Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Saint from the East

Lest you forget this space is not just about food (well almost). Let me take you on a spiritual journey to the abode of the Saint from the east - Swami Vivekananda. Belur Math. A world pilgrimage site settled on the bank of the Hooghly, is a serene spiritual settlement.

One does not have to be deeply religious to be a visitor, the quaint atmosphere is sure to win over the heart and soul of any visitor.

You can also drive to Belur, but we decided to park our car at Shyambazar, and take a ferry from Bagbazaar across the Hooghly to Bandhaghat, to breathe in the crisp morning air.

It was a pleasant morning with light breeze blowing and we were looking forward to the ferry ride. The ferry service connects Kolkata to Howrah and several other suburban townships along the bank of Hooghly. It provides a pleasant, pollution free, alternative route. Ferry services along the Hooghly also provide a hassle-free and relaxed way to see many of Kolkata's top attractions. Ferry services are run by two agencies - the state-owned West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation and the cooperative Hooghly Nadi Jalpath Paribahan Samanbay Samiti.

Bagbazaar Ferry Ghat - Ticket Window; takes you back to the 60's

The Ferry

Bridge on the river Hooghly
M V Jalapath - an old war horse


Bandhaghat is in Salkia township, Howrah. We took a cycle rickshaw from the Bandhaghat Ferry Ghat to G.T. Road. From that point onwards we shared a ride to Belur in an auto rickshaw. The auto takes you through an extremely congested stretch of the G.T. Road, lined with factories, old shops, open drains, heaps of garbage and smoke billowing vehicles.  This was all setting us up nicely for our destination which a very pleasant departure from all things material. The auto ride thankfully lasted for only about 15-20 minutes.

We got off just outside the gate of the Math.

The drive down the Grand Trunk road left us thirsty and craving for a cool drink and thankfully we found just what we needed.

Now, recharged and rejuvenated we trudged along ...

Once you step inside the arches of the Math, it is a different world inside - nothing like it's outside 'cousin'. Serene, at peace, uncluttered, without litters lining the streets, pavement for people to walk on.  The place exudes an other worldly charm about it,  it welcomes you and embraces you with wide open arms.

It is worthy to be noted that photography is STRICTLY prohibited, but that was not to stop me from clicking these pictures. It would have been a shame if I were not to be able to share these illustrative pictures here on this blog ! I would later on check with an employee at the Math, the reason for this prohibition - my query was answered with a not so clear reply. The gentleman I spoke to, thought the recent terrorist attacks on places of worship might have had something to do with it. My travel partner, implored me not to press this issue any further. Some questions are best left unanswered, he added.

I continued to click sneakily though and continued to tempt fate.
The main temple

View from the rear balcony on the first floor of Swami Vivekananda Temple

The lobby of the main temple is something beyond what pictures could tell you. It is to be felt and not spoken about. Just calling it very peaceful and serene would be a gross understatement. Such is the quietness of this prayer hall, that the occasional hushed whispers among devotees sound louder than thundering storm clouds. The place beckons people to meditate. Lower your head in the existence of a supreme presence.  This is one place that even an agnostic should visit.

After walking up to the altar of this temple and offering my prayers which has an idol of Sri Ramkrishna. I walked towards the rear of the lobby and sat down, closed my eyes, straightened my back and spent a few minutes in meditation and found my soul.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself wanting to click a picture of this hall. I looked around and cautiously fished out my camera phone and clicked a picture. I ran out of fortune. The noisy 'click' sound of the camera woke up an old lady, seated right behind us deep in meditation and I was scolded with raised eyebrows - আপনি জানেন না ছবি তলা নিশেদ আছে ? বায়িরে লেখা রয়েছে তার শুত্তেও আপনি ছবি তুলছেন !

Upon hearing the crackling sound of the scold, I craned my neck over my shoulders and looked back at the old lady in embarrassment and begged for forgiveness without uttering a word.

Since I do have THE picture let me share it here ...

All the walking and the scolding made us hungry and we were ready for some brunch. Having made up our mind to skip the Grand Trunk road and take a ferry ride on our way back, we headed towards the ferry ghat.  On the way to the ghat, there was a solitary food stall selling what would be an ideal brunch - "Kochuri-Alu'r Taurkari-Shingara-Lassi". Sinful food this.

Few plates of "Kochuri" and a few burps later we resumed the short walk to the ferry ghat ...

We took the ferry from Belur to Baranagar and after nearly an hour's wait took a connecting ferry back to Shyambazar.

I encourage all to visit Belur Math on your next trip to Calcutta and find your soul. You will be pleasantly surprised with the environs, the cleanliness, the serenity and the spiritual ambiance by the riverside. They have a very informative website take a look. Just like morning shows the day, the website tells you how well disciplined an institution is. I am almost embarrassed to say that I waited this long to visit this gem.

Belur Math is for the early to rise and early to bed. The doors are thrown open at 6 am, and everything closes at 11:30 fore noon. Including the main temple, Swami Vivekananda temple, the museum and the library too. They do open again at 4:30 pm in time for the 'Sandhya Arati' which I am told is a sight to behold. If I am not mistaken they remain open till about 7 pm. This place does work like clock work.


  1. Quite a well documented sojourn. The photos do speak to the quite and serence atmosphere. Didnt quite see all of this on my visit eons ago so it was refreshing to do the journey again. I must chime in - I hate religious abodes as such since they are a bed of bigotry and pretentious spiritu7alty sleeping together (my 2 cents) but Belur Math was not what I expected as usual. It was refreshing to find a place of true (well thats too deep) peace and a spritual well being and clean tranquility. I guess the only other temple of worship I liked was in Madhmaheshwar.

  2. @Baul - Thanks much for taking the time to read the piece. I am glad you liked it. I agree with you that bigotry, financial embezzlement and pretentiousness dot many of our religious institutions. For reasons such as this, I do not personally care for places of worship such as Tirupathi, which is a huge money spinner and a place to visit for celebs when they need help from above ! My apologies to people who hold Tirupathi in high esteem. I have heard horror stories from my wife who has had the misfortune of visiting the place. Thanks but no thanks, I say. Besides, I don't think filthy surroundings can help develop spiritual consciousness. I found Belur Math amazingly spic-n-span. What ever little I had read about Swami Vivekananda myself drove me to this visit and I am thankful I did. Swami ji no doubt was a genius and great soul. May we all learn from his teaching and philosophy of life.


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