Carrying a bowl in his hands, he wanders around barefoot, seeking
alms from people - not for his own survival, but for solemnising
the weddings of impoverished women!
Rama Shankar, a native of Ramgarh town in Uttar Pradesh's backward
Sonbhadra district, has till now organised marriages of over 600
girls. He is popularly called 'Bhikhari (beggar) Baba'.
Shankar, a caretaker of a small Shiva temple in Ramgarh, has been
conducting mass weddings every year since 2005 through the alms he
collects along with his 20-odd disciples.
"I really don't mind when some people say 'Dekho bhikari aa raha
hai (look the beggar is coming)' and leave the place as they see
me approaching them. My conscience is clear...I am not begging for
myself but for the happiness of poor girls," 57-year-old Shankar
told IANS on telephone from Sonbhadra, some 350 km from Lucknow.
"It really feels great when you see a smile on the faces of poor,
helpless girls who thank you for performing their marriages. I
just pray to god that I should continue to get alms so long as I
am alive for holding the mass marriage functions," added Shankar,
who refuses to talk about his personal life.
Every month, Shankar and his disciples go around in parts of Uttar
Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for nearly 15 days, seeking money. Even
as the exercise continues throughout the year, Shankar fixes an
auspicious date for holding the mass-marriage function in his
"While we have to directly approach some people for getting alms,
there are many people who generously give money when they come to
know about our mission of helping poor girls," Shankar said.
"There are several businessmen, government officials and even
politicians who regularly make huge financial contributions,"
added Shankar, who preferred not to name the donors.
Shankar embarked on this noble journey in 2005 after encountering
a tragic incident.
"While I was sitting outside a temple, I saw a youth resting under
the shade of a tree. It appeared he was having some difficulty
breathing. As I approached him for help, he told me he was quite
worried about the marriage of his younger sister. Before I could
ask anything more, he died," said Shankar.
"Later, I came to know his name was Santosh Kumar. He had lost his
parents and was in stress after a man refused to marry his sister
because of dowry issues. It was then that I decided to devote my
remaining life to this cause," he added.
After the incident, Shankar organised a simple function in which
21 poor girls, including Kumar's sister, were married.
All kinds of people approach Shankar to get their girls married;
the only condition is they should be from a deprived background.
The ceremony is organised mostly during winters.
"A grand feast is organised on the occasion. Moreover, the
newly-wed couples are gifted daily use items like utensils,
watches and cupboards in order to help them start a new life,"
said Harikesh Kishore, a native of Ramgarh, who works as a helper
at a dairy.
Kishore's daughter Sukanya was married off to a mechanic at a
mass-marriage function organised by Shankar two years ago.
According to locals, Shankar also helps in finding suitable match
for the girls. "He commands great respect in most regions in
Sonbhadra and adjoining districts. The families of prospective
grooms do not say no if Baba makes a request about a marriage
proposal," said Hemant Kashi, a daily wage labourer in Ramgarh.
"Baba has promised me that my daughter would get her life partner
in the upcoming marriage ceremony. All of us will really remain
indebted to Baba for his noble mission," he said.
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