Today, we just decided to visit the Shamlaji temple, about 100+ kilometers from Ahmedabad along the highway towards Udaipur. The temple is famous, about six hundred years old and its signature white flags can be seen from a distance.
The Shamlaji Temple
Today, when out of the temple, I asked the nearby vendor what other temples were there in the vicinity, because you can see some small, but very beautifully contoured temples scattered all around the Shamlaji temple, including one step well from the 15th century.
Three interesting temples were suggested to me: a sun temple, a Kashivishwanath – a Lord Shiv temple and a Harishchandra Chauri. I was asked not to go to the Kashivishwanath temple specifically today because it was the day of Holi according to some, and there could have been lots of devotees in the temple precincts, high on the quantities of Bhang.
So I went to the Harishchandra Chauri.
Harishchandra Chauri, Near Shamlaji Temple
One version I heard was that the small temple was built because Harishchandra performed a Yagya there in order to be blessed with a son.
But the archeological notice just outside the Chauri says that this was constructed as a wedding altar for the King Harischandra. Of course, the King ruled from Ayodhya, so the queen Taramati must have been from this region – makes sense because Hindu weddings take place at the Bride’s location.
This Chauri is here since 10th century! It’s modest and does not have any idol in the sanctum – seems like it was removed. On the entrance to the sanctum, there is lovely stone carving marking the place where the frame of the door would have been, and there is a small but exquisitely carved dome on the ceiling. I could capture some features of this charming little ancient place.
Harischandra’s story, I am sure, is known and remembered well. The king is known the best for being true to his word and being dutiful and righteous. In fact, he is known as “Satyavaadi king Harischandra” because he speaks truth, and whatever he says, he never fails to do, thereby turning to truth whatever he says, come what may.
I remember that in my standard-7th in our school days, we developed a play from his story, I played the King …
The Entrance to Harishchandra's Chauri, near Shamlaji Temple
The crux of Harishchandra’s story is that this virtue of his was to be tested by the Gods. As the standards used by Gods of reliability are very high, whatever is falsified even once is rejected. So, the king, in order to pass their test, had not a single chance to err. However, the King was not aware that his test had started.
First of all, he was asked to give his entire kingdom to the sage Vishwamitra. When he did, and became penniless because he had no private estate, Vishwamitra reminded him that a charity (daan) is complete only when Dakshina (cash on top of charity) is given. But now the king had nothing left, so he asked for one month to make that money.
In search of gainful employment Harishchandra went from Ayodhya to Kaashi, but as his test was on, so the circumstances get just so designed that he ends up gaining no employment. Finally he went to the slave market and was forced to sell first his wife – Taramati – and son Rohitaashwa to a brahmin, and himself to a Chandaal, a keeper of the cremation ground. The detail is, he had been a king, so his body looked less tough than what people would want in a slave. So no one bought him, except for a desparate Chaandal who wanted help manning his cremation ground.
Now the money is gained, but so is bondage, so the royal family starts serving. In very few days, the young prince Rohitashwa, who was asked to go out into the garden at dusk to pluck flowers for the Brahmin’s puja, was bitten by a snake and he dies. Since the boy is dead, the merciless brahmin asks Taramati to remove his body from the house. Since they have been just employed, they do not stand to get any money from the master either. However, at the cremation ground, one needs to cover the dead body in a cloth and pay the charges in cash or kind for the ritual of burning the dead body to occur.
Taramati had no money, so she asked the keeper (her husband – they recognize each other only upon seeing the boy’s face and the king’s reaction to it) if she could cover the body with half her sari. King agrees and reminds her of the dues to the cremation ground, too. Since Taramati had no other option or source, she offers the remaining half of her sari as the dues in kind. But that would leave her in a shameful state, so she requests the king to kill her and retrieve the sari after she is dead. Duty-bound king agrees, but as the sword is lifted, the gods appear and stop the action.
Rohitashwa is brought back to life and the king is released from the test, and offered the ascent to the heaven in human body, not just the spirit. The king refused saying that he was no longer a free man, and his master needed to take the decision. The master, the Chandal turned out to be the God of death himself, Yama. Harishchandra and Taramati then go to heaven, Rohitashwa later being the king.