FRIDAY REVIEW

Awe-inspiring deities in Patan

The lord here as a baby... evoking devotion and affection.

The lord here as a baby... evoking devotion and affection.  

REPEATED ISLAMIC onslaughts on Gujarat, ever since Allauddin Khilji's destructive conquest of the area, played havoc with the rituals and literature of Vaishnavism that had been taken there by Saint Ramananda of Sri Ramanuja Sampradaya. Along with his friend, Gopalray Majumdar of Patan, who had also worked as Dewan at Radhanpur for some time, Anant Prasad went on a pilgrimage all over India in search of illumination regarding the origin of Vaishnavism as propounded by Sri Ramanuja. It was in Tamil Nadu that they found an answer. Sojourning in Srirangam, the two pilgrims came in contact with Srinivasa Thathacharya who had already visited North India to spread Srivaishnavism. The Dewan of Jodhpur, Vijaysingh Mehta had become Tatacharya's disciple. Anant Prasad and Gopalray took initiation from Thathacharya. One of the results of this association was the building of a temple for the Ramanuja Sampradaya in Patan, which is about 125 km from Ahmedabad and 40 km from Radhanpur.

The Lakshmi Narayan Temple at Patan founded by Anant Prasad Tricumlal Vaishnav and Gopalray Majumdar is more than a 100 years old. Gopalray's son Balwant Rai put the temple on firm grounds. His son Baba Rai (Venkat Rai) renovated the temple. Neeraj, a great-grandson of Baba Rai, is now in effective charge of the temple. It is about 110 years since the Moolavar was consecrated.

Entering the temple across the road of the post office in Khadwada Dharwaja, one notices the central gopuram to be like the one at Puri Jagannath, with three kalasams. After walking through a gateway with Vadakalai namam, one comes to a large area at the centre of which the temple has been built as a raised one (madak-k-kovil). The entire area is paved and encircled by rooms many of which are occupied by tenants. I was told that they pay very little as rent. Some rooms are locked and some are in use for temple activities like the one where they perform havan once a fortnight. In the prakaram here and there tulsi, jasmine, arali and champa (pagoda tree) have been grown.

The dwajasthambham has bells. There is a tiny sannidhi beneath the dwajasthambham. On one side a marble Hanuman can be seen through a glass pane. Another panel, also glass covered has a slab with the navagrahas sculpted, all with Vadakalai namam. Garuda faces the temple. In the fourth niche is Rishi Bhagawan's image. Vrinda Majumdar, mother of Neeraj, who looks after the temple, told me that this sage was the one who helped in preparing the image of the Moolavar. He fasted till it was completed and also helped the sculptor in every way.

On the outer wall of the library, which faces the temple, the entire Nama Ramayana (the "Suddha Brahma Parathpara Ram" sequence) has been written. There is a Tulsi Centre and a well in this area as also a gateway whose central portion is kept closed. The central door signifies Vaikunta Dwara and is opened only on Vaikunta Ekadesi.

The sides of the sanctum door are decorated with conch, discus and mace. The sanctum houses Lakshmi Narayana, an attractive image in marble, seated on a lotus. The conch and the discus are for the upper left and right hands, and the mace for the lower left hand. The lower right hand is seen in abhaya mudra. Lakshmi is seen as if she is being held up by the left hand of the Lord, with her feet crossed. She carries a lotus in her left hand and shows her right hand in abhaya mudra.

All the other images of Lakshmi Narasimha, Srinivasa, Lakshmi Narayana (utsvar), Ranganatha, Sridevi and Bhudevi, on the platform in front of the lotus, are made of panchalokam. (As in Srirangam the goddesses are in sitting posture), Sayanabhera, Baby Krishna is seen in a cradle.

The outer wall of the sanctum contains several upa-sannidhis — Sri Ramanuja Moolavar in marble and utsavar in panchalokam; Nammazhwar Moolavar in marble and the ustavar icon in panchalokam; Ranganayaki Thayar and little Lakshmi are both in panchalokam. Kumkuma pooja is offered to the little vigraham on Fridays.

In the other niches are Goda Devi, Vishwaksena and Rama-Sita-Lakshmana-Anjaneya all in panchalokam. Another has Vedanta Desikar — moolavar in marble and utsavar in panchalokam, and Sudarsana in panchalokam.

Vrindabhen, the officiating priest, performing pavvalimpu seva — a rare and heartening sight.

Vrindabhen, the officiating priest, performing pavvalimpu seva — a rare and heartening sight.  

When I asked Vrindabhen on the activities connected with daily puja, other than rituals, she said that there was enthusiastic participation from the devotees for such gatherings. A popular one was the complete reading of Tulsi Ramayan in three days in the Chaitra month. Every Saturday devotees read "Sundara Kandam". Even those who cannot, make it a point to attend. Plans are afoot to celebrate the Sri Vrata in Margasirsa.

I watched the pavvalimpu seva performed by Vrindabhen who was officiating as the priest, since the Bhattar was absent. A small cradle was set up in front of the sanctum and the Sayanabhera was laid to rest. The cradle had even a tiny mosquito net. Devotees who were present sang songs for Baby Krishna, with a commendable sense of involvement. An unforgettable experience!

There is a library too with books in Hindi and Gujarati that are translations of Srivaishnava literature. I was astonished to find several copies of a Gujarati translation of "Sankalpa Suryodayam" of Vedanta Desikar. Ananta Prasad has rendered into Gujarati several stotrams of Desikar including portions of the epic cluster, "Paduka Sahasram".

There is a large, framed, welcome address to Srinivasa Thathachariar in the temple, which says, the Utsava vigrahams were brought here in 1936 and the place was consecrated as a Divya Desam then. It appears the regular festivities of the Ramanuja Sampradaya of the Vishnu temple, including Jyeshta utsavam, Pavitrotsavam, Navaratri utsavam, Margasirsa vrata, Brahmotsavam, Dolotsavam, Narasimha Jayanthi, Ramanavami and Krishnashtami, were begun at the same time.

However, lack of an archaka now has limited the functions to Vaikunta Ekadesi, a 15-day Dolotsavam in the month of Sravan, Vasanth Panchami and Navarathri-Kumkuma pooja.

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