Chhinnamasta temple

Jaya and I decided to go on pilgrimage to Chhinnamasta temple during this auspicious period of Navaratri. This is after many years that I am at home during the Vasanta Navratri period this year. Vasanta Navaratri started from March 31 this year. We therefore visited the Chhinnamasta temple on the Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Navaratri is a festival dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Durga. Vasanta Navaratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Chaitra (March–April) and is observed during the Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon) of Chaitra. The beginning of this Navratri also marks the start of the new year as per the Hindu mythological lunar calendar (Vikrami Samvat).

The word Navaratri means ‘nine nights’ in Sanskrit – nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped. The tenth day is commonly referred to as Vijayadashami or “Dussehra”. The beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn are considered to be important junctions of climatic and solar influences. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother Durga. Navaratri or Navadurga Parva happens to be the most auspicious and unique period of devotional sadhanas and worship of Shakti (the sublime, ultimate, absolute creative energy) of the Divine conceptualized as the Mother Goddess-Durga, whose worship dates back to prehistoric times before the dawn of the Vedic age.

Chhinnamasta Temple dedicated to Goddess Chinnamasta is a hindu pilgrimage. The temple is located at Rajrappa, 28 km away from Ramgarh Cantonment along NH-23 in the Ramgarh district of the State of Jharkhand, India. It is situated on a hillock at the confluence of rivers Damodar and Bhairavi popularly known as Bhera.

The Bhera River joins the Damodar River from a height of 20 feet creating a waterfall.

Chhinnamasta (She whose head is severed), also called Chhinnamastika and Prachanda Chandika, is one of the Mahavidyas, ten Tantric goddesses and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. The headless statue of Goddess Chhinamastika stands upon the bodies of Kamdeo and Rati in a lotus bed.

The temple is very old and the place Rajrappa finds mention in the Vedas, Puranas and Hindu scriptures as a “Shakti Peeth” which is flocked by devotees from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam and Nepal for worship of Goddess Chinnamastika. Vedic book Durga Saptashati also mentions the temple. The art and architectural design resembles the design of temples of Tantrik importance. The temple is considered as notable as the tantrik site of Kamakhya Temple of Assam which has a similar architecture. The ancient temple of Goddess was destroyed and later a new temple was constructed and the original idol of Goddess was placed in it. Animal sacrifice is still practiced in the temple.

We performed our pujas, prayed at the temple and sat there for some time. Then we left for our home in Ranchi in the afternoon after praying at other Dakshina Kali and Mahavidya temples nearby. Rajrappa is around 80 km from Ranchi.

The place attracts devotees from all parts of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Pilgrims come here throughout the year. The place also attracts many foreign tourists due to its natural and religious importance.

Jai Maa Chhinnamasta!

Yo Yo Honey Singh in Ranchi

On March 30, Yo Yo Honey Singh performed live in Ranchi. We booked our tickets online a couple of days before. His concert was at JSCA stadium at Dhurwa in Ranchi.

We reached the stadium at 7:30 p.m. as the concert was to begin from 7:30 p.m.

There was a huge crowd for the live concert. A DJ was playing music to entertain the crowd. A few local dance groups gave their stage performance before Honey Singh took the stage. He came on the stage at around 9:00 p.m.

He enthused the audience with his lively, popular songs.

Suddenly after finishing his famous “Sunny Sunny…” song he left the stage saying that he would come again next year. The public was not ready for such early and abrupt end of the show. It was just 10:00 p.m. then and it’s too early. He sang a few songs only. I felt cheated and so do many others, too.

My birthday 2014

I am on vacation during my birthday after a long time. I am with my family but  we three of us can’t be together on my birthday March 21, 2014 as Babai is in his institute in Gangtok. Jaya & I are undergoing medical checkups and consultations at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital in Kolkata.

We visited our son Babai in Gangtok for couple of days and to be together during the auspicious occasion of Holi. We reached Gangtok from Ranchi on March 15, 2014.

To our surprise, Babai arranged a small, nice cake as we reached our hotel to celebrate my birthday. He arranged this as he would not be with me to celebrate my birthday. It was so nice of him.

Thanks Babai. God bless you!

On March 21, Jaya’s friend Rina invited us at their house. After our consultations with the doctor at Apollo Gleaneagles Hospital, we went to their house. On the way, Jaya bought a nice cake from Flury’s at Park Street, Kolkata. Also, Rina’s husband Subhro brought another cake! I cut both the cakes.

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This time, it’s a lot of celebration of my birthday! The cutting of cake was followed by lovely dinner prepared by Rina. Thanks Rina and Subhro for celebrating my birthday.

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake

Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake is perched within mountains at an altitude of 12,400 ft. Located in Sikkim at Gangtok – Nathula Highway only 40 km, from Gangtok, the Changu Lake is one of the most spectacular landscapes of Sikkim.

ROAD JOURNEY

The road to Nathu La passes the lake on north side. Nathu La is a mountain pass in the Himalayas. It connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The pass, at 14,140 ft forms a part of an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road.

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The Chinese border crossing is only some 5 km east-northeast in a straight line, but some 18 km by road. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo.

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We stopped on our way at a village market for some coffee and snacks, and for toilet. Sikkim is the first state in India to have toilets in every village.

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Jaya & I visited our son Babai for three days. On Monday, March 17 we decided to visit Tsomgo Lake and hired a cab through hotel. We asked the hotel on Saturday to arrange for the trip and the inner line permit needed to visit there.

THE LAKE

With a depth of around 48 ft and spreading over 1 km, the magnificent Changu Lake romances with its picturesque surrounding.

The water of the lake comes from the melting of the snow of its surrounding mountains, which is why this lake never dries up.

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This azure blue lake remains completely frozen during winter.

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In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake. Changu Lake is also the place of origin of Lungtse Chu River. This lake is also home to Brahmini Ducks and a favourite stopover to other species of migratory birds.

FAITH & LEGEND

The lake is highly revered by the local Buddhists and Hindus as a sacred lake. Changu Lake is shrouded in myths and legends. It is said that in ancient times, the Lamas (Buddhist Saints) used to predict the future by observing the lake’s colour. If the water of the lake had a dark tinge, they predicted the future to be dark and gloomy, full of unrest. The faith-healers of Sikkim, popularly known as Jhakhris also visit this lake during Guru Purnima to offer prayers.

A small bridge just at the entrance of the lake will take you to a viewpoint cum cafeteria, from where you can view the complete lake and its surrounding mountains.

YAK RIDE

You can trek along the lakeside in deep snow during winter or even take Yak rides along the coast of the lake. The yak is a long-haired bovid found throughout the Himalayan region of south Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and as far north as Mongolia and Russia. Most yaks are domesticated. The yak may have diverged from cattle at any point between one and five million years ago, and there is some suggestion that it may be more closely related to bison than to the other members of its designated genus. Yaks are heavily built animals with a bulky frame, sturdy legs, and rounded cloven hooves. They have small ears and a wide forehead, with smooth horns that are generally dark in colour. Domesticated yaks have been kept for thousands of years, primarily for their milk, fibre and meat, and as beasts of burden.

We preferred Yak ride. It’s our first experience and we enjoyed the ride although initially the sight of the mighty Yaks with their huge horns was a bit scary.


VILLAGE MARKET

There is a small rustic market before entering the Changu Lake which sells yak cheese, trinkets and local curios to the tourists. You would also get snow boots and gumboots on hire from here.

There are few eateries too selling Momos and tea in this area. We had some hot soupy noodles at one of the eateries before leaving Tsomgo for Gangtok.

Surprisingly, there was a wall painting of Che Guevara in one of the walls in the market indicating great popularity of the  Argentine Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader.

Tsomgo lake falls in the restricted area and hence an inner line permit is required by Indians to visit this place. Foreign nationals are not permitted to visit this lake without special permission. is open for both Indian and foreign nationals, however foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agency.

More photos are on Flickr.

Baba Mandir

Baba Mandir is a distinguished sightseeing place of Sikkim. This “mandir” or shrine is dedicated to “Baba” Harbhajan Singh, who was a soldier of the Indian Army. He died near the Nathula Pass in eastern Sikkim, India. Two shrines have been built to show reverence to Baba Harbhajan Singh. The old one has been built at the site of the bunker, where Baba Harbhajan was posted during his tenure in the Indian Army. The new one has been built at close proximity from Tsomgo Lake. It’s located at above 13,000 ft.

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DSC02714We visited the shrine nearer to Tsomgo lake as we planned for a trip to Baba Mandir and Tsomgo lake on Monday, March 17, 2014. Even though, it’s around 18 km from there and we had to cover several stretches of the road which were under Chinese surveillance due to close proximity to Indo-Chinese border.

DSC02716Hoards of devotees visit the shrine of Harbhajan Singh every year.

The shrine features three room structures. There is a large portrait of Baba in the central room, which has been placed with other Sikh Gurus and Hindu deity. At the right of the central room, there is the personal room of Baba.

The room houses all essential household belongings, needed for daily livelihood, starting from clothes, slippers, shoes to a clean sleeping camp bed. Neatly ironed uniform and polished boots are also kept. The bed sheets are reportedly found crumbled each morning and the boots become muddy by evening. There is another small room, which is used as office cum storeroom. The room is filled with unused slippers, water bottles, toothbrushes and other items that are offered to Baba. The salary of Major Harbhajan Singh has not been stopped and he is also granted his annual leave.

DSC02720There is a strong belief that water kept in the shrine of Baba gains healing property and turns into sacred water that can cure all possible ailments. This blessed water is needed to be consumed within 21 day and in this period, no family members of the ailing person is supposed to have non-vegetarian food. It is also believed that the slippers kept in the temple, help to cure gout and other foot problems. Followers, who cannot reach to Baba’s temple, are allowed to send letters to Baba, which are opened by Baba’s associates.

It is believed that Baba Harbhajan Singh guards the international boundary between India and China, over the last three decades and he is accomplishing this task alone. Even the Chinese army also confirms that they have noticed a human figure, guarding the border at night, riding on a horse. It is also said that Baba Harbhajan Singh foretells any dangerous activity on the border through the dreams of the fellow army men and safeguards the force.

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There is Yak Golf course here, which is acknowledged as the highest golf course in the world by the Guinness World Records. It’s located at 13,025 ft!

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Because of heavy fog and difficult road terrain, it’s advised by Indian Army to leave the Baba Temple area by 1:30 p.m. so as to reach Gangtok in safety. So, we returned after a while there, after having some cake and hot coffee. Hot coffee in near zero temperature at 13,000 ft was tasting very delicious.

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While returning, we encountered heavy fogs causing poor visibility. It made the driving quite difficult.

After Baba Mandir and Changu Lake we returned to our hotel in Gangtok worshiping at Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok temples on our way.

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We had hot coffee and local snacks at the cafeteria at Ganesh Tok. It’s really refreshing!

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More photos are on Flickr.

Our Wedding Anniversary

Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary. My wife and I have been married for 22 years. The day was 22-11-1991.

Now that I am in Iraq and she’s in India, I am not doing anything particular to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I am just remembering our wonderful wedding weekend. I do think how happy I am to be married to the person to whom I am married.

I sent her a cake and a bouquet of flowers through Ferns N Petals along with an anniversary card with message:

This day reminds me that God really loves me
For He gave the most wonderful person
And chose her to be my lifetime partner
I will always be grateful
Happy Anniversary to you, sweetheart!

20131122_003214I also tweeted her at the stroke of midnight.

I married her when she was just 22.  Through the ups and downs we have stuck it out.  I have now taken the best years of her life away from her.  Now I get to spend the rest of them with her too!

Being with you is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t imagine my life without you by my side. I love you dearly. Happy Anniversary Jaya!

Durga Puja

For last several years, we are going to Jamshedpur during Durga Puja on the day of Maha Ashtami to celebrate the Puja there for the remaining days and return to Ranchi on the day of Vijaya Dashami. This year also we planned the same.

We were in Ranchi for Durga Shashthi and Maha Saptami. We are involved mainly in the Maitraee Club puja in North Office Para, Doranda. During our earlier stint in Ranchi from 1997 to 2001, we were staying in North Office Para and were involved in this Puja.

On Jit’s transfer back to Ranchi from Jamshedpur in 2005, we were staying in Bariatu. Although it’s quite a distance between Bariatu and North Office Para, we revived and maintained our connection with Maitraee Club.

Babai came home on October 10, the day of Shashthi in the afternoon. Jit, Baba and I went to the airport to receive Babai. Due to some re-scheduling of flight timings, Babai’s flight came 35 minutes beyond the earlier declared time. We received Babai at the airport. It’s our family re-union after a long time and hence the most pleasurable moment for three of us.

In the evening, we went to Maitraee Club. There were some games being organized by the club. Jit and I both won a prize each.

Babai tied up with his old school friends for the Maha Saptami day to spend time with them.

We had Prasad & bhog there at the club. Today’s main bhog was sponsored by us. After having Bhog I stayed back there for preparation of the cultural programme. Jit returned back home and came back in the evening with Baba & Babai. The club members presented a good cultural programme.

After the programme, we went to Mecon’s colony Shyamali for seeing the puja and dinner. It was almost midnight then. We returned home after having dinner there.

In the morning of October 12, we left for Jamshedpur. So far, the Puja days were good, but there’s a weather forecast of heavy rains and strong winds from the evening of Maha Ashtami as the Cyclone Phailin was scheduled to hit the Indian shores near Gopalpur. It’s a 4-category storm and hence a huge one.

The sky was overcast from the morning. We reached Swarn Vihar, Sonari in Jamshedpur, where we participate in the puja.

Mukherji da and boudi kept the Maha Ashtami bhog for us. We went to their house and had the privilege of the bhog. They are very nice and sweet couple. They love us a lot.

This time the Sandhi Puja was in the afternoon. So after bhog, we returned to the puja pandal for the Sandhi puja.

After witnessing the puja and having the prasad, we went to our hotel – The Sonnet in Bistupur. It had started drizzling by then. We took some rest and then got dressed up for the evening and went to Swarn Vihar again for the cultural programme. Mukherji da participated in a comic play.

Rain is continuing in the evening. We dared out to see the pratima, pandals of CH Area and Aambagan in Sakchi. We also had some foods in the stalls in CH Area and ice candies in Sakchi despite the rains! We returned to the hotel. It rained heavily in the night.

We reached the Swarn Vihar puja pandal on the day of Maha Navami to find the place flooded. It’s raining then also. We offered Pushpanjali. Efforts were made to drain out the water. After the puja of Navami, Jit, and Babai joined in the homa. Then we had bhog. Due to rains, we returned to hotel.

In the evening, we went to Swarn Vihar again for the cultural programme and the dinner arranged by them.

Babai danced in merry after the end of cultural programme

Because of heavy rains, we could not go out and also Baba is scared of rains. We returned to hotel in the night.

On Vijaya Dashami, October 14 we found that many low lying places were flooded. Swarnarekha & Kharkai rivers were swollen.

Swarnarekha flowing to the brim

After the protima baran and sindur khela, we returned to Ranchi after having lunch there.

Pratima baran

We stopped for a cup of tea at a roadside motel near Deori temple. It was raining then.

The fury of the cyclone was felt more in Ranchi with many trees and electric poles uprooted. The power supply was stopped for almost two days to preempt accidents. The power was resumed in Ranchi just before we reached Ranchi. Thank God! The traditional vijaya sammelan at Maitraee club was postponed due to inclement weather conditions.

With the grace of the Goddess Durga, we enjoyed the puja a lot despite such an inclement weather. It was primarily because three of us were together.

Somnath

We continued our pilgrimage to Somnath as planned. We reached Somnath yesterday in the afternoon. We checked in to the hotel. After taking our lunch, we went to the Somnath temple. The Somnath Temple located in the Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra, on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of the God Shiva. Somnath means “The Protector of (the) Moon God”. The Somnath Temple is known as “the Shrine Eternal”.  It also has the sacred soil from where Bhagvan Shri Krishna took his last journey to his neejdham.

 As per Shiv Mahapuran, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of protection) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to downwards and upwards respectively to find the end of the light in either directions. Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshiped till the end of eternity.

Somnath Temple

Ancient Indian traditions maintain a close relationship of Somnath with release of Chandra (Moon God) from the curse of his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati. Moon was married to Twenty-Seven daughters of Daksha. However, he favored Rohini and neglected other queens. The aggrieved Daksha cursed Moon and the Moon lost power of light. With the advice of Brahma, Moon arrived at the Prabhas Teerth and worshiped Bhagwan Shiva. Pleased with the great penance and devotion of Moon, Bhagwan Shiva blessed him and relieved him from the curse of darkness partially, thus causing the periodic waning of moon. Pauranic traditions maintain that Moon had built a golden temple, followed by a silver temple by Ravana, Bhagvan Shree Krishna is believed to have built Somnath temple with Sandalwood. Located as it is, it is widely believed that if one were to sail from here in a straight line, the end of the journey would be at the North Pole, without having to travel over land.

We reached Somnath temple after visting Bhalka Tirth – the legendary spot where Lord Krishna was mistakenly hit by the arrow of a hunter. We worshiped at the Krishna temple there.

No electronic item is allowed inside Somnath temple. We deposited our camera, mobile phones at the locker room and walked into the temple. We worshiped at the temple. Then we went to the famous Triveni Ghat.

Triveni Ghat in Somnath is the meeting point of three holy rivers – Kapil, Hiran and a mystical River Saraswati, which are believed to be flowing to their ultimate destination – Arabian Sea.

These stages of rivers where they meet and then flow together to the sea symbolizes human birth, life and death. Considered as a sacred location for taking a holy dip to get rid of all curses and diseases,

Triveni Ghat holds a significant place in the Hindu Mythology and Puranas and also finds a mention in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is believed that Lord Krishna visited this holy spot when he was hurt by an arrow shot by Jara – a hunter.

I offered tarpana to my ancestors. Prabhash teertha is a holy place to offer tarpana to ancestors. Also, it’s the pitripaksh. After that, we returned to Somnath temple for Aarti scheduled at 7 PM. We also joined in the Aarti. After that we relaxed for sometime in the lawns and then returned to our hotel.

Today, we are leaving for Rajkot via Sasan Gir, Junagarh and Gondal. On the way, we will pay our respect to Jalaram in Veerpur.

Madhavpur

There is a serene beach at Madhavpur on the road to Somnath from Dwarka. It lies on the seashore, close to Porbandar.

We stopped here to enjoy the beach for a moment and to have a look around.

There are a few shacks and some vendors in open selling green coconut.

We had green coconut at the beach. The coconut water tasted sweet. We opted for the ones with flesh too. The flesh was also nice.

According to folklore, Krishna married Rukmini at Madhavpur after first kidnapping her. This event is memorialized with a temple dedicated to lord Madhavrai and by an annual fair held in the village. The original temple has been badly damaged in attacks by Muslim invaders; however a ruined structure is still present.

After getting refreshed by cool sea waves and nice tender coconut, we proceeded for Somnath.

Porbandar

We were travelling to Somnath from Dwarka. Porbandar lies on the way. It’s a coastal city on the seashore between Dwarka and Somnath, where the River Asmavati meets the ocean. The city of Porbandar derives its name from ‘Porai’ and ‘Bandar’, which refers to the harbour of Porai, the local Goddess. The Indian mythology says its the birthplace of Sudaama (Friend of Lord Krishna), hence its being referred to as Sudaamapuri or Sudamapuri.

Kirti Bhawan

Porbandar is best known for being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, which is also a reason for the growth in Porbandar’s tourism. We visited his house and birth-place. Today also happens to be his birth anniversary.

Birth-place of Mahatma Gandhi

Porbandar has evolved as one of the important industrial centres in the state of Gujarat though it still maintains the old city charm. It also houses a cement factory.

Porbandar is also believed to be the place of Sudama. The Sudama Mandir is a beautiful shrine dedicated to Sudama, the best friend and devotee of Lord Krishna.

Sudama Temple

The temple, located in the center of the Porbandar city, is said to be the only temple in India dedicated to this ardent devotee of Lord Krishna.  There were many pigeons. Jaya fed bajra (pearl millet) to the flight of pigeons.

Jaya feeding bajra (pearl millet) to a flight of pigeons

After praying at the temple, we proceeded towards Somnath. The discovery of ancient jetties along the Porbandar creek signifies the importance of Porbandar as an active centre of maritime activities in the past. Onshore explorations in and around Porbandar brought to light, for the first time, the remains of a late Harappan settlement dating back to the 16th – 14th century BC, which is similar to that from Bet Dwarka. This is another evidence to suggest that the Harappan legacy of maritime activity continued till the late Harappan period on the Saurashtra coast.