Swami Siddhinathanandaji was a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order. The above article is an abridged version of his small booklet ‘Some Saunterings in Saurashtra’ published by Ramakrishna Sevashrama, Calicut, in 1989. We have added a few photographs of the places of pilgrimage and the deities associated with them.We are also grateful to Shri Rameshbhai Thakar, Rajkot for some of his photographs which we have included in this article.

‘Saurashtra’ – sounds nice and means good, for the very name means ‘the good country’. Good can be twofold, intrinsic and relative. Saurashtra is good on both counts. It is good in its own right. It is situated on the western coast of India, laved by the waves and lulled by the breeze of the Arabian Sea. It is rich in marine wealth and maritime tradition; it is richly endowed by nature with varied florae and faunae. So it is naturally Su-rashtra. Now, when you come down from the arid wilderness of Rajasthan and enter the sylvan Saurashtra, it is such a relief and matter of joy by its contrast in climate and vegetation. After the rocky cliffs and the sandy dunes, the verdant hills and vales of the coastal land are so refreshing that the mind automatically exclaims, ‘Ha, lovely!’ Saurashtra was a constant temptation for the hordes from across the sandy tracts and it had been the frequent victim of greedy conquerors.

Saunterings in Saurashtra are a richly rewarding experience. We shall sally forth into this lovely land for a short while, through story and history, all for the glory of His story.

Saurashtra was a cluster of native states in pre-independence days, over two hundred in number. The new State of Saurashtra had a brief spell as a separate entity; but with the partition of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency into Maharashtra and Gujarat, Saurashtra got merged in Gujarat. Though its political destinies are thus bound up with its added size, Saurashtra still retains its cultural soul and traditional identity.

Rajkot

We shall start from Rajkot, which was once the capital of the native state of that name. It is a fairly big town. Gandhiji had his early education here. What interests me more than anything else is that there is a fine centre of the Ramakrishna Order here. To a member of the Order, every place connected with Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda is a sacred spot. It was the first week of November 1978 when I reached Rajkot. The climate was pleasant. The local Ashrama is situated in a spacious compound in the centre of the town, within a mile and a half from the Railway Station. It has a well-stocked library and a fine Students’ Home.

Limbdi

During his wandering days, Swami Vivekananda spent quite some time in these parts. The small native State of Limbdi was one of the places hallowed by the sojourn of the great Swami.

Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram

To come back to Rajkot, there are several places of interest here. Lavishly sculptured Jain temples and gorgeously decorated Hindu temples are there. The temple of Rama founded by Ranchhoddasji Maharaj is a very interesting and inspiring place. Non-stop singing of Ram-nam goes on here day and night. Daily some four hundred religious mendicants are served with clean and healthy food in the noon, and about two hundred, in the evening. They supply the poor and the needy with clothings. They conduct an eye-clinic also. Gift of food, raiment and eye-sight is the form of service they specialize in. Once, late at night, Ranchhodji, the founder knocked at the gate. The watchman refused admission to the stranger. He walked away coolly and spread his blanket under a tree. The watchman then remembered that the stranger resembled a photo kept in the Math, went to him and admitted him after ascertaining his identity. Both deserve our admiration.

All ye that are hungry, come unto us

At Virpur, some fifty kilometres away from Rajkot, there lived a century and a half ago a devoted couple, Jalaram and Virbai. They had a small holding of land. Their village lay on the way to Somnath, Junagadh and Girnar. Jalaram would wait at the entrance of the village and implore the pilgrims to accept his hospitality. The produce from his small holding sufficed to feed all who came. His renown spread far and wide. Once, late at night, an old mendicant knocked at his door and demanded food and shelter. He was warmly welcomed. The guest wanted to go early the next morning. The host requested him to rest for a few days more. The guest agreed on condition that the host’s wife attend on him. Jalaram agreed. The guest took her to a nearby lake, handed over to her his begging bag and walking stick, asked her to wait for him till he returned, and entered the lake and disappeared. Hearing his wife’s predicament, Jalaram came to the lake and realized that the strange mendicant was none other than God in disguise, come to test his hospitality, humility and devotion. The wife had been asked to wait till the guest’s return. Now, what to do? Both husband and wife prayed to the Lord and the Lord appeared in the form of Vishnu. Pleased with their service, the Lord blessed them and offered them any boon they wanted. They prayed for unswerving devotion to God and also for the privilege of serving devotees in all possible ways. Conferring the desired boon and blessing them again the Lord disappeared. They worshipped Sri Ramachandra with steadfast devotion. The begging bag and walking stick that the vanishing guest gave for safekeeping are preserved at their house even today. Provisions and other requisites for feeding and serving the devotees pour in from all places. Jalaram’s hospitality continues to this day. Anyone will be provided with shelter for three nights, and food is always freely available.

Junagadh – Narasimha Mehta

On to Junagadh. There is a direct bus service from Rajkot to Junagadh. The word Junagadh means Old Fort-Jirna Durg. It was one of the big states of erstwhile Saurashtra. Junagadh is a place of interest to tourists as well as to pilgrims. This is the place, which has been hallowed by the life of Narasimha Mehta, the singer-composer of the famous song ‘Vaishnava Jana to’ so dear to the heart of Mahatma Gandhi. Mehta composed several devotional songs and they are sung even today by devotees with great fervour and spiritual ecstasy. Narasimha Mehta lived some five centuries ago. He was a contemporary of Ramprasad of Bengal. Mehta was a devotee of Krishna. One can see there the place where he lived, worshipped his Lord, sang His glories and had the vision of the blessed Rasalila. There is a temple of Krishna. In the front, there is a circle where the Rasalila was shown to the devotee and even now a spiritual atmosphere lingers there. On another side, there is a pictorial museum showing the various incidents in the life of this singer of celestial melodies on the Eternal Flutist of the groves of Vrindavan.

Once, some pilgrims were on their way to Dwarka, about a hundred miles away. Those were times when highway robbery was the order of the day. The pilgrims had some money with them. They enquired of some people in Junagadh if there were anyone who would receive the money there and arrange to pay them at Dwarka. Some people, out of mischief, directed them to Narasimha Mehta. In spite of Mehta’s denial of having any such arrangements, the pilgrims persisted. Finding no way out, he accepted rupees seven hundred as deposit and issued to them a promissory note in song addressed to Sheth Dwarkadheeshji : ‘O Lord, of Dwarka, safeguard thy honour and mine. Deign to accept this note and honour the bill.’ The pilgrims reached Dwarka and started searching for the Shethji. None could give them any guidance. In despair they were waiting at Damodar Street, some two miles away from the temple, cursing their fate and foolishness. At this juncture there appeared a smart looking Sheth and asked them if they were the persons sent by Narasimha Mehta and if they had any note from him. They produced the receipt whereupon the Sheth paid them the money due, took back the note and disappeared. The pilgrims on their way back after offering worship at Dwarka, went to Narasimha Mehta and thanked him for the kindly help. Mehta fell at their feet and congratulated them on their good fortune at being able to see the Lord in person.

As Mehta was a friend of the lowly, the blue blood boycotted him. Marriage is the occasion when society takes its revenge for violating its injunctions. Mehta’s daughter Kunverbai had to be married. At long last a groom was found willing to take the girl, but then, the groom’s party presented a long list of articles of state and luxury. Lakshmi and her Lord appeared and provided everything demanded. Mehta’s clerk carried them to the groom’s people and the devotee’s daughter was duly joined in wedlock. Similarly for his son’s marriage, the bride’s party demanded that the groom should be accompanied by a band of nobles. Mehta appealed to his Lord. At the appointed hour, a good number of nobles in rich attire led the groom to the altar. So Krishna had to play Metha’s sons’s best man and retinue. Well, if the Lord sets a price for His grace, the devotee demands of God an even greater obligation. Yes, it is a reciprocal and total self-surrender.

Mehta would every day go some six miles to Damodarkund, a small lake formed by a river, for his bath, all the way singing hymns to God. The lake is considered as sacred as the Yamuna. On its banks, there is a temple dedicated to Shiva. A few yards away is the cave where Muchukunda of epic fame entered on his long slumber with a boon obtained from the gods that he should not be disturbed. Krishna flying from Kalayavana, lured to this dark den the latter, who, seeing someone asleep, and taking him to be his fleeing foe, gave a kick; and lo, the sleeper woke, fixed his eyes on the intruder and the doomed criminal was reduced to ashes. Krishna then appeared before Muchukunda and blessed him.

Ladies of the royal household were attracted by Mehta’s devotional songs, and they used to attend his gatherings. King Mandalika felt scandalized at this and in order to punish the offender, he put Mehta to a severe test. Mandalika placed a garland round the neck of Krishna’s image in the royal chapel, closed the door tightly, and securely locked it up and demanded Mehta to get the garland out through divine intervention. As was stipulated, to the great dismay and surprise of the king, the garland round Krishna’s neck was found adorning the neck of Krishna’s devotee. And king Mandalika became a devotee of this votary of Krishna.

Once Narasimha Mehta was in dire need of some money to entertain some Sadhus. He went to a moneylender for a loan. The rich man, at the instigation of some jealous neighbours, demanded of Mehta the mortgage of his favourite Kedar Raga. That Raga was very dear to the heart of Mehta, for it was the singing of the tune that brought his lovely Lord dancing before him. Helplessly he mortgaged it. Pining for a vision of his beloved Gopal, he sang a soulful song imploring if He could not spare seventy rupees for him. Krishna in the guise of a messenger from Mehta returned the loan and the bond was redeemed. Innumerable are the sports the Lord played in and through this inspired Narasimha and many a soul has been spiritually illumined through his divine tunes. These may sound miraculous; miraculous they are, but not untrue on that score, for the believing souls can and do hear and see things that are incomprehensible to the sordid sceptics.

Girnar

Now to Mount Girnar. Girnar means Girinagara, the city on the mountain. It is a place sacred to Hindus and Jains. There is another hill close by which is scared to the Muslims. Mount Girnar is some four thousand feet high. There are several temples on its crest. We will begin from the foot. There is an edict of Ashoka and some other kings on a huge rock, at the foot of the hill. It is preserved and protected with proper enclosures and roofing.

We started the climb at 8.15 a.m. It was the 15th of November, 1978. ..’Jai Girnar’ shouts will greet you from fellow-pilgrims. The ascent is steep and hard. ..Half way up, you see a huge rock standing with its huge hood, a mile or more high…. Some four thousand steps up is the first point of attraction. There one comes across a cluster of Jain temples, all elaborately carved and magnificently built in marble. There are more then two dozens of them, each a marvel of workmanship. What inspired the builders of these majestic monuments? Their religious zeal. The Jain monastic brotherhood must have provided the inspiration, and the royal patronage and finance translated the inspiration into masterly works of art for all time. One feels they have been too lavish in the minute details of carving: so richly decorative are they. Visitors frequent some; others are neglected, for they are too many for the weary pilgrim to visit leisurely.

Up and up. At last we reach the crown of the rock-giant. Five thousand steps have been trodden. Fatigued and footsore, we enter the temple of Ambaji the Mother : verily, one feels that one is at the feet of the Mother – so soothing and pleasing is the vision of the Mother after such a long and steep trek. One will be constrained to complain when the legs protest, ‘O Mother, what made Thee choose this inaccessible place to reside ? Well Thou art self-willed and it is Thy sweet will. But then, Thy children will call Thee Durga, the inaccessible Mother ! and a pleasant smile might play on Thy lovely lips at the impish prattle of Thy little ones.’

We worshipped the Mother. It was noon. We were hungry and tired. We have come to Mother’s place and must eat. My companion had thoughtfully brought with him some snacks.

There are three more sacred spots further on: the temples of Guru Gorakhnath, Kamandalu Kunda and the Shrine of Dattatreya. Swami Vivekananda had spent some days at Kamandalu Kunda during his wandering days. To visit all these places one has to tread some two thousand steps more. That was too much for my aching legs. So we stood on a promontory on Ambaji peak and offered our worship mentally to those messengers of the Almighty. By mid-noon we started our climb down… By three o’clock we were back at the foot-hills.

The Immortals of Girnar

In the popular mind, Mount Girnar has another mysterious charm. It is said eighty-four perfect beings reside on the mount. They are invisible to the common human eyes. But some fortunate mortal might chance upon any of them.

Bhartrihari, king of Junagadh and the famous author of the ‘Three Shatakas’ (on Ethics, Love and Renunciation), and Gopichand, a prince of a neighbouring State, both were co-disciples under Guru Gorakhnath. One day, at the age of sixteen, while wiping his body after bath in the royal tank, Gopichand felt the touch of two hot drops on his back. He immediately turned round and looked up and saw the sad face of his mother looking at him from the apartment above. The son ran up to his mother and asked her the cause of her tears. After a lot of imploring, the mother revealed her mind : ‘Son, my dear, I felt sick at the thought that this golden body of yours will be wasted away in vain worldly pleasures.’ The son fell at her feet and then and there vowed that he would never run after worldly shadows and that he would embrace the life of renunciation. Thereupon the mother took him to Guru Gorakhnath who accepted him as his disciple, but entrusted him to the mother’s care for one year. The mother gave him back in due time. Gopichand became a disciple of Gorakhnath and then he had Bhartrihari as his classmate. The former became a great monk and the latter returned home, ruled his country for some years, and then renounced and became a monk. It is said that the Guru blessed them both to be Chiranjivis, i.e., ever-living. Both the monks wandered together for long on pilgrimage. These two, and the eighty-four perfect souls of Mount Girnar, all ever-living, are believed to gather at the Bhavanath Siva temple at the foot of the Mount on the Sivaratri night. Thousands of pilgrims and monks gather there on that day to worship the Great Lord of the Hills. The two brother monks may assume any form and move about and so every monk is looked upon with great devotion and veneration.

Somnath

Early morning, on 17 November 1978, I started for Somnath by bus. By noon I reached the sacred spot. The waves of the Arabian Sea lash and lave the foot of the mighty Lord’s abode and the cool breeze lessens the severity of the midday heat. The temple of Somnath calls up its long and painful saga.

Somnath was considered a sacred place from very ancient times. There is a prayer in the Rig Veda Khila (9.113.5) where the Lord Somesvara is mentioned along with the sacred rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the Sarasvati of the east. Here the worshipper prays to Moon to confer on him immortality. It is also known as Somatirtha, the sacred place established by Moon. The place where it is situated is called Prabhas Patan. There are references to Somnath in the Mahabharata also. The Moon-god (Soma) married twenty-seven daughters of the progenitor Daksha. Although all of them were shining beauties, Soma was very much attached to Rohini, which naturally created jealousy in the minds of the other wives. They complained to Daksha, their father. Daksha advised Soma to bestow his affection equally on all of them. He agreed. But the arrangement did not work for long. He slid back. Daksha cursed him, and so he began to wane. No remedy could arrest the wasting disease of Soma. The gods were alarmed. They appealed to Dakhsa to revoke the curse. He agreed on condition that Soma loves all his wives equally, that he takes a bath at the Tirtha where the river Sarasvati joins the ocean and that he worships Mahadeva there. If the conditions were fulfilled, then Soma would wane for a fortnight and wax in the other fortnight. Soma came with Rohini to the sacred place and worshipped Mahadeva, the Great God, for four thousand years. Pleased with Soma’s penance the Lord appeared before him and blessed him that he would wax for a fortnight every month. Since Soma regained his light in this place, the place came to be called Prabhas, the place of bright light.

Brahma persuaded Soma to establish a temple there for the worship of Mahadeva. The Lord there came to be known as Somnath, the Lord of Soma, or the Lord installed by Soma. Somnath has been a place of Shiva-worship from very ancient times.

Sack and resurrection of Somnath

The mythical association of the place is grand and glorious. But its historical sequel is sad and sickening. It is a story of repeated desecration and despoilation at the hands of greedy gangsters, inimical to the faith of the land. The original temple, it is believed, was in existence some two thousand years ago. The middle of the seventh century is considered to be the time when the second temple was built. The original temple might have become dilapidated, necessitating reconstruction. In the first quarter of the eighth centrury, the Arabs invaded Saurashtra, and perhaps they razed to the ground the temple at Somnath.

A red sand-stone structure rose up in place of the one destroyed. On 6 Janauary 1026 Mohammed Ghazni attacked Somnath. The fort was under the command of Mandalika. The defenders fought valiantly. Fifty thousand warriors died fighting the Turks. Mohammed won the war, entered the temple, broke to pieces the emblem of Shiva, and burnt down the temple after looting it.

Soon after, the temple was rebuilt, perhaps by the Chalukya kings of Anhilvada Patan. Under the rule of Kumarapala, one venerable Bhava Brihaspati effected a lot of repairs to the old temple, built additional structures and fortwalls. This stage is counted the fifth temple of Somnath. Towards the end of the 13th century, Allaudin Khilji turned to Saurashtra and came to Prabhas. The Rajputs put up a stiff fight to save the temple, but they were overpowered. They fell fighting. The invaders broke the temple and smashed to pieces the image in the temple.

Mahipala, the king of Junagadh, repaired the temple and his son, Khengar, installed the Sivalinga by the middle of the 14th centrury. Again in the next centrury, around 1469, Muhammed Begda removed the image of Siva and converted the temple into a mosque. But that situation did not continue for long. By the beginning of the 16th centrury, Siva returned to his ancient abode. This time the temple had a higher level. In 1783, Queen Ahalyabai of Indore built a new temple a little away from the main one which had become old and ruined. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Saurashtra came under the suzerainty of the Gaikwad of Baroda. Gaikwad’s control over Somnath continued till the British became the masters in 1820. Somnath was under the Nawab of Junagadh who was controlled by the paramount power. With the withdrawal of the Britishers from India, the Nawab chose to accede to Pakistan and fled from the country, leaving the burden of governance to the Diwan. The Indian Army marched in. Sardar Patel, along with Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, Gadgil and Sri Munshi went to Junagadh on 12 November 1947, the Dipavali day. Sardar Patel and party took a decision to rebuild Somnath and called upon the people of Saurashtra to contribute and co-operate in the sacred task. Maharaja Jam Saheb laid the foundation for the reconstuction on 8 May 1950. On 11 May 1951 the installation of Sivalinga was done by Sri Rajendra Prasad, the President of India.

The construction of the main structure was completed and its dedication done in May 1965 by Maharaja Jam Saheb Shri Digvijaysinghaji. Later, on the death of the Jam Saheb, his wife built a stately entrance gate to the temple in memory of her late husband. Work is still in progress for an audience hall in front of the main temple. One can see the ruins of earlier structures lying here and there. Thus Somnath – Siva, like the fabled phoenix, has come to life and glory again ! Siva is the God of destruction; perhaps, he had a taste of the operation of the law of Karma on His own abode. A living faith can never be destroyed.

Sri Kundalal Bhutt, the manager, of the temple, arranged for my stay in the Temple Guest House. After bath, I visited and worshipped Somnath, and then took a tonga and went round the other sacred places in Prabhas.

Dehotsarga

The Triveni, a confluence of the three small rivers – Hiranya, Sarasvati and Kapila – is a holy spot. The Gita Mandir, the pillars of which are covered over with marble slabs on which the Gita verses are inscribed, is a magnificent monument.

Near the Ghat at Triveni there are many pipal trees. Under one of those near the Ghat is the place where Sri Krishna’s body was cremated. A thrill passes through one as one stands there in awe and veneration and visualizes the scene where fire swallowed up that most enchanting human form ever assumed by God. There is a haunting presence of that Supreme Spirit at the spot. Touching the holy waters and gathering some leaves from the pipal and some earth from the sacred place, I moved on. Near about is Baldevaji’s cave where Baladeva cast off his human form. There is a temple of Parasurama, where the great warrior performed austerities. Again, Prabhas is the place where the great Yadava clan met its doom through mutual slaughter. Samba and other Yadava boys through their insulting behaviour incurred the curse of Visvamitra and other sages. Evil portents appeared. Krishna banned the production and distribution of liquor in the land. Prohibition was tried first in Dwarka. A pilgrimage to Prabhas was suggested by Krishna as a remedy for the foreboding evil. And they went : they carried all the requisites for their worship and stay, and a lot of illicit liquor too. Worship over, they held a carouse, lost their brains, broke one another’s head and were destroyed. Sri Krishna was a mute witness to this holocaust of His clan. The teacher of the Gita, who prompted Arjuna to kill his kinsmen, was a true philosopher; for, he could be a cool witness to the wholesale slaughter of His own kith and kin. Nay, not only of His kinsmen but of His own end. The scene is a few miles away from Prabhas. It is known as Bhalka Tirtha. Thither we shall proceed presently. A life size statue of Sardar Patel stands in front of the Somnath temple outside its walls facing the Lord, a fitting tribute to the doughty fighter for the cause of freedom, political and religious.

After a hurried round of the various sacred spots, I came back and took food in the temple guest house. I went again to Somnath, sat there for a while, submitted a silent, secret prayer to the Eternal Ticket Collector for an early and smooth exit from this stage of the world, took leave of the manager, and started by bus for Bhalka Tirtha, some three miles away from Somnath.

Bhalka Tirtha

Seeing His kinsmen all dead, Krishna wandered away into a solitary spot and seated Himself under a Pipal tree leaning against its trunk,with his left leg raised and resting on the right. Seeing the ruddy sole of the Lord from a distance through a thicket, a hunter mistook it for a deer and shot an arrow. The hunter realized his mistake and craved His pardon. Krishna blessed him and sent him to heaven. And the Lord withdrew into Himself, casting off the mortal coil. There is a small fine temple with a marble image of Krishna leaning against a tender pipal, a descendent of the original one. Collecting a few fallen leaves from the pipal, the pilgrim went to Veraval where he took bus for the Gir forest…

Porbandar

The next morning at 6 o’clock, I started for Porbandar by bus, and reached there by 12 noon. Porbandar is famous in the Puranas as Sudamapuri, the birthplace of Sudama, fellow-student and devotee of Sri Krishna. Grinding poverty compelled Sudama’s wife to request him to pay a visit to his classmate and find some way of ending their miserable condition. Sudama – otherwise known as Kuchela, ‘one clad in rags’ – wended his way to Dwarka and met his old friend. Krishna was all love and attention to him. Krishna worshipped him and entertained him right royally. They spent the night reminiscing about their days together at Sandipani’s hermitage. On the morrow, Sudama took leave of his friend and started for home. He was so absorbed in his love and devotion for Krishna that he got no opportunity to mention anything about his straitened circumstances. Krishna too did not enquire about his domestic situation. Sudama was only glad that he was not burdened with any material wealth. Inebriated with devotion, he reached home to find a royal palace in place of his lowly hut. He knew it was the play of the Divine Friend. He was not overjoyed; rather he was apprehensive whether the sudden prosperity would make him forget his Friend and he prayed : ‘May I be vouchsafed His good will, friendship and association, birth after birth, and may I be privileged to serve Him for ever more.’

There is a fine temple dedicated to Sudama at his birthplace. Sudama and his devoted wife Sushiladevi are worshipped there. Fine coloured paintings depicting Sudama and Krishna adorn the walls of the temple. In the front there is a hall which is used for singing Bhajans and conducting discourses on the Bhagavata. A group of ladies were singing devotional songs when I went for worship. Behind the temple, there is a palm tree with nine branches; nature’s freak or nature’s tribute to a devotee? To the left of Sudama, there is a large quadrangle where thousands of pigeons feed on grains provided by devotees. The city bus-stand is at the gate, where dozens of all varieties of vehicles are always ready to take you to your destination. Should Sudama want to go to Dwarka again, he need not plod his way any more.

Gandhiji’s home

Half a mile away is the birthplace of Gandhiji. His ancestral house is preserved and the place of birth is marked out. Portraits of his parents can be seen on the wall. Adjacent to the house, there is a fine Kirti mandir, a monument to the Father of the Nation, where several photographs showing the various important events in his life are exhibited. The place will send a thrill through the visitor when he remembers that this frail man was the one who gave self-respect to Indians and was the architect of their freedom.

Thrice Blessed Porbandar

Porbandar is literally thrice blessed. Firstly, it is the birthplace of Sudama. Secondly, Swami Vivekananda stayed here for nearly four months. Thirdly, this was the place that gave Gandhiji to India and the world. Verily, it can boast of three Kuchelas (1) Sudama, born poor and clad in rags; (2) Swami Vivekananda, who chose to be clad in the robe or renunciation out of spiritual idealism, and (3) Gandhiji who, though born high, chanced to wear the garb of the humble folk in order to identify himself with them. Salutations to all the three Kuchelas.

On to Dwarka

I reached Dwarka by noon the next day, starting from Porbandar by bus at 9 o’clock. Dwarka! Verily, it is Dwarka, a small open gate to heaven : small because entry into heaven is in single file and not because the gate is narrow. Many are called, few are selected. Dwarka, the royal abode of the mighty Godman, is on the western sea. Before Him stretches the infinite sea and behind Him the finite earth, and He stands between the finite and the Infinite. Finite man can have a glimpse of the Infinite only in and through His incomprehensible personality and His eternal voice, the Gita. And He stands in all glory and majesty with an elusive smile.

The tower over the sanctum sanctorum is in seven storeys and 140 feet high. There is a large mandapa with five storeys and a dome supported by sixty pillars. The image is made of black stone, has four arms and is three feet high; it stands on a silver-plated marble pedestal.

I went straight to the shrine and offered worship. The Lord is bedecked with invaluable ornaments. The shrine is spacious and brilliantly lit. Crowds rush in the front to snatch a view of their Chosen Deity. Devotees look on and drink in the Divine; they stare at Him; their eyes are not willing to return. But the crowd will not allow you to stand long in His presence. Reluctantly one moves away enclosing the Lord in one’s heart.

There are two Dwarkas, on the mouth of the river Gomati, and the other near the Okha port which is some thirty miles away from the mainland Dwarka. The second one is on an island, about four miles out in the sea. According to the Bhagavata (11.31.23) the sea swallowed up Dwarka excepting the residence of the Lord. Arjuna came and conducted the Yadava women and Vajra, the great grandson of Sri Krisna, to Indraprasatha. Vajra was anointed King of Mathura (Bh. 1.15.39). So Bet Dwarka, or the ‘Island Dwarka’, which is still existing, may be considered the original residence of Krishna spared by the sea. The temple on the mainland is considered to be the place where Krishna had His administrative capital. According to the Bhagavata, the place had been submerged by the sea. Either on the same spot when the sea receded, or on the Gomati nearest to the original place, the present temple was built. Legend has it that it was Vajra who built the present temple of Dwarkadhisa and it looks a very ancient edifice.

A Smuggling

Once Dwarkadhisa smuggled Himself away for the sake of a devotee. Bodana was a poor man; he belonged to the Kshatriya clan and was a resident of Dakor near Anand in Kaira district of Gujarat. He lived a hundred years after Narasimha Mehta of Junagadh. Bodana was a great devotee of the Lord of Dwarka. The distance from his home to Dwarka is about five hundred miles. He would start on foot with a Tulasi seedling planted in the palm of his right hand and reach Dwarka on Ekadasi day and worship Krishna with the leaves of the Tulasi in hand. The pilgrimage continued for years and Bodana grew old and could not traverse the long distance any more. He requested the Lord to make some arrangement so that he could worship the Lord at home. The Lord asked him to come once more and to bring with him a cart. He begged his neighbours for a cart. Who would give a cart to this penniless madcap? Someone, to mock him, gave him a broken cart; another, with similar motive, gave a pair of decrepit bullocks.

Bodana started for Dwarka with this borrowed burthen. He started driving the cart; it wouldn’t move, for the wheels were creaking. When somehow he managed to roll it, the bullock on the right fell down; when that got up, it was the turn of the other to fall. When both the bulls pulled, the axle broke. Setting it right he started on. Pulling and pushing he found himself hardly beyond the bounds of his village even as the day wore off. Weary and vexed he complained : ‘Lord how am I to reach You in this manner?’ Throwing the burden on the Lord, he laid himself down under a tree and slept. When he opened his eyes the next morning, he found himself and his cart in Dwarka. He was instructed to go to the shrine at midnight. And he went. The doors opened of themselves. The guards lay asleep. He was instructed to lift the Lord in his hands and he did it, put Him in the cart and in a trice he was back in his village near Gomatikunda with the Lord of Dwarka.

Early morning when the priest opened the temple at Dwarka, he found the image missing. A frantic search was made. The trustees followed the track and traced the thief to Dakor. They questioned Bodana; he said, only God knew where He was. The searchers at last located Him in a pool. A searching spear struck the shoulder of the image, and it bled. They tried to lift it, but could not. Try howsoever they might, the image would not budge. They suspected some divine mystery behind the whole episode. Being at their wit’s end, they demanded gold equal in weight to the idol. How was poor Bodana to give gold in exchange for God? His devout wife suggested to weigh her nose-ring against the image. Bodana placed the image in one pan, and his wife’s nose-ring on a Tulasi leaf, in the other, and lo, the pan with the ring went down. The jury ordered them to take the ring and go their way. And they went. The Lord remained in Bodana’s house. In due course, a fine temple — as big as the one at Dwarka – was built around it at Dakor by the followers of Sri Vallabhacharya.

Now the story spread that the Lord had fled from Dwarka and pilgrims stopped going there. The trustees and priests were worried; they were on the point of starvation. They prayed to the Lord to set things right. It was revealed to them that the Lord would appear in Savitrikunda in Dwarka after nine months. They were explicitly told not to hurry. They waited and waited. Six months passed and they became impatient. They searched in the pond. Image there was, but it had no eyes. They set some other eyes and installed the image in the old place. The present image is exactly like the original one save for the eyes. Bodana’s Krishna wears even now the spear mark on the hand. Bodana was recognized as a saint and venerated. The first thing the Lord did after being born in Kamsa’s prison was to advise His father Vasudeva to smuggle Him out into Nanda’s Gokula. So, there is nothing strange in His repeating the feat for the sake of a devotee.

Durvasa’s State Drive in Dwarka

After rest, at 3 p.m. I started in a tonga along with Nileswar, the host’s son, to visit the various sacred spots. I worshipped Siddhesvar Siva. Siddhesvar seemed to be an earlier overlord of the place. Near about is the Savitrikunda, the well wherefrom the present idol of Krishna was procured. There is fine modern Gitamandir. If you stand inside the hall and clap your hands, you can hear prolonged peals of reverberations. Perhaps this sonorous structure is still resounding Krishna’s conch, Panchajanya. On we drove to Rukmini’s temple, about a mile away.

There is an interesting story in the Mahabharata of Durvasa’s putting Krishna’s patience to test. Once the irascible Rishi came to Dwarka and announced that he would like to spend a few days as Krishna’s guest on condition that he should be free to do what he pleased. Krishna welcomed the sage and accepted the condition. The sage behaved like an eccentric. One day he asked for a lage quantity of payasa to be prepared. When the payasa was brought, he poured it over Krishna – literally payasa-abhisheka – all over the body save the sole of the foot reserved for the final fatal shaft. Another day he set fire to the guest-house. One day he harnessed Krishna and Rukmini to a chariot and rode in it through the streets of Dwarka. The people wanted to retaliate for this outrage, but Krishna browbat them to silence. As they pulled on at midday, Rukmini felt thirsty. Krishna struck his discus in the ground and the Ganges spouted up and Rukmini slaked her thirst. The sage was furious, for the hostess drank water without offering to the guest and pronounced a curse that there would be no potable water in the locality. And for a dozen miles around, no sweet water is today available. A nature’s mischief thrust on poor Durvasa! The august rider returned to the palace and with salutations acknowledged defeat. Durvasa perhaps forgot that the One that drove him through Dwarka was dwelling within him as well.

What a pity !

At the place where the Ganges appeared there is a temple dedicated to Rukmini. It is a small temple on a tongue of land ledging into the lagoons. Its yard is paved with stone slabs. We entered inside and offered worship. The whole place was full of flies. The courtyard looked like a place spread over with black pepper because of the innumerable dead and dying flies. Hundreds would be crushed under each step. One cannot go round the temple because of the flies. While driving in the tonga, an army of them would be following you. That was the fishing season, and hundreds of fishing boats were engaged in the murderous business. Fisher folk spread the catch on the beach for drying. Flies flock to the stinking stuff and the whole place stinks and is covered with flies. This is the case with all the coastal towns, especially during the fishing season. Krishna made Dwarka a heaven, and modern man has made it a stinking den !

The Teacher and the Preacher

Sri Shankaracharya chose Dwarka to establish his western outpost. Sri Sharada Pitha is adjacent to the Dwarkadhisa temple. Here in Dwarka, Krishna, the teacher of the Gita, and Shankara, its preacher, are in close proximity. Suesvaracharya was the first abbot of this Math, and it specializes in the teaching and preaching of the Sama Veda. Sindhu, Saurashtra, Sauvuira and Maharastra come under the spiritual ministration of this Pitha. Sri Abhinava Sacchidananda Tirtha, the present occupant of the Pitha, is a monk with ancient and modern education with a forward outlook. We paid our resects to the venerable Acharya.

At 5 a.m. I again went to the temple, sat in a corner, meditated for a while, prostrated, got up and sent up a prayer : ‘O Lord, my sole and humble prayer to Thee is this : ‘Vouchsafe unto me unbroken remembrance of Thy lotus feet in every birth.’ Thus with the solace and satisfaction of having fulfilled a long – cherished desire and with a pang at parting, I made obeisance again and again and started for the next destination.

Bet Dwarka

I took a bus at 6.30 p.m. for Okha and reached Sri R. V. Patel’s house by about 9 p.m. He is a telephone operator, and a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. There is a small group of men who regularly meet at Sri Patel’s house to sing Bhajans and listen to religious discourses and readings. After bath and supper, I was taken to a friend’s house and accommodated in a fine, spacious room which the host uses as a shrine-room. So here also I was at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna in this remote corner of India. The house was on the seashore, in a quiet locality. Water, though not plentiful, was available for essential purposes and the air was pure.

On the morning of 20 November 1978, at 9.30 a.m. I stared for Bet Dwarka by steam boat along with Sri R. V. Patel. The brine was calm and clear. The boat journey was pleasant. Within half an hour, the holy island was clearly visible. Pilgrims shouted in joy. The Lord’s mansion is close on the sea. The Lord of Lakshmi is wrapped in gold and glittering jewels. A heavenly aura hovers over the holy of holies. To the eyes of the faithful the Lord is alive and gracious. I stood still in front and drank in the Divine; than I sat for a while in the hall with a sense of fulfilment and lightness and prayed for grace everlasting. Some young, yellow-clad students were sitting and chanting the Gita in the hall. Behind the main shrine are the residences of the eight chief consorts of Krishna. Everyday at noon food-offerings from every one of them would go to their Lord. Close by there is a temple dedicated to Radha. After going round and offering worship at these shrines, I came back to the main temple again.

Good – bye

Many a time through the Bhagavata, in company with Sudama or Narada, this pilgrim has gone to Dwarka mentally. Now standing in the presence of the Lord, with a heart overflowing in devotion and thankfulness the pilgrim took his leave, carrying the Lord in his heart. On the way back, we met a musician who sings invocatory songs before the Lord every morning. He gave us tea and sang a few hymns. For our return journey we got an ordinary boat that sails on wind.

That was the last leg of my pilgrimage in Saurashtra. Pilgrimage is an old institution which keeps alive the faith of the people and gives them a sense of cultural unity. Pilgrimage enlarges one’s vision and enriches one’s religious sentiments. Pilgrimage provides innumerable occasions when one is made aware of the presence of the guarding and guiding hand of God. Self -surrender to God is the golden fruit that a pilgrim gains from such spiritual saunterings. And the pilgrim continues his way.

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