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My Kolkata Yatra 2023

For many years I had been wanting to visit Kolkata to get a feel of the city, its culture and its mishti. Earlier this year in January we had tried but the news about the re-spread of Covid dissuaded us and we cut short our journey and returned from Bhuvneshwar. In October 2023 I got a chance to go to Ranchi to attend a conference, and from there I decided to go to Kolkata.

Rajrappa


I reached Ranchi on 26 October. While in Ranchi I decided to visit Rajrappa. Rajrappa is a shrine of Ma Chhinnamasta located at the confluence of rivers Bhairavi and Damodar and is a very powerful śaktipīṭha known for tantric practices. On October 27 we visited the shrine.


I was visiting Rajrappa after 35 years and was not prepared for what I saw. Much has changed in these years. 35 years ago there was not a single eatery, only one dharmashala to stay, and no power supply. I had stayed in that dharamshala and used to eat with a flower seller who used to stay in his shop. Now a market has sprung up with eateries and shops selling trinkets, there was a surging crowd, and the market was dirty with no respect for cleanliness. Around the temple and inside the temple there was no clear signage to direct a visitor towards the temple. Nor could I locate a shoe-stand to deposit my shoes. Heeding to some devotees I jumped over several bamboo barricades, left my footwear by the side, and joined the darshan queue. It took me two hours to stand in the queue before I could come out of the shrine. Finally, when I joined the queue for a darshan, I noticed that the floor of the temple was dirty with the excreta of sacrificial animals which the devotees bring for offering. A mixture of animal excreta, water and muck was smearing the feet of all those who were in the queue, and I was no exception.

The sanctum sanctorum has remained the same over the years. It is still small and has a single opening for entry and exit. It can become stuffy and choking inside because everyone wants to enter and in the process choke the opening, not leaving way for anyone to go out. The pandas, here too, were busy snatching the money from the devotees and pushing them out. Fortunately, I could have a brief glimpse of the deity before I too was pushed out. I pleaded with the pundas, but little did they care that I had travelled nearly 1400 km to have a Darshan of the deity, and had stood for 2 hours in a queue which had no place to sit and rest.

In terms of importance, the Rajrappa shrine is ranked next to the Kamakhya shrine. Devotees travel from far and wide for a Darshan, such is the popularity of this shrine. The temple has no website, no online darshan booking or online donation facility. Even that is acceptable. But the utter lack of cleanliness, apathy towards the devotees, and lack of facilities cannot be accepted. It makes one wonder: why are Hindu temples so unkempt? Why is it that cleanliness, courtesy and politeness are the last thing one can expect in these temples?

Or must we wait for a Rajrappa Corridor to be built like the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor?

Kolkatta


In the wee hours of the morning of 30th October, I and Taruna deboarded the train at Howrah Junction. We took a cab to Shree Calcutta Gujarati Samaj which is in the Bhowanipur area close to Poddopukur. As the cab got onto the Howrah Bridge I felt a sense of euphoria. There was a sense of joy: I was watching a piece of history, nay, I was riding over a piece of history.

From the Bhavan we walked upto the Maidan Metro station and boarded the metro train to Dakshineshwar. Went to the Shrine, had a good darshan. The man at the gate gave me a niche to stand, have darshan and to pray.

After the darshan we took the skywalk to reach the Dakshineshwar Metro Station. Taruna purchased some titbits at the skywalk.From Dakshineshwar Metro station we boarded the metro to Netaji Bhavan and walked to the Gujarati Samaj. Thus ended our first day of Kolkata jatra.

On day 2 we went in the morning to Kalighat Kali temple. The Kalighat Kali temple is in the middle of the town. At one time Ganga (Hooghly) flew by the side of this shrine and, over time, has moved away. This Kali shrine is one of the 51 Shaktipith and the toes of the right foot of the Sati had fallen here. Here too, the pandas rule the place.


From Kalight we went to Gariahat shopping area. This is the hub for garments of all types. We were looking for cotton sarees and gents’ kurtas. The price in the shops was very reasonable, and if one has a discerning eye, one can pick up excellent stuff at a very reasonable price. Gariahat has tram tracks, and we occasionally witnessed a tram passing by. Taruna kept on searching for overhead wires which power the trams.

From Gariahat we returned to Gujarati Samaj and, after lunch and some rest, left for Biral Planetarium. We saw the 4 pm Hindi show, had jhalmudi and then visited Nandan. Nandan is a government-sponsored film and cultural centre which has large screens for the screening of Bengali films and promotes cinematic awareness in society. A Bengali movie was on show and people were eagerly waiting for entry into the theatre. In hindsight, we think that we too should’ve bought the tickets to see the movie. From Nandan, we returned to Gujarati Samaj and this was the end of the second day.




On day 3 we cancelled our plan to visit Gangasagar. Instead, we decided to go to Belur Math and Science City. So, early in the morning, we left in search of Arun Tea Stall. This shop offers Kesar Chai, or Tea which is sprinkled with kesar. And true to its name, kesar was sprinkled on the tea and the tea had a distinct flavour of kesar. There was no place to sit, and plastic stools were put on the footpath to sit and have tea or even to eat. An interesting thing I noticed was that well-to-do elderly people had gathered at a corner to gossip, and it seemed as if it was a daily ritual for them. Perhaps this was Kolkata’s perennial Adda, the city’s beloved pastime. The Bengalis love to talk, and adda for them is an essential part of the day.


After the tea we left for Belur Math. From Rabindra Sarani we boarded the Metro to Dakshineshwar, and from there took an auto to Belur Math. It is the headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. The Math is huge, spread over 40 acres of land on the western bank of Hooghly, on the opposite side of Dakshineshwar. It has the Ramkrishna Temple, Swami Vivekananda Temple which is built on the place where Swamiji was cremated in 1902. Sharada Ma’s temple which is built on the spot where she was cremated on 21 December 1921.



Swami Brahmananda's temple, who was a direct disciple of Ramakrishna and the first president of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, and which is built on the same spot where he was cremated on 7 February 1924. There is a small cremation area in the complex, which also has the spot where the first 12 disciples of Swami Vivekanand were cremated. It has The complex The complex also has a museum and a bookstore. We picked up copies of Mantra Pushpam.


I was overwhelmed by the Math. Swami Vivekanand of Belur Math kindled nationalism and spirituality in the young minds of Bharat, guided Sri Aurobindo when he was in the Alipore Jail, travelled to the western world to talk of Hinduism; here was the place which is a living page in the spiritual history of Bharat, a place from where Light and Knowledge of Advaita has reached all corners of the world.


After offering my Pronam we returned to Dakshineshwar Metro Station and boarded the Metro to Suabazar. From Suabazar Metro station we walked to the shop of Nobin Chandra Das, the inventor of Rosogulla. The gentleman at the counter helped select the sweets for us, and we ate as many sweets as we could.



Our next and last stop was Science City. I had thought that it was a recent addition to Kolkata and keeping with the scientific temperament of the Bengali scientists and doctors, but much later I learnt that it was built 25 years ago. Science City offers the facility to book tickets online, and I had booked my tickets which had come to me as a link through email. The place is a sprawling complex, ill-kept, unfriendly with no signage as to where to go, no guide, guidebook or online e-guide, and I realized later that we did miss out on some important attractions of Science City because there was no one to tell us to go and see them. Somehow we managed to find our way by asking the guards who were more than cooperative. We attended three shows: a 3D simulation which was fun, Space Theatre, and a 3D movie called “Luminaries of Bengal”. This 3D movie is poorly conceived and poorly produced, does no justice to the title, and carries on with several false narratives which were set in the past. So much so, that the script has a mere passing reference to the contributions of Sri Aurobindo by referring to him just once as ‘Aurobindo Ghosh’. Overall, it was very disappointing to visit the Science City of Kolkata.





Day 4 was 2 November, our last day of the trip. In the morning we did our packing. In the afternoon Shri Harishankar Gupta, a known Vastu and Fengshui expert, came to meet us. We had lunch together. After lunch we went to Balaram Mullick to pick up some sweets and soon left for Sealdah Railway Station to board the Sealdah-Bikaner Duronto for New Delhi. The train left Sealdah at 5 pm sharp and reached NDLS at 11 am the next day.

Kolkata has stirred something in my heart. I do not know whether it is the informality of the city, whether it is my old desire to visit and explore the city, whether it is my long forgotten connection with the soil of Bengal, or whether it is my link to the shakta cult. I am getting an urge to revisit Kolkata soon to visit places which I could not during this trip, or even to shift to Kolkata for a couple of months and understand the bhodrolok culture and their passion for life.


Arun Vyas





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Aun-Vyas-logo_edited.png Vastu Sindhu by arun vyas Logo

”Indian sacred architecture of whatever date, style, or dedication goes back to something timelessly ancient and now outside India almost wholly lost, something which belongs to the past, and yet it goes forward too, though this the rationalistic mind will not easily admit, to something which will return upon us and is already beginning to return, something which belongs to the future.”

                                                         -Sri Aurobindo, The Renaissance in India  

Vastu Consultant & Teacher

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