GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (17)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

With an architecture similar to that of the world-famous Ellora caves, dating from the sixth or seventh century BC, the Hayagriv Madhava is one of the oldest centers of Vishnu worship. It is also considered a sacred site by the Buddhists, who associate it with the life and work of the Gautama, hence the great number of pilgrims from different parts of the world who go there to venerate the image of the Mahamuni. 

A section of the original temple, next to the one commanded to build by Raghu Devan Narayana (grandfather of Bir Narayan) in 1583, has resisted the cruel passage of the millennia. The guardian of the place is a brahmin grandfather with thick spectacles and an imperceptible speech. It is painful to hear him lecture on the history of the monument, and we only insist on the sacrifice only because the man is of a disarming genuineness. From his speech, I merely note that “Vishnu built the temple in one night” and that it is “unique in all the world.” In an outer corner there is an altar dedicated to an ancestral Kali whose anger is symbolized by the vermilion sprinkled by believers who never let fade away the candles glued to the unctuous floor with so much ghee, the vegetable butter that feeds the fire. Ghee is to Hinduism as is to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

On the outer walls, elephants’ high-reliefs, lotus flowers, geometric and botanical motifs and, to a certain extent, outdated Hindu  deities also stamped there, which appears to be a red-skinned Indian figure supported on a stick and with the characteristic plume in the head. That leaves me intrigued and opens the appetite for what lies inside the sanctuary.

By inviting us to enter the Hayagriv Madhava, the guardian soon advises us the guardina, who in the meanwhile has become a guide, that it will be necessary later to give some money to the  Brahmin-mor. Already in the interior, our attention is drawan to a broken pillar, “due to an earthquake”, and to the place reserved for the sacrifice of animals (today coconut milk is spilled instead of blood), that “can not be filmed.” He insists, however, that we register images of the damaged pole. It hopes, therefore, to raise the awareness of the Government of India, rather the Department of Archeology, for the urgency of prompt redress. The man certainly thinks we are Indians from another province, for it is in English that the inhabitants of the vast subcontinent communicate with each other. “We’ve already warned them about the problem, ah, but they still have not heard us, ah, you can take a picture, ah, and show it to the government, ah, when you are back in New Delhi. If there is an earthquake, ah, the whole structure can come down, ah, then, please write that in the newspapers, ah, in the Indian Times and the Hindustani Times, ah, and tell them you visited the temple and found that one of the two pillars are in poor condition, ah, and that we must do something urgently, ah. If you do, I’ll be very satisfied, ah, take it, take a picture, please, ah. It is a temple with more than five thousand years.”

There is little more to be emphasized, just in a curious way, hidden in a dark corner, an ingenious motor-driven engine designed to play a set of bells and a drum that we do not have the opportunity to see in operation because it is broken. Our donation of 500 rupees has to be made outside the Hayagriva Madhaba and, as a counterpart, we are offered an ordinary prasad consisting of chickpeas, soybeans and the usual ghee jam with rice and sugar.

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