I am not a religious person. Spiritual, yes (my family would debate that endlessly, though). However, for a non-religious person, I should say, I have an enormous (almost unhealthy) appetite for tales surrounding places of worship, mythology, magic and the many gods. They fascinate me to no end. And often this obsession has led me to captivating tales. Whether I believe in them or not is a different matter. But what counts is the endless joy that these fables and chronicles give me. Here’s one such absorbing tale about the Nishkalank Mahadev Temple in Bhavnagar, Gujarat.
This temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, is one kilometre-plus inside the Arabian sea. During high tide, the temple is completely submerged, except for the flag mast. It is said that the flag has never fallen or been swept away by the sea… like forever! Not even during the devastating earthquake in 2001 when 50,000 people were killed (I have a similar tale to tell about the flag post in the St.Thomas Cathedral in Chennai, but that’s for another day).
When the tide turns low, the sea recedes, revealing the age-old temple with an ancient backstory. It’s a unique Shiva Temple with five lingams in a square (2500 sqft). Of course, there’s a story about how these lingams came into being (more about it later). Every day, thousands of devotees make the close-to-2km-trek to the temple during low tide and return to the shore safely before the sea rises. Not a single devotee enters the temple before washing his/her feet in the Pandava pond in the front yard.
And now for the interesting story about how this temple came into existence. Pancha Pandavas, the five brothers (and protagonists of the epic Mahabharata), slew their cousins, the Kauravas in the battle of Kurukshetra. The two groups were fighting for the throne of Hastinapur. The battle raged for 18 days. Five bros Vs 100 cousins. The latter were killed in the fight which saw around 3.94 million warriors battling it out. Only 12 survived including the Pandavas. Ouch! That means just one thing: massive survivor’s guilt.
The Pandavas were saddened and burdened by guilt. They believed they would never be able to wash away their sins of killing their kith and kin. And when in trouble they always turned to Krishna, their mentor. This time was no different. Smart-as-a-whip-Krishna (He’s one of the gods, after all) gave the brothers a black flag and a black cow, and told them, “Take the flag and keep following the cow till both turn white. And when that happens it’s a sign that your sins are pardoned, and you are redeemed. Now off you go, pronto!” (Okay, I am guessing, He voiced it more elegantly than that, but then you get the gist, right?)” As usual, after delivering the message He vanished (I always wonder: where do they go, after they go ‘poof’?).
The distraught brothers picked up the flag and followed the cow. Their sins must’ve have been grave (obviously, they killed 100 cousins and more) because the black cow took them for a royal ride. It went here, there and everywhere. All the while the brothers kept a keen eye on whether black was turning white. Nada. Nothing. It just wouldn’t change. After many days, and walking for miles upon miles, when they reached Koliyak beach in Bhavnagar, the flag and the cow turned white. The brothers heaved a sigh of relief, plonked themselves on the ground and began their penance by meditating on Lord Shiva.
Now, if you ask me (not that you’d want to), I think Lord Shiva is the coolest dude amongst all Hindu gods. He’s like a rock star. He has a great sense of style – a mix of rock chic + punk + fusion and colourful to boot (He sure knows his colour wheel). He can be calm as the still waters or agitated and fiery as the raging seas. He always took one for the team (remember how He swallowed the poison to save his god-colleagues and mankind); and oh, He’s such a romantic, forever whispering lovey-dovey things to his wife Parvati (if you are to believe the Mahadev serial on telly their romance even has its own background score) and last but not the least, He’s an unbeatable dancer. Oh yeah, He’s got the moves. He’s like this dependable, rock-solid guy that you can lean on without a care and so much fun. Moreover, He’s like the Supreme God. So, what’s not to like him. Anyway, I am digressing here.
When Lord Shiva saw the Pandavas and realised that the hunky blokes were truly sorry for killing their cousins, He was moved by their sincerity and decided to show up. And he did. In the form of a lingam. Not one, but five. Guess, He didn’t want a group show. So he appeared individually to each of the brothers. Hence the presence of five lingams in the temple. To say the Pandavas were thrilled would be an understatement. In gratitude, they built a temple, on a no-moon day – and according to the legend that’s how the Nishkalank Mahadev Temple (Nishkalank – pure & guiltless; Mahadev – Lord Shiva) came into being. Each lingam is guarded by a Nandi (the bull, which is the vehicle of Lord Shiva.) I wonder what happened to the cow?
Even today a flag is hoisted at the temple by the descendants of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar. And the flag is a permanent fixture in the temple. When the sea close in and the temple goes under, only the flag can be seen – an indication that there is a beautiful temple under the surface with an excellent story to tell.
Best time to visit: March to July
How to reach
By Air: To Ahmedabad. From there it is 196 km.
By Rail: The Bhavnagar city Railway station is 22 km.
By Road: Bus/cab services available to Koliyak village and Bhavnagar city.
Pic: Nishkalank Mahadev Temple