Sunday, February 18, 2024

Ayodhya - Lord Shri Ram Mandir

I am told that my mother used to write “Shri Rama Jayam” hundreds of times when I was inside her womb. After a first girl child, she had prayed the Almighty to be blessed with a boy. Her wish came true with the abundant blessings of Lord Rama.

While I sank in various emotions watching the “prana prathishtapana” utsava on 22 Jan. ‘24, several thoughts came to my mind. I wondered whether I would ever be able to visit the new temple shrine.  

Whether for us to visit a neighbourhood temple or a mukthi kshetra such as Ayodhya, we need abundant grace of the Almighty and our prarabda karmas should be inclined towards such positive acts.

I realised this on 15-16-17 Feb. ‘24 how lucky I was to be standing at the holy precincts of the new temple, along with my wife while praying to the Lord for my parents, my children and everyone around. 

We took off on a Spicejet plane from Chennai to Ayodhya, departing at 1pm and arriving around 3.30pm. The terminal building is pretty small and can handle 2 flights at a time, that is around 350+ travellers. 

Taxi services such as Über or Ola are yet to commence services in the town, so one has to depend on the local taxi drivers who come to the airport to drop off passengers.

To travel anywhere near the new temple, the taxi fare could range from Rs. 800 - Rs. 1,000 for a 30-min ride covering around 10 kms. There is also no guarantee that the taxi will drop you at the doorstep of your hotel or lodge, due to regular road diversions. 

The last mile journey, therefore is unpredictable, so best is to carry as limited luggage as possible. 

We had booked a room through an online portal. Almost all such accommodation are similar in nature. The one that we stayed is an upcoming one and was nearing completion. Nice and clean beds, a spacious room with western toilet and geyser-provisioned bathroom. The basics are well covered. 

From where most such lodging are located, one has to take a ride on electric rickshaws who charge Rs. 20 for a short ride of 6-7 mins covering 500m - 1.5 kms at best. No haggling, no bargains. Take it or walk up.

The main entrance to the new temple is pretty straightforward and is located on what is known as “Ram Path” (path in Hindi language means road). We walk around 500m to reach the first frisking area. 

Thereafter, we drop off our footwear and mobile devices in separate counters. For electronic devices, one is provided with a locker (similar to what we see at banks), who’s key is handed over to the one who is depositing the items. So, the onus is on the individuals to keep the key safe. 

It is advised not to carry bigger luggage such as a suitcase or other bags with clothes, etc., though there are counters for the same. 

Next, there is another frisking area before we enter the main temple premises. 

One has to walk almost 1.2 kms from the main road until we get a glimpse of Lord Sri Rama (said to be a child form around 6 years age). The idol is placed on a 3-foot pedestal, so one can get a glimpse from as far as 100 feet. The closest one can go up to is around 10 metres or 30 feet. 

Similar to Tirumala Tirupati temple one can see the idol of Lord Rama from afar. Including the walking time towards the final point, it could be as short as 45 secs (if the crowds are less) all the up to over a minute when there is a huge rush of pilgrims. 

The entire time taken from the main road to see a glimpse of the Lord could be as low as 30-mins, as high as an hour or so. Not more, even with crowds all day. 

As the temple opens at 6am and closes by 9.30pm, the non-peak times are closer to the opening and closing hours. 

There is a VIP darshan available too. Currently, those in power - bureaucracy and politicians included, can get you a faster entry through the side entrance - you may save about 15 mins in all, nothing more. 

Instead of the normal Q, one could see from just one line ahead. Instead of 45 secs darshan, you may get around 60 secs, nothing more. If you are very lucky, you may get to be seated for a minute or so. 

It is more of a privilege than a detailed darshan or offering such as a specific puja. The days that we were at Ayodhya, there was more rush around the VIP darshan areas than the normal queues!

As always, weekends are more crowded and predictable therefore with regards to time taken for darshan. 

Thereafter, one has to return in the opposite direction outside the main temple premises and circumambulation of the shrine is currently prohibited due to ongoing structural works. 

In Treta Yuga, Lord Sri Rama acquainted Hanuman in the forest and travelled along with Him through His times. In Dwapara Yuga, Lord Hanuman manifested Himself as Bheema. 

In Kali Yuga, Hanuman is prevailing in the form of Jagadguru Sri Madhwacharya, the proponent of the Dwaita philosophy - Paramatma and Jeevatma are two different ones and the mere mortal soul can never match that of the Creator.

In His lineage is the present day seer of Pejawar Mutt, Udupi - HH Sri Vishwaprasanna Theertha Swamiji. Our Swamiji therefore, is none other than a manifestation of Lord Hanuman during Kali Yuga. 

He has been instrumental in this project to see the light of the day over the past several decades. He is currently camping in the temple for the first 48 day’s “mandala puja”.

He is also the one who is currently performing the “pran pratishta” pujas everyday to the idol of Lord Sri Rama, passing on the energies to the deity holding a dry grass (darba grass). 

HIS hectic schedule begins at 4am and goes on until 10pm each day. At 60 years age, it is nothing than HIS yoga shakti and the divine blessings of the Lord that HE remains active, calm, cheerful and smiling, all day. 

As Swamiji kept swinging the silver idol of Lord Rama’s Utsava murthy, like yet another vaanara during the times of Lord Sri Rama, I stood still from 5pm - 6pm on the stage on Fri. 16 Feb. ‘24, seeing both of them and being delighted.

This would be the most memorable day till date in my life. Purpose of Life fulfilled. When God decides to give, nobody can stop it, after all.

As of now, the ground level of the main temple shrine is fully completed while the first and second levels are work in progress. Some say, it could take about 6 months to be fully completed, many say over a year.

Once done, this is sure going to be a remarkable place to visit with so many interesting facets within the premises such as a museum, a public library, a garden with fountains, and so on.

The city witnesses over 1 lakh pilgrims each day from all walks of life. 

There isn’t any “restaurant” of sorts along Ram Path, rather a number of small shacks selling food and beverages - freshly brewed tea as well as national and internationally acclaimed beverages and snacks. All branded packaged items are sold on MRP. No fleecing, no charing extras. Government is clear on this. 

There are several booths for refilling drinking water and packaged bottled water is available all over. Rs. 20 for a litre for Kinley, Aquafina and Bisleri. Reliance Retail’s Independence branded water is making a splash across the town, literally and figuratively. 

Locals say it could take about a year or so for things to stabilise and settle down to normalcy. I think it would be forever, something in continuous progression, similar to that of Tirupati or Kasi. This will only evolve for the better. 

By the way, the temple town was already witnessing over 20,000 people a day before the new temple opened. Pilgrims would visit the makeshift tent structure where the four idols of Lord Rama and His brothers Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrughna were placed. 

On a chance visit to Lucknow in July 2021, I happened to visit Ayodhya and get a glimpse of Lord Sri Ram Lalla in his tiny abode where HE chose to reside for the past 32 years.

Infrastructure boost is on a high currently in the city. There are an estimated 1,000+ electric rickshaws just around the 2-3 km periphery around the temple. Add to it, the growing number of diesel autos and taxis. 

3/4/5 Star hotels seem to have missed the opportunity until now. Most have just begun construction and could take up to a year to welcome guests. 

Other than the main temple, one can visit Hanuman Garhi. This is the place where Lord Hanuman has remained ever after Lord Rama left the Earth to His celestial above after His period was over during Treta Yuga. This shrine is a small hillock and quite chaotic. 

Kanak Bhavan (kanak means gold in Sanskrit) is said to be the place where there once stood a Golden Palace to welcome the couple after they returned from Lanka. 

River Sarayu is a vast expanse where boating is offered. Several people perform “pinda pradan” or obsequies to their “pitru” - forefathers.  

The new Sarayu front is a large swimming pool of sorts with flowing water at a height of 3 feet. Young and old, men and women alike take a shower here, playing away their time.

Shopping is a big draw, From large sized and small flags to a lot of trinkets and memorabilia such as key chains, desktop edifices and so on, there is something or the other for every one’s budget. 

There seems to be over 5,000+ personnel to guard the town 24/7 - local police to special task forces, they are all there, all the time to manage any emergencies. 

Do pray Lord Sri Rama to bless you with a darshan soonest. With HIS grace, it is going to be possible at the earliest. Prayers for your safe and happy darshan. 

Say loudly, “Jai Shri Ram” !! This tune will be reverberating all across the town, all the time.

For any other details, please call me after 8pm on +91 91763 000 58.