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Friday, 14 June 2024

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Prachin Hanuman Mandir, Connaught Place: From past legends to present reality

While the temple in the heart of the national capital in Delhi remains open until 11 PM, the optimal time to visit is just before dawn

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Connaught Place in Delhi is widely recognised as a significant symbol of British influence, but its rise to prominence occurred only in the early 20th Century. Nevertheless, several structures in the vicinity demonstrate its historical importance and its role as both a commercial hub and a place of worship. One of the most notable of these structures is the Prachin Hanuman Mandir, located on Baba Kharak Singh Marg.

Situated near the Irwin Road mosque, Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and various churches, Prachin Hanuman Mandir exemplifies peaceful coexistence among different religious communities. Mahabharata characters, the Pandavas, during their exile, visited this very spot and conducted a puja (religious ritual) here, devotees believe.

Shrikant Sharma, a mahant (priest) at the temple, said, “This temple is one of the five ancient temples in Delhi, the others being Bhairon Mandir near Purana Qila, Kalkaji temple, Yogmaya temple in Mehrauli, and the Marghat Hanuman temple in Kashmere Gate.”

Prachin Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place is unique for several reasons. Firstly, the main murti of Hanuman is a swayambhu, meaning it emerged on its own. Additionally, the murti faces south, distinguishing it from those that typically face east. Moreover, visitors will find Hanuman in the child form at this temple.

As per Zafar Hasan’s List Of Muhammadan And Hindu Monuments (Volume 2), the temple’s origins can be traced back to the Mughal era. Raja Man Singh of Jaipur is believed to have been the original builder of the temple. The main structure is topped by a steeple adorned with gold paintings and glasswork on the ceiling. The floor is laid with white and black marble slabs, while the Singasan is surrounded by a pierced marble balustrade.

In his 2006 book, Hanuman’s Tale, Philip Lutgendorf states that the shrine underwent a grand renovation in the 1980s, resulting in its present form. The entrance to Prachin Hanuman Mandir consists of wide white marble steps leading up from the street level to imposing silver-sheathed doors adorned with panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana.

Inside the shrine, visitors can admire captivating frescoes that depict significant events from the life of Hanuman, such as lifting a mountain, bringing Sanjeevani Booti, and setting Lanka on fire.

Historian and author Swapna Liddle, speaking about the Mughal influence, mentioned that the Mughals, particularly Akbar, had good relations with the rulers of Amer (now part of Jaipur). Akbar had married a Rajput princess (not Jodhabai), indicating a connection between the Mughals and the land where Prachin Hanuman Mandir is located.

Tulsidas, the author of Ramcharitmanas, visited this temple and performed a miracle in the presence of Akbar, with the blessings of Hanuman.

Lutgendorf further writes in his book that Mahant Jagannath Das claims Tulsidas came to Delhi to have darshan of the murti at Prachin Hanuman Mandir. It was during this visit that he was summoned by the ‘king of Delhi’ and urged to perform a miracle, as mentioned in the Bhaktirasbodhini of Priyadas.

The mahant asserts that after Hanuman’s miraculous intervention on behalf of the poet, the Mughal ruler adorned the shrine’s spire with an Islamic crescent-moon finial, replacing the usual ornamental water pot. This unique feature distinguishes the shrine from other Hindu temples.

Despite the presence of a crescent on the spire in old pictures of the temple, Swadharma was unable to locate it during a recent visit.

The temple attracts a wide range of visitors, from ordinary workers to prominent political figures, as confirmed by Lutgendorf in his book: “Even politicians are known to gather here, given its proximity to Parliament…” One of the recent political figures seen at the temple was Sunita Kejriwal, the wife of the incarcerated Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who paid her respects to the deity on Hanuman Jayanti.

While Prachin Hanuman Mandir remains open until 11 PM, the optimal time to visit is just before dawn. During the aarti performed by the temple priests, the usual hustle and bustle associated with CP subsides, leaving only the resonating sounds of the grand bells and devotional hymns.

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