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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Kalinga Diaries – Part XI: The Last Leg

It’s the 31st of December. Our last day in Odisha. The last minute sightseeing is to the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves which are close to where we’re staying. The two are on opposite sides of a road. When we arrive at the entrance, we notice there are steps to be climbed to the Khandagiri side, where there’s a temple looming in the distance. The Udayagiri side is more of a free walk zone, so we choose to go there first, paying the Rs.5/- per head entry fee.

Turns out to be the right decision, for the Udayagiri caves are about 2200 years old, and showcase the rock-cut shelters of Jain monks whereas the Khandagiri caves (where entry is free) is more of a cluster of human-built temples, with fewer natural caves.

Most of the cells have very little head space and are austere; but some of them have intricate carvings on the outer walls. 
Cave with 2 elephants at the entrance

Bagh Gumpha - tiger-face shaped 

No worries...I got this!

 We traipse around the place for about an hour or so. Of course, as my brother-in-law had mentioned, the caves are not an architectural marvel and pale in comparison to the grandeur of the Ajanta Ellora caves. But they serve to give a glimpse into the lives of Jain ascetics in those ages.

Because we’re short of time, we skip going up the Khandagiri side and instead, move to the Tribal museum that comes highly recommended.
Odia tribal art - looks very similar to Worli paintings of Maharashtra
Photography isn’t allowed inside the museum; so I have no pictures to show you the painstaking level of detail and effort that has gone to depict tribal lifestyles. Different tribes, their clothing, ornaments, musical instruments, weapons and art forms have been displayed in different rooms spaced around a central courtyard. In each of the rooms, there’s a touch-screen information system that gives an audiovisual experience of all that’s displayed in the room. The courtyard itself has replicas of the different deities worshipped by the different tribes.

Outside, there’s an area where replicas of the huts of these tribes have been created, complete with appliances, shrines etc to give a feel of how the tribals live.
Huts of one tribe
Huts of another tribe

We look around the souvenir shop and by now, hubby and son are ready to leave, but I’ve noticed there’s a board saying “Herbal Garden” and my professional instincts perk up…I want to take a look at what herbs they’re growing, so I walk to the garden alone. There sure are a lot of herbs, but unfortunately, there are no name boards or labels.

Somehow, despite all the planning, it’s still a rush at the end. To know the value of 5 minutes, you must sit in a restaurant that has quick service, drumming your fingers and gawking at every server who exits the kitchen door, to see if you can spot the thali you ordered because you thought that would arrive fastest.

After a quick drive through the light traffic on Bhubaneshwar’s streets, and handing over a small parting gift to A, who again almost sweeps the ground bowing goodbye to us, we walk into the airport to see that it’s been transformed. The sleepy place we saw when we arrived now resembles a bustling hub with hundreds of travellers. But there’s one thing that still reveals the small town-feel: many groups of people have thronged to see off their loved ones – a sight that is not so common now in bigger cities.

Even as I’m beginning to relax at the smooth departure, hubby provides the mandatory last minute panic – he’s forgotten to pick up his wallet and mobile from the tray at the security check…!!
Bidding goodbye to Kalinga Desha....

An uneventful flight to Chennai, and we land by 4.20 pm and because there’s a stopover of 5 hours, the plan is to visit Marina beach and Parthasarathy temple to round off the trip. This turns out to be the most adrenaline-filled part of the trip –

A small holdup in the airport, a dash to the Tirusulam station….

Rushing to “Beach” station by electric train only to find that to go to the actual beach, you need to get off at Central station ...2 or 3 stops before...

An auto driver who drops us off outside the Anna Memorial that’s away from the beach and running around saying “where’s the water?” like nomads in the desert ...

Rushing into what we later realize is a no entry area and a small run-in with Chennai police after doing this…then bluffing our way out thanks to the skills of hubby’s years in marketing ...

Walking 15 minutes in the sand to finally reach the water that’s so ferocious that no one’s venturing too far into it……

Saying a mental “sorry” to Lord Parthasarathy for not dropping in….

Crossing platforms not by the over-bridge but over the tracks…..

Finally, we’re at the airport, as usual, just in time. Just 45 minutes after taking off, we’re already landing at Bengaluru.

The drive home takes longer to complete than the flight from Chennai because of a long-drawn quarrel by the staff at the toll plaza and the fact that parts of the flyover have been blocked, apparently to prevent drunken youth from speeding on them in the “New Year” frenzy….

Sleep doesn’t come easy on half-filled stomachs; so I rustle up something at 11.45 pm and finally, even as youngsters go screaming around on their bikes, we fall into deep sleep, filled with a quiet joy, closing the pages on the Kalinga diaries.

A well-wisher had expressed her blessings a few days before, saying, “Next time, you plan a trip to Singapore.” I appreciate the sentiment and maybe God-willing I will go there, too. Left to myself, though, I’d rather spend the remaining travels discovering and experiencing all that this divine land we call Bharat Mata, has to offer.

Thanks to the merits from previous births, I’ve been born here in this janma….who knows where the next birth will be? While I’m here, let me try and gain as much saatvikata as possible from this punya bhumi…..

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Kalinga Diaries – Part X: Rocking our way to peace

En route to Chilka Lake, because it’s lunch time, S stops at a restaurant called ‘Narayani.’ Nice, saatvik tone to the name, no? We ask for what’s on the menu, and order the North Indian meal. Just a little after the order is taken, something registers….there’s a peculiar odor all around, and a cursory glance at adjacent tables tells us something.

S, who has gone to wash his hands, comes back, and one question to him confirms our suspicion – that this is a place that serves non-vegetarian food, too. We say we’re not comfortable eating here, inform the server, and leave, deciding to push lunch till we can find the right place.

We’re sorry that we’ve deprived S of his lunch. He brushes it off saying he wasn’t anyway likely to eat while we went hungry!

While on the topic of food and drivers, there’s another arrangement that local restaurants have. S has told us about it yesterday. When a taxi driver takes his customers to an eatery, the driver’s food comes as a complimentary gift – out of goodwill for having brought the customers there! Like the toll fee being lesser for a ‘local,’ I feel this too is a good example of the camaraderie of a supportive ecosystem.

Of course the system can work against you, too. Like when we stopped for lunch at Puri, there were 2 eateries next to each other. A guy standing guard outside one indicated our driver should park in front of his hotel, and S began to do so. When it looked like we were ignoring this guy’s sales pitch and heading towards the second place, he immediately indicated to S to remove the taxi from there and move on!

As we drive on, it strikes me that ever since we came to Odisha, I’m yet to see any defense-related buildings, unlike our visit to Delhi in 2015 where it seemed like we passed some or the other such entity very often. Almost as if in answer to my thought, we speed past a board pointing to a diversion in the road that leads to INS Chilka which is a sailor training unit of the Indian Navy.

We reach Chilka lake, and S comes along to help us get the tickets for the boat ride. There are several options of islands to visit, and places like the Sea Mouth (a channel that connects the lake to the Bay of Bengal) boast the sightings of dolphins. It’s already 2.45 pm, and S is probably worried that we shouldn’t choose a boat ride that takes us too far away.

We took a boat like this
After some discussion with the guy in the boating booth, S gets us tickets to go to the closest island called Kaalijai, after the temple of Maa Kaali located here. We’ll be able to see the migratory birds too, we’re told. A one-way ride to this place will itself take about 45 minutes.

It turns out that a trip takes off only when there are at least 8 to 10 people. Someone has booked 8 tickets, and we’re supposed to go with this group, but they’re nowhere to be seen. The boatmen around the booth fiddle with a mike and loudspeaker which I guess is to make an announcement, calling the passengers; but guess what? Right – the system is not working, so all we can do is wait.

Luckily, in about 5 minutes, the group (with gutkha-chewing men, brightly dressed women, an old lady and a few excited kids) troops in and our two boatmen are quite vocal expressing their displeasure at the delay.

We’re made to sit in such a way that the load gets balanced out…me, hubby and son get ringside views – we’re right at the front of the boat. Only flip side is the noise of the motor, but after a while, I kind of get used to it. I notice that they don’t give us any life jackets and for a moment, my mind drifts to what will happen if there’s a mishap…..a tiny voice from within pips up, “Isn't it the jacket of the Lord’s grace that you need….??”

There’s a little tension off and on during the ride because our co-passengers are not listening to the boatmen’s instructions about how to sit and the kids too are sometimes trying to lean over the boat edge. How selfish we are, I think…we want to have our way, not listening to these guys who are the experts here and who know the risks better than us and who will face a bigger backlash should there be an accident.

One of the boatmen sits right at the front tip; one tiny miscalculated move, and he’ll be inside the lake. The other guy stands at the left edge, one leg propped up at a 90-degree angle, providing support on his thigh to a rudder he’s holding, guiding the boat for the entire journey back and forth. Somehow, watching these hardy men toiling silently for what must be their fourth ride of the day in an endless saga of days, I feel embarrassed about my fears of not having a life jacket….

All in a day's work for this boatman 
Once we’ve left our bank in the distance, there’s no land showing on the horizon towards which we’re headed. Without any instruments to guide them, our boatmen cut expertly through the waters as we drink in the sights – the waves lapping against the sides of the boat, dangerously close….the graceful flight, the dipping and rising of the migratory birds that fly past and around our boat. 

Birds circling a nearby boat

One bird gets close to us

Finally, after what seems like an endless time but is about 45 minutes after we’ve left, we finally set foot on the island.

Literally, we set our naked feet on land because we’ve been told to leave our slippers back in the boat. Hubby surmises that this is the boatmen’s counting tool to ensure that all who came on their boat get back on for the return ride and no one gets left behind.

A little walk from the pier leads us to an area where the Kaalijai temple is located, surrounded by tightly packed stalls selling a wide variety of articles right from food to trinkets. We walk around, visit the temple, finally find something to fill our growling stomachs, watch the birds circling the island and almost too soon, our boatmen appear in the crowd, identifying their group out of the hundreds of tourists around, and tell us to head back to the boat, for our 30 minutes are up, and it’s time to go back.

And out there, in the middle of water all around, with no sign of land on any side, my phone suddenly rings. The signal that was occasionally patchy on solid land is surprisingly strong on water. It’s hubby’s assistant from back home, with a query about some elevator project, and we laugh about how the guy won’t leave him alone even on a holiday…no picking the call though, because the boat’s motor is making too much of a racket for anyone to be audible over the phone.

The sun sets as we’re halfway through. 

By the time we reach back, the moon has risen.

Moved by the obvious efforts of the boatmen to earn an honest living, hubby hands over a small tip to each of them, and they’re visibly happy.
After that long boat ride, I feel a rocking to-and-fro sensation even after getting back to firm land. But the moving sensation is of the body alone – that ride over the waters of Chilka lake seems to have cast a kind of calm over my mind.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Kalinga Diaries – Part IX: Longer Journeys

The driver has been asked to come by 7.30 am; but he turns up only an hour later. Then, another 40 minutes for breakfast at another Venus outlet, so it’s around 9.30 when we finally set out. On our driver S’s recommendation, we’ve experimented with one of the state’s unique sweets – no, not the rasgulla (over which Odisha fought with West Bengal for the GI tag and lost). This is another dish – it’s called Chenna Poda and is made out of fresh paneer and caramelized sugar. 
Forgot to take a photo while eating it. So this pic courtesy:
Sampling this, the taste and texture reminds me of a sweet I’ve eaten long, long ago in my mother’s native village. In our language – that’s a peculiar mix of Kannada, Tamil and sounds a wee bit like Tulu – the dish is called “Eenacchi”– and its prepared by using jaggery along with colostrum milk (the milk obtained from a cow that’s just given birth).

Getting back to our journey, today we’re headed to a few places located farther from Bhubaneshwar, and closer to Brahmapur (which was previously called Berhampur, because that’s how the Odia people pronounced it!).

I’m the unofficial tour organizer; so I’ve searched for information and found that there are 4 places of interest to us –

One, the Maa Taratarini temple which is a Shaktipeeth, located high on a hill, and accessible by a ropeway.

Two – a natural hot spring called Taptapaani, the waters of which are reputed to be having medicinal value

Three – Gopalpur beach 

Four – Chilka lake, which is famous as Asia’s largest salt-water lagoon, and it hosts a hundred odd species of migratory birds that arrive from Russia, Mongolia and the Himalayas.

First, we head for the Maa Taratarini temple. One interesting thing I notice – there is a toll to be paid at one point. The one-way fare is Rs. 70/- and two-way fare is Rs. 120/- but S mentions he’s a local, and so, we get charged only Rs. 40/- one way. S explains this is an internal arrangement; hubby says it’s possible because the payment is not yet automated/digitalized. I have mixed feelings – is it cheating the government, or is it a supportive measure designed to help taxi operators like S save on their meager incomes?
We pass through such green, isolated places en route 
 After driving for what seems like ages, we finally reach the point from where the ropeway goes up. There are steps to climb up the Kumari hill on which the temple is located. There’s a motorable road and one can drive up too, but we want to experience the ropeway – we’ve only done this once before at Haridwar, while going up to the Mansa Devi temple. 
The contraption that controls the ropeway
Note the two cable cars at the top left of the pic - they travel in opposite directions

It’s an exhilarating ride, with a lovely 360-degree view of the fields, the houses, the forest, and a river.
Beyond the green, note the blue line cutting horizontally across the centre of the pic - that's the Rushikulya river, which Google tells me, is considered to be the elder sister of the river Ganga.

My son’s commentary in colloquial Tamil, imitating his favourite comedian, pretending to be terrified by the ride, keeps us amused.

                                                                                      Hubby with S
S who seemed reluctant to come (out of fear of riding the ropeway, or heights, or both!) has accompanied us at our urging; now he’s sitting with us in the “Udankhatola” with a look that’s a mixture of mild apprehension turning into awe at the experience. He tells us he’s come here about 10 – 12 years ago when he was a kid, and there was no ropeway then.
One heart stopping moment when the two cable cars stop suddenly as they pass each other...maybe it's for some load balancing or something??
We reach up the hill, and get tickets to go into the temple that has an architectural beauty of its own.

Inside the shrine, there are two statues of stone, covered with ornaments and in between them, there are two heads made of brass that are placed – these are called the living image of the goddesses Tara and Tarini.

The temple is not so crowded although a steady stream of devotees is passing through. I can sense some kind of an undercurrent of energy, although it doesn’t hit very hard. S warns us not to give any money to the Pandas there; instead, he offers some into the pooja plate. It’s time for the afternoon worship and the temple will close, so we’re ushered out through a side gate.

As usual at most such powerful Devi temples, there’s a space where people have tied ribbons of red and yellow cloth, to signify some desire expressed to the deity, asking for their wish(es) to be fulfilled.

One lady bows down to pray and yes - that's one of the
vivid patterned dhotis that the Pandas wear
and I rued not having a picture of in an earlier post
If only there had to be some hooded vigilante like Vikram in the Tamil movie Kandhasamy to understand and execute those wishes, maybe our people would have been a happier lot! Or maybe it’s just that Naveen Patnaik has to win the next two or three elections to set systems in better shape? But knowing human nature, there’s always going to be something or the other that causes dissatisfaction; Devi Maas have Their work cut out for millennia to come!

By now it’s already 12.30 pm and S warns us it will take another two hours to get to Chilka lake; once we reach there, we’re to travel by boat to an island that’s home to a Kali temple, and also host to the migratory birds. The boat trip to and fro, and the time on the island will take close to another two hours. The boat trips stop around 3 pm or so; so we must hurry there. Which means the other two places – the beach, and the hot spring, must be struck off our list. And which leaves our teenager a little grumpy because the beach got left out. For a while, we try to work out other options but nothing else is feasible, so on to Chilka it is.

Now we realize that places that seemed close by when researched on Google, are actually hundreds of kilometers apart. It’s like if someone from Odisha had to come to see Karnataka, they couldn’t visit all of Bengaluru, Mysore, Hampi, Badami, Jog falls, Udupi, Belur & Halebid, Nagarahole and Coorg within 3 days, could they?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Kalinga Diaries – Part VIII: Stones that Speak

We walk to the entrance of the Konark Sun temple, only to realize that we haven’t got the tickets; so hubby goes back to get them. 

View of temple from afar
The temple is built to resemble a chariot with horses and wheels all carved out of stone in stunning detail. Not to bore you with the details, but the wheels are actually designed to act like a sundial and tell the time. 
One of the wheels....note the intricate carvings
The temple is oriented in such a way that the sun’s rays would enter from the main entrance at sun rise. 

The mandapa that now remains is about half of what was the original height of the temple shikara.

 The pillars show intricate details and depict different scenes from daily life, nature, geometric patterns, deities, apsaras and couples in intimate poses, too.

There are a lot of tourists, but because the area is so vast, it doesn’t feel crowded. This 13th century temple, declared as a UNESCO world heritage site, is now in ruins and yet, the architectural marvel stands out.

Temple of Chaayaadevi - Consort of Surya, Goddess of Shadow
One can only imagine how majestic the temple must have been when it had been intact – amazing indeed must have been the skill of those who visualized, designed and executed the building of such a structure.

We wander around the place, admiring the beauty of the sculptures.

One of the rare selfies we took
After a while, we leave, and I spend a few minutes looking through the several shops outside the entrance, picking a few memorabilia for close family. I also buy a few items for our Navaratri golu display – they will serve as a reminder of our visit to this place. 
The deer and the tortoise are made from coconut fibre, with thread wrapped around to give the particular shape. The tiny wheel is the well known symbol of the Konark temple
 Next, we drive to the Chandrabhaga beach that’s quite close by. My son and husband have a gala time bathing in the water; I mostly watch over our things, only just stepping into the water for a while, hanging on to the car keys, for our driver S too decides to take a dip.

The beach is not very crowded; a few fishing boats glide past in the distance. It’s a bitter-sweet moment – I realize just how much I miss the sea (which, being just 20 minutes away from my college in Goa, was one of my most frequented getaways – both alone, and with friends). And yet, the rhythmic rise and fall of the waves and just being close to the water feels like a homecoming of sorts, and makes me feel at peace.

Much sooner than we would have liked, the sun sets and it grows dark, so it’s time to pull a reluctant teenager out of the water, and get back to Bhubaneshwar. 

The sun sets like an orange ball that’s been swallowed by the sea.

On our way back, S takes us to a restaurant named Venus that serves South Indian vegetarian fare too. They have a non-veg unit too but it’s on the top floor, with a separate kitchen, so we’re relieved there won’t be any mix-ups.

The waiter who comes to serve us looks like a Tamilian, with a vibhuti on his forehead to boot. Yet, the minute he begins reciting the list of dishes available and says “Bada” for ‘vada’ in that typical Odia/Bengali style of converting “V” to “B,” we know his looks are deceiving.

My son has what he wants; we stick to plain dosa and “Bada” with only chutney for it’s still the day of “Baikuntha” Ekaadashi.

Back home, Vaikuntha Ekaadashi is a huge event, with people from all walks of life rushing for darshan at some or the other temple right from the wee hours of the morning till late at night. Here in Odisha, it’s no big deal – except for one Panda inside the Gundicha Ghar, sitting by an idol of Vishnu, with a board proclaiming “Ekadashi Narayan” or something like that, there’s no sign that people know about this occasion. Obviously, for the people of Odisha, D-day is the Jagannath Rath Yatra.

Once again, I realize how conditioned we are by the part of the country in which we live. Yet again, I’m reminded about how the milieu in which we exist, makes a big difference to how we experience an occasion. Even the type of emotion a temple or a deity evokes in us is subject to this conditioning.

I did feel devotion when having darshan in the temples of Odisha. And yet, I’m still aware of a difference. What I feel when standing in front of Lord Ranganathar in Srirangam is different from what I feel when standing in front of Lord Jagannath in Puri. But that’s not the Lord’s fault – He is the same everywhere. It’s my mind that has to learn to unshackle itself from the external trappings, and when that happens, that pure bhakti will be the same everywhere I go – and still exist in the same pristine state even if I don’t go anywhere.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Kalinga Diaries – Part VII: Once bitten, then twice bitten...

Finally we make our way out of the temple. Because we’ve exited from the west gate, we miss seeing the famed Anand Bazar where Mahaprasad is sold. We retrieve my mobile phone, and a few minutes later, we’re back in our taxi, and hubby requests the driver S to take us to a “good” hotel. I chime in, specifying “only vegetarian” because from experience, I know the concept of “good hotel” is a very, very subjective one.

S drops us at one such place. We are relieved to find some “no-onion, no-garlic” options and tuck into our meal heartily.

As we set out for Konark, we pass by the Gundicha Ghar temple and stop for a visit. This temple is also called “Mausi ka Ghar” because Gundicha is the aunt of the three deities, who visit her during the famous Rath Yatra, and spend some time there. 


On being asked to take a ticket paying Rs. 5/- some tourists drip sarcasm, “Mausi ka ghar dekhne ke liye ticket??” (A ticket is needed to see the aunt’s house?)

At one place, there’s a shrine of Devi Lakshmi at one end of a corridor and a vigraha of Lord Narayana at the other. The Panda in the Lakshmi shrine presses a gold-plated coin into my hand and before I can react, another Panda insists I walk ahead to the opposite end of the corridor, and pray to Narayana.

My senses are on high alert after the incident in the Narasimha shrine in the Jagannath temple complex, but I’m not so tough as to refuse accepting something divine that has been given to me. Hubby has walked on ahead, and only my son is by my side.

At the Narayana shrine, the Panda pushes a Vishnu paadam and Lakshmi murti into my hand. (see picture below)

He asks me to open out the pallu of my saree, and drops a few rice grains into it, reciting some mantras and asking me to repeat. I’m told that I must take this rice back home, offer it to the Tulsi plant there, pour a little water over it, and anoint the forehead of my husband and son with the mud near the Tulsi plant. Finally, he recites a litany that includes blessing me, saying that just like Lakshmi and Narayana are always together, I will always be with my husband…..(oh no…is there not even the teeniest chance of an escape then? 😜😜)

By now, I know what’s coming, and am bracing for it. I understand what he’s asking when he says, “Teenon bhagwan kaa 100 rupaye dakshina dedo,” but place only Rs. 100/- into his outstretched palm.

At this, he first holds the knot on his sacred thread and says he is a brahman, and swears that he will not speak untruth. Next, he tells me that of all the people passing by, he only called me because he could divine I was needy and adds something about the gray strands in my hair giving him a clue. Now this is obviously a marketing spiel - no divining or gray hair clues are needed – it’s just that I look like an outsider and not a local, and that’s the reason he’s latched on to me.

I’m reluctant, but he doesn’t give up. Finally, I pay up the remaining Rs. 200/- and rush away from the place. My son is again fuming, and appalled at how horrible these priests are, cheating devotees in the name of God.

We quickly make our way out, ignoring all stretched out hands, and prayerful pleas, and blessings the priests at the other shrine seek to thrust at us. Thankfully, this is the last of the “worshipping” temples for us, and we drive on to Konark.

Is it the desperation of poverty that drives these Pandas to such methods? Aren’t they incurring paapam (sin) by behaving thus in the Lord’s very presence? (Remember the incident from the Lingaraj temple where our Panda pocketed money that didn’t belong to him?) Is it some curse they’re undergoing, that entails going against Dharma in the temples of the One who upholds It? Till when will the Lord forgive their trespasses?

So many questions….but no glimmer of an answer until we get back home and hubby recounts this incident to my brother in law, who tells him this story of Devi Seeta’s curse.

It seems Lord Rama came with his brothers and Seeta to Gaya (in Bihar) to offer pindam (offering of rice and sesame) to his departed father. When the brothers went to prepare for the rite, Seeta was playing with the sand on the banks of the river Phalgu. Dasharatha suddenly appeared, and asked her to give him the sand Pindams in her hand, saying he was terribly hungry and couldn’t wait till the son’s returned. She did as he asked, in the presence of 5 witnesses – the Phalgu river, a tulsi plant, a cow, the Akshaya Vatam (banyan tree) and a Brahmin.

When Rama returned and performed the rituals and Dasharatha did not come to collect the pindam, Seeta narrated what had happened, and asked the 5 witnesses to corroborate her story. Of them, only the Akshaya Vatam stood by her – the others, out of greed to receive a second offering from Rama, lied. In anger, Seeta cursed all the four – the Phalgu river would dry up at Gaya, no tulsi plants would grow there either, the cow would only be worshipped from its rear, and…..the Gaya Brahmins would be forever hungry, craving more and more, and make their living by begging.

I know – Gaya is different from Puri….but from the behavior of the Pandas I witnessed, looks like they’re the descendants of the chaps who got cursed at Gaya!

The beauty of the road driving to Konark takes our mind off the unpleasant episodes with the Puri Pandas. Once we get there, it’s like being thrust into an altogether different era where human skill and devotion have combined to scale the pinnacle of perfection. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Kalinga Diaries – Part VI: Darshan and Offering

At 10.25 am, we stand in a multilane queue, waiting for entry into the Jagannath temple. Hearing what appears to be a one-sided conversation, I look to my left and notice that one guy – who seems to be a local – has a mobile phone and is talking on it. So much for rules and abiding by them!

It’s a nanosecond wait when compared to the light years wait for darshan at Tirupati. Even the audible expression of devotion seems more subdued – there are only a few occasional shouts of “Jay Jagannath” but then, it’s two words when compared to the single, easily-rolling-off-the-tongue “Govindaa.”

The lanes open, and everyone rushes pell-mell, only to be stuck on the few steps leading into the temple, where a gate has been closed. A few minutes later, that gate too opens, and we all rush into the main temple hall.

My sister has coached me well and so, instead of following the crowd that rushes to the right side after entering the temple, we make our way quickly to the left, and join the queue of locals who’re standing in a single file line. This line is going to pass the closest to the deity, so you’re guaranteed a clear darshan as compared to those who’ve rushed towards the right side.

As we near the darshan point though, there’s a sudden influx of too many people, all pushing forward. I realize that I’m not taking the steps ahead but just getting pushed by the crowd and being shorter than the average, I have a sensation of being crushed, and my vision is blocked. The only thing I can do is scream in my mind to Lord Jagannath to save me and at precisely that moment, I reach the darshan point, and am blessed by a straight line of vision to have the glorious, if hurried, darshan of the triad of deities – Jagannath with His brother Balabhadra and His sister Subhadra.

The triad of deities. Now installed in the pooja room at home
 5 seconds of contemplation even as I jostle to hold my ground. Then the crowd sweeps me further away. I struggle to place my offering in the pooja plate; one of the pandas there notices my efforts and pulls me back by the arm. It’s the currency in my hand that has worked in my favour, for all other devotees are being pushed ahead to ensure they don’t turn back and hold up the line.

Another panda thrusts a box at me saying, “Prasad” and I clutch at it, paying the amount he specifies.

My son has moved way ahead and hubby is somewhere behind, lost in the crowd. After a few minutes, we re-group and move out towards the temple courtyard. By now, it’s 11.00 am and the kid’s stomach has started grumbling at the enforced fast. He wants to move out, but hubby’s devotion is still running strong and yet again, I’m stuck in the middle, having to balance both extremes.

Hubby notices a shrine of Lord Narasimha at a high point in the temple building and insists we climb the narrow staircase to get there. Without realizing we must wait, we move into the place in front of the deity and the Panda who has been manning that spot and temporarily moved away, comes back and is angry to see us there.

Anyway, once the devotees who were near the deity move away, this Panda takes us ahead and before we realize what’s happening, he’s placed my hands on the feet of Lord Narasimha, covered my hands with those of my husband, instructed my son to hang back a little, and starts reciting some mantras and does a sankalpa on our behalf, prays for hubby’s business to prosper, loudly instructs us to repeat his words, and concludes by ordering us to offer Rs. 501/- at the Lord’s feet !

To say we’re shocked is an understatement. I wonder if he’s done this because he was angry at us earlier. My husband starts arguing with him, saying he should have told us first about the money and we’d have decided whether to do the sankalpa or not. At this, the Panda becomes more fiery than what Lord Narasimha Himself may have been towards Hiranyakashipu, and threatens us, saying, “Ssshhh…don’t invite the wrath of the Lord by refusing to make the offering after the sankalpa!!”

I’m just as shocked as my husband, but I respond quickly, trying to calm him down and avoid a fight in the Lord’s sannidhi. Maybe it’s the Lord’s will, so let’s not be petty, we decide and I hand over the amount. The Panda gives me a gold-plated coin with the Lakshmi yantra on one side and Lord Lakshminarasimha on the other and says we must place this in the pooja room at home, and the Lord’s blessings will be on our family and hubby’s business.

Coming out, my son, who has witnessed the entire episode, is irritated at the way things played out. With heavy irony, he asks me, “Did Appa need this? Couldn’t he have listened to me and left without going to this shrine?”

I sigh and stay silent. For once, I don’t have a quick comeback to his questions. It’s not about the amount of money – we have sometimes donated larger amounts. It’s the way in which the offering was enforced, with the threat of the Lord’s ill-will that has left a little bitterness in our hearts. 
The 'coin' to the viewer's right is the yantra we received at the Lord Narasimha shrine