Where history lies untouched and serene

'Sankranthi' visit

Where history lies untouched and serene

As the winter chill is giving way to warmer days, the season of spring is being fondly welcomed all over the country.

It’s indeed a joyous occasion to celebrate. Various states celebrate it in various ways — there is the kite festival in Gujarat, and ‘Pongal’ in Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, the harvest festival, ‘Sankranthi’, is celebrated when people welcome the good times by distributing ‘yellu-bella’, sugarcane and sugar candies.

For the people of Bengaluru, the occasion has yet another significance as a rare celestial phenomenon takes place in the temple of Sri Gavi Gangadhareshwara. It’s only on this day that sun rays fall on the ‘linga’ in the sanctum. And to see this spectacle, multitude of devotees, from Bengaluru and other parts of the state, throng the temple.

The history of Bengaluru, which was just another obscure village a few centuries ago, goes back to about 500 years, to the times of Kempegowda, a feudatory ruler under the Vijayanagar empire. Kempegowda developed the place by building roads, tanks and temples. Some of these monuments and temples exist today as symbols of cultural history of the city.

Among the numerous ancient temples here, the temple of Sri Gavi Gangadhareshwara stands out as a distinct shrine in several ways. It’s a unique rock-cut cave temple. Located in the bustling surroundings of south Bengaluru, it is estimated to be built in the 9th century. But the belief is that the ‘Shivalinga’ was consecrated by sage Gauthama Maharshi while he penanced here. As such the shrine came to be known as ‘Gauthama Kshetra’. It was also here that another great sage, Bharadwaja, undertook penance and worshipped it.

In the course of time, the importance of the temple faded. But it got a new lease of life during the times of Kempegowda. There was an overall renovation with addition of new structures and pillars.

Detailing on the history of the temple, the chief priest, Agamacharya Dr Somasundara Dixit, says the it has many distinctive features. As it is south-facing, the god of Dakshinamurthy is prominent here. Paying obeisance to this god, referred to as ‘kshipraprasada’, is equal to visiting 10 temples, he adds. A constant trickle of water flowing from the pedestal of the ‘linga’ which is turned to the right represents Ganga, and so it’s revered as Gangadhareshwara.

The worshipping here in daytime constitutes part of the ‘trikala pujavidhi’, with the morning worship at Varanasi and the evening ritual at Shivagange near Tumakuru.

     It is believed that long ago, two tunnels from this cave led to Shivagange and Varanasi. While right in front of the sanctum is the stone Nandi, on the right is the idol of Parvathi.

Along the narrow circumambulating paths are a number of stone idols, each with its own importance. The idols of sages Gauthama and Bharadwaja are the first to be seen as one takes the path. The idols of Sapthamathrikas are also represented, followed by the idols of Umamaheshwari and Chandikeshwara.

The idol of Agnimurthy, the god of fire, has a distinctive appearance with two faces, four horns, seven hands and three feet. The graven image of Shakti Ganapathi is also different with 10 hands. This has a ritualistic importance, too — performing ‘ksheerabhisheka’ (anointing with milk) on a Sunday and taking ‘prasada’ after looking at the Sun is good for the eyes.

The courtyard of the temple has a few things of importance. There are four stone pillars — all carved from a single rock — two of which have a disc to symbolise the sun and the moon.

      The other two have the trident and ‘damaruga’, the weapons that represent Lord Shiva. But the most interesting part is the way the temple has been built to enable the sun rays to fall on the ‘linga’.

According to Sri Dixit, as the sun traverses from east to west and the sanctum faces south, it is only on the eve of ‘Makara Sankranthi’ that the sun rays can fall on the ‘linga’.
As the time changes to ‘Uttarayana’, signifying the northward movement of the sun to ‘Makara’ (Capricorn constellation), the evening rays happen to pass through two windows of the temple and between the horns of the Nandi to reach the ‘linga’.

     The phenomenon lasts for about an hour, when the ‘abhisheka’ is performed. To see the divine spectacle, thousands of devotees stand packed inside the cave shrine. Those outside or elsewhere can also watch it on TV. It’s truly a wonder that this ancient temple has a rare combination of religious, historical and  astronomical importance.
This year, the event will occur on January 15 between 5 pm and 6 pm.

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