Delhi, the seat of power of consecutive dynasties, has inherited a majestic legacy of some of the most astounding architectural edifices in the form of temples, mosques, gurdwaras, churches, monuments, etc. As the capital of India this multi cultural city, is looked upon as a complete confluence of the traditional and the modern. Delhi also has the distinction of treasuring some of the most splendid temples of India, some of which are ancient, while quite a few are unique creations of architecture of the modern era. Chattarpur Mandir, Akshardham Temple, ISKCON Temple, The Lotus Temple, Kali Bari Mandir, Hanuman Mandir, Kalkaji Mandir, are some of the most renowned pilgrimage destinations visited by thousands of devotees and tourists everyday.
Although all religious places have an equal reverence, there is something distinctive about the Shree Adya Katyayani Shaktipeeth Mandir, popularly known as Chattarpur Mandir, which is located four kms away from the famous Qutab Minar in South Delhi. The Shaktipeeth was established to pay homage to the omnipotent and omniscient Bhagwati Maa Katyayani (Goddess Katyayani is the sixth avtaar of Goddess Durga) and its architectural splendour blends harmoniously with the religious activity on its premises.
It is not the grandeur of its architecture which makes the Shaktipeeth different from the other temples, but the moving spirit of its founder, Shree Durga-chranan-anuragi Baba Sant Nagpal, who dedicated his entire life for the service of the down trodden and the needy people. The Shaktipeeth is unique in that it is founded on the eternal truth in our ancient tradition and their relevance to our own times. Hence it would be pertinent to say a few words about the Revered Baba ji.
Born on March 10, 1925, on the day of the Holi Festival in a small village of Karnataka, Baba lost his parents at a tender age and during the cremation rites of his mother, an unknown lady took the grieving child to the adjacent temple of Mother Goddess and told him that She was the real universal mother, who would always protect him. Thereafter, Baba’s total dedication and surrender to the Divine Mother became a living reality.
The child was looked after, educated and trained by the Sadhus. Baba travelled all over the country and went for pilgrimages to the holy places including the ones in the East and South, the difficult terrains of the Himalayan region and even to Tibetan plateau where the holy Kailash and Mansarovar are located.
He spent many years in the Kashmir valley and then with the guidance of Maa Durga, moved to Delhi, where he constructed a temple in Arjun Nagar and then to Durga Ashram near Chattarpur Village and finally to the present site, which was then an uneven wasteland covered with wild shrubs and bushes.
Construction of the temple
The construction of the Chattarpur Temple, one of the most visited temples and a wonder of architecture was started in 1974. The Shaktipeeth designed to the last detail under the passionate and skilful guidance of Baba, started taking shape and devotees started gathering around him. Baba’s charismatic personality and compassionate nature aided by his straight forward message of removing the veil of superstition and ignorance from the minds of the common man had a great effect on the masses of the area. Baba’s mission to reveal to them the Sanaatan Dharma in its true and undistorted form with a view to spread the message of brotherhood, tolerance and patriotism attracted more and more people, who were willing to provide not only the financial support but also the physical labour required for building of the temple.
With The Divine Mother’s grace, plots were purchased in phases (in some cases, some of the devotees gifted their small land holdings), all charges paid for along with requisite registration.
While the construction of the temple complex was progressing, Baba’s “Matri Parivar”, as he called the devotees, grew at a phenomenal pace. The Shaktipeeth soon became a popular place of pilgrimage, which devotees from all over the world started visiting and this tiny unknown village soon became a mini temple – town.
Baba was totally averse to personal glorification of any kind. As a result, nowhere in the temple precincts can one find any placard, label or indication mentioning any individual for contributions. Narrow considerations of colour, caste, creed, region, social and economic status, etc have no place in the temple precincts. The rich, the mighty, the poor, the down trodden all sit together, worship and eat together, as children of the Benevolent Mother, Katyayani Devi.
Any commercial activity or profit motive in any of the activities or services in the Shaktipeeth were totally banned by Baba. The worshippers are not required to pay any thing for devotional service (Pooja), nor are the priests permitted to accept anything for themselves or for the temple. The authorities encourage voluntary donations only in the form of cheques, drafts or credit card transfers. No one is authorised to take cash. Those who wish to give offerings in cash have to drop them in the donation boxes kept at various places to ensure the voluntary character and anonymity. These boxes are opened in the presence of a specified number of committee members and duly accounted for.
I was amazed to learn that despite the fact that large sums were required for the construction and upkeep of the Shaktipeeth, just before the commencement of Navratras, Baba used to send offerings to other temples for construction, renovation work. We were told that Baba provided financial and technical help not only to the temples like Jwala ji, The Chintpoorni Temple, Kangra ji, Baijnath, but also sent contributions to some of the well known Muslim places of worship. No wonder then Baba was revered not only by the Hindus but also by the followers of other faiths.
While the construction of temple was progressing and the throng of devotees was multiplying, the unending hard work started telling on Baba’s health. I was told that by the beginning of 1993, Baba had to be given oxygen for long durations and thereafter constantly. It was only through Ma Durga’s grace that despite such serious ailments, Baba, moving about a wheel chair, kept on monitoring the growth of the temple, till he breathed his last on mid night between December 15 and 16, 1998.
To pay homage to the Baba, the place where he resided during construction of the temple (Matri Chaya complex) was converted into a museum. It has been preserved exactly as it was in use during Baba’s lst days.
The tour of the temple
On July 25, 2008, we reached Chattarpur at ten in the morning. Being a rainy working day, the normal throng of devotees was missing. With a view to collect some basic information and to understand the layout plans of this massive complex spread over seventy acres of land, we contacted the Public Relations office (housed in the Matri- Chaya complex) and to our delight the attending personnel gave us information about the founder of the temple, the location of various temples and other edifice connected with the temple.
The grandeur of the Nutan Bhawan complex located close to the Matri Chaya was so astounding that we started walking towards the building, climbed the stairs and reached the Temple of Shree Vinayak and Maa Mahalakshmi.
The architecture of the temple bears the stamp of the South Indian style of construction which is distinctively attractive. The priest on duty very kindly tied an ‘angrakshak” thread around our wrists and after passing through a huge hall ornamented with some awesome architectural designs, we reached close to the deities made of silver, paid our obeisance and were taken to the massive dining hall, where thousands of the devotees are seated and fed at one time. We were also shown the spacious kitchens, where food is cooked, first offered to Maa Annapurna and then distributed amongst the devotees as “prasada”. We were told that on the days of full moon (Purnima), all the days of Navratras, festival days (Shivratri, Janamashtami, Guru Purnima, etc) and on some special occasions, free meals are served in the dining hall. Don’t be surprised if I tell you that on each day of the Navratras, more than one lac visitors are served food. You can imagine the magnanimity of the stupendous effort behind these arrangements.
After passing through the “Yagyashala” (perhaps the biggest I have seen), where havans are performed everyday during the Navratras and on all the Sundays, we went to the main temple complex. At the entrance, there is a “Kalpa Vriksha”, planted by Baba at the time of Bhoomi Poojan. Devotees tie colored threads and bangles on the branches of this colorful and decorated tree. The common belief is that by tying threads and bangles the desires of the individuals will be fulfilled.
A small information–cum-reception centre is located by the side of the decorated kalpa tree. Seeing the huge marvel of architecture in front of us, reflecting different architectural styles of the various regions of the country and not knowing where to start, we decided to take the help of the Reception Officer. He very kindly briefed us about the various temples and at our request agreed to send a volunteer, who would take us around and provide the requisite information. We were heading towards the white marble buildings offset by lush greenery, which transported us to a different realm altogether. The main shrine, with its ‘vimanas’ and ‘gopurams’ appeared to be transmitting poetry in stone.
We entered a large hall in the Shiva Mandir, which houses the statues of Shree Sankatmochan Hanuman, Ram Darbar consisting of Lord Shree Ram along with his consort, Sita and younger brother Lakshman and their inseparable devotee Shree Hanuman ji sitting at his feet. The last section mounted the deities of Lord Krishna and Radha ji. After paying our obeisance there, we climbed up the spiral stair case to enter the magnificent white marbled temple of Mother Goddess Maa Durga in the form of Ma Katyayani.
The attending priest told the devotees the various forms of Shakti, the Mother Goddess, who was commonly referred to as Sati, Parvati, Devi, Kali, Durga and Katyayani. Shakti was the wife of Lord Shiva and the goddess of wisdom. She helped guide Shiva in his sacred tasks and decisions. While the priest was describing the powers of the goddess, for a minute a thought came to my mind relating to the contribution of the women in most of the Indian households, where their guidance and support alone is virtually responsible for the smooth running of the household affairs.
Although it would be relevant to talk about the various forms of Divine Mother, owing to space constraints, I will restrict my description to Ma Katyayani only. According to the legend, there was a great sage called Kata. His son was known as Katya. In his lineage, Katyayana became a sage of worldwide repute. He practised austere penance for several years in order to propitiate the Mother Goddess. He cherished a keen desire to have the Goddess in the form of his daughter. The Divine Mother was pleased to accede to his request.
After sometime when the high-handedness of a demon called, Mahishasura became unbearable, the Trinity of gods – Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva got infuriated and they created a goddess by apportioning to her some part of their splendour with a view to destroy the demon. The popular belief is that since the sage Katyayana had the first privilege to worship her, she was called Katyayani.
In the temple, two forms of Goddess Durga are commemorated. One shrine, located on the first floor, is dedicated to Maha Gauri (form of Durga), which is open for ‘darshan’ every day. Another shrine is dedicated to Goddess Katyayani (also known as Mahishasur-mardini), where the devotees are allowed only on the day of ‘ashtami’ in each month. It is only during the Navratras that the ‘darshan’ of Goddess Katyayani can be had throughout the nine days.
During the time of Navratras, thousands of people throng the temple. To control such massive crowds of devotees, Markandeya Mandapam serves as a holding area for the large crowds who pour in round the clock to have the darshan of the Divine Mother. From the parking lot itself, they form into a line that passes through the Mandapam in channelized pathways and then to the subway (to safely cross the crowded main road) from where they enter the main Temple complex.
The image of Katyayani Devi is placed in a big hall, which can also be reached from the hall of prayers. The gilded image of Goddess Katyayani is always dressed in rich clothes with striking jewellery and elaborate garland of flowers. The golden image of Katyayani attracts the attention of devotees with its huge size and sheer divinity
Beside of the temple of Katyayani Devi, there are two rooms that are meant to be the Goddess’ rooms. The magnificent living room has tables and chairs made of silver, while the other room regarded as the ‘Shayan Kaksha’ (Bed Room), has a bed, dressing table and table, all made of silver.
Having completed the tour of the main complex, we crossed over to the other side of the main road and entered the main gate of Markandeya Mandapam Complex. The moment we entered the complex, we saw the lofty and imposing Trishul (Trident) of Lord Shiva standing on the back of the tortoise symbolizing the ‘Prithvi Tatva” (the solidarity –principle represented by the Earth). The other two “tatvas” are the Jal (Ocean – the liquidity principle) and Aakash (Sky – the ether-principle of the Creation).
As it was drizzling, we quickly passed through the Rath-Griha, which houses the Mother’s huge ceremonial chariot and reached Baba’s Samadhi, an astounding structure, where his mortal remains rest in everlasting peace.
The Samadhi is directly below the Shree Nageshwar Temple on the first floor. Here the Shiva-Linga rising above the Shesh Nag coiled around, represents symbolically the immortal Eternal Creator, rising above, unaffected by the fatal coils of the Time-principle, which represent the changing transient universe.
The rain gods were probably in no mood to relent and after spending half an hour in the covered area of the Samadhi enjoying the vast expanse of the splendidly maintained lawns, we decided to move on.
On the right of the Samadhi, we find the multi purpose Markandey Mandapam, built over an area of around 60,000 sq. feet, which can accommodate large audiences for discourses and jagrans (night long satsang).
By the side of the Mandapam, stands in splendor, the statue of Shree Hanuman (around 100 feet high), silently blessing the devotees.
The vacuum created by the passing away of the Baba is almost impossible to fill. The Shaktipeeth is now run by a Board of Trustees (numbering nine, two of which are “Life Trustees”, while all the other trustees are elected). The board is supported by a team of 64 members, who are also elected members. There are around 30 priests and 200 employees to take care of the day to day affairs of the temple.
Shaktipeeth runs three educational / vocational institutions for the needy children from the rural hinterland, where no fee is charged – the Shivani Vidya Niketan, a primary school has around 400 students, the Shree Sant Nagpal Vocational Training Institute and the Shree Sant Nagpal Sanskrit Mahavidyala and Research Centre. .
Further down the road, a well equipped, Diagnostic Centre and a small dispensary run by the trust provides free medicines to needy patients. There is another building close to Hanumanji’s statue called “Gole Bhawan” which is made available to the public for family functions or congregations.
Besides their contribution in the field of education and medical facilities, the Shaktipeeth has contributed generously towards social causes during the Kargil war and other national catastrophes.
Nearby attractions include Alai-Darwaza, Quwwatul-Islam Mosque – built by Qutubuddin Aibak, in the Qutub Minar complex right in front of the Minar, the famous 1500 years old Iron Pillar, located in the same complex, Alai Minar – a victory tower made of red sandstone, the mosque and the tomb of Iltutmish – built in 1235 by Shamsu’d-Din Iltutmish. On a clear day, on the way back from the temple, these places are well worth a visit.
Thank you for being with me on this rather longish journey.