Author: Beloo Mehra (2020). Published under the title ‘When Young India Awakes’ in Sri Aurobindo’s Action, Vol. 51 (6), July 2020, pp. 8-10
CONTINUED FROM Part 16
When Young India Awakes
After a quick bath in his room at the guest house, Yuvaan went out to take in all the grandeur of the vast Somnāth Temple Trust complex. Behind the guest house was the famous Prabhas Patan shore of the Arabian sea. A well-maintained garden invited the visitors to spend some time there. The serene beauty of that place and the early evening breeze was tempting but Yuvaan’s heart yearned for the darshan at the temple. Only after seeing the Lord Somnāth, he would come back to enjoy the rest of this holy place.
A little walk down the road and soon Yuvaan was facing the magnificent temple, with its 15-metre-high śikhara, on top of which an 8.2 metre tall flag pole with the saffron dhwaj flying high and strong. He recalled from K.M. Munshi’s book that the temple is built in Chaulukya style of Hindu temple architecture, and Sompura Salats, one of Gujarat’s master mason community were involved in construction of this majestic temple.
The sight of the temple was absolutely mesmerising. Yuvaan just stood there in awe for several minutes. He suddenly remembered something that was mentioned by the gentleman whom he had met at the coffee shop on the way here. He had said that the temple is situated at such a place on the seashore that there is no land in a straight line between Somnāth seashore until Antarctica. He had also added that a Sanskrit inscription found on the Bāṇastambha (arrow pillar) erected on the sea-protection wall says that the temple stands at a point on the Indian landmass which is the first point on land in the north to the South Pole at that particular longitude. Yuvaan made a mental note to go and see the pillar afterwards.
There was still some time for the evening ārti, but people had already started to gather in a queue. Due to this temple generally being high on the terror threat lists, there were a large number of security personnel busy managing the crowd. Yuvaan also went and stood in the queue, waiting.
As the queue slowly moved ahead, his mind started recalling all that he had read about the spiritual, cultural and historical significance of the place where he was standing. The origin of the temple of Somnāth, the “Lord of the Moon” goes back to antiquity. The tradition consistently maintains that it was Soma, the Moon God who had first built a golden temple at this site, followed by a silver temple by King Ravana, and a sandalwood temple built by Sri Krishna.
Somnāth was the shrine beloved of India. It was not merely the shrine of the Hindus; pilgrims of other faiths are referred to in old chronicles as visiting it. In its worship she found ancient glory and unending inspiration. In maintaining it with magniﬁcence, she felt a throbbing zeal to maintain the core of her faith, tradition, and collective greatness. An ancient race subconsciously felt that, it was Somnāth which connected it with the past and the present; it was the eternal symbol of its faith in itself and its future. As often as the shrine was destroyed, the urge to restore it sprang up more vividly in its heart.
That is why Somnāth, as a Jyotirlinga, has been given a premier place in religious literature for ages. That is why from Mahabharata downwards, the Pauranic literature has referred to Prabhasa with a reverence not shown to any other sacred place. That is why for a thousand years Mahmud’s destruction of the shrine has been burnt into the Collective Sub-conscious of the race as an unforgettable national disaster.[i]
Yuvaan was awestruck by the most dominant element in the story of Somnāth temple, namely the strong determination on the part of the local population to keep the temple alive and to restore its glory even in the face of devastating raids. Even after repeated barbaric attacks and massive vandalism by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1026 CE, and later during the times of Alauddin Khilji, Mahmud Begada, and much later during Aurangzeb’s reign, the collective memory and psyche of people kept the sanctity of this shrine alive. The temple was rebuilt as many times as it was destroyed during 11th to 18th centuries CE.
As the queue kept moving and Yuvaan walked closer and closer to the temple gate, being one of the hundreds, probably thousands of people waiting for the darshan of Lord Shiva, his heart could completely comprehend why the post-independence rebuilding and restoration of the Somnāth temple, the first of the twelve jyotirlingas, was hailed as an act of historic justice warming the heart of the nation.
Simply being there, he felt he was truly becoming a tiny little part of the continuous story of one of the oldest living civilizations, which he saw all around him in the faces of devotees waiting patiently to meet their Lord. This was a humbling and deeply moving experience. His mind recalled something he had read in that book, India’s Rebirth, which is a compilation of several passages from various writings of Sri Aurobindo:
Hindu religion appears to me as a cathedral temple half in ruins, noble in the mass, often fantastic in detail, but always fantastic with a significance—crumbled and overgrown in many places, but a cathedral temple in which service is still done to the Unseen and its real presence can be felt by those who enter with the right spirit.[ii]
Soon Yuvaan was walking through the main gate of the temple; pushed by the crowd behind him, he kept moving forward – closer and closer to the deity. His mind had by now gone quieter; and even amidst all those people around him, Yuvaan felt a deeply peaceful vibration envelope him the moment his eyes got a glimpse of the magnificent lingam. Adorned beautifully, the Lord too waits for his bhaktas – that was the only thought which kept running in Yuvaan’s mind. Bring me closer, Lord, bring me closer…his heart was crying.
As if in answer to his prayer, the evening ārti started that instant. Yuvaan was still a bit in the back of the queue when the beats of the dhol, nagāda, ghanta, manjira, and gongs filled the entire mandapa. For a few moments, all other sounds gradually drowned out and Yuvaan felt himself to be one drop in that entire sea of devotees waiting to touch the feet of its Lord. A part of him wanted to strain his neck to see the garbhagriha hoping to catch a glimpse of Lord Somanatha, another part just felt stuck on the spot – it was as if he was transported somewhere else, completely forgetful of himself. The mesmerising sounds of the ārti filled his heart and mind, his entire being.
Shiva is the Lord of Tapas.[iii]
This one sentence kept repeating itself in some corner of Yuvaan’s mind. Or was it his heart? It was Gopal who had shared this with him at Dwarka when he learned that Yuvaan was interested in going to Somnāth. Gopal in turn had heard it from Ram, his brother, the Shiva-bhakt, who had read some of Sri Aurobindo’s writings.
In a few moments, just as some people in the crowd chanted in unison – Har Har Mahadev, and Jai Somnāth, Yuvaan found himself standing right in front of the Lord. Captivated by the vision of the Lord Shiva in the majestic lingam form, the fiery column of light, he didn’t realise when his palms came together in an anjali mudra of offering and tears welled up in his eyes. He couldn’t take his eyes off the Lord’s beautiful rupam. Minutes passed.
The pujari’s hand was moving rhythmically offering deepam to the Lord, with his other hand constantly ringing a bell. The whole experience was out of this world. A deep love for the Lord filled Yuvaan’s heart. He could have stood there for hours if it were not the shoves and pushes from the crowds behind him, bhaktas who had come from who knows where, who like him were also seeking only one thing – darshan of their beloved Lord.
Yuvaan’s eyes kept looking at the Lord as he slowly and reluctantly moved away from his spot to make way for other devotees. His heart felt full and yet seeking more, more of the Love, more of the Shakti that was so palpable. He found a quiet spot in a corner and sat down as the ārti continued for next several minutes. With his eyes closed, he could see even more clearly the majestic and glorious Lord Somnāth. His mind quietened down, and he felt nothing but a deep quietness all around him, in the middle of all those people and the sounds of ārti.
As the ārti finished, he kept sitting there. And then something stirred in him compelling him to step outside. Standing at the spot, he turned himself one more time toward the Shivalingam and with folded hands kept his eyes fixed at the Lord. A silent flame of devotion and aspiration sprang from his heart, and he just stood there as if transfixed. A slight shove from someone behind him made him aware of himself.
Stepping outside, his eyes soon started taking in all the beauty of the temple structure itself. He felt overwhelmed by the grand architecture as he kept walking around and admire the grand architecture, the majestic sculptures and the finer details that added so much richness and grandeur. He was amazed at that innate creative genius of India which built this masterpiece. Every nook and corner of the temple walls – outer and inner – was filled with so much beauty.
As the sun started setting in the Arabian sea, Yuvaan’s mind started imagining the hundreds of hands that had slowly and patiently crafted each of the beautiful sculptures and decorative panelling that adorned the temple. He recalled something he had read when browsing through some of the works of Sri Aurobindo at the library at Sri Aurobindo Niwas in Vadodara:
[A]n ingrained and dominant spirituality, an inexhaustible vital creativeness and gust of life and, mediating between them, a powerful, penetrating and scrupulous intelligence combined of the rational, ethical and aesthetic mind each at a high intensity of action, created the harmony of the ancient Indian culture.[iv]
Everything felt so harmonious at that instant. The beautiful temple, the well-maintained grounds, the spiritual ambience, the people walking around the temple, the children running around in the lawns, the older people sitting quietly on the benches, while Lord Somnāth ruled over it all, from his seat inside! Everything seemed perfect.
Yuvaan suddenly remembered that it will soon be time for the ‘Sound and Light’ show which presents the story of Somnāth, the eternal shrine. He had already purchased a ticket for it and now walked slowly toward the area where people had already started assembling for the show. Finding a place for himself, he casually looked around and saw people of different age groups, including a lot of youngsters there. He felt a deep sense of gratitude toward the dynamic duo of Sardar Patel and K.M. Munshi who because of their deep love for Mother India and her glorious cultural heritage had made it possible to give the generations of modern Indians this temple which for centuries to come will be a reminder of India’s timeless civilizational heritage.
The show was creatively done and used modern technology to give a delightful and multi-sensory experience to the audience. The history of the temple from antiquity to modern times was narrated in a story format, with interesting details and beautiful visuals to match, making full use of the backdrop of the starry night, the richly ornate walls of the grand temple, and the sounds of the waves from the Arabian sea. If the darshan at the temple was an ethereal and enriching experience for the soul, this light and sound show was a similar one for the mind and heart, Yuvaan felt.
The show ended, but Yuvaan was in no hurry to get up and leave. He kept sitting there for some time, absorbing everything in quietude and just being. Only when a security guard started approaching him, he got up, smiled at him and started walking toward the temple grounds to take one more look at the grand and eternal shrine. He would be back in the morning for ārti, he knew that. But now it was time for him to go and relish some food at the temple kitchen and then enjoy some quiet moments sitting by the seaside.
Later that night, back in his room while reflecting on what he experienced and felt, the words bhakti and bhakti yoga kept coming in his mind. On an impulse he started browsing on his phone and found a beautiful passage from Sri Aurobindo’s writings on the yoga of devotion, bhakti yoga.
Yoga is a turning of the human mind and the human soul, not yet divine in realisation, but feeling the divine impulse and attraction in it, towards that by which it finds its greater being. Emotionally, the first form which this turning takes must be that of adoration. In ordinary religion this adoration wears the form of external worship and that again develops a most external form of ceremonial worship. This element is ordinarily necessary because the mass of men live in their physical minds, cannot realise anything except by the force of a physical symbol and cannot feel that they are living anything except by the force of a physical action… It is evident that even real religion,—and Yoga is something more than religion,—only begins when this quite outward worship corresponds to something really felt within the mind, some genuine submission, awe or spiritual aspiration, to which it becomes an aid, an outward expression and also a sort of periodical or constant reminder helping to draw back the mind to it from the preoccupations of ordinary life.[v]
The Master’s words always explained to him with such clarity whatever queries would begin to formulate in his mind. Once again, a deep gratitude rose in Yuvaan’s heart as he settled in his bed to sleep.
[i] K.M. Munshi, Somnāth – The Shrine Eternal, 1951 (3rd edition 1965), 83-84
[ii] Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 28: 412
[iii] CWSA 28: 460
[iv] CWSA 20: 10
[v] CWSA 26: 571-572