Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pushkar & Ajmer: A double pilgrimage & the elements

For the Hindus, the holy triumvirate of gods are Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar (Shiva) - the creator, preserver and destroyer of the world. The only temple dedicated to Brahma is at Pushkar in Rajasthan. And having recently realised that this temple of Brahma is so rare, I decided to make a trip to Pushkar last weekend (for photos, click on the slideshow to the right).

As an young girl I remember asking my grandmother why Lord Brahma was depicted as an aged saint with his eyes always shut. My grandmother's explanation was that after creating the world, the creator immersed himself in deep meditation, leaving it to others to preserve the world and even destroy and recreate it when evil became the dominant force. While a lot of mythological tales abound around the conflict between Shiva and Brahma, the dominant mythological description of Lord Brahma is one of an ancient saint in deep meditation below the deep ocean. There's a lotus stalk - which represents the beginning of life - that rises from his navel and blooms above the surface of the sea. Again, the original life is said to rise out of water rather than land.
Back to my journey - an interesting coincidence is that the railhead for Pushkar - which is situated around a lake amidst the desert of Rajsathan and is bordered by the Aravalli hills - is Ajmer, the city famous for the Dargah Shariff of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti. Khwaja Shahib, a Sufi saint is not only worshipped by the Muslims in India but is the epitome of peace, harmony and enjoys universal respect from people of all religions in India. Women and people from all religious faith are allowed entry into the mausoleum of the saint - which is not very common for Muslim places of worship. Ajmer & Pushkar, twin towns with religious symbolism, are both situated around lakes, akin to two oases in midst of the Rajasthan desert sands and fringed by the rugged Aravalli ranges. They are separated by a 15 km drive through hilly landscape.

Getting to Pushkar from Delhi is a pleasant six-hour experience on board a Satabdi train to Ajmer. The Satabdis are India's premium trains where passengers are pampered through the journey. The catering services include tea, snacks, colas, juices and breakfast and even dinner during the return journey, all of which come free included in the ticket. The heritage hotel where I had booked a room - Jagat Palace - had a large number of European tourists who seemed unperturbed by the desert heat even during the day. Many of my fellow guests spent the hot afternoon by the poolside reading and chatting while some were adventurous enough to go on a camel safari. Evening however brought respite in the form of a thunder squall, gusty winds and rains - which was a very pleasant surprise. The Pushkar lake is considered very holy by the Hindus and taking a dip in it is believed to wash away one's sins. There are many Ghats beside the lake where pilgrims can take a dip. One needs to watch out for priests who will descend on you and ask for cash offerings to perform prayers.
The Brahma temple is situated beside the lake and is about a kilometers walk from Jagat Palace. Pushkar is a laid back pilgrimage when compared to the hustle and bustle of places such as Haridwar and Rishikesh. And it's a big relief to visit the temple where there are no army of priests and volunteers descending on you like they do at some of the other pilgrimages in India. The extreme heat coupled with the rugged rocky and arid landscape somehow evokes a feeling of an elemental space where the world may actually have been created by Lord Brahma. It brought to mind the landscape of the Grand Canyon for me - where a formation is fittingly named after God Brahma - believed to be the creator of the world. My father, when he visited the Grand Canyon had written a letter to me from there pointing out the names of the ancient rock formations named after mythological Gods from different cultures - a fact that I remembered when I visited the Grand Canyon myself.
While Lord Brahma's temple is easily accessible and within walking distance from any of the hotels nearby - his wife Goddess Savitri is said to reside in a temple which is high above perched on a hilltop. A trek up can be quite an effort specially for those who are not physically very fit. However, once up there, even for non-believers, the view of the city of Pushkar and its lake is quite awesome. Wouldn't have missed out on that even to avoid the aches and pains that I have brought back with me!!!!
On a completely different and materialistic plane - Pushkar is a good place to pick up street fashion items. Like the rest of Rajasthan, cotton apparel is cheap and available in abundance at the stalls of Pushkar. Colourful cotton pants, shirts, tops, shirts and the chic kurtis are a big hit with the foreign and hip Indian tourists too. Besides chunky silver jewellery and semi-precious stones too are cool bargains. Foreigners, of course, love the bindis, bangles and mehendi. If you use ayurvedic medicine - Baidyanath, which is a well-known brand - has a large outlet at Pushkar. And don't miss the malpuas soaked in syrup either - which are the region's special dessert!


Priyank said...

This was a great description! I was supposed to go to the Pushkar mela, but I landed up in Canada instead.
Thanks for the tour:)

ishani said...

Glad you enjoyed reading about my trip. Hope you get a chance to do the trip soon yourself - a visit in winter during the animal fair should be the best, weather-wise!