Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ancient Jogeshwari Shiva Caves in Mumbai during Shravan

Chappal ithe soda aani ya line madhe ubhe raha.
(Leave  your slippers here and stand in this queue.)

I do as the policeman directs.

A few paces into the queue, barefoot and more abandonment follows. The fast lanes drift behind and the light of the day fades away. With this begins my journey into a world historic, deep and different.

Darshan queue at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
The journey begins: The queue to the Jogeshwari caves in Mumbai
Sitting in the heart of Jogeshwari (E), the western suburbs of Mumbai, the Jogeshwari Shiva caves are a world unto itself. Dating back to the 6th century, the caves are so ancient that they can easily give an antiquity complex to its more profound siblings - the Ajanta and Ellora caves of Maharashtra. Surrounded by dilapidated structures and nondescript shanties, the caves neatly tuck themselves in from the hurly burly bondages of life, a place where the outside world ceases to matter.

Moving past the shanties towards the cave, I can't help but see the metaphor: aren't these shanties like the state of lives we are living today? ...sturdy outside, somehow holding onto the ground yet fragile, weak and decrepit inside. But, there is always a way, and we shall arrive only if we are willing to move in the right direction.

Darshan queue at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
With the faithful: Walking in the queue towards the caves.
My way is strewn with lessons of tremendous patience and unwavering faith as I make tiny strides along with hundreds of others standing in the queue. It's the big day of Shravan Monday (July-August) and a special day (His personal favorite!) to receive His blessings, and I am looking forward to visit the comforting realms of His house – the Jogeshwari caves - trying my best bit to catch all the action – of doodh (milk), bilva patra (sacred leaves of bel), phool (flowers), mantras (chants) and people. Needless to say, I get it all – in abundance.


Girls at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
Everyone is eager to meet the Lord!

A few more paces and soon, the decrepit structures vanish in the distance giving way to the gleaming entrance of the cave illuminated by the filtering rays of the early morning sun. I climb down a flight of stairs and darkness greets me into the courtyard of the cave. It is only 7.00 in the morning but I realize I’m already late. A daunting swarm of people are flocking everywhere my eyes can see. Along with a deep sigh, my heart lets out a silent cry of 'Om Namah Shivay' and I gear myself up to mingle with the pilgrim crowd.


Inside the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
Om Namah Shivay! First glimpse after stepping foot inside the cave.

The cave houses a number of Gods and Goddesses within its precincts – the Jogeshwari Mata, the Jogeshwar Mahadeo and the Ganesh temple among others. The first among them to make an appearance is the temple of Jogeshwari Mata right across the entrance. Here, one can see Her footprints and an image that is a form of Shakti, and is venerated as the local deity of the locality, the Kuldevi after which the area gets its name. This temple has two ganas or guardians of Lord Shiva carved in the rock and seated at the entrance to protect the Goddess.


Jogeshwari Mata temple - Mumbai
Let's pay our respects to Jogeshwar Mata far in the distance.

Age old carvings at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
The security guard of the mata: In stone.
I thank mother for calling me here before proceeding further. The serpentine queues are huge and many in number. People from all walks of life gender, status and age no bar – are all standing as one with a single pursuit - to meet the Lord.  The numbers are overwhelming but as I walk and weave with them, the feeling I get is far from exhausted. On the other hand, it’s that of wonder and stimulation, of oneness and belonging, of spiritual renewal and of positive spark of finding the hidden wisdom that resides within each one of us.


People in queue at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
The Power of One: In faith and belief!
A young devotee at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
An epitome of purity and divinity. What do you say?

The room is never overly noisy but is filled with a constant hum of hushed chants and pulsating murmers. Most of the people keep to themselves, silent and introspecting, perhaps keeping in accordance to the meditative ways of Lord Shiva. With them, they carry a lota (brass vessel), filed with either water or milk, and clutch it secure so as to not spill a single drop outside. The lota somehow ceases to be a mere utensil today. It is much more significant reflecting a sincere prayer, a resurrection of faith and a quest – to seek His divine grace and ask for sincere repentance.

A woman with a lota at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
The sacred treasure: The lota which holds the jal for the Lord.

The interiors of the cave are not in a good condition with most the stones torn off at various places exposing different shades of whites, grey and black. You can’t help but feel sad for the neglect its borne for it's a national heritage. I roll my hands over the stone slabs and rocks protruding out of the cave walls and marvel at them from time to time. It’s earthy and unsophisticated textures are convincing enough of His humble existence inside.

A pillar at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, MumbaiCeiling of the Jogeshwari Shiva caves, Mumbai
 Torn walls of the Jogeshwari Shiva caves, Mumbai
Wear and tear:  But no one to take care, restore or repair?

Time ticks by... it's already about 3 hours of treading in the caves. Finally, a ray of light appears at the end of the deep tunnel, a ray of hope bringing with itself an anticipated surcharge of energy in the devotees. The air is now thick with eagerness; the woman ahead of me jumps into action getting her lota ready with milk and a few colorful flowers. Lord Shiva is now only a few steps away.

A woman at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
Lord looks forward to meeting His ardent followers as well

At the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple, a huge bell hangs at the entrance. Below, the Nandi bull, the vehicle of Lord Shiva sits guard while pictures of lord Shiva in various forms hangs at the side walls. Inside the sanctum is the shivling - a black colored stone characterizing the three eyed Lord of the universe – Lord Shiva. Above the shivling, hangs a dhanetra from which milk drips bit by bit onto the ling. Devotees offer milk, flowers and bilva leaves and pray for peace and prosperity.

Jogeshwar Mahadeo Temple at Jogeshwari Shiva caves in Mumbai during Shravan
Jogeshwar Mahadeo Temple: Home of the Lord

The moments are few but they are prized and precious. These are moments of peace and fulfillment; moments of connectedness with the Divine… with one’s own self. I kneel down, clasp my hands and close my eyes. I’m in front of Him.

On the way out, I come across a courtyard housing an exhibition of colorful rangolis and ancient carved relics of ganas or guards of the temple. A little further is the temple of Lord Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva.



An ancient sculpting at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
Lord Shivagana sculpture  at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
The guards keep an eye: The Ganas of Lord Shiva
Rangoli of trident at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
 Rangoli of Lord Ganesha at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
Beautiful decorations or Rangolis:
Dumroo with a trident, a musical instrument of Lord Shiva (top)
and Lord Ganesha (below)
Lord Shiva with His Son Ganesha in the Jogeshwari caves courtyard in Mumbai
In the courtyard, outside the cave
Lord Ganesha Temple in Jogeshwari caves, Mumbai
Lord  Ganesha in the courtyard
The Ganpati temple leads me to the exit. I ascend a fleet of stairs and I find the tranquility of the caves loosing away within the chatter of the outside world. Stepping back feels like a rebirth where the enveloping womb of the mystical caves has given way to the harsher realities of life. And, here is where the real journey begins, of identifying the real self in this mirage of the world. But He shall guide, as He's the father - benevolent and compassionate.

Jogeshwari Mahadeo Shiva caves, Mumbai


It's time to move on... to flap the wings again and soar high in the sky,
but with a renewed hope, that this time...
.. it shall be with a difference.

Getting There and Distance: How to reach Jogeshwari Caves

1. From the Jogeshwari station (Western Railway Line / East) to the temple caves: Hire a rickshaw for minimal fare or walk the 3 km distance on foot, it's not really far. Ask for directions, the locals know the place well.

2. There are no shops inside the cave.If you are visiting during the festival times, the queues can be really large, so be prepared. Carry some water from home.

3. Best time to visit the place: Shravan Monsoons (June - September) or Shivratri (February) to catch the festively divine atmosphere. Preferably early mornings if you wish to avoid the crowds.

Related links and Other Lord Shiva temples covered in My Yatra diary -



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whispering in the Ears of Shiva's Nandi Bull this Shraavan


As I lean forward to softly hum my wishes in His ears, I feel myself detaching from the chaos of the world outside. It is like stepping into a quiet room – filled with peace, pin drop silence. Like Meditation or chanting a mantra. When your mind loses sight of itself and begins to transcend, gradually tapping the core zone of fanatical happiness. It’s in those silent moments, I feel His power… and a connection is established - me with the divine, me with myself…

And, me with the Nandi!

Who is Nandi?

Nandi is the divine bull, the vehicle of His Master, Lord Shiva and His primary devotee. He reveres His Master, and He adores Him. So much that the two are inseparable. His appearance is full of charm, His demeanor – authoritative. Oh well, He is a God in His own right! Like a security sentinel, He guards the entry gate to the abode of Shiva - devotees always seek His blessings before proceeding to Shiva.

Nandi Bull of ancient Tungareshwar temple in Mumbai
Hello, Nandi!
Like one drop in a huge ocean, I have merged with a swarm of devotees gathered at the local Shiva temple to seek His blessings. In spite of the crowd, I can feel Lord Shiva’s presence around during this point in time. He is on a journey, from His abode in the Himalayas to mine, the earth.

I walk a small distance, barefoot, to join the queue of the faithful, brimming with devotion and joy. The queue moves in an unhurried manner. And, so do I. Restless, with bilwa patra in my hands and a prayer on my lips, waiting for my meeting with the Lord.

In this holy month of Shraavan, I am on my road to The Shiva and as always, it shall pass through The Nandi.

Bilwa patra leaves and flowers offered to the Nandi Bull
Bilwa patra, leaves offered to the Lord
Finding Nandi

You don’t really find Him. He is simply there, everywhere. Like a swirling orb of shadow clinging to the sun’s light. Like a celestial star dancing in the twinkle of the night. Ardently following His master - Shiva.

Shiva temples with the Nandi Bull in tow
Shiva temples in my travels: Can you find Nandi? 
Attributes like size and color can vary though. Take for example, The Bull temple in Bangalore – one really has to go to this temple to see how the giganticity of the deity of Nandi breathes life in the mythical stories that do the rounds there.

Here, He is life-like, one of the largest in the world, born out of a single granite monolith measuring 4.5 m in height and 6.5 m in length and black in color. The temple tallies as one of the oldest in the country drawing a large number of believers all round the year. The Nandi Bull of Chamunda Hills in Mysore is another such example.

Nandi Bull of the Bull Temple in Bangalore
Nandi Bull in Bangalore: Isn't He HUGE?
(image courtesy: Clara Arnold @ thesoulandeye.wordpress.com)
Finally, somewhere along the line, I meet Him – The Nandi.

He is sitting facing the main shrine venerating Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, in a regal manner. I notice His leg, right one, raised slightly. I remember someone telling me, this signifies the value of Dharma in today’s era (Kaliyuga). I follow his gaze - it is fixated firmly on His master - one snap of His Master’s finger and He is alert enough to get up and get moving. I stand in awe and admiration of His principles and faithfulness. I place a bilwa patra in His feet, and bow my head in devotion.

Standing upright again, I cup my lips with one of my palms and lean forward this time. I whisper a wish. I try to pour my heart. For I know, depending on my sincerity, the wish shall be carried it to the Lord. 

Nandi in the Puranas

Besides the temples, one can find Nandi in various Hindu Puranas and Sacred Hindu Texts as well. One of my favorite stories revolving around Nandi takes us back to a dice game between Shiva and Parvati. Parvati had won the game but following a disagreement, Nandi was asked to intervene. Surprisingly, He declared Shiva as the winner. This unfair judgement infuriated Parvati and she cursed him to suffer from a deadly disease.

Nandi apologized and confessed to His doing along with a justification that He could not bear declaring His Master as a looser. It was against loyalty.

This explanation warmed Parvati’s heart and she decided to lift the curse off Nandi. She asked Him to offer something that was most dear to him to His son Ganesha, next Chaturdashi as a way out of the curse. Nandi did as suggested. On the next Chaturdashi, He offered green grass (the staple of a bull) to Ganesha and was relieved of his disease. The practice of offering durva (green grass) to please Lord Ganesha continues till this date.

No matter where you find Him... in lesser known temples or the more celebrated ones or even the puranas, all you need to do is take cover in His shadow and He holds an assurance to enlighten you in a certain way. Let go of your worldly desires, confess your sins and appreciate the lessons he holds – of uprightness and purity, of loyalty and wisdom, of tamed desires and resulting unrestrictive joys – and you realize how these are the very keys to getting close to Shiva, His Master, the consciousness, the eternal creator. ‘The Lord of Joy’, He inspires us to embrace a path that promises liberation from the material world.

As I speak in His ears… the concentric vibrations of my whisper and echo that emanates, can be felt, almost seen filling the directions all around with an animated power. It is as if He has released an acknowledgement of pushing forward my case with a desired purpose. It happens each and every time I whisper in His ears. Each and every time we connect.

Whispering in the ears of the Nandi Bull in Shraavan month of Shiva
Whispering in the ear of the Nandi
What do you wish for, Arti? … they ask,
… What all have you achieved?

Nothing. I shrug.

Infact, I have lost a bit of everything –

... annoyance, frustration, apprehensions and impatience.

And for that, I thank The Nandi.

...............................

"Om Mahakalyam Mahaveeryam,
Shiva Vahanam Outatmama
Gananamtwa pratham vande 
Nandishwaram Mahabalam"



A Traveller’s Guide To Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand’s largest island rich in nature’s bounty, has become one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Southeast Asia and for this reason, it is flocked by countless tourists from all over the world who want to experience a one of a kind tourist destination.

(image courtesy: wikipredia.org)

Putting this factor into consideration, Phuket International Airport has become very busy as of late as it is easily one of the best ways to get to the island. Making this easier are a number of domestic airlines flying in and out of the town offering their Phuket flights relatively cheap prices so that a large number of travellers and tourists can fly over to have the time of their lives.

So, if you want to experience a unique vacation that is just one for the books, you can check this travel guide and achieve a fun and hassle-free Phuket vacation. It contains some of the iconic attractions that you shouldn’t dare miss.

Wat Suwan Kuha Temple

(image courtesy: natadata.de)

Wat Suwan Kuha Temple is a historic place of worship that attracts countless tourists because of its unique location. It is built inside a cave and has a huge reclining Buddha that can be viewed from different angles. Visiting this place is spiritual experience that you’ll cherish for a very long time.

James Bond Island

Known as the island of Koh Tapu, it got its moniker—James Bond Island—because the Hollywood film, “The Man With the Golden Gun” was shot there.

 (image courtesy: wikipredia.org)

Daily trips are scheduled in the island but to make sure that you’ll have a stress-free travel, it would be best if you’ll rent your own boat. By doing so, you can experience the limestone formations of Koh Tapu that are simple picture perfect.

Old Phuket Town

(image courtesy: Willy Thuan @phuket101.net)

Old Phuket Town is a low-key area that is known for its vintage appeal despite the presence of a number of modern business establishments in the area. There you’ll find old printing presses, bookstores, and kiosks that sell different kinds of goods. You’ll also find restaurants, diners, and coffee shops that serve affordable food that will tickle your taste buds.

Conclusion

The above mentioned attractions are only some of the places that will spice up your Phuket vacation. There are so many others that you should visit while holidaying and they’ll definitely give you a run for your money when it comes to injecting a sense of enjoyment in your trip.

All in all, boredom is the least of your concerns if your Phuket, Thailand trip pushes through.

Fast Facts:

1. Phuket is located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok.
2. There are only two seasons in a year the green season (May to October) and the hot season (November to April).
3. Phuket is divided into 3 administrative districts: namely, Amphoe Muang, Amphoe Thalang and Amphoe Kathu.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for which I have received a compensation. Regardless, I publish only because I recommend or use something personally and believe in the goodness of it.


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