Seraphic Pink Rendezvous
by Sandhyaa V.
I came out of the large and prepossessing structure, of the Mahalakshmi Temple in Kolhapur (Maharashtra), believed to be one of the most significant shrines in India, with a deep sense of tranquility. But, no pilgrimage to this Holy Goddess is complete without visiting the sacred sanctuary of ‘Jyotiba’, they say.
By popular legendary stories, Lord Jyotiba is a reincarnate of three deities together – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who specifically took this form to assist Goddess Mahalakshmi rid off the menace created by some demons in Her presiding area.
Therefore, not having any second thoughts about wanting to see the place where an aesthetic complex stands dedicated to the Lord as a token of gratitude, I wholeheartedly began my drive from the historic Kolhapur city towards a nearby village called ‘Ratnagiri’, which is about 20 Kms far.
While cruising through the well laid roads of the mountainous circuit of Wadi Ratnagiri, in order to reach the Temple situated at a height of 3124 feet above sea level, I realized that the beauty of this locality about which I had heard earlier was not at all an exaggeration. It was indeed beyond blissful to feel the fresh air getting cooler with the climb, combined with sights of lavish verdant pastures which completely covered the mountain. The monsoon season added to the serene flavor of this part of the Western Ghats with frequent drizzles, resulting in a thin blanket of mist forming below the expansive skies. The view of this enchanting landscape through the fine water-droplets on my windshield was absolutely as pretty as a picture.
Located very close by at the same elevation is the incredible Panhala Fort belonging to the 12th Century, built by the Maratha rulers of that era, and later on became an extremely important asset of the Shivaji Kingdom during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Hence, such a strategic position of the shrine has been beneficial in attracting more visitors and devotees alike every year.
The breath taking journey was only a slice of what was actually impending at the destination. I got out of my vehicle and stood in front of an entrance to a plain looking ground, guarded by four tall ‘lamp towers’ – the ones on which hundreds of little mud lamps with oil, are stacked one above the other and lit during special occasions in the evenings. Crossing the patch of land barefoot, I reached a flight of widely laid stony stairs, about a hundred of them, to be climbed down. It was interesting to note the line of shops on both sides of the staircase, selling varied items related to the Temple, like, photographs of the God, sacred offerings to be given for pujas, flowers, coconuts, silk cloths and CDs recorded with devotional songs. There were also a few canteens serving tea and snacks, with a special mention to the mounds of fresh ‘milk pedhas’ whose aromas filled the air, pleasing one’s senses.
Moving further, I curiously observed some pink powder sprinkled on almost all the steps, and finally walked inside large gates, which opened unto the great Temple edifice before me in its most spectacular form. Once in the courtyard, I saw oodles of pink powder strewn generously all over the venue; on the floors, the walls and even the temple towers, to the extent that some people also had their clothes and faces smeared in pink. It was then that I learnt that ‘gulaal’ or the ‘holy pink powder’ is presented to Lord Jyotiba by His worshippers and they celebrate His divinity by throwing it all around his enclave.
Surrounded by ancient fortified walls with regularly spaced arches, the Temple itself looked resplendent in its natural dark colored stone, and the intricately carved triangular shaped domes coated in shades of white and yellow. Although the interior comprised of three shrines built in three different periods by the respective chieftains of the region, the main deity is four armed, seated majestically like a king on his throne. I felt a rush of imaginations as I moved from one chamber to another, playing out different scenes in my mind as to how people in the royal past would have thronged this site with fervor and gaiety. It would have certainly been a much different scene altogether, nearly two hundred years ago since its construction, in spite of the heavy crowds the Temple witnesses even today.
The priests at each of the three sanctums applied ‘gulaal’ on my forehead; in a way it seemed liked unifying or painting all of the Lord’s devotees in uniformity as one. After stepping out of the main premise, I took to circumambulation of the Temple as is the routine devotional practice following prayers. My feet turned pink from the ‘pinked’ flooring also wet from the monsoon rains, due to which the color got stained onto the surfaces. At one point along the veranda, I noticed the much talked about ‘Kamadhenu’ or the mythical ‘wish-cow’ which is popularly considered to be a wish granting animal. A beautifully decorated life-size statue of a white cow was standing here; I was amused to see a peculiar yet amazing feature as to how the devotees were collecting sanctified water in their palms from the cow’s udder; it was designed so.
My excursion and time spent here was a privileged opportunity to experience one of the unique pilgrim centers in our country famed for its own distinctive rituals. Before turning to ascend the stairs while returning, I turned back to take a glimpse of the charming Jyotiba Temple, dressed gloriously in pink on this exquisite green hill top. It was an alluring sight to behold! ***