Soul safari : The eternal shrine
ARUNA RAVIKUMAR It is 7 pm on a Monday which also happens to be the full moon day. The Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra on the...
ARUNA RAVIKUMAR It is 7 pm on a Monday which also happens to be the full moon day. The Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra on the Western coast of Gujarat is thronging with devotees from all parts of the country who are waiting to have a glimpse of the lord as the Aarthi (offering the light) is done for a full 20 minutes. There is no entry ticket but the customary security check has to be gone through before one is led to the main temple and has a glimpse of the temple and its spires built in the Chalukyan style, the pink stone architecture standing out in all its grandeur against the blue skyline. Somnath one of the very ancient temples which finds mention as the first of the Jyotirlinga as considered to be the most sacred in the Hindu Pantheon holds you spell bound in the very first view as all the tales from History come rushing into your thoughts in a single sweep. On the way to the main sanctum sanctorum is the hall or mandap which has golden hues and architecture depicting sages of yore. Moving slowly along the designated lines earmarked separately for women and men one sees the shivalinga with the complete floral decoration and the water trickling down the sparkling vessel ever so gently on to the deity. The lines are halted at the specified time and chants of Har Har Mahadev rent the air while the recorded music of drums, cymbals and music from the conch shell are played until the lamps in the huge lamp stand have been turned over and over around the deity. Once this is done a quiet calm descends around the temple and the devotees coming out can stand at the railing and watch the sea as the waves lash the shore. As the moon in all its effulgence casts a magic spell the waves rise and fall touching the shore and receding leaving you spell bound and humbled by its intensity. The temple named Somnath after the moon god and said to be built by the god himself out of gold shines in full blown luminescence and one can just stand quietly as the waves move in the background and admire this wonderful temple that has withstood many an attack. According to legend the temple was re-built by Ravana in Silver, Lord Krishna in Wood and finally by the Solanki King Bhimdev Solanki in the tenth century in stone. The shrine which was famed for its enormous wealth of gold, silver and precious stones was destroyed 16 times by Muslim invaders but was re-built each time, the most recent construction being done in 1947. From the Arab governor of Sindh to Mahmud Ghazni who came from across the Thar Desert and plundered it, From Aurangazeb to Muzaffar Shah the tales of ravage and plunder are gory and chilling. The temple as it stands today is known as the "eternal shrine" as it has been lovingly resurrected by the devout who believe in the infinite power of its presiding deity. A sound and light show organised at the rear end of the temple highlights the religious aspects and the historical perspective of this "eternal shrine". A tower inside the temple complex facing the sea known as the "Baan stambh" because of the arrow directed in the direction of the sea states that the temple is situated at a point in the Indian land mass which happens to be the first point on the land, in the North to the South Pole on that longitude. The location, construction and the history of the temple stayed with us long after we left the precincts and moved towards our next destination Sasan Gir which is about 40km from here. Gir, home to the famous Asiatic Lion is full of resorts and lodges within the forest area where tourists take two or three safari trips to try and spot as many lions as possible. The Safaris are all in open top Maruti gypsies which assemble at one point at the check post and branch off in different directions, each following a different path on the forest trail. There are early morning safaris that begin around 6 am and a second one for late risers scheduled for 9 am. After the last safari that leaves around 3.30 pm there are no more visits into the forest terrain. We took the early morning safari and found ourselves shivering despite our shawls as our gypsy wound its way and the guide kept reeling information about lions. We were told that there was no danger of being attacked by lions as they were royal animals which would not attack us unless provoked. "A lion has about 25kg of meat in one go and then hunts for its meal only three days later. Every day two tankers full of water enter the forest area to provide water to the lions. This year we had no rains and the forest is mostly dry" our guide Jitesh informed us as we peered out clutching our shawls and the gypsy at the same time. Barely 10 minutes through our ride our guide stopped the vehicle and informed us that there were animals around and we should wait. Another five minutes passed before we heard a faint roar. "Turn around! Our guide shouted in excitement and lo we saw a lioness and two cubs walking along the pathway straight to the water body. They seemed oblivious to our existence as they drank thirstily from the water in a pond in front of them, taking gaps every now and then. We looked at the majestic animals, which after a good time quenching their thirst moved quietly on to the pathway in front of us and walked a little distance before getting into the forest cover and disappearing from our sight. The rest of the safari did not result in us seeing lions and we saw animals and birds like deer, Nilghai, peacocks monkeys and other species in their natural habitat free and unhindered. The rustling of dry leaves, the cold breeze blowing with intensity,the sounds and sights of the forest however made the whole experience a delightful and unforgettable one. A four hour drive the next day took us to the famous Dwaraka temple of Lord krishna. The Bet Dwaraka temple which requires us to cross the sea and reach an island which houses the temple is a delightful journey with birds flocking above us in hordes for the feed given by travelers who purchase the same at the harbor. The trip to Dwaraka by road is also a delightful one as one sees the huge windmills all along the coastline. A halt at Nageshwar another Jyotirling half hour from here completes both our pilgrimage and our peek into the wild. As we reach Diu. Mumbai and finally Hyderabad we carry with us both the magic of the other world from the powerful holy shrines and that of this world in the form of the beautiful forest and its carefree inhabitants.