Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prasanna Devi

Prasanna Devi

Junagadh:  Age has yet to catch up with Prasanna Devi, a 67-year-old Catholic sadhvi – ascetic – who has lived alone in a mountainside forest for 38 years.

The only concession she grants to her advancing years is to go less often to church. After all, it takes her an hour-and-a-half to walk there through the thick woodland.

However, she did make an appearance at St Anne’s Church in Junagadh last Pentecost Sunday, to attend Mass and visit a doctor.

Around 65 Catholic families live in the parish of Junagadh in Gujarat state. To them, the saffron-clad woman is a familiar and welcome sight. “They flock around her whenever she makes her visits to the church,” says the parish priest, Father Vinod Kannatt.

When she returns to her hermitage, she often finds a swarm of regular visitors and new admirers awaiting her. They bend down to touch her feet and seek her blessings.

“She gets hundreds of visitors. She has a good memory for the people who visit her regularly, including me,” says Fr Kannatt.

He has recently started to make life easier for her by going up to her dwelling each week to offer Mass.

“I take my motorcycle up to the forest gate where a board says entry is restricted,” he says. “Then I leave the bike and trek up the hill.”

The sadhvi first came to the forest after the closure of a religious congregation which she had joined as a teenager. She opted for an ascetic life because she was attracted to the Indian way of sanyasa, or renunciation. So she set up her hermitage in the forest of Girnar, which is home to numerous animals including monkeys, leopards and Asiatic lions. They come frequently to drink from the reservoir that is just a stone’s throw from her door.

She also has a flock of six mongooses for company. “I have a clock, but they are my real timekeepers,” she says. “They arrive at four in the evening for their regular cup of tea, served in a saucer.”

Three generations of mongoose have kept her company, keeping rats and snakes away, although they are? helpless at monsoon times, when crawling creatures overrun the place.

Her greatest admirer is Praveen, a trishaw driver who visits her daily to see to her needs. Apart from him, thousands of visitors have now come to pay their respects, squatting for hours on the floor while she speaks in the local dialect about God’s love and care. They also share their problems with her and seek her advice.

“These people may not be Christians by faith, but they are true believers in Jesus through their deeds,” she says.

Now that age is starting to catch up, she says she is not sure how she will manage if her health deteriorates.

“But I am sure Mother Mary will give me strength to take care of my needs and continue to spread the Gospel,” she says. Then she laughs and walks to the hand pump to fill a bucket for her garden.
[UCAN India]