THE HIMALAYAN MONASTERY

The Beautiful and Amazing Hemis Monastery is hidden within the folds of the Himalayas , 40 kms from Leh in Ladakh, India.

Am sharing snippets of the  Awesome Hemis Monastery and the surroundings through pictures in a series of blogs.

You can check out http://www.drukpa-hemis.org for details on this Monastery and thus shall not repeat the same.

The featured Image and the picture below  are the first glimpses of the Hemis Monastery ( building in yellow) which is discretely located and practically invisible till you are literally at it’s doorstep.

hidden in the hills
Hidden in the Lap of the Himalayas

This picture was taken from the main courtyard of the Monastery where the Winter Hemis Festival is held  annually in February.

It is only now I realize the colour yellow is from the silken banners.

from within
Reach out and touch the Himalayas

Beautifully integrated into the landscape, the construction can be a lesson for modern architects.

behold
Behold  the Beauty

The Hemis Monstery is located at a Height of 13000 feet and does leave you gasping for breath in awe.

ARDH KUMBH AT HARIDWAR

The ARDH KUMBH at Haridwar takes place once in 6 years and millions express their faith by thronging the banks for a dip in the Holy Ganges.

Hindu Mythology states that the Holy Ganges descended from Heaven into the flowing locks of Lord Shiva  ( see the picture below) , from where the Goddess Ganga gently flows onto Planet Earth via the Himalayas.

A larger than life statue of Lord Shiva blesses all the pilgrims who arrive at Haridwar ( Doorway to the Lord)

mahadev
Har Har Mahadev

The Aarti ( Prayers) to the The Goddess Ganga  is held every evening at Har Ki Pauri,   ( At the the feet of the Lord)  , Haridwar.

However this evening is special as it on the  eve of  an Auspicious day ( Mauni Amavasya) when a dip in the Ganges is considered extremely beneficial.

The Faithful assemble in thousands along the banks of the Holy River  eagerly awaiting the Sun to Set and the Aarti to commence.

millions throng the banks
Thousands throng the banks for the evening Aarti

The River shimmers in anticipation and the perceptible religious fervour reaches a climax as the lights are turned on and first of the Lamps are Lit.

setting the water afire
The Oil lamps are Lit and the Prayers Commence

The heat from the lamps warms my cheeks as the flames from the Oil Lamps reach the  Black Skies and the  mammoth crowds sing in Unison in praise of the Goddess Ganga under a Moonless Sky .

Lo, Behold the magnificent AARTI at the Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar, Utrrakhand, India.

lamp on fire
The Ganges Shimmers in the Light of the Oil lamps

The Ardh Kumbh has commenced at Haridwar and will continue till April 2016. It is an experience of a lifetime I would not wish to miss.

The mammoth crowd magically disappears within minutes of the conclusion of the Aarti at Har Ki Pauri, leaving the River alone to reflect the lights of the temples.

 

shimmering waters
Reflections in the Ganges

There is a website you can access to see the Auspicious dates or you can go on any suitable day to behold the spectacle at Haridwar.

Do watch the Power of Faith during the Ardh Kumbh.

ANONYMOUS

The India Art Fair is annually held in January at the NSIC grounds, Okhla  in New Delhi.

It was an amazing opportunity to see some fabulous works of Art brought together under one Roof.

The threads that bind the four works of art selected by me for this blog are:

  1. The Artists of all the paintings are Anonymous.
  2. They are all almost 200 years old dating to the 19th Century.
  3. All of them are expressions of Faith and reveal tales from Hindu Mythology.

The Colourful and detailed featured Image of Maa Durga ending the terror of the Rakshas ( Demon) Mahishasur portrays so many symbols and tales that it would take me years to understand and pen them down.

The large almond shaped  eyes are a signature of the artists of Bengal and Maa Durga is portrayed as such to date.

The painting below beautifully illustrates Lord Shiva with his wife Parvati  seated on their vehicle the Bull, Nandi. Mount Kailash in the the Himalayas is his fabled abode which is depicted in the picture below.

lord shiva and maa parvati
Lord Shiva with his consort Goddess Parvati

An unusual potrayal of  Goddess Parvati depicted as Mother with her younger son Lord Ganesha.

The crown in the painting seems to be an influence from the Mughal Period  and is repeated in all the pictures above as well.

Maa Durga is an incarnation of Goddess Paravati who assumes a Fierce and Powerful form armed with various weapons to end the Evil of the Demon Mahishasura.

Symbolism and  Philosophy  is deeply entrenched in all the depictions and portrayals in the paintings.

Maa and Ganeshji
Mother and Child

The painting of the Goddess Saraswati below  is distinctively different from those above.

The headgear and attire are more in tune with depictions from Southern India. The style was made extremely popular by the famous artist Raja Ravi Verma from Travancore ( now in modern day Kerala).

The attention to detail is simply mind blowing as the Jewellery is visible through the extremely fine and translucent Saree that drapes the Goddess of Wisdom.

The Veena ( musical instrument in her hands) , the string of White Pearls and the Vedas  ( Holy Books ) symbolize the Goddess of Fine Arts and Knowledge.

 

Maa Saraswati
The Goddess of Knowledge , Maa Saraswati

All the paintings show the fascinating minds of the Anonymous Artists who have unfortunately been lost in the Mists of Time.

SECRETS OF ANCIENT MUMBAI

Hidden in the midst of skyscrapers  of this chic and upscale locality ( Malabar Hill ) in Mumbai (Bombay)  is a well hidden secret, the holy  Baanganga Tank.

Walking through narrow lanes you are transported back in time.The picture below showcases the ancient and the modern.

towering skyscrapers dwarf the ancient temples
                                                       towering skyscrapers dwarf the ancient temple 

Within but  a few  hundred metres from the salty waters of the  sea , the water of the tank  is mysteriously sweet.

Embalmed  in the fables  of Ancient India , the history of the tank  goes back to the time of the  Ramayan ( the immortal Epic of India)  ie. about 4000 BC.( time period is not ascertained to date  , some fix it at 2500 BC) .

Within a few days of writing this post  all of India will erupt into celebration and the story of the Ramayan will be reenacted across the  length and breadth of this country.

In the quest for his consort Sita, Lord Rama and his brother Lakshman reach the top of the Malabar Hill at the site where the Baanganga tank now exists. Lord Rama asks his brother for water, who releases  an arrow ( a baan in hindi)  from his bow. The arrow releases the sweet water of the underground river Ganga, called Bhogvati.

The twin towers ( do not mix with the Lord of the Rings)  are the entrance to the Baanganga tank. The towers reflect the unique architecture of the Marathas and are in fact oil lamps.

twin towers
                                                                         The twin towers

The Baanganaga tank  is  today part of the Walkeshwar Temple Complex.

It  is today a site of pilgrimage and many immerse the ashes of the departed in the tank.

The area is extremely interesting as it tells the story of Mumbai and the various communities who inhabit this region even today.

An elderly lady looks out from the window of her terracotta tiled roof home,as pedestrians walk by the Peepal Tree little realizing they are walking through History.

to the tank
                                                             Shiv Temple around  the tank and under the Ficus religiosa tree

Lord Rama created a Shivling from the sand of the Baanganga and offered his respects. Sand is called Waluk in the local language and Ishwar is God , hence the name Walkeshwar.

Many residents living in the  posh Walkeshwar Area of Mumbai  today are probably unaware of this legend.

A hen pays obeisance to Lord Shiva. ( Shivling in the centre)

the hen
                               The hen bows down in respect and appears mysteriously as i take this picture 

The vast sweet water tank is now surrounded by skyscrapers all around.It is fed by an underwater stream.

Numerous priests  were offering  prayers around this vast tank  during the time I took these pictures from my mobile.

Swans and ducks ( white specks in the picture below)  swim gracefully near the trees.

banganga                           The enormous  Baanganga Tank in the heart of Mumbai

I strongly recommend a walk through these parts after reading about the History of Mumbai. A metal plaque at the entrance of the tank details the history and layout of the Baanganga region.

Thank you Vivek and Arpita for unraveling this secret destination.

There is another  legend of the Baanganga in the Himalayas  near the famous Vaishnodevi temple in Jammu & Kashmir.  But that is another story…

THE DEMONS

What is in  a name?

 A lot In India, miles of History , myths and fables which would give Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Avatar a run for their money.

Mahabaleshwar is a small town located in the hills  within the Western Ghats and 120 kms from Pune.

Mahabal literally means of GREAT STRENGTH. Atibal means EXCESSIVE STRENGTH.

Thus begins the story of two Demon brothers/ Rakshas ( Hindi) or Asuras

( symbolising evil) ,    Mahabal and Atibal.

Both the demons were brothers and as the names suggest extremely powerful and strong. Obsessed and drunk with power they wreaked havoc on all of humanity.

The God of Atibal
                                                            The entry to the  Atibaleswar Temple

Invoked by the prayers  of  the oppressed, LORD VISHNU slays the mighty Atibal after a prolonged and exhausting battle.( moral being that even great strength can come to naught if misused )

Now a shift to the present. There is a temple even today  called ATIBALESHWAR ( see the picture above)  near a far larger and revered MAHABALESHWAR temple in Kshetra Mahabaleshwar.

The architecture of the  temple is however unique and makes it stand apart from other temples of the Kshetra Mahabaleshwar.

Built like a Pagoda it even has the edges tweaked upwards. Have a look

Unusual to say the least
Unusual to say the least

Furthermore, mysteriously it is dedicated to Lord Siva, not Lord Vishnu.

The Nandi (the name of Lord Shiva’s vehicle in the form of  a BULL)  clearly indicates the ruling deity is LORD SHIVA.

Inside the temple premises

Inside the temple premises

The entire temple is made from a volcanic black stone . A characteristic of most temples of the region.

What is highly unusual  and surprising is the interiors are pitch black. Not a ray of light penetrates the thick black walls.

What is hidden inside?Was the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu in former times ?  Have I read correctly?

The Nandi from inside the Atibaleshwar temple
The Nandi from inside the Atibaleshwar temple

It rains incessantly during the monsoons  in Mahabaleshwar and you can probably see this in the pictures as well. The rains are wonderful as they keep the tourists away too.

This statue is rather unusual and a presentation I have never seen in any other temple in India.

Cow with a calf
                                                                                Cow with a calf

It is indeed a mysterious temple and raises many unanswered questions.

The location of the  exit is equally strange and seems to be an improvisation to facilitate a thoroughfare.

The Exit and a beginning for some plants
                                                                      The Exit for us but a beginning for  plants

I  have to go back to Mahabaleshwar to tell you the story of the demon Mahabal and the other mysteries that cloak the Kshetra Mahabaleshwar.

EAST OR WEST ,SADHUS AT THEIR BEST

Sadhus are both fascinating  and Intriguing.

Sharing a few pictures of Sadhus.

The Angry Priest from the Eastern part of  India is smoking a Bidi  ( an Indian cigarette rolled in a tobacco leaf) and reading a Bengali Newspaper.

Angry ?

Somewhat Angry ?

He is busy making Samosas ( a delicious friend snack ) and the signage on the left reads Chaha  (  Tea in Marathi) ..

The toys and the umbrella in the frame make it an interesting picture.

Chaiwala Sadhu
                                                                           Chaiwala Sadhu and his makeshift Tea Stall 

A somber sadhu at the Kumbh at Nashik in Western India.

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                                                                         The world behind him

Were you fascinated as well?

THE BIZARRE AND A FULL MOON

A Full Moon Night and a visit to the famous Jama Masjid In Delhi.

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               The Moon Forms a Halo

The view from Chawri Bazaar Metro towards Jama Masjid

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                    The Jama Masjid In Delhi

A quick capture of the interiors.

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                                    A Peep Inside

Numerous lanes radiate from the Jama Masjid, many are homes to bizarre treasures.

The BIZARRE  featured image and picture that follows advertises the use of a black mascara ( SURMA in Urdu) which eliminates the use of spectacles .

The jeans are fitted on a suspended mannequin.

the bizarre
                                                                                     the bizarre

THE GODS WEAR GREEN

The splendour of colours in India contributes significantly  to making it Incredible.

As Green is closest to my heart, all that I see turns Green.

Pictures were taken in and around  Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.

The background is green as well.

Green Hanuman

Hanumanji

The apartments in the background dwarf the Green Church.

Millions travel to Tirupati ( abode of Lord Venkateshwar) but how many have even noticed this lovely Church ?

Please  translate what is written in Telugu? Mr. Google is not helping.

A Green Church
                                                                                      A Green Church

Spotted on the way to the airport at Tirupati .

Nandiji   takes shelter under a tree.

Green Temple
                                                                               Green Temple

I hope the message of GREEN is loud and clear.

IMMORTALITY , ATONEMENT , THE ORIGIN OF A RIVER and MORE : TRYMBAKESHWAR JYOTIRLING

As mentioned before the Sinhasta Kumbh takes place at two places. We have already been to Ram Kund at Nashik. The second part takes place at the Kushavarta Kund in Trymbakehwar.( 30 kms from Nashik) .

Trymbakeshwar is nestled in the  Sahydiri Hills  on the  Brahmagiri mountain.The names of the hills  and the region are a fountainhead of numerous mythical tales.

Anjaneri hills, birthplace of Lord Hanuman
Anjaneri hills, birthplace of Lord Hanuman

The hills of the Western ghats  are the catchment area for the rivers Krishna and Godavri .

The revered river Godavri ( also called the Ganges of the south) originates from the Brahmgiri hills, trickles into the Kushvarta Kund , goes onto the Ram Kund and then joins the sea in the Bay of bengal.

approaching the epicentre
Approaching Trymbakeshwar

Trymbakeshwar is  one of the twelve Jyotirlings, of which I will write in detail later.Have written on a few Jyotirlings before as well.Have personally been to Eight of the twelve.

first glimpse
first glimpse

It reads JYOTIRLING: SHRI TRYMBAKESHWAR TEMPLE . We had been forewarned of a waiting period extending to several hours before you could enter the main temple.

However the Lord himself had cleared the path and we were inside the sanctum sanctorum within a few minutes. It’s a gorgeous temple with antiquity written on every stone.

the main entrance
the main entrance

A wall painting spotted outside a wall adjoining the temple depicts Lord Shiva.

No beginning no end Lord Shiva
No beginning no end Lord Shiva

Nature is an intrinsic part of Hindu mythology and folklore. Trees and animals are protected by the hand of God.

The location of ancient temples like Trymbakeshwar in catchment areas ensures the survival of rivers as well. Ancient folklore and myth entwined with religion are a guarantee that the environment is protected.

The area has the highest precipitation in the region  and it was pouring on the day we went as well. Do observe the pictures well and you will see the clouds had descended to ground level.

trees
trees
the town
the town
sadhus
sadhus

An intrinsic part of a Kumbh is the process of taking a dip in the holy waters.

You hold your nose and squat  ensuring  the water covers your head. This is the process of Atonement or cleansing the sins of the past.

Kushavarta, Origin of the river Godavri
Kushavarta, Origin of the river Godavri

Lord Shiva is represented in the form of a Shivling. Milk and water is poured on the Shivling in a process called Abhishek or coronation.

abhishek
Rudra Abhishek

The Kushvarta pond is surrounded on three sides by these halls you see in the picture which have the most amazing statues of the Hindu pantheon of Gods.

prayers
Prayers being offered by a couple

The Peshwas , the rulers of the region, had these aesthetically designed temples and halls constructed  600 years ago, which are used to date

a corner
a corner of the halls that surround Kushvarta

It is possible you miss this statue of Lord Vishnu , it is from here where the River Godavri originates.

river godavri
Origin of the river Godavri

I was lucky to witness this amazing sight as well.The cow is licking the statue.Have never seen such a sight in 51 years of my life.

lord krishna and a cow
lord krishna and a cow

The author in traditional attire getting a ‘tilak’ on the forehead.

tikka
” Shiva tilak”

I am aware have used a large number of words and names which make the head of many spin. Relax, email me if you want to know more or simply enjoy the scenic beauty of TRYMBAKESHWAR.

BEDAZZLED WITH FAITH , IMMORTALITY AND ATONEMENT AT THE SINHASTHA KUMBH

It is fabled a drop of Amrit (nectar)  which grants immortality  fell from the kumbh ( urn ) at the RAM KUND, Nashik.

The Urn was carried by  Garuda ( the king of serpent eagles and vehicle of Lord Vishnu) .

This hoarding at Nashik tells the story of the Kumbh
This hoarding at Nashik tells the story of the Kumbh

I am writing with the hope that the article is read by a vast number of people and my travelogue motivates them to go to  the Sinhastha Kumbh. The Kumbh is happening as I write  and  the fair will continue till the end of September 2015.

faith : at the feet of God
faith : at the feet of God

I was not even aware, let alone go to one,  of the significance of the Kumbh Melas till about 3 years ago.Thereafter it has been a never ending educational  journey . The Kumbh is a must visit for people from all walks of life. ( believers or non believers, Hindus and non Hindus)  It is a chance of a lifetime to witness and learn about this massive upsurge of humanity. 

It is a literary congregation/festival  of  scholars , sadhus and priests besides millions of people.

It reads
It reads ” the festival for Humanity is now taking place, welcome to the KUMBH fair  at Nashik”

It is a religious fair held once in 12 years when the Sun and Jupiter enter the constellation of   “Leo”, the Lion. ( Singha is Lion in Hindi) .

A unique fact about the Nashik Kumbh is that it is held simultaneously at two locations, Ram Kund at Nashik and Trymbakeshwar ( 30 kms from Nashik) .

Ram Kund at night
Ram Kund at night

Thus we will go to both , we go first to the Ram Kund which is in the heart of the charming city of Nashik.

ram kund at 0700 hrs
Ram Kund at 0700 hrs

Panchvati, Nashik ( location of the Ram Kund)   is a historic site as it is supposed to be the place where Lakshman cuts the nose of Supranakha, hence the the name NASHIK.

( please read the epic Ramayan)

Lord Ram with his bros including Lakshman
Lord Ram with his brothers including Lakshman

The antique  panel above is located at the base of the Ram Stambh( pillar) located at Panchvati near the Ram Kund. You have to look for it. I was lucky to spot it as a priest was there offering flowers.

Ram Sthamb connects me to Tirupati
Ram Stambh connects me to Tirupati

The U shaped mark is the symbol of Lord Vishnu and can be seen at Tirupathi in particular. The flight of stairs descends to the ghats and Ram Kund where you take the traditional dip to wash away  your sins.

The Stambh or Pillar also marks the centre of Panchvati where Lord Ram lived for two and half years with Sita and Lakshman.

It is interesting that a temple dedicated to Lord Venkateshwar is located a few minutes away from this site.

Small temples are located under trees along the river banks and even in the midst of  the river. Mythology, nature and religion form a beautiful amalgamation.

The city seen from the ram kund
The city seen from the Ram Kund

Millions have come and gone bound in the faith that a dip in these waters will atone all sins of the past. I too took a dip with thousands of others and symbolically  offered the water to the Sun God.

The Goddess Godavri flows from Gaumukhs.
The Goddess Godavri flows from Gaumukhs.

The closest natural event to the Kumbh is the migration in far away Africa.The lady has traveled  1500 kms with her ailing husband to carry the holy waters in her urn ( kumbh)  made of brass.

the urn is revered and cannot be placed on the floor
the urn is revered and cannot be placed on the ground

Do see the kumbh ( urn) in the foreground

the banks of the river Godavri at panchvati
the banks of the river Godavri at panchvati

Trees temples and people all merge. Man and woman exist in all  symbolized by Ardhanareshwar. Only the  two combined can complete the picture .

Lord Shiva as Ardhnareshwar
Lord Shiva as Ardhnareshwar

Trees are revered and you will observe people pray to them too.Even God’s creations are worshiped.

a tree and a sadhu
a tree and a sadhu

There are numerous bridges across the river.The temple is  unique  as the the first rays of the sun touch  the feet of the ruling deity, the Creator  Lord Vishnu on the  21st of  March .

sundarnarayan temple forms the backdrop
Sundarnarayan temple forms the backdrop

The sun has set,  and I sign off with two captivating images of the Kumbh Mela.

Rameshwaram twemple
Rameshwaram temple

Nandiji on the banks of the RAM KUND

om namah shivam
Om Namah Shivaya

We now head to the second half of the Kumbh at Trymbakeshwar.