'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Glimpses of Gujarat - Dwaraka And Around

September 19th 2007:

('We have landed' at Dwaraka around 4 am by train from Mumbai, as narrated in the last post here. This is the second part of the Gujarat series)

Dwaraka, believed to be the remnant of a great city in mythology, is now a small town with ramshackle buildings and sandy gallies (and busts of local luminaries at several of the intersections); it is underdeveloped (a very comfortable and subsidised lodge maintained by Reliance apart), and considering its importance as a centre of pilgrimage, sees rather few visitors (in our 24 hours in the area we do not see a single Mallu and just 2-3 firangees). Even Iskcon seems uninterested, apart from having erected a big, squat gateway at the entrance of the town. The weather is reminiscent of Chennai - hot, humid, sticky...

A slim and shallow river flows into the sea and on its bank, near its mouth stands the temple of Krishna ('Dwarkadhish'), naturally, the focus of the town. Approaching the temple along the river bank, one sees a bearded firangee seated in mediation on the steps leading into the river; a wandering cow approaches and prods him, he presently gets up (he is very tall), takes off his shirt and gets into the bath-tub deep river for a holy(?) dip. I am to see him again a couple of days later on the summit of Mount Girnar...

The temple foundations are at a rather high level and a slender Vimana tower rises dizzily over the sanctum to a height of over 100 feet (the dimensions are not really awesome but from the perspective of a narrow galli that leads to it, the tower's rise is quite vertiginous). A huge, brightly colored flag flutters near its summit - it is apparently ceremonially changed twice a day, each time with a new design. The temple is built of a greyish sandstone (?) which seems to be weathering fast in the salty winds from the sea.

The main idol in the temple shows Krishna as dark (indeed black), two-armed and seemingly holding up a snake; none of his weapons - the discus for instance - is to be seen. The 'Arati' takes aeons - the deity is hidden behind a curtain, a large crowd of pilgrims gather and wait impatiently for Darshan, and keep raising chants and slogans ('Victory to Dwarkadhish!', interesting, the devotee wishing God success, a phenomenon common all over Northern India) and it gets very suffocating in the milling crowd...

As part of the temple complex, there is a Mutt run by devotees of Sankaracharya where one can see plaster reliefs of varios events in the Master's life, from his childhood in Kerala (well, 'Kerala' is never mentioned) to his final disappearance in the snows of Kedarnath. The Mutt also does some serious trading in religious books and paraphernalia - the salesman shows us chains of crystals with alleged medicinal powers... And there is plenty of kitschy plaster reliefs of Gods, Saints and others and among them, I am surprised to see a copy of the Gajasamhara relief (Shiva killing an elephant demon, a Chola period masterpiece from Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu).

September 20th 2007:
We leave early by car. The first halt, about a dozen kilometers from Dwarka, is the Nageshwar Mahadev temple - said to be one of the 12 holiest Shiva temples ('Jyotirlingas') in the country. The temple does not have many visitors at this time of the day, but there are several priests standing in a line 'canvassing' for various special Pujas. Next to the temple is a colossal statue of Siva, seated (about 50 feet tall) In the morning sunshine, there are dozens of parakeets flitting around; some have perched on the prongs of the lord's trident, and one sits on the tip of the forked tongue of the serpent resting in coils around his neck....

Gopi Talab, a little farther ahead, is a long pond, adjoining which stand several small temples. At least two fo them show stones (with 'Ram' written on them) floating in water. One can touch them and they feel wooden, although they look stony all right. 'Semi-petrified wood'?

In one of the temples, the main priest is adjuring the pilgrims to buy "Rukmini's sindoor, only 5 rupees per jar, essential for your journey to be successful". ...

There are plenty plaster reliefs and effigies of divinities in these temples. Vishnu assuming the form of a merman (not the full fish of Matsya Avatara) to duel with the demon Shankhasura, who is himself half man and half conchshell, has stayed in mind; there is a 'life-size' tableau of Vishnu resting on Sesha, a huge lotus emerging from his navel and Brahma (as big as Vishnu) emerging in turn from the lotus..

On the main road, just outside the village, stand a cluster of stone slabs painted with human figures - men on horseback, demure women in saris,...; we are told they are votive offerings to spirits of ancestors. At any rate, they seem to be objects of active veneration.

We reach Okha at 10 am. This is a small port which lies at the tip of a small peninsula projecting north into the gulf of Kutch from the main Kathiawar peninsula. Boats leave frequently, ferrying pilgrims and others to the small island of Bet Dwarka, another place associated with Krishna. The temples are in a complex of double storey buildings, connected by passages and courtyards. All buildings have ornate and brightly painted balconies and are embellished with various designs.

Outside, there is a busy bazaar. I decide to buy a Gujarat road atlas for our further journey. The seller says "That will be Forty rupees". I look over the book and play Harishchandra: "but it is printed 'Fifty rupees' at the back!". And he responds: "Oh, they have just printed 'fifty'. The actual(?) price is forty!"

On our return to Dwaraka, we halt briefly at the Rukmini temple, just outside the town. Braving the midday sun, nearly 50 sadhus sit silently in neat rows in front of the temple. As we leave after a quick Darshan, one of them comes forward and says in Hindi: "Alms please. Just give me whatever you please and all the Sadhus will share it equally." The others just look at us hopefully; and presently, one of them speaks - in Tamil, perhaps having overheard our Malayalam: "yes brother, what he said is true. We share whatever you please to give!"

Afterword: The area around Dwaraka (Bet Dwaraka and Nageshwar in particular)are known to contains remnants of Harappan civilization. I did not know about this when we were there.


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