Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hare Krishna ISKCON Temple, Pune

By chanting Krishna’s holy name,
One cleanses all the dust,
From the mirror of one’s consciousness.
~  Srila Prabhupada.

Strains of melodious Kirtan (holy hymns) and gregarious chants pierced through the air as I hurriedly paced across the corridor through the modestly set courtyard of the Sri Radha Kunjbihari ISKCON Temple in the camp area of Pune. After paying my reverence to Shri Ram at Tulsibaug and Lord Ganesha at Dagduseth in the morning, it was time for me to catch a glimpse of Lord Krishna and His beloved Radha and with the arti resounding in the environs… bliss was instant; it felt like peace descending from the skies above.

... I had been summoned at an opportune time.

Chappan Bhog art at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Welcome to ISKCON Temple, Pune: HIS home!

Sri Sri Radha Kunjbihari Mandir is one from amongst the twin ISKCON temples situated in Pune, this being the elder of the two. Located in the central city Camp area, the temple has been a spiritual retreat for the devout and a loving home for the deities since the last 27 years.

Entrance gate to Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Entrance gate to the ISKCON Temple, Pune

Set in a humble setting, the temple proceedings are led by IITian Radheshyam Das as the President and is inhabited by monks - youths, seniors and children alike - followers of the Hare Krishna movement, who dedicate their life towards spreading the message of recognizing the absolute truth, the Supreme Godhead, the all pervading, Krishna.

A statue of Lord Krishna on a sheshnag at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
The Absolute Truth, the all pervading, Krishna.

This is the same message that was first prescribed by their mentor, Srila Prabhupada, almost a century ago which gradually snowballed into the massive Krsna consciousness movement worldwide, today widely known as the Hare Krishna movement.

Shrimad Bhagvadam classes at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Wisdom from the Vedas: Shrimad Bhagvadam classes in ISKCON

The temple houses two Kutirs, small shaded canopied rooms – Krishna Kutir and Balaram Kutir – which cater to various educational and cultural in-house programs like the Shrimad Bhagvatam classes for children among others.

Krishna Kutir at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Krishna Kutir: The center for conducting spiritual programs and activities.

Little Children at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Little kids attentively listening to Krishna playtime stories.

Further attractions in the courtyard include a snack counter, Govinda's Restaurant serving pure vegetarian delicacies for the visitors,

Govinda restaurant at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Pure vegetarian meals at Govinda's - ISKCON center, Pune

... the Harinam Mandir - a monument solely dedicated to the power of prayers, expressed by writing 108 Hare Krishna Mahamantra in the Harinam book,

Harinam mandir at Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
'Harinam Temple' dedicated to the power in our prayers.

... and a gift shop – selling Tulsi beads, Vedic books, cow products and other religious paraphernalia.

Courtyard of Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra
Gift shop, just adjacent to the main temple hall.

I struggled to set foot in the main temple hall as it was jam packed with devotees, most of which stood transfixed in a trance swaying to the tunes of the Krishna arti. Nevertheless, I found a comfortable position such that, even from a far distance, I could fix my gaze at the loving eyes of the Master.

Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra

The yellow light of the diya (prayer lamp) billowed gently as the priest swayed it to and fro several times, only once coiling it to a complete orb and then repeating the entire cycle again. The arti united the expressive Radha - playful Krishna in a splendid luminous halo that I devoured through my small, empty, dreamy eyes...

Shri Radha Krishna Deities in Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra

… the soothing chant of Hare Krishna nestled in my heart …

Traveler Tips and Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How many ISKCON temples are there in Pune?

ISKCON NVCC Shri Radha Vrindavanchandra is the name of the other ISKCON temple in Pune and apparently it’s spread in a larger area than this one. It’s ranked very high by a lot of travelers too. With so much recommendation floating around and the beautiful pictures that I have seen, I am sure I will be trying to visit it the next time around. You too, make sure to visit it while you are there.

2. I want to stay at ISKCON Temple in Pune. Is the guest house facility available?

The guest house facility is not available at Sri Sri Radha Kunjbihari Temple in Pune Camp.

3. What are the Pooja and Arti Timings of ISKCON Pune?

4:30 am : Mangala Arti
5:15 am : Tulsi-Puja
7:30 am : Sringar Darshan
7:40 am : Guru Puja
8:30 am : Srimad Bhagavatam Discourse
8:30 am : Dhoop Arti 
12:30 pm: Raj Bhoga Arti
4:30 pm : Pushpa Arti
6:45 pm : Sandhya Arti
8:50 pm : Shayana Darshan
9:00 pm : Temple Closes

Temple shall remain closed at the following timing:
1:00 pm – 4:30 pm and
9:00 pm - 4.30 am

4. What is the contact number, address, email-id of ISKCON Temple, Pune?


Sri Sri Radha Kunjbihari Temple: No. 4, Tarapore Road, Beside Dastoor Boy's School, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra 411001

Sri Sri RadhaVrindavanchandra Temple: ISKCON NVCC Temple, New Vedic Cultural Center, Katraj-Kondwa Bypass, Pune.

Contact Numbers: 020 - 410 332 22 / 23 / 10 / 00

Pune: Where to stay in a budget hotel with family?

The moon shone bright outside as the manager swiped the debit card and cut a straight receipt for Rs. 2515 for a family room suited for 4. Cutting across the busy traffic streets and signals of Pune, we had finally checked in the same hotel that we had taken the last time when we were in the city.

The Family Budget Hotel In Pune: Hotel Smart Inn

Hotel Smart Inn - A family budget hotel in central Pune
Checking in... Hotel Smart Inn - A Budget Family Hotel in Pune.

Hotel Smart Inn budget hotel in Pune - Terms and conditions
The Self Service Hotel in Pune

Located right in the craziness of central Pune yet hidden in an alley off the Fergusson College Road to escape the crowds and hullabulloo of the people, Hotel Smart Inn looks and sounds to be just the kind of hotel one would need in a maddening city like Pune. The hotel is so named because it boasts of an extremely modern design and a few hi tech things like in house vending machine, free wifi, rain showers, electronic locks and a free complimentary breakfast.

Breakfast area or lobby as seen from the 5th floor
The lobby area cum breakfast area as seen from my floor - 5th!
The verandah in Hotel Smart Inn budget hotel in Pune - Family Suite for 4
The verandahs are clean without a speck of dust - inviting!

The 4 bedded family room suite is basically a 2 double bedded interconnected room with 2 LCD TV’s and 2 attached bathrooms (with liquid hand wash) provided one for each room. The room is pretty clean, small and not-so-spacious. One problem that we did encounter was with the geysers – since they work on solar energy, they refused to cough out hot water early morning, however, the staff was quick to act when contacted and the problem was solved in a couple of minutes.

A view of the family room in Hotel Smart Inn budget hotel in Pune- Suite for 4
The family room suite - picture of one interconnected room...
A view of the family room in Hotel Smart Inn budget hotel in Pune - Family Suite for 4
... the mirror is a door that slides to give way to the bathroom.

The complimentary breakfast buffet had a variety of options spread on the table like Idli, Upma, thepla and an assortment of fruits, juices and other morning beverages - true to what they promise on the official page of their website - "wholesome". How I just wish they also add "Fresh" to it someday; the Idli was hard, the theplas were coming out of the oven and the Upma tasted average. If you do choose to stay in this hotel, my advice would be to rather bunk their breakfast and hit the city streets  instead to eat a spicy misal or a hot vada pav fresh out of the cauldron.

Upma breakfast in Hotel Smart Inn budget hotel in Pune, Maharashtra
From the breakfast buffet: Upma.

The best thing I liked about this hotel is that it’s just a few minutes away from the main road that opens into major shopping outlets and many famous eateries and coffee shops like Vaishali, Shiv Sagar, Mc. Donalds, Barista and CafĂ© Coffee Day. I told you – it’s location is a HUGE plus!


Hotel Smart Inn family budget hotel in central Pune - Front view
Smart Inn? Not quite!

I don't think so. With all due credits to its excellent location which is a great highlight for the hotel, Hotel Smart Inn somehow failed to match up with the high standards it had set in our minds the previous time and we left with a disappointed feeling that for the same price, we could have had something better... perhaps, the next time we come down hopping to Pune.

Other budget hotels to stay in Pune? Pune has a lot of options ranging from luxury to budget for all kinds of travelers and suited to different types of pockets. Google the internet, read blogs, rummage through the vast amount of information available online based on experiences and travelogues and go with that hotel that sounds best for you. Once you choose your pick, do not forget to book your hotel in advance to avoid any last minute hassles and enjoy your trip!


1226, Shivaji Nagar, Off Fergusson College Road, Pulachi Wadi Road, Deccan Gymkhana, Pune, Maharashtra 411004
020 2553 8811

Family suite: Rs. 2515

Remember to: Confirm with the front desk if you can depend on the geysor for a hot water bath early in the morning (at around 6 AM).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Time Travel in Tulsibaug: Ancient Shree Ram Temple, Pune

Pune is not only about blooming IT companies, growing urban concrete and flashy glass structures – but a lot more about a distinct culture and unique traditions that it lovingly keeps in its heart. As a cherished treasure. Something I realized during my recent visit to the ancient Shree Ram temple in Tulsibaug…

The verandah to the ancient Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
Come, let's visit Tulsibaug.

Built by Jivajipant Khasgiwale in 18th century, Tulsibaug, with its array of shops splattered all around and a few heritage temples, is both a commercial hub as well a cultural hub - with a 'vintage' feel. At that time when it was so named, the place used to be a flourishing garden filled with the fragrance of basil. Today, however, it's a contrast... a stony mosaic, of nondescript buildings, habitual shops and half-insulated-half-naked copper wires dangling loosely – such that you could as well pass this off as any other gully from a city like say, Mathura. Not just that, the uncanny resemblance also stems from the high quotient of antiquity that whirls in its environs.

Amid the chaos of shops and buzzing people, I am struck by the tantalizing aroma of freshly cooked traditional Maharashtrian delicacy Pohe wafting in the air one minute followed by the sight of its highly acclaimed envoy Lord Ganpati greeting me from the window of a pandal (residential tent) the other.

Tulsibaug sarvajanik ganesh utsav mandal trust, Pune
Tulsibaug Ganpati greets the visitors in one of the lanes.

A few more miles and a small gate, in blue frame appears with a clear signpost tacked above it – it says, Shree Ram temple, Tulsibaug.

Entrance gateway to ancient Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
Entrance to Shree Ram temple, Tulsibaug.

Inside the gate is a narrow verandah wrapped in dilapidated structures, revealing broken wooden doors and windows both thrown open as well as closed. The verandah passes through a two storied 'Nagarkhana', which was built by Shrimant Madhavrao Peshwa after he won the battle of Kharde. The Nagarkhana is a musical complex housing a traditional musical instrument called Chaughada which comes alive with its beats on festive occasions, a tradition carried on since the times of its inception.

Musical Naagarkhana at the Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
The Nagarkhana breathes in music on festive occasions.

Below the nagarkhana is another modestly arched doorway which opens into the spacious compound of the temple.

Beautiful paintings on the walls of ancient Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
Tales from the Ramayana come alive through these paintings on the walls.

As soon as we step in, the 150 feet high conical shikara (spire) of the temple stands out for its grandiosity, beauty and the intricately carved figurines of saints and deities all over it.

Restoration work of Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
Behold the majestic and intricately carved conical spire of the temple

The blackish tinge on the brick structure of the spire gives it – the temple is aged. A dive in history and indeed! Though the shikhara was added only in the late nineteenth century but the original structure of the temple is an ancient one dating back to the 17th century. Constructed by Shrimant Naro Appaji Tulshibaugwale a nobleman in the Peshwa court under the orders of Balaji Baji Rao, the temple is today one of the few that have managed to retain its element from the era of the Pehwas. It was good to see restoration work in progress when we visited the place. 

The spacious sabhamandap of Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
The temple, being restored, yet retains its charm from the era of the Pehwas.

The temple has a wooden sabhamandap (congregation hall), essentially an open space supported by withered columns and carved arches with an attractive teak ceiling decorated in ornate designs and patterns. The sabhamandap evoked a sense of peace and calm with no people around. There were a few things though – like a charpoy, bare with nails, which lay abandoned in the center and a few chalkboards reading significant dates in the Hindu calendar, which clung to the wall.

Arches in sabhamandap of Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
A sneak peak of the sanctum in the far distance
Wooden columns in the sabhamandap of Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
Sabhamandap: Footsteps echo as we walk, except that - there is no noise, total silence prevails.

The garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum is a stone enclosure housing deities of Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman in the center while other deities like Lord Vishnu and Garuda sit beside them. Lord Hanuman sits exactly opposite them, not in the sanctum but in the sabhamandap with folded hands and a gaze constantly fixed at His Shree Ram.

The ornate teak ceiling

There is ample space of circumambulation provided around the mandap area where one gets a glimpse of other smaller temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Vithal-Godess Rakhumai, Lord Ganesha, Godess Parvati, Lord Dattareya but due to the restoration work that was on, we had to skip it.

Restoration work: Stones, slabs and rods lying all around the temple precincts.

If we were to literally go by the name, Tulsibaug is no 'Tulsibaug' anymore – the basil plants are nowhere to be seen and there is no garden. On the face of it - it's hard, stony but it's just a matter of time and you realize the something that is deep and buried within it...

The incospicuos doorway to Shree Ram Temple, Tulsibaug, Pune, Maharashtra
Till the end of this life, work will keep you forever busy;
Make some time such, shower love to your Master.
'English translation of the signpost outside the temple'

Tulsibaug, for me, with its tapered lanes, bustling market and heritage temples; will always remain a fragrant memory... the place where cultural roots continue to burgeon in the garden of history and traditions.

Tips and other information for Travellers:

- Tulsibaug is located right in the middle of the city, just 10 minutes walk from the famous Dagdusheth Ganpati temple, so you can club them together and visit Tulsibaug just after paying reverence at Dagdusheth.

- Since Tulsibaug is spread in a vast area, keep around 30 - 45 minutes in hand to explore the place.

- A little off from Tulsibaug is Mahatma Phule Mandai, the biggest vegetable market in Pune.

Previous Posts from Pune:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ancient Temples in Pune: Dagdusheth Ganpati Temple

The central part of a city. Buzzing in speed mode. The school buses will soon arrive. The shutters of the shop will soon be up. Offices will soon open. In the midst of this hurried rush, they stop. No matter which mode of transport – cars, buses, foot… no matter how rushed...

... they stop ...

Peeping through the big broad window of HIS magnificent bungalow, just a glimpse of their beloved is all they seek...

........ * ........ * ........ * ........ * ........

A new day. A new year. A new yatra.

And, me and my little diary are extremely pleased to bless our 2015 off by none other than our favorite, the superhero, the remover of all obstacles and the bestower of joys, Ganpati Bappa or Lord Ganesha. The city where we are headed is Pune and the place is called Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati temple, one among the most ancient Ganesha temples in India, where our well cherished Celebrity sits busy reveling in the adulation and adoration showered by His HUGE fan-following from across the globe!

The Temple building of Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune - India
Here's to 2015 with a loud and hearty, 'Ganpati Bappa Morya!

Standing quietly, unconscious of the buzzing traffic outside, the highly acclaimed wish-granting temple is actually a modest cream-ochre colored building with no elaborate pomp and show. Flap the exteriors and a secret world unfolds… of whispered stories, of mysticism, of faith that swirl around one of the Pune’s famous halwai (sweetmeat seller), Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai. 

Lord Shiva and Parvati on the building of Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune - India
The temple that seems to keep the world at arm’s length.

It is said that following the loss of his son to plague which had broken Dagdusheth from within, the merchant put together idols of Lord Ganesha and Lord Dutta Maharaj as healing therapy on the advice of His spiritual teacher, Guru Madhavnath Maharaj’s. His Guru also gave him a blessing that these deities will keep his name alive in the world, just like a son would, for his father. When his friend, Lokmanya Balgandharva Tilak transformed Ganesh Chaturthi into a public festival, he went on to establish the Halwai Ganapati Trust which holds one of the most eye catching fanfairs during Ganesh Chaturthi till date.

The architectural building of Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune - India
The classy temple facade, punctuated with ornate architecture dipped in earthy color tones.

Past the flower sellers through the entrance, I am led inside the main temple hall where I join a line of devotees waiting for their moment of tryst with the sweet Master. The temple sees a lot of visitors on festivals revolving around Lord Ganesha - like Angarki Chaturthi and the grandest of them all, the 11 day annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival. But today, to my fortune, the queue is a small one. Just a few minutes and I find myself right in front of His splendor: bright, radiant and striking.

The striking radiance of Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati, Pune - India
... Moments of silence ...

At 7.5 feet in height and 4 feet in width, He is life-like. He sits in a royal gait on an elevated platform, humbly adorned with gold ornaments and bedecked in the finest of jewelry. Why not? The Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Trust, responsible for taking care of the temple is believed to be one of the richest in the world. Not everything is spent on decorations though; they do invest a major chunk of their riches in societal work which is really commendable.

Take His blessing - Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune - India
A prayer for joy and peace

There is no jostling or pushing and though I get to spend my fair share of time with Him but still, the share is limited. Illuminated by the aura of His presence, I close my eyes and bow my head. The world is forgotten in the few moments that I am there…

Sneak peak of Lord Ganesha at Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune - India
Peep through a window to faith

After the darshan, I take a seat in the spacious temple hall right across the presiding deity and spend a couple of minutes in quiet contemplation. The temple hall reverberates with murmurs of chants, mantras … beaded together by the promise of...

... faith ...

faith... that is steadfast, faith that makes wishes come true, faith that is complete ...

Vermilion blessing of Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune - India
A red vermilion mark, an assurance of His blessing.

... faith ...

that makes them stop and helps them let go,
the petty worries of the world,
... and ... 
their own self .

Prayers to Shreemant Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple through the window, Pune - India

Until next time,
Ganpati Bappa Morya!

Travel Tips and Other Information:

1. Photography is prohibited inside the temple. However, you can click pictures from outside the  main temple.

2. If you like to indulge in festivals and soak in the fanfare, Ganesh Chaturthi is definitely the time to visit for Dagdusheth hosts one of the most stunning decorations and festivities in the whole of the country. Otherwise normally, morning time is great and more preferable due to lesser crowds.

3. Location: Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganpati Trust, Pune
"Ganpati Bhavan", 250, Budhvar Peth
Pune, Maharashtra, India - 411002
Phone: +91 20 24479222