Kolkata Kaleidoscope- Part2 The Temple of Balai Chand

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Balai Chand

Kolkata, the city of Joy, is a melting pot of humanity of various castes, creeds, races and religions who have been living together in perfect harmony for centuries together. The ethnic Chinese of China Town at Tangra, the Jews, the Armenians, the Parsis, the Iranis, Anglo Indians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, Marwari, Biharis, South Indians, people from the North East, all call Kolkata their home. Pagodas, Synagogues, Fire temples, Churches, Gurudwaras and Temples all dot the secular, cosmopolitan landscape of Kolkata.

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An illustration of the Dakshineswar temple in the background with Ma Kali standing on Lord Shiva and Sri Ramkrishna Parmahansa and his wife Sri Sri Sharada Ma in the foreground.

Temples dedicated to the Hindu Mother Goddess, Durga and her various incarnations especially Goddess Kali are found in abundance in Kolkata. To state that Ma Kali is the presiding deity of the city would not be an exaggeration. Kali Ghat and Dakshineswar temples dedicated to Ma Kali are renowned the world over and they evoke immense emotions among the devotees who throng these temples.

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The Abode of Balai Chand

Hence, the temple of Balai Chand located within the private precincts of the Mitras of Phool Bagan, Beleghata, east Kolkata comes across as a very unique temple.

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The entrance to the divinity’s own chambers

The temple of Balai Chand owes its origin to Shri Pitambar Mitra, the grandfather of Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra, the doyen of the Mitra family who was an Indologist, an author and a key figure in the Bengal Renaissance, the awakening that infused modern thoughts and scientific temper in the otherwise religious bigotry riddled society especially in Bengal.  The lore is that Pitambar Mitra when on a trip to the holy city of Vrindavan, once saw in his dream Lord Balaram or Balbhadra, the elder brother of Lord Krishna, arguably the most popular of the Hindu Gods. During the course of the dream, Lord Balaram asked Pitambar Mitra to construct a temple dedicated to him in which the deity should be carved out of the wood of a neem tree that Lord Balaram promised would come to Pitambar.

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The idols made from neem wood as per the dream of Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra

The next morning Pitambar Mitra woke up and did not think much about his dream. Dismissing the entire episode as a flight of his imagination, he went out for his usual stroll on the banks of the River Yamuna. While he was in the midst of his stroll at Keshi Ghat, he chanced upon a log that had been washed ashore. And Lo, as though a miracle the log that had been washed ashore was a log from a neem tree. The prophecy made by Lord Balaram in the dream had come true.

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The temple constructed by Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra in accordance to Balai Chand’s wish

Taking a cue from this event, Pitambar Mitra set it upon himself to build a temple dedicated to Lord Balaram as directed by the Lord in his dream from the wood of the log that had miraculously come to him.

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Lord Balaram and his consort Revati Rani

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An idol of Lord Jagannath

Today, the idols of Lord Balaram, his consort Revati Rani, Lord Krishna and Lord Jagannath that one sees at the Balai Chand temple is made from the same neem wood that Pitambar Mitra came across during his stroll, one fine day in far off Vrindavan, nearly century and a half years ago.

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The Mitra family conducting the Aarati during Raash

The family organized annual ‘Raash’ at the Balai Chand temple that takes place usually in the month of March after the festival of color- Holi or Dol is over, is an event that is looked forward to by all.

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Blessings of the deity during the Aarati

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Distribution of proshad after the Aarati

 

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The temple ground has old garages as well

During this time, the deity and his consort are taken for a round across the grounds of the temple by the devotees.

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Musicians during the Raash

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The decorated pavilion from which Balai Chand and his consort enjoy the cultural activities during Raash

During the round of his estate, Balai Chand as Lord Balaram is fondly referred to, rests at the embankment of the pond located within the premise. At night, cultural activities like ‘Jatra’- local musical plays are organized in Balai Chand and his consort’s honor which the deities enjoy from a specially made elevated pavilion along with the devotees.

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Stalls at the fair during the Raash of Balai Chand

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Ghugni, Khaja and Nimki- While the divinities enjoy their Raash, the mere mortals too have their share of Gastronomic Fun.

In fact, a 3 day fair is held during the course of the Raash in which children have a great time riding merry go rounds and ferris wheels, the women shop to their heart’s content and the men folk watch the Jatras and musical programmes that are held. In a nutshell, enjoyment and amusement galore but all dripped in the religious fervor of Balai Chand.

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The Mystical Awari Mata of Asawara

About 90 kms from the city of lakes Udaipur is the temple complex of the mystical Awari Mata, a deity who, it is claimed, provides dramatic cure to people suffering from paralysis, polio, stroke and other physical handicaps. It was on the insistence of a colleague of mine who suffers from a limb handicap, seconded by my better half that we decided to pay our obeisance at this temple situated in the village of Asawara, in Chittorgarh district.
A bright sunny morning saw us embark upon our trip to Awari Mata. The drive down the Udaipur-Chittorgarh highway is serene and pleasurable with the exception of the speedbreakers at the congested Debari stretch of the route and the occasional uneven craters that have been formed due to the heavy vehicular traffic. Thus, before we knew we were at Mangalwad Chouraha munching on hot samosas in kadi garnished with freshly cut onions and green chilly accompanied by piping hot tea.
After a very satisfying breakfast, it was again time for us to keep our tryst with the mother goddess. From the Mangalwad Chouraha, you have to take the straight double laned Mangalwad-Nimbahera road and keep driving till you reach Nikumbh Chouraha. From there a left turn will lead you to the village of Asawara, the abode of Awari Mata also known as Asawara Mata ji.

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Temple of Awari Mata also known as the Temple of Asawara Mata ji

The temple complex consists of a beautiful pond, some resting places, public bathrooms, shops that sell offerings for the deity, a temple dedicated to the Hindu Simian God Hanuman and the temple itself. The place has ample parking space and the parking ticket for a four wheeler is 20INR. We entered the temple complex from the backside which is adjacent to the parking lot.

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A whiff of cool breeze from the pond

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The embankment of the Holy Pond

On entering the premises, the first thing that greeted us was a whiff of fresh cool breeze that emanated from the scenic pond on the banks of which the temple complex is situated. The pond, which a notice board proclaims is the private property of the Ekling ji Trust, is believed to have medicinal powers. It has ghats on its embankment where people were taking a dip in the holy waters in a bid to cure their ailments and even otherwise. We too took a dip in the water that soothed us for sure, from the heat of the stinging summer sun.

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Shops that dot the area

A narrow pathway dotted with shops that sell variously priced offerings for the Mother Goddess leads you to the main temple. Besides the regular items like coconut, red cloth and garlands, the offerings also include bottles of oil.

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Awari Mata ji of Asawara

The scene inside the temple was almost electric. There was a long line of devotees who were there dripping in religious fervor but despite such a long queue there was an almost tranquil vehemence, an oxymoron that I can’t possibly describe in words. The line was fast moving and an entry through a small window like opening landed us in front of Asawara Mata ji, Avari Mata. All things seemed so miniscule, so irrelevant in front of the Mother. Numbness overpowered my senses and an indescribable sense of joy percolated whole being. Oblivious to my surroundings, it took a security guard and his whistle to dislodge me from my state of spiritual actualization.

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Devotees gathering ash at the courtyard

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Devotees with ailments lying on the floor with hope and conviction

The courtyard of the temple has ash from the incenses (agarbattis) that keep on burning day and night. Some people smear it on their bodies others take them back home in the hope of divine miracles. In the passage that surrounds the courtyard; many people suffering from paralysis, stroke, polio and other physical disabilities could be seen lying down. Their bodies told a story that was oozing with their pain, distress and misery but their eyes told a different story, a story that was full of hope and conviction. It is believed that participating in the daily rituals of the temple and inhaling the smoke from the incense lit during the rituals go a long way in curing the ailments of the devotees who are otherwise incapacitated by their ailments.

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Passing through the archway 

Devotees make it a point to go almost sliding through a small archway made of stone in the courtyard. It is believed that a person who can pass through the archway, for him recovery from ailment or fulfillment of a wish is almost certain.
As I drove back home from the dwelling of the Mother in reminiscence of the day gone by, I almost felt overwhelmed by a strange feeling of gratitude, a gratitude whose genesis was from the fact that even when the struggle is unfathomable, there always is a divine power that always backs up the person, who has not ceased to struggle.