City Faith – Pracheen Shiv Mandir, Daryaganj
A barely known temple.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The scenes outside are passing in a blur. All you can see are lights flashing on the glass window. It’s like sitting in a super-fast Shatabdi.
But this isn’t a train. It’s a small, little-known temple in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj. The lights are flickering on the glass panes that protect the niches, enshrined with idols of gods. The effect is surreal — you stand still and watch the moving lights, including the reflection of buses and autos wheeling along the road outside, and you feel like you are moving.
This afternoon, Pracheen Shiv Mandir is empty. It is difficult to spot the temple from the pavement outside — the entrance consists of a barely discernible opening between a bookshop and a store selling motor tyres. To make it even more discreet, this narrow entry is mostly taken over by a staircase. But inside, it’s a large, airy room. No bulb is lit for the time being, and the temple is immersed in a partial darkness that feels welcoming to a person coming from the chaotic daylight of the world outside. A handful of bells are hanging low from the roof, along with a couple of damru, the drum often identified with Lord Shiv. Indeed, a whole part of the floor is taken over by the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, a shiv lingam. The two damrus are hanging right above it.
The temple may be pracheen (ancient), but the building is modern. The cream-coloured wall would probably go unnoticed somewhere else, but here, because of the combined influence of lights and shadows, it has acquired a remarkable presence, and catch the eye with character and limpidity. Towards one corner of the roof lie two broad slots that let the sunrays partly percolate into the temple.
Although you can clearly see the busy traffic from inside the temple, and hear the sounds of the car horns, and the blab of the pedestrians, the place is permeated with the feel of a remote mountain cave. The light outside is very close, but appears inaccessible, like the clouds one can see from a plane window. Sitting in this temple brings utmost restfulness.
A shrine to light