City Walk – Kucha Neelkanth, Old Delhi
The place of the blue-throated
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At the time of the churning of the Ocean of Milk, the giant serpent Vasuki — who was being used as a rope, the mountain Mandara being the churn itself — upchucked poison. Bhagwan Shiv drank the venom to save the worlds, but the appalled Devi Parvati, temporarily forgetting the divinity of her husband, held his throat so that the poison would not descend. His throat (kanth in Sanskrit) turned blue (neel).
This is why Bhagwan Shiv is also known as Neelkanth.
And Old Delhi’s Kucha Neelkanth has its own Shiv Mandir — it is small and cozy, having the intimacy of a household prayer room. A sacred shivling is the temple’s heart; a brass kamandal (bowl) hangs directly above, tied to a brass bell. The temple is empty this morning. The entire kucha is empty. Most people must still be asleep. The lane is filled with the hum of ACs and air coolers.
The kucha’s principal street begins from Sir Syed Ahmad Road and dwindles into a constricted alley. Both sides are lined with a series of doors, some of which are exquisite (see photo). A kucha is an assortment of alleys inhabited by people having the same profession, but these door nameplates suggests that it is no longer the case.
The walls are plastered with fliers, reading like brief tutorials on the kucha’s daily life. Hakim Huzaifa Saheb promises “sugar ka ilaz (cure from diabetes) and piliya ka ilaz (cure from jaundice).” A tuition center is advertising classes “in all subjects” from “class 1 to 10.” One half-torn poster warns that “mask is must.” Other fliers are on dengue, malaria and chikangunya.
The lane bifurcates here and there into sub-lanes, but otherwise runs straight, passing by a meditative chamber called Baba ka Ala, whose wall has a huge ala, or niche. Around a loopy turning, a cat is inspecting a pile of garbage; she carelessly kicks at a carved china bowl with a hole in its center.
Moments later, a mule trots by silently, carrying bricks on a sack tied to its weary back. He has a lagam (leash) tight on his neck, pressing on a blood vessel.
Suddenly, a breach in the street’s silence. A croaky cry of “kabadi wala kabadi wala” shoots through the air. Next instant, the crier surfaces—Javed, a recycler, with an empty bag slumped on his shoulders.
On continuing deeper into the lane, the darkness and narrowness abruptly opens into broad daylight. Kucha Neelkanth ends into an airier territory.