City Faith - Shani Temple, Rao Tula Ram Road

City Faith – Shani Temple, Rao Tula Ram Road

Shrine to Saturday.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Once upon a time, very long ago, a Walled City gali was home to a community of citizens called dakot. They workshopped Shani Dev and would ask for dakshina, or donations, as an offering to the said divinity. (A quick Google search describes a ‘dakot’ as a “person who accepts the offerings forwarded on Shani Dev.”) At some point in unrecorded past, they left the lane. All that remains of them today in the Walled City is the name they gave to the street—Gali Dakotan.

Where did they scatter?

All across Delhi traffic lights, any commuter who has to be out on a Saturday, or Shaniwar, is likely to come across a person carrying a small black idol of Shani Dev placed in a bowl filled with mustard oil. Perhaps some of these citizens might be the descendants of the original Gali Dakotan dwellers. Whatever, Gali Dakotan has no existing temple devoted to Shani Dev.

A few Shani Dev shrines does exist in the megapolis though. One Shani Mandir stands on Rao Tula Ram in south Delhi’s Basant Enclave. Enshrined in an elaborate alcove scooped into the temple’s exterior wall, Shani Dev is depicted in his customary moustache, perched on an elephant. Conventionally sculpted in black, here he is in golden shade. This Saturday afternoon, the idol is thickly garlanded with fresh orange and yellow marigolds.

The mandir’s most striking element happens to be within an arm’s reach of Shani Dev. It is a leafy peepal on the pave, overlooking the busy road. The massive trunk is out of proportions with the modest size of the mandir. The tree was huger in the past, before being chopped and cropped to make way for the flyover that runs above the road (along with the elevated metro tracks). Indeed, one more lush peepal stood on the site when the temple was built in 1980. That tree was chopped down during the widening of the road.

Naturally, the existing tree becomes more precious in the light of the losses. Often ringed by earthen lamps and rose petals, it has also become a part of the temple’s sacredness. Devotees tie holy red kaleva thread around the trunk. See photo. Now, a young passer-by stops, reverently touches the tree’s trunk with both his hands, turns to Shani Dev, joining his palm in a prayer, after which he enters the temple to visit the shrines within.