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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Shivaratri Experiences

6th March is Shivaratri… the day , or rather night which is especially dear to Lord Shiva, when all over India, North to South, East to West, people worship Shiva through the night. Rich or poor, young or old, whichever caste they may belong to, people put aside their differences, and gather together to worship His symbol, the Lingam. Shivaratri means different things to different people- for some, it makes no difference whatsoever-it’s just another festival, just like any other…. For some, it is the night of devotion….For some, like my parents-in-law, it’s the night they spend at the temple, singing bhajans, and soaking in the atmosphere…. For my mother-in-law, the ultimate Shivaratri would be at Prashanthi Nilayam, watching Sri Sathya Sai Baba take out a lingam from his mouth…. For me, personally, Shivaratri meant little till my marriage. I accompanied my mother to the temple, and that was all… Now, however, Shivaratri brings to my mind, the magical atmosphere at Nainar Kovil, our family temple…. I was fortunate to celebrate Shivaratri at Nainar Kovil twice, and memories of both occasions are etched on my mind forever….
Nainar Kovil is situated in the Ramanathapuram District, about 40Kms from Paramagudi. Sri Naganathar and Soundaryanayaki Amman are our family deities, and we try to make a visit to the temple, every time we go to the south. In the days of my husband’s father, it must have been difficult to travel all the way from Bombay to Nainar Kovil regularly. One must appreciate the fact that they have managed to keep up the tradition of going there at regular intervals there till this date. Another fact to be appreciated is how the family has managed to keep up the traditions of regular puja, etc, at the temple by means of a trust formed just for the purpose. The family is HUGE, and today, spread out all over the world. Yet, every Shivaratri a group from the family lands up at the temple, ready with all the preparations and materials required for the puja, a portion of which has been part of the family tradition since ages. I had heard a lot about all this fro my mother-in-law, and had a great desire to be part of it, when the opportunity came in the form of a trip to Madurai. We jumped at the chance and since my son was still small, and hadn’t started going to school, decided to participate in the Shivaratri festivities.
We started from Madurai in the morning, and went straight to Devipattinam (around 120Kms), where three are 9 rocks in the sea, arranged like the 9 planets , or navagrahas, said to have been worshipped by Lord Rama himself. They are called the Navapashanams, and are said to be extremely sacred. Indeed, it is an unique experience to perform the puja to the rocks, standing in knee deep water, an experience, which to my belief, one cant get anywhere else. One thing I must add here is that I have visited Devipattinam, twice, and have been appalled by the changes in just over two years... The first time I went, there was quite a lot of water, almost up to my waist… maybe due to high tide...(It is the sea after all..), but the next time , it was awful.. The water just barely touched my knees…..and God! Was it dirty!!! The water was almost stinking….one couldn’t believe it was the sea out there... It was more like some stagnant water…… Really, it reinforces my belief that humans don’t know how to take care of the beautiful things that they have been given…

Anyway, we then visited the Darbharanyeshwarar temple there, and then proceeded to Rameswaram. (About 70Kms from Devipattinam)We had darshan of the Lord there, who was being prepared for the grand Shivaratri Abhishekam, and then proceeded towards Nainar Kovil.
Rameswaram Temple
We arrived just before the first Kaalam, or the 1st phase of the Abhishekam was going to begin….
The temple was full of the local population. But there were others like us… First and foremost, the other members of our family, some of whom I had never met before…Thank God for my mother-in-law, whom they all knew, and who introduced me to everyone……Then there were others who had come from far away.. Members of other families now settled elsewhere, but who still returned to their roots, at least once a year…. It was absolutely amazing!! I have always been a believer in the concept of a joint family as it existed in India from ancient days, and before getting married, always regretted not being able to trace my roots to my hometown… Yet here, in my new family, the first thing I found was the door that opened up endless connections….it was absolutely delightful to meet so many people, who belonged to the same family, and invariably tried to meet up once a year at the place they all originally came from…
One of my major worries when we were planning our trip was how my child would react. He was then just a baby and we wondered how we would find a quiet place for him to sleep amidst all that noise, because, if he didn’t sleep, he would be cranky, and not let us enjoy…… My fears were absolutely baseless…. Samhith slept like a log…..right in the temple corridor…. amidst all that noise... without even tossing and turning… it seemed to be the greatest miracle there to everyone… Complete strangers first scolded me for trying to make him sleep in that noise, and then, after the programme was finally over, came and asked me how he slept like that... a question I had no answer to…. Maybe, he too felt secure, knowing that he was at home, connected to his roots….
We came back to Bombay, re-connected to our roots, knowing a lot more of our relations by their first names, wondering when we would get to see them again...
The opportunity came again, the very next year…. This time, my husband was busy. So it was just me and Samhith with my in-laws…. And this time, we visited a couple of other temples- Kalaiyar Kovil and Thiruvadanai before reaching Nainar Kovil…
Again, the experience was the same… the atmosphere of spirituality blended with that of a family reunion… and again, Samhith slept through it!!!!
Samhith of course, doesn’t remember anything of any of these trips….one doesn’t really expect him to, but I certainly want to take him again when he grows up. The only hurdle to the plan is that Shivaratri usually falls during school exams, and it is difficult to get away, but I am sure the time will come, for both of us; again, to experience the same feelings… for now however, I am at home, planning to go to the nearby temple for Shivaratri. I have got the puja articles ready to be given to the temple while this year my husband makes the trip to Nainar Kovil... He will represent our branch of the family along with an uncle, while my mother-in-law will celebrate the festival at Prashanthi Nilayam.
Thus each of us will celebrate the festival in a different way, our own way, but all of us will , in effect, be connected to the same Lord….



  1. Wow.. very nice post. reminded me of my trip to trayambakeshwara temple.. (one of the jyotirlingas that is located near shiridi)..

  2. thanks a lot... i agree with you. Tryambakeshwar was , for me too ,a wonderful expreience...see my post "From Shirdi to Bordi"... in fact, one gets the same feelings at alost all the ancient temples of india... which just wants me to visit more and more such places...


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