Every trek in the Himalayas is a pilgrimage for me. I can feel the divinity of my soul as I spend the nights under the clear night sky and the days walking through narrow mountain paths forcing me to look inward and be mindful. Most of the spiritual places of worship in Hinduism are either in the mountains, often reached after crossing a difficult path or by the Sea where the saline air and water purifies the prana absorbing all negativity. Hinduism is always nature first, its just that we have diverged from that path over the centuries blindly following rituals which once upon a time emanated from a sense of spirituality. This time, I went in search of the Dev Bhoomi (land of the divine) in Himachal Pradesh visiting Temples in Kangra ensconced between the mountain ranges where the bells echo in the hills. Some of these Temples are known to be Shaktipeeths and the the others revered places of worship.
Legend of Shakti Peeth:
Lord Shiva was engaged in a celestial dance of destruction or Tandav holding the lifeless body of his consort Sati who had taken her life unable to bear the insult meted out by her father Daksha (Brahma’s son). Lord Vishnu at the request of the Gods used his Sudarshan Chakra to stop Shiva’s Tandav. The chakra cut through Sati’s body into 52 parts which were manifested as Pind’s ~ Devi Temples in different locations across India, Balochistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka. Lord Shiva is present in all locations in his Bhairav avtar along side the Goddess. The number of parts corresponds to the Sanskrits Alphabet (16 vowels and 36 consonants); a great way to remember body parts and sounds of our ancient language. Afterall, life is a series of experiences that we experience through this body.
All the temples are open daily between 5am to 9pm with a 30 minute to 1 hour break in the afternoon between 11.30 am -12.30 pm.
I am glad that I visited this temple in the evening; the atmosphere was surreal. The drums were rolling and the goddess was being worshiped with chants and incense. Also known as Kangra Mandir, locals believe this temple was built by the Pandavas. It may be true since Kangra was ruled by Chandravanshi Katoch Rajputs who trace their lineage to Trigarta kingdom referred in the Mahabharata. This is one of the Shaktipeeths where the Devi’s left breast seems to have fallen. She is worshiped as a “Pind” stone and covered in gold in the sanctum sanctorum. The temple was attacked by Mahmud Ghazni several times since it was abundant in gold. It was restored during Akbar’s rule but got a complete face lift by the endowments from Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The best part of the temple is its design of three domes including Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam in gratitude for all three faiths who restored its glory.This temple was also devastated during the 1905 earthquake but subsequently restored and taken care of by the government. The tree within the temple stands silent testimony to the hope of millions, each one tying a thread or a cloth in ardent anticipation.
That evening I joined a bhajan session in one of the temple halls where 2 young kids were dressed as Shiva and Parvati. They were part amused and part exhausted trying to put up a brave front.
How to Reach: About 1 km from Kangra Bus Stand. Walk, Auto, Bus and then follow the signs to the temple
Jwala ji as is locally referred to is the Goddess with a flaming mouth. It is a Maha Shakti Peeth among the 52 Shati Peeths where the tongue of the Goddess was found. She manifests herself in the continuous blue flame that emerges from the fissures around which the temple was built by Raja Bhumi Chand Katoch several centuries ago.
I loved the feel of the temple, there were hills all around as if the goddess was present to nestle devotees in her lap.
The temple complex comprises of smaller temples including a Gorakshanath temple. Inside the temple, the flames were leaping out of the area of worship which was continuously being doused with ghee by the priest. This place is a scientific wonder wrt the flames perhaps continuous burning of combustible gases seeping through the rocks; reiterating the fact that Hinduism is essentially worshiping nature. The domes were guilded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In the temple hall there is a beautiful idol and a decorated bed to put the goddess to rest every night with bhajans. In yet another hall, devotees were busy preparing a “Jyot” flame as a blessing of the goddess to carry it home.
A few steps up is the Gorakhnath Temple there is a pit with boiling water. Apparently, Guru Gorakshanath asked the Devi to boil water for him while he went in search of alms to prepare rice. He never returned, and was later found praying on the banks of Rapti River in faraway Uttar Pradesh in the foothills of Nepal. This place is now famous as Gorakhnath Peeth in Gorakhpur. The water is boiling till date in anticipation.
Anecdotes : The flaming goddess attracted Emperor Akbar who unsuccessfully attempted to douse the fire by pouring water and covering with an iron disk. Finally he surrendered and donated a golden parasol (chhatri) to the temple which immediately debased and changed color. Perhaps the goddess was not pleased with his cynicism.
How to Reach: About 1.5 hour bus ride from Kangra located 35 kms away. The temple is short walk from the bus stand. Can be done by car in about 45 minutes.
Chintpurni Chinnamastika Devi
It was blazing hot when I reached Chintpurni though it was not even noon. A glass of lemon shikanji helped me get my bearings right and I walked the 1.5 kms towards the temple. Vehicles are not allowed close to the temple to keep it easy for the scores of pilgrims who arrive here daily. I was relieved to see Gate No 1 and immediately started climbing towards the temple through series of shops selling puja offerings and halwa prasad. After about an hour and half of jostling with the crowd; often elbowed out by portly Punjabi aunties to my annoyance, I was there at her feet. One glimpse of the decorated Pind which is significant of the Goddess’s feet, my woes of the long queue were washed away.
It is believed that Sati Devi’s feet fell here and turned into a Shaktipeeth. I spent sometime in the courtyard and then descended through Gate No 3, literally walking on my toes to Gate No 1 to avoid the hot tarred road. If you are someone who is spiritually inclined then enter through Gate 3 as well, get a glimpse of her peacefully from the side window, meditate on her under the tree and find your inner peace. She is the mother Chinnamastika who holds a severed head to signify the separation of mind and body, freedom from ego and detachment from material desires. That long queue for her glimpse surely tried teaching me patience.
How to Reach: 1.5 hour bus ride from Jwalamukhi Bus Stand or a Taxi ride at half the time at 10 times the amount. It is also connected to Hoshiarpur and Amritsar in Punjab by regular buses. Amb is the nearest railway station. If you are driving down from Amritsar to Dharamshala travel via Chintpurni.
Chamunda Devi is the Goddess of Power. She acquired the name after eliminating the demons Chand and Mund. She is concealed behind a Red cloth in this temple located very close to Dharamshala. The best part is the huge lawn with benches and the tree in the centre of it where pilgrims rest for a while. The sounds of flowing water from the river close by and the ripples in the artificial lake next to the temple just adds on to the ambience. I enjoyed my evening watching the sun slip away somewhere into the Dhauladhar Mountain ranges.
How to Reach: About 15 kms from Dharamshala. There are regular buses from Dharamshala bus stand which will take about 45 mins. Taxi in 25 mins for Rs 300/
Kunal Pathri Devi
This temple is rarely visited by tourists though it is located about 3 kms away from Dharamshala bus stand. I walked to the temple in about in about 45 mins through the gentle ascents and descents of the winding hill roads. The air was fresh and the cool breeze on a May evening was more than welcome. The temple is about 10 minutes beyond the tea gardens that are most frequented by tourists. The first thing that struck me about the temple was the beautifully painted door way and facade in bright colors.
Inside the goddess is worshiped as a Pind with a flat stone beside. It is believed that a part of the skull (forehead) of the divine goddess fell here and hence the name Kunal Pathri. This temple is not mentioned in the list of 51/52 Shaktipeethas but it did infuse a sense of peace and calm that I was seeking. Walk around the temple for the forest views and sit under the trees to disconnect from the madding crowd.
How to Reach: About 3.5 from Dharamshala bus stand. Walk for about 45 mins to an hour. On return you can Take a Taxi and combine it with Tea Gardens and War Memorial for Rs 500 and can be done in an hour. It is on the connecting road to Gaggal Airport in case you are flying.
Lord Shiva is worshipped as Vaidyanath or a Physician in Baijnath. Located about 50 kms away from Dharamshala close to Palampur this temple was probably constructed in 1204 AD as per the inscriptions in the temple. The beautiful stone structure is located in a complex with lush green lawns on the banks of river Binwa (Binduka) a tributary of Beas. The steps that lead to the river side however refer to it as Kheer Ganga. The temple is built in Nagara Style and there are two Nandi’s in waiting; one sitting and one standing. I noticed the figure of a small human hanging on to the tail of the sitting Nandi; reminding me of the stories narrated by my grandmother about crossing the river to heaven (Baitarani) hanging on to the tail of a cow. The walls are ornate and the pillars distinctly carved having a strong resemblance to the ruins of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple within Kangra Fort. It is apparent that these were added by Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra Fort during his reign around 1783 AD as per the inscriptions in the temple. The Shiva and Parvati on the wall reigning on a bull is an unique carving.
How to Reach: Located about 50 kms from Dharamshala and Kangra close to Palampur, Bir/Billing. There are regular buses to Baijnath from all these location; will take about 3 hours. A taxi ride will complete the journey in around 2 hours.
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