January 2017 continues to be a lucky month for me as my run with temples continues. I visited the Akshar Dham on 26th January, the Republic Day of India. The weather was cold and foggy and the slight drizzle made the winter nip frosty. Thanks to Yami ben Patel who arranged for a special guide to take me through all sections of the temple quickly.
The temple is so magnificent, a cultural wonder and I must mention here that it has made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest Hindu temple in the world. We started the temple tour with the mantaps and these are an amazing display of the glorious heritage of Vedic religion, culture and our deities. The entire structure is constructed with pink Rajasthani sandstone and Italian Carra marble. No steel has been used anywhere in the construction.
I performed the puja of nilvarni maharaj with the sankalp of remaining happy forever. The place is known as a devotional Disneyland due to the amazing light and sound show that is screened in the temple. There was an interesting show on how Swami Narayan helped people from different walks of life. The temple welcomes all visitors irrespective of caste, creed, race, nationality and belief. We could also see a theatre which was running a movie on his life on a large screen.
Our last stop was the Sanskruthi Vihar, for which we took a boat ride to reach this powerhouse of knowledge. I became speechless as I saw the vision and thoughtfulness that has gone into creating this architectural marvel. It is truly one of its kind in the whole world.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj has given new life to the long lost art of sculpture making and the disappearing community of artisans. More than seven thousand workers worked on the temple in a span of five years.
A great visit and a great start to the New Year!
Champaran has become historically famous for the first ever satyagraha march led by Mahatma Gandhiji which put the place firmly in the independence struggle of India. Champaran is also a spiritual hotspot. It is famous as the birthplace of Shri Vallabhacharya known as Shree Mahaprabhuji. Mahaprabhuji lived in the fifteenth century in Champaranya near Raipur in present day Chattisgarh. He is the founder of the Vallabh sect known as Pushti marg. His birth was itself a miracle. You can read the interesting account of his life in my website if you follow this link http://www.indianscriptures.com/gurus/acharyas/shri-vallabhacharya
On the holy Makar Sankranti day this year I was fortunate to be at the haveli of Mahaprabhuji. The journey to Champaranya was so refreshing and beautiful.The Mahanadi flows near the temple and it is believed to be flowing from River Yamuna. It makes the place even more beautiful. The entire experience was truly divine.
The holy Vaikunta Ekadashi day on 8th January 2017 was a memorable one for me. I happened to visit the magnificent ISKCON temple in Bengaluru and felt I was literally going through the Vaikunt dwar. This holy day is dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu. The Vaikunt dwar or the special north side entrance of the temple is opened on just this particular day in a year. The belief is that anyone who goes through this entrance reaches the abode of Vishnu. Being a special day, the temple was crowded but I enjoyed being in the midst of so much spiritual vibration.
The ISKCON temple which is on top of a hill in the heart of the city was opened in 1997 and there are so many deities as we ascend the steps of the temple. You can also have a wonderful view of the city from atop the hill. There is a shrine for Lord Balaji. It is so beautiful that I was transported to Tirupati straightaway. There is another shrine dedicated to Nitai and Gauranga. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is known as Gauranga because of the beautiful golden complexion he had. He is believed to have been an avatar of Lord Krishna himself. The Kirtan tradition began with Chaitanya and this became an important hallmark of the Bhakti movement in India. Nitai is Nityananda Prabhu who appeared at the same time as Gauranga and it is believed that he is an incarnation of Balarama. Together these two great men helped in the spread of Vaishnava Sampradaya in this country.
And of course, as in all ISKCON temples, there is the main shrine with Radharani and Krishnachandra decked in all finery as befits the lord of the universe and his consort. Then there are idols of Krishna and Balarama and this reminded me of their childhood days in Brindavan. A shrine dedicated to Prahlada and Narasimha is also there in the temple. Lord Vishnu took this ferocious avatar to save his child devotee Prahlad. You can read in detail about these legends in my website www.indianscriptures.com
After worshipping at the altar of Hanuman and Garuda, I completed my visit to this holy shrine and returned full of memories.
Continuing with my visit in the busy area of Malleswaram, I reached the temple of Kadu Malleswara after finishing the Gangamma and Nandi Temples located in the vicinity. A temple that is many centuries old, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is the lord of the forest as Kadu in Kannada means forest. This place should have been a forest full of trees once upon a time. Modernization and a teeming population should have shrunk these green areas and they would have become a part of the city at some point of time. The area Malleswaram gets its name because of this temple. One legend says Sage Gautama had performed penance in this forest, so the area is rich with spiritual vibrations. History says that this temple was consecrated in the seventeenth century by Venkoji, the step brother of Maratha ruler, Shivaji after he found a Swayambu linga in the place. The place is so vast and you can explore it at a leisurely pace.
I found the stone images of snakes so fascinating. The nagara kallu or snake in stone is installed in fulfillment of a vow according to locals. There are hundreds of such stones in the far end of the temple.
There is also an image of a seven-headed black snake in the premises.
It was really a blissful visit as I climbed the flight of steps and worshipped Lord Shiva, his consort Parvathi and also Lord Vishnu in the main shrine. There are other small shrines dedicated to Lord Dakshinamurthy, Hanuman and the Navagrahas.
A little farther from this temple is the Dodda Ganapathy Temple.
The evening wore on and I next went to the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, this temple too seems to have had a connection with the Maratha rulers. The temple was consecrated by a kinsman of Chatrapathi Shivaji. Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. As it was the eve of Vaikunta Ekadashi the temple was getting ready for the stream of visitors the next day and decorations were on in full swing. I felt so fortunate to be in the presence of Lord Narasimha on such an auspicious occasion.
You can learn more about the Narasimhavtar if you follow this link on my website
The year 2017 has begun on a significant note for me. Travelling to Bengaluru to attend the Pravasi Bharathiya Diwas as a delegate, I thought it best to make use of this opportunity to visit local temples steeped in legend and history.
I was so happy to visit some of the temples in Malleswaram, which is one of the traditional areas of the city. My first stop was the Gangamma Temple. What a beautiful place this is! The deity Gangamma dedicated to the River Goddess Ganga is worshipped by the locals. Mother Ganga strikes an emotive chord in the heart of Indians as she blesses this land with her grace. She stands for prosperity and wealth. No wonder we find that she is worshipped in all parts of India by her children. The annual jathra or fair is a big event here where thousands from all over the state come to the temple to offer worship. There is a lovely chariot in which the goddess will be taken in a grand procession during the festival.
You can learn a lot more about Mother Ganga from the detailed articles on my site
Bang opposite the Gangamma Temple is a temple that attracted me with the image of a large Nandi atop the spire of the temple. I went there and was amazed by what I saw. Even more thrilling is the fact that this temple known as Dakshina Mukha Nandi Teertha meaning the South facing Nandi Temple was lost and buried under sand and was a distant memory in the minds of the local people. Then one day in 1997 when someone wanted to sell this plot of sandy land, locals protested saying that a temple had stood there centuries ago. Soon they started digging the land and buried deep under mounds of sand, a beautiful view of the temple emerged. The Archeological Survey of India stepped in and began excavating the place excited that they were going to recreate history. And they were not disappointed. An exquisite temple so grand and unique emerged and they went about piecing together the history of the temple. Using the carbon dating method, the ASI feels the temple is 400 years old. But some say it could be 7000 years old too though there is no evidence apart from hearsay and local legends.
I felt thrilled that I was directly witnessing a unique history as I went inside to see the temple. I have visited so many temples and have always found the Nandi which is the vehicle of Lord Shiva seated right in front of the Lord. Here the Nandi was seated atop a platform and right below is a shiv ling. Water flows out of Nandi’s mouth and falls on the Shivling as if he is continuously doing abhishek on the Lord.
I tried to find out where the water is coming from. That seems to be another mystery of this magnificent temple. No one knows the source of this water body. May be it is a fresh water spring, maybe it is some other divine source. The water is supposed to have medicinal properties. It collects from the shivling into a tank that is right in front of the shrine. Locals call this tank a kalyani.One thing that caught my observation was that the temple is slightly lower than the surrounding areas. Possibly that is why it had remained hidden from public view for so many years. But I marveled at the engineering skills of our great countrymen that inspite of years of neglect the temple remains in a fit condition to host devotees who come to pay obeisance to Nandishwara, the loyal vehicle of the Lord. There are also small idols of Ganesha and the Navagrahas on a raised platform.
I threw some coins into the tank which had a few fish and turtles and slowly wound my way to the exit. I was witness to a unique slice of the past.
This year I attended the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas for 2 days in the garden city of Bengaluru. The weather was pleasant and the Exhibition Centre where the grand event took place was spacious and lovely. It was very well organized and I can see that the event is getting bigger and bigger every year. It is apparent that global Indians look forward to attending the Pravasi event as it gives us a chance to meet, network and also learn about the latest things that the government is doing keeping us as stakeholders. There is a sense of belonging now to the country of our roots.
I took the opportunity to present my book on Hindu Culture and Lifestyle Studies to the Chief Minister of Assam. I enjoyed the lovely exhibition displaying arts and crafts from various states of India. These talented craftsmen were present there and it was great interacting with them.
January 9th is a very special day for Indians whether they are resident, nonresident or ethnic Indians. It is the day that commemorates the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa in Bombay in the year 1915. It is often said that Gandhi left India as Mohandas Karamchand and returned home as the Mahatma. Fighting off racial arrogance and plunging into causes more humanitarian than political, he emerged as a messiah for the masses.
It is indeed appropriate that the Indian Government has decided to honor this day as Pravasi Bharatiya divas celebrating the Indian diaspora and welcoming them home on this day. Each year 7th to 9th January, a celebratory event called the Pravasi Bharatiya conference is held in any Indian city by rotation. It is rightly said you can take an Indian out of India but not India from the heart of any Indian. The country with its ancient heritage and culture shows the way to everyone in the world and it is to reaffirm one’s roots to this ancient country that Indians gather home during this time.