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Growing stone temple

Article from www.fijitimes.com.fj, link 


THE AIR was alive with chatter and laughter on July 18 in 1990 as my family and relatives prepared for my brother's first birthday celebrations at home.

Three-years old then and too little to do any constructive work, I decided to tag along with my two elder sisters who were tidying up the sitting room.

Suddenly my sisters screamed and the eldest ran to call mum.

Curious to see what had made my brave sisters scream, I made my way to the corner where they had been working at and discovered a thin black creature about two and half inches long moving slowly in a zig-zag motion across the wall.

Too scared to do anything else, I began to cry.

Mom, on the other hand was fascinated with the creature. She lured it onto a saucer filled with milk and carried it to our prayer room, which was next to the sitting room. She placed the saucer with the creature in it near the Shiva Lingam-a stone idol of Lord Shiva with a snake coiled around his neck.

That was the first and so far, my only encounter with a snake.

The snake disappeared after a while, but since that incident, it has become a custom for my family, on my brother's birthday, to visit the Nagigi Naag Mandir-the temple of the sacred growing stone, which is shaped like a snake.

Popularly known as Naag Baba Mandir, it has undoubtedly become the worshipping icon for most followers of Hinduism.

Whether it is during a special festival or any normal day, the temple of the Hindu Snake God Naag or Sheshnag, is flooded with devotees.

The temple is located about 20 kilometres away from Labasa Town and stands on the right hand side of the main road on the way to the popular Korovatu picnic spot.

According to Shree Sanatan Dharam Naag Mandir Mandali president Sambhu Lal, 67, the growing stone was discovered more than 90 years at the same place where now the luxurious temple stands.

According to elder's stories, the stone was discovered by an old man called Algu, Mr Lal said.

"Algu is believed to be the first man to have worshipped the stone," he said.

"Before, the same place was a jungle and rumors of the growing stone spread only to a few villagers.

"Only several people made their way into the jungle to worship the stone. It was situated under a guava tree and the villagers offered it flowers, milk and fruits."

The news about the growing stone spread outside the village following an unfortunate incident with a gora (a Whiteman) who headed the Government road construction in 1930s, Mr Lal tells.

"He (the Whiteman) ordered a bulldozer operator to destroy the stone because it was blocking the construction route.

"The bulldozer operator who was a Hindu disagreed to the task because he had learnt about the stone's religious significance. He feared ill fate if he damaged the stone.

"So with no bulldozer operator left, the gora decided to crush the stone himself.

"Several times did he try to crush the stone but was unsuccessful. The failed attempts brought the day's work at an end and to that of the gora's life too.

"It is speculated the gora died the same night.

"The stone was left untouched after that incident and a new road route was developed-this one passing just beside the sacred stone," Mr Lal said.

Since that incident, news about the untouchable growing stone spread.

It was still being worshipped under the guava tree when in 1969 a shack was built over the growing stone to protect it from intruders, harsh weather, and to provide shelter for devotees while performing prayers.

The stone was then about six feet high, Mr Lal said.

However, the space in the small make-shift temple began to shrink as the stone grew taller and wider.

In 1972, the tin shack was dismantled because the stone had grown to 8.5 feet, and a concrete temple was built around the stone.

As years passed, the stone grew and so did the devotees' faith in the Naag Baba stone.

Its popularity travelled fast and soon people all over Vanua Levu started visiting it.

In 1975, the stone had risen to 12 feet. This led to the extension of the roof by five feet and extension of the temple walls, Mr Lal said.

The Naag Baba stone now stands about 17 feet tall, a few inches above the previous roof level.

It was interesting to note that the sacred stone had slowed its growth since the extension works in 1975. Mr Lal explains this was so because of the committee members' special plea.

"The committee members performed a religious ceremony in 1975 to request Naag Baba to seize its growth.

"We pleaded for this because we didn't want to keep dismantling the temple and rebuilding a new one because then worshippers wouldn't have a proper place to pray and the building would have been closed during the construction period.

"Since that particular religious ceremony, the stone reduced its growth rate and has since grown tall at least half an inch each year," he said.

Naag Baba's acceptance of the devotees' plea allowed committee members to upgrade the temple into an extravagant red and yellow colored temple.

The construction and upgrade works to the temple are made solely through donations, Mr Lal said.

More than $600,000 has been used to construct the Naag Baba temple, the hall area and the 108 steps which lead to and from the Lord Shiva and Parvati temple, he added.

The temple collects about $40,000-$50,000 through donations in a year. The committee has not conducted any fund raising activity nor has it asked for assistance, Mr Lal said.

The donations are allocated towards the upgrade works of the temple and providing school assistance to underprivileged children, he said.

Manager Deo Narayan, 71, said people had a lot of faith in the growing stone and many devotees have had their prayers answered.

"It all depends on the faith and belief an individual has for the Gods," Mr Narayan said.

"People who have been longing for children, business progress, education or a better health come and pray here, be it locals or from abroad.

"Newly wed couples also visit the temple to seek Naag Baba's blessings."

A snake represents rebirth, death and mortality, and the worship of snake deities still present in several cultures and mythologies for example in the Cambodian, Greek, Nordic, African, Australian Aborigine and Native American mythologies.

Snakes form an important part of the Hindu mythology.

Lord Shiva has a snake coiled around his neck, while Lord Vishnu-the God of peace and truth and the preserver form of the Hindu Trinity-sleeps on a five headed snake.

Sheshnag also sheltered Lord Krishna from a thunderstorm after his birth.