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The tombs of the guru and his saints

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

IT was sometime in 1901 when a ship carrying indentured labourers from India berthed in Fiji.

The ship was among the many that had made trips between India and Fiji since May 1879, carrying indentured labourers.

According to the Wikipedia, 42 ships made 87 voyages carrying indentured labourers from India to Fiji between 1879 and 1916.

Initially, the ships brought labourers from Kolkata but from 1903 all ships except two also brought labourers from Madras, it says.

The free encyclopedia says 60,965 passengers left India but only 60,553 (including births at sea) arrived in Fiji.

It says 45,439 people boarded ships in Kolkata and 15,114 in Madras.

The first ship that arrived in Fiji with indentured labourers from India was the Leonidas on May 15, 1879 and the last was the SS Sutlej on November 11, 1916.

On one of the three ships that arrived in Fiji in 1901 with indentured labourers were some Hindu saints (sadhu).

Like other indentured labourers and sadhu who came to Fiji from India, these people also made their way to a part of the country. The indentured labourers including the sadhu are believed to have first established their places of worship wherever they settled.

Some of them also reportedly brought the statues of their gods and goddesses from India, and established them wherever they found it suitable.

And such was the attachment of the sadhu to the place where they settled and the places of worship that they preferred to be buried there.

One such place is in Sawani, which is a few kilometres before Nausori Town if one travels through Colo-i-Suva.

Situated in a rural settlement and close to a river, the Baba Ragho Vishnu Kuti is a reminiscence of a revered Hindu saint and his disciples.

The Baba Ragho Vishnu Kuti in Sawani is a place frequented by Hindus who are aware of its existence.

It is said to be the place where Baba Ragho Dass and his disciples were buried as per their wish and their tombs are also there.

Baba Ragho Dass is said to have been the guru (spiritual leader/teacher) of other Hindu saints who arrived in Fiji under the indenture system or girmit.

As per his migration card, he is recorded to have arrived in Fiji on February 8, 1901 from Balaghat district somewhere in India. But according to the Wikipedia, the vessels carrying indentured labourers to Fiji in 1901 arrived in March, May and June.

The SS Fazilka is recorded to have arrived in Fiji on March 28, 1901 with 804 passengers, the SS Fultala on May 12, 1901 with 809 passengers and SS Fazilka on June 18, 1901 with 776 passengers.

However, it is yet to be ascertained whether there could have been an error in recording the details of Baba Ragho Dass' actual arrival in Fiji or the arrival of the ships.

Story has it that after arriving in Fiji, Baba Ragho Dass set up base in Sawani with his disciples and other followers.

The site where the revered sadhu and his followers had established themselves today has a temple named after him.

It is a place that is reported to give relief to people facing problems in their lives and success for those struggling in life.

Although it is not situated on a land mass like the Naag Baba Kuti at Raralevu in Nausori, the Baba Ragho Dass Vishnu Kuti is a frequented place.

Unlike the Naag Baba Kuti, there is no creek running through the Baba Ragho Dass Kuti and there are no separate small temples for the different Hindu gods and goddesses.

There is no natural Shiva Lingam or Shiv Ling (stone worshipped by Hindus praying to Lord Shiva) at the temple in Sawani.

And there are no stories of the spirits of the sadhu being seen by devotees who spend time there with a clean heart and mind, unlike that reported in Raralevu.

But there are stories of some miracles being performed at the Baba Ragho Dass Kuti, similar to those at the Naag Baba Kuti.

Baba Ragho Dass Kuti committee secretary Biswa Lal said story had it that word went around about Baba Ragho Dass' powers when he settled in Sawani.

"He set up base and settled at Sawani with his followers, Baba Dinadas, Baba Girwar Dass, Baba Baijnath and Mata Baijnath," he said.

"People used to walk from as far as Navua for days to come and worship Baba Ragho Dass after they heard about him.

"Story has it that there were so many people during a prayer once that the ghee finished when women were making puri.

"Baba Ragho Dass told one of his followers to go to the river nearby and get a bucket of water.

"This water was poured in the frying pan in which the puri was being cooked and it reportedly turned into ghee.

"The next day a gallon of ghee was returned to the river. Such things were happening before."

Mr Lal said Baba Ragho Dass and his followers decided to stay behind in Fiji after the end of the indenture system.

He said according to stories passed down by their ancestors, the land on which the Baba Ragho Dass Kuti is situated was given to the sadhu by a European man.

"The European man's wife could not have children so he went to Baba Ragho Dass, who blessed him.

"After some time, the man's wife conceived and the European man went back to the Baba and asked him what he wanted.

"Baba Ragho Dass told him that he wanted a piece of land to live on and the European man gave him this one acre land."

Mr Lal said Baba Ragho Dass was meditating once when he told his followers to bury him in the sitting posture if he does not open his eyes.

He said the sadhu died in the sitting position and he was buried like that at the same spot.

"The tomb of Baba Ragho Dass is here in Sawani with that of his followers.

"Baba Baijnath and Mata Baijnath's tombs are together while the tombs of the other sadhu are at different spots not far from each other."

Mr Lal claimed that Baba Ragho Dass was the guru of the three saints who are buried at the Naag Baba Kuti in Raralevu.

He said people who visited the temple with a clean heart and mind always had their prayers answered.

"People who got well here have made donations to the temple and it's all just a matter of faith and the belief that you will be healed."

Mr Lal said the temple committee was hunting for more information into the life of Baba Ragho Dass and his followers.

He said people who were aware of stories passed down by their forefathers should come forward and share such information.

"We know whose tombs are at the temple site but we are unaware about a tomb which is situated a short distance from the temple.

"This tomb is in the bushes and there is no indication whatsoever whose it is and if it is from the time of Baba Ragho Dass," said Mr Lal.

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