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Mention Amritsar, and the vision of the Golden Temple shimmering in the waters of the Amrit Sarovar comes to mind. However, few are aware that the holy cityalso celebrates Langoorwala Mela, in another landmark edifice — the Durgiana Temple, which resembles the Golden Temple.

A few minutes drive from the magnificent Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar’s pride and the holiest of Gurudwaras, is the Durgiana Temple (variously known as Shri Durgiana Mandir or Tirath, Laxmi Narayan Temple or Sheetala Mata Mandir).

It is also referred to as the Silver Temple owing to the silver doors of its sanctum, on which are embossed the incarnations of Vishnu and other deities.

The sun is barely up on the horizon and the city’s little alleyways are already abuzz with activity. Little kiosks selling an assortment of commodities, from puja ware to snacks, dot the street leading to the Lohgarh Gate, the temple entrance.

The aroma of hot milk and frying jalebis waft through the air. Sadhus with dakshina bowls complete the picture. In contrast to the bustle outside, a soothing calmness pervades the insides. The chant of slokas reverberates through the temple complex. The building echoes the architecture of the Golden Temple with its canopies and a central dome, surrounded by several smaller ones. The domes and segments of the outer walls of the temple’s terrace, are gilded with over 40 kg of gold.

A walkway with railings on either side leads to the main sanctum of Goddess Durga. Vibrant collage on mosaic tiles, depict her in various forms. Standing guard at its entrance is a majestic marble idol of Hanuman, making his offerings to the Mother in all humility. The main doorway also depicts a young Lord Krishna subduing the serpent Kaaliya.

There are shrines dedicated to Mahalakshmi and Lord Narayana. The Lakshmi Narayan sanctum is connected to the main temple by a two-lane causeway. Hence this most frequented temple is also referred to as Lakshmi Narayan temple.

A stately marble statue of Lord Siva in a meditative pose emerges from the placid waters of the tank that has colourful fish swimming in it. The tank is adorned on all four sides with marble statues of various deities, including those of Veda Vyas and Goswami Tulsidas.

The site is a repository of Hindu scriptures. Though the foundation stone of the temple as it exists in its present form was laid by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya only in 1924, its history goes back several centuries. In fact, the ground on which the tank and temple stand today is associated with the epic, Ramayana. The shrine of Durga is held in veneration since it is believed that Sita performed routine puja for the deity at this spot.

According to legend, the sacrificial horse was set loose following the Ashwamedha Yajna which Rama performed to stake claim over territories through which the stallion passed. It was here in Amritsar, at the site of the present Durgiana temple, that Luv and Kush, twin sons of Rama living in exile with their mother, Sita, captured the steed. Hanuman who came to defend the captured horse, was taken prisoner by the boys, and tied to a banyan tree. This event, centuries later, prompted the construction of the temple around the tree.

The tree is deemed to be a wish-fulfilling one that remains green throughout the year. Devotees go around it, offering flowers, applying turmeric and vermilion paste on it, seeking a host of favours.

Langooranwala Mela

Come the Navaratras (Dussehra), the Bada Hanuman Mandir within the temple complex becomes a riot of colours with the unique Langoorwala Mela.

To the accompaniment of music, a procession of children dance along the streets leading to the temple. They dress up as langurs (moneys) wearing bright red silver-striped outfits, with silver and golden trimmings, conical caps, faces smeared with fuller’s earth (multani mitti), sporting long curved tails, and wielding silver-coloured maces (gadhas).

Childless couples tie a sacred red thread or mauli around the trunk or branches of the banyan tree, praying for a progeny. They also vow to bring their child, attired as a langur once their wish is fulfilled.

On the concluding day of the Navaratra, the children remove their simian outfits near the banyan tree and walk around (pradikshana) the tree, while the couples who have been blessed with a child, untie the thread.

The idol of Hanuman here is a ‘rare’ one, as it is one of two sculptures that show him in a sitting position. The other is the Hanuman Gadri in Ayodhya.