Our next visit was to Shani Shinganapur. When I was a child, I had seen a program on TV, about this place. The presiding deity of this place is Shani, whose icon is unsheltered from wind and rain. The beauty of this place is that there are absolutely no doors to any building in the village. And there have never been any thefts or robberies. In fact, the no-door policy has been so scrupulously followed that there are no doors even to the toilets! Swami Vivekananda had once remarked that the life of India was her religion. Nothing moves the average Indian more than religious faith and fervor. The doorless toilets were a testimony to this fact.
From Shani Shinganapur we went to Ellora, stopping briefly at Bibi ka Maqbara. Ellora was something out of a dream. "Unbelievable" and "Magnificent" only begin to describe the temples. We first went to the Jain caves, which are located atop a hill. One could see that the sculptors paid a lot of attention to detail. For instance, Indra and Kubera were always shown being a little on the fatter side. From the size of the temples, it is evident that they were not just used for religious purposes. Near the temple of Kailasanatha, there is a beautiful waterfall. There is a lookout point built in the temple, from where one can have a fine view of the waterfall. There are also stone steps leading to the small lake formed by the waterfall. To me, this was a classic example of understanding Nature, using it to the fullest, but not defiling it. I wondered how this place was, a thousand years ago on the day of a fair, say. It was probably teeming with devotees, noblemen, dancers and shops, the what-have-yous. Will a tourist, thousand years hence, visiting, say Vidhanasaudha, also wonder the same way? Only Time will tell.
From Ellora, we came to Ghrishneshwar, my first Jyotirlinga. The sanctum was crowded, it was hot and we were tired. The temple itself is pretty recent, but the concept of jyotirlingas has been in Indian lore for more than a thousand years. The beauty of jyotirlingas is that they are distributed all over India, like the Shaktipeethas . There are other groups of temples which are located within a few hundred miles of one another, like the navagraha temples and the panchabhUtasthalas in Tamil Nadu, but these places do not inspire the same kind of awe in me.
The next day was reserved for Shirdi. We roamed the whole day in the temple complex (which, IMO, comprised the whole village in Sai Baba's time), Dwarakamai and a couple of other small temples. After the darshan, we went to get some udhi. The procedure is this. You go in a queue, and each person gets one small packet of udhi. As far as my knowledge goes, udhi cannot be bought anywhere. People go in the queue a few times, to get as many udhi packets as they want. Biyadiya saw this and probably thought that it was expected of him, too. He rushed between the railings, and since he is too short to reach the counter, peeped in through the door and asked "udhi ideya?". The good-humored man behind the counter gave him a packet too. We all had a good laugh.
That same day, we left for Tryambakeshwar, the second jyotirlinga in our list. We spent the night at T., and early next morning, we had the darshan. The temple is very beautiful, situated amidst lush green hills, from where the river Godavari takes her birth. Soon after darshan, I had my first batata vada, which was to be my staple diet for the next couple of days.
Our next destination was Nasik. There are about nine temples there, but the place that moved me the most was the river Godavari. Till we got to the very edge of the river, I felt like we were going to enter another temple. Then suddenly, there were steps leading to the water, children bathing and throwing water on one another playfully. Little Biyadiya wanted to go and play in the water, too. He stood on the first step that had water and jumped about until his trousers were wet and muddy. Godavari was really dirty, but beautiful in its own way. I got goosebumps at the thought that Sita had, once upon a time, bathed here. I repeated the line "janakatanayA-snAna-puNyOdakeShu" to myself umpteen times while performing a short puja and let a lamp adorned with flowers, float on the water. Who cares what Karunanidhi says? Sita existed, and still exists in the hearts of billions of Indians! My thoughts went on similar lines, until Biyadiya pointed at the diving kids and cried "Takeshi's castle!" and brought me out of my reverie.
I took in as many sights as I could, trying not to miss anything, but eighty percent of my faculties were engaged in keeping Biyadiya from wandering too far from us. (He is perfectly at home with large crowds and he loves anything connected with water - takes after me and not his Dad, in that aspect.) While traveling in Washington, D.C., I had seen a lady who had two kids tethered to her. I had found it a little odd at that moment, but two days into this trip, I was wondering if I could find a tether that would be easy on both our tummies. It is another matter that I could not find one, but brought Biyadiya safely back to Bangalore.
In the next part of this series, I will write about the Ashtavinayaka temples and Bhimashankar and our journey back.