Nishkalank Mahadeva : Shiva who takes away all sins
Have you ever heard of a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva which remains under the sea & appears only for few hours in a day during the low tides so that people can go there to worship the Shiva Lingams present there? Sounds bizarre? But it is true. The temple of Nishkalank Mahadeva in Koliyak near Bhabnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat is a temple which fits into this description to the T. The temple remains under the sea only to appear during the low tides exposing the 5 Shiva Lingams with the accompanying Nandi the Bulls present there.
The great Indian epic Mahabharata tells the story of the great battle between the Pandava & Kaurava clans who were cousins by birth. The Pandavas won the battle by killing their cousins & teachers, so , though they won, they acquired a huge load of sin. Pandavas were fully aware of this, & they asked Lord Krishna, who acted as their aide in the battle, the way in which they would be free from this great sin. Lord Krishna asked them to start traveling with a black cow & a black flag. The spot where these two black things would turn white, Lord Krishna said, was the spot where Lord Shiva resided as Nishkalank Mahadeva. Anyone who worship Lord Shiva there, would be free from all the sins committed in the present as well as the past lives.
Thus began a long journey. The Pandavas travelled different parts of the land with the black cow & the black flag, but those remained black as ever. One day, while they were near a spot on the Western Sea, suddenly the cow & the flag changed into sparkling white! ‘O behold’, they cried, ‘we’ve reached our destination.’ The place was barren, so the five brothers founded five Shiva Lingams & offered Puja there after a bath in the sea, & all their Kalank (sins) vanished. Hence the Shiva is called Nish-Kalank (He who dissolves all sins) Mahadeva (which is another name of Lord Shiva).
The temple of Nishkalank Mahadeva is situated about 1.5 km inside the Gulf of Khambat, an extension of the Arabian Sea near a village called Koliyak, which is about 35 km from the city of Bhabnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat.
The temple is situated about 1.5 km inside the sea, & remains submerged in the sea except during the low tides. One of such low tides occurs in the morning, & the temple remains approachable for about 4 hours. Then again it gradually goes under the water & remains submerged till the next tide.
If one reaches Koliyak at about 6.30 am, a wonderful sight will unveil before his or her eyes. At first only the flag atop the Shikhar (tower) of the temple is visible, & that is the only sign that there is something under the sea there. Gradually, the top of the temple tower comes into the view, its red & white stripes visible bright against the sea. Then gradually the whole tower becomes visible. Then the stone platform on which the five Shiva Lingams are placed becomes visible, though the Lingams themselves are too far to see from the land.
A journey through the sea
People, gathered on the sea beach, start moving towards the temple when the priests start moving towards it through thigh deep water. A walk through the water is quite enjoyable, if you do not mind getting your clothes soaked, but no one minds it. Wading through the rapidly receding sea, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to reach the temple.
The temple at closer look
The ‘temple’ is quite different from what people generally think about a temple. There is a tall tower at one side, but the Shiva Lingams are not inside any sanctum. The tower stands on a natural stony platform, roughly circular in shape, about 10-15 metres in diameter. There is a small depressed area at one side which remains full of sea water even when the sea recedes. This is called Pandava Kund where the pilgrims wash their hands & feet before proceeding for worship. There are 5 Shiva Lingams on the platform at different spots, each with its stone-built Nandi the Bull. Sea water is there all around, & the spot looks like a tiny island.
The Shiva Lingams
The five Lingams are of different sizes & shapes. They are all stone made. One is quite tall. There are iron tridents placed in front of the Lingams. People pour water & milk on the Lingams & offer flowers, fruits & sweets. The priests, who are very kind & gentle without any obvious greed for money, help in the rituals.
The tall tower, approximately 10-12 metres tall, is brightly coloured with red & white stripes in stark contrast with the dull sea all around. It is said that the flag atop is changed only once in a year by the main descendant of the erstwhile kings of Bhabnagar, but for the rest 364 days of the year, the flag keeps flying defying all natural calamities & harsh weather.
The sea & the beach
The sea is actually the Gulf of Khambat, an extension of the Arabian Sea. It is shallow near the beach. The beach is rather muddy, with some sharp stones in some places. There are few marine lives like mollusks & small fishes visible when the water recedes. These are excellent food for the birds like egrets & Black Headed Ibis, which can be seen in large numbers there.
One peculiar thing can be seen in the beach. The sea-current here spontaneously makes small Shiva Lingam-like structures out of mud on the beach. Pious people collect these as souvenirs.
The Bhadarvi fair
It is said that the Pandavas established this temple on an Amavasya (New Moon ) day in the month of Bhadarva. In memory of this, a fair, popularly known as ‘Bhadarvi fair’ is held here on the new moon day in month of August every year. It is attended by a large number of people from near & far.
A visit to the remote Koliyak to see this unusual temple is not an easy task, but if one can go there, the mind becomes full of a sense of achieving a feat.