By Ayushi Nagalia
It’s the beginning of a new day and I wish I could move myself a little, if not move, I wish I could wash off all the red teekas from my forehead. It has only been four years since I came to this place and I haven’t moved since. This place is now my home, my resting place. For a long period, I have been watching and hearing about this place from my home on a far off, isolated, Gandhi Sarovar. All I wanted was to be able to get out of that seclusion and come here, to the land of Kedarnath, where nobody faces seclusion. From the day I laid attention on this place, I knew that there was something mystical about the Temple, something that constantly drew me towards it. I always wanted to come here; I just desire the circumstances under which my want got fulfilled were not so catastrophic. Even during the icy months, when the Kedarnath Temple is closed for darshan, even though the violent chill, even from the vast distance that I used to be at from the Temple, I could feel a sense of presence in that place, a sense of warmth; not the kind of warmth that would help me fight against the physical, exterior cold, but the kind of warmth that kept hope instilled in me, even from so afar. Maybe this divine warmth was the result of the legend of what happened in Kedar thousands of years ago; the event that makes Kedarnath Mandir one of the twelve sacred Jyotirlingas; the event responsible for the establishment of the Temple.
As stated in the Mahabharata, after the eighteen-days long Kurukshetra War ended, the Pandvas instead of rejoicing on their victory, were dejected on having killed their own brothers, the Kauravas, in the great battle. They were told by their gurus and adversaries that they had committed Gotrhatya and Bhramanahatya; two acts as sinful as these were to be punished by banishment of one’s soul to hell. At this point, Lord Krishna, who was the foremost adversary to the Pandvas and was the dearest friend of Draupadi, the Pandvas’ wife, told the five kings that they could be absolved from their sin if they somehow please Lord Shiva. At that time, Lord Shiva had gone away to Kailasha in the Himalayas to meditate. Without questioning Krishna, The Pandvas went on a pilgrimage to cleanse their souls of the grave sin by repenting to the Lord of destruction.
After a long and difficult journey to the Himalayas, the Pandvas finally saw Lord Shiva from a distance. Shiva, because of this anger against the Pandvas for having killed their brothers, disappeared from their sight and later transformed into a bull, or Nandi, to avoid the Pandvas. At that moment, Dharmaraj Yudhisthira created the holy Guptakashi shrine by saying: “Oh, Lord, You have hidden yourself from our sight because we have sinned. But, we will seek You out somehow. Only after we take your Darshan would our sins be washed away. This place, where You have hidden Yourself will be known as Guptakashi and become a famous shrine.” The Pandvas were adamant that they wouldn’t leave the Himalayas without Lord Shiva’s darshan, so from Guptakashi, they went to Gaurikund where Bheema spotted a peculiar looking bull. The Pandavas recognized the bull to be none other than Lord Vishwakarma himself. On being spotted, he tried to escape from the Pandvas by sticking his head into a fissure, but Bheema pulled him by this tail and hind legs. As a result of a heated struggle, the bull fissured into five, the head rested in Kalpeshwar, the face in Rudranath, the stomach in Madhyamaheshwar, the arms in Tungnath and the hump in Kedarnath. After getting distributed all over the to-be Uttrakhand, a Jyotirlinga appeared from the hump and Lord Shiva appeared from the light, giving darshan to the Pandvas and therefore, absolving them of their sins.
The Lord then promised the Pandvas that from that instant onwards, he would reside within the triangle-shaped hump which should be immediately rested in Kedarnath, and every devotee who seeks redemption from the Lord could pray to the triangle Jyotirlinga and achieve piousness. It was then that the Pandvas, under Dharamraj’s inspection, built the Kedarnath temple. I wouldn’t say for sure that it is this very reason why I always felt so attracted towards Kedarnath, because believing in divinity is something that, as I have learnt over time, is a personal choice. It is up to every individual to decide whether or not divinity exists. As for me, I chose to believe that as long as one believes in something, she can turn even the tiniest pebble into something divine. Belief is what matters and not the object of that belief. I learnt this concept by watching the numerous devotees who come to the Temple to attain piety, to seek redemption, or just to be closer to the Lord.
For a very long time, I watched, observed and overheard the pilgrims to the mighty Kedarnath Mandir.
Sometimes I would watch and sense people’s conversation, but mostly the birds and the wind, my only two friends, carried the sounds, and I enjoyed listening to them, learning about the deepest insights to humankind. I could hear people coming to seek redemption, people asking for forgiveness, people asking the Lord to help heal someone close to them, people wishing to clear a certain exam or even people wishing to win the favor of an admired one. The stories were never ending, some were pitiful, but some were downright hilarious. This is the mode of entertainment I had resorted to. Resting at the Gandhi Sarvovar, it was only these conversations and the hope to someday visit the Kedarnath Mandir that kept me from diving into the great river beneath me.
In all those years, I came across a multiplicity of people. Some were the people who I would actually deem as ‘devotees’, people who walk from Gaurikund to Kedarnath just to feel the divine power, just to show respect and admiration to God, the one they believed in; however, there has been no absence of individuals who would visit either to get some egotistical purpose solved or just to enjoy themselves. I wouldn’t say that no one other than the ‘devotees’, deserve to right to be able to witness the triangle shaped Jyotirlinga, but the bitter truth that I had to gulp like a slow poison was that, with proceeding times, the Kedarnath Mandir was becoming a lot like any other tourist spot.
I could see venders and shops blossoming up all the way from Gaurikund to the Chorabari Glacier and I saw as people instead of trekking to the temple, would simply hire a Pony or a Manchan service. It was alright at the beginning, as it started as a way for the elderly and disabled to be able to witness the positive presence of the place. However, I was dejected to see how swiftly young men and women also started hiring these services. As the way to reach to the Temple got easier and easier, suddenly the number of devotees of the Lord Shiva multiplied several times.
Even after understanding the corruption in humanity, I was so jaded of the nihility of my surroundings that reaching Kedarnath was never out of my consciousness. I just desire the circumstances under wish to move to Kedarnath got fulfilled were not so cataclysmic.It has been four years since that misfortune broke upon us, but I still remember those days as clearly as yesterday. In fact, I would say that now, my days here are hazier in my memory than the memory of the great floods that brought me here. It was in the middle of June, 2013; as usual, the weather was chilly but the Mandir was loaded with pilgrims. The wind was telling me about a little girl, who had come to Kedarnath with her grandparents, hoping that Lord Shiva would give her the power to help heal her father, who was injured at a factory accident. Many similar stories reached by conscience that day. I was deeply saddened by such melancholy in the world. I was just thinking about the human life’s misfortunes when it started raining. The moment the first raindrop touched my surface, I felt panic run through my body. Something inside made me think about the Mandir and I felt a sudden terror along with a sense of protectiveness towards my dream location. Rainfall in the Gandhi Sarovar and Kedarnath region was a common sight; however, it was something about that first drop of the to-be treacherous rain that readied me for the disaster to come. It rained ruthlessly from 14th June to 16th June. The water level had risen to such a high level that I was half submerged in the Sarovar. The icy water was cutting my skin like a thousand knives and it was only my love for the Kedarnath temple that gave me hope and courage to be able to with stand such harsh conditions. I was ready to be drowned completely into the Sarovar; I had made peace with the idea of living amongst the smaller members of my kin that have always stayed underwater. Just as I was about to bid goodbye to Kedarnath, the horror struck.
It was 16th of June, 2103, the rainfall was starting to get a little scarce, terror was starting to leave me, the wind had started to ease down and I could understand her a little. It happened just as I was trying to get an update on the little girl who fascinated me just a few days back. It happened when I was least expecting it. The Chorabari Glacier located just above the Gandhi Sarovar was starting to crumble; and all of a sudden, a huge icy rock, five times my size, fell from the glacier into the Sarovar. In a split second, everything that I considered home turned into mayhem. The already overflowing river lost all bounds and with it, I and uncountable others from my clan.
All of us were shaken from the sudden outburst of the river. The ruthlessness of the river carried us southwards towards the River Mandakhini, towards Kedarnath. An hour or a day, I don’t recount how long the current bashed us against each other, against trees and what not. As we toppled further and further downwards, I started to see the people I had only heard of till then. I desired to save them, I desired to tell them that everything would be alight, that everyone’s sick relative would recover; everyone would get their dream job, as long as they chose to believe. In my desperation, I tried to choose my own course of direction, but the ferocity of the water was such that I was helpless against it. To my horror, on my way, I crushed several humans, homes, animals and shops. I wanted to save them; instead, I was killing them.
Just when I thought things could not get any worse, I caught a glimpse of the divine Kedarnath Mandir. This was the moment I was waiting for all my life. This was the place I had dreamt of day and night, and right now, it was in front of my eyes; I was so helpless, being pushed ruthlessly by the current. I realized that the river was bursting rapidly towards the Mandir. I realized that the Mandir, in spite of all its magnificence, would not be able to withstand the sudden pressure it was about to be hit with. I had to stop the river; I had to save the temple. I couldn’t let it be destroyed. I had to do something. It was then that I realized that the purpose of my life was to protect the Mandir. I had to fulfill my purpose; I had to stop the river. I said a little prayer, dived into the cores of my belief, mustered all my strength and tried to station myself. I failed, the river kept bursting
I failed, the river kept bursting it’s way though. I had reached too near the temple by then. It was my last chance. I tried again. Belief flowed through my body life wildfire. The echoes of the million “Bum Bum Bhole”s and “Har Har Mahadeva”s that I had heard so many pilgrims chanting throughout the years ringed in my years. It took everything within me, every ounce of my strength and belief, but I somehow managed to position myself just behind the Mandir. The river still flowed, but I cut its course from the middle. Water flowed violently against my sides, but I didn’t allow it to control me anymore. I could feel it; the presence of the same warmth that kept me hopeful inside me, even though the icy cold water was cutting my sides. I could feel a presence around me, helping me stay positioned, helping me cut through the river. I think about that moment a lot now, and I have to a conclusion that the presence was the perseverance of my belief and love for the holy establishment.
After a long struggle, the violence finally stopped. I stood steady exactly behind the mighty Temple. I looked around. All I could see was devastation; rocks all around with corpses hanging on them like clothes left out to dry. Nothing seemed like a once civilized area, everything was shattered and flown away. The only thing that was left standing was the Kedarnath Temple. The moment I laid eyes on the Temple, a sense of relief flowed all through me. All the panic and terror from before finally came to an end. My dream had finally come true. I was standing in front of the Mandir itself. The mighty temple that survived even though everything around it lay destroyed. In that moment I knew that I had served the purpose of my existence.
The days that followed were a different kind of nightmare. I heard stories of the disaster that struck in all the neighboring regions from the horror-struck wind. I heard how thousands of people had already died and how much more were dying from the harsh weather conditions and the prevailing famine. I heard choppers trying to rescue as many people as they could. But it wasn’t enough. It was breaking my heart how so many devotees who had believed in the power of the Lord, were crushed instead of getting blessings from Him. I wondered about what happened to the little girl, but I knew rooting for such a small and defenseless human was fruitless. The place of devotion had turned into a place of death.
Over the next couple of months I heard how over fifty thousand people lost their lives to the calamity, how the river was so overflowed my corpses that even in far-off shores in Haridwar and Rishikesh, corpses were being found. It was soon declared that the Temple would be renovated and would be open for devotees by 2014.
I suddenly started becoming an object of interest. People started calling me ‘Bheem Shila’. I am credited for saving the temple against the vehemence of nature. People started worshipping me along with Lord Shiva. It’s the beginning of a new day and I wish I could move myself a little, if not move, I wish I could wash off all the red teekas from my forehead. Nowadays, my gray surface is always covered with red teekas and kalawas. It has been four years since I came to this place and I haven’t moved since. This place is now my home, my resting place. I wish I could tell the devotees that it was not me who saved the temple, but the temple, its power and my devotion to it that saved me. Lord knows where I would have ended had the Temple not attracted me all those years, had it not made me wish to reside in the exact spot where I am today.
If each individual chooses to believe in something, anything, she can do anything she wishes to do. I wish I could tell the world how it was a belief that performed that miracle and not me; I’m just a boulder after all.