Friday, September 21, 2018

[Must-Visit] Ganesh Pandal! Mumbai's Oldest: Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati, Girgaon.

Heard of Girgaoncha Maharaja?

I am sure many of you are nodding your heads for a 'YES'. Girgaon after all, is home to Mumbai’s popular and most sought after Ganpati Pandals such as Girgaoncha Maharaja who gives tough competition to the top Ganpati pandals of Mumbai like Lalbaugcha Raja, Andhericha Raja, Fortcha Raja, GSB Mandal and many more every year.

But did you know?

In the shadow of many such famous tall and giant Ganeshas, in a narrow gulli (alley) brimming with small room tenements, hole in the wall shops and people on the move, lies a petite Ganesha, humbly nestled in the quiet hug of a close knitted community.

I first came across 'Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal's Ganesha' while searching for 'unique eco friendly themed Ganesh Pandals to visit  in Mumbai' just 2 days back. On reading further, I couldn’t help but sit up and take notice as I came to know how rich in history the pandal  (canopied tents set up at corner of streets) was and how rooted its celebrations associated with Ganeshotsav.

Inspired by Lokmanya Tilak and his idea of uniting people for the freedom struggle through the cultural thread of a public celebration (sarvajanik mahotsav), this was THE FIRST Ganesh pandal to have been set up in Mumbai in the year 1893. The same pandal was later graced by the presence of the man himself - Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the year 1901 when he chose this place to render an enthralling speech thereby making this THE ONLY pandal in the pages of history that can boast of an event of such significance.

The very next day, armed with my camera and a water bottle, determined to visit the city's oldest Ganesh Pandal and Mumbai first Sarvajanik Gaeshotsav Mandal, I set out on my Ganesh Chaturthi Yatra for the season!

My Yatra to Mumbai’s Oldest Ganesh Pandal:

Lane towards Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal oldest in Girgaon, Mumbai.
It's a maze! The busy lanes of Girgaon.

Ascending from the overfoot bridge at the railway station, the town opens into a maze of quaint narrow alleyways crowded right to their edges by two-three storeyed apartment houses with hardly any spaces in between them. A multitude of shops lines the bazaars imparting a unique character to the alleyways, full of teeming life.

Houses near Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaon, Mumbai.
2 storeyed chawl housing system of Girgaon.

I ask a few people in my way for directions (I prefer people over Google maps) but to my surprise, I receive blank stares at the mere mention of Keshavji Naik Ganpati Pandal.

To avoid getting lost in the network of lanes, I now turn my attention to Girgaoncha raja thinking having come so far, though my heart was firmly set on Keshavji Naik Ganesha Pandal only.

The tactic helped and pat came the replies:

'Oh, you want to visit Girgaoncha raja? Go straight, and then turn left'

On my way through the lanes in Girgaon, I came across a couple of hoardings flaunting the names of various Ganeshas housed from different mandals in different lanes at regular intervals.

Among them, I kept looking for the one with 'Girgaoncha Raja' printed on it.

I can still vividly recall how my eyes shone the moment it fell on the huge hoarding that I were to cross next – 

It read: Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha, Mumbai's First Ganeshotsav, Keshavji Naik Chawl, 126th year.

Lane towards Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Mumbai's First Ganeshotsav in their 126th year:
Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha at Girgaon.

Already tired from walking a fair distance and inquiring a good number of people to reach wherever I was (you see, in a maze of alleyways, it’s easier to lose your sense of the place and time), I read the board twice to confirm that I had indeed reached the Ganesha that I was initially hoping to meet.

Yes! I had read this right: It was Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha indeed!

As I entered the lane beyond the board - I felt my heart jumping in joy and excitement –like my kind and benevolent friend, Ganesha had really invited me to His house.

Main lane leading to Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Entrance to the Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesh Pandal.

After Reaching His House: Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha, Khadilkar Road, Girgaon.

Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Eco friendly Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha seated surrounded by the one storeyed houses in the chawl.

Time stands engaging with the hustle-bustle of the world outside as I step in the chawl where the main pandal is set. It's like entering a different era of the same place Mumbai, like soaking in a different version of the same festival - Ganesh Chaturthi. There is no loud music blaring from the loudspeakers, no DJ's, no expensive embellishments nor any unnecessary ostentation, all the banes of the modern day that we have come to embrace in the name of celebration and festivity are absent. Instead what you do get is pin drop silence, and lots of peace.

Eco friendly Ganesha at City's oldest pandal- Keshavji Naik chawl in Girgaon Mumbai
Time stands still at the Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati Pandal in Mumbai.

Perhaps, this was the way Lokmanya Tilak had envisioned the festival to always be: Of people coming together, not for some commercial, rowdy jamboree and loud Bollywood music blaring from loudspeakers but to exercise their faith and dig into their own goodness by coming together on one single platform and sharing their thoughts with one another on important matters for the greater good of the society. The vision of unity in diversity that the great people of the ages envisaged came at home in this modest pandal.

Eco friendly Ganesha at City's oldest pandal- Keshavji Naik chawl, Girgaon Mumbai
Eco friendly peaceful Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Ganesha decked in flowers at City's oldest pandal- Keshavji Naik chawl, Girgaon Mumbai
The Sanstha orders its idol from the same sculptor family for the last four generations.

The deity of the Ganesha is seated amid humble d├ęcor ornamented with fresh flowers and fruits within a temple-like structure made of thermocol. It is dark all around, enhancing the luminescence of the garlanded deity of Ganesha even more. He glows and in His effervescent light, everything, all worries, all thoughts, all darkness ceases slowly, everything seems to fade away… when and how I do not know. The entire setting lends an ethereal radiance to the pandal.

A man prays at Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Ganpati Bappa Morya!

There is no one in the pandal except an elderly man, a local resident, who is circumambulating the Ganesha. I relay my appreciation to him to which he says that the celebrations have always been like this, solemn and rooted, for the past 12 decades. Made of natural shadu clay, the idol is also the same size every year – about two and half feet in height. He added that there are cultural programs for children in the evenings like dance, dramas and traditional song reciting and it is at that time that the whole atmosphere resembles a fest or a mela.

Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.

I also learnt that the Ganesha of Keshavji Naik Chawl (managed by Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sansthan) is brought in the chawl in a traditional manner in a palki (palanquin) every year. It is later taken for visarjan in the same palki and during both these events, the residents walk barefoot as a mark of respect. It might not be a celebrity pandal per se but it is no less renowned: Freedom fighters like Balasaheb Gangadhar Kher and S. M. Joshi have stayed here for sometime, late Shiv Sena President Bal Thackeray has delivered a speech and God of cricket Sachin Tendulkar also visited the Bappa for blessings.
Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl houses in Girgaon, Mumbai.
A house adjoining the Ganesh Pandal in Keshavji Naik Chawl.

'Come in the evening aarti today.', says the elderly man as he prepares to file out of the pandal.

It isn't possible for me to travel all the way again this far but nevertheless delighted for the invite, I smile in acknowledgement: 'Whenever Bappa calls, then'

Hopefully, again next year.

|| Ganpati Bappa Morya ||

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Address: Khadilkar Rd, Kandawadi, Urankawadi, Mangal Wadi, Girgaon, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400004.

Traveller Tip: The Ganesha of Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati, Girgaon remains seated for the entire 11 days of the festival after which it proceeds for Ganesh Visarjan.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Hidden Gem: Old Dhundiraj Ganpati Temple, Vadodara.

Entrance door at the heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat

Happiness often resides behind
open doors and
open hearts.

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A visit to Dhundiraj Ganpati is a must when you’re in Vadodara. Not only is it one of the oldest Ganesha temples in Gujarat, it is also not very well known which keeps its mystical aura intact. Plus the fact that it’s dedicated to the cute pot-bellied Lord Ganesha, who is always ever ready to remove all the obstacles in our way, makes this place even more alluring and one of the most prominent and ‘must-visit places to visit in Vadodara’.

But wait! There’s a catch.

If you thought meeting the obstacle remover was that simple and straightforward, well, think again. To meet the benign benevolent God, our very own Vighnharta, you have to face one of the biggest obstacles. You have to figure out the direction to the temple! And, it’s not quite easy.

After having a sumptuous traditional breakfast at the famous Khetla Aapa Tea Stall in Sayajiganj, Vadodara, we hired an Uber cab for Shrimant Dhundiraj Ganpati Temple. Driving down the old quarters, we soon found ourselves lost into the labyrinthine streets of the city crammed with innumerable buildings standing perilously close to each other, some of them in ruins while others seemingly disordered, abandoned or sagging about the pavilion of the balconies. Google maps failed us, we turned to the locals who didn’t prove of much help either; we kept turning left, sometimes right, until the confused chap, our driver, finally raised his hands up and dropped us nearby, in front of a Shani Temple (Mahadev Talav), to figure out the way and walk for ourselves.

Five to seven minutes later, we found ourselves finally standing at the main entrance of the nearly 200 year old Shrimant Dhundiraj Ganapati Temple located in the humble Wadi area of Vadodara.

200 year old heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Mairal's Dhundiraj Ganpati Mandir in Suryanagar, Wadi area of Vadodara.

Modest in appearance and bereft of any dazzling makeup, the two storeyed temple radiated an old world charm right from the word go. Its pale pista green color coupled with the unpretentious down to earth wooded appearance highly appealed to me.

Teakwood heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Entrance to the heritage historical hidden gem of Vadodara.

The entrance opened into a small courtyard where the beautiful temple stood serenely, away from the confusing maze of the outside world, in an elegant shade of blue. In the ocean of blue popped out bursts of yellow, orange and green used to color the elaborate floral motifs painted all over the beams, arches and the pillars.

200 year old ancient Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
The 170 year old temple at first glance!

According to history, the double storeyed temple was built by the Gopalrao Mairal in the year 1844, a diwan during the rule of Ganpatrao Gaekwad of the Maratha confederacy. The Maratha clan worshipped the God of good luck and success, the destroyer of obstacles, Lord Ganesha, as their ishta devta or personal deity. The worship was later taken up on a public platform as an idea to bring people from different walks of life together by Lokmanya Gangadhar Tilak which is today celebrated as the very popular Ganesh Chaturthi festival.

Elaborate carvings on door of Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara
Elaborately carved doors at heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat

The architecturally important heritage temple is still looked after by the family run trust of Mairal Family, who has desperately tried to grab the attention of the Archaeological survey of India (ASI) and the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) to take up the maintenance of the temple and preserve it for future generations. After several failed attempts, the temple trust themselves took up the restoration work finally in 2017 and formed a committee of expert architects and artisans – the results of their hard work can be clearly appreciated today.

Having said that, a lot more can be done and more easily so if ASI can intervene what with the decrepit condition of the upper stories and visible cracks about the edges and beams.

Decrepit stories of the heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Colorful arches at Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Wonderful restoration work by the Mairal trust; a lot more can still be done though.

In front of the temple is a mouse, the vehicle of Lord Ganesha, seated comfortably on a raised pedestal as against the feet of the Lord. There are stairs to climb the pedestal and meet the moushak raja. Bend a bit and see through his ears. Then, speak in his ears: He carries all the prayers to Lord Ganesha. Don’t know about that but what I can affirm is that between the two of them (and they are really tiny), I saw them holding the entire family of Lord Ganesha together!

Mushak at heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
The mouse sits comfortably on a raised platform overlooking His master's family.

Made entirely of teak wook and spread in an area of 2,194.5 square kms., the temple is a beautiful amalgamation of the Gujarati and Maharashtrian haveli style of architecture reflected in the rich ornate doors and carvings on the pillars and walls.

200 year old Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Made from original teakwood, it stands on 44 pillars of 16 inch diameter each.
Beautiful teakwood Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara
The temple was constructed by labourers brought in especially from Hyderabad, Rajasthan and Mumbai.

Despite its rich regal legacy, there is an unmissable homely feeling one gets stepping in this temple. The vibes of goodness and love shines through in the room, which is quiet... a stillness clearly felt, a treasure perhaps passed down since generations and has till date remained intact, immune to the wear and tear otherwise seen in the building construction.

Lovely Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
It's quiet inside the temple room...

In the central part of the temple room is the sanctum sanctorum where Lord Ganesha resides flanked with His wives Riddhi-Siddhi on both the sides and sons Laabh and Laksh. Everyone in the family is following the dress code of blue keeping with the interiors of the sanctum sanctorum.

Beautiful rangoli at Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Take a few moments to pause and ponder.

Though a barricade is between me, the devout and Ganesha, but the silence here is powerful. It goes beyond any barriers, and carries whispers of the heart… it connects.

Ganesha deity at the heritage Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Shri Dhundiraj Ganpati along with His wives Riddhi and Siddhi.

After the darshan, spend some time wandering in the temple premises which is very interesting and intriguing too. Towards the left of the deity is an ornate fountain, I wonder if it comes to life anytime.

Passage with the fountain towards the left of the temple.
Lakshmi Kuber Temple in the Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple courtyard, Vadodara
Lakshmi Kuber temple in the front part of the courtyard.

On the backside, surrounded by bushes and unkempt foliage, is a Lord Shiva temple, housing a closed door. Does this door hold any secrets?

Shiva temple at Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Lord Shiva surrounded by unkempt foliage.

Budddha Footprints at Dhundiraj Ganesha Temple, Vadodara, Gujarat
Lord Buddha's footprints near Lord Shiva.

It is said that in the olden days, there exited a secret tunnel below the wada with a lot of wealth hidden in it. Guarded by a cobra (naag), the tunnel could be opened by chanting a mantra.

Is it a myth or is this a truth?

Who is to say but stories like these do lend to the place its fair share of mystique and to yatris like me, a sense of a hidden fantastical adventure.

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Offbeat And Ancient: Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar, Nashik.

There is no denying the fact that India is a land rich with a treasure trove of temples, temples built by our forefathers and ancestors, dedicating them to Gods and Goddesses with an intent that they would serve as a channel to take us closer to God, the Supreme, our own nature, back to the Source, from whence we’d come and to where we belong.

While some of these temples went on to become famous, the rest remained oblivious to the influence of the outside world, unknown to the crowds and the masses and yet content perhaps in the knowing of how abundant and radiant they were, in their rich inherent beauty and splendor.

One such temple is the Shri Gondeshwar temple in the industrial town of Sinnar - a small but significant patch on the Shirdi-Nashik road, 26 kms from Nashik and 190 kms from Mumbai.

Entrance to the off beat Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
The crumbling walls at the entrance contradict the sheer magnanimity that waits inside. 
Inconspicuous and unaffected by the material realms of name, fame or acclaim in the world outside, Shri Gondeshwar temple stands admirably on a tall square stage heartily welcoming a trickling stream of visitors – devotees, students, locals and enthusiasts. Surrounded by a jungle, mostly wild and uncultivated, there is no signage announcing the existence of the temple as we approach it from the main road, although the temple is around 800 years old and prides in "still being the largest, most complete and the best preserved example of medieval temples of the Deccan built on a variation of the Indo-Aryan style of architecture".

View of the off beat Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
A sacred sanctuary built in stone... framed in time.

A huge courtyard surrounds the magnificent cluster of temples that stand graciously in the center, beaming in overwhelming splendor. The cluster of temples is referred to as the Shaiva Panchayatan, or a group of five temples, held within a large enclosure. On my left is a crumbling remnant of a wall with a decrepit board in front of it, it reads: Visitors are requested to abstain from smoking and remove their shoes.

Never having seen such a board in a temple before that requests visitors to abstain from smoking, I wonder what kind of visitors the temple might be getting?

I look around: stillness abounds, there are very few people in sight, mostly visitors, except a lone horse gazing merrily on the unpaved grass, and the open wild wind running freely in all the directions. Encircling the perimeter of the temple complex are walls, disintegrated in places, their chinks home to wild shrubs and weeds.

Vast courtyard at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Courtyard of the Gondeshwar Temple.

Curious to know more about the place, I walk on the cemented path leading to a flight of stairs that opens onto the raised square platform in the center of the courtyard. And there it stands - the main temple surrounded by four small temples on all sides against the backdrop of a clear blue sky- A sacred fabric built in a living stone frozen in the anals of time. 

Shaiva Panchayatan Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
This is what you see just after you enter the temple gate:
"Shaiva Panchayatan" or a cluster of five temples on a raised platform.
Built in the Hemadpanthi style of architecture, popularized by Hemadri Pandit also known as Hemadpant, a minister during the Yadav Dynasty, the temple is a Shaiva Panchayatan which means a group of five temples within a large enclosure and dates back to the 12-13th century. The central shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva while the other four temples surrounding it are dedicated to Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganapati, Sun God and Lord Vishnu.

Ganesha Temple at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra (2)
One of the Shaiva Panchayatan Temples at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
One of the Temples at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra

The four surrounding temples dedicated to
Lords Ganesha, Sun, Vishnu and Goddess Parvati
adjacent to the main Shiva temple
- all brilliant edifices in stone!

I stand enthralled by the masterpiece, admiring the skill of the stone smiths that created this wonder in stone, a symmetrical design on a raised and stepped platform only 125' X 95', aptly reflected in the proportionate design and in the artistic carved panels of those days.

Magnificient Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Gorgeous architecture at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra

Such meticulous precision, I marvel, it’s faultless!

I walk closer, rolling my hands on the artistic panels and statues trying to connect to the creative forces that birthed in these gods and demi gods, life, in a bid to help their future generations connect to God.

Intricate stone work at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Hemadpanthi style of architecture at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Hemadpanthi architectural carvings at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Hemadpanthi architecture at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Not just art forms but a means to connect with the Father.
Besides the proportioned precision, one of the most striking features of the construction is the use of locally available black stone and lime, glorifying the local craftsmanship. One can see the degree of skill, hard work, talent and concentration that went into making the carved panels and the entire design of the temple – it is remarkable.

Beneath and beyond all my admiration though, is a nagging sense of unease and helplessness… for some of these wondrous art pieces are weathered, derelict in places, lying in ruins, uncared for and abandoned… the amount of years, even centuries, gone in withstanding the storms, sun and rains coupled with the neglect by the caregivers stare, speak back at me. It’s a painful gap, one that oscillates between the glory of creation and the rare attempts at conservation, and it seeps within. To imagine what it may have been and to see what it has come to, is not at all easy.

Hemadpanthi architecture at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik in Maharashtra
Ruins in the off beat Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Some restoration work by Archaeological Survey of India has managed to bring back the past glory
of this architectural wonder but still a lot needs to be done.
The assembly room or sabha mandap in the main temple room is dark and silent with no one around except a lone tortoise and a Nandi Bull (vehicle of Lord Shiva) sitting directly opposite the main sanctum sanctorum with their gazes fixed on the Lord. The room is full of richly carved pillars with figurines from epics like the Mahabharta and the Ramayana – through these illustrated art forms one can see various aspects of society and how connecting with each other and with life itself had been intricately linked with the means to connect or worship God Himself.

Elaborate stone carvings at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Ornate stone work at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Inside the sabha mandap or the assembly hall of the main temple.
Across the Nandi Sabha Mandap, is the dimly lit gabhara or the towered sanctum sanctorum with the powerful lingam, Lord Shiva, seated in the center. Nearby, a lonely diya (lamp) gleams, amber and strong, providing light to anyone and everyone who enters the sanctum. The quiet calm in the house and the inviting glow hold within them a space… a space so sacred that it melts my reserve. Kneeling down on my knees, joining my hands, I bow my head in prayer and touch my forehead on the ground.

Shivlingam darshan at Gondeshwar Temple in Sinnar near Nashik, Maharashtra
Spend a few quiet moments with The Father - Lord Shiva.

Here is one place where I can bare it all and be assured in His Presence to have heard it all. Here, there are no judgments passed, no questions asked. Only - a compassionate giving... of love, peace and purity, rippling in a clear stream of silence.. a silence which is both, powerful, and comforting.

It’s a surreal moment… a brief interaction between a father and a daughter, where time has halted, just for a few seconds and the world has come to a standstill. 

Feeling fuller from the exchange yet lighter, energized yet content, I trace my steps out of the gabhara back in the open courtyard, to continue my journey ahead.

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Ancient Gondeshwar temple Sinnar, Nashik

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Travel Tips / Information / How to Reach Gondeshwar Temple?

1. It is located at Sinnar near Nashik, off Pune Nashik highway, on the way from Nashik / Shirdi to Mumbai (26 kms from Nashik, 60 kms from Shirdi and 190 kms from Mumbai).

2. The temple is not very well known, so unlike some other popular temples in and around Nashik there no significant boards on the highway signalling the presence of the temple but do visit here, it's totally worth your time!