City Monument – Shri Shiv Mandir, Near Dilli Gate
Delhi’s scenic Hindu heritage.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This is the most beautiful Hindu temple in Delhi. Situated near Dilli Gate, at the entrance of the Walled City, Shri Shiv Mandir can truly claim, among all Hindu shrines in the capital, to best preserve the essence of this faith. The temple, like the religion, is a show of contrasts. Depending on individual sensibilities, it can be perceived as dignified or showy, soulful or superficial, familiar or exotic.
Of course, the city has grander temples: Akshardham Mandir in east Delhi, Chhatpur Mandir in south Delhi and Birla Mandir in central Delhi. But they are too organized and too imposing. These three temple complexes seem to miss the beauty of Hinduism, in which one could find the God in a pebble. Shri Shiv Mandir – so small that you can walk around it in two minutes – is closer to that idea without being any less substantial.
Tucked at one end of a three way crossing and clinging to a kachori-subzi stall, it has no stately flight of stairs, no imposing tower of stone. A statue of a blue-bodied Shiv – the god of destruction – seated in a yogic posture, watches the world from the roof. The temple’s marble floor is almost level with the road. On the right of the entrance is the statue of Kal Bhairav, a scary-looking incarnation of Shiv. Worshipped by the cannibalistic Aghora sadhus, Bhairav is sculptured in black marble. A cobra is crawling round his neck. One of the six arms is carrying a wine bottle. Another arm is holding somebody’s head. The lips are painted blood red. A black dog is sculptured standing under his legs. A garland of fresh marigolds is flung around Bhairav’s neck. Some worshipper has put a similar garland on the dog too. The wall that faces Dilli Gate has a similarly haunting statue of Goddess Kali.
The principal praying room is quiet, dark and has a cluster of gods: the black Shani Devta, the grey Shiva Lingam and a couple of deities in white marble: Ganesh, Shiv, Parvati, Radha, Krishna, the Nandi bull and the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Some statues are draped in gold-embroidered silk clothes.
The visual centerpiece of the temple, however, is not an assortment of these statues but a giant peepal tree inside it. A marble platform not more than two feet high has been built around its massive trunk. The part of the trunk that emerges out of the platform is smeared with an orange-coloured paste. This smudge is Balaji, an incarnation of Hanuman.
Earlier, the tree was in what would have been a courtyard. A few years ago, the temple was renovated and a brick roof blocked off the sky. Now the trunk goes through the roof, where it breaks into a network of slanting branches. A makeshift staircase, installed beside the Shiv lingam, takes you, through a circular opening, to the roof, perpetually covered with fallen peepal leaves. Standing behind Shiva’s statue, you look down to see gossiping men, street food hawkers, maimed beggars, smack addicts, stray dogs and occasional tourists. This noisy world vanishes when you climb down back into the temple. The daylight coming from the opening in the roof fills the dark sanctum with mystery. The marble figures look kind. The ringing of temple bells is calming.
For more than a thousand years, Muslims have largely ruled Delhi. Most of the city’s monuments – the tombs, domes and forts – were built during the reign of Lodhis and Tughlaks. Delhi’s celebrated cuisine – the kebabs, niharis and biryanis – was developed in its halaal kitchens. The city reached its literary zenith during the dying years of Mughal Empire. The era’s most famous poet, Mirza Ghalib, was a Muslim. During this glorious Islamic civilization, Delhi remained a Hindu-majority city. How did Hinduism survive? Find that out in Shri Shiv Mandir.
Time 5 am to 9 pm Where Near Dilli Gate (the blue Shiv is hard to miss) Nearest Metro Station New Delhi (take a rickshaw from Ajmeri Gate side)
In the center of the world
Black dog & Old Monk
The peepal tree
Sai Baba & Radha-Krishna
Jai Bhairon Baba
Up the stairs
The temple bells
Nearer to God