As many of you know, I have a somewhat special affinity for Goddess Durga. There is a temple that is about a 5-minute walk’s distance from my uncle’s house, dedicated to Devi, or the Goddess. It is called the Mataji Mandir. (There are countless names dedicated to the Goddess – I will use them interchangeably – but don’t worry, I will make sure you always know who I am referring to). The word mandir means temple, and mataji refers to the “Mother” or Goddess. Durga is often referred to as the Eternal Mother because of Her power to give life and Her nurturing capacity. You may notice how Mother Durga is a constant underlying theme in many of my quests and travels, and also my life.
I had observed that there was a temple dedicated to the Goddess right when I arrived, but did not get a chance to go there because of all the restrictions related to leaving the house. I asked Kalicharan Bhaiya (another servant in the house) where the Mataji Mandir was, and he gave me directions – two routes, no less – and I told my mom I was leaving. I walked over to the mandir and stood in front of it, taking in what I could of the area. Again, everything was written in Hindi, so I took some time and read all of what I could see from outside.
It is a beautiful temple, half outdoors and half indoors, with 7 little shrines dedicated to several different gods and goddesses, and the main deity in the center of the temple is that of Mother Durga, visible from the street. I was very happy to see for the first time a local temple in India on my own! I went inside (when I say inside, I don’t mean indoors, I mean inside the temple gates) and offered my prayers at each shrine, reading all the inscriptions and watching the local people as they performed their own personal rituals dedicated to each deity. I stood and prayed to the Mother, and went up to the priest sitting at the foot of Her shrine. He touched my forehead with vermilion colored paste, making a dot on my forehead, called a tika. I then extended my right hand, cupped, and backed by my left, to receive the water blessed by the prayers offered to the Lord. He poured the water into my hand and I drank it, and then re-extended my hand to receive prasad.
Apparently Kalicharan Bhaiya considered it his duty to escort me to the temple, because when I exited, he was standing right there. He told me that he had found my shoes outside so he knew I was in the temple, and was watching over them while I was inside because there are lots of shoe-thieves around that area. I asked him why he had come in the first place, and he said that he wanted to make sure that I had found my way all right and everything. I told him I was fine and that I could take care of myself, but he insisted that I should not go further than the mandir just yet. So I just agreed and went back home with him…But mission accomplished!