Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Travels in Central India Ujjain - Part2

Ujjain was one place I was really looking forward to see as I had rather romantic notion of it. Shyam Benegal's Discovery of India , every Sunday afternoon used to be my favorite TV program and names of cities like Kosala,Maghada, Avanti, Ujjaini had stuck in my mind. Ujjain is one of oldest cities of India and traces its history to ancient time. Ujjain saw its golden period during Gupta empire when it became a centre of Hindu leaning, art, science and trade. But the city finds references in book like Ramayana, so one can imagine how ancient it is.

Day 1
Today's Ujjain is a different city, though still very important and holy for Hindus. One of its major attractions is temple of Mahakaleshwara, which is seat of one of 12 jyotirlingas in India. Reaching Ujjian from Indore is very easy as there are constant buses plying from Sarvate bus stand in Indore to Ujjain and it takes just about 2 hours to reach. Mahakaleshwara was the first place I visited and comforting sight was that temple didn’t have long winding queues which are often the case with famous temples. Temple itself is not very glamorous or impressive in its architecture or setting and I didn’t feel particularly spiritual either. There is some amount of jostling one has to sustain during darshans of Shiva lingam as you are pushed, pulled and manhandled by dozen others in pursuit to touch the holy stone. I don’t get it. Do people think that if they touch the shivalingam long enough or from a particular angle , it is going to eliminate all their pains and give them instant salvation! May be this urge to hold the shivlingam arises because Mahakaleshwara is supposed to be self-manifested and one of rare lingams which is south facing. Anyway, I spent couple of hours in the temple and then walked around other temples;and there are too many here, bada ganesh, chotta ganesh, wrinmukta ganesh, rudraganesh and normal as we know him ganesh.

The place I wanted to really see was ghat of river Shipra, so I asked someone around and set off in that direction and came across a water body which looked stagnated, covered with moss and place around it was garbage dump of some kind with open drains overflowing into it. And my heart sank. This was not happening. Ujjain was to be glorious city of Kalidas and navratnas where pundits and Brahmins walked on streets, where lofty conversations on art and religion were held under banyan trees. And all I was seeing was garbage lying around roads, poor emaciated cows and beggars. I cursed myself and felt pangs of sadness. So is this the Holy city of Ujjain! What is holy about it beyond legends? keep the faith I told myself. Be patient.

So I walked down and reached ghats of real Shipra river. This was better place . Only slightly. Thankfully it wasn’t crowded and I sat on the ghat and watched dozen people coming , worshipping , offering, getting naked and bathing in the river. Women with saris, portly men with half of their body fat hanging out…. Shipra let everyone in. Among the crowd which was gathering for evening prayer, I met this old farmer Bhagirath who was on a 300 km padyatra around holy places along river Narmada. Illiterate but wise and interesting and yet so simple man was such a delight. He made me see Ujjain, Shipra, ghats and about to start evening Aarti in a different light. There are millions like him, simple and humble men who still carry the flag of our culture which is not blind rituals and apathetic symbolism most have started indulging in. Evening aarti on the ghat where prayers are offered to holy Shipra was fantastic experience. First time for me, unique experience of music created by cymbals and bells and drums and chanting of mantras along with incensed lights just as the day was fading into laps of darkness. So I bid farewell to Shipra and walked back to main city and into its narrow streets. The bazars at night were brilliant. There was a fragrance in the air. There were streets which look hundred years old with equally ancient buildings and shops and with equally old shopkeeper selling equally old wares. Large section of the bazars are owned by muslims. Ujjain being one of holy cities for hindus was always under attack by invaders and signs of those time can be seen around. I walked around the city until city started shutting down and then...

Day 2
Next day I woke up early, googled what else was an attraction in Ujjain, asked locals and set to Bhartrihari caves. I have read story of Bhartrihari in my school days including some chapters form his seminal book called Bharithari Shatak. Bhartrihari for me is an important figure in Indian history, but so little known . He represents man's two eternal quests- enjoying the material world and looking for metaphysical . It can't be said whether his story with Rani Pingala was real or a legend but one thing is certain that he was a man who enjoyed pleasures of life to hilt before renouncing it for quest of ‘truth’. His shatak has 3 volumes or sections, Shringar Shatak, Niti Shatak and Varagya shatak. Roughly coinciding with his phases in life when he was lover of women ,a king of Ujjain and when he renounced and became a Yogi. Sample this very crude translation of one of his couplet from Shringar shatak:

"There are only two ways worth living,
either roaming in valleys of woman's body
or exploring valleys of Himalayas."

Bhartrihari Caves are around 5-6 km away from Mahakleshwara temple and situated on banks of Shipra river. But river here is dirty and stagnated. This makes me very angry. Same people who worship river in evening with flower, also offer it all our civilizational garbage. I reached there early morning with no tourists around and spent time in chamber under huge stone where he meditated for 12 long years. The place has vibes. Sit there with eyes closed and meditate for some time to know it. Three sahdus from Pir sect (I thought so looking at their big black ear rings) who live there were smoking holy pot and trying to get enlightenment. One of them high on substance exhorted me to donate for "service of cows" but all I could offer was my middle finger.

From caves I moved to temple of Gadkalika where great poet Kalidas is supposed to have worshipped. I found wild berry trees around temple more interesting. It is such a pleasure of life to be able to collect berries form lush and full trees and pop them in your mouth. I could have spent entire day eating berries, lying on grass and sleep. Men are after all evolved from monkeys. Around 15 minutes walk from Bhartrihari cave, on a small hillock is Pir Matsyendranath. This is supposed to be samadhi of adi-guru Matsyendranath who , as legends have, had learnt from Lord Shiva the art of Kriya Yoga and then taught to his more famous pupil Guru Gorakhnath. Samadhi which was in Muslim control for long time, now has a sadhu as its keeper and he was very happy to see me. He told me that there is no place more powerful than this. He gave me a prayer’s mat and said go and meditate near his samadhi and see for yourself. So there on a brilliant sunny day, with noise of gentle crows nearby and fragrance of slowly burning wild herbs (I forgot what it is called but it is amazing) I sat and closed my eyes ,said "OM", took my breath and mind down in my spine hoping to raise it further up and invoked great guru Matsyendranath. I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t keep my eyes close. They started fluttering uncontrollably. Guru was telling me "Go son, you ain't ready yet. Your heart is full of sin. You have debts of hundreds unfulfilled karmas and you are carrying guilt on your soul." I spent 2 hours there and promised to sadhu that I will come back one day and stay him. Incidentally, Pir Matsyendranath is skipped by religious tourists who flock to temples and holy trees and pujas where quick shortcuts for a better afterlife or material prosperity are in offer. I will have to come back here.

From Pir Matsyendranath, I moved to a holy banyan tree called Siddhavat on banks of Shipra which ostensibly doesn’t grow or die for centuries and even after Some Muslim king tried to murder the holy tree under tons of stones. I sat near the tree for some time watching complex rituals being performed enmass and then moved on and went to Kaliadeh Palace which is also on banks of shipra and is in ruins now. A good site to visit but could be better developed from tourism point of view. The palace was ostensibly sun temple but with nobody looking after it , it has now become a dating place for dogs. From here I rented a Jugadu local transport for 50 bucks which is called tempo. I agreed with driver that I will pay him fixed 50 rupees for 4 sites with added incentive that he is allowed to seat any lonely female looking for lift midway. This is monster of a vehicle, runs on a diesel engine with a thousand years old starting mechanism (priming the engine with rope) ,makes noise like a woman delivering baby and can seat 100 people like in one of those fevicol advertisement. My next stop was Kal Bahirov temple the god which is fond of alcohol. Temple is again thousand year old and nobody knows where does all the daru which is offered to deity goes. I theorized with a vendor selling trinkets that there might be secret chamber under the temple but he found it to be too sacrilegious. Anyway, I bought a small bottle of whiskey and offered it to Bhairov which it drank without saying cheers. I had strong urge of joining this friend of Bacchus but preferred to keep my vow of no alcohol while touring the holy city.

From here with my trusted Tempo and a very verbose driver I moved to Temple of Mangalnth which is, Ripley's believe it or not, a birthplace of planet Mars. Yeah right there was planet Mars born before it ejected out to outer space. Oh by the way, driver also showed me a temple in a distant field which he said is right on top of centre of earth because line dissecting the earth in two equal halves passes right through that field. After meeting Mangalnath I moved to Sandipani Ashram where lord Krishna had studied. There is a water tank there which is called Gaumti kund where Krishna used to clean his slate (so it is called Aksharpat).A little Shiva temple there is unique for two reasons if you like subtleties, 1.) Nanadi is standing (usually Nandi facing Shiva is always sitting) 2.) Temple has a Shri-ynatra made in its roof. There I met an interesting man who claimed to be direct descendent of Guru Sandipni himslef!! Incidentally he also said that he worked as a software engineer at one point of time.He told me some interesting things like why Krishna needed to study if he was all -knowing incarnation of Good! Or why we never take full circle of shiva. By now I was getting into spiritual mood of Ujjain and city was growing on me but so was the darkness around. So I bid goodbye to this amazing city with a promise to return sometime and boarded my bus back to unholy Indore.

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