I have never been overtly religious or spiritual. But every time I visit Dakshineswar Temple, I have been overwhelmed with an onslaught of varied emotions that rush through me. The best time to visit the temple is early morning when the sun is not too hot and the temple complex is not too crowded. So Friday early morning I set off with my partner. But before that, a bit on the history of Dakshineswar in a nutshell.
The temple was built by Rani Rashmoni on a 20 acre village plot in Dakshineswar in the mid 19th century. The Rani had planned to go for a long pilgrimage to Kashi to pay her respects to the Divine Mother. She was to travel in 24 boats carrying relatives, servants and supplies. It is said that before the Rani undertook this pilgrimage, the Divine Mother appeared to her in a dream and told her that there is no need to visit the Hindu city of Kashi. She instructed the Rani to install a statue of the Mother on the banks of the Ganges where she will be worshiped. Thus, the said plot was acquired and the building of the temple began. It took 8 years to be built. The temple consists of a nine-spired main building with a large courtyard and boundary walls. There are 12 shrines along the riverfront dedicated to Lord Shiva, a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and his divine consort Radha Rani, a bathing ghat, a shrine dedicated to the Rani and the Nahabat Khana where the spiritual disciple of the Divine Mother and one of the greatest propagator of spirituality in India – Shri Ramakrishna – lived.
Thanks to my partner, I make it a point to visit Dakshineswar at least once every month. And every time I visit, I feel a surge of energy within me that’s hard to describe. It must be something positive. How else would I explain my unflinching will to visit the shrine regularly. So one Friday, I set off. A late riser like me finds a good reason to be up by 5 am to visit the Mother despite the stressful, week that went by with working Sundays, late nights, harrowing meetings, conferences, travails of just another regular office goer.
The sun was blazing in its fierce glory even at 6 am on an April morning. The temple complex had started to get crowded. Hurried bare-feet, heads bent and covered in devotion and hands carrying the simple offering of sweets, hibiscus flowers and incense sticks. We got ours from the dala arcade and made our way through the narrow throng. The line in the courtyard was already in its fourth hairpin bend. We took our positions.
On one side of the courtyard, a flock of pigeons – about a hundred – gathered to peck on the scattered grain offered by devotees. A sudden childish urge in me made me feel like running through them, making them fly with their wings clapping, breaking the hushed silence in the rising heat. A chiding look from my partner made me stick to my place with a sheepish smile and a reminder of my age that’s, to be honest, pushing into its third decade.
The queue snaked its way to the garbha griha where the idol of the Bhabatarini or the Divine Mother (a literal translation means one who dispels all darkness, negativity and fear) stood on the chest of a lying Lord Shiva. The idols are, incidentally, placed on a thousand-petaled lotus made of silver. The cacophony around me rose decibel by decibel. Devotees craning their necks to catch a second glimpse of the Mother. Poised on their toes, they lingered for half a second more so that the after image of the Mother in their minds remains fresher. The security personnel pounded his fists on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum. “Stick to the line. Stick to the line, I say!”
Our turns over, we exited the garbha griha. It was 7:30 am and I was drenched head to toe in sweat. The pandemonium around me increased its crescendo. The queue reached almost the exit gate. The devotees were getting restless. Some chattered non-stop. Some bowed their heads and with eyes half-closed chanted invocations. Some simply bowed their heads so they could sneak a glance at their mobile phones. One old gentleman who was just ahead of us in the queue and had gotten chatty with my partner waved a fervent goodbye which betrayed sly promises of ‘see you again’. A quick roll of the eyes from him and we made our way to the 12 shrines of Lord Shiva.
Arranged neatly along the riverbank and in perfect symmetry in the typical aatchala style of Bengal architecture are the 12 shrines of Lord Shiva known by various names – Yogeswar, Jatneswar, Jatileswar, Nakuleswar, Nakeswar, Nirjareswar, Nareswar, Nandiswar, Nageswar, Jagadiswar, Jaleswar and Yajneswar. A visit to each of these shrines is seemingly tedious. In reality, it’s a breeze. Literally. With the cool winds from the Ganges blowing in our direction, paying homage to the 12 Lingams was done in relative comfort. The interior of each shrine houses the Shivalingams with just about enough space for 2-3 people to stand. As I touched the Lingams made of granite, an electric shiver ran down my spine. It surpassed the feeling I got when I had seen an elderly woman burst into overwhelming tears as she struck her head on the walls of the temple of the Bhabatarini. It’s tough to describe.
Across the courtyard stands the temple of Radhakanta. It houses three shrines. One dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha Rani, one to the ishta devata of Rani Rashmoni – Raghunath Jiu and the third to Shri Ramakrishna and Maa Sarada. It is here that all heaven broke loose.
We walked up to the temple only to be greeted by a band of Vaishnavs preparing to jam with the name of Hari and Krishna on the tips of their tongues. As they readied their Sree Khol and cymbals, I waited in quiet anticipation. Now, I had witnessed this earlier. I remembered the morning of Saptami last year when we had come. It was the first time that I visited Dakshineswar after a long, really long hiatus. I think I was about 9 years old when I had first visited Dakshineswar with my parents.
A young Vaishnav, must be about 17 years old, strapped his Sree Khol around his neck. The others surrounding him were much older. The youngest of the lot must have been about 9 years old. An older gentleman in the group retrieved his cymbals from his jhola. I stood at the entrance of the temple while my partner had already pierced through the melee and was stationed right in front of Radha-Krishna with his hands folded together, palms touching and his head bowed low. His eyes were shut. But I know he knew how the scene just behind him looked like. Without a word, the young chap struck a thunderous blow on the Sree Khol. I trembled. The vibrations washed over me like shockwaves of another time, another life. A sonorous chorus soared high above the temple spire as they lent voice to their devotion. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. Their eyes were closed but their minds were open. Their vocal chords echoed all around the precincts and all along the high vaulted ceiling. They lifted me and while my trembling feet were still trying to cling on to terra firma, my spirit rose above and beyond the surroundings. I fought hard the tears. I turned my head. Remembered the pending assignments that I would have to submit next week. The business meeting that was fixed for lunch the same day. The event that needed to be organized the following Sunday. The vendor bills that needed to be cleared before the month ended. The pool of angst in me that needed an outlet. A gargoyle. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. Didn’t help. I let myself be carried away. I shut my eyes tight and joined in the chorus. I could feel a hundred eyes on me. I mouthed the incantation and was careful to follow the same tonality and beat. In a moment, I felt myself being swept into the band. I lifted my arms up in the air. And traced a circle as I half-danced to the jingle-jangle of the Sree Khol and cymbals, presumably led and followed by the Vaishnavs.
I don’t know how long my eyes must have been shut or how long I went around in circles chanting Hare Krishna with my arms lifted. I found myself on one side of the temple entrance. I wasn’t panting or sweating. I was standing alone while the cool river breeze blew through my hair. My pajamas fluttered in the wind. There was silence. The Vaishnavs had finished their jam. The young one was busy packing off his Sree Khol in its velvet jacket. My partner nudged me from behind. It was time to leave.
Our last stop was the Nahabat Khana where Shri Ramakrishna resided. The room comprised of the bed and items of daily use as well as little brick-brats – traces and memories from the spiritual guru’s life. On one wall was a board on which was written in bold – CHAITANYA HOW. It literally means “be conscious” or “be aware” but goes much deeper than that which I shall explain in a subsequent blog post.
We went back and retrieved our car from the parking lot. As we sped down BT road, through Shyambazar and Central Avenue, into Park Street, I closed my eyes, consciously drowned all surrounding noise and hummed the tune of Hare Krishna. The young Vaishnav’s face floated in front of me. His frenzied playing of the Khol, his matted hair dripping sweat, his emaciated but muscular body, his mad eyes, the dazzling smile and that nodding of the head with which he maintained the beat and with which he encouraged and pepped up the little-est member of the group, the 9 year old boy, to join in the rapture.
My goozeflesh skin tingled as I let the vibrations of Hare Krishna permeate my soul. I wished I could begin every day like this. But then, it was just 8 o’ clock. And my to-do list on my phone buzzed to life, reminding me of the mundaneness that my life has become cluttered with. I switched off my phone. My stomach rumbled. I looked at my partner longingly. He smiled and said, “We will pick up hinger kochuri for breakfast.”