Amritsar Golden Temple, at the center of a bustling Indian city, is a structure of incredible beauty, and serves as the heart of the Sikh religion & people. Eating free on the floor at the langar, waiting in line to see the holy guru book, watching the sacred pool, visiting the gory historical museum, feeling the splendor.
Mata Lal Devi Mandir – The Ladies’ Temple
Indian time and garbage trucks; The Ladies Temple; Goddesses galore!; None of this is sexual, of course; Not just goddesses; Mata Lal Devi; Historical museum and tuktuk ride; The joy of toilet-less bus rides;
If you are not interested in the details of my ramblings around Amritsar, you can skip straight to the description of the temple: Here.
Indian Time and Garbage Trucks
From the Golden Temple I went back to the guesthouse to get a breather. Arjun, my tuktuk driver, was expected at 11, but called twice to postpone. Eventually he came at 12: ”Emergency. Something happened”.
I, on my part, was concerned about one thing – the packed mochila. I had to check out my room and did not feel safe leaving it in the busy lobby. Arjun reassured me the “bus office” was safe. “All the tourists – Australias, Germans – leave their stuff there”, but I wasn’t relaxed until I saw the bus office with my own eyes, and it, indeed, proved to be a decent place. My driver knew the folks running the station, and they promised to watch over my stuff personally. I took photos of the place, just to be sure.
Free from the luggage, we set out on a trip to see the mysterious “Ladies Temple”. I never got an explanation what the “Ladies Temple” was, so I had to find out for myself whether only women were allowed entrance, whether only goddesses are worshipped there, etc.
On the streets of Amritsar
While Arjun was meandering with our tuktuk through the throngs of rickshaws, motorcycles, people, cars and other tuktuks, I spotted two actual garbage trucks at work! As I mentioned in my post about the border ceremony, Y., the Finnish guy, said Amritsar was actually a clean city.
I’ve written about the cleanliness situation in my posts “India’s garbage problem and who cleans India” and “Point Your Finger At Polluter”. Some things, like checking the state of hygiene in Delhi, I decided to spare myself. Better not know. But this city, thought very noisy, was indeed fairly clean, perhaps due to the relative prosperity of Punjab.
It was nice to see an “authentic” blacksmith at work by the roadside. In one of my jobs, as a docent in a historical museum in New Mexico, I was showing school kids how a blacksmith shop used to work, but nothing, of course, compares with the real thing…
Mata Lal Devi Mandir - The Ladies Temple
The “ladies’ temple”
Arjun brought me to the Ladies Temple and left me there. No further explanations. I did not know if he stayed outside because entrance was limited to women (it wasn’t) or because he wanted some down time with other drivers (probably). I presumed the place was dedicated to goddesses, but that wasn’t true, either. Everybody was represented: male gods, the ubiquitous shiva linga, even Buddha! What I did not expect was that the place was actually dedicated to a highly revered 20th-century female Hindu saint – Mata Lal Devi.
The Amritsar temple, also known as the Param Pujya Mata Lal Devi Mandir, is reputed to have miraculous powers, and attracts Hindu pilgrims from all over the sub-continent, especially women wishing to have a child. Lal Devi Mata Ji is said to have been living on a diet of only fruit and milk. Born in 1923, she attained Nirvana in 1994.
The shoe deposit for the Ladies’ Temple was on the other side of the street. The logic befuddled me. To get to the sacred temple, I had to get my feet soiled with the street filth…Nonetheless I complied, of course, and went on to deposit my sandals. Being spacially clueless, I took a picture of Arjun’s supposed park to make sure I found him when I got out, and headed inside for the 45 minutes’ walk promised.
Worth every minute
Here the rules were optional
The Mata Lal Devi Mandir, or the “Ladies’ Temple” was worth every minute!!!
At the entrance a big sign announced a request to turn off cellphones, but EVERYBODY ignored it and the cameras clicked all around me. Compared with the Golden Temple, here the atmosphere was very lax.
A Hindu Disneyland?
Still, one rule was enforced strictly: once you have committed to getting inside, you were obligated to follow through. The guards would not let you deviate or, Goddess forbid, turn back on your heels. You must keep moving in one direction, and that included some spooky “tunnels” you got into through lions’ mouths, dark passages, and more. It seems to have been designed to let you experience the power of the goddess, or perhaps to simulate an ancient initiation rite. And no, it is not Disneyland.
Tunnels at Mata Lal Devi Mandir in Amritsar
Mata Lal Devi Mandir - Goddesses Galore
Kali dancing over Shiva. Mata Lal Devi Mandir.
Fierce or spiritual?
This is not a thesis about Hinduism, so I did not make the effort needed to identify each and every image that appears on my photos, but concentrate on a few outstanding ones.
Quenching feminine anger
Above is a picture of an angry blood-thirsty Kali dancing on top of Shiva, who is lying under her feet. I showed Needhi, my singing teacher, my photos from Amritsar, requesting her interpretations. This was the way, she explained, that Shiva could arrest Kali’s overwhelming fury.
According to philosophical interpretations, though, Kali is the personification of time, and her dance over Shiva is to be understood symbolically as the killing of the ego – the attachment to pettiness – represented by the severed head she holds in her hand.
Just like in our Bible, there are different “levels of interpretations”, and the simple, obvious one is probably the most correct!
Controlling the demons
There was also the self-decapitated nude Chinnamasta (below). She is holding her own severed head in one hand and a scimitar in the other. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck and are drunk by her own head and by her two attendants.
According to Nidhee, the main goal of the goddess is to prevent the blood from reaching the ground. The deity (whom she called Kali) saves the world by drinking demons’ blood, preventing the dangerous substance from reaching the ground where it will sprout into a million new demon heads.
According to Wikipedia, Chinnamasta symbolises both aspects of Devi, the great original goddess: the life-giver and the life-taker, sexual self-control and its dual opposite, sexual energy, death and life.
Chinnamasta is one of the Mahavidyas, ten goddesses from the esoteric tradition of Tantra, and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Mother goddess. She symbolises both aspects of Devi: a life-giver and a life-taker.
Goddess Bagalamukhi. Bagalamukhi is one of the Mahavidya forms and represents supreme power and energy, as well as control over our bad thoughts and habits. In the picture she stills the demon Ruru by pulling on his toungue.
Bestower of prosperity
Below is Lakshmi, a beloved and much worshipped goddess across India. She is a more benevolent and easy-to-deal-with figure than the various Kali-Durga manifestations shown above, even reminiscent of Holy Mary, but bottom line they are all different aspects of the great goddess herself:
Can Hindu children sleep at night?
It is very possible that over generations stories were toned down and adjusted to fit new sexual and ethical mores. I was surprised that Nidhee’s 3-year-old was not afraid of the Kali pictures I showed his mom. Perhaps if you grow up surrounded by such images, you get desensitized, or maybe the fierceness is diminished when viewed on a cellphone screen? I remember not sleeping for nights after seeing a man turned into a donkey in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and I was probably 9 or 10…
None of This is Sexual, of Course
By the same token, of course, none of the images is remotely sexual.
For example, there’s nothing sexual about…
… just like there’s nothing sexual about the Song of Songs. Couldn’t you tell right away we are talking about the love between God and the People of Israel?
…The curves of your thighs are like ornaments,
The work of the hands of an artisan.
Your vulva is a bowl of the crescent,
Let it not lack mixed-wine;
Your “stomach” is a heap of wheat
I said, “I will ascend the palm tree,
I shall grasp its fronds”;
And may your breasts be like clusters of the vine…
Song of songs, chapter 7, translation: Faculty. washington.edu
Mata Lal Devi Mandir - Not Just Goddesses
Contrary to expectation, the place was not dedicated exclusively to the feminine aspect of god. I love how Hindus adopted deities and teachers from many religions. This mostly ended with Islam, though, and not because of the Hindus.
Following are some masculing representations:
Mata Lal Devi
The “show” continued for two full floors, through elaborate corridors and tunnels, no shortcuts, no turning back. After about 40 minutes I reached a large hall where two women were attending to a picture of an old bespectacled lady (shown in many other places around the temple). Only later I discovered she was a famous guru-saint. People were sitting reverently in the large foyer in front of her images and praying.
Mata Lal Devi Mandir (temple) is dedicated to Lal Devi, a female saint in the 20th century and a highly revered figure. The saint confers fertility and family happiness on her devotees.
Built in 1989, Mata Lal Devi Mandir is also known as the Mother India Temple. It is reputed to have miraculous powers, and attracts pilgrims from all over the country, especially women wishing for a child. Mata Lal Devi Ji is reputed to have lived on a diet of fruit and milk. Born in 1923, she attained Nirvana in 1994.
Historical Museum and Tuktuk Ride
From the Ladies Temple, Arjun took me to a historical Sikh museum, and this time he came inside with me. A huge ancient tree greeted us at the entrance, and Arjun wanted his picture taken.
The building itself was colonial-style with a beautiful garden in front. Arjun was bored with the museum he must have seen a hundred times by then, so I had little opportunity to read and understand the history detailed there. The pictures mostly depicted various battles fought against the Muslim invaders over the centuries.
On the way out we stopped at a roadside eatery to have lunch, and I bought some fresh juicy apples at a colorful fruit stand.
Notably, I learned that Arjun uses his earnings to pay his two daughters through private school. That seems to be the universal ticket to a better life in India for both boys and girls. The government schools have a bad reputation. I was glad the fee I paid went for a good cause. It felt like me and Arjun became good friends for the duration of this ride, another typical short but significant relationship created while traveling.
The Joys of Long Toilet-less Bus Rides
We arrived in time for the usual tourist scene by the Laxmi bus office. We all headed with our mochilas to the next street, crossing a lot of traffic to get to where the orange Laxmi bus was waiting. I was traveling back to my “home” in Bhagsu village, Dharamsalla.
Unlike Arjun, who attended to all my needs, the bus driver did not bother to stop for a short break despite repeated requests, and I was holding back a fairly runny number 2…
Four hours into the trip, as the evening was darkening into night, he finally stopped by the roadside, and we were allowed to get off and pee behind the bus. I stayed on my seat, holding my spinchter, which kept tightly contracted until the next morning…