"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dwadashajyotirlinga yatra : Day 13 - Kashi Viswanath in Varanasi to Delhi to Haridwar

At 3:30 in the morning, we were down in the hotel lobby, dressed to go to Kashi Vishwanath. We had slept for a couple of hours, but nothing can take away from the excitement of performing abhishek at Kashi Vishwanath.

In the half hour that it took the bus to reach close to the temple, Ashverya and I had gone into deep sleep. Someone woke us up to say we needed to get off the bus. We got up and followed the group through the maze of streets. Very close to the temple, we realized the two of us were the only ones wearing footwear. Apparently, Swami Vinayakji had announced that people needed to be barefoot, but we had been sleeping blissfully. It was not yet 4 a.m.  All the shops were closed. We could go back to the bus to leave our flipflops there. People warned us we could lose our position in the line. If we left the flipflops there, we may not find them when we got back. It was a quick decision on my part to leave the flipflops where we stood, one cannot be going to Shiva's temple in Shiva's city and be worrying about losing flipflops. There was a security guard sitting there who had heard our conversation, and said - sure, leave them with me, I am here till 9 in the morning. We did, and rushed into the temple. 

There was not much of a crowd, contrary to what I had expected. For the morning aarti - worship ritual, the temple workers helpfully put some wooden benches so that people could stand on the benches behind those who were standing. The aarti in the sanctum sanctorum can be viewed from all four directions from carved windows. There was a VIP couple who was allowed to sit at one of the doors of the sanctum sanctorum. The priest who was to get our group to do abhishek - annointment, asked us to come in groups of four with him. As the group sang some bhajans - devotional songs, Ashverya and I dozed off and on till it was our turn. Despite the small number of people, there was a lot of pushing and shoving in the sanctum sanctorum, and it was difficult to perform the ceremony well. But we did complete it, touched our head to the lingam. 

Next stop, the temple of Annapurna which represents the Shakti Peeth in Kashi. It is said that the hand from Sati's charred remains fell on the ground here. 

Walking around the temple complex, I was constantly aware that these hallowed grounds have been walked on by Adi Shankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda. 

The original Shiva temple of Kashi finds mention in the scriptures. The current temple is believed to have been built in the eleventh century, that was destroyed by Muhammad Ghori in the twelfth century. The temple was rebuilt by devotees but then demolished by the slave king Qutubuddin Aibak. After Aibak's death, the temple was rebuilt with the permission of his successor, the slave king Altutmish, better known as the father of the first woman ruler of Delhi, Razia Sultana. The temple of Kashi Vishwanath was again destroyed by Feroze Shah Tughlaq in the fourteenth century. The temple was rebuilt by Raja Todarmal, the revenue minister in the court of the Mughal king Akbar. Aurangzeb, Akbar's great grandson demolished the temple, built a mosque known as the Gyanvapi mosque in its place, and even renamed the city Mohammedabad from Kashi. In the eighteenth century, the queen Ahilyabai Holkar rebuilt the temple, and in the ninteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated 1000 kilos of gold to goldplate the temple spire and the dome.

The last place we visited in the temple was the Gyanvapi well where the original lingam is supposed to be buried. It is believed that the priests of the temple saved the lingam when Aurangzeb attacked, by throwing it in a well. It is still believed to be there. Visible from here, was the Gyanvapi mosque that Aurangzeb had built, the living proof from history of the destructive nature and the uselessness of narrow-mindedness and hatred.

Once outside the temple, Ashverya's concern was that we may not find our footwear. Vinayakji told her to forget about footwear left on the streets, probably to alleviate her fears, but it only served to aggravate her concern. After losing her first pair of footwear in the restaurant between Ujjain and Indore, she had been very mindful of not losing anything. I reminded her that if everything was accepted as Shiva's will, there is no fear. Sure enough, we found our flipflops where we had left them, much to the relief and delight of my little god.

When we reached the hotel, we had a couple of hours to pack and have lunch before leaving for the airport to catch our flight to Delhi.

From the airport in Delhi, the group that had given their names to Bhavna to visit the architectural marvel built by the Swaminarayan sect, Akshar Dham, left in a bus. I had planned to go to the NOIDA ashram with Swamijis. I had to pack for Kedarnath, and some winter supplies were missing that I needed to get from Seema. Ashverya went to see Akshardham. Rameshji, with some misunderstanding on packing or unpacking of bags, also came to NOIDA.

Swami Chidrupananda-ji brought out jackets and caps and shawls, his ashram now feels like home to me. 

A family had brought food for us. It was refreshing to eat a delicious home-cooked meal, and hot chai made by Thakur, Swami Chidrupanandaji's helper.

I packed a few things into the two backpacks, and left the two duffel bags there, along with the large international suitcases that were already there for the past two weeks. One of the CM members who lives next to the ashram, had offered Swamiji their place for me to freshen up. When I returned to the ashram, Swamiji had many visitors. After two more rounds of tea, our cab arrived at 7, and it was time to leave again. On the way to the railway station, we picked up a fleece jacket for me from Seema's place. 

We were the first to arrive at the railway station. We found the right spot on the railway platform to wait for our train.

Soon the rest of the group who had gone to Akshar Dham showed up, and we were a large group of people now, relaxing on the platform. There are no photographs from Ashverya's visit to Akshar Dham because of the security measures. She was very impressed by the structure and the organization. For me, perhaps on another trip, another time, Shiva's will...

For this train ride, all of us only had a backpack each, and some people had a handbag as well - a far cry from our earlier train journey with the 42 large duffel bags.

And while I stood on the Delhi railway station platform, out of the blue, my niece Aditi came and touched my feet. She studies in Delhi and was going back home to Dehradun, when she saw Ashverya and me on the railway station.

Wonders never cease to occur. It reminded me of meeting a cousin and his family seven years ago on the slopes of Kedarnath - they were going up the mountain as I was coming down. Swami Sarveshananda-ji had joked on the way to the railway station that I would meet a family member in every town now as we went through Uttarakhand, and sure enough, it had started.

It had been a long hot tiring day, and I put my head on a backpack and went to sleep. Swami Vinayakji woke me up and spread a piece of yellow plastic that he was carrying with him, and told me to sleep on it. I have learned compassion from him on this trip - at each moment to be aware and empathize with others and to provide support.

Soon the train arrived, and this time, we boarded like professionals. Ashverya has learned so much on this trip, and she was comfortable traveling around India, enjoying every minute.

Tomorrow morning, we would be at the holy city of Haridwar.

Aum Namaha Shivaaya!!

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