Many temples in Rishikesh are associated with incidents from ancient Indian history and legends, whose origins are difficult to date. Places like Sri Ram’s and Lakshman’s bridges and the temples dedicated to the three brothers of Sri Ram could well date back to between circa 4500 and 4000 BC, a timeline accepted by a large section of Indic scholars as the period of the Ramayana, further corroborated by findings like the copper head representing Ram’s guru Maharishi Vashista which was discovered by the American explorer Harry H. Hicks and Dr Robert Anderson and dated around the above mentioned period.
Older still are the temples built upon spots identifying with incidents from the ancient Indian legends. While Rama and Krishna were avatars of the divine, they were also human beings who ruled from their capital cities of Ayodhya and Dwaraka respectively, whereas the major Indian Gods – the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and their wives are cosmic allegories. How does one date the origins of a temple which is said to be the location where Lord Shiva drank the poison of Halahala to save the world and became known as Neelkanth – the blue-throated Lord. Or another temple where He healed the moon Chandra’s affliction and wore Chandra as a crest jewel. Just like each of the ancient Indian traditions followed to this day have scientific reasons behind them, there are genuine Indic historians who offer explanations of the scientific phenomena hinted at by these beautiful allegories in which science and spirituality merge.
I was sitting on the floor of a large shrine built in several tiers on the banks of the Ganga. After the Panditji guided me to do a short puja to the Goddess, I was pleasantly surprised when he did not demand a donation unlike priests in several major temples I have come across in both South and North India, and merely smiled in acknowledgement when I offered some money as Dakshina. The Pandits in all privately-run temples here are polite, gentle and kind and the only demand they make of visiting devotees is to stay for the worship and have a good darshan of the Gods.
‘Panditji, people like you give one the reassurance that Sanatana Dharma will prevail forever in the holy land of Bharath,’ I said as I got up to leave.
‘Have you heard about the five different shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath?’ he asked me. ‘In the three yugas (aeons) before this one, people used to visit the Aadi Badrinath (The first Badrinath) shrine to pray.’
‘I read about that one, wasn’t it the temple where Veda Vyasa is said to have written down the Bhagavad Gita?’ I asked excitedly.
‘They say so,’ he nodded. ‘Now in Kali yuga, people go to the Badrinath temple. In the next Satya yuga, devotees will go to Bhavishya Badri. Even the abodes of our Gods are not permanent across time, but Dharma is and will prevail forever. Which is why it is called Sanatan, the eternal code of conduct.’
I was reminded of what William Dalrymple says in his book The City of Djinns about the city of Delhi, ‘Indraprastha had fallen (…) a brief interruption by the British was almost forgotten. But Shiva, the oldest living god in the world, was still worshipped; Sanskrit–a language which pre-dates any other living tongue by millennia–was still read, still spoken.’
All aspects of Sanatana Dharma, from the eight limbs of Yoga to Ayurveda to Sanskrit which holds the wisdom of the ages in the innumerable ancient texts remain eternal and timeless.
I bowed to the Goddess and the wise Pandit and left, feeling blessed and grateful. Detoxing from social media and the news, exploring temples older than time, practising yoga and meditating on the banks of the Ganga, these things make one happy for no specific reason, replete with the joy of being alive and connected to the entire universe.