February 5, 2015
We had nothing planned anything for our last day in Kutch. We put ourselves in the hands of our *busier than **Obama local driver, Bharatbhai. This turned out to be a very good thing, because if it hadn’t been for Bharatbhai we would have very likely missed our train home. Bharatbhai decided to take us to Bhuj and show us the local sights, since our train back was from there. Bhuj was the capital of the Jadeja Rajput rulers of Kutch in the sixteenth century. Ever since, it has remained one of the most important places in Kutch.
My knowledge about this quaint city was limited to the earthquake of 2001 and that the movie Lagaan was shot here. The earthquake was a 7.7 on the Momentum Magnitude scale (6.9 on the Richter scale) and the tremors left the city devastated. Lagaan was India’s official entry for the Oscars in 2001 and was nominated in the best foreign language film category. It lost out to No Man’s Land.
We made an auspicious start at the Swaminarayan Temple. Floating like a sublime white lily on the banks of the Hamirsar Lake, this stately marble shrine is the pride of Bhuj. Pilgrims and visitors enter through a magnificent gate into a sprawling courtyard. Leave your footwear here. It is considered sacrilegious to enter Hindu temples with footwear on. I have seen Hindus take their footwear off before entering places of worship belonging to other religions too. The cool porous marble provides respite from the unforgiving heat of Kutch and its soft milky whiteness soothes the eyes. The extensively carved columns and ceilings and the tastefully done mosaic marble flooring are kept remarkably clean despite the heavy footfall.
I was always told that we ring the bell before entering a temple to announce ourselves to God (and the priest), and that is why it is impolite to ring it on the way out. Not so long ago I heard that good temple bell is one that produces a sound that lasts exactly 7 seconds in echo mode. The resulting vibrations drain the mind of all thoughts and one can then easily meditate on the Supreme Being and absorb the positive energies of the temple. Recently I came across a more beautiful, philosophical explanation. The sound of the bell is supposed to replicate the chanting of AUM, which the Hindu’s believe is the fundamental sound of the universe or the big bang. When the bell rings the sound is deep at first, as though originating from the pit of the stomach; it gradually transitions into a sharp humming and then slowly dissipates into eternity. Like the bell’s harmonics, reality has three stages – srishti, sthiti and laya meaning creation, preservation and destruction or birth, life and death. The sound of the bell is supposed to alert the listeners to the impermanence of their own existence and remind them that ***He alone is real.
As we stood before the idols I whispered to the husband “Which god is this?” “Swaminarayan!” “I know that,” I hissed,” Which god is Swaminarayan?” I take some quite pride in my knowledge of Hindu mythology and the great and minor gods of the pantheon, but I really couldn’t place this one. The husband was just as confused. My question threw him off, but only for a moment. He quickly gathered himself and hissed back, “There’s Narayan in his name. He must be a manifestation of Vishnu.” With that he quickly joined his hands, closed his eyes and bowed his head.
(The preferred form of worship seemed to be to join the index fingers and tap them on the floor repeatedly)
I have found out since that Lord Swaminarayan was a living saint who was considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu by his followers. When he was still alive six temples were built in his honour, one of which was in Bhuj. In these temples the main idols was installed by Lord Swaminarayan himself. The north side of the Bhuj temple was destroyed when the earthquake stuck in 2001. This impressive new temple we were standing in was built as a replacement, a short distance away from the original. Bharatbhai says there was a grand feast to celebrate the opening of the new temple.The temple is built using traditional Vedic architectural methods and construction was completed in 2010. The original idols miraculously survived the earthquake and were moved into their new abode.
* The number of calls he received and the amount of time he spent co-ordinating I-don’t-know-what on the phone was unbelievable.
**Obama – current President of the United States of America
***He/She/Whatever. I believe God is gender free. I am using He merely for convenience