A spiritual holiday : Kulpakji

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Last weekend, my sister was home from her in-laws’ place and it was the perfect opportunity to make a short trip. Since it was a holiday season (5 days holidays due to Sankranti) we couldn’t manage to get train reservation for any near-by holiday destination. So, without wasting any time, we packed our bags and immediately headed for Aler in our car.

We started at 8 a.m. from Warangal, taking the Warangal-Hyderabad highway. Not so long ago, the roads were full of pot-holes and it wasn’t safe to drive through them, but now, the roadway is the best way to travel to Aler or even Hyderabad if you can afford it. Smooth roads, lush green fields, no traffic and the early morning breeze make it an enjoyable ride.

Aler has one of the biggest Jain temples of South India, Kulpakji, also known as Kolanupaka Jain Teerth. The temple is estimated to be more than 2000 years old and was recently renovated; the last time was almost 100 years ago.

We reached Aler at 9 30 a.m. Kolanupaka is about five kilometres from the railway station. Funnily enough, while it took us just 90 minutes to cover 70 kilometres from Warangal to Aler, it took us about half an hour to cover the distance of five kilometres from Aler railway station to Kolanupaka. Small town traffic and not-so-developed roads slowed us down.

There are two dharamshalas (Indian religious rest-houses), an old one and a new one. The old building is situated near the temple and has about 50 rooms with attached bathrooms. The new building, recently constructed, situated on the backside of the old one, has about 100 rooms and a big common hall. There is a vast area in the premises of the new dharamshala where people can play badminton, cricket and other outdoor games.

We checked-in, bathed and went to the temple.

For darshan, one needn’t necessarily take a bath, but if one wants to do puja (prayer ritual), it is mandatory that one has a bath before being allowed to go inside the gambhara (chamber) of tirthankar and touch the statue of the deity. Also, in order to do puja, one has to wear the acceptable clothing—a dhoti or pancha (a traditional men’s garment) for gents and sarees (traditional women’s garment) for women. The clothes need to be clean, washed and unused for any purpose other than performing pujas.

The main deity of this temple is Teerthankar (Lord) Rishabdev, the first of the 24 Teerthankars that Jains pray to. In the chamber to the left of Rushabdev’s chamber is Teerthankar Mahaveer (24th Teerthankar), and Teerthankar Neminath (21st Teerthankar) is in the chamber to the right.

The main temple is a large rectangle shaped hall with statues of various Teerthankars on either sides. One end has the three chambers and the opposite end has the main entrance to the temple. There are four more doors that open to a Chaumukha (4-faced statue) temple and the temple of teachers, where statues of four gurus and their footprints are set in white marble, situated on either sides of the main temple.

Although the main deity is Teerthankar Rishabdev, it is Teerthankar Mahaveer’s green coloured statue that has more prominence. It is around 51 inches tall and is believed to be made of a single piece of Jade. Jains also believe that Ravana, a staunch Jain devotee, performed puja (rituals) on this very statue.

After offering prayers to all the deities, we spent another hour in the temple singing stavans and bhajans. We finally set foot outside the temple after performing the morning aarti (hindu ritual of worship).

By the time we retired to our rooms, changed and freshened up it was already lunch time.

There is a bhojanshala (kitchen) that can seat around 300 to 400 people at a time. The food is served three times a day—breakfast from 7 30 to 9, lunch from 12 30 to 2 and dinner from 5 to 6 in winters or 5 30 to 6 30 in summers—and then the kitchen is closed for the day.

Usually Jains have their breakfast 48 minutes after sunrise and finish their dinner 48 minutes before sunset. The food served is pure vegetarian. In fact, Jains don’t eat jaminkand (vegetables that grow underground), so the food is devoid of onions, potatoes, ginger, garlic, carrots, beetroot, brinjal and other vegetables that grow under the ground.

There is also a canteen outside the premises of the temple. It serves Upma, Pohe, Tea, Coffee, Milk and there is a small store beside the canteen that is open till 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. in the night, depending on the rush.

After finishing our lunch, we came back to our rooms and headed straight for the sack. The rooms have no distractions like televisions so one doesn’t have much to do apart from doing puja and bhakti in the temple and relaxing and rejuvenating in general. Unfortunately, the rooms still have full network coverage, so smart phones can keep you busy.

But here’s what’s great about the place. The premises are covered with trees and greenery. There is always a cool breeze and a sense of peace and tranquility everywhere. The architectural work within the temple is amazing and the precision of the work is visible the moment you enter the temple. There is also a library housing thousands of old books on history and mythology.

Apart from that, opposite the temple premises, there is a small garden full of trees and flowers where people can spend some time. There are horse-carts and eager drivers are always willing to take you for a ride (insist that he doesn’t hit the horse with his stick when you board, we always do).

In the evening, we visited the garden opposite the temple, went to the canteen and ordered almost 20 to 25 plates of upma and gave all of it to the beggars who sit outside the temple premises. I believe that there is no point in giving money as most of it is wasted in chewing or smoking tobacco. A full stomach leaves a person feeling satiated, but no amount of money ever feels enough.

There is also a Gaushala (cow shed) outside the temple premises where many cows are raised. One can always feed grass to the cows personally or simply donate some money.

After finishing our dinner we headed to Hyderabad, which is about 70 kilometres from Aler, for our extended holiday.

So it becomes both, a holiday which is not only religious but also relaxing and rejuvenating.

How to reach:

Kulpakji is about 5-6 kms from Aler railway station. There are autos readily available throughout the day, to take you to and fro. Once it gets dark, very few autos are seen plying and they also charge exorbitant prices.

Aler railway station is well connected. It is about 70kms from Secunderabad Jn and Warangal Jn. There are regular trains from both these stations. RTC buses are also available at regular intervals from MGBS and Uppal in Hyderabad and Hanamkonda Bus Station in Warangal. One can also drive down to Aler like we did. It is situated on the NH 163.

The nearest airport is RGI, Hyderabad.

(First published at The Viewspaper, an online magazine.)

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