A journey of faith

Kankhal, it’s a small colony that’s dense with ashrams, temples, and the legends of Shiva

where the legend began Daksheswara Mahadev Temple. Photo by author

It all started here,” said Mahavirji. I looked at him questioningly. He gave a disarming smile and said, “Shiva’s tandava, and all the Shakti Peethas. It all started from here.”

Mahavirji, a 60-something and an epitome of congeniality, is among those from Kankhal who feel that the glory of this ancient town beside the Ganga in Uttarakhand, which got mentioned in the Puranas, Mahabharata, and even in Kalidasa’s epic poem Meghdootam, has been usurped by the expansion and popularity of Haridwar. “Kankhal, which had its own distinctive identity till a few decades ago, is now often mentioned as a colony of Haridwar,” he said, with a clear intonation of grief and disgust wrapped around ‘colony’.

Legend is born

We were at the Daksheswara Mahadev Temple, popularly known as Daksha Temple, or Daksha Prajapati Temple, in Kankhal, and Mahavirji was at his eloquent best: as to how it all started. Legend has it that it is here that Raja Daksha, father of Sati, started to conduct a great yagna. Daksha used to look down upon Shiva for his unworldly ways and was enraged at his own daughter, Sati, for marrying Shiva against his wish. So, he did not invite Shiva or Sati to the yagna. However, Sati turned up at her father’s yagna, even though uninvited.

Daksha did not let the opportunity go by to publicly denigrate Shiva at the yagna. In insult and agony, Sati jumped into the yagna fire and gave up her life. An infuriated Shiva had the yagna ravaged by his ganas. He then took up the body of Sati from the yagna kunda —­ “this very yagna kunda,” Mahavirji pointed out — and started tandava — the celestial dance of destruction. To save the situation, Vishnu cut the body of Sati, part by part, with his chakra, “and thus,” said Mahavirji, “wherever parts of Sati’s body fell, each became a Shakti Peetha.”

A streak of Ganga grazed by the south-eastern boundary of the Daksha Temple Complex. It is a common ritual to get a sprinkle of the holy water, if not take a holy dip. I joined a host of pilgrims who all seemed to have opted for the sprinkle and a touch of grace from the ghat’s purohits — priests. Only the local children regaled in jumping into the Ganga, playfully.

“Don’t rack your brain to judge what is history and which one is a myth. Not in Kankhal,” said Mahavirji, grinning, as we were at our kachori and chai at a roadside eatery. “Faith is all that matters,” he said, with finality.

We snaked through the streets of Kankhal in the electric auto, visiting temples and ashrams, and presently drove into the humdrum of the bazaar. Young men in denims and tee whizzed past on two-wheelers, now swerving left, now cutting across right.

Shopkeepers busy at their counters. A cluster of young women ambled by, their sudden chortle rose above the din and splashed the everydayness of the bazaar in bright colours. Our auto driver was adept at negotiation through the disorder and we moved forward in spurts. An elderly bare-bodied sadhu in a faded saffron dhoti, which didn’t cover his knees, meandered through the mishmash, his continence didn’t betray his oblivion to the prosaic drama of the material world being played out around. Another one, and I couldn’t ascertain his age through the thick of his mane and beard, begged for alms, which most of the shopkeepers obliged.

Our auto left the buzz of the bazaar behind. A group of men, five of them, appeared from the lane on the left; they all were uniformly dressed in white phatua — half-sleeve collar-less short-length shirt, and dhoti that flapped much above their ankles. Looked like they were from one of the many monastic congregations around. Mahavirji said, “There are so many ashrams in Kankhal that it is difficult to make out where one ashram or a temple complex ends and another begins.”

It was late in the afternoon when we came to a halt at the gate of Hari Har Ashram. Mahavirji led me through the toran – gate — into the ashram premises through the spotlessly clean path shaded by tropical trees. We stopped at a short distance with the main ashram building diagonally in front to the right and a small temple squarely to our right across an admirably maintained patch of grass. But before proceeding further, Mahavirji pointed at the tree to our left. A mighty one with dark green leaves. It is cemented around at the girth with a low fence above it. And it didn’t require any explaining, for the board clearly displayed: Rudraksha tree. I have seen rudraksha beads and garlands a hundred times in my life, but never a tree which bears the seeds, held throughout our ancient land in celestial esteem.

To the main ashram building, we climbed up a short flight of stairs, crossed the foyer and entered what looked like a hall rather than a conventional sanctum of a temple. At one corner sat three young inmates of the ashram chanting stotram. Their collective hum softly resonated inside the hall, satiating it with puffs of mellifluence which would calm down even a stormy mind. At the middle is a lingam made of a material rich in mercury.

Mahavirji whispered, but I didn’t miss the tint of pride, “Parad Shivling (mercury shivling).”

In Kankhal, we had started with Shiva in tandava. It was gratifying to end with Shiva in eternal stillness.

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A journey of faith

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