Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Real Joy: Celebrating The Divine Feminine Mother in Nature.

Prayers to Mother nature, Indian Hindu Culture

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home. ― Gary Snyder.

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How beautiful this quote… While I am admiring its beauty right now, I cannot help but marvel at the simple fact how dadaji (my grandpa) brought this quote to life by simply living it.

As a kid, I never played with smartphones. We never had one around. I played with my grandparents instead. Most of my spare time was spent running downstairs to dadaji’s house and rolling on his 4 legged cot, with not a worry of the world. Sundays were spent in similar fashion too.

Oh, how much I loved being in his company!

Aarooooo… he would musically call out my name as soon he saw me at the door – my big round curious eyes peeping in through the wooden frame. My unbridled excitement had no confines, in his loving unconditional non-judgemental realms, it soared free, flying high like an angel in the heavens. The ecstasy, the love, the peace, the childlike energy that he carried within himself was highly infectious. Something that, at that tender age of mine, I could not observe, nor notice... but,

I felt it. Clearly.

He made nature his home. He hardly travelled or indulged in any excruciating yatras - he never felt the need of one! For him, the world was his home and life a prayer, people, nature, all living deities – I was very young then and yet I could feel the bond…

Never quite knowing when I became a part of his beautiful journey…

It was exciting - to see his world through his glasses. Holidays were spent assisting him in one of his favourite hobbies, tending to Tulsi Ma. It was a sacred relationship… giving her his all. One that was nurtured and tended with a lot of love, respect, gratification, sharing and caring.

Tulsi Mata, India Hindu Culture


It was in those moments, with his beloved mother, that he completely lost himself. His unspoken love that he planted in the soil, always blossomed into a widespread plant that he without failingly watered every day.

He extended the same adoration and compassion towards the red or white skinned bovine that is often seen wandering down the roads of India. He called her Gau Mata.

A young boy feeding Gau Mata, Hindu culture

The Goddess Mother, His love and respect for her was immense. All through his life, I saw him championing the cause of treating the holy cow with the same respect, love and care that we would to our mothers. Especially the ones who could not milk or were handicapped in some way, he worked for their welfare with a deep seated responsibility towards them.

He would always tell me that in her, was 'everyone and everything'. 

One of his life-dream wishes was to breathe his last in the comforting folds of Ma Ganga. Having spent a considerable part of his life near the banks of Ganga River in Haridwar, there was an inexplicable pull he felt towards her.

Ganga Ma in Gangotri, Uttarakhand Himalayas

Whenever I would return from one of my yatras with the Ganga River, he would quiz me on my experiences and listen to them intently, with a patient ear, all that his little granddaughter had to say (no matter how absurd or silly it may have sounded) his eyes gleaming in joy not easy to comprehend.

I loved my grandpa...
He loved his little Goddess.

And, I loved everything we did together. With him around, there were no rules, no processes, no limitations – I just sat, stared, prayed or mumbled anything I wanted to – in my own abandoned ways. There was so much peace… to just be... a sense of personal satisfaction rooted in my gentle heart.

Honestly, I was in awe of him.
I still am.
An awe that has only multiplied in infinites over all the years.

Me, my dadaji and nature - together our relationship was a divine romance... one that he rooted in the haloed realm of faith, commitment and conviction and nourished with the eternal values of love, compassion, sharing and caring, give and take. Today, it sprouts forth in my heart as a real joy of togetherness that bursts open through the hurtful pangs of separation or time. An Ultimate Gift, for which I can't be grateful enough...

Salutatations to the feet of the Divine Mother, India

Today, he may not be with me, in person, any-more,
but his inspiration 'to make nature my home'
and 'fill the home with love, compassion and caring'
continues to blossom as loving memories seeded in the garden of my soul.

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This post was inspired by watching this beautiful video by Kissanpur that talks about the real joy of togetherness in this digitized world.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Celebrating Shakti: Nine Ancient Devi Mata Temples In India!

So Ganesh Chaturthi is now over but the festival season in India continues, now with Navratri, the nine nights of celebration of nine manifestations of Shakti, or The Great Divine Mother. The festival is widely celebrated all across India with different people celebrating it differently coloring it with the regional traditions stemming from respective cultures and backgrounds.

Shakti, literally meaning, Power or Empowerment, is a very deep concept but I will write it as I very simply understand it:

It is a very pure cosmic feminine energy responsible for creation,
the one that is most magical beyond the material plane --
working around our thoughts, feelings and emotions --
within our own self.
When we allow it to sort our inner world, trusting its ways,
it empowers us to create something beautiful...
which we then act out through our interactions with the world.

A Devi Mata Deity at Nashik, Tapovan, Maharashtra
At Tapovan in Nashik, Maharashtra.

All the nine forms of Shakti come alive as divine qualities in the many Goddesses (Devi or Mata in Hindi) through stories and local legends worshipped all across the lengths and breadths of India which in turn inspire us on our journey to become One with the Master again.

Below is a compilation of some very ancient Shakti Temples that I have been to, in the recent years of my yatra. (Please note that in case of temples, where photography is prohibited inside the main temple - the pictures you see attached are clicked while wandering in the temple complex as specified in their respective captions). If you are travelling through any of these states or cities during this Navratri, I definitely recommend these temples for you to visit. The deities in here are really really old, many a times in numbers that cannot be easily gauged, not even by eminent historians. These breathe... not in stone but in the faith of thousands and millions who have thronged to get a glimpse of their beloved mother.

So, come along and engage in a sweet communion, with an open heart and an open mind...

For,
To bow your head in them is often not only an act of reverence or a customized ritual
but it is also to seek Mother’s blessings
to empower us and give us strength,
to help us become 'whole' -
Her child again.

1. Bhagyalakshmi Mata Temple, Hyderabad.

This sacred temple is a small structure situated adjacent to the city's iconic landmark Charminar where the main deity BhagyaLakshmi is visible from the road. Though the shrine has been in the middle of a few communal tensions in the city, owing to its position in a Muslim centric area, it's existence also comes across as a great message of harmony and the rich composite culture of Hyderabad.

Bhagyalaxmi Mata Temple, Hyderabad, India
Mata Bhagyalakshmi, Hyderabad.

Goddess of: 'Luck' or things that happen to us, out of our control.
How to reach: Charminar, Ghansi Bazaar, Hyderabad, Telangana 500002.

2. Sri Ujjaini Mahakali Temple, Secunderabad, Telangana.

Ujjaini Mahakali Temple is an ornately decorated temple right from the word go. You can get an insight into the various deities of Hindu Goddesses as you walk through the main entrance gate to the temple hall. A major striking feature of the temple hall are the numerous threads of intertwined bangles in red and green that hang from the ceiling.

Sri Ujjaini Mahakali Mata, Secundarabad, Telangana
A colourful mural depicting the Goddess at the entrance of the temple.

Goddess of: Time and Death.
How to reach: Mahankali St, General Bazaar,
Kalasiguda, Secunderabad, Telangana 500003.
Phone: 040 - 27814744 / 040 - 66174744.

3. Jeen Mata Temple, Sikar district, Rajasthan.

Nestled in the laps of mountains, is the ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess of Power, Jeen Mata. A few steps lead you to the main temple hall. On the walls are adorned photographs of Hindu Goddesses all around. The main room was dark as we entered it and the Mata was draped in yellow saree - the emanating aura was immense. There is also an ancient Shiva temple, a small lake (not well maintained) and a Dhuni (continuously burning fire) in the premises.

Jeenmata, Rajasthan
One of the deities of Devi in the temple complex.

Goddess of: Power.
How to reach: Jeen Mata Temple, Danta Ramgarh tehsil, Sikar district.
Phone: 91-1576-227346.

4. Anjani Mata Temple, Salasar, Rajasthan.

Situated just 2 kms. away from the prominent Salasar Balaji temple is the quaint yet significant Anjani Mata Temple dedicated to the Mother of Salasar Balaji or Hanumanji. A huge banyan tree at the entrance wrapped in a cover of coconuts offered by married women devotees as prayers for the prosperity and well being of their family is particularly eye catching. It is said that the visit to Salasar dham is incomplete without paying a visit to this holy place.

Anjani Mata Temple, Salasar, Rajasthan
The sacred banyan tree wrapped in coconuts offered by married women.

Goddess of: Protection and nourishment.
How to reach: Balaji Temple Road, Salasar, Rajasthan.

5. Jeev Dani Mata Mandir, Mumbai.

Cocooned in the mighty Satpura mountain ranges in the Virar region of Mumbai is this highly renowned temple of JeevDani Mata. It's picturesque location atop the hills elevated 1500 steps from the land makes it even more enchanting. The climb to the temple is laden with steep steps which leaves you weary. But it vanishes as soon as you are rewarded with the glimpse of the divine Goddess Jeevdani - what a blessing indeed!


Jeev Dani Mata Temple, Mumbai
Pictures of Goddess Shakti painted on glass overlooking the temple.

Goddess of: The treasure of life.
How to reach: Jeevdani road, Virar East, Virar, Maharashtra 401303.
Phone: 040-2781 4744.

6. Shree Vajreshwari Yogini Devi Mandir, Mumbai.

Situated in the Vajreshwari town, on the banks of the Tansai river, the highly venerated Shree Vajreshwari Yogini Devi temple is a fort-like temple built in stone sitting atop the Mandagiri hillock. One has to ascend around 50 steps to reach the main entrance. At the base of the steps is a gold gilded tortoise, an incarnation of Vishnu. Entering in, there is a spacious compound housing the local nagarkhana, the main temple and a few other shrines. In the main temple is the two handed Mata holding a mace and a sword as symbolic weapons of courage that conquers any evil and leads to victory. Another great attraction of the town are the numerous hot springs that are believed to have medicinal powers.

Vajreshwari Devi Temple, Mumbai
Steps leading to the Vajreshwari Yogini Devi temple in Virar.

Goddess of: Courage.
How to reach: Virar or Nalasopara is the nearest railway station
on the Western Railway for Vajreshwari Devi Temple.

7. Chamunda Devi Temple, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh.

Situated on the banks of the BanGanga River, the Chamunda Devi temple houses one of the guardian deities of the Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh. The enchanting deity in the temple, Chamunda Devi, is a fierce form of Ma Durga reputed to have killed the demons 'Chand and Munda' in the Puranas. The temple structure is serenely draped in white with a clean water pool in the premises housing the deities of Lord Shiva and Mother Saraswati. As it the abode of both Shiva and Shakti, the temple is also known as Chamunda Nandikeshwar Dham. This is a picture I captured while wandering in the temple compounds after the darshan.


Shakti SwaroopaLittle girls blessing a devotee.

Chamunda Devi Temple, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh
God Bless You!

Goddess of: War and disasters.
How to reach: 10 kms to the west of Palampur, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.

8. Brajeshwari Devi Temple, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.

Another fascinating temple in the old Kangra township of the Himachal valley is the Brajeshwari Devi Temple which is also among the 51 Shakti Peeths of India. It is said that the left breast of Goddess Sati had fallen here. The original temple structure dates back to the Mahabharta period which was unfortunately taken down by the Muslim invaders. The present structure is modern rebuilt in the 19th century by the Government of India. The Goddess Brajeshwari is manifested as a pindi or as an image in a sacred stone. Similar such stone pindis can be seen all around the premises in the temple (see picture). Right across the temple is an image of Dhyanu Bhakt, the great devout who had offered His head to the Goddess and has today become immortal in the sands of time.

Brajeshwari Devi Temple, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
A Devi worshipped in the form of pindi under an old tree in the temple complex.

Goddess of: Courage.
How to reach: Mandir Rd, New Kangra, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh 176001.

9. Jwalamukhi Devi Temple, Shaktipeeth in Himchal Pradesh.

Jwalamukhi temple is another significantly unique Shaktipeeth in the Kangra valley on the Himachal-Shimla road - the sacred site where burning tongue of Sati is believed to have fallen. 'Burning flames erupting from the crevices in the rocks' is how the deity is worshipped here - in the form of fire or Jwala that has been burning since centuries. The queues for the darshan can get really huge during the festival days of Navratri (in all of the above listed temples as well) but the sight that awaits at last is truly magical for the senses!

Jwalamukhi Devi Temple, Shaktipeeth in Himchal Pradesh
A deity somewhere in the temple complex.

Goddess of: Light and wisdom.
How to reach: Jwalamukhi, District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala 176031, India.


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Which of these temples have you visited?
Are there any temples that you'd like to be added to this list?
If yes, shoot me an e-mail (mentioning a small blurb on the temple and a few pictures)
to 22arti@gmail.com and I'll take care of the rest!

|| Jai Mata Di ||

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pictures of Lord Ganesha from Our Ganpati Pandal Hopping 2015: A Recap!

What special should I do for Ganesh Chaturthi this year?

I wondered days before the festival commenced. Like all the previous 4 years where I had been covering this vibrantly unique festival of Ganesh Chaturthi on my little yatra diary, I wanted to celebrate the festival this year too, together, along with all of you.

After some thinking over for a couple of days and juggling with a few random jumbled ideas, I finally settled down on the idea of posting 11 different Ganeshas, one for each of the 11 days of the festival, from 11 different Mumbai pandals...  and now that the festival for the year has ended, my Ganesha sojourn on my yatra blog has left me with an incredibly intense feeling of happiness and content to cherish... oh, what a beauty and joy it has been!


Thank you very much for coming along!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those who squeezed out some time from their schedule to join me in this divine journey. Thank you for making my darshan that much more memorable and special... My Ganesh Pandal Darshan 2015 wouldn't have been the same without you.

Wrapping up Ganesh Chaturthi 2015 with a quick recap of our Ganpati Pandal Hopping 2015:

Though it's been a wonderful experience, hopping into various Ganesh pandals and admiring the essence of this beautiful festival... I must confess, for my part, there is a little weariness too. Of blogging consecutively for 11 days and following it up with all the social media promotions... Phew!

So let me please halt my pen at this point and wrap up this journey of our virtual Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations 2015 with a quick recap. Here's presenting a collection of 12 Lord Ganesha pictures, one from each post I shared during the festival days with corresponding links to the relevant posts:


Ganesh Sthapana, Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Mumbai


Big life-size Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Green Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Eco-friendly Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Great Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


My Benevolent Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Rich Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Blessing Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Superhero Ganesha, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Fortchacha Icchapurti Ganpati, Ganesh pandal hopping, Mumbai


Ganesh Visarjan in an artificial lake, Mumbai

Here's wishing that Lord Ganesha pour loads of joy,
blessings and happiness on all of you,
us and me too. :-)

|| Ganpati Bappa Morya ||

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