Monday, August 8, 2011

#45. The holiest of the holy

The most revered places
I have been to
The other day I started wondering which are the religious places which drew maximum reverence and awe from me. Over the last four decades I have seen most of the country and half the world, and it is indeed difficult to draw a list of such places unless the list is faily large. I did a lot of sifting, and even now as I write this piece, I am choosing and discarding places I have been to. The criterion is fixed. It is neither architectural excellence, nor age of the shrine, neither grandeur nor the most difficult to reach. These are the places where I was instantly drawn to the ambience of devotion, love and respect.
The first place which comes to my mind is Kaladi, the birthplace of Adi Shankar.The Periyar (Poorna) river touching the feet of the holy place, it has a tranquility which is hard to describe, and can only be experienced. It is said that Shankar’s mother Aryamba one fainted while going in the sun to the Periyar to take bath. Shankar prayed to Lord Krishna that the river should flow near his house, and his prayer was granted. The river has Crocodile ghat adjacent to the Shrine. It is said that a crocodile once caught hold of Shankar, and only on Shankar extracting permission from his mother that he will become a sanyasi, did the crocodile release him. There are several other places in Kaladi like viz Sriramkrishna Ashram, the eight storey structure depicting the life story of Shankaracharya, but nothing to beat the calm serenity of the birthplace.
The next is the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain. Though I had seen the
temple a number of times before, but a few years ago I landed there at
the time of Shringar. Being a high caste Brahman is looked down upon these
days, but it has its benefits sometimes. They allowed me to see the ritual
in the sanctum sactorum in an unsewn cloth covering the lower portion of
the body as is the custom in all South Indian temples. I still can’t explain
why I could not stop tears flooding out of my eyes. Such was the awe and
aura of the place and the deity. The ritual lasted almost half
an hour and I was floating in another world during that time.

The makeshift temple at Ayodhya. I am not a
staunch do-or-die Hindu, but the story of Ram heard so many
times in different forms since childhood and the Ayodhya story left an
impress on my mind so as to make this darshan a unique experience. Taking me
through the history of the place from the days of
Babar and Tulsidas right upto the present. Apart from
the shrine, the place which really moved me was the point
on the river Saryu where Ram is said to have taken
Jal Samadhi. I had gone there at the fag end of the rainy season,
and the river was in full glory.
The next that I remember are the shrines at Jagannathpuri and
Dwarka. Both have got history behind them, and both are
architecturally significant, but there is something in these places
which in the mortals we call charisma. There is an
aura in the Dwarkadhish temple which is indescribable, like the proverbial
jaggery in the mouth of the dumb (goonge ka gud bhai ). The crowd in
the Jagannath temple make it a place where you become more of a sightseer
than a devotee.
Then there is a small temple of Kanya Kumari at the land’s
end, better known as the Tri-sea Junction. The calm serenity of the place, little
known to outsiders, has a charm of its own.
The last but not the least significant is the Vishweshwar
temple, better known as the Vishwanath temple. I had a strange experience
once in the temple. A few years ago I had visited Varanasi, and I decided that
this time I will have a darshan of the deity. My friend Prahlad took leave
from his office, and after lunch we started for the temple. It was mild winter, and going
out in the sun was no longer unpleasant. Then we wanted to be at the temple at a lean period
when people prefer to have a siesta after a hearty meal. There was
hardly any crowd in the temple, and we could walk straight to the sanctum
sanctorum. There was a Bengali family
doing puja and we waited. Suddenly I found the shrine totally empty, with nobody in
except us two. Worshipping the deity when you are all alone in an important shrine
like that was a new experience to me. As if the deity was keen to have our offerings
in all exclusivity, with his time fully earmarked for us. I don’t know whether you can
feel the thrill I experienced, but I still feel that it was a
unique happening designed especially for us. Not that gold was showered on us
afterwards, or we saw a palace erected for us. The very experience was
worth it.

I considered so many other places which could find a place here, but none had the
quality or characteristics which I searched for. Of course
I haven’t been to Puttparti, the Saibaba’s shrine at Shirdi,
Kedarnath-Gangotri-Yamunotri, and Gangasagar, but
I have the good fortune to visit so many other places of religious importance. Those
who come across this blog during the course of their
surfing are welcome to pen down any moving experience they
had in a religious place.