The first of my travelogues, dedicated to the Goddess of knowledge, learning, wisdom and arts.
The car purred to life just a little after sunrise, the wind and the weather promising to offer a tolerable journey. We were headed to Basar – a much awaited trip – and made an early start to ensure that we avoid the scrotching April heat at least during the first half of the journey. Basar is located in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh. The Deccan Plateau region though eulogised by rock lovers, sends other travellers into a frenzy with the intolerable heat. For someone who has made numerous road trips in the costal region, than anywhere else in AP, the contrast can be quite telling.
Basar shares the distinction of being one of the only two Saraswati temples in India, the second one being in Kashmir. (There are claims that there is one in Rajasthan too. Wonder if it is the extension of the Brahma temple, again the only one in India.) The story goes that Ved Vyasa dejected by the Kurukshetra, started on a pilgrimage to the South of Vindyachal. At Basar, guided by divine intervention, he would regularly collect sand from the banks of river Godavari (on which Basar stands) and pile them into three mounds. The mounds eventually transformed themselves miraculously into the Trinity – Goddess Lakshmi, Gnana Saraswati and Kali. Legend has it that Aadikavi Valmiki, invoked the Gnana Saraswati, before beginning to write the Ramayana here. Not long ago there was a proposal by the Centre to set up an IIT, finding Basar quite propitious, given the Goddess of Learning connection. However, the proposal has now come under flak, making the State government unhappy. On the other hand, Infosys foundation Chairperson, Sudha Murthy would be setting up a research centre.
When we reached the place after a four-and-half hours journey, there was some confusion in locating the guest house. Arguably, a lot of them seemed to have mushroomed to cater to the growing demands. Even six years ago there weren’t half as many devotees thronging this place.
The morning puja at the designated hour, was eagerly awaited. Unfortunately, for every batch the number of people allowed inside the sanctunm sanctorum is more than it can accomodate. In a jostle for space, co-pilgrims turn very uncooperative making it difficult to enjoy this seva thoroughly. In fact, despite being the first ones in the queue, the crowd behind turned bad, resulting which we were ushered to a farthest corner, craning our necks now and then to get a glimpse of the presiding deity. But we didn’t lose heart. We came back later after a couple of hours and got the best possible darshan. The three deities in their pristine prototypic forms were dazzling. Smeared with turmeric and adorned with appropriate jewellery, it evoked a deep sense of devotion and contentment. Inadvertently you bow down in reverence to be blessed with unfailing wisdom in trying circumstances, courage to stand up for your beliefs and the intelligence to always move along the correct path.
Inside the temple premises there is a spacious area allocated for aksharabhyasa – the intiation of the lettered word. Among the majority, one set of piligrims are parents with their little ones who have come to perform this ceremony. Traditionally the child is made to hold a gold ring and on a sacred platter of rice is made to form his first letters which usually are Om, Shri, Namah etc. This is followed by the alphabets from the local vocabulary. At Basar, these little ones are given kits containing stationery including slate and chalk. For that matter this place is popular with the student community and it’s not difficult to see why most of them come here before an important exam.
A little away from the sanctum sanctorum, flight of steps lead to a small hillock. Evenings are the best time to take a short trek to small cave-like structure perched on top. Wriggling a little through the mouth of the cave, you reach a small landing. This is the spot where Vyasa performed a penance to the Goddess. There is a person officiating as a priest cum guide. The bust size statue of Veda Vyasa is anointed with flowers and a lamp lit by its side.
For the feel of cool placid waters, go for the motor boat ride, at the river bank. It offers some respite in the sweltering heat. This is also one of the places where you can find shops selling knick-knacks including the photo frames of Gnana Saraswati. Unfortunately our attempts to find a fine chisselled stone idol of the Goddess was met with no luck.
This is where probably the shop keepers could buck up a bit, by improving their wares. Compared to other places of similar religious importance, the shops here seem a little insipid, evoking no great interest. We however were happy to take with us a framed photograph of the Goddess. We anyway were looking to replace the existing one for the annual Saraswati puja at home during Dusshera. This is one of the occasions at home, treated with great fervour, when the picture of Sarawati adorned with flowers, vermillion, turmeric and sandal paste, is placed next to books, stationery and worshipped. This year, the mandir will sport a new look, with a replica of Gnana Saraswati.