If one has to enjoy life to the fullest, it is absolutely necessary that one learns 2 things – wonderment & gratitude. If there is any religion which intertwines both these factors in its religious fabric, it has to be Hindu or Sanatan Dharma. Initially I thought that Sanatan meant that which had no beginning or no end, i.e. Eternal. But now I realize that even this word does not do justice to Hindu Dharma. It is not just eternal, it is all-encompassing.
Recently I went to Bhandardara, a district in Maharashtra. Bhandardara is a beautiful place, a mini hill-station. With mountains and hills surrounding this place, it is a veritable trekker’s paradise. Rocks, mountains, little paths up the hills, shrubs of ‘karvanda’ & trees of ‘Jamuns’ (both are berries) making the paths purple in colour, pathways of rivulets & waterfalls, sparse population, all make this place the ideal one for a short holiday. And when I chose this place for my holiday, i was unprepared for what I was about to discover.
One temple which all villagers of Bhandardara revere the most is Amruteshwar Temple, a temple believed to have been built by the Pandavas originally but rebuilt in 1100 CE. Situated at Ratanwadi, on the foothills of Ratangad, near the holy river Pravara is this 1000 year old temple of Lord Shiva, built during the Yadav-Shilahar era around the eleventh century CE. The Amruteshwar temple is built in the ancient Bhumij style of architecture. The intricate carvings done in black stone in this comparatively small temple (compared to other temples of that era, esp. in South Bharat) are just amazing.
Since I’m not an archaeologist, I cannot really comment on the sculptures, but it seemed like the sculptures said a tale. On the outside pillars of one of the entrances, were sculptures reminiscent of Khajuraho, showing that irrespective of where one lived in Bharat, physical intimacy was not something to be frowned at, as long as one kept it on the outer periphery of life, shedding it behind as one went closer within oneself or closer to Brahman. Now, surprisingly, I discovered 3 more things –
- There was no particular priest in this temple & it was looked after by the locals. Yet, it is one of the most revered temples of Bharat. Anyone who tells me now that only Brahmins are allowed in the inner sanctum of temples in Bharat will get a scowl from me. One just has to sit in the inner sanctum to realize that Shiva (God) is definitely beyond religion and caste & we Hindus knew that very well.
- The inner sanctum of the temple is closed to the public for at least 8-9 months a year, because the inner sanctum and the Shivling remains under water for that much time. The water here comes from under the ground & it is the water of the Holy Pravara river. The UgamSthaan (origin) of the Pravara is on top of Ratangad Mountain & there is no river visible from March onwards anywhere near the temple. But once it rains, the inner sanctum gets filled with waters of the Pravara River. Miraculous !!! Imagine discovering such a place & building a temple around it perfectly. Expert engineers would be awestruck and puzzled on how they discovered such a place.
- The Shivling itself is made of 3 separate, disjointed parts – Brahma, Vishnu & Mahesh, but they remain on top of each other right through the year.
Hindu Dharma teaches one to respect Nature to its core, whether it is a river, a rock or trees. By staying connected to divinity in the simplest of ways, Hindu Dharma proves itself to be a philosophy which is beyond words or intellectual debates. We don’t need to be taught about One God, we don’t need a Prophet to teach us about Him … we just need to connect to Him through the wonders around us. If we can learn to appreciate that, we can appreciate our own life.
The Ratangad Mountain itself was another special place. On top of the mountain is a Devi Temple and the UgamSthaan of the Pravara River. It is just a small tank, but the water is pure & sweet. Just before you reach the top of the mountain, there is another lake, which has water even in the harshest of summers. Here too, the water is potable, and another path takes one to Harishchandragad & another even more exceptional temple – the Kedareshwar Temple.
But let us talk about Ratangad. This place has the ruins of a fort where Shivaji Maharaj is believed to have lived for about a year. It is believed that he recovered a lot of gold and silver from the Mughals, from Kalyan (close to Mumbai), and brought the loot and hid it here. While leaving this fort he had left a person to look after the wealth & that person’s Samadhi is still here. No wealth has ever been recovered from this place because it is believed that the Saint whose Samadhi is here, still protects it. Every year during the Navratris, people come here to pray to Maa Ratna Aai. Believe me when I say that the climb up is not at all easy for a regular tourist. But imagine how Shivaji Maharaj & his people must have lived here & protected the area, the fort and the people from the Mughals, in this difficult terrain. My respect for Shivaji Maharaj and his people went up several notches during this trip.
On my way to Sandan Valley, a narrow valley pass between two hills, I met many families who seemed to have come on a picnic. While we were struggling to cross the valley of rocks (again, this valley is accessible only from March to June – the remaining time it is covered with water), these ladies, children, men, aged people, all were merrily crossing the rocks in their old slippers & sandals. I asked them whether they had come here before & they laughingly told me that they come every year for the ‘Khajzgi Mahotsav’. Can you guess what this Mahotsav (Festival) is about? It is about ‘Khajzgi’ – fireflies / glow-worms / Jugnu !!! What??? We have a festival of fireflies? YES !!!
The Amavasya ie. the New Moon night before the Vat Savitri Pournima, which comes in May end every year, is celebrated as the ‘Khajzgi Mahotsav’ in Bhandardara. Families meet and go out in the nights to see the fireflies which seem to cover the entire landscape. Every tree, the grass on the ground, every place has fireflies on them, and they twinkle endlessly. It looks like Diwali all over the Earth. Absolutely Divine!
What struck me was the wonderful way our civilization celebrated Nature, Family bonding and Wonderment of the environment, all together, in a simple way. By giving it the status of a Festival, it became a tradition to celebrate it unfailingly every year. A creature which perishes within days of this festival, because of the rains, is loved for its life and light. What a great message of how to live life – death can visit one any moment, but till then, spread light & happiness and live to the fullest! The other thing that struck me was that one did not need one Rupee to enjoy this bliss, under the wide sky full of twinkling stars. The happiness on the faces of the children as they ran after the fireflies, counted the twinkling stars & bathed in the gentle drizzle (rains are about to set in at this time of the year) brought smiles on the faces of the other family members. The roads which were rather empty of traffic during the day, had so many cars, bikes & tractors going by, all ferrying families & friends.
This also got me thinking about how we celebrate life at every instance. Be it Holi where water and colours are used, or our various New Years wherein fresh farm produce is displayed or consumed, our festivals are all about simple enjoyment with family and friends. Even our deaths are a reason to celebrate – we celebrate the 13th day of the death as ‘Vaikunth Samaradhna’ i.e. the day the soul goes to Vaikunth Dhaam – it is a joyous occasion. We feed our ancestors, our animals & even our Gods the same food that we eat. Why then are we treating all these occasions as boring rituals & wanting to just spend money in hotels, restaurants & shopping malls, all in the name of modern life and a modern way to celebrate our festivals?
Let us rediscover our Bharat & also rediscover our various festivals… let us rediscover the way to connect with Nature & Divinity & live life the way we were meant to. Vande Mataram !!!
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