Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Places of Peace

Narayan Sarovar
"The places where peace resided have now become the very centres of turmoil," an elderly, wandering Sikh said to us in Lakhpat  (an old, almost deserted fort in Kachchh).  "I have found peace here," he added, referring to the place he was currently staying in - once the house of a wealthy Sindhi merchant where Guru Nanak (the first guru) stayed on his way to Mecca, and now a gurudwara.  "Places where holy men have sat in meditation are always peaceful," he continued, "because each atom of the earth absorbs the peace from them."

We had spent two days, travelling towards the north-western edge of Kachchh, close to the Pakistan border and stopping to see places of interest, which were mostly holy or sacred sites.  Where had we found peace?  Highly subjective question of course.  Most sacred places, especially the temples and mosques in India are not centres of peace, in my view.  They are filled with people who are often noisy, there is a lot of garbage strewn in the vicinity and the stone floors are sometimes slippery with oil or offerings strewn around.  This is also a sanctuary for the poor and sometimes for animals, there are a lot of people begging for alms close to the entrance.

We visited Haji Pir - an important Muslim shrine where people from India and Pakistan pray, Narayansarovar - one of the five holiest ponds of India and Koteshwar at the edge of the sea - where Lord Shiva bestowed his grace on the demon king Ravana.  There were many things there, but not peace.

We also visited the famous Mata - no -Madh, where a big festival was in progress.  Pilgrims from all over the state (and a few from outside) had to walk from wherever they lived right upto the temple to pray.  Hundreds of pilgrims (many obviously unused to walking), having taken leave from work, were braving the desert heat and walking miles each day.  Their path was strewn with (recently available) plastics of all kinds.  No real peace there for me either, in fact a sinking of my heart at the sight of so much plastic waste.

Powerful orange drinks being served on the way to Mata no Madh
We walked up the searingly hot marble steps to the temple of the Yaksh (or Jukhs), on which an American historian had devoted one slide and half an hour at the conference.  A temple dedicated to visitors perhaps of Iranian origin, who helped the locals in times of trouble.  An interesting spot.

The Yaksha temple with images of the 'yakshas' travelling on horses.

It was in Lakhpat finally that peace greeted us.  It came in the form of a darga (saint's tomb) of Gosh Muhammad, a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims.  Two young women stood outside, temporarily in charge of opening it up for visitors.  The tomb smelled of incense and years of prayer and was shrouded in silence.
Gosh Muhammad's tomb, Lakhpat

Lakhpat fort - once a huge maritime centre - was large, looming and very impressive.  It was built just at the edge of the sea.  Following a major earthquake, the Sindhu river changed course, causing the fort to eventually be abandoned.
Sign at the entrance to Lakphat Fort - traces of Ozymandius

The outer walls of Lakhpat fort
Next to it was the house that Guru Nanak stayed in, the very epicentre of peace.  There was a Sikh family in this gurudwara who served as caretakers and the remarkable, hospitable and upright old traveller.  We spent an hour there, sitting and waiting while tea was made for us, listening to the elderly man talking.  "I have decided to spend the last years of my life in this calm place," he concluded as we stood up to leave.

Everyone felt the peace I think, so much so that the French archeologist turned to me as we were leaving and only half jokingly asked, "What do you think about buying some land here?"

And then we were back on the road, returning to Bhuj.  But the memory of the old man and his words and the sense of peace remain etched in a corner of my mind.

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