Monday, November 8, 2010

Dwarka Somnath

After a long time, I finally get to set out on a trip. This time Diwali, a Friday blessed us with a three day weekend. So to make the most of it and to start seeing Gujarat, I felt the weekend ideal to visit Dwarka and Somnath, two highly regarded religious places in the state. The time coinciding with a festival helped me finalise my plan. I hadn’t visited a single temple in the 4 months I was in Gujarat. But now, over the next three days, that would change. That too drastically.

So on Thursday 4th November, the night preceding Diwali, I leave Ahmedabad by a 1030 pm sleeper bus. After a good night’s sleep, I get up around 6 and I can see boards reading Dwarka. So we were already in the town. Now we were just about to reach the bus terminal when suddenly the bus came to a hault with a loud noise. I’m not sure if it was a tyre that burst or something else that happened to the bus. But now that I was in town, I just took my bag and set out leaving the bus where it was.

As I kept walking and asking the way to the temple or some guest house, a rickshaw came and stopped in front of me. It took me to a guest house for Rs. 10. And after that, the rest of the trip was planned by the people at the hotel. They arranged a bus for Bet Dwarka, an island off Dwarka which also has an ancient temple. They were to arrange a bus to Somnath that very night. As they could not that very night, they booked my ticket for a bus leaving the next morning at 730.

So I go to my hotel room and come down after freshening up and voila! An autorickshaw is waiting right there for me to show me around Dwarka. So he takes me on a quick trip around all the places in Dwarka. Now Dwarka is divided into

three places, Gokul Dwarka, which is the main Dwarka with the Dwarkadheesh Temple, Bet Dwarka, an island off Dwarka and Mool Dwarka, which would come later on in the trip.

So the Rickshaw shows me around Dwarka. The first temple to be shown was the Gita Mandir. Quite a familiar name in the cities I’ve been to offlate. I’ve seen movie theatres and bus stops with the same name. But here Gita Mandir as per the name was a temple. The temple had an idol of the famous Gita updesh scene of Krishna and Arjuna.

The walls of the temple had the Gita written on it.

The autorickshaw guy then takes me besides the Sunset point, a place I wouldn’t be at, at the right time. Just besides the sunset point was one of the most beautiful temples, the Bhatkeshwar temple. From a distance, I could see a structure sticking out of the water. When I went close, I could see there was a way to the temple which was submerged in the sea just up to ankle height. So I take off my shoes and walk towards the temple. The view of the temple and from it was beautiful; lot of crabs and the sea.

One interesting fact that the localites told me about the temple was that on Mahashivratri, the sea would recede behind the temple and the path to the temple would be absolutely dry.

From there, I was taken to a Gayatri Mahapeeth temple and a Shri Siddheshwar Mahadev Temple. Well, there’s nothing i remember about the temples. Not even the names; I had to go through the pictures to get the names. Well apart from the two temples, I might have been shown more temples but nothing spectacular about them.

Then finally the autorickshaw fellow left me at Dwarkadheesh, the main temple. Now coming to the main story, Dwarka is one of the four pavitra dhaams according to Hinduism. One of the four main temples, a hindu should visit before he dies. Legend has it that after Lord Krishna relinquished his kingdom at Mathura, he came and settled in Dwarka. As he would leave Dwarka later on, the kingdom would collapse into the sea. As per the legend, the present day Dwarka is only one sixth of the original Dwarka. Thank God! I would explain why shortly.

So I enter the Dwarkadheesh, a beautiful structure with intricate carvings. I just about managed to enter during the Aarti time, the time when some offerings are offered to God. Excuse both, my translation and knowledge of religion.

So the Aarti goes on with heavy drum beats. The beats reminded me of Navratris at Ahmedabad. Nonetheless, it was a great spectacle to see a large gathering of people bound by faith. I had no idea what to do so I went in a line that was approaching the idol. As i approached the idol, the beats got louder and louder and faster too. It reached its peak when i was right in front of the idol. And as i stepped aside, 5 seconds later, the drum beats ended. Wow! My timing had to be perfect.

I do not remember what the idols looked like or which all idols were there. Obviously, there had to be Krishna. But it was a great feeling, nonetheless, one that I do remember. So once the temple was over, I had a walk besides the Gomti Ghat. The Gomti River meets the sea behind the temple. The Ghat is situated at the confluence. So after a trip down the Ghat, I would head for lunch and then to the hotel for an hour long nap. After which, I had to leave for Bet Dwarka.

The conjusted mini bus left for Bet Dwarka right on time. There was a panditji, a saint as a tour guide. Untill the bus started he was talking like a conductor and once the bus started, he transformed to a pen salesman in a DTC bus. Well, if you don’t know what I mean, Sorry, I can’t

put it in any better way. So he went on talking about Dwarka or Duvaarika as he pronounced it.

The first story was about Lord Krishna and wife Rukmini. Apparently, Rukmini and Krishna were on some mission and Rukmini was thirsty. So she broke some rule and was cursed to have to live away from Lord Krishna for some 12 years. The next temple was a Rukmini temple which had some connect to the above-mentioned story. The temple was beautiful with pigeons seated allover the outside structure. There was some repulsive bhashan/speech going on by some priest so I just clicked pictures from outside and moved on to the next temple.

The pandit conductor then started talking about Lord Shiva. He would next be taking us to the 8th Jyotirlinga out of 12. A Jyotirlinga is apparently a special Shiva temple. It is believed that a person can see a Jyotirlinga as a column of fire piercing through the earth after he reaches a higher level of spiritual attainment. The 8th Jyotirlinga, Nageshwar is said to be located in three different locations, one in Maharashtra, one in Uttarakhand and this one in Gujarat. This was built by Gulshan Kumar (of T series fame). He donated Rs. 6 crores to build the temple and a huge Idol of Lord Shiva. Now despite the man’s sincere efforts, the temple still looks very T-Series. If you again don’t know what I mean, I’m again sorry, I couldn’t put it any better.

Now Bet Dwarka was left for the day. Mr. Pandit conductor again started talking like a parrot. He went on to say how Dwarka is one of the Pavitra Dhaams and how feeding a Brahmin at Dwarka Bet would help one’s ancestors attain Moksha, salvation. He also told me that him included, other Brahmins in the town only lived on the donations. According to him, 90 percent of the population in Bet Dwarka are muslims. Whatever the case, none of his arguments made sense to me. As the rest in the bus were offering him money, I just turned the other way.

From a port, a boat would take us to Bet Dwarka. The island has another Shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna which is of utmost importance to Hinduism. The view of the temple and from the temple were beautiful. We were riding back from the temple during sunset. Phew! Exhausted from visiting all the temples, I was now thinking against going to Somnath and just visiting Diu and coming back home.

Somehow, I thought I would endure a few more temples. So I book my ticket to Somnath for the next morning. After dinner, I would spend some time at the sunset point for nearly 15 minutes, have a look at the Bhatkeshwar temple(the one across the sea) and retire for the day. I slept early as I had to get up early and leave for Somnath by 730 am.

Day 2

I get up at 7 and board the bus at 730. It leaves for Somnath right on time. On my way, I take out the novel I’d been reading “The immortals of Meluha”, a story which claims Lord Shiva was a man of bone and flesh like me and you. I’m assuming ghosts and gods do no read blogs. Quite an apt book considering the fact that I would be visiting one of the most important Shiva shrines in the country. And just as I think Dwarka is over, the bus stops and we’re told that we’re at Mool Dwarka.

Legend has it that as Arjuna was getting arrogant over his knowledge and power, Krishna wanted to teach him a lesson. So he sent him with his 16 thousand god-know-how-many Gopis to a pond. He was to protect them as they bathed. Lord Krishna then sent some robbers to steal their clothes and teach Arjuna a lesson. Arjuna falls helpless as the robbers run away with the clothes. The Gopis then drown out of embarrassment. But why on earth would Lord Krishna kill all the Gopis to teach Arjuna a lesson? Well, even I don’t know. It is however said that the Gopis were all given Moksha for free. My apologies for the blasphemy

The pond is said to be behind the temple. Anyways, the temple has a nice ancient look to it. With banyan trees around, and a whitish mossish colour, it has a nice mystique look to it. From there, we would then leave to Somnath finally. We finally reach Somnath at around 2, after lunch on the way.

As I get off the bus at Somnath, there is a row of Autorickshaws waiting to take us around the city. So I get on to one to see Somnath. The first place I’m taken is Triveni. It’s the confluence of three rivers, Hiran Kapila and the mythical Saraswati. It was a beautiful sight with sparkling blue water. If I weren’t told it’s a confluence, I would’ve mistaken it for the sea.

From there, I was next taken to Gita Mandir. Yes Another Gita Mandir. Well, whoever built the temples in Somnath was empathetic with someone who had been running around visiting different temples. Because in one compound, there were 3-4 temples, hence saving time. So apart form the Gita Mandir, was a Narayan Mandir and a Shri Krishna Samadhi. Somnath happens to be the place where Lord Krishna was killed. That is believed to have happened at Bhalka Teerth, which would come later.

Next was a Krishna temple. It is believed that the Pandavas lived in a cave adjacent to the temple for one year. The entrance to the cave was so narrow, I really doubt someone of Bhima’s built (according to the epic) could even enter. And going with the earlier stated Somnath Temple tradition, this temple also had a Sun temple within the same compound. I found it interesting because I’d never been to a Sun Temple before. It wasn’t any different. Just that apart from a usual idol, there also was one of the Sun God with rays and a moustache.

The auto guy then took me to some place where he said there was some Ganga something. The only thing I saw there were kids selling pearls for Rs. 5. I don’t know if they were real but Rs. 5 was still worth a duplicate one. So I bought a few and move on. I don't know if I missed something holy and important.

Next was Bhalka Teerth. Here it’s believed that Lord Krishna was relaxing with one foot over the other. His feet looked like an animal to a hunter who shot an arrow, thus resulting in Lord Krishna’s death. This temple is 5 kms from Somnath, half way between Somnath and the nearest tow, Veraval.

At last, I would now finally visit Somnath. The temple is the first Jyotirlinga which makes it a Lord Shiva Shrine of prime importance. The temple has a cloak room where you can deposit your baggage, mobiles, camera and then move in. The temple is simply majestic. As one enters the temple, the large pillars in rows leading to the idol are very inviting.

The temple is believed to have been brought down six times by various invaders. It is however the strength of faith that has brought it up from its ruins, every time mightier than the previous. The majestic monument which is a symbol of mythology and history, has a very calming aura to it. Apart from the main idol, the temple has a series of statues depicting various Jyotirlingas and various forms of Lord Shiva. At 730 and 830, they have a light and sound show depicting the forms and Jyotirlingas, which I would miss.

In addition, on the temple boundary, is placed a globe with a trishul passing through it. It is said that if you travel southwards along that line, you would reach Antartica without being interrupted by any land midway.

After spending some time at the temple, I just stepped out to a very crowded beach besides the temple. It was even more crowded than the Mumbai chowpatty. With chat and camelrides and horserides, it was like one large fun fair. The sun was slowly and steadily setting into the sea. As I enjoyed the view, I had to plan ahead. I had to go to Diu the next day. Now I had to plan whether I would leave the same night or wait till the next morning.

Now, the only factor to decide would be a room to stay. And in all likelihood, Diu would be costlier and Somnath would not be any cheaper as well. So I now move to Veraval. I had heard of some brilliant sea food at the Veraval beach. So I take an autorickshaw to Veraval beach. During the journey, I started talking to the Autowalah about getting a room. He told me “Mai aapko Ram Bharose chhodunga. Sasta room miljaega” . Surprisingly Ram Bharose was the places name. A shady room besides the railway station for a decent rate. The funniest part however was that the lodge owner was bargaining for me to leave earlier rather than pay more money. We finally agreed at 830 am as check out time.

Once I kept my bag at the hotel, I leave for some delectable sea food at the Veraval beach. I was up for the biggest disappointment of the trip. The Veraval beach has to be the worst beach I’ve ever seen in my life. If I had to look towards the land from the sea, it would rather look like a construction site. It was neither a sandy beach nor a rocky one. To top it, no waves or breeze. And the bigger disappointment, no fish whatsoever. So I then ask and go to what would be one of the best restaurants there for seafood. Another disappointment. The worst prawns biriyani ever.

But the Ram Bharose disappointments don’t end there. I was interrupted twice in my sleep. At around 12, someone just came walking in to my room. That’s when i realised the latch i had used was not working. The next was at 530 when I just got up from my sleep for a moment. I looked at the window which led to a corridor. A man was standing there and telling me to get up. I looked at him totally confused. He would just go on in Gujarati. Later on when I told him for the umpteenth time that I don’t understand his language, he finally asked me if i was working at the hotel. When i said no, he apologised and left.

Anyways, I was out of Somnath at 10, after a traditional Gujarati breakfast of Kathia Jalebi and something that looks and tastes like a dough of wheat flour. Sorry, but that’s one more thing I don’t know. After all the temples and chaos, I finally come back to Ahmedabad after a hault of a few hours in Diu where I just relax by the sea side munching on to some delectable sea food (finally).

Well, I guess it’s now time to conclude the post. Somnath – brilliant place, beautiful sunrise and nice temples. Dwarka – advicable only for hard core religion buffs. Atheists and Agnostics would have a tough time if they decide to see all temples. High points of Dwarka however are the Bhatkeshwar and Dwarkadheesh temples.

P.S. I would’ve still missed to mention many temples and my apologies if any part of the post seemed insensitive.