In the Land of Mahabharath – Temples of Uttarakhand

Those sparkling snow peaks swirling diamond dust in the bluest of skies, those majestic and divine deodar trees preserving age old silence and those green blue ribbons of water, flowing down the mountain slopes with noise and gust, full of inner joy !

 

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Himalayas as seen from Tunganath. Picture courtesy : Wikipedia

 

Himalayas, from ancient times have been revered as a sacred land of spirituality. Though it forms the northern boundary with China and central Asia, it was never a route of invasion and assault because of difficulty in access. The traditional protector of Indian landmass stood tall and wide exuding purity and silence.

Himalayas starts from  Kashmir valley and ends in the Meghalayan foothills, stopping just short of Bay of Bengal.  Spanning 2400 kilometres from North-West to South-East of Indian subcontinent, Himalayas have a very special and unique position both in geography and in people’s mind. Geographically it segregates India from rest of the North Asian landscape, culturally it is the sacred abode of Gods. For millions of Indians, Himalaya is known as Devatatma which literally means someone with a divine soul. True to meaning., there are several places of worship, several gods and goddesses, several forms of worships and not to forget several structures of worship adorning this huge mountain range.

Uttarakhand , the part of middle Himalaya, is nestled between Himachal Pradesh and Nepal with its foot hills touching the north Indian planes in Uttar Pradesh. The western part is Garhwal and eastern part is known as Kumaon.  In Uttarakhand, we find several places which have close association to the story of Mahabharata and people in the legend. For example, Lakhamandal is where the infamous sabotage of burning the Pandavas happened. Swargarohini is the peak from where Pandavas embarked on their heavenly journey. Not surprisingly a horizontal section of Himalayan ranges  is also  known as  Mahabharat range

 

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Lakhamandal. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

Our tradition tells us that Mahabharat is the fifth Veda and by itself an Itihas; the story as it happened. These villages, temples and rivers all take us to that era, just a little more closer to our ancestors.

The western part of Uttarakhand bordering Himachal is nourished by waters of Tons and Yamuna. Rupin and Supin rivers come together from lofty valleys to form the Tons or Tamsa. The Jaunsar-Bawar region of Uttarakhand and the villages of Netavar, Osla and Jakholi have interesting legends associated. As the people of this region believe, this is the land of Kaurava, the Kuru race from Mahabharat times. Mind you, Pandava brothers although technically Kauravas, are not celebrated here but it is their defeated cousins, the sons of Dhritarashtra who are worshipped in this land. One can find several temples dedicated to Duryodhana and a few to Karna !  The victorious Pandavas being ’other’ party are not treated as Gods, but it is their able opponent, the prince of Kuru kingdom, the eldest of the Kaurava, Duryodhana that is their object of prayers! Duryodhan temples are found at Jakholi, Osla, Gangar and some other places. Devra and Netawar in the same valley has a temple of Karna, Duryodhana’s best friend and eldest son of Kunti, also a celebrated Daan- Veer. There is a Karna temple at Karnaprayag too.

 

Duryodhan temple at Osla
Duryodhan Temple at Osla. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

 

Karna Temple at Devra
Karna Temple at Devra. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

It will be interesting to note that polyandry, famously followed by queen Draupadi in Mahabharat is somewhat common in this region. At times, the locals insist that these temples belong to Someshwar, a form of Shiv. However this is done to shield the real deity as it is against the popular belief.

The beautiful stone and wood Himalayan temples are breathtaking. These temples are generally built in multiple chambers placed in sequence. The temple pinnacles  are inverted metallic cones and sloping four sided roofs balanced on top of each other. The beautiful wooden carvings give a very ornate look to the entire structure.

For more details of architecture of Himalayan temples read :

Himalayan Temples – A Himachali Sojourn

Many of the villages in the region are away from roadways and can be reached only by foot. This difficulty in approach has worked in their favour as the cultural beliefs and legends have been preserved from strong influences. like, waters of Tons river are thought to be the tears of the residents when they mourned the loss of Kauravas in Mahabharat war.  As everywhere in India the legends and traditions have traversed across centuries and even today Tons river water is not used for drinking. Yamuna forms the eastern boundary of this land of Kaurava.

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Picture courtesy : here

Central Garhwal is the spiritually important region of Char Dham Yatra.  Yamanotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath are the four places of utmost importance in Hindu pilgrimage.

Yamunotri is the temple site marking the origin of Yamuna River higher up in the mountains. This temple has been reconstructed several times because of the geological instability in the region. Gangotri  Temple is a 19th century addition by a Nepali commander. Ganga River originates farther up at Gaumukh which is the snout of a mighty glacier. The five holy confluences of Mountain Rivers with Alaknanda are also important landmarks of this divine region.  Needless to say there is a temple at each of the confluences either for the river or the divine destroyer Shiva !

 

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Lakhamandal. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

Kedareshwar, one of the 12 Jyotirlings is not a shivling but a conical round shaped stone jutting from earth. It is supposed to be the hump of the bull whose body has sunk in the ground. Lord Shankar took the form of a bull to run away from Pandav brothers who were seeking his blessings after the war. The other parts of the body appeared at 4 more places close by, namely Tunganath, Rudranath, Madh-Maheshwar and Kalpanath. These are the famous Panch Kedar in the Himalayas.

The Kedarnath temple has stood the test of time for last 1200 years. Built at the height of 3300 meters, overlooking the lush green Mandakini valley and being guarded by Kedar Mountains, the temple is the rugged example of Nagar style stone temple architecture. With minimalist ornamental carvings, the temple is an impressive ‘tri-rath’ black stone structure. The 2013 deluge of June washed away the entire Kedarnath town but the temple stood still.

 

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Kedarnath

 

Badrinath or Badri Vishal is the supreme place of Vishnu worship. The temple of Badrinath, with a boisterous flow of Alaknanda in the vicinity is a riot of colours.  Badrinath is also one of the Sapta Badri, seven places of Vishnu worship in the region, the other being Bhavishya Badri, Yoga Badri, Dhyan Badri, Narsimha Badri, Vriddha Badri and Adi Badri. All 4 major ‘Dhams’  literally close their doors for icy winters in Himalayas after Divali in the month of Kartik. The temples reopen at the start of spring mostly on Akshay Tritiya in the month of Vaishakh , sometime in May. The essence of the deity is carried to the lower hills at designated places during this hibernation. However it is not uncommon to find some holy monks still keeping company to Kedarnath , all surrounded in large mounds of snow during the ‘Shishir’ winter !

Yamuna is closely associated with Krishna’s childhood and  Krishna is one of the Vishnu’s Avatar. Ganga is closely linked with Kedar or Shiv as she descends on earth through his knotted hair. And Uttarakhand is blessed to be home to these symbols of traditions carried forward for thousands of years. Hence, fondly also called Devbhoomi.

Moving further to east, Kumaun region of Uttarakhand takes its name from Kurma – an incarnation of Vishnu; the turtle. The green landscape with rolling gentle slopes and sapphire lakes, the pretty valleys of Binsar or Ranmgarh, the chirping jungle lore of Pangot and marvellous locations of some of the most enchanting temples, Kumaun is soothing to eyes and senses.

Jageshwar is a tiny temple town. You travel through lovely green hills and through dense Pine forests, high and mighty, reaching for the sky, just right to form the most naturally majestic courtyard for the supreme deity Shiv, the divine destroyer, the sage of the sages, the creator of letters and god of performing arts.

 

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Jageshwar group of temples

 

In ancient times, this was the starting point for pilgrims who would travel to Kailash, the ultimate abode of Shiva.  Crossing the high mountain pass, reaching to the land of Tibet and traversing the dry cold valleys of higher Himalaya to attain and see the majestic site of Holy Kailash mountain and touch the heavenly blue waters of Man Sarovar. What a journey!

 

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Jageshwar group of temples

 

Dandeshwar temple is akin to the catchy opening chords of an enchanting melody. The temple stands erect without any rath formation on its outer walls. There are small shrines of Kuber and Varun in the same premises.  A little ahead is Jageshwar temple complex. Some texts treat it as part of 12 Jyotirlings and some don’t.  The crowded campus of Jageshwar have several small and large temples.  There are several open Shiv lings and ritualistic tanks within the premise.

 

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Dandeshwar

 

Apart from Shiv and Vishnu, Uttarakhand is also home to an exquisite sun temple at Katarmal in Kumaon. The Kosi River flows nearby and this beautiful piece of architecture stands erect on the slope of a high mountain.

Katarmal Sun Temple – Interesting, Intriguing, Invisible

The goddesses have also left their mark in this land of pines. Kalimath, an important pilgrimage is home to Kali worship. Nanda Devi, the charming princess of the region has temples at Almora, Koti and many other places. Nanda Devi Jat Raj is an important pilgrimage for whole of Garhwal and Kumaon organized every 12 years. Nanda Devi peak in Kumaon stands tall blessing the valley and beyond. Naina Devi temple at Nainital is a Shakti Peeth, where Sati’s eyes fell down on earth  while Shiv fiercely danced to a Tandav, holding a dead Sati in his arms, in eternal agony and grief of losing her.

Apart from these mainstream deities and river goddesses, Uttarakhand has not forgotten its local and native divinities. Travelling though Kumaon , you come across a temple of Golu. The temple structures are simple , sometimes newly constructed and painted ugly cement creations too. But the vibe at these places is nothing short of divine. Garhwal region has a powerful local deity called Mahasu devata. Beautiful three chamber temple with Pagoda style roofs at Hanol signify the importance of Mahasu Devata in local mind.

 

Mahasu Temple
Mahasu Temple

 

Himalyan stone temples follow same style of architectural elements almost everywhere. Right from the three faced central carving on shikhar to a line of semi circular carvings on adjoining walls of shikhar, one can find similarities throughout. Almost all have compact niches on the outer walls of temple for sculptures.

Another important aspect of Himalayan temples is the cluster in which they appear. From Laxminarayan Temple complex in Chamba to Jageshwar in Kumaon, from Adibadri in Garhwal to Lakhamandal in Western Uttarakhand, all of them can be classified as temple clusters. There are a few bigger ones and then there are several small temples strewn all around the premises. Several deities give company to each other in these temple clusters.  However what we don’t see are imposing enclosures as seen in other temples in India.

Though populated with deities, if you ask me, the green meadows, the land locked sapphire pools of water, the tall peaks turning golden in setting sun, the fresh pine scented air and the silence of the woods giving solace to your mind is the real and ultimate place of worship …. Himalayas itself are a temple!

 

All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise

Author – Manisha Chitale

She can be  contacted at manishachitale@hotmail.com

 

 

 

Munsiyari Tribal Heritage Museum – A Bhotiya Love Affair

While strolling through the remote villages of Tehsil Munsiyari, shaded by the mighty Panchachuli and nestled in the Johar Valley of Kumaon region of the state of Uttarakhand, the remoteness of the region hardly escapes your notice. The sublime valley was once a bustling trade route to Tibet inhabited by the Himalayan trading and herding community, the Bhotiyas. Also known as Shaukas or Joharis, they followed barter system by exchanging produce like grains and  jaggery for commodities like salt and wool.

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Cover picture and the above picture credit : Atul Misra

The laidback Bhotiyas did not know the locks and metallic bolts of modern times. So, how did they keep their belongings safe? With the aid of two ingenious contraptions, Taal and Gareli. Their’s was a crafty system devised out of a sickle shaped key and  lock in shape of a wooden block called Gareli. Two parts of a wooden door were fastened with a long piece of wood, with the help of a sickle. How innovative !

Setting:

The Bhotiya houses had wooden doors with two panes. In the middle of the plank a rectangular  port of about 1 ½ “ x 1 ½ “ was made. This looked like a key hole .

The inside panes had a block of about 1’x1’x 4-5’ dimension .This back side block housed the locking rod; the Gareli. Holes were made in the block for the Gareli to slide in.

Contraptions:

Gareli – the sliding rod crafted out of wood  was fixed on the inside of the panes. This was the lock that slid in the grooves crafted in the middle of the panes and would lock both the panes together.

Taal  – was an iron rod like a sickle  which  was used to slide the lock in the slot. The size and curve of individual Taal varied with individual houses so that no body could break in.

Mechanism:

IMG_0405The caretaker points out the port through which he will insert the Taal.

IMG_0406He puts the taal inside the hole and thus starts the lock down procedure.

IMG_0407As he  pushes it in further, the taal lifts the gareli and slides it inside the hole made on the inside of the block fixed to the frame.

IMG_0408Voila ! The door is locked !

IMG_0409And this is the key!

Taal also had another use. It was used to immunize the children. During winters on the day of festival called Vishu- tayar when there was a no – moon on a Monday, Somavari – Amavashya, the pointed end of the taal was placed into the fire and with its heated end the belly of children near the navel was pricked. The treatment was called Taal- Bhutai ( burning with the hot end of taal) and it was believed that it immunized the children from certain ailments. Perhaps it locked out bacterias and germs. Well maybe the kids were relieved  when Taal and Gareli were replaced by regular locks and bolts. Godrej definitely is !

You came across this unique door locking system at the Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsiyari. You have visited many museums; some have added to your knowledge, some have wowed you with their displays, few have baffled you with their archaic rules and regulations but most have stayed fresh in your mind because of their uniqueness.

The Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsiyari is one such museum. The museum is Mr. Pangti’s dream to document the fast disappearing way of life of the Bhotiya community. Bhotiya is a generic term employed by the Britishers to denote the communities coming from a common Tibeto- Burman family .

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The Sino- Indian war of 1962 and the Chinese occupation of Tibet abruptly ended the Tibetan barter trade and gave a deathblow to the prosperity of the region and the culture that depended on it. Though they were given the status and benefits of being a Scheduled Tribe via a notification dated 1967, many members migrated to cities in search of a better life.  Even those who were left are slowly loosing their traditional way of life.

Mr. Pangti has striven hard for the conservation and preservation of this dying culture of the Joharis. He has done it by collecting and showcasing the various aspects of this folk culture in a unique museum set in eye ball to eye ball contact with the Panchachuli range

 

You are humbled by the man’s love for his community and the passion to document every aspect of the Johrai culture. You are amazed by the organization of the displays at the museum…..humble it may be but not poor!  The ornaments, the implements, the artifacts, the tools of weaving and agriculture, the baskets, the clothes, the weights and measures, the richly carved doors and windows are explained to you via an excellent audio guide. You walk along listening to the guide and you feel you are rubbing shoulders with them in their Johar valley.

Author – Aparna Pande Misra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com

 

 

Rejoinder – Katarmal Sun Temple

In one of our earlier posts on Katarmal Sun Temple, author Shubham Mansingka, after a visit to the Sun Temple in Katarmal village in Uttarakhand, wondered if ASI did anything more than put a few boards here and there. In response to his query, Mr Niraj Kumar Verma from ASI spoke to us thus :

What you see today at Katarmal is a painstakingly restored cluster of temples. Perched at 2100 mtrs working here was not easy and nor is subsequent maintenance. Add to it the fact that Katarmal village faces water problem (quiet surprising as the river Kosi flows nearby). When restoration was going on water was being bought all the way from Ranikhet road, a good 57 kms away. After installing benches, ASI also decided to build a toilet as the location of this temple is quiet obscure but it remains non-functional due to the lack of a proper pipeline. Except for one Naula (traditional water tanks prevalent in the region) the village has no other source of drinking water. This Naula is again located 2 to 3 kms away from the village. Harsh climate and a difficult terrain just adds to the problem of transporting materials as well as water to and from the site. The reason why there is no drinking water facility at the temple cluster. Few boards were placed approximately 12 years ago with the intention of increasing tourist flow to this rare Sun Temple which is otherwise hidden from plain sight. Yes, no work has been done post restoration and the site is not manned due to a host of reasons but this should not take away from the hard work done earlier by dedicated personnel.

Virasat-E-Hind applauds the wonderful work done by the ASI in restoring the Katarmal Sun temple cluster to its former glory in such difficult circumstances. We take this opportunity to request our readers and friends to not just visit this unexplored gem whenever they are next in Uttarakhand but also understand why this place is not manned by a guard or lacks in basic facilities and so behave responsibly there.

Below are few pictures of the temple complex and its various shrines before and after the restoration work done by ASI

 

All the pictures are courtesy Mr. Niraj Kumar Verma. He can be contacted at nirajverma1974@gmail.com

Zehra Chhapiwala

Team Virasat-E-Hind

I can be contacted at zchhapiwala@gmail.com

Katarmal Sun Temple – Interesting, Intriguing, Invisible

passerby mentioned the name ‘Surya Mandir of Katarmal’ when I was whiling away my time in Kasar Devi near Almora in Uttarakhand. I had earlier thought that Konark was the only Sun Temple in India but over a period of time it was known that there are Sun Temples in Modhera, Gujarat, Martand, Kashmir and also in the small town of Osian in Rajasthan.

Katarmal is a small village that lies on the Ranikhet road in Kumaon and the temple can be accessed by a 20 minute walk from the main road. We set off on a Royal Enfield Motorcycle from Almora in the morning and were pretty famished by the time we reached the hamlet of Kosi. I was quite excited about the prospect of seeing this 12th Century wonder that was said to be left half built.

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Legend says that ‘It was built by the Pandavas in one night and when the first rays of the morning lit the sky, the construction was halted and it has remained so ever since. This is the land of the lores of Pandavas. That and the fact that the terrain of this region has proved to be uninviting for the invaders. Except for an abortive attempt by a Rohilla chieftain and the Anglo-Tibet war, Kumaon has not witnessed any major battles. Though the region has always been engulfed by internal strife between the Kumaonis and the Garhwalis.

A dilapidated signboard by the ASI on the dirt track increased the sense of wonder and the first glimpse of the temple complex did not disappoint at all. It was a grand and colossal structure that oddly reminded me of the Parthenon in Greece!

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There were 44 small temples surrounding the main shrine but none of them had any idols inside them. Some of them seemed to have been damaged in an attack but as I have mentioned there is no history pertaining to the same. Some of the smaller shrines seemed to be leaning, while one of them was only balanced on a single pillar. I wondered if the Archaeological Survey of India did anything other than just putting up 3-4 boards in and around the temple complex.

From 7th Century AD to 12th Century AD Kumaon witnessed a sustained period of great temples being built by various rulers. The Katyuri dynasty has been credited for most of them, and even this Sun temple was built by the Katyuri king Katarmalla. The main deity of the sun temple is Surya –  called Vraddha Aditya (Old Sun God) here.

 

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Vraddha Aditya or Surya, the main deity. Picture courtesy: Mr Niraj Kumar Verma

 

The temple is perched at a height of 2100 m on a small hillock with an endless view of the valley on the front side. It has been designed such that on few days especially during the equinoxes, the first rays of the sun fall on the deity inside the Garbhagriha. There’s a small hole punched in one of the temples from where the first light permeates through and casts its light on the idol making it a glorious sight.

 

An azure sky behind the main temple creates a perfect backdrop. The setting is quite spectacular with a cool breeze blowing even on an otherwise hot day in May.  Various temple pieces like the Amalakas are found scattered in the courtyard. There is a spectator too, a lone tree that continues to witness the glories and vagaries of time. 

 

The temples of Kumaon from this period used huge stones instead of bricks, some of them so humongous that only the Gods are believed to have carried them so far ! (Perhaps thats why the local legend of so many of these temples to have been built by the Pandavas). These stones were quarried from the nearby valley and hauled upto the site where they were cut and carved. This temple is said to be one of the biggest and tallest in the entire Kumaon region. The style of architecture of the temple is Nagara style.

 The temple had intricately carved wooden doors and pillars that were shifted to the National Museum in Delhi after the theft of a priceless 10th century idol from the temple premises.

 The wooden door and pillars of the Katarmal Sun Temple displayed at the National Museum in Delhi. Pictures courtesy: Mr Niraj Kumar Verma

What really surprised me is that inspite of being both a rare and renowned heritage site with close proximity to the very touristy Almora, we met no other visitor during the time that we were there. There was no restaurant or dhaba near the temple and it sure looked like a place that no one cared about.  As a nation, we really don’t seem to be quite proud or caring of its rich heritage and culture. The same tourists who go gaga on seeing monuments when in a western country are not even aware of the rich architectural heritage that lies in their vicinity. Although I must admit; the monuments in our country are rarely well maintained and even basic facilities sometimes don’t exist at heritage sites.

Author – Shubham Mansingka

The author is a travel blogger and can be reached here