temple is one of the oldest temples of
Shivpur, a small dusty village by the river Tunga, in the Western
Ghats of India. It was a five-hundred year old temple built by the
local ruler in remembrance of a brave chieftain who died fighting
the kingdom's arch rival. Over time, the chieftain became a legend
to the villagers. A majority of them even started considering him
as Lord Shiva's incarnate as the chieftain laid down his life on
Shivrathri. It was habitual of the villagers to periodically visit
the temple to seek Lord's blessings. But on Shivrathri, it was an
unwritten rule for every villager to pay a visit to the temple and
show their respect for the Lord. For some, it was Lord Shiva and
for the others it was their chieftain, whose spirit still protected
the village. But as far as the atheists are concerned - well, they
never really believed the existence of God; let alone His incarnation!
The temple was at least a mile away
from the village but a serpentine-fashioned muddy lane with thick
wild bushes on either side of it was the only way to reach the temple.
A small stone-paved archway with a wooden gate led to the temple
premises that had two dilapidated stone-carved monstrous gatekeepers
on either side of the main entrance. The temple had a large hall
with a dozen pillars each with intricately carved designs and mystic
symbols representing the manifestations of the Divine Cosmos.
Each pillar was interlocked with
the other to form a symmetrical dodecagon to signify the subtle
signs of the universe. Each side of the hall was decorated with
images of various gods and goddesses and a large Hindu calendar
highlighting various auspicious days of that year. The hall was
connected to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple where a small Lingam
was placed at its centre. A conical shaped copper pot with a perforated
bottom was placed a foot above the dhoti-clad Lingam. To its right,
a lamp containing an oil-soaked wick was placed over a raised platform.
Seasonal changes over the last five centuries took a heavy toll
on most parts of the temple. In relative terms, sanctum sanctorum
was the only section of the temple that was still intact and devoid
of any cracks on its supporting pillars.
Vishnu Sharma was the appointed priest
of the temple by the village elders. There was neither an election
nor eager contestants for the post of a priest at Triambakeshwar
Temple as Vishnu was the only Brahmin in the village. He was a heavily
built middle-aged person with broad shoulders and a large midriff;
but an attractive face offset his bodily incongruity. His sparkling
pair of eyes emanated brilliance and deeper understanding of life.
One could always find him either offering prayers to the deity or
reading a book under the banyan tree in his spare time. He had to
discontinue his education in the nearby town and return to the village
to take care of the temple after his father's sudden demise. It's
been now almost fifteen years since he quit formal education and
dedicated himself in the service of the Lord..
Like any other day,
Vishnu woke up early that morning and cycled to the temple carrying
a large pot and a bag containing a packet of sacred ash and a saffron
dhoti. Upon reaching the temple premises, he parked his cycle under
the banyan tree and left his footwear next to it. Picking up the
pot and his bag, he walked towards the southern side of the temple,
which had uneven but naturally set steps and a sharp slope that
led to the river. Perhaps for a new comer, it would have been difficult
to gauge and walk the dimly lit pavement; but for him, it was not
a challenge but another exercise in his day-to-day life as the temple
Upon reaching the
bank of the river, he carefully placed his pot and the bag on a
dry piece of rock and undressed himself leaving a loin cloth on
him that passed between his legs. Adjusting his holy thread that
passed diagonally across his chest and bringing his palms together,
he slowly moved forward into the river till the water reached almost
half of his body. Closing his nostrils with his right hand, he took
three dips in the river. Taking a handful of water, he chanted a
hymn praising the Sun god with deep veneration. With that marking
the last part of his bathing ritual, he came out of the river and
wore dhoti around his wait. He took out the sacred ash from the
bag and mixed it with a few drops of water to make a fine white
paste. He smeared a large portion of the paste on his forehead and
the rest was smeared across various parts of his body. He reached
for his pot and filled it with water.
Carrying the pot on
the right shoulder and his bag on his left, he started walking back
to the temple and chanted hymns as his picked up a few flowers from
the nearby plants. As he reached the temple, he lowered the pot
and opened the lock of the temple with a key tied to his sacred
thread. He moved slowly into the sanctum sanctorum and placed the
pot next to the Lingam. He washed and cleaned the Lingam and the
place surrounding it with the water. He gently placed the flowers
on the deity and lit the lamp along with a few incense sticks. Raising
his voice, he started chanting the mantras and with every two or
three lines, he stopped for a moment to gently throw a flower on
the Lingam. It almost took his two hours to finish all his morning
ritual. At the end of it, he prostrated before the Lord as a mark
of absolute reverence.
Coming out of the
temple, Vishnu sat under the banyan tree next to his bicycle. He
pushed himself on the elevated platform to recline against the tree’s
trunk. Squatting his legs and rubbing his palms against his unshaven
face, unaware of the morning sunlight gently warming his cheeks,
he was staring at the dome of the temple and was lost in his own
world of thoughts.
‘Hello? Excuse me?’ said a voice from
behind one of the pillars of the temple. Hearing a human’s voice
at this time of the day was a little unusual for him; more so when
it was in English – a language not spoken by the locals. He got
up from the raised platform and walking towards the temple he asked,
‘Who is it?’ A lanky six feet European emerged from behind the pillar
who wore a simple khaki shorts and a plain white shirt. ‘Oh, I am
sorry. I did not mean to intrude’ said the European with a mild
apologetic tone. ‘Don’t be, please. You are welcome to visit our
temple’ replied Vishnu in English with a friendly tone and walked
towards the visitor.
The visitor was pleased to find a
person who could understand and converse in his language. ‘I am
glad to find someone who could speak English at last. I have been
traveling around this place for the last four days and had to use
sign-language in most places, you see. This morning, I was riding
this way and found this place interesting. It caught my attention.
So I stopped by and started taking pictures. Do you mind if I take
photographs, Sir?’ questioned the visitor as he took out his camera
from his backpack.
Vishnu gave a gentle smile and mildly
shook his head. ‘You don’t have to call me sir. My name is Vishnu
Sharma. You can call me Vishnu and by the way, you can take photographs.’
‘oh, I am sorry. How rude of me! I almost forgot to introduce myself.
My name is John Wright’ said the visitor extending his hand. Vishnu
shook the hand and asked, ‘Are you English?’ ‘Yes, I am. How did
you know?’ Vishnu chuckled a little louder this time and replied,
‘It’s the accent. It’s unmistakable, isn’t it?’ The visitor too
had a good laugh and nodded his head. ‘Can I go inside the temple?’
in a whispering tone asked the visitor.
‘By all means, you can. Please remove
your footwear and enter the temple’ instructed Vishnu and walked
inside the temple. As instructed, the European too removed his footwear
and placed them in one corner of the pillar before entering the
temple’s hall. He had to lower his head as he followed Vishnu through
the main-door. The visitor was awestruck to see intricate designs
on each pillar. He took photographs of almost all the pillars from
all possible angles and expressed his admiration for such delicate
artwork at the end of every single shot. Vishnu was happy to see
someone who expressed his interest in appreciating something he
‘I have never been to a temple before.
I never thought temples had such magnificent architecture’ expressed
the visitor who really enjoyed taking such an unprecedented tour.
‘Do you mind if I ask you a question?’ asked the visitor. ‘No no.
Please go ahead. What is it?’ replied Vishnu who was leaning against
one of the pillars of the halls and standing diagonally opposite
to the visitor. ‘How come you speak English? I thought I would never
find one, especially in this part of the country’ curiously put
forth his question.
Vishnu expected this question and
it was just a matter of time for him to answer. ‘My father sent
me to the nearby town when I was a kid and thanks to him – I received
both western education and Vedic instructions. Family circumstances
made me to quit university and return to my village to take care
of this temple. My ancestors took care of this village and now it
is my turn to show my respect and gratitude by serving the Lord’
answered without any trace of guilt or remorse in his tone.
As the visitor intently listened to
the priest’s words, he closed his eyes and started contemplating
his words for a few moments. Vishnu sat by the pillar and waited
for the visitor to ask his next question. It’s been a very long
time since he spoke to anybody about his life and his sudden turn
of events. There were days when he spent most of his time in meditating
or silently contemplating on his life when no villager visited the
temple. But today’s intrusion was more than welcome as there was
a company to talk to.
The visitor opened his eyes and looking
at the eyes of the priest he asked, ‘You are an educated person
and as I see, there are no jobs that befit your education in this
part of the country. Why didn’t you move to the town and find a
comfortable life up there?’
Vishnu gently nodded his head and
giving one precious little smile he looked at the deity for a minute
and answered his question. ‘Educated? Hmmm… It is not just me who
is educated in this village, Mr. John. Every single villager is
educated. Our schools of thought might differ but the underlying
concept is very much the same. Our people may not seem to be educated
if looked from your point of view. But you see, we live here in
the middle of this dense forest and we have defined our lives our
It may be foolish to gauge us as either
educated or rustics if you measure by your yardstick. Each villager
here knows the purpose of his life. I was not sent to town to obtain
university degree and seek a comfortable life in towns. I was sent
to find purpose in my life – to gain knowledge on both social and
spiritual front so that I can come back to my roots and help my
people.” “I agree. But that does make you a happy person? Can I
have a life like yours when I go back to England?” inquisitively
asked the visitor.
“I did not get a university degree
but I found my purpose. As a priest, it is my duty to conduct the
puja and pray for the welfare of my people. When I pray for prosperity
of my villagers, I receive immunity from the Lord from being poisoned
by such materialistic desires. I was taught to find happiness with
whatever I have. I escaped the town before it put a price tag on
my soul and thus the flowers of happiness with little thorns of
privation adorn the valley of my life. John, I am neither a saint
nor a man of words. Honestly, I think you’ll find your life’s purpose
when you are with your people.
Find your roots and lead a contended
life. I shall pray for the Lord’s blessings for you.” With rapt
attention the visitor was listening to every single word the priest
spoke. There was neither displeasure nor happiness to his words.
He occasionally nodded his head and as the priest finished his talk,
the visitor quietly settled down in one corner of the hall, closed
his eyes and mentally repeated the priest’s answer.
As the visitor started meditating,
Vishnu got up and walked into the sanctum sanctorum and prayed for
the visitor’s welfare. The End
Story Teller Avinash
Iyer, works as a Research Analyst for an Energy Consulting Group
in Chennai, India. Avid reader & deeply interested in religion
& spirituality. [email protected]