Vandana Vasudevan’s book on Greater Noida talks about the rapid urbanisation, the ecological devastation, and the Ravana temple, among other fascinating subjects. An excerpt:
I had been passing by Bisrakh every day while travelling to work from Greater Noida to Noida and had often thought of stopping by there, but never managed to. Bisrakh is an important village of the region. It is strategically located at the crossroads of the two towns and in recent times is at the mouth of the real estate gold, that is Noida Extension.
Bisrakh is believed to be the birthplace of Ravana, the demon king of the Ramayana and the king of Lanka. Scholar, musician, writer of the astrological scripture Ravanasamhita, and finally abductor of Sita, he is believed to have spent his early years here in this dusty village at the entrance of which now stands a realtor’s billboard.
Legend has it that the word Bisrakh is a distortion of the word Vishravas, the name of Ravana’s father who was a learned sage... The mythology is that Vishravas married Kaikesi, a rakshasa princess, in what was probably a very early inter-racial marriage. Ravana was therefore a lethal combination of half Brahmin and half demon. Vishravas already had a son, Kuber, the demi-god of wealth who built a magnificent kingdom in Lanka. Ravana, who was highly accomplished but arrogant, chased Kuber away from Lanka as he wanted that beautiful land for himself.
Ravana is considered a son of the soil in Bisrakh and, traditionally, inhabitants of Bisrakh do not celebrate Dussera or Diwali, which commemorates Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana. Instead, throughout the navratras, the nine days leading up to Dussera when all around people are burning the rakshasa’s effigy, the residents of Bisrakh perform yagyas to give peace to his soul. Dussera is a day of mourning in Bisrakh and while children find a way to sneak into other villages and enjoy the festivities, it is strongly discouraged by the older generations.
Early one morning in June... Tejpal turned right into Bisrakh, where a developer called Valencia homes had begun the construction of an apartment block.
The car wound through narrow gullies... towards the ‘Ravan ka Mandir’... The temple was inside a large clearing shaded by a huge banyan tree at the entrance. At one end, I could see an old man, a sadhu with matted hair and some villagers catching up lazily on the morning gossip of Bisrakh. The temple was in a neat marble courtyard. I found that it was a Shiva temple. A woman was pouring milk over the lingam, which was made of brown stone. I joined my hands and bowed, slightly unsure of what to do, because I had been expecting that there would be a temple dedicated to Ravana, in a place where he is supposed to have been born... I heard the story of the temple from the sadhu.
The lingam is a swayambhu or self-formed and was discovered a few hundred years back, hidden amidst shrubs and undergrowth. It is an octagonal shaped lingam, two and a half feet of which is visible above the ground while another eight feet lies below the surface in a cellar. The Archaeological Survey of India discovered the cellar in the course of finding Painted Grey Ware in Bisrakh, which establishes its antediluvian antecedents. The mythology is that Ravana was a great devotee of Shiva and it is this lingam that Ravana worshipped before setting off on any conquest while he lived in Bisrakh.
My expectation of a temple dedicated to Ravana would probably be met soon enough, as a foundation of a temple in which Lord Shiva and Ravana would be the main deities had been laid by a Ravana Temple society and a five and a half feet statue of the half-demon king had been commissioned in Jaipur... The discussion about the temple and its legend was quickly wrapped up to give way to everyone’s favourite topic in these parts: land acquisition.