Friday, June 25, 2010

Photographs of Gujarat : From Here and There...


“You illumine the whole, wide realm of space,
You rise up facing all the groups of gods,
Facing mankind,
Facing everyone,
So that they can see the Light”
-     Rigveda (Sacred Hindu Scripture) on the Sun God.

”Sunrise
[ Sunrise from the moving car on the Mumbai - Surat highway ]

The Surya Dev (Sun God) is driven in a one wheeled chariot pulled across the heavens by seven horses depicting the seven days of the week. Charioteer is Aruna believed to be the redness that accompanies the sunlight in dawn and dusk.

”
[ Surya Dev - God of light and wisdom at the Surat ISKCON ]

Also known as Tapi, she is revered as a Goddess in Hinduism. The origin of river Tapti can be traced to an ancient story, according to which during a fight between Tapti and her sister Yamuna, they both cursed each other to take the form of rivers.

”River
[ River Tapti - daughter of Sun God ]

A very renowned poet-saint of Gujarat, Narsinh Mehta (also known as Narsi Mehta or Narsi Bhagat) was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. His devotion was such that the marriage of his daughter was performed by the Lord Himself!

”
[ Narsinh Mehta - A famous poet-saint of Gujarat ]

”
”
[ Flowers in full bloom at  the Vadodara ISKCON ]

”Sadhus
[ Sadhus being distributed free lunch 
on the banks of the Gomti lake in Dakor ]
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Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Ranchhodrai Temple - Dakor

“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart
- A leaf, a flower, fruit, or water - I accept with joy.”
-  Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita

    After visiting the Dakor Gaushala and taking a leisurely stroll along the Gomti lake, I finally reached the main temple – The Ranchhodraiji Temple. After going through the normal security check (Photography is not allowed inside), I entered through one of the four main temple gates. The gates were huge and magnificently carved with Vedic Gods like the Sun, the Moon and the Ganesha. They all seemed to guard the entrance. The gates open in a wide and a large courtyard. Standing high on a plinth (about ten stone steps on each side), in the middle of the courtyard is the main temple overlooking the Gomti lake. The main temple was built by Shri Gopalrao Jagannath Tambwekar in 1772 A.D.

[ Main entrance to the Ranchhodrai Temple ]

     It was 11 am, the sun was shining and the temple was closed. Still the courtyard was filled with people – sitting on the steps, waiting for a glimpse of their beloved and singing devotional hymns. Their soulful renditions reverberated in the depths of my heart and draped the entire atmosphere there in divinity and sanctity.

Like all ancient temples, this temple too has a captivating saga that unfurls when one delves in its history.

    Vijayanand Bodana, a rajput of Dakor, and his wife Gangabai were ardent devotees of Lord Krishna. Bodana used to go to Dwarka every six months to worship Lord Krishna carrying with him – ‘Tulsi Patra’ (basil plant leaves). He did this continuously and persistently till he reached a ripe age of 72 years when he began to find it more and more difficult to pursue his ritual. Exceedingly pleased with his devotion and seeing his troubles, Lord Krishna came in his dream and said, “You need not come now, I myself will come near you. On your next visit to Dwarka, bring a bullock-cart and I shall accompany you to Dakor”. He did exactly this on his next visit to Dwarka. Upon learning his intentions, the priests of Dwarka (Gugli brahmins) locked and sealed the sanctum sanctorum of Dwarka Temple for the night. At mid night, Lord Krishna broke open all the doors, awoke Bodana and together they left for Dakor.

    In Dwarka, the priests finding the idol missing chased Bodana and came to Dakor searching for it. Fearing the priests of Dwarka, Bodana hid the idol in the Gomti lake. Thereafter, Lord Krishna directed Gangabai, wife of Bodana, to give gold equivalent of the idol’s weight and ask the priests to return to Dwarka. The priests agreed and a large weighing scale was set up on the banks of the Gomti.

    As Gangabai was very poor, a golden nose-ring was all that she had. Accordingly, the idol of Lord Krishna was weighed here against the golden nose-ring of Gangabai and Tulsi Patra. Miraculously, her pure devotion towards the Lord made it possible for the nose-ring to balance the weighing scale. Even today, the place where the idol of Lord Krishna was weighed exists on the bank of the Gomti lake known as Tula Ka Sthan that I had described in my last post.

    The priests were saddened but the Lord mercifully directed them that they would find, after six months, an exact replica of the idol in Sevaradhan Vav (well with steps) at Dwarka. Unable to resist their curiosity, the priests looked for the idol sometime earlier, and found an idol which though similar to the original one, was much smaller in size. This smaller idol is currently enshrined at the Dwarka temple.

Thus, Lord Krishna stayed permanently at Dakor where he is fondly known as Ranchhodraiji.

    Similarly, there is an interesting story behind the Lord's name - Ranchhodrai as well. According to the Hindu scriptures, Lord Krishna once fled (chhod) from the battlefield (Ran) during a war with an ally of Jarasandh and since then, he came to be known as Ranchhodrai.

[ Magnificient  Ranchhodrai Temple - Dakor]

    It was around 11.30 am now and time for the Lord to have His meal (Rajbhog darshan). Amidst beating of drums and ringing of temple bells, the temple opened and people rushed in to seek His blessings. In a matter of seconds, the temple room got filled with hordes of devotees.

    The front portion of the temple is railed off for women and I sneaked in through. Two men carrying Hundis (large metal pots) were standing on the railing and swaying it to and fro, so that people could put their donations in them. I have visited so many temples but have never come across such a unique way of collecting donations. On the sidewalls, there are beautiful artistic stone carvings and mural paintings depicting the various stages in the life of Lord Krishna (Krishna leelas).

    Finally, the diya was lit and the inner sanctum lit up – the divine image of Lord Ranchhodraiji in black touchstone glittered… it was a sight to behold… The lord is always smiling, looking lovingly towards His devotees – a gaze which can convert even an atheist into a believer.

[ Image of Lord Ranchhoraiji 
courtesy www.ranchhodraijidakor.com ]

    He was wearing a silky white robe, His body adorned with garlands of fresh flowers, valuable ornaments, His lotus feet covered with Tulsi leaves. The arti started… The heady clanking of the temple bells, the echo of the conch, the clapping of hands and the vibration of the chants ‘Ranchhodraiji Ki Jai…’ spiritually charges up the entire atmosphere so powerfully, that it stirs your soul. I closed my eyes and bowed my head in prayer. The arti ended… While circumambulating the temple, I recollected the words of my mother. Before commencing the trip, she had said - The punya (virtues) gained by visiting Ranchhodraiji temple and having a glimpse of Lord Ranchhodrai is considered to be as equal as visiting Char Dhams – And I realized how fortunate and blessed I was!

    As we stepped out onto the streets, eating the prasad of Tulsi leaves, under the shadows of the gold plated temple spire, I smiled knowingly… that my trip to Gujarat had come to an end… leaving behind some wonderful memories… delectable cuisine, warm people, unique places But my Yatra continues
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dakor - Gaushala, Gomti Lake


    Although Dakor is recognized primarily for the Ranchhodrai Temple, but there are other places too that just can’t be missed while you are here. Be it the Gaushala, the scenic Gomti lake or even the lively markets – all of these add to the appeal and charm of the place. While I was headed towards the main temple, I got a feel of these places which I am describing below.

Markets

Life of the people here mostly revolves around serving the Lord in some way or the other. The bazaars of Dakor are flanked with colorful shops selling sringar items of Lord Krishna like dresses, flutes, etc.

[ A beautifully decorated idol of 
Lord Krishna in one of the shops  ]

In addition, you will also find a number of sweetmeat shops selling a variety of Gujarati snacks and the local speciality - ‘Gota (a variation of the stuffed pakoras).

Gaushala (Cow-shed)

[ Entrance to the Dakor Gaushala ]

    In His childhood, Lord Krishna was a gwal (cowherd boy). He loved cows and would take them for grazing to the jungles everyday. In the evenings, the sound of His flute was enough indication to the cows that it was time to go back home and they would all come rushing back to Him. Such was the eternal loving bond that Lord Krishna shared with the cows! What better way then, to worship Lord Ranchhodraiji than to visit the Gaushala of Dakor!

[ Cows in the Gaushala ]

    Maintained by the temple committee, the Gaushala here is spread in a vast area. Proper care is provided to the resident cows, bulls and calves throughout their lifetime. The dairy produce (ghee, curd, buttermilk) from the cows besides the milk is used in the preparation of various food items, as bhog (offerings) made to the deity.

I fed these loving cows with some jaggery and experienced a unique sense of joy and satisfaction.

Gomti Lake

    Near the main temple is the Gomti lake, a place of natural scenery surrounded by picturesque trees. Since boating facility is available here, it also serves as a picnic spot.

[ Picturesque Gomti Lake ]

    On the banks, is a small yet ancient temple said to contain the foot impressions of Lord Ranchhodji. Besides, there is also a very interesting place known as Tula ka Sthan (a large weighing scale). It is believed that the idol of Lord Ranchhodji was weighed here against a golden nose-ring of a great devotee of Lord Ranchhodji, Gangabai (It is a very interesting story which I will describe in detail in my next post). The essence of the story, however, is that it was her pure devotion towards the Lord which made it possible for the nose-ring (which was actually much lighter than the idol) to balance the weighing scale. Hence, even today, it is said weighing oneself here against an equal quantity of items (food-grains, clothes, or literally anything of general use as per one’s capacity) and distributing it to the brahmins and the needy brings good luck and prosperity to one’s family.

    A little distance away, from the banks of the Gomti lake, I could see the magnificient spire of the main temple…And I eagerly waited for a glimpse of Lord Ranchhodraiji…
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Land of Lord Krishna - Dakor

Introduction

    After exploring Surat and Vadodara, we moved towards our final pilgrimage centre in Gujarat – The land of Lord Krishna, Dakor.

[ A view of Dakor from the bank of the Gomti lake - 
The golden spired temple is the Ranchoddrai Temple ]
 
    An ancient town, Dakor is said to be in existence at the time of Mahabharat when it was a dense jungle known as Hidimba Van. Dank Rishi had an ashram (hermitage) here in the surrounding area then. During penance, he had pleased Lord Shiva who in turn agreed to settle here in the form of Danknath Mahadev Shivling. Thus, Dakor was known as 'Dankor' after Danknath Mahadev. Today, however, Dakor is renowned for the well known temple of Ranchhodraiji (Lord Krishna) and is among one of the holiest places of Hinduism.

    The chief fairs of Dakor are held on Ashwin and Kartik Purnimas (full moon days) when lakhs of devotees throng the temple to seek the blessings of the Lord.

How to reach Dakor

    By road, it is around 90 kms from both Ahmedabad as well as Vadodara. State transport Buses are available from all major cities in Gujarat. The nearest airport is at Ahmedabad.

Where to stay in Dakor

    Although Dakor is visited every year by lakhs of devotees, it's hard to find many good staying options here.

[ Temple trust Guest House ]

    The best I know of, from my own personal experience, is the guest house run by the temple trust. Situated just next to the temple Gaushala (described above), it has both a/c and non a/c rooms. In my last trip to Dakor, I had stayed in their a/c room which was quite clean, spacious and well maintained. The per-day charges are Rs. 400 and Rs. 200 for a/c and non a/c rooms respectively.
Otherwise, one can also consider staying in the adjacent major cities of Ahmedabad or Vadodara.
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