The courtyard is flooded with daylight. The marble feels cold to the bare feet. A hand pump lies in the corner.
This tranquil destination is one of the very few ‘aangans’, or traditional courtyards, of Old Delhi that an outsider can experience without worrying about intruding into the privacy of its dwellers. Simply because it’s not part of a house, but of a temple.
Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, in Kucha Pati Ram, has to be among Delhi’s most beautiful temples—even if it’s rather small, and barely known. The arched entrance door and the long tunnel-like corridor leading into the temple give the first hint of its exquisite quaintness. The courtyard is lined by an arched verandah on either sides. A balcony railing on the upper floor runs about the entire length of the temple. Indeed, the entire space strongly resembles the old houses and havelis that are gradually disappearing from the face of the Walled City, giving way to modern-style apartment blocks.
This morning, priest Anand Shukla is perched about the main shrine, consisting of idols of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi placed inside a marble niche. “The temple is more than a 100 years old,” he says. He himself, a native of Lucknow, has been officiating as its priest for a year.
A most distinguished aspect of the temple is that it is home to a God whose idol is rarely kept in temples. Lord Brahma, the four-headed creator of the world, is enshrined on one side of Vishnu. On the other side is the shrine of Varaha, one of Vishnu avatars—he too is rarely seen.
The shrine has a series of small brass bells hanging from long chains, each wrapped in a red cloth so that devotees do not touch them.
“Because of coronavirus,” the priest explains. Indeed, a bottle of hand sanitiser is placed on a wooden stool.
One of the verandahs has a young priest. With arms folded, he is intently staring into the air in front of him, as if in deep thought, making one wonder about his inner life, spirituality, and how he got to chose this life.
Meanwhile, a masked visitor in formal pants and shirt enters and offers a brief prayer at each of the three shrines.
The temple opens daily with the morning aarti at 7.30 and closes with evening aarti at 7pm.
On your way out, don’t forget to check out the letter box in the corridor. It’s painted red.