One of the ashrams that have fascinated me is the Ganguly Shivalaya and it is obvious why that is the case. The wall art is most profound, alive and rich of anything that I have seen before. It is vibrant and loud with deep blues, orange, yellow and red. Even the colour black has been used extensively especially the paints used to paint the stairs that lead upward through the gate into the very compound of the ashram. Inside the ashram is a huge Shiva temple built in Vedic style.
There is a courtyard around the temple with neem trees and peepal trees. These can be seen in other temple compounds all around the Kumbh. Peepal and neem are auspicious plants and protect the ashram from evil. They protect the priests and the temple from bad energies. The priests also perform Pooja to these plants and offer them Ganga Jal in the morning like most local people of the place.
This is like medieval times – Vedic religion in all its splendour. I had already gotten my forehead painted with yellow turmeric powder and had patches of Naga Vibhooti on my cheeks. I decided that was not enough. It was time to get my entire face painted from top to the neck. So, I ventured into the temple and sat next to the pujari. I asked him to paint my entire face with chandan. He very gleefully obliged and soon, I have cream and yellow chandan on my face.
With this, I ventured out of the courtyard examining the entire place. I chatted up with the local sages who had been staying here for some time. They explained to me that there was a difference between an ashram and a Shivalaya. An ashram was a place to stay where holy men could live, eat and sleep. However, a Shivalaya was a place of learning and a place where knowledge of the Vedic culture was handed out to others.
I then walked up a flight of stairs to the top roof of the Shivalaya from where I got the panoramic view of the entire place in all its glory. It was spread all across the white sands of the Sangam. A profound experience for me – my fully painted face enjoyed the cool breeze that blew over. The Ganga bathers took their holy dip and were chanting. There were artis and bhajans all around. People crisscrossed the region in bicycles, motorcycles, tempos and buses. Overhead bridges carried huge festivals as pilgrims thronged to the Kumbh. It was as if I had a bird’s eye view of the entire area. I was now reporting live. My body was smoking in the energy. This also improved my performance in front of the camera.
I must stop eating paan as it is affecting my speech. Paan is being spurted out all the time and my face looks swollen up when I hiss into the camera with paan falling all over the iPhone screen. We did have a few hits and misses while doing a few videos. Tiwari goofed up with a few angles and shot some videos as his fingers covered the camera lens itself.
All in all, we managed to get enough footage of the Shivalaya and its rich heritage along with insight about its past. The Chandan will surely work wonders for my skin and it is sure to glow tomorrow. So much for naturopathy. We took the scooter back at night towards the hotel but not before stopping over at the local laddoo and jalebi shop where I had some Boondi laddoos and managed to have a cup of tea also.