down memory lane History & Culture

Built upon a dream

EDIFICE OF TRUST Gauri Shankar Temple in Chandni Chowk

EDIFICE OF TRUST Gauri Shankar Temple in Chandni Chowk   | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Providing solace to the faithful, the historic Gauri Shankar temple in Chandni Chowk holds many interesting tales

Among the many temples in Delhi there is an old one, in the heart of the city—older than the city itself. A temple that stands with its head erect; built upon a dream. As you enter Chandni Chowk from the Red Fort side, on the left corner is a red mansion, Jain Lal Mandir, Bird Hospital and close by an ancient temple with flower-sellers and trinket-hawkers covering the entrance from view. From outside it hardly gives an appearance of a temple. People rush by, traffic moves on...But when the temple bell calls, the faithful go in to offer prayers. This is the Gauri Shankar temple. In it dwells a history.

Centuries ago when the city was situated near Purana Qila, Chandni Chowk was but a jungle. There were a few clearings here and there where a passing sadhu would build his little hut and dwell for a while. Legend obscures the age and name of the king (some say he was Raja Dilli after whom Delhi is named) who ruled at that time but he seems to have had many daughters, one of whom, unlike her sisters, was of a religious bent of mind. She rode one moonlit night from the palace in the Old Fort to bathe in the Jamuna in observance of a fast. The princess chose a ghat in a lonely corner. After the bath she and her maids went around picking flowers, for it was almost morning. While they were so employed, the princess and her party were attacked by thugs. To save her honour, the princess stabbed herself in the heart and died under a peepal tree.

Her father, the king, had a well built beneath the tree and near it he installed a Shiva idol because the princess had invoked Shiva and his consort, Parvati, to protect her honour. For a few centuries the peepal tree and the well with the idol stood side by side. The Moghuls came and built their fort and shifted the capital near it. The wilderness gave way to the city; people came and settled down and it took the name of Chandni Chowk in deference to the wishes of Shah Jahan and his daughter Jahanara.

Generations passed, Nadir Shah invaded Delhi and massacred the residents of Chandni Chowk and eventually power passed from the Moghuls to the British. But the well, the tree and the idol remained much the same as they were. Then, in the last century, a Maratha soldier, Gangadhar while fighting in the British Army in the South, had a dream in which the princess appeared along with Shiva and Parvati, and commanded him to build a temple on the spot in Delhi where the tree and the well stood.

Tough soldier

It was after all a dream, and Gangadhar was a tough soldier. But the dream kept recurring. Sometimes he would hear a girl’s voice in the throes of death pleading with him to build the temple and sometimes he would hear Shiva commanding to do so. But it was forgotten in the morning.

Once on a battlefield Gangadhar found himself surrounded by his enemies. There was no hope of escape. He made a vow—that if his life was saved he would build the desired temple. Gangadhar not only escaped but also won the battle. The British rewarded him with a jagir and also granted his wish that he be given the area in Chandni Chowk where the well and the tree stood. Gangadhar built a temple which came to be known as Shivala Apa Gangadhar. At the beginning of the last century, with no one left in Gangadhar’s family to look after the temple, its management was handed over to a trust. In 1956, the peepal tree was cut down, but the well and the idol still exist.

The Shivala has grown through public donations into a complex of eight big and as many small temples. These are maintained from the revenue from Gangadhar’s jagir in U.P. Made of marble and heavily plated with silver, each temple has its own pujari. The eight big temples are those of Gauri Shankar (Shiva and Parvati). Hanuman, Durga, Lord Rama, Ganga and Jamuna, Radhakrishna, Lakshminarain and Vishnu. It is said that at one time many of these temples were adorned with gold and precious stones. Now it is mostly silver. People seeking blessings for the sick, the poor and the infirm throng the temple on the first two days of the week. But when the rush of devotees subsides only a dark-eyed sadhu is left sitting in the vast courtyard of the temple. Silence creeps in. and in this silence lies buried the legend of the temple.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 7:28:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/built-upon-a-dream/article18721910.ece

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