Walk of Hope travelled to Shingapur today for two days of rest. After two weeks of frenetic activity and walking through hot and humid lands, they left at 8.30 am after a relaxed breakfast, and in 2 hours reached Shingapur, a small village, with no more than a few families living in a handful of homes.
Far from habitation, with a temple being the only place to visit, nature holds sway here. Connectivity is hard to come by - it is the first area after Kanyakumari where many of the padayatris’ mobiles did not work. The village is on top of a hill that forms part of the Western Ghats - hundreds of millions of years old and stretching from these areas of Maharashtra right up to Rajasthan. Covered by dense jungle until 20 years ago, the forests have now retreated to the valleys because of a recent drought. Hill and valley alternate endlessly for thousands of kilometers in the Western Ghats, with strong winds year round that whisper and howl through the night. Rain clouds pass overhead with not a drop falling. As the night descends, it grows cold.
Not much grows here. With only a dewy mist in the mornings to provide moisture, the few plants found are thorn-covered, as in protection against the mountain goats and domesticated cattle. Ferocious winds blow with them dust from the earth, not allowing anything to grow. There is grass, growing sneakily wherever it gets a foothold - in valleys and on the tops of hills. Flowers of all shapes and colors, poisonous wild berries and mushrooms, and the valleys are lush green repositories of trees, plants, insects and animals. These areas are teeming with snakes that make their homes in oft occurring abandoned wells. If one looks down into one of them, all that can be seen is undulating blackness - and snakes!
Reaching the village, they first visited the ancient Guptalinga temple situated on a hill called ‘Kontalgiri Parvat’. Cut from stone, the temple is at the apex of a ridge with two hills on either side, at the mouth of a stream that flows into a valley. Needing to descend 200 steps to reach the cave that houses the Shiva Linga, the temple is ancient, it's origins unknown. Local belief is that it was discovered more than 4000 years ago.
The legend associated with this temple is that Narada once walked in on Shiva and Parvati playing a game of dice in their abode on Mount Kailash and suggested that they play for a wager. It was decided that the loser would have to do penance on Earth. Shiva lost to Parvati, a manifestation of the primal feminine who cannot be defeated. This Guptalinga temple is the place where Shiva did his penance for many, many years. Longing for Shiva, Parvati set out looking for him, and found him completely hidden in the dense forests here, the only visible part being his ‘jata’. On Shiva's emerging, they got married once more at this very place.
The temple also houses the Ashram and Samadhi of Sarvodananda Maharaj. He lived here for 48 years and did severe penance, which included a period of complete silence for 12 years. In the evening, they visited the Shingapur Shikar Shiva Temple, which stands on top of a hill and can be seen from a hundred kilometers away. This prominent temple attracts hundreds of thousands of devotees during its annual festival held each April. Established in its current form by his grandfather, the deity of the temple is the Kula-Devata of Shivaji, the great warrior king of Maharashtra. The padayatris offered prayers and gathered later in the temple courtyard for bhajans. Returning around 7.30 pm, and knowing morrow was a day of rest they had an unhurried, relaxed dinner and turned in fairly late for the night.