AROUND 5 AM between 15 December and 17 January of every year, Bejawada Peddi Raju steps out of his house into a thick fog, singing the Lord’s name. On 10 January of this year, it is biting cold outside. Street dogs moan in the chill. Crickets buzz. Cattle low. An occasional vehicle’s headlights pierce the gloom.
“It is my dharma, singing the Lord’s name,” says Raju, 60, a Haridasu in the town of Rajahmundry in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Haridasu is a community of minstrels indigenous to the state who wander the streets during the Sankranti season singing devotional songs as part of an old tradition. “We wake up the Lord, and wake up the people.”
Dawn is slowly breaking as Raju, tall and dark with rugged features, strolls in brisk, rhythmic steps, past big apartments, tiny houses, shacks, shanties, and down the lanes where men get up to spit, retch and brush their teeth, and women lie awake in their dreams.