Darkness had descended by now. We decided to take a stroll around the temple complex before beginning our hunt for a local dining experience.
The weather this far into our trip had been nothing short of perfect. Early morning rides through the crisp, fresh and dry morning chill of the plateaus had been unexceptionally pleasant. Daylight would spread around us as if the heavenly blanket was being withdrawn tantalizingly slowly to reveal the beauty sprawled underneath. Daytime temperatures were tempered by the winter axis of earth. The clear day sky spilled into nighttime, painting a twinkling ceiling and making the evening ritual of exploring the town on either side of dinner that much more special. Lack of precipitation meant that the humidity levels were comfortably low. Tonight was no different.
The Aundha Naagnath temple.
We followed the sparse crowd into the temple complex. The token presence of state security police at the gates was not as pronounced as the ones we encountered at Pandharpur two noons ago. Two police constables were sitting on an elevated platform near the gates, next to the ubiquitous walk-through frame of metal detector. The metal detectors were switched off, the constables even more so. Their monotonously dreary responsibility of safeguarding the complex and visitors without any clear intelligence directives had produced the inevitable effect. While most constables found solitary pursuits in reading news, some others found activity in helping out the temple staff in their duties. In a few cases their assistance hid ulterior motives as I was to discover later. None seemed approachable and almost all presented a courteous but curt facade. Their expressions hinted that they would welcome some human interaction but on the other hand the risk of loosing their carefully crafted pretentious respect restrained them.
Passing through the metal detectors I entered the temple’s courtyard. The temple, slightly to my left, is noticeable with it’s tower coated in a layer of bright white lime. The contrast it created with the dark and wider base of the temple carved from rock was unusual. Such a choice of contrasting colours on a single edifice was unusual to these parts. There had to be some historical significance to this I wondered. The courtyard was tiled with slabs of rock, polished to a shine by years of footfalls. Footwear, as is customary in most temples, were surrendered to the mercy of one’s faith near the gate. Sources who swear by the benefits of walking naked feet claim that the contact with earth leeches negative energy from one’s body, filling the vacated mental faculties with a sense of calm. Perhaps it was the validation of those claims or maybe it was the placebo effect caused by this latent dose of information that I had been nursing for some time, but the dramatic change in my awareness when my naked soles touched this polished surface is something I won’t forget anytime soon.
We approached the structure of the temple slowly, absorbing the view on either sides. We had decided to pay obeisance early the following morning before embarking on our ride so there was no pressing and present objectives. Wandering aimlessly towards the temple I noticed that the carvings on the walls were quite intricate and surprisingly well preserved over time. It was just mesmerizing to view all these shapes, large and small, not just exceptionally detailed but also narrating events from tales of that time. Gazing at these shapes speaking about stories in a language we could not comprehend was frustrating. We walked around as deliberately as possible admiring the work, but not gaining any meaning.
Carvings on the temple.
Just then a young boy, about 10 years, old approached us and asked if we needed a guide. He offered to give us a full tour of the complex and furnish all the historical and mythological details surrounding it. The number of unanswered queries had only increased since we chanced upon this town so I viewed this as another stroke of providence. A chance to find all our answers. I studied the boys appearance more carefully. He was wearing shorts and a half sleeve shirt. Both were clean and neat. His hair was well groomed and his face was coated with a fine layer of talcum powder, which also further meant that he had bathed within the last hour or so. His posture was confident yet humble. His right arm was by his side while the left one crooked around his back to clutch the elbow of his right one. His speech was clear and the formality in the tone of his proposal was devoid of any childishness. On the whole he certainly acted more mature than his age. Reading my silence as apprehensiveness, he proceeded to inform that he is a regular at the local school, his father is recently unemployed and he has a younger brother and mother at home too. This, not entirely unexpected tale of melodrama was a clue that this kid had had been inducted into this industry of guided tours by an experienced hand. Whether what he told was true or not did not matter much to me. If not his honesty at least is acting abilities deserved to be rewarded. On enquiring about his charges the typically Indian answer of “I’ll leave that to you. Whatever you feel is justified.” had to suffice for now.
Thus the tour began. The kid began his narration in a manner that reminded me of my school days and how we recited multiplication tables and poetry in tones with similar inflections but devoid of any sentiments. The training we received had emphasized on absorbing information. Ignoring the underlying emotions was always forgiven by everyone. I had to reign him in, mid-gallop into his third statement, to get some closure on his opening statement. I asked him twice just to confirm that this temple was in fact built by ‘Dharamraj’ (Yudhistir, eldest of the 5 Pandava brothers from Mahabharata). I found it absolutely dumbfounding that I was actually touching a structure built by a character so distant in history that he walked among gods. I also found it hard to believe that information such as this, about an era so far back in time that it’s contentiousness is argued as factual or mythological, could be narrated as blandly as a recipe for mango pickle. It was even more strenuous to wrap my logic around his next statement. Thankfully my primary school training of absorbing and regurgitating information held me in good stead here. “This temple was built in a single night of 6 months”. Once again I restrained him midway into his next statement and prodded further. “You see, 1 night for the Pandavas was equivalent to 6 months for us”. No, I didn’t see and I still cannot. Neither my immediate efforts during my remainder of the stay at Aundha, nor my subsequent efforts after arriving in Mumbai yielded any fruit. I appealed to the kid to device a better way to explain this otherwise he would be responsible for an epidemic of confused minds. He responded with a toothy grin.
To be continued in next Friday’s post….
9th September, 2010. Mumbai.