City Faith – Shakuntala Devi’s Shiv Temple, Paharganj
A tranquil pilgrimage.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Tranquility isn’t always easy to find in our teeming metropolis.
But, of course, there’s recourse to temples. The Shiv Mandir in central Delhi’s Paharganj, for instance, is about as close to peacefulness as one is likely to find. It remains mostly empty save for an elderly woman who’s on hand most of the time. A mother figure, known as Mataji, she’s been a sort of guardian for several years at this unpretentious temple.
Perhaps the best way to experience the Shiv Mandir is simply to sit quietly alongside Mataji, Shakuntala Devi, who seems to have arrived at a harmonious arrangement with the world. Nothing rattles her.
Though her home is just behind the temple, she’s usually not there. Sometimes, she’ll sit quietly against the wall, her fingers running across prayer beads. Other times, she might opt to rest on the marble floor, her head resting on a blue pillow.
“I’ve been living here in Kaseru Wale Gali for more than 50 years,” she says, looking out at the courtyard. Mataji grew up in Jaipur and moved to Delhi after her marriage.
With so much life experience, Mataji certainly hasn’t given up on the world. She knows most of the occasional temple visitors, often asking them gentle questions about their lives. A moment ago she nudged a boy about his exams. Not so surprisingly, many visitors touch her feet as though she too is a deity.
Late in the evening she’s sitting at the temple door, monitoring the vivid life of the street. Soon she’s joined by a friend for a little chat.
The temple guardian