Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rediscovering 'Atithi Devo Bhava' In A Foreign Land


Atithi Devo Bhavah [Atithi Devo Bhavaḥ]

(Sanskrit: अतिथि देवो भवः; English: 'The guest is God' or 'Guest become God')

~ Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.20

‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ my granddad would say - often. ‘Guest is God’. He saw to it that every visiting guest – impromptu or planned – was personally looked after and taken good care of. One of the most vivid childhood remembrances I have is that of a differently-abled beggar who would visit our house every Saturday. ‘I am hungry, bauji’, he would affirm. Even when the entire house would be finished for the day and all utensils washed and tucked in their places, dadiji would quickly serve up something – even if it meant something as simple as a puri and curd. When curd was not there, she always had the home made nimbu mirchi achchar. I remember, that after relishing the food, when the content beggar humbly thanked my grandpa, my grandpa’s eyes would often turn misty and in a flicker of a second, he would outstretch both his arms upwards and say – Denhar koi aur hai, lenhar koi aur… (The real giver is someone else (not me), who sends enough to be given away.)

I had little clue of what all this meant. Yet, all such episodes, left deep marks on my little mind… the heart deciphered; something. That something was very beautiful... very pure... positive, and, so powerful that it tugged the strings of the soul of a 10 year old kid to create a melodious symphony… for life.


…………* …………* …………* …………

A trip down memory lane

Recently, as I sat down cleaning the showcase of our house for Diwali, a muddle of things came tumbling out: an old calendar, a rickety clock, a very charming Ganesha, a few picture frames, sea shells I’d pick up during my travels, etc. Among them was a picture of my grandpa and an origami paper bird sticking precariously on one of the arms of Ganesha. Taking time out from the cleaning chore, I sat down; gazing lovingly at my treasures. These were special. Very special. I placed the bird on the photo and flapped its wings. The bird never moved. But something within, did. Soon I was off… flying through a wind of memories…

I am sorry, I couldn't understand what gift I should give you… so I got these origami papers. I hope you like it and make something out of it; I am sure it will always remind you of Japan.

I turned over the origami papers that Yoko had handed over to me the previous day. Her words echoing in my ears. Carefully, I kept it in my bag as the India bound plane took off.

It was the end of summer, 2012 and, I was all set to leave home.

The flight was a long one – 16 hours in total - plenty of time to watch the movie that had by then begun reeling on the screen of my mind.

It had all started around a couple of months back …

Anxieties of my FIRST International Trip!

The trip was special.

For more reasons than one. First, it had fallen in my lap by winning a travel contest at IndiBlogger. Second, it was my first trip abroad. And finally, my best buddy, my inspiration had agreed to give me company all along – my father. Together, for one week in Japan, we were to experience and explore life as guests in a foreign country.

Of the two of us, my dad was more relaxed and excited about the expedition while the nervous wreck within me grappled with a fair share of anxieties, nervousness and apprehensions.



With only a few days to go for the trip, I had begun lapping up the big fat lonely planet guidebook frantically and most of everything the previous travelers had to say about the country. The country, it seemed, followed certain codes of conduct and protocols religiously in their day to day life and if you, as a tourist, were to expect a rewarding experience, the advice was to simply come prepared and follow suit.


The Japanese are a warm and welcoming people whose unique culture can be both frustrating and enlightening in its complexity and contradictions. It can take many years to get a good grasp of the Japanese language and psyche. Even then, some say it’s impossible for a non-Japanese to be fully embraced by this homogenous society as one of their own. ~ Lonely Planet

Each time I read about this exotic country, I discovered a new custom about the country, a number that kept on increasing, rivaling closely only to the density of the rituals in my own country!

So, I learnt people in Japan generally prefer keeping to themselves, are quiet, and their cuisine primarily is non vegetarian consisting of fish and meat (bummer since I am a pure vegetarian) and are not very comfortable to people speaking English. To bridle this barrier, I started taking self help lessons in Japanese to overcome the language barricade that the people in the country had apparently fenced themselves in. There was more, what with an entire chapter on holding chopsticks and eating food having its own mannerisms too!

The list was long and one I could never really remember. Eventually, I ran out of time trying to memorize everything before the D day.

It was an entirely different thing that in the due course of time, all these were never really to matter.

Overcoming the biggest barrier of stereotype

My introduction to Japan came as soon as we stepped out on its land, onto the streets – bags lugging from our shoulder and a printed paper dangling from my hand. In bold fonts, it read the address of our hotel given to us by our travel company that was sponsoring the trip - Hotel Villa Fontaine. It was nowhere to be seen.

Signboards dotted our way but all of them were useless as Japanese was a language alien to us. People passed by casually - eyes lowered, paces hurried – without any trace of glance as if the two of us had gone invisible. Finally, exhausted by a 16 hour flight, I decided to take the initiative and ask.

Nervously, I approached a man – pepper haired, perhaps on his way to work - and said ‘Sumimasen, could you please help us?’ pointing to the paper which carried the name of our hotel. He mumbled something in Japanese and gestured us to wait. He ran across to his car parked half a km away and returned with a large atlas mapbook in his hands.

Next moment, he was sitting on the ground in the middle of the pavement, on the main road, searching for directions to our hotel.



The scene moved me beyond words, something shifted within. At that very instant, I threw off a large part of the baggage I had carried along. Mind you, here I am not talking of toiletries or the clothes that we were carrying on our shoulders. But, a baggage much bigger than that. That, that we tend to carry in our minds. That of stereotype!

A voice within repeated… Arti, you ain’t seen anything yet. This is only the beginning. You, are going to love Japan.

And indeed, it ringed true in the days to come.

Hospitality-ness is next to Godliness

The trip had been special right from day one and even more now, as it dawned that anyone and everyone I was meeting was hell bent on making me feel special as well. People bowed in respect and I bowed back - this served as my ice breaker - just like an Indian Namaste making Japan that much more friendly to me.


So there was the subway office lady who came out of her cubicle to help us book a ticket, the bullet train booking staff ‘Midori ni Midogachi’ who left his seat so that he could return my camera that I, in my excitement to book my first bullet train ticket, had forgotten in his cabin, the man who left his own metro train just so that he could help us catch ours, the pretty lady who went out of her way to help us get out of the confusing subway network and there were many more. There was the time I was surprised to see a “vegetable” sushi waiting for me specially ordered by the folks of the travel company that had sponsored my trip; and the time a man literally jumped off his train when he saw me stranded at the metro.


Most of them, including the man who helped me find my way to the hotel, did not speak English fluently – but, it didn’t really matter. What really mattered was they spoke the universal language of love and had humility and kindness sowed in their hearts which sprang out in their smiles, friendliness and eagerness to make sure we felt relaxed and eased.

Meeting Nara blogger friends and discovering the similarities in the essence of living

Our itinerary included meeting 5 of my blogger friends from Nara and spending 3 days of my trip with them. We had been online friends for about a year or so, communicating sporadically with each other through our blogs and comments.

Frankly, I had been a little apprehensive about this part of the trip as always grappling with a few anxious questions rippling in my mind:

Would I be asking too much from a bunch of online friends whom I had been in touch only via blogs? Would they trust me – a stranger visiting from over the seas – enough to let her in, into their houses?

But the subsequent email conversations we shared wiped away all my anxieties and apprehensions leaving behind a very good feeling about my blogger hosts and the treatment I would be receiving.

  • Arti, I hear you are a pure vegetarian? Would dairy products be okay for you?
  • Arti, we would like to offer you a homestay at one of our houses in Nara.
  • Arti, what kind of a hotel should we book for your stay in Kyoto?
  • Arti, we are planning your sightseeing in Nara, but here’s your rough itinerary...


Nara in Japan proved to be a different world in this oriental country, a small countryside – with a lot to see and even more to feel.

Yoko, a petite woman with kind quiet eyes and a soft speaking tone, welcomed us into her pretty home surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. Like in India, I was offered to leave my slippers outside and wear house slippers before stepping in. We gathered around the dining table for supper where my dad (perhaps the eldest and the only male in the group) was escorted to sit at the head seat of the table. When they saw me fiddling with the handling of chopsticks, immediately I was offered the fork and spoon along with a warm assurance ‘Don’t worry Arti, use these’.

Days were spent exploring Nara with my blogger friends who took time out from their busy schedules to show me around. Ancient heritage temples dotted the nooks and corners giving me a taste of their rich fascinating history. We purified ourselves' by washing our hands and hit the gong before entering most of these temples. Visiting these temples, paying reverence to the deities, also feeding the very-friendly deers in the park felt so much like embarking on one of my very own yatras all over again.



A warm comfy cushy bed awaited us at cosmos's house where we had been invited for a homestay. Tired by the explorations of the day, we fell asleep to the peace of the countryside.

We were deeply touched when we realized the degree of kindness extended by cosmos and her family only later. That night, they had slept on tatami mats while we enjoyed the comforts of their bedroom.

It was not for nothing that I felt that way. Over all the 6 days I spent in Japan, I felt like God because I was treated like one. It wasn’t my home but it was home jaisa with the same laughter, chatter, food and the warmth. I wasn’t a guest anymore but felt someone of their own family…

Stories, continued reeling one after another in those moments and after…

More Indian than I thought

Once back in India, with the help of instructions on the wrapper, I folded the paper into an origami bird and placed it lovingly in the showcase shelf near Ganesha as a good luck memento for my yatras.

This was sometime in 2012.

2 years have passed by since then… today, the bird is a member of my family peeping through the showcase glass reminding me how the world is so much more beautiful if we can break the cage of stereotypes and train our minds to fly.





Yes, Japan was an international trip and some sort of nervousness was implied with culture shock coming into the picture but the only way to fan all these feelings out and feel at home was by connecting with humans on a humanitarian level and following the basics in the etiquette of life, my dad always told me even before the start of the trip, but I learnt it my way.

Japan was very different, culturally but very very similar to India in the very essence of life. In fact, it was much more Indian than I could think. Just like they show in the new Lufthansa TVC. The profusion of history soaked in temples, the loving compassion towards animals, the simplicity in words, the thoughtfulness in actions and the love in gestures tugged my heart strings with something… something that was very beautiful and pure… creating that melodious symphony again… after so many years later, recreating the same magic of a masterpiece which had been etched in my soul by my grandpa as a ten year old… Atithi Devo Bhava!

Today, I am sitting in India – a country I proudly call home. But as they say home is where the heart is.

A fairly big piece of my heart still very much beats in Japan. My heart yearns to go there someday... surely, there are more stories to be told. 

Disclaimer: This post is written for an IndiBlogger contest in association with Lufthansa Airlines on the topic "More Indian than you think". Do check out their video below!



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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Bus Journey from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj + Other Options of getting there

A recent road trip from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj in Dharamshala in a local state transport bus with my dad, made me realize a major something that had been missing from my travels –the joys of travelling in buses as a mode of transport.

A question popped out in my mind out of nowhere: When was the last time I had gleefully opted for a bus over a car or a train?

That’s when, reality struck. I didn't have an answer!

I don’t know exactly when I developed this fascination for luxury and comfort that led me into developing this picture of a bus in my mind – filthy, poor quality of seats, smelly people, long wait in queues at the bus stand, rude conductors and a fat 50% probability of me not getting a window seat!

Buses became the last option for me.

An HPTDC bus for Pathankot to Dharamsala - Himachal Pradesh
A typical scene inside most of the state run buses in India

Thankfully, that’s not how my dad thinks. And he still prefers the bus as THE mode of transport over all others especially when he travels solo. He can see the other side of the picture, I guess – the positive one which I can’t. The good thing is, when I travel with him, he being my travel inspiration; I follow him wherever he goes. And that’s how I get to broaden my perspectives as well.

So the bus it was, and not one, not two but three of them to cover the 90 odd km. distance from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj in Dharamsala. Not only did the 3 hour long journey erase all my bus negativity but also reinstated a few positive points on bus travel that had gathered dust over time.

Here’s sharing the highlights, so perhaps, the next time I am torn between choices, I just need to flip back a few pages and if you are the kind who share my sentiments then well, all I can say is read on, who knows – my experience might just help you rekindle your bus love once again!

1. Helps you budget travel: Saves money!

The cab fare for Pathankot to Dharamsala by car is approximately Rs. 2500/- (non AC) and Rs. 3500 (AC)

Now the contrast and it’s huge.

The bus fare for the same route i.e. from Pathankot to McCleodganj, Dharamsala is a mere Rs. 150 per person per ticket!

Just focus on your wallet for once and imagine the cash saved by the end of such bus journeys. You can spend it elsewhere like shopping or eating. There are options galore. Like consider this one: How about saving it to fund your next travel? Wouldn't that make your journey even more memorable?!

The road from Pathankot to Dharamsala - Himachal Pradesh
Bus or cab... the scenery is going to be the same - then why pay more?

Here's where the buses score, especially those that are run by state transport corporations come really cheap. Even otherwise, when we look at the private sector, there is a swarm of coupon sites online today tied up with companies like redbus.in and ticketgoose.com and together, they are revolutionizing online bus ticketing concept in India. In order to ensure that we save maximum money, all we need to do is simply use one of these sites and get ourselves, for example, a great deal with a redbus offer code or ticketgoose discount code.

Coming back to my case, since it was one of those state run buses, we got the tickets then and there, real time at the most basic prices. Needless to say, I ended up using my entire extra bonus on all these options and more. Indeed, both me and my dad, we alighted the bus and marked the beginning of our Dharamsala journey as two highly gratified souls.

2. Interaction with the local crowd.

When I got on to my third bus from Dharamsala to McCleod Ganj, I saw a man, roughly in his thirties – dressed in a maroon robe, his fingers deftly running through a rosary of beads - sitting among the rest of the crowd. This was my first sighting of a Tibetan monk from Dharamsala and never before had this journey given me a sense of time and the place I was in but now. The inhabiting exiled monks from Tibet have become a unique feature of the Indian town of Dharamsala they now call home.

Tibetan monk in a bus at Pathankot - Himachal Pradesh
Tibetan monk hurries to catch a bus to McCleod Ganj

The cab totally misses out on this aspect of experiencing firsthand the local feel even before stepping in the city. The buses are a great way to warm you up with local people who use them for regular commuting across the region. Interacting not always necessarily mean that you have to strike up a conversation, even a mere glance or a smile can work wonders for your trip which you are just about to start.

Not the amazing snow scenery outside which I had marveled all along but this sight of the marooned Tibetan monk inside the bus giving me a sneak peek into the Tibetan lifestyle and culture confirmed me this – Yes! I was in Dharamsala!

3. Speed is low, interaction with nature is more!

The third and final thing I have come to love about it is that the bus travels at its own pace, never zooming like a rocket launching out into the sky. It is gentle, owing to a bulky body and knows its limitations. That makes for ample of time for interaction with nature.

A scene from my bus window from Pathankot to Dharamsala - Himachal Pradesh
A scene unfolds ... through the bus window, on the way to McCleod Ganj.

The scenes are never thrown at me. Instead, they change gradually and allow me to take them all in. Muddy mashy streams trail along, heaven bound deodhars bathe in sunny splendor and snowy mountain peaks join me for company. I stick my face out of the window to take a deep breath in, and there, the gentle wind comes rushing to join in, kissing my cheeks in a soft whisper. I am thrown off balance at one of those mountainaceous curves, and yet, I catch the cows grazing in the valleys below. The small narrow roads diverge in towns unknown, so that I can wave at the kids and savor those moments when they wave me back. In between, I catch a nap only to get up to the smell of a perfectly bobbed masala chai at the roadside shack. The driver knows exactly when to stop for a quick halt at the roadside dhaba. And suddenly the air is full with a scintillating smell of fresh home cooked subzi and roti - oh so hard to resist.

The bus journey from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj left me tired but these points made it all worth. I came to realize how wrong was I! The fault was never in the buses, it was my perspective.

And, thus began my journey – from the bus to the bustle of McCleod Ganj – on an incredibly gratifying note. A lot of money saved, even more gorgeous sights captured and the biggest takeaway - got to fall back in love with the buses again!

PS: The seats weren't as bad as I have always thought them to be and I got a window seat for 2 of the bus rides I think. As for the one in which I failed to get one, I owe that to no one but my negativity!


******


How to reach Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj from Pathankot, Pathankot Cantt or Chakki Bank: what are the fares and other traveler information. 

If you are planning a holiday to Dharamsala, Pathankot is the chief junction that you need to get to. Pathankot Cantt or Chakki Bank is the nearest major railhead and Gaggal is the nearest airport.

IRCTC and the confusion surrounding Pathankot Cantt, Chakki Bank and Pathankot:

Please note that Pathankot Cantt (also known as Chakki Bank) and Pathankot are two different railway stations. If you are booking your tickets through IRCTC, don't panic if your planner doesn't throw any results for Chakki Bank. Just type in 'Pathankot Cantt (PTKC)' instead of 'Chakki Bank (CHKB)' and book your tickets - both are the same! From here, hire a rickshaw and get to Pathankot (PTK), 4 kms and 20 minutes away from Pathankot Cantt, to begin your upward journey to Dharamsala.

One more thing is that, if you are travelling from Delhi, you can consider taking the Jammu Mail - it is perhaps the only train that goes beyond Pathankot Cantt (PTKC) to stop at Pathankot (PTK) as well, so you can directly get down at Pathankot station and save yourself the rickshaw hassle.

Once you reach Pathankot (PTK):

There are three options to get to Mcleod Ganj: Taxi (quickest but costliest); bus (convenient and cheaper); the Kangra Toy Train (very very slow and crowded but apparently spectacular, ticket available at Pathankot station, usually available real time).

Pathankot to Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj by Train:

Toy trains leave from Pathankot at regular intervals and reach Kangra station after 5-6 hours. Dharamshala is 17 kms. from Kangra station and Mccleodganj is a further 10 kms from Dharamsala.

Initially this toy train was my choice, but we chucked it for the bus after looking at the crowd that was already on board the train. Also, our rickshaw driver who bought us to Pathankot strongly suggested we take the bus instead of the train. That’s how we decided to go in favor of the bus instead of the train.

Pathankot to Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj by Air:

Gaggal, which is at a distance of 15 kms from Dharamshala, is the nearest airport to Dharamshala. Jagson Airline operates direct flight from Delhi to Dharamshala, thrice a week.

Pathankot to Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj by Bus:

You will have to take an auto/cycle-rikshaw (Rs. 20) till Pathankot bus stand or Chakki bridge. There are plenty of state buses for Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj, almost every half an hour.

My Mumbai to McCleod Ganj Journey Route: Mumbai - Delhi - Pathankot - Gaggal - Dharamsala - McCleod Ganj.

Mumbai to Delhi: By Air.
Delhi to Pathankot Cantt: Jammu Mail (Departed: 20.30; Reached: 6.05)
Pathankot cantt to Pathankot bus stand by auto: Fare Rs. 100
Pathankot to Gaggal by bus: Fare Rs. 126 / ticket (Departed: 7.20; Arrived: 9.30)
Gaggal to Dharamsala by bus: Fare Rs. 17 / ticket (Departed: 9.45; Arrived: 10.25)
Dharamsala to McCleod Ganj by bus: Fare Rs. 13 / ticket (Departed: 10.30; Arrived: 11.05)

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ganesh Visarjan: Close up with Ganesha

It had been 4 years since I had been religiously covering it. But not this year. This year, I wanted to pass the baton to someone else. I wanted to hear the story but from the other side. And... it didn't take me long to circle who that someone else would be.

How about my dear blogger friend, Eli @ Expat LivAn expat journalist and writer from Norway living in Mumbai since the past two years?  I thought. It would be nice to hear what she feels about the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Being a regular reader of her blog, I already knew her love for India and that she connected with the festivals and cultures of the country at the same emotional level that I do. Thinking thus, I immediately set off to shoot her an e-mail requesting if she would like to be a guest on My Yatra Diary... and pen down something on Ganesh Visarjan and the festival from an Expat's point of view?

And voila, there she was, in the midst of flying in from Goa and flying out to Europe, all excited to make some time and honor this little corner of mine. I simply couldn't stop feeling grateful and thanking her for this kind gesture of hers.

So on that note, there we go -- sit back, relax and read all that the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi means to an expat, from an expat's point of view -- rest assured, Eli is the kind of writer who shall leave you wanting for more! 

******

When I was invited by dear friend Arti to write about Indian festivals in general and Ganesha in particular, I could feel a huge smile spreading on my face.

Because even long before we moved to India over 2 years ago, I had a vision of the Indian festivals. Colorful, noisy, wild, crazy, fun and with crowds of happy people drumming and dancing all over, all the time. I was not disappointed. The festivals here are all that - and so much more. And the Indians make it easy for a curious soul like me to take part. In the start I was a bit intimated by the huge crowds, but my attempt to keep a low profile for me and my camera failed every time. Smiling faces, gentle hands invited me in, to come forward, so I could see better. Sometimes so they could get a picture of me also, because like some said: We have not seen a foreigner in real live before.

A big Ganesha idol Visarjan procession at Mumbai

For each festival I get braver and more relaxed, and appreciate the incredible hospitality that the Indians have showed me. I go with the flow, from festival to festival. I think though that the Ganesha Chaturthi has got a special place in my big Indian Festival heart. :)

Ganesha is worshiped in India as the God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune, and is invoked at the beginning of a new venture or at the start of a journey. He is the one to pray to if you need to remove any obstacles that are in your way. He is seen as the most important Hindu God, and a God for everybody. During this week, he is worshiped, and then immersed in the sea, a lake or the river at the end of the festival.

Ganesha idol at a home in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival

It’s so empty in our house now, little Sweetha says to me. I see sadness in her big brown eyes and she sighs as she looks down at the small lump of clay left on the tray - where Ganesha had been. And I get it. It is the relationship. It is strong and emotional. The elephant - headed God Ganesha is an integrated part of peoples’ lives. Of their joy, hope and belief. And I feel blessed to be a part of it. To see it and to feel it. It is intense and wonderful.

Even before the festival starts, great excitement is in the air. Families pick out their Ganesha statues to be painted and made like they want it, and they shop for lights and decorations. Then comes the joyful day when they bring their Ganesha statue home.

It’s like we are bringing home our mother or father, a friend said to me ecstatic, - we are so happy! 

All over Mumbai there are processions with people carefully carrying their Ganesha home, accompanied by crowds of singing, dancing and drumming people. Ganesha has arrived, he will stay for 1 1/2 or up to ten days, and he cannot be left alone. I found it pretty funny the first time I heard that people actually took time off from work, to stay home to keep Ganesha company. Now, I get it. I can feel the intense joy in Ganesha’s presence. There is a constant flow of family and friends coming to give offerings of fruit, flowers and sweets and they share food - all for him. A lot of joy, fun – a constant celebration.

But then comes the sad day, the immersion day. We do a last puja at home, and then Ganesha and His procession (including me) - leave the house. Due to heavy rain, we go by car - with Ganesha in the front seat, of course :)

Ganesha idol Visarjan at Mumbai carried in a car

When we come to the local lake, we find ourselves in a constant flow of people, following their Ganesh to the final journey for this year. Some are dancing to the drums, and most are shouting: Ganpati Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya (O Father Ganesha, come again early next year). The atmosphere is electric. To my surprise, I hear myself shouting along as well. 

It’s a chaotic spot, from an expat’s point of view. There is music and drums, and all around us small Ganesha processions appears - on foot, from rickshaws and from cars - and they all head up the hill, towards the lake. So do we. And like the others, we also stop to do a final offering, which includes breaking a coconut, the symbol for human ego (a hard nut to crack). Only to use force and do your best - to break your ego, you will overcome obstacles and release your inner energy. I like that. People are walking around, offering each other fruit, nuts and sweets. - Ganesha is the God for everybody, and this is blessed by Him. Like one big street-party really, except for the fact that we are here to bid farewell to someone.

Ganesha idol carried in rains for immersion in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival
Everybody shares sweets,nuts and fruit.
Amid heavy rains, Ganesha idol puja before visarjan in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival
Final offerings – a sad moment for many.

After the final blessings, (and stuffing myself with goodies), we continue to the lake. At one point the Ganesha-carryer is going one way to put Ganesha in to the water. 

Ganesha idol taken for immersion in  Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival
Last holding of Ganesha before seeing Him off.
Then we gather at a small temple, and get the Ganesha tray back, now with a lump of clay on it, to take home - to place where Ganesha had been, to fill the void. And that’s when I see little Sweethas sadness. And I feel sad too.

Ganesha temple in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival

To me, this is an emotional festival, on so many levels, and that’s the wonderful part of it. Ganesha has left, but will for sure be welcomed next year with equal enthusiasm and joy. Farewell for now, Ganesha, see you again. 
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Monday, September 8, 2014

16 Ancient Ganesha Temples in India

It seems like yesterday when our beloved elephant headed God, Ganesha had descended on earth and made Mumbai Pandals His temporary place of residence. But it's been a complete 11 day tour for Him and after all the fanfare, merrymaking, lessons teaching and modak popping, He is all set to ride back to His divine abode! It's Ganesh Visarjan today and with a heavy heart, we shall bid Him goodbye but the faithfuls also know, He is always there - either in the pandals or in the temples and above all in our consciousness.

So that the melancholy of Ganesha departure does not weigh me down, I decided to bring out a collaborative post by bloggers on 'Ancient temples of Ganesha in India' where He has been residing since ages to meet His innumerable fans like you and me! Though comprehensive, the list is certainly not definitive and you can add more in the comments section. Here it goes (in no order):

1. Ashtavinayaka - Maharashtra

Lenyadri Ganesha, Pune Maharashtra, Astvinayaka

Ashtavinayaka is a group of eight Ganesh temples in Maharashtra that are considered very important by the devotees of Lord Ganesh. These eight temples house the ‘swayambhu’ or ‘self-formed’ idols of the Lord Ganesh, hence the importance and high reverence attached to this octet. A pilgrimage to the Ashtavinayaka is considered to be a milestone in the devotee’s life. The eight temples/idols of the Ashtavinayaka in their religious sequence are: 1. The Moreshwar Temple at Moregaon 2. The Siddhivinayak Temple at Siddhatek 3. The Ballaleshwar Temple at Pali 4. The Varadavinayak Temple at Mahad 5. The Chintamani Temple at Theur 6. The Girijatamak Temple at Lenyandri 7. The Vighnahar Temple at Ozar 8. The Mahaganapati Temple at Ranjangaon.


2. Parvathi Ganesha of Hampi - Karnataka:

Parvathi Ganesha of Hampi, Karnataka

Hampi is one of the most sought after heritage sites in Karnataka. Containing the ruins of the erstwhile Vijayanagara kingdom (14th Century AD), Hampi draws tourists from all over the world to admire the architectural splendour of the Vijayanagara period. Out of the numerous monuments that feature in the must see list of anyone visiting Hampi, probably the most endearing is the Parvati Ganesha. This 16 ft Ganesha looks like any other from the front sitting in a mandapa that is typical of the Vijayanagara style of architecture. But when one goes around to the back you find that the Ganesha is actually sitting on the lap of his mother Parvati! One has to but appreciate the creativity of the sculptor!


3. Gokarna MahaGanapathy Temple, Gokarna - Karnataka

Gokarna Mahaganapathi Temple near Mahabaleshwar, Gokarna, Karnataka

Sri Maha Ganapathi Temple at Gokarna is no ordinary temple, but has a history going back centuries, in an era long before the events of the Ramayana took place.

Located near the Mahabaleshwar Temple housing the Shiva Atmalingam, this temple stands as a mark of respect to Lord Ganapathi, who had tricked the demon Ravana into giving up his special lingam - The Atmalingam (received as a boon from Lord Shiva) and appeased the fears of the Gods. The temple has a rare standing Ganesha, 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and two-handed; on his head is a small depression, which is said to be a mark of Ravana’s fury. The temple has its own identity and is also known as Sidda Ganapati.


4. A Farmer’s Treasure, Bhongir - Telangana:

Musical Ganeshas, Kanchipuram district

I was visiting Bhongir Fort, built by Kakatiya Kings of Warangal, about 60 KM outside Hyderabad on the Warangal Highway. At the boundary of the fort there are fields of a friend’s family and one day while his grandfather was tilling the fields they discovered an ebony idol of Ganesha with the trunk curved towards right, while most Ganapati idols have their trunks curved towards left. It is believed that the idol is many hundreds of years old but the farmer’s family has just left it in open in the field. It is believed that if a Ganesha idol is found with trunk curved towards right it signifies a hidden treasure. But when I asked the farmer if he or his family tried to dig for the treasure he simply smiled and said "Our land is our treasure, we have found God on our land, what else can be bigger treasure than finding Ganesha on our land ?"

I was too humbled by his answer and silently prayed to Ganesha.

If you are ever visiting Bhongir Fort (Old Name: Bhuvan Giri), just look at the first field at the base of the fort and take permission from the family to go and look at this rare idol of Ganesha that is blessing the land of Telangana for centuries.



5. Gulur, Tumkur District - Bangalore:

Gullur Ganpati, Tumkur District, Bangalore

Gulur, a small village in Tumkur district is known for its unique way of celebrating the festival of Ganesh Chathurthi. According to the local priest, there lived a poor brahmana in the village whose difficulties only increased with time. One day, Lord Ganesha appeared in his dreams and told  him that if he performed his (Lord Ganesha's) puja, then he would be relieved of all his difficulties. The brahmana was unaware of the formalities involved in performing the puja, and hence tried to gather information about it. While doing so, he met the Sage Agasthya who at that time was travelling from South to North and had halted at the village of Gulur. The brahmana explained everything to him and the sage helped him perform the puja,  the  rituals of which are followed even today. The sage first instructed him to collect clay from a nearby lake from which they made an idol of Lord Ganesha, about 8 to 9 feet tall, and performed rigorous puja continuously for 30 days. Later, the idol was immersed in the lake. After fulfilling these rituals as per the Lord's wish, the brahmana was relieved of all his problems. Since then, he continued to perform the puja every year and the ancient tradition of making the idol with locally available clay is being followed even today with equal fervor. The puja begins on the day of Balipadyami (Deepavali) and continues for about a month. The annual jatra is held on the third day after completion of the Karthika Masa. There is a  permanent idol of Lord Ganesha and Sage Agasthya, in the temple. A pillar stands at the entrance, opposite to the temple.

This unique tradition of hand sculpting a huge idol of Lord Ganesha with locally available materials and worshiping him ardently, in addition to the enthusiasm of the localites in celebrating Ganesha festival makes Gulur worth a visit, surely more than once.

Directions from Bangalore: Bangalore-Tumkur NH4-Via by-pass to Gubbi-Left near Maralur Lake towards Kunigal-Left near Gulur Circle.


6. Ekadasha Swayambu Ganapathis of Shenbakkam, Vellore:

Ekadasha Swayambu Ganapathis of Shenbakkam, Vellore

Shenbakkam is a part of Vellore and is found off the Chennai-Bangalore Highway. This place is famous for its Navabrindavanam of Madvaite Saints and Ekadasa Swayambu Ganapathis. Originally called Swayampakkam, referring to the Swayambu Ganeshas, the place is currently called Shenbakkam. Once a Maharashtrian Minister named Thukoji was travelling when his chariot hit something in the dark and the axle broke forcing him to stay overnight there. In his dream it was revealed to him that eleven naturally formed Ganeshas were found underground arranged in the shape of Om and he gladly built a temple after unearthing them.



7. Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri - Maharashtra

Ganpati Pule Ganesha - Ratnagiri, Maharastra

Nestled in the heavenly lap of nature by the dancing sand dunes of the pristine beaches of the Konkan coast of Maharastra is a nearly 400 year old ancient Swayambhu Ganpati Temple (Swayambhu means a self-originated idol, Ganapati) - Ganpatipule. It is one of the 'Ashta Ganapatis' (eight Ganpatis) of India and is known as 'Paschim Dwar Devta' (Western Sentinel God) hence remains flooded by thousands of devotees and tourists every year.

Ganapatipule is approximately 375 km. south of Mumbai, and has no rail head. The nearest Railway stations are at Ratnagiri and Bhoke.



8. Pillaiyarpatti Karpaga Vinayagar Kovil Temple, Chettinad, Tamil Nadu:


Pillaiyarpatti Karpaga Vinayagar Kovil Temple, Chettinad, Tamil Nadu

Believed to be 1600 years old, Karpaga Vinayagar temple in Chettinad, Tamil Nadu has this image of Karpaga (black) Vinayagar (Lord Ganesha), carved out of a single black stone by a sculptor called Ekkattur Koon Peruparanan. The trunk of Lord Ganesh here is curled towards right side. He is ‘Valamburi Vinayagar’ and believed to be a powerful deity who makes devotees’ wishes come true. Another unusual factor is the idol faces north direction. Yet another unique feature is Vinayaga here is with two arms, elsewhere in other temples Vinayaga idol is featured with 4 arms.

Location - Pillayarpatti is situated at a distance of 71 Kms from Madurai and 12 Kms from Karaikudi on Thirupathoor - Karaikudi state highway in Tamil Nadu.



9. The Shri Gopal Ganapati Temple, Fermagude, Goa:

Shri Gopal Ganpati Temple, Fermagude, Goa

This temple of Ganesha is situated in Fermagude, in Ponda at about 26 kms from Panjim. This temple is well kept and has a beautiful deepasthmabha (a multi tiered lamp post) in front and flooring of  temple is bright and beautiful, etched with Radhe Krishna motif. There are dwarapalakas on either side of the sanctum and a huge idol of Ganesha adorned with Silver.

Hundreds of years ago a stone idol of Ganesha was discovered by herdsmen while grazing the cattle. The idol was covered with Silver alloy in 1966 by the then Chief Minister of Goa.



10. Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganapati Temple, Pune, Maharashtra:

Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati, Pune Ganesh_Chaturthi-

Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganapati Temple is one of of most iconic temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha in Pune, Maharashtra. The temple was established by Dagduseth, a famous Sweets merchant from Pune, in 1896, and was coincided with Lokmanya Tilak starting the Public Ganesh Festivals in 1894 as a mean to bring unity and nationalism in the society. The idea of building the temple came after the tragic loss if Dagduseth's son. His Guru advised him to make two idols of Shri Dutta Maharaj and Sri Ganapati and care for them like his own sons.

The temple has a rich and intricate architecture and is managed by the Halwai Ganapati Trust. Every year during the Ganeshotsava, the temple is beautifully decorated and special puja is perfomed. Lakhs of visitors come to have a darshan at the temple every year.


11. Musical Ganeshas, Kanchipuram:

Musical Ganeshas, Kanchipuram district

There are two Ganeshas in different temples in Kanchipuram district who are associated with music. The first is the Kutchery Vinayagar of Cheyyur. This temple dates back to over a thousand years. Here the Lord Ganesha is seen in a separate shrine, with his head titled to one side, swaying to the tunes of the various concerts that have been held before him over time. He also holds an Aksamalai instead of the Paasa in his forearm. Several reputed singers of yesteryears and aspiring singers of today have performed before him in order to succeed in their music careers.

Not very far from here, is the Sangeeta Ganapathy of Anoor. He is found on the alcove of the Astrapureeswarar Temple, with his hand on his thigh as if he is keeping count (Taal) to music. This Ganesha dates back to the 5th century. Worshipping him for seven days is said to grant the wishes of the devotees.


12. Achu Muri Vinayagar of Achirupakkam:

Achu Muri Vinayagar of Achirupakkam

When Lord Shiva set out to burn the Tripuras, the three mythical cities of the sons of Tarakasura, he forgot to worship Lord Ganesha who must be worshiped before beginning any new task. To remind his father and the world of this, Lord Ganesha broke the axle of his father's chariot. Axle is called Achu in Tamil and Muri is breaking. Lord Shiva installed a Ganesha at the place where the axle broke, and worshipped him before moving ahead with his mission. This Ganesha is called Achu Muri Vinayakar and the place is called Achirupakkam (the place where the axle was broken).


13. Manakula Vinayaka Temple, Pondicherry:

Manakula Vinayaka Temple, Pondicherry

This temple is found in the erstwhile French territory of Pondicherry (Pudhuchery now). The temple dates back before 1666, and houses the Manakula Vinayaka. The name has come about from a pond (kulam) that used to exist in the temple and considering the proximity to the sea used to get filled with sand (Mann). The uniqueness about this temple is that during the French rule, this Ganesha has been thrown several times into the sea but used to reappear the same place the next day. The temple has two rows of different kinds of Ganeshas lining its ceiling.Mother Mira of the Aurobindo Ashram is said to have had several visions of Manakula Vinayaka and his grace helped raise money for the ashram.


14. Trinetra Ganesh Temple Ranthambore - Sawai Madhopar, Rajasthan:

Trinetra Ganesha Temple Ranthambore, Rajasthan

Most travelers know Ranthambore for the tigers or for the formidable fort that tells the story of the valor of Rajput warriors.  But for the locals Ranthambore fort is also home to the most unique Ganesha Temple in the world – The Trinetra Ganesha Temple that is believed to be more than 700 years old. The Ganesha here has 3 eyes, like Shiva, hence the name Tri-Netra or Three Eye Ganesha. Along with Ganesha idols of his wives Ridhi Sidhi and two sons Shubh Labh are also worshiped in the temple. Painted in pink, the temple is situated within the precincts of the fort and normally touristy types give it a miss, but in my opinion it is a must visit to get the blessings of Ganesha, the first to be invoked amongst Hindu Gods.

The temple is in beautiful surroundings with the rear of the temple facing a deep gorge, as it was meant to keep the invaders away. The faithful complete a parikrama (circling the temple) of 7 KM and pray to Ganapati. There are a lot of Hanuman Langoors around the temple but most of them maintain a distance from humans and appear to be harmless.

Nearest Railway Station to  Ranthambore is Sawai Madhopur, which is well connected to major cities like Delhi , Mumbai etc.


15. Ganapathy Agraharam, Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu

Ganapathy Agraharam, Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu

This is an ancient Ganapathy temple dedicated to Ganesha, 12 Kms from Thiruvaiyaru. It is a quaint temple with interesting sculptures. We reached the temple just after it opened for the evening, and there was no one to guide us around. We ourselves noticed a few interesting sculptures and bronze idols, but it was only after I returned and was looking up the temples we visited for more information about the things we had noticed, that I read about an interesting idol of half- Ganesha and half-Hanuman. Such an idol is unique, and if you ever visit this temple, make sure you do not miss it.


16. SiddhiVinayak Ganpati, Prabhadevi and Borivli, Mumbai, Maharashtra


One of the most famous temples situated in Prabhadevi area of Mumbai is the 2 centuries old temple of Lord Ganesha - the Siddhivinayak Temple. This ancient Ganesha temple was constructed in 1801 and is famous for fulfilling wishes of the devotees.

Tuesday is considered to be the most important day for 'darshan' at this temple but even on the regular days the temple receives a heavy rush of believers. Made from a single black stone, one cannot help but admire the beauty of the deity which sports a trunk tilted to the right side. Flanking the deity on both sides are Riddhi & Siddhi, goddesses signifying fulfillment and prosperity. Stamped on the forehead of is Trinetra - an eye, which resembles the third eye of Lord Shiva.

Another Swayumbhu temple in Mumbai is the SiddhiVinayaka Temple in Borivli which is said to be self originated and ages old and much lesser crowded than SiddhiVinayak of Prabhadevi. Definitely worth a visit as well!

Dadar is the nearest railway station to Siddhivinayak Temple, Prabhadevi and the Swayumbhu SiddhiVinayak is situated at Borivli. Local trains are well connected and best way to reach these temples from within the city.

******

This list was compiled with humble gratitude to all wonderful bloggers who shared their travels with my diary and made this post possible:

- Np Prasad @ Desi Traveler
- Purnendu and Ekta @ Shadows Galore
- Indrani Ghose @ iShare
- Dhiraj and Amrutha @ Team G Square
- Priya Baskaran @ Aalayam Kanden
- Anu Shankar @ A Wandering Mind
- Deepak Amembal @ Magic Travels
- Chitra Manohar @ My Pilgrimage
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