Old Delhi to me will always remain a very big and busy Indian Bazaar. Despite the nostalgia that it may evoke. The culinary delights that it may offer and the old world charm that it exudes. Not many may notice, but it also has a very spiritual trail hidden in it. Almost echoing the secular nature of the business that flourishes here. This walk took me down the shrines of Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus that are in the vicinity of each other. Each at least a few centuries old, each one living and providing the spiritual stop to its devotees. And co-existing with its counterparts.
Spiritual Trail at Old Delhi – Walking Tour
There are two Jain temples in old Delhi, one belonging to the Digambar sect and the other to the Shwetambar sect. Both the temples are at walking distance from each other and the kind of work done in the temples is quite similar. And also indicative of the fact that they belong to the same period and were probably built during the time of Shahjahan. And survived the invasions by his son Aurangzeb.
The beautiful paintings in red, green and blue colors, carvings, gold-plated walls and richly painted ceilings also indicate the influence of the Islamic art form in these temples. And may have been done under the patronage of Mughal kings. Of course, these temples have been constantly maintained by their Jain devotees and patrons. Jains are traditionally the business community and wealthy people. And are said to donate with an open heart to build temples. This is evident in the brilliant temples that exist across the country. Most of them are being constantly expanded and maintained.
It can also be read across temples where the stones carry the names of the donors along with the amounts donated. Most of the times donations are made by people in memory of their parents or their spouses, and the names of both are put on the stones.
Digambar Jain Lal Temple
My spiritual trail began at the Digambar Jain Lal temple that is more conspicuously located on the main road, bang opposite the red fort gate. The temple has a simple ground floor, with the temple office. A huge bookstore and a mediation center which seems to have been recently built. The meditation center is nice and inviting, but there were many big mice all over the place. Making it difficult to sit there and it is impossible to even think of closing your eyes for meditation.
Idols of Jain Teerthankar
The stairs take you to the first floor which houses the idols of various Jain Teerthankars, the painted walls, and ceilings in rich colors and embellished in gold. In fact, the first impression that the temple gives you is that of a Buddhist temple which is usually done in bold gold and rich red. The idols are in precious stones, marbles and few of them in silver and plated with 24 karat gold. The outside of the temple is like a usual temple that you see everywhere in India, but inside it may be one of the richest temples.
There are multiple points provided to a visitor to make any donation to the temple. There are a series of donation boxes kept in a line where you can put your donations. If you want a receipt for your donation, there are temple’s officials sitting with a receipt book on a table and chair as visibly as possible. The boxes can be better designed to gel with the décor of the temple. As of now they act as an eyesore and are almost like shouting for donation.
Temple Complex Model
There is a model of the temple complex kept on the outer edge and a Karan mantra ghanta in a glass case which is worshiped. Digambar Jains are also called skyclad, i.e. they do not believe in wearing clothes. So be prepared to see a stark naked person cleaning the place. A devotee who visits the temple every day explained that you have to take permission from the Mahavir and Padmavati before you do anything, otherwise they may not allow you to accomplish anything. The white marble pillar outside the temple has a lot of Jain symbols engraved on it. One of them shows the lion and the cow drinking from the same vessel and nurturing each other’s young one. Depicting the epitome of non-violence and peaceful co-existence, which is the core principle of Jainism.
A part of Digambar Jain temple houses the bird hospital, established in 1929, which they say is one of its kinds in the world. There are many hospitals that treat domesticated animals and cattle, but not the ones dedicated to birds. The usual patients at this hospital are the birds that get hurt by getting stuck in fans, get cut by the flying kites or by the stones thrown on them. If you look at the ceilings in the temple and in the hospital you would see that the fans are put in a cage so that birds do not get stuck in them. There were rabbits, peacocks, parrots, pigeons and many other types of birds. Being a Jain hospital, only
Being a Jain hospital, only vegetarian birds are treated here. The ones under treatment are kept in individual cages and the ones who are slightly better are kept in large cages where they can fly. On the above floor, there are treated birds. And the ones which are completely treated are set free every Sunday. The roof of the hospital is full of water and food containers for birds. From here you get a top view of the area, red fort looks nice. The attendants and the doctor there are quite friendly. And would take you around and show you the birds and would take any questions that you may have with a smile.
Shwethambar Jain Temple
Shwetambar Jain temple was a big surprise for me in on this old Delhi spiritual trail. It looks like a small temple hidden in the by lanes of Kinari Bazaar. The Naughara lane which has this temple also has a few old Havelis with traditionally done facades. At the end of the lane on the right-hand side, you would see a small entrance to the temple. Where you would be asked to leave off all leather items and wash your hands before you go up and see the temple. At the ground floor, the place may look like a not a well-maintained place, with books in one room and a collection of a lot of artifacts kept randomly in another big one. But as you take the narrow and steep marble steps to the first floor, you are definitely in for a big surprise.
It’s an incredibly beautiful temple with white marble painted in vibrant colors, gold being the most prominent one. Most of the paintings are old. But they are being restored now with the stone colors and gold. The ceilings are so intricate and rich that you can look at them for quite some time. There are murals and there is a depiction of dancing girls with musicians with all the kinds of musical instruments. The walls all around have been recently done with reverse glass paintings depicting the life and times of Lord Mahavir. An aged priest, who is taking care of the temple for last 45 years will explain you all the idols and the stories with a lot of affection. Which is very nice given the age of professionals that we live in.
He explained his daily routine and how he takes care of the precious idols and the paintings that may go off if not cleaned properly. You have to see the temple to be able to believe it’s beauty. Of all the monuments in old Delhi, in terms of sheer beauty, this is probably the best one.
Gauri Shankar Temple
Gauri Shankar temple is next to the Digambar Jain temple. The construction of this temple is quite recent. It is an ancient but small temple, built during the days of Shahjahan when the road outside it used to be a river. The small shrine is now being expanded constantly, with marble pillars, marble floors, idols of almost all representative Hindu deities and extensively carved doors. The idols are beautiful and you would admire them. The story of Appa Gangadhar Rao, who got this temple in prize from a king, is the only known history of this temple.
Gurudwara Sheeshganj is an important one in the history of Sikhs. And a prominent point on this spiritual trail. This is the place Guru Teg Bahadur attained martyrdom in 1675. This is the place where he took his final bath, did his last prayer and was executed below a tree which is now preserved within the premises of the gurudwara. The historic spot is located below the spot where Guru Granth Sahib is now kept and is read every day. The well can also be seen. Though the well is closed, the volunteers will give you the water from the well, which is believed to have healing powers. Not sure how much of this is true. But I believe it is the faith of the devotees which makes it special.
The huge community kitchen in the gurudwara feeds thousands every day. It is always a pleasure to visit the gurudwara community kitchens. And see people working there with a lot of Seva Bhav or the emotion of serving. The feeling is to serve the God by serving his people. Community service is something unique to the Sikh faith and is worth emulating. Gurudwaras are always run by people volunteering their services and not by paid services. The bookshop in Gurudwara offers literature on Sikhism. I picked up two books with a hope to read and understand this religion that I have always admired, a little better. They also allow you to take pictures anywhere inside the gurudwara. Unlike temples and mosques which do not, and I do not understand why?
If you have time, sit there for some time and listen to the Gurbani, and observe the serenity with which it is sung. Simply divine!
Bhai Mati Das Bhai Sati Das Dyala Museum
Just opposite the Sheeshganj, across the fountain chowk, which is also an important place for Sikh history, there is Bhai Mati Das Bhai Sati Das Dyala Museum. This double storey museum contains paintings depicting the life and times of all the 10 gurus of Sikhs. And other important historical figures, including the recent war heroes. The huge paintings say the story in pictures. Though the descriptions are written along with each painting. You can spend some time and drown yourself in the Sikh history. And the pride with which they treat it.
In the lane next to Sikh museum is a small Kali temple. Which was closed when we went, but it is also said to be from the same period as the whole area. Adjacent to the Sheeshganj is Sunahari Masjid, a small nondescript monument. You can give it a miss, but for the fact that this is the place from where one of the worst massacres in the history was led by Nadir Shah. It is said that more than 30 thousand civilians were killed in the massacre. Some estimates put the figure to about 150,000 killings in a single day. We could not find anyone who could explain anything else about this place.
While walking on the streets for this trail, look around and notice the old buildings. The SBI building is also a heritage building. When you see McDonald’s and Café Coffee day housed in these heritage buildings, you suddenly see the past and present existing within each other. Notice the protruding balconies on the first floors of the buildings. Look for the old sign of famous Ghantewala shop saying Ghantewala Shahi Halwai on the top floor of the current day shop.
For the food stop, there are famous Paranthas at Paranthe wali Gali. Opposite the Gauri Shankar temple at Manohar Dhaba, you can sample the Japani Samosa. Which is nothing but a small stuffed patty, made to look like a wonton? Talk of innovation in this place that holds so many heritages in its arms.
Walk through the lane where garlands are being made out of fresh flowers. You would suddenly feel the flowers in the air, a sudden smoothening of the nerves with the fragrance all around.
This spiritual trail is one of those trails that you can always do, whether you live in Delhi or you are just visiting it.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Delhi.