Temples of Himachal
View from Naggar Castle
Naggar was the ancient capital of the kings of Kullu for about 1,400 years.We were booked to stay at the Himachal Tourist Bugalow which was situated in the castle and was simply known as “The Castle.” It is situated on the left bank of the Beas river. We climbed up a windy road and at last reached the castle which was perched on top of a crag overlooking the village. The best view of the castle was actually from the road as we climbed but even the views from the other side were spectacular. Since it was a protected monument only those who had booked could go in. Others had to pay a small fee and could enter only at certain times. We walked down the cobbled courtyard and were shown to our rooms. Arvind and Chela had a huge room which could have happily accommodated at least 15 people with a tapestry bed and carpets etc. Unfortunately it was facing north and was as cold as a morgue. My room luckily faced east and was as cozy as a room with 15 foot high walls could be. I had hardly settled in when my companions followed me and took the identical room next door which was much warmer. Just outside was a wooden balcony with railings which overlooked the magnificent snow mountains. They were so close that I felt that if I leaned over the railings and stretched out my hands I could touch the peaks. Tearing my gaze away from the peaks I noticed that we could also see the river meandering its way across the valley and the villages which dotted the opposite banks. Altogether it was an incredible view. The rays of the setting sun were tingeing the peaks with red and then gold and then pink. We sat on the benches and watched while the last rays of the setting sun faded reluctantly from the peaks and the beautiful twilight set in. This place was the coldest that we had been in so far and the open air restaurant got uncomfortably cold while we had our typical Himachal dinner. The restaurant had a fantastic tree in the middle of the cobbled courtyard which shaded us from the morning sun when we went for breakfast the next morning.
There was a very interesting temple right in the castle itself which was open only in the mornings. So this was our first port of call. It was known as Jagatti Patt. When the pujari opened the door we were surprised to find a huge block of stone in the place of an idol. The stone was about a foot high and filled almost the whole of the room. The stone was known as Dram Dhog and it had a very interesting legend connected with it. In ancient days one of the kings had married a princess from a far off land. She was very homesick and longed to have something from her own land. She prayed to the gods who took pity on her and took the form of a swarm of bees and carried this huge rock all the way from her land and placed it here. They settled on this rock and to this day, the rock is worshipped as being divine. No doubt the princess was also very happy.
Jagatti Patt Temple
A 5'x 8'x 6" block of Brigu Tung hill known as "Dram Dhog"
is worshiped at Jagatti Patt Temple in the Naggar Castle.
The village devis & devtas in the form of a swarm of bees
miraculously carried Dram Dhog 16 miles from Bahang Village to the castle,
to comfort the young, home-sick Rani of Naggar.
Krishna Temple, Naggar
Our actual destination was the Krishna temple which we had heard about. High above the village set amidst the Devataru (Deodar) trees was a Krishna temple which we reached after quite a strenuous climb. There was actually a short route which we missed and climbed up the way which was being made for cars. There was a big wall round the temple and a door which led into the cobbled courtyard. The temple was right in front of us set like a jewel with the woods surrounding it and snow peaks in the distance. It was an ancient 12th century temple made of stone and wood and had no particular sculptures to make it outstanding but somehow it had an aura of tranquility brought about I felt by the lack of pilgrims. As I went through the door I felt that I had stepped into the past. The priest was sitting outside in the sun reading the scriptures and did not even look up as we arrived. I was most impressed by this and felt that he was really a noble soul who did his work for love and not for money unlike most temple priests.
I went inside and sat in the cold room adjoining the sanctum. Inside was a delightful idol of Muralidhara (Krishna with a flute). I sat and meditated for a long while my friends chatted with the priest’s son who spoke English. At last the priest finished his morning reading and came inside. By this time a flock of young college girls had arrived all giggling and chattering so he did an arati (waving of lights) and gave them some prasad. Then he went outside and sat down in the sun to do the yajna (fire ceremony). We were all set to leave but he beckoned us to sit and participate in the ritual. A hole had been made in the granite floor and this is where he did the fire ceremony by lighting some twigs and cow dung cakes. The fire burnt merrily and into this he poured ghee and other offerings. At last he finished and gave us all the nuts and dry fruits which we had brought as gifts. He courteously asked us to stay for lunch but we knew that it would be difficult to feed an extra three mouths so we refused. However we had an interesting chat with the son who had been abroad but preferred to return to his own home tucked away in this secluded forest instead of staying on in a modern town. He kept in touch with some of his friends by e mail and was successfully running a co-operative to help the farmers with their cultivation. Himachal was famous for its quality apples and many types of nuts. We would really have loved to stay on a little longer but we had to go on to our next destination which was the Roerich art gallery. This time we took the short cut back to the road.
Nicholas Roerich Home and Gallery
The Roerich Art gallery is only a few kilometers from the Castle. It was the originally the residence of Nicholas K. Roerich and his beautiful wife Devika Rani who had been a famous movie actress. He was a Russian nobleman who had settled in Himachal Pradesh after the 1927 revolution. He was a great artist and his dream was to unite the world through art. One of the things on show was the 1930 Dodge car of the artist who must have loved this place since he lived here for many years. The museum and art gallery was a whitewashed building placed in the middle of a beautiful garden in which there were many lovely sculptures. In fact we were struck by the beautiful statues which were just outside the gate, under a tree. The museum contained many of his paintings as well as those of his son and other Russian artists.
Just about 100 metres climb from the museum was the Uruswati Himalayan Folk Arti Museum which has a collection of local folk art as well as Russian folk art. Roerich and his wife set it up in 1928. The word “Uruswati” is a Sanskrit word meaning “Light of the Morning Star”, and it was made with the intention to provide a place for study and research on the traditional and Tibetan medicines and the ethos of this Himalayan region. The museum has many Russian musical instruments, painted dolls and dishes and oil paintings by Russian artists. There are stone carvings from Ladakh, Kullu, idols of gods and goddesses and a photograph of Buddha.
As went through the gardens I was wafted to another age and could almost see the dignified, gray bearded man walking arm in arm through that beautiful garden with his attractive wife who had been a legend in her time.
Kali Temple, Naggar
Shankar Temple Naggar
Tripura Sundari Temple, Naggar
The next day we set out for Manali. En route we went to the ancient temple of Gayatri Devi in a tiny village called Jagat Sukh. Surrounding this exquisite temple was a number of ancient 12th century temples dedicated to Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha. The Gayatri temple was well kept and had a priest attached to it but the other temples seemed to be taken for granted the villagers as part of their landscape and scant attention was paid to them. There was a school down below and children ran about screaming, totally disregarding these poems in stone. I was sad and felt that only in India would such ancient monuments be considered as commonplace. Perhaps this was one of the charms of India – the past crept into the present and walked hand in hand with it.
Gayatri Temple, Jagat Sukh
Gauri-Shankar Temple, Jagat Sukh
The next temple to be visited was the Hidimbi Devi temple set amongst picturesque cedar woods. It was a striking temple and our first sight was of a 24 metres tall Shikkhar or spire above the sanctum. This consisted of three square roofs covered with timber tiles. It was capped with a golden cone. The base was made of whitewashed, mud-covered stonework. The temple had intricately carved wooden doors with beautiful carvings of Durga.
The temple is actually made out of a huge jutting rock. Inside there is another huge rock with a tiny figure 3” high of the goddess. A rope hangs over the rock and according to legend, sinners would be tied by their hands on this rope and swung against the rock. Now of course the rope made it easier for us to descend to the hollow in which the figure was kept and climb up again.
Hidimbi was actually a rakshasi or demoness who had lived in these forests along with her brother Hidimba who had terrorized the sages who had built ashramas in this forest. The Pandavas who are the heroes of the Mahabharata had also lived in exile in this forest after their cousins had tried to burn them in a palace which had been specially designed with inflammable material. Bhima was the second one of the Pandavas and he was the strong man amongst them. Once the rishis had begged him to save them from the atrocities of Hidimba who was terrorizing them and even eating them alive whenever he managed to catch them. Bhima killed the rakshasa but fell for the charms of his sister Hidimbi and married her. Why she was deified is a mystery. Her only claim to glory was her son Gatotkacha who was a mighty figure with incredible strength and he had helped the Pandavas to win the war. In fact he gave his own life to save his uncle Arjuna.
The moment we came out of the temple we were beset with ladies carrying Angora rabbits and men with yaks. One of them offered her rabbit to me and I gratefully took it and draped it over my shoulder. Immediately there was a flash and someone took a photograph and the woman started to pester me for money! I had taken it only because I thought it was an offering of love never realizing that there was a mercenary reason! Arvind and Chela were badgered into having their photos taken, sitting on one of the poor sad-looking yaks. We returned back to Naggar by evening all set for our next days adventure to Dharmshala.
Baijnath temple was en route to Dharmashala so that was our next stop. Actually this word is a corruption of the word Vaidyanatha which means Lord of Physicians which is another name for Lord Shiva. Legend has it that this is the place where Ravana the demon king of Lanka worshipped Lord Shiva and sacrificed all his ten heads in the fire. Because of this Dussera is not celebrated here. That was the day on which Lord Rama killed Ravana and it is believed that Shiva would get angry if that festival was celebrated. In fact when it was celebrated a couple of times the men who were responsible for conducting it died violent deaths and this was accrued to being the wrath of Shiva.
The architecture of the temple is known as the Shikhara style which is more common in Orissa. It is enclosed by a huge wall surrounded by beautiful gardens. According to the stone slabs found in the temple, the foundation was laid by two merchants in the 9th century. The Shaka year 1126 which corresponds to 1204 AD is considered to be more authentic. Renovation of the temple was carried out in the 19th century.
We entered the inner courtyard after having walked round the wall. The sanctum is crowned by a conical spire. The lingam of Vaidyanatha is found inside this sanctum and is entered through a passage leading from the hall. It is a most impressive lingam and we sat for a while and meditated in this place. Many people come here to gain relief from their ailments since the lord here is the lord of Physicians. The water here is supposed to have curative properties and for many years the kings of Kangra got their drinking water from here.
There is a beautiful Nandi outside in front of the sanctum. One of the strange features of the Himachal Nandis is the fact that they all have a human being wrapped in their tails. This one was no exception. We really felt as if we had got a bonus of health after going to this place.
Another ancient shrine en route to Dharmshala was the famous Shakti Peeth of Chamunda Devi. Chamunda is the fearful form of Durga and the idol is said to be so powerful that no one can gaze at it with the naked eye. Hence it is always covered with a red cloth. Shiva is also said to be present here in his form as Mahakala or the Lord of Death. Lord Shiva is said to have enshrined Parvati at this place in her fearful form after he killed the demon Jalandara and hence this site is also known as Rudra Chamunda. In ancient times, animal and perhaps human sacrifices used to be offered at this spot.
The temple is supposed to be about 700 years old and has a big complex attached to it with a tank which is known as the Ban Ganga. Many people take a dip in the holy waters of this lake. There is also a cave at the back with a Shiva lingam.
The legend of how the goddess got this particular name is given in the Devi Mahatmya. The goddess Parvati had taken on the form of Ambika in order to help the gods to defeat the terrible demons known as Shumbha and Nishumbha. Once when she was sitting on a mountain peak, these two demons who had heard of her beauty sent their minions known as Chanda and Munda to go and solicit her hand in marriage. She sweetly refused the offer and told them to tell their masters that she had taken a vow that she would marry only the one who could defeat her in battle. Shumba and Nishumbha sent their armies to defeat her but they were in turn defeated. During the battle Chanda and Munda were causing havoc to Ambika’s armies so she frowned and out of her frown came the wrathful form of Kaali. She told her to go and kill the two demons. Kaali did as ordered and returned carrying the heads of the two demons – Chanda and Munda. Ambika laughingly told her that from that day onwards she would be known as Chamunda (Chanda and Munda).
As we entered the huge portals of the temple I felt very strong vibrations. We went and sat in front of the goddess for some time. Unfortunately we could not stay long since we still had a long way to go to our destination. It was indeed Her grace that we had been allowed at least this much of time with Her since this temple had not been included in our original itinerary. As we were traveling along the road to Dharmshala, we had been powerfully led to this place by the signpost showing the way to Chamunda Devi.
Shades of night were falling as eventually we made our way to Dharmshala. It is perched high on the slopes of the Himalayas against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar mountains. It is divided into two distinct sections – upper and lower with a difference of almost thousand meters in height. The upper section is known as Macleod Ganj and was originally reserved for the British as a refuge from the blistering heat of a Delhi summer. Now it is almost totally occupied by the Tibetans who had been displaced from their country and had to flee to India. The Indian government gave this to them and many of them have settled here and live a happy and peaceful life. It is also the place where the Dalai Lama resides.
Macleod Ganj is surrounded by dense pine trees and deodar forests. In the distance there is a magnificent view of the Himalayan snow peaks. Altogether nature has lavished her bounties of beauty on this town in which the Dalai Lama lives.
We had been booked into an exclusive Tibetan type guest house called Chonor House which apparently was built and run by the Dalai Lama’s brother. We reached there after a long and weary search but once we got there we felt it was worth the effort. Each room was furnished according to a typical Tibetan theme either of flowers, birds or animals. I had a charming room with birds adjoined by a balcony which overlooked the Dalai Lama’s palace from which I could hear the far off booming of gongs. Arvind and Chela had the animal room and were surrounded by leopards and tigers that hopefully did not growl and keep them awake.
Next morning we set out for the palace of the Dalai Lama. There were two main rooms which were open to the public and we sat and meditated for a while there. The second room had the electrifying statue of the Rimpoche whose eyes as usual penetrated into me even though I sat with closed eyes. There was another room filled with ghee lamps which emitted the sweet smell of burning ghee.
The whole complex was huge and Chela and I went to the Tibet Museum in which was depicted the long trek of those Tibetans including the Dalai Lama who had been forced to flee from their homeland, leaving behind everything they held dear. The photographs gave poignant details of their hard trek over the harsh terrain of the high passes of the Himalayas into India which had given them a sanctuary at this very place. The brutalities committed by the Chinese as they forced the Tibetans to flee in order to keep the shreds of their ancient way of life, was actually very reminiscent of the horrors of the holocaust which I had seen in the museum in Israel. It seemed incredible to me that in this age people could commit such crimes against their fellow men. Genocide is not a happy word. The Tibetans had a culture which was as fragile and delicate as a spider’s web. “Far from the madding crowd their sober wishes had never learnt to stray.” And now they had been forced into the spotlight of another culture which though prepared to give shelter and all help, yet to them was alien, unexposed as they had been to the external world. The previous Dalai Lama had prophesied that the present one would be the last of their creed. We stumbled out of the museum, our eyes blinded by tears, helpless to do anything for these lost people.
Outside many young men were lying on the ground, on a fast since the little boy who had been chosen by the Dalai Lama to be his successor had been forcibly taken away from his parents and teachers and incarcerated in a room in which he was being indoctrinated with Chinese propaganda instead of Tibetan scriptures! The world was well aware of what was going on since on that day Tibetans all over the world were undertaking a fast and begging the United States to step in and save the little boy. But so far no one seemed to be doing anything to save him and soon it would be too late.
Next we went to the market. Here of course we were really happy to see that the second generation of Tibetans led happy, healthy and quite affluent lives. They had little curio shops and restaurants and way-side stalls which did very good business since a stroll through this market place was a must for all those who came to Dharmshala. In fact you could almost believe that you were in some town in Tibet except that probably the Tibetan towns were not as prosperous looking. We found a purely Tibetan vegetarian restaurant run by monks which gave excellent food. Since vegetarian food is a rarity in Tibetan restaurants we were very happy to have found this one.
We were all sad that the Dalai Lama was not in residence. He had gone to Bangalore and was trying to get people to help him to rescue the little boy. Even if he had been there apparently we would have to undergo a three day examination before we would be allowed to see him. Next day as we were returning from the palace I suddenly spied a small golden salamander basking in the sun on a niche in the rock wall. It is considered very lucky to see a golden salamander so I called my friends to observe him. I shall narrate how lucky he was going to prove for my friends. Next day I left for Rishikesh by car and Arvind and Chela went to the small airport at Kullu to catch the flight to Delhi. As they went in they noticed that the place had been cordoned off since the Dalai Lama had just landed. As he came out, Chela in all innocence cut through the barrier and ran and fell at his feet. He looked at her with his compassionate gaze and blessed her. You can imagine what a blessing this was to her and how this particular incident was the crowning point of their Himachal yatra.
Dalai Lama Kullu Airport
My road on the other hand took me to the famous temple of Jwalamukhi which I had visited many years ago. It is fifty-six km. from Dharmshala. Jwalamukhi is one of the Shakti peethas and this is the place where Sati’s mouth fell (refer to the article on Sati for this story.) Thus she is known as the goddess of the flaming mouth since fire comes out of it. One of the ancient kings of Kangra, who was a great devotee of Durga, had a dream in which the goddess appeared to him and gave him directions to find this spot. He found the place and constructed a temple there. However the present temple was completed only in the 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his son Kharak Singh who also gave gold and silver to construct the dome and door. This temple was built on a very simple wooden platform and the architecture is said to be Indo-Sikh. The dome and spire were plated with gold given by the king and the main door was made of silver. The huge bronze bell in front of the temple was presented by the King of Nepal.
Hearing about the miraculous powers of this place, the great Moghul Emperor, Akbar came to see it for himself and tried his best to put out the flames but was totally unsuccessful in his attempt. He became very contrite and later came with a gold umbrella for the goddess but strangely enough, the gold changed into some unknown metal and it was taken as a sign that the goddess did not accept his offering.
The actual spot where the flames appear is no more than a small circle of about three feet in circumference. A short flight of steps leads to the grotto in which you see two small pools of crystal clear water, fed by natural springs. Three orange jets of flame flare steadily from the sides of the pool, just a few inches above the surface of the water which looks as if it is bubbling. However if you put your hands into it, it is refreshingly cool. The temple has no idol since the goddess manifests herself in her nine forms as nine eternal flames. These are Mahakaali, Annapurna, Chandi, Hinglai, Vindhya Vasini, Mahalakshmi, Saraswati, Ambika and Anjini Devi. The offerings to the goddess are made into this pit in which the flames are perpetually burning. The temple is guarded by the fierce looking followers of the great Tantric, Goraknath, who had many miraculous powers. Sometimes the priest throws some water into the pit and immediately a huge flame comes out which invariably makes the devotees gasp. To date no one has been able to unravel the mystery behind these flames which might be due to a natural jet of combustible gas. Indians are famous for their ability to see God in anything especially in that which is strange and miraculous and thus to this day we see the power of the goddess manifesting itself through these incredible flames. Many tantrics and seekers have been drawn to this place through the ages and many are said to have attained siddhis or supernormal powers by the grace of the goddess as did the great sage, Goraknath.
This was the last of our temples and I returned late at night to Rishikesh to the sanctuary of the Vanamali Ashram, saturated with the miracles of our Holy Land of Bharat.
Hari Aum Tat Sat