It was the grand finale of the family wedding ceremonies. There had been four weddings in the family in last ten months. Deepika & I were sitting with my Bro-in-law and Bhabis literally exhausted from the food, music and dances that were still in abundances wherever you look! We were discussing how to unwind from the onslaught of all the marriages in the family when Seema Bhabi suggested we go for a pilgrimage to Dwarkadhish and Somnath in Gujarat. The idea clicked with my Alka Bhabi & Ravi Bhaiya. Deepika seemed keen too but wanted my reaction knowing that I stay miles away from all sorts of religious/ ritualistic places. I agreed, not from the pilgrimage point but for the opportunity of photography, my other passion.
Seema Bhabi has been literally globetrotting for some time (probably to heal her wounds of loosing Napoleon Bhaiya to the dreaded cancer), has not only been gathering artefacts but a huge repertoire of knowledge of the places she had visited and of the places she intends to visit. She narrated some of the stories behind the Dwarkadhish and Somnath temples and I was quite impressed with her knowledge and thought she might come handy as a guide at ground zero!
My parents have been reasonably religious as well as ritualistic as any normal Bengali. However, neither did they go overboard in appeasing their God(s) nor did they force down the ritualistic norms on their children. They left the choice of doing the rituals of daily Puja to us. As a result I have turned out to be the least religious let alone ritualistic person amongst my siblings. I do not remember when I prayed last to any God. That does not mean I am non-religious or atheist. I do believe in One Supreme Power and shall continue to keep my faith till such time the science proves otherwise. I simply do not believe that God or the Almighty resides in a particular place (read Mandir) or that S/He will annihilate me if I do not pray to her/him or fail to visit her /him at the so-called abodes to pay my obeisance.
Given such beliefs, I realised that strangely enough I have been to some of the most coveted (by Hindus) temples in my life. And not just that, I have been ushered in the sanctum sanctorum of these temples or have witnessed some rituals for which many would go round the earth to be present there. I have been to the garva griha at Guruvayur Temple & the Kamakhya Temple. I have witnessed the Milk Bath of the Vishwanath Lingam standing inside the sanctum sanctorum. I offered Puja at the Vaishno Devi all by myself without any public presence. All these had happened when I have had no intentions or desire to do so, may be the Supreme One wanted to see me!
It was decided that 4 of us, Deepika, myself, Ravi Bhaiya & Alka Bhabi will take the AI flight from Delhi-Mumbai-Jamnagar and Seema Bhabi would join us at Mumbai. We had pre-booked our stay at Dwarka and Somnath after checking a few options and hoped the hotels will be decent.
February 5, 2016
Our AI flight was scheduled for 0800 hours departure and was on time and reached Mumbai around 1015 hours. No sooner that I activated my mobile phone that I received a message from AI that the connecting flight to Jamnagar has been rescheduled at 1330 hours from the original time of 1130 hours. We let out a collective cry of frustration. Thankfully, the new terminal T2 at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is just like Mall with shopping as well as food options.
We spotted Seema Bhabi after our security check and then settled down for a cup of coffee at the Baker’s Street food joint inside the terminal. I ordered for Bada Pao which I have never tasted till then even though I had been to Mumbai many times.
We boarded the Jamnagar flight around 1310 hours and it took off around 1345hours. We reached Jamnagar at 1500 hours, almost 2 hours late, decided to have quick lunch and do some shopping (the ladies can’t help but shop). The hotel where our driver took us was quite decent but said the main kitchen has closed for the shift and we can only have Chinese food. I think we can get better Chinese in the streets of Delhi!!!
We wanted to visit Marine Park which is around 80-90 km from Jamnagar on way to Dwarka but was informed that it would close by the time we reach, so we carried on to Dwarka. I was happy to click the setting Sun on the way to Dwarka. I realized that in Gujarat, the roads are generally quite smooth and nice for driving. There are not many potholes like in UP, Bihar and Bengal that constantly greets you, the moment you move on to the State Highway from National Highway. We reached Dwarka around 1900 hours and were informed that Dwarkadhish Temple is open till 2130 hours. We decided to freshen up quickly and visit the temple that evening itself.
The Dwarkadhish temple, also known as the Jagat Mandir is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Krishna, who is worshipped here by the name Dwarkadhish, or ‘King of Dwarka’. The main shrine of the 5-storied building, supported by 72 pillars, is known as Jagat Mandir or Nija Mandir; archaeological findings suggest it to be more 2500+ years old. Temple was enlarged in the 15th- 16th century. The Dwarkadhish Temple is a Pushtimarg temple hence it follows the guidelines and rituals created by Shree Vallabhacharya and Shree Vitheleshnathji.
According to tradition, the original temple was believed to have been built by Krishna’s grandson, Vajranabha, over the hari-griha (Lord Krishna’s residential place). The temple became part of the Char Dham pilgrimage considered sacred by Hindus in India, after Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th century Hindu theologian and philosopher, visited the shrine. The three others being Rameswaram, Badrinath and Jagannath Dham at Puri. Even today a memorial within the temple is dedicated to his visit. Dwarakadhish is the 108th Divya Desam of Lord Vishnu on the subcontinent, glorified in the Divya Prabandha sacred texts.
To my utter dismay, I found that I am not allowed to take my camera, phone and any leather items such as purse and belt inside the temple. No logic was provided for banning the first two items. I know lots of religious places, it is prohibited to photograph inside the temple where the idol rests but one can shoot outside. But here one cannot even take it within the temple perimeter, huh!!
Anyways, since I have come this long, decided to meet Dwarkadhish and went along with the others. The Pandit or the Guide or the Panda immediately identified as the fat one who could be coaxed into shelling out handsomely, little knowing that we are seasoned professional in the game. He took us around the temple explaining each of the temples which was mix of myth and history but narrated with high conviction. From my previous experience, I had carried a bunch of 10 Rupees currency note and that came handy for Daan Patras. After the parikrama of the mandir, he took us to the Gomti Ghat where Krishna met his childhood friend Sudama. Here, I have a confusion, I know the river Gomti flows through Lucknow, is it the same Gomti River or different one with same name?? I would appreciate if someone can elicit on the subject.
February 6, 2016
We had our breakfast and decided to see the other religious attractions in Dwarka before going to Bet Dwarka. Our first visit was to Rukmini Devi Temple, about 2 km away from Dwarkadhish Temple. Rukmini is the most beloved wife of Krishna whom he had eloped from the Swayambar ceremony. So why is her temple separate from the Dwarkadhish? Why is she not with her beloved husband? The story is interesting …
Once Krishna along with Rukmini visited the Ashram of Sage Durbasha and requested him to visit Dwarka. Sage Durbasha agreed but put a clause that the Rath or the Chariot cannot be pulled by anyone who cannot speak. There was no one else but Krishna and Rukmini who took it upon themselves to pull the chariot with Rishi Durbasha and his disciples sitting on it. After covering some distance, Rukmini felt very thirsty, so Krishna offered her water. This incident angered Sage Durbasha who was known to be very hot tempered. He said to Krishna, “You offered water to your wife without seeking permission from the Brahmin sitting in the chariot. Now you will be separated from her for all times come.” Therefore, to honor the words of the great sage, the two temples are separated by a distance of 2 km.
I did not go inside the temple and decided to take some candid shots with my camera.
Our next destination Bet Dwarka or Shankhodhar is an inhabited island at mouth of Gulf of Kutch situated 3 km off the coast of Okha, Gujarat, India. The island is measured northwest to southeast in 13 km with an average 4 km in east-west direction. It is a strip of sand and stone situated 30 km north of Dwarka.
Bet Dwarka is considered the part of the ancient city in Indian epic literature Dvārakā found in Mahabharata and Skanda Purana. Scholars suggest that Antardvipa in Sabha Parva of Mahabharata can be identified as Bet Dwarka as Yadava of Dwarka are said to travel to it by boats. It derived its name Shankhodhar as the island is a large source of conch shells (Shankh). Archaeological remains found under the sea suggest the existence of settlement during Late Harappan period of Indus Valley Civilization or immediately after it. It can be reliably dated to times of Maurya Empire. It was a part of Okha Mandal or Kushdwip area. Dwarka is mentioned in the copper inscription dated 574 AD of Simhaditya, the minister of Vallabhi under Maitraka. He was the son of Varahdas, the king of Dwarka.
The island, along with Okhamandal region, was under Gaekwad of Baroda State. During Indian rebellion of 1857, the Vaghers captured the region in 1857. Later by joint offensive of British, Gaekwad and other princely states troops ousted the rebels and recaptured the region in 1859.
After independence of India in 1947, it was integrated in Saurashtra State. Later Saurashtra merged with Bombay State under state reorganization scheme. When Gujarat was created from bifurcation of Bombay State, Bet Dwarka came under Jamnagar district of Gujarat. Devbhoomi Dwarka district was created from Jamnagar district in 2013 so it became part of it.
Dhwarkadhish Temple and Shri Keshavraiji Temple are major temples of Krishna. Hanuman Dandi and Vaishnav Mahaprabhu Bethak are also pilgrimage places. Sidi Bawa Peer Dargah, Haji Kirmai Dargah and Gurdwara are also situated here. A small temple of Abhyay mata which is situated south side of this island.
Bet Dwarka can be reached by ferry service from Okha. The first sea bridge of Gujarat is proposed between Okha and Bet Dwarka and is estimated to cost 400 crore. The construction work is expected to start soon.
We hired a private boat along with another family of five people so that we could enjoy the short sea journey. The port or the ghat was full of Seagulls that would crowd around the boats for food and gave us company for quite a distance.
Now, here, we were little disappointed because the way Seema Bhabi had narrated the story of the discovery of underwater city of Dwarka that we thought we would be able to see parts of that if not the full. But nothing of the sort was in view. Apparently, the discovered underwater ruins are some 12-13 km away from the coast in the sea and 60-80 meters deep inside. One would need diving gear to explore that city if at all permission is given.
The Dwarkadhish temple here is quite similar to the earlier one, only much smaller and much dilapidated condition. Again, no photography was allowed, so we took turns to go check out the temple and its idols. Since, we had a private boat that was to pick us up in half hour; we did not explore the other religious places of the island but returned to the Ghat for return journey.
Back in the mainland, we decided to visit Nageshvara Jyotirlinga, one of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines mentioned in the Shiva Purana. Nageshvara is believed to be the first such shrine.
According to Shiv Mahapuraan, Brahma (The Creator) and Vishnu (The Preserver) once had an argument as to which of them was supreme. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as an immeasurable pillar of light, the Jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma parted company to determine the extent of each end of the pillar. Brahma, who had set off upward, lied that he had discovered the upper end of the pillar, but Vishnu, who had gone in the direction of the base of the pillar, admitted that he had not. Shiva then appeared as a second Jyotirlinga and cursed Brahma, telling him that he would have no place in the ceremonies, though Vishnu would be worshipped until the ‘end of eternity’. The Jyotirlinga is the supreme indivisible reality from which Shiva appears.
It is believed that there were originally 64 Jyotirlingas of which 12 survives to this day and is considered to be especially auspicious and holy. Each of the twelve sites takes the name of the presiding deity and each is considered a separate manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary deity is a lingam representing the beginning less and endless Stambha or pillar, symbolizing the Shiva’s infinite nature. The twelve Jyotirlinga are Somnath in Gujarat, Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, Mahakaleswar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Kedarnath in Himalayas, Bhimashankar in Maharashtra, Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra, Vaidyanath at Deoghar in Jharkhand, Nageshvara Jyotirlinga in Gujarat, Rameshwar at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Grishneshwar at Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
Ravi and I roamed around the temple complex while the ladies went inside the temple meet Lord Shiva in his Nageshvara form. There was this Tattoo artist from whom a variety of people were getting inked. He had both option of permanent marking as well as a temporary one that will last for about 3 to 7 days if one can avoid bathing! I was tempted for the latter one but restrained myself.
It was only 1300 hours when we left Nageshvara for the hotel. There was enough time to visit the Marine Park and that was where we intended to go after a quick lunch at the hotel.
Marine National Park in the Gulf of Kutch is situated on the southern shore of the Gulf of Kachh in the Jamnagar District of Gujarat state, India. In 1980, an area of 270 sqkm from Okha to Jodiya was declared Marine Sanctuary. Later, in 1982, a core area of 110 sqkm was declared Marine National Park under the provisions of the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972 of India. It is the first national marine park of India. There are 42 islands on the Jamnagar coast in the Marine National Park, most of them surrounded by reefs. The best known island is Pirotan.
The fauna found here include 70 species of Sponges, 52 species Coral including 42 species of hard coral and 10 species of soft coral. Jellyfish, Portuguese Man-of-War and Sea Anemones and other Coelenterates. Arthropods include 27 species of prawns, 30 species of crabs, lobsters, shrimps and other crustaceans. Molluscs like pearl oysters and sea slugs are present. Octopuses which change colour are also found. Echinoderms like starfish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins are present. The fishes found are puffer fishes, sea horse, stingray, mudskippers and whale sharks which are an endangered species. Endangered sea turtles such as green sea turtles, olive ridleys and leatherbacks are seen here. There are three species of sea snakes. There are dugongs and smaller cetaceans like finless porpoises, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. There are 42 islands in the Arabian Sea with coral reefs and the park is situated in one of those.
It took us 2:30 hours from Dwarka to cover 130 to the Marine Park. There is an entry fee of Rs.50/- per person and guide (compulsory) fee of Rs.300/- although there is no one to check the tickets. The first person we encountered there was the Shoe Man; he suggested that we change into the assorted shoes that’s available with him instead of spoiling our own shoes. Ravi Bhaiya and Seema Bhabi were reluctant to wear those worn out shoes but I convinced them of the utility which they later acknowledged once inside the park.
The Marine Park is just like the Forest National Parks, only here it is sea and one walks in the sea itself when it is low tide. The concept being that when the sea water recedes, some of the creatures mentioned earlier are left behind but alive in shallow water. Now these marine creatures have natural camouflage ability and only an expert guide can locate them under a foot of sea water. We were happy that our guide was a seasoned one having been there since 1992. He showed us many marine lives both flora and fauna including different kinds of corals, algae as well as crabs, starfish, sea cucumber, flower fish, octopus and puffer fish. We also had a glimpse of mudskippers. Deepika got really excited when the guide picked up two infant octopuses and placed them on her palm. And Ravi Bhaiya revisited his teenage years holding the puffer fish (locally called Dhongi Machhli) and when the guide placed the Bush Crab (nicknamed Anil Kapur for apparent reason!!).
We did not realise but we had actually walked at least 4-5 km in the sea itself and time was around 1630 hours when the guide advised that we should start our walk back as in a couple of hours the high tide will inundate the area where we were walking.
We returned to our hotel and realised that the walking in the knee deep sea water has resulted in stiffness of the calf area of both legs which would go away in a few days. The experience called for a wet celebration but being in a dry state that was not to be! We decided to have our dinner early and call it a day as we plan to move to our next destination Somnath early morning.
February 07, 2016
We were the first guests at the breakfast room at 7 in the morning and left for Somnath via Dwarkadhish for one last meeting at 0730 hours.
On our way, we visited Gandhiji’s birth place Porbandar and saw the room where he was born. There is a small museum with lots of photographs and other artifacts that tell you stories of our freedom movement. There was one particular photo that attracted my attention not because of the image but the caption that said “Gandhiji, in a thoughtful relexing posture while going to Delhi in a third class Railway compartment”. Wish someone had an eye for spellings before putting it up.
One thing that was missing at the birth home of Gandhiji was a Khadi Shop, which is MUST at almost all the places that has a link to Gandhiji, especially the Gandhi Smarak, Gandhi Smriti etc.
We continued our journey to Somnath and reached there around 1530 hours and checked in to Ferns Residency, a new hotel that has come up about six months back. As usual, the main kitchen at had closed and only snacks were available. We settled for sandwiches and assorted pakodas. And yes, they also had Biryani (veg) to offer. Food was good and we gorged them down with lemon sodas. After a short rest we were out again for our last leg of pilgrimage.
The Somnath temple located in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in Saurashtra on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is the first among the twelve Jyotirlingas shrines of Shiva. It is an important pilgrimage and tourist spot. The temple is considered sacred due to the various legends connected to it. Somnath means “Lord of the Soma”, an epithet of Shiva. Somnath Temple is known as “the Shrine Eternal”. This legendary temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times by Islamic kings and Hindu kings respectively. Most recently it was rebuilt in November 1947, when Vallabhbhai Patel visited the area for the integration of Junagadh and mooted a plan for restoration. After Patel’s death, the rebuilding continued under Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, a minister in the Government of India. The temple is open daily from 6AM to 9PM. There are 3 aarti daily; in the morning at 07:00, at 12:00 and in the evening at 19:00. It is also believed that this is the place where Krishna ended his Lila on earth and left for his heavenly abode.
The site of Somnath has been a pilgrimage site from ancient times on account of being a triveni sangam (the joining of three rivers — Kapila, Hiran and the mythical Sarasvati River). Soma, the Moon god, is believed to have lost his lustre due to a curse, and he bathed in the Sarasvati River at this site to regain it. The result is the waxing and waning of the moon, no doubt an allusion to the waxing and waning of the tides at this sea shore location. The name of the town Prabhas, meaning lustre, as well as the alternative names Someshvar and Somanath (“lord of the moon” or “moon god”) arise from this tradition.
The first Siva temple at Somanath is believed to have been built at some unknown time in the past. The second temple was said to be built at the same site by the Seuna kings of Vallabhi around 649 CE. In 725 CE, Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh is said to have destroyed the second temple as part of his invasions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Gurjara-Pratihara king Nagabhata II is said to have constructed the third temple in 815 CE, a large structure of red sandstone.
In 1024, during the reign of Bhimdev I, the prominent Afghan ruler Mahmud of Ghazni raided Gujarat, plundering the Somnath temple and breaking its Jyotirlinga. He took away a booty of 2 crore dinars. Historians expect the damage to the temple to have been minimal because there are records to pilgrimages to the temple in 1038, which make no mention of any damage to the temple. In 1299, Alauddin Khilji’s army under the leadership of Ulugh Khan defeated Karandev II of the Vaghela dynasty, and sacked the Somnath temple. According to Taj-ul-Ma’sir of Hasan Nizami, the Sultan boasted that “fifty thousand infidels were dispatched to hell by the sword” and “more than twenty thousand slaves, and cattle beyond all calculation fell into the hands of the victors. The temple was rebuilt by Mahipala Deva, the Chudasama king of Saurashtra in 1308 and the Linga was installed by his son Khengar sometime between 1326 and 1351. In 1395, the temple was destroyed for the third time by Zafar Khan, the last governor of Gujarat under the Delhi Sultanate. In 1451, it was desecrated by Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat. By 1665, the temple, one of many, was once again ordered destroyed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. In 1702, he ordered that if Hindus had revived worship there, it should be demolished completely. Later the temple was rebuilt to its same glory adjacent to the ruined one. Later on a joint effort of Peshwa of Pune, Raja Bhonsle of Nagpur, Chhatrapati Bhonsle of Kolhapur, Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore & Shrimant Patilbuwa Shinde of Gwalior rebuilt the temple in 1783 at a site adjacent to the ruined temple.
In 1782-83 AD, Maratha king Mahadaji Shinde, victoriously brought the Three Silver Gates from Lahore after defeating Muhammad Shah of Lahore. After refusal from Pundits of Guzrath and the then ruler Gaekwad to put them back on Somnath temple, these silver gates were placed in the temples of Ujjain. Today they can be seen in two temples of India, Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga and Gopal Mandir of Ujjain.
In 1842, Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough issued his famous Proclamation of the Gates, in which he ordered the British army in Afghanistan to return via Ghazni and bring back to India the sandalwood gates from the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni in Ghazni, Afghanistan. These were believed to have been taken by Mahmud from Somnath. There was a debate in the House of Commons in London in 1843 on the question of the gates of the Somanatha temple. After much crossfire between the British Government and the opposition, the gates were uprooted and brought back in triumph. But on arrival, they were found to be replicas of the original. They were placed in a store-room in the Agra Fort where they still lie to the present day.
The present temple is built in the Chalukya style of temple architecture or “Kailash Mahameru Prasad” style and reflects the skill of the Sompura Salats, one of Gujarat’s master masons. The temple’s śikhara, or main spire, is 15 meters in height, and it has an 8.2-metre tall flag pole at the top. The temple is situated at such a place that there is no land in a straight line between Somnath seashore until Antarctica, such an inscription in Sanskrit is found on the Bāṇastambha or “Arrow Pillar” erected on the sea-protection wall. The Bāṇastambha mentions that it stands at a point on the Indian landmass that is the first point on land in the north to the South Pole at that particular longitude.
When we reached the Somnath temple it was too early for the aarti, so went to see Valka Tirth. This is where Krishna breathed his last after being hit by an arrow of a hunter who thought the moving feet of Krishna as the ears of a deer. The place was supposed to have lot foliage and water body, just as was narrated in the books of Mahabharata but we were shocked to construction happening for a grand Mandir of Krishna with due consideration of commerce as well.
We proceeded for Somnath and were very excited having heard so much about it. I was particularly elated with the thought of taking the picture of the temple with the setting sun in the background. But the temple authorities pricked the balloon of my desire, big signages informed the visitor that camera, mobile phones, leather belts and carry bags among many other things cannot be taken inside the perimeter of the temple. I felt cheated but abided by the dictate.
The temple perimeter is quite large with the outer part tiled and areas marked for keeping your shoes and benches for resting. The inner perimeter has well manicured grass lawns and excellent view of the never ending sea. There is an amphitheatre where a sound-n-light show happens every day at 2000 hours. Inside the temple, there was large crowd moving slowly but steadily in the direction of the Shiva Lingam. We joined the queue, and continued to admire the architecture.
I had read somewhere that the original Lingam was levitated and did not touch the base plate but nothing of that kind of miracle here. This was ornamented Lingam, quite big in size. The usual Pandits offered tilak to all the pilgrims as they approach the Sanctum Santorum duly protected by a brass railing.
After the darshan, Ravi and I came out from the men’s section, meanwhile, lead by Seema Bhabi, the ladies had gone back again to witness the evening aarti. I had no interest and grudgingly roamed the lawns and taking in the vastness of the ocean.
We decided to watch the sound-n-light show hoping it would be as fascinating as the one we had seen at Khajuraho. It started off well with narration of mythical stories but then lost the plot completely. I am sure there is lot of content available on the history of the temple, in addition to the fictional tales that are in abundance, it required some creative story telling effort. It was disappointing experience.
February 08, 2016
The pilgrim’s tour had ended and we left for Jamnagar Airport early in the morning after breakfast. We had a flight to catch at 1330 hours; in fact this was the only flight in the entire day for Mumbai. And from there the connecting flight at 1600 hours to Delhi. We reached Jamnagar around 1130 hours and once again the ladies wanted to buy something more. I kept up the pressure to hurry up I had no intention of staying another night in the dry state, if we miss the flight.
We finally reached the airport and realized that the flight is delayed after our security check. It is the same one on which we had come three days ago, it was late again. We took off finally at 1430 hours hoping to catch the connecting Delhi flight. It was not to be as we landed in Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (T2) at exactly 1600 hours.
It seemed that AI was very much aware of the delays or “never on time” of their flight # AI648 JGA-BOM, so they immediately arranged for our revised boarding cards for the next available flight at 1700 hours which took off only at 1745 hours. We landed in Delhi around 2000 hours finally ending our pilgrim tour.
Om Namah Narayana, Om Shivay Namah.