medication, I asked them if they were sure… In my medical opinion, it’s a miracle she has survived this long,” says her doctor Dr Ratanlal Ranka.
The family went through many worried days after the Rajasthan High Court ban, before the Supreme Court ordered a stay.
For the last 15 days, Bandi Devi has not uttered a word. She gestures if she doesn’t want any more water or gets bothered by the TV cameras or flash lights.
Badni Devi’s santhara is accompanied by several “little santharas”. “Thousands” around her have taken little vows of their own, such as giving up bananas, to be obeserved for a day, a week, till her santhara is over, or for life. A box by her bed has paper chits with an assortment of vows written on them that the stream of visitors picks up.
The family says they are well-to-do, trying to put to rest charges of older members being forced to take up santhara by relatives who want to avoid spending on healthcare.
“It’s mrityu mahotsav (celebration of death) as against mrityu shoke (mourning),” says Surendra, her youngest son.
(The reporter visited Badni Devi on Sept 2. She passed away three days later.)
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