It is said that the image of Srinathji was originally installed at Govardhan in Brajbhoomi. During Aurangazeb’s period the image was secretly transferred to Nathdwara for safekeeping. Eversince the image has remained here. I don’t know if this is really true but the event is not in distant past. There seems to be no strong reason to doubt it.
I am not feeling particularly well today. It must be the dinner I had last night at Chittorgarh. The bhati was alright but the daal didn’t feel right. I had not been able to find a cleaner place. My body is also showing signs of dehydration. The heat of Rajasthan is getting to me. I need to drink bottles of water all through the day.
In this condition, I am glad to leave Chittorgarh. I leave by the 6.30 am bus and arrive at Nathdwara at 10 am. I don’t really care for all things worth seeing. I am here to see only one thing – the famous image of Srinathji. I make enquiries. It is not far from the bus station. I start walking towards it. The street are quiet at this hour.
I pass some shops selling clay pots. In the same lane I pass some house-cum-workshops of potters of Nathdwara. The front door of one of them is open. Clay-red pots are painted with white lines, circles and floral designs. I walk in. The doorless opening at the back leads me to an open courtyard where a potter is busy at work. He is turning the wheel, slapping wet clay to its center and shaping it with his hands. He is making little drinking cups. About 200 pieces are sitting around him, drying in the morning sun. He acknowledges my presence with a slight nod and continues his work undisturbed.
I stand watching the turning of the wheel and the kneading of the soft clay in his rough palms. Although I have never tried my hand at pottery, I believe it is one of the great art forms of the world. I have always been in love with pottery. Where in the West pottery is only an artform, in India it is still a living tradition. It is our link with ancient India.
I reach the temple at quarter to ten. I dump my backpack and mobile in the cloak room. I leave my footwear outside. But all is not well.
‘Darshan is at 11.45 am. Come back in one hour,’ tells me a security guard at the entrance.
I wear my slippers and take a turn by the little lanes of Nathdwara crowding around the temple. The image of Srinathji is unique. As Jagannath is for Puri, Srinathji is for Nathdwara. Srinathji is depicted in exactly the same pose in every photograph. He stands facing you directly with eyes cast in a downward gaze. This gaze along with a demure smile betrays serenity. The eyes are half open in the manner of a lotus bus about to blossom. The left arm is raised and he holds a pink rose in bloom. The right hand is depicted variously but most often bent at the elbow waist level. Artists decorate the image with dress and crown, necklaces and rings, bracelets and anklets in infinite ways. Each such decoration is symbolic.
I suddenly come across a scene I least expect, a scene literally taken from an old Hindi movie. I am standing in a small courtyard. A vendor is selling books which are mostly religious in nature. In the corner is a small covered space. Within it a munshi or accountant is sitting cross-legged on a mat. He is dressed simply in a white tunic. He is seated at a wooden desk covered with ledgers and papers. He is looking through his thin-rimmed and round glasses. He is busy making entries in one ledger. He holds an ink pen. Behind him the wall is painted; so is the ceiling above. Not a word is spoken. If words and sound can define a period, silence hides modernity. This picture perfect scene seems less from a Hindi movie and more a snapshot of medieval India frozen through time.
I return to the temple. It is time for darshan. The entrance is chaotic. Vendors are lined up to sell offerings of sweet. This is a unique temple in all of India. There is not a single vendor selling flowers, coconuts or incense sticks. Only laddus and other sweets are being sold. The smallest laddu costs Rs. 20. I buy one as an offering.
I join one of two queues leading into the temple. Ladies are in a separate queue. Many men here are wearing a unique sort of vest. One half is tucked across the chest while the other half goes over it. It is then tied into a knot at chest level. One man informs me it is called bagalbandi. The wait for darshan is not in vain. In a balcony above the entrance, musicians are playing. Shehnai is for raga. Langada is for tala. The music goes on for many minutes. In a wall nearby hangs a sitar wrapped in a simple printed cloth. Another musician along the corridor is tuning his veena, perhaps for a later recital.
Darshan is a quick and maddening affair. After a lengthy wait outside, I shuffle along the snaking queue for a good ten minutes before I enter the mandapa. Darshan is only a few seconds. I catch a momentary glimpse of Srinathji. Today and at this hour he is dressed in orange. He wears a dazzling bejewelled crown. There is no time to see anything else. The josling crowd of god-crazed devotees push me out of the mandapa in no time. With the laddu wrapped in a thin plastic bag, I am wondering what to do with it.
When I come out, a priest is doling out handfuls of prasad. It is sweet and I quite like it. I search for my footwear. There is no system here. The entrance is littered with footwear. There is no space to walk. I have to literally flatten leather shoes and designer sandals. I wonder if it is this crowded for all darshans.
‘Almost. Most darshans are attended by people living in Nathdwara,’ informs one priest to whom I posed such a question.
I look for beggars to give away the laddu. I spot a sadhu.
‘Will you have this prasad?’ I ask him.
‘Yes, yes,’ he replies enthusiastically. Before I can say anything, he continues, ‘Don’t break it. Give me the whole thing.’
So I give him the laddu as it is but he notices the empty plastic bag in my hands.
‘Give me the plastic as well,’ he says. Fine. I leave it to him to return the laddu to the plastic bag.
I stop at Sri Jai Jai Shrinath Cafe for lunch. The thali lunch is excellent. After drinking sufficient water, I buy an extra two liters. I return to the bus station. I look for a bus to Eklingji.