It is in May 1998 after the explosion of 5 Nuclear Tests in Pokhran in Thar Dessert of Rajasthan, late APJ Abdul Kalam, the then Advisor to the Defense Minister, was returning to Delhi with his team.
On the way his colleague Dr KN Raj told him that there was a hamlet by name Badariya which was worth seeing as the ashram there was established by Baba Sri Badariya Maharaj who rendered amazing services to the local tribals. Dr Kalam agreed to visit the ashram near Jaisalmer.
In the following paras the visit to the ashram is narrated by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his own words. Let us now move across the length of India to the west. It was 15 May 1998. India had just conducted its five successful nuclear tests, elevating its defence stature. The mood in the nation was that of jubilation. I and my team of scientists were returning from Pokhran, the site for the tests. Pokhran is a place deep in the western Indian deserts of Thar, and little life and civilian movement exist in these remote deserts.
Those days of May were particularly hot with temperatures soaring above 50 degree C in the day as the sun was beating down and was being reflected in the golden sand. On our way back, meandering across the desert roads, we came across a small village, Bhadariya. Seeing the signboard my friend Dr KN Rai’s eyes immediately lit up. He exclaimed that he knew the place and that he had heard about a certain ashram. On his request, we decided to take small detour and visit the place.
Bhadariya was a small hamlet and we could locate the ashram easily; but what was difficult was to believe what we saw there. It was a large place, filled with greenery in the middle of the desert in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan. Upon seeing us, the head priest of the ashram, Baba Sri Bhadariya Maharai greeted us and took us to see the unique library he had created. He then took us down the staircase into an underground chamber which led to the library.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the room remarkably cool and filled with more than 2,00,000 books belonging to different subjects, different languages and different times in history. Some of them were even handwritten on parchment. Baba Sri Bhadariya Maharaj told us that due to the architectural design of the building, even when the outside temperature soared, the library remained naturally air-conditioned. He showed us books that were hundreds of years old and told us that the ashram had conserved traditional knowledge from earlier times.
While we were reading in the library, mesmerized by the cultural wealth, he brought us huge glasses of milk. I asked him, “Baba, in the middle of this desert, where do you get such delicious fresh milk from?” He smiled and asked us to follow him; he took us behind the ashram where we saw a huge cow shelter with about 1,000 cows. Baba then said, “Kalam, these are all discarded cows. People drove them away from their homes when they stopped giving milk.
For them these cows were useless.” He laughed and added, “But you see, just like you I am also a technologist. I have a special method of treating the same stray cows and today they all are healthy and happy and produce large quantities of quality milk, which you have in your glass.” I was amazed to hear about such a noble mission. I asked, “But Baba, where do you find fodder for all these animals?” Baba then asked me to sit down on a small charpoy under the shade and started telling me the story of the transformation of Bhadariya.
He told me, “Kalam, years ago, the people of this place were very poor and were addicted to many types of toxicants, including liquor, tobacco and other forms of local weeds. This place was barren and devoid of trees. There was a plethora of problems of poverty, hunger, health care and malnutrition. Water was scarce and yet poorly managed. Look at what we then did, with cooperation and support from the villagers.
“We started with a de-addiction campaign right here in the ashram, which now spreads to over seventy villages around Bhadariya. We executed a mission of greening Bhadariya and the surrounding areas with local support and planted lakhs of trees here. We got tube wells dug up and initiated agriculture in this place – with special ways to conserve water.” Baba then passionately continued.
“This ashram is also providing knowledge on naturopathy and herbal medicines are made from locally available to the rural community and on the treatment of cattle. The medicines are made from locally available herbs, using a technology that suits the conditions here.” He finally told me, “you know Kalam! The villagers were so happy about all this that they provide fodder for these cows.
Of course, when the cows started giving milk I began to offer milk and butter free of cost to the needy and to the travelers passing through this place. Like yourself. Kalam!” He laughed once again as he said that and offered me a refill of the glass, which I was happy to accept. One final question, “Baba, where does all this knowledge about local herbs, cow rehabilitation techniques and the other things you are doing come from?” Baba Bhadariya’s eyes shone in the light as he smilingly pointed to the underground library, “From there!”
Conclusion: (i) I believe real service to religion is to serve the villages on remote hills in distant deserts. True servants to religion will choose to move away from urban comforts and head to unknown places where people face unimaginable difficulties. That is how religious service can truly enrich the heart; and (ii) Bhadariya is a small place in the middle of the Thar Desert, but has that great lesson for the world.
It is also an example of how the integrated development of communication, dissemination of knowledge, medicare, cattle rearing, fodder management is all taking place together in a desert area, to transform land, resources and human life using local and traditional knowledge coupled with modern science and technology.
-Article compiled by M Narayan Reddy, an Ex-MP from Nizamabad