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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Temples of Bikaner - Part 4: The Laleshwar Mahadev Temple (Shivbari)

The massive walls completely shield the temple from view, and it first appears to be a fort or a citadel. Even when we enter the gate, the central structure doesn’t conform to our ideas of what a temple should look like. Built on a high platform, with an open pillared hall, topped by domed chhatris, the temple of Laleshwar Mahadev, locally called Shivbari, seems to be a blend of architectural styles.

<img src="laleshwar mahadev" alt="Front View of Laleshwar Mahadev Temple">
The Laleshwar Mahadev Temple

Entering the temple, the first thing we see are intricately carved doors and frames, contrasting with the plain exterior. Then we see the beautifully cast bronze image of Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva. 

It is only then that we see the Lord himself, who is present here as a Pancha Mukha Lingam, with five faces, each representing one of his aspects.

The Pancha Mukha Lingam in the sanctum

A representation of the Pancha Mukha Lingam

I entered the temple without any great expectations, lulled by the simplicity of the structure. But the lingam captured my attention, and held it, till I looked up and saw the paintings on the walls, embellished with gold!

The central panel in the sanctum. Notice the gods and saints on the left and the kings on the right

The central painting, just below the ceiling of the sanctum, depicts the Lord as he is seen here – with five faces. Worshipping him are, on the left, Brahma, Ganesha, and Kartikeya, and three seated sages, who seem to be the saints who lived here, in the ashram complex. On the right are what appear to be the kings of Bikaner, probably Maharaj Lal Singh, in whose memory the temple was built, and Maharaj Dungar Singh, who built this temple in 1880.

Another painting in the sanctum, depicting a story from mythology

All around this are more paintings, which can only be properly seen from the sanctum, where we are not allowed. However, the ceiling of the pillared hall which runs around the sanctum is also covered with paintings, and is a sight to be seen!

The ceiling is painted with blue clouds, a distinctive style of Bikaner, also seen in the fort. 
On both sides are panels depicting stories of Shiva and Vishnu. 
This one seems to be a narrative, revolving around Shiva, and the Gods coming to visit him. We can also see two temples, one to Shiva, with the Lingam, and another to Krishna, holding up the Govardhana mountain, which also suggests that it might be a story related to a pilgrimage

There are paintings depicting stories of Shiva and Parvati, and also of Krishna. The work is extremely detailed and intricate, and there is so much to see and identify.

One of the panels showing Krishna, here playing the flute

A panel showing the forest, with animals and birds

A panel showing Rama and Sita seated on a throne, with Lakshmana behind and Hanuman offering prayers

A narrative centred around a Shiva temple

Shiva and Parvati seated, on the right, with musicians, attendants and dancing girls

Krishna dancing with his gopis

Shiva and Parvati seated, with Brahma and Ganesha. Notice their mounts - the bull and the lion seated below them

Ganesha with his attendants

Krishna drinking milk from the udders of a cow

The temple was once part of a Mutt, or a monastery, of Shaivite saints, followers of Adi Shankaracharya. There are other temples in the complex, including another Shiva shrine set up in memory of Maharaj Dungar Singh. The deity here is called Dungareshwar Mahadev, and devotees here have a unique way of communicating their prayers to the deity. They scribble their wishes on the walls of the temple, in the belief that it will come true! Whether their belief is valid or not, it was fun to read the variety of prayers scribbled on these walls!

Pleas scribbled on the wall of the Dungareshwar Mahadev temple

Over the past few days, I have written about the other temples I visited in Bikaner – The Karni Mata Temple, the Jain Temple and the Laxmi Nath Temple. These are the only four I visited, though there are many more interesting temples in the region.

Among these four, the Karni Mata and the Laleshwar Mahadev are located away from the city. Both are simple structures, and both are built in the form of citadels, with towering walls around them. Both are connected to royalty, having been built by different kings. However, while Karni Mata is worshipped to this day by the royal family, the Laleshwar Mahadev is connected to Shaivite monks, and is worshipped by devotees of Shiva.

On the other hand, the Jain temple and the Laxmi Nath temple are both situated within the heart of the city, right next to each other. Both temples were built in the early days of Bikaner, for two different communities – the Jain temples for the merchants, and the Laxmi Nath temple for the local Vaishnavs and for the royals who considered him their patron deity at the time.

The one striking thing, which connects these temples, is the art. In the Karni Mata temple, this is seen in the form of miniature paintings on the door frame, while at all the other temples, the ceilings are profusely painted, and the special ones embellished with gold. It is at the Jain temple that these paintings cover every inch of the wall, overwhelming us by their presence.

It is this art, which does not belong to any particular religion, but is a specialty of this region, which connects these otherwise disparate temples – built for different communities, sects and religions!

Disclaimer: These posts are based on two trips to Bikaner – the first one, a personal trip, and the second, when I was invited by Narendra Bhawan. While the first was an enjoyable experience with my family, I barely spent a day here, and while it was enough to see the sights, it was too quick to leave an impression.

The second trip, which was on invitation from Narendra Bhawan, filled the gaps and added a context to all that I had seen before, which actually helped me write. While the experiences are courtesy Narendra Bhawan, the words are, needless to say, all my own! 

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