पूजा घर में मूर्ती, मीरा के संग श्याम,
जिसकी जितनी चाकरी, उतने उसके दाम||

The idol is in the temple,
And Krishna is with Meera.
The more is your service,
The more is your value
                    ~ Nida Fazli

I walk past the jungle of cubicles and something catches my attention. It’s the wallpaper at a friend’s workstation. It reads – “I work for money. If you want loyalty, find a dog.”. I find it humorous. It tickles a mix of emotions. I find it right. And I find it wrong. To this day, it confuses me. Now that I run 3 small companies of my own, I’ve seen both sides of the table as well – employee and employer. However, somewhere amidst this confusion, if not an answer, I’ve found various thoughts to ponder over. This article is about them.

The question of loyalty brings forth the concept of Servitude in my mind. Let’s see what Google says about this word (search text- “define:servitude”:
  1. the state of being a slave or completely subject to someone more powerful.
    “you’ve got thousands of years of peasant servitude to make up for”

    synonyms: slaveryenslavementbondagesubjugationsubjectiondomination

A very negative word indeed, isn’t it? Even all the synonyms listed are negative words. That’s if we were to believe the dictionary. Indian philosophy and traditions have a completely different interpretation. So, for me to put forth my point in a clear manner, please allow me to digress to the concept of bhakti in Indian philosophy a little bit.

Bhakti is more than devotion or worship. Bhakti includes how you behave, what your ethics are and so on. Bhakti may or may not be for God. It could be about spirituality or moksha or nirvaanaa (salvation) or to a guru.

There are many bhavas (ways/state of mind) in Indian philosphy for bhakti. Surdaas (pronounced as Soordaas) popularized “Sakhaa-bhaav”, a form of Bhakti where you consider God as your friend. Tulsidaas on the other hand popularized the idea of “Daasya-bhaav”, a form where you consider yourself a slave of God and hence servitude. Meeraa and Sufi saints/poets popularized an amalgamation of daasya bhaav with madhur bhaava (another bhaav which is about attitude of a woman towards her lover) concepts as what we can call as “prem daasya bhav” – the God is considered as your beloved and you consider yourself a slave. Guess what, out of these three, Tulsidaas and the traditions of Meera and Sufism have found more popularity in India. Even to this day!

An example of “daasya bhaav” is a piece of poerty by Baba Bulleh Shah where he considers a dog as superior to humans because a dog has a greater sense of servitude. This is an immensely powerful thought as compared to the witty wallpaper on my friend’s computer screen.

Daasya-bhaav. Samarpana. Servitude.

Non-Indians as well as Indians think and remark that “Slavery is in our blood”. That’s true. That’s our culture. Having discussed the “daasyaa- bhaav” above, we need to understand it a bit further. This slavery, this servitude has long been ingrained in us. The difference from the current state, though, is that this servitude was never directed at people, jobs, dishonesty, selfishness. This servitude, this samarpana has always been about God, about goodness, about sacrifices, about humility.

Let’s look at Bhakti as daasya bhaav/servitude in the context of profession, something which I don’t see has been touched upon as a concept elsewhere.

I am an IT professional. The question of servitude is extremely relevant to my profession. Who should I serve with absolute commitment? Who should get my absolute loyalty? The answer is simple:

I am a servant of my profession.

I haven’t perfected it yet, probably never will. It’s amazing to see how a word which English dictionaries look down upon, is so difficult to achieve. It’s an extremely difficult goal to accomplish. How is it possible to loose yourself, your ego, your selfishness, your fears?

On this note, there’s a story from Ramaayana which comes to my mind depicting daasyaa-bhaav/servitude.

After winning the war with Raavana, when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, Sita as a sign of affection, offered her pearl necklace to Lord Hanumana. Hanumana started breaking those pearls, carefully looking at the broken pieces and throwing them away. People were amused. Sita was upset and asked – “Why?”. Hanumana, busy with breaking the pearls, replied – “I’m trying to see if there’s Rama inside any of them.”

One’s sense of servitude can not be measured in good times. Let’s say you have a situation where a decision needs to be made. One decision would keep your job safe or benefit you in terms of your financials/growth or whatever your goals are. The other decision is what the profession in its truest sense demands and would most likely lead to your personal loss. The decision which you make is a measure of your servitude.

Do you break the pearls of decisions to see if they contain the essence of your profession?

I would conclude this article with the following verse from Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिः यथा देवे तथा गुरौ ।
तस्यैते कथिता ह्यर्थाः प्रकाशन्ते महात्मनः ॥ २३ ॥

He who has highest Bhakti of Deva (God),
Just like his Deva, so for his Guru (teacher),
To him who is high-minded,
these teachings will be illuminating.

                         — Shvetashvatara Upanishad (1st millennium BCE)

Although this verse is about God and Guru, consider this in the light of bhakti/servitude for your profession. Serve your profession with utmost & unquestioned loyalty and you’ll see all knowledge offered by your profession illuminating right in front of you.

Would like to hear your thoughts.

  • Discussions with my Mom
  • Wikipedia content on Bhakti
  • Poetry by Nida Fazli – a Muslim poet who wrote the beautiful couplet on Meera, at the beginning of this article
  • My friend with the wallpaper, one of the most effective developers and versatile people, I have ever met.

2 Responses to “Reflections :: Servitude”

  1. Al

    Appreciate your thoughts. I have many Indian descent coworkers and they often act in a way that confuses me, almost as if they disregard their egos. I differ in that often times I embrace my ego and never bow down to others. Keep sharing your thoughts! Thanks, Al.

    • Rahul Verma

      Hi Al,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I believe that everyone should be self-aware. There are moments when one realizes he is wrong. In those moments, there shouldn’t be any problem in letting go of one’s ego and learn. However, doing this out of fear or greed or other reasons at the cost of self-respect is a strict No.

      Have a great day!


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