SUMMER AT SHRINATHJI
The long summer months at Shri-Nathji are hot and sultry. Hot winds from the Rajasthani desert near-by, make the summer season particularly harsh. To survive this heat, ingenious methods of natural air-conditioning have been installed in Shri Nathji's Haveli. Colours and textures of cloths, utensils, foods, toys and all furnishings in the divine palace are specifically chosen to make the summer as pleasant and pleasurable as possible.
Air and water, the most natural of all cooling agents, are applied to air-condition the magnificent Haveli. Marble walls of the inner sanctum and floors of the surrounding rooms and courtyards are drenched with cool water several times a day. After each public darshan, the servants and devotees of the Lord sweep the dust away before splashing copious amounts of water on all solid surfaces in sight. Marble ponds, silver troughs of water, fountains and wet floors, help to create a naturally cool setting for Shri-Gopal-Lal to enjoy. Silver ducks and peacocks perch on mobile marble "kundas" (ponds). Silver boats and pavilions grace their shimmering surface of crystal clear waters. Tiny droplets of water dance on silver surfaces, as they shower down from the fountains and sprinklers set in the palace walls and floors. White jasmine, "jui", roses, lotuses and "mogara" float lazily in the gently rippling waters of the marble ponds.
As a special climax to the Rajbhog (midday meal) and Bhog darshan in the late afternoon, a tall, strong servant, dressed in white, pours water from a large silver urn. Standing in the middle of the ante-chamber, he pours the water at a full stretch above his head, directly between the divine and the devout. Pouring like an uninterrupted water screen the column of water hits the marble floor, and splashes out in all direction, forming a multi-peaked circular wave rushing to all corners of the chamber.
Khas reeds are a natural coolant and have been used in India to cool the interiors of houses for centuries. Mats of the khas reeds are often used to cover the roof, doors and windows to keep out the sun and cool the air. It also adds a touch of the "exotic" by scenting the cool air with its special natural perfume. As in the ancient royal palaces, Shri-Nathji's palace is well sealed with thick mats of the fragrant reed. This blocks out the scorching sun and helps to keep the dust out of the inner sanctum. To assure it's potency in keeping the interior cool, an army of servants are constantly engaged in sprinkling the mats with ample amounts of water. When drenched with water, the khas emits cool sweet fragrance, carried around the various chambers by the summer breeze. Large manually operated ceiling fans stir the fragrant air, as a servant pulls the cord back and forth from outside the inner sanctum. Hand held fans are also regularly used to cool the immediate surroundings of the Lord. Some of the fans in the inner sanctum are also made of khas, and are doused with copious amounts of cool fragrant waters from silver fountains. Imitation pavilions of coloured khas are set up in the inner sanctum to delight and cool Shri-Ghanshyam. Fragrance of this most ancient of Indian air-conditioning unit also lends it self to the culinary delights of summer, for khas sherbets are per-annually popular with India's masses and their Gods.
Yet another organic natural coolant is sandalwood. Since the dawn of prehistory, paste from this fragrant wood has been used to cool and delight the senses. Sandalwood paste can be mixed with a variety of herbs and spices to cure various illnesses caused by heat, including sunstroke, sunburn and headaches. As a special treat, Natavar applies a heady mixture of sandalwood, camphor and saffron on his chest and arms and wears a saffron "pichod" on the hottest days of the summer months. Application of this aromatic paste resembles a short blouse worn by the North-Indian women and so this particular shringar is known as the "chandan-choli-ka shringar".
Soft cotton dhoti, aadbandh, pichod and pardhani are worn during the summer. Designed to keep the wearer cool and comfortable, whilst maintaining the perfect aesthetic look, these designs reflect the various styles of male attire worn in India through the ages. A summer special for the divine wardrobe is a saffron coloured dhoti of real "malmal" - an extremely soft cotton of a very high quality. These clothes are coloured by using real saffron and are specially dyed in the divine presence in the inner sanctum. In perfect harmony with the rest of the divine wardrobe, diamonds, pearls and silver dominate the jewels worn in the hot summer months. Cool to the touch, they also have a soothing effect on the eye.
In the summer, Van-Mali often wears clothes made from flowers!! A definite speciality of the skilled florists in the Lord's service, flowers are used to imitate textures and designs of clothes that would be usually worn in the summer. Heart shaped buds of the scented "mogara" are combined with candy pink roses and yellow jasmines, as well as lotuses and jui flowers to create the most wonderful designer flower-wear for Vraj-Raj. Flowers are also used to imitate jewels normally worn by Shri-Hari. Pavilion and palace interiors are also recast in fragrant flowers, creating the most beautiful illusion of soft and solid surfaces. Flowers and their soft sweet perfumes are used in abundance to cool the atmosphere and make the summer that much more pleasurable. Attars, extracted from natural sources such as flowers (roses, mogara etc.), plants (khas, mangoes etc) and the earth (yes, even the simple clod of soil has a beautiful scent) are used in the Nanda-Bhavan. Some of these are specially chosen for their medicinal purposes, for example, attar made from the earth helps to stop nose bleeds - common enough in the hot dry summer of North India, where temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
Pastel pale colours are used to soothe the eyes, softening the glare from the harsh summer sun. All clothes, curtains, coverings, chandarvas (awnings), pillows and pichoies are colour co-ordinated with great precision to achieve a harmonious cool feel. Even the food of the great Lord is coloured in pastel pinks, pale greens, light yellows and cool white. Lots of natural cooling agents such as milk, yoghurt, curd, rose water, gulkand (sugar encrusted rose petal mulch), syrups of fragrant plants and seasonal fruits such as mangoes are offered to the Ladale-Lal. This allows the highly discerning palette of the Divine Prince of the Nada-Bhavan to enjoy the various gastronomic delights of Indian cooking whilst remaining perfectly cool and healthy in the hot Indian summer. The drinking water of Shayam-Sundar is kept cool in ewers of earthen-ware. Besides adding a fresh natural scent, reminding one of rain on hard parched ground, this makes the water remarkable cold! Using clay from special regions of India, this is a natural refrigerator used since time immemorial.
Invariably, special festivals of the hot season involve abundant use of water, fragrant flowers, khas and sandalwood. Various water sports are laid on for the restless Nata-Khata and his companions. Pavilions are set up in artificial "river" surroundings of the haveli, creating an air of outdoor picnicking in the very heart of this marble palace! Chambers and courtyards are turned in to veritable swimming pools by clever use of planks and some specially imported sticky clay from "Multan". Plantains, "asopalav", mango sprouts, branches of sandalwood and various shrubberies, are used to turn the marble chambers in to water gardens and bowers of Vraj. Similar artificial "pools" are used to recreate the ambience of summer sports of Lord Shri-Krishna. Carefree sessions of swimming and bathing by the youth of Vraj, boating on the gentle summer current of the Shri-Yamuna, dancing on the banks of the divine river and various other amorous sports of Madan-Mohanji are celebrated in the summer months at Nathadwara.
Shinning white of silver, cooling browns of khas and sparkling crystal clear light of the fountains make the summer a delightful season to be in love. The Lord of Nathadwara sits amid fragrant flowers, strewn over his silver bed-stead, wearing soft, semi-transparent cotton "aadbandh" (sarrong), covered in freshly prepared sandalwood paste, mixed with saffron and camphor, adorned in silver and pearl jewellery and topped by lotus garlands. How can the gopies of Vraj resist such a handsome youth, accomplished as He is in all the sixty-four arts of grace and beauty?
As the days are long and nights so short for His beloved, Nanda-Nandan wakes up late in the mornings. Slow classical tones drone out of the veena as special summer ragas are sung to delight the Kala-Nidhan. Summer afternoons are spent sleeping in the cool interiors of the magnificent Nathadwara palace and in the evening, Shri-Gopi-Jan-Vallabh rushes back to his beloved Vraj to enjoy the thousand delights of cloudless summer nights with his favourite gopies. Such are the summer lilas of the Lord !
At the height of summer, the Lord celebrates Snaan Yatra. It is a rare opportunity to see the Lord being bathed. After the mangala darshan, the devotees are allowed to remain in the dolti bari as Goswamies come forth and bath the Lord in a mixture of cool fragrant water, attars, saffron and sandalwood. The water is poured from a gold covered conch on to the dark handsome person of the Lord. Water, kund, mogara and jasmine cascade from his dark jata (hair tied in a tight bun at the top of His head) to his feet, rippling over his well formed body. In a rare mood of tranquillity, the water is allowed to flow all over the floor of the nija mandir and even overflow into the mani kota and dolti bari !
Celebrated since Shri Vallabhacharyaji's time, it owes it's origins to the Snaan Yatra of Shri JagganNathji. In Puri, the Lord takes a rare trip outside his inner sanctum and visits the various ponds and sacred lakes of Puri, bathing at each only to catch a cold ! After a short recovery, the Lord goes on his Rath Yatra, undeniably the most famous festival at Puri. In Nathadwara, the Lord also celebrates the Rath yatra, but he does not go out in the street procession as at Puri. Instead, a small silver rath is placed in the inner sanctum and a mansi (mental / imaginary) journey is made through the woods and groves of Vraj. Padas are sung to celebrate the great yatra and soon afterwards, the summer months are transformed to the monsoon.
© Bhagwat Shah
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