This week, we had a quick family jaunt to Mahabaleshwar. We are in mid-April, and we were there on weekdays. The “season” apparently had not started. We had all the Mahabaleshwar to ourselves. There was no rush, no crowd, the atmosphere was peaceful, everywhere. I went to Mahabaleshwar after about three years. One thing I noticed was cleanliness. Where ever I went, to main market road, the “points” there was hardly any sign of Kachara. The hotels and restaurants where I went also were spick and span in this respect. I hope that this is a sign of things to come in future.
We visited the Kshetra Mahabaleshwar where there is a Mandir. The place is the source of five rivers Krishna/Koyana and others. Let me say this in advance that I am a little away from Mandir circuit and I may or may not enter all the Mandirs where I go. I do not want to say something to disturb anyone’s feelings, but I write about my observations. Outside this Mandir, on the left side, there is dry gutter with a sloping wall of a house. Every time we go to Kshetra Mahabaleshwar, I rest there while others visit the Mandir. It is an enjoyable place, and it has almost become a tradition for me to lie down while others go to the Mandir. This time I treated myself to a selfie!
It was quite warm yet peaceful because there was no crowd. Though I was pleased personally, it must have been tough for shopkeepers, restaurants and business people in general. The place is generally choc a block with people. While I was lying down, I saw someone coming with two plastic bags full of small plastic empty bottles used for serving water. (especially on flights) These were delivered to a shop. Priya gave me an update that these are used by shopkeepers to sell “holy water” from the source of the river! I smiled. Priya did not buy.
I had “my time” for two consecutive days for slightly more than an hour. I left the hotel room at around six am. I had my cell phone with me on both occasions but only as a habit. On the first day, I walked to Kate’s point. The path was covered with tree arches with my friends chirping away to glory. On the second day, it was a lawn in the hotel, with a prominent raised platform where I could sit; no one else had woken up at that time when I sat in that place for an hour, I could distinguish at least 15 different bird species chirping. There may have been more, but my hearing capacity may not have been adequate to distinguish. There were trees around with a lot of flower plants. I went and checked each flower for details. Was I meditating? No, I had my eyes and ears open, and all I could hear was nature. The rustling of tree leaves, faint scents of flowers, beautiful mix in colour Kaleidoscope created by nature showing a vast range of colours. But HIS capability of producing so many shades of green was what impressed me the most. While taking my walk on the first day, the different varieties of trees with unique shapes, some had a lot of leaves and others were bare. Some trees had thick branches which had become horizontal due to nature’s forces. I wished at that time that I was at least ten years younger biologically. I would have surely climbed up to take a nap on them with a cool morning breeze around. Surprisingly, even our ancestors, the monkeys, were also sleeping. One more selfie!
We decided to visit the Pratapgad area, without the climb as we had Rhea with us and the temperature was against us. It was noon. We were in for a pleasant surprise. A village depicting times of Shivaji Maharaj was created. They charged a fee which was peanuts compared to what we saw. It was neat, the show was impressive. It seems that they have a small theatre where they show some films about Shivaji’s times. The statues they had created and the atmosphere were very impressive. The guide they had provided was enthusiastic, but she could have been trained better. The washrooms needed improvement according to Rhea’s report. I will suggest all my friends to visit this place. I have seen such a show for the first time in India; we have a lot of cultures and should create similar ways of letting others know about our history.
On the spur of the moment, we decided to drive down to Kolhapur to go and take darshan of Devi Ambabai, before coming back to Pune. Our driver suggested that being a Friday, there could be a bit of rush, but it was manageable. I went to pay obeisance to Ambabai after a few years. Apparently, with the security situation prevailing, there are some changes made. Why all the visitors were told to remove footwear outside the premises, was not understood by me. It was around 3 pm; there was a scorching sun. There were some mats thrown in to walk on, but they were not adequate. Walking with no footwear appeared to be compulsory penance. What about very old and young? Even I had difficulty walking, but nobody seemed to mind. It is a practice to sit inside Mandir premises for 5 to 10 minutes. I feel that it is the correct practice. When you come to any Mandir, you should keep some time for HIM! It is not like you go to a restaurant, take a quick bite and go away. Unfortunately, there was no place to sit. Some people were sitting on the bare floor, luckily covered with a Shamiana to shield people from the Sun.
I always feel a bit out of place in any Mandir. I bow to God, I do Namaskar to God; people follow many different rituals. Whether they do it knowingly or unknowingly, I am not sure. While I was sitting in the Mandir, there was some chanting going on in another part of the Mandir. I asked a few people around to understand what was going on, but nobody seemed to know. Then I asked a lady running a shop about the chanting. She said that on every Friday, a Pujari chants one thousand names of goddess Ambabai. At least two hundred ladies were attending the chanting. They had a plate in front of them. I was told that they have a Yantra, a holy replica of Chakra in the dish. With each chant, the ladies were applying a small portion of Kumkum or Vermillion to the Yantra. I asked the lady what, what is the purpose of doing it, she smiled.
In India, we have a fascinating combination of modern way of life and traditions. I feel that whatever one’s belief’s, one must visit different parts of India to understand and see this great spectacle. Yes, in Ambabai Mandir too cleanliness was excellent but for a few pieces of plastic bags etc. I will share with you my experience of a visit to the Golden Temple many years back. Outside the Mandir, there is a vast empty area which was very clean. While we were waiting for our car to arrive, I saw someone drop some paper on the ground. Nobody said anything to that person. The moment that person was away, a volunteer came and picked up the trash. They did not argue with the person nor did they humiliate him. They call it “Kar Seva”! In Hindu temples also we should start the culture of Kar Seva. Let us spread the culture. For those who do not know about Kar Seva, the volunteer services are offered by poor people as well as wealthy people on their own. God brings everyone to an equal level!