Temples of Jammu and Kashmir

Maa Kheer Bhawani Temple

Introduction

Hindu temples share certain core ideas, themes and symbols though they are of many styles adapted to different deities and regional beliefs. Their structural rules are described in various ancient treatises on architecture like Vastu Shastras and Bruhat Samhita while the spiritual principles underlying them are given in the ancient scriptural treatises like the Vedas, Upanishads and other texts. Temples are sacred sites which house the deity venerated and are meant to encourage reflection and contemplation, help in the purification of the heart and mind and facilitate the process of inner realisation within the devotee. One of the most famous temples in Jammu and Kashmir is the Kheer Bhawani temple. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Bhawani and is situated in the Tullamulla district 14 miles to the East of Srinagar. There are many shrines dedicated to this Goddess all over Kashmir but this one is the most famous one among them. The Goddess revered here is a form of Bhawani known as Ragnya Devi and this temple is considered as one of the most important temples for the Pandits of the Kashmir region.

History

According to legends, the goddess Ragnya Devi or Ragnya Bhagawati was pleased with the devotion of Ravana and appeared before him. He then got an image of her installed in Sri Lanka. But the Goddess became displeased at the life which Ravana was leading and didn’t want to stay in Sri Lanka. She is then believed to have instructed Lord Hanuman to secure the image from Sri Lanka and instal it at the holy spot of Tullamulla. Some other legends state that after the death of Ravana, the Goddess asked Hanuman to carry her to Satisar Kashmir along with 360 Nagas.   ‘Tul Mul’ is said to have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Atulya Mulya’ meaning great value. Others state that there was a mulberry tree near the holy spot which in local language is called ‘tul mul’. This temple has been mentioned in the 12th century Kashmiri Brahmin Kalhana’s Rajtarangini (River of Kings) which gives an account of the history of Kashmir. According to him, the existence of the holy spring came to light when a pious Brahmin named Krishna Pandit of Habba Kadal in Srinagar had a dream in which the Goddess appeared to him. She then informed him that she would assume the form of a snake and swim at the appropriate place where he should stick large poles to demarcate the holy spot in the marshy land. After these instructions were followed, with the subsequent receding of the water, the holy spot was discovered. This discovery of the holy spring was made on Ashada Saptami, the 7th day of the bright fortnight of the month Ashada (June/July). The name of the spring is Mata Ragini Kund (pond). With incessant offerings of milk and sugar candy made by pilgrims, a thick layer had accumulated at the base. When it was cleared, the ruins of an old temple and slabs of the shrine engraved with figures were discovered along with many images. It was only in the early 19th century that Maharaja Pratap Singh who was a devotee of the Goddess constructed a marble temple in the midst of the holy spring. Ravana is said to have offered the Goddess kheer (pudding) and hence the name came to be known as Kheer Bhawani. Swami Vivekananda and Swami Rama Tirtha have visited this temple to take the blessings of the Goddess. When Swami Vivekananda saw that the temple had been destroyed by invaders, he contemplated in his prayers that if he were present, he would have strived to protect the temple. Immediately he had a vision of the Goddess reassuring him that it was her desire that the temple be destroyed and become dilapidated. She then asked him if it was she who protected him or vice versa. She stated that if she so desired, she could erect a seven storey temple of gold. Swami Vivekananda then realised the truth that everything in the universe was God’s will and bowed down to her.

Temple description

A septagonal holy spring flows from West (head) to East (feet) and it is known to change its colour with various hues. A darkish shade of water is said to indicate inauspicious times. Around the temple is an area covered with smooth and beautiful Baramulla stones. Chinar trees have been planted beneath which pilgrims can rest.

In Scriptures

Two Mahatmyas (scriptures) are devoted to the Goddess Kheer Bhawani namely Ragniya Mahatmya and Shri Shri Maharagni Pradurbhava. In the latter one, details of the iconography of Goddess Kheer Bhawani, rituals of worship, hymns and homage are mentioned. Devotees are urged to contemplate on the image (Murti) of the Goddess, focus on her Yantra and recite her sacred mantras. According to Ragniya Mahatmya, those who meditate on her on the New Year Day (Navreh) are granted all their wishes. The night during which the Goddess was brought from Sri Lanka to Kashmir is called Ragniya Ratri and is a major festival among Kashmiri Pandits.

Maa Kheer Bhawani (Maharagni) Stuti

Yadvadasharka Parimandita Murtireka

Simhasanasthiti Mati Muragaih Vritam Cha

Devi Manakshagatimishvaratam Prapannam

Tam Naumi Bhargavapushim Paramartharaagnim

Meaning

One whose form is adorned with twelve rays

Firm upon a seat on a lion throne surrounded by snakes

Goddess ever moving possessing divine power

I pay homage to her, the Glorious Form, the Supreme Ragni

Kheer Bhawani Mela

The annual festival at the temple is the Kheer Bhawani Mela during the month of May/June on the occasion of Jyesht Ashtami. Havans and Yagnas are performed during the festival to worship the Goddess. Devotees walk barefoot, ringing bells and carrying rose petals. They offer milk and kheer to the spring within the temple complex. Muslims too participate by making special arrangements for providing water and juice enroute. They also set up stalls selling flowers and pooja materials for the pilgrims. This festival highlights the communal harmony and brotherhood that exists in the region.

Navratras

Both the Navratras celebrated twice a year once in Chaitra (Mar/April) and the other in Ashwin (Sept/Oct) are celebrated grandly here by all Kashmiri Pandits. Devotees visit the temple each day and offer prayers to the Goddess. The nine days are dedicated to the nine forms of the Goddess namely Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Maha Gauri and Siddhidatri. Fasts are observed and the holy book Durga Saptashati is read. Nine young girls (Kumaris) are then invited and worshipped as the Goddess herself and they are then offered food, money and gifts. Maha Arathi is performed on the last day.

How to reach

Air – The nearest airport is the Srinagar airport.

Rail – The nearest railway station is the Udhampur railway station which is at a distance of 130 km from Srinagar and Ramnagar Station which is at a distance of 138 km.

Road – The NH 1A connects Srinagar to all major cities of India. The Srinagar bus stand connects the temple to all major towns and cars and taxis are available to the temple.

Accommodation

There are hotels of every budget to suit the pilgrims.

Raghunath Temple

 Introduction

One of the biggest temple complexes is the Raghunath temple situated at Lui which is 18 km west of the city of Jammu in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It consists of seven Hindu shrines and was built by Maharaja Gulab Singh and his son Maharaja Ranbir Singh of the Jamwal Rajput clan during the period 1822-1860. The temple has many Gods enshrined in its complex but the main deity is Lord Rama.

History

From the 17th century to the 19th century there was a spurt in the temple building activity of Jammu. Spiral shaped temples with rising towers (Shikharas) crowned with bright Kalashas were built by the rulers. The entrance of the temple carries an inscription in Brahmic script (Takri) stating that Gulab Singh the ruler of Jammu and his brother Dhyan Singh built the temple in 1827 in honour of Mahant Jagannath though the construction was completed only in 1860 by his son Ranbir Singh. During his reign, the temple was said to be the centre of Sanskrit teachings to the Brahmin students. Many scriptures were translated into Hindu and Dogri languages at the translation centre which was established as part of the temple. Muslim scholars translated books on history and philosophy in Arabic and Persian languages into Sanskrit. Thus Maharaja Ranbir Singh took great initiative in bringing amity between Hindu and Muslim communities. A library is already housed in the temple with rare Sanskrit works and manuscripts.

Temple Description

The design features of the shrine are largely influenced by Mughal architecture. At the entrance of the temple there is a portrait of Maharana Ranbir Singh and an image of Lord Hanuman. The temple complex which has seven shrines is built over a raised platform at a height of 5 feet in an octagonal shape. The front fascia (vertical band under a roof edge) is 40 feet in width and has three entry doors. The main shrine is surrounded by the Pradakshina path (circumambulatory passage) and is 50 feet away from the entrance. The entrance door is set on one side of the octagonal chamber of the shrine and faces East. The main walls of the outer chamber have 15 panels. The entire temple complex has distinct stucco style embellishments built with brick masonry and finished with plaster. On three sides of the temple, gold sheets envelop the interior walls. The interior of the inner chamber is gold plated and the interior panels have depictions of the Jammu school of painting. It consists of paintings from epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita like the Sita Swayamvar scene, Vishnu reclining on Seshasayee and so on. They also have paintings of the secular saint Kabir and reveal the attire and weaponry prevalent during that period. The motifs crafted are geometric designs and floral in niches, arches and walls. The niches also have a rich abundance of well-crafted images of deities which were considered auspicious. The main shrine houses the sanctum sanctorum or garbha griha of Lord Rama who was the family deity of the then ruler and that of the Dogra residents. The shrine is in the Sikh architectural style with a dome instead of a shikhara in a pyramidal shape. All the seven shrines have gold plated spires. One of the shrines has a Shiva linga carved out of black stone. Another shrine of Lord Surya has various forms of the Lord. All the Gods and Goddesses in the seven shrines are related to the epic Ramayana. A number of Shaligramas are enshrined in the various enclosures.

Worship

Arathi is performed in the morning and evening and a number of pilgrims attend the daily worship.

Festivals

Dussehra

This festival is celebrated very grandly in the Raghunath temple as victory of good over evil in the battle in which Lord Rama killed Ravana. Pooja is carried out in a traditional way in the temple. The Lord’s silver chariot is taken out in procession from the temple to the parade grounds where the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnath are torched to the cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

Lohri

This festival is celebrated with religious fervour and gaiety at the Raghunath temple complex. A traditional bonfire is lit to mark a symbolic farewell to winter. Priests chant mantras and offer ‘Aahutis’ or holy offerings into the fire. Sweets and peanuts are exchanged at the festival. Prasad is distributed to the devotees at the end of the festival.

How to reach

Air – The nearest airport is the Jammu airport at a distance of 5 km from the temple.

Rail – The closest railway station is the Jammu Tawi railway station which is at a distance of 5 km from the temple.

Road – Buses, cars and taxis ply to the temple as NH1A passes through Jammu and connects with all parts of the state.

Accommodation

The temple is situated at the heart of the city hence there are hotels of various budgets to suit the pilgrims.

Wangath Temple Complex

Introduction

Wangath temple complex is an ancient group of temples located in the Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir in the village of Wangath. It is close to Naranag which is located at a distance of 48 km northwest of Srinagar in a dense forest of fir and pine trees in the lap of the Harmukh Mountains.

History

The Kashmiri Brahmin Kalhana in his Rajatarangini the Sanskrit historical chronicle of Kashmir and its Kings stated that Ashoka the Great, the Emperor of the Maurya dynasty whose kingdom covered most of the present-day Indian subcontinent built the city of Srinagari in the 3rd century BC. His son King Jaluka in 220 BC built the Wangath temples in three groups in the Wangath valley around the holy spring of Naranag which is a valley known for its scenic peaks, lakes, mountains and alpine meadows. He built a stone temple at the site of the spring Naranag in 137 BC. In 61 BC King Jayendra used to worship Shiva Bhutesha at the shrine and in the period 713-735 AD Lalitaditya Muktapida who was one of the most powerful rulers of the Karkota Empire of Kashmir region donated a large sum of money to the shrine after one of his victorious expeditions. In the period from 855-883 AD, King Avantivarman built a stone pedestal with a silver conduit (pipe or tube through which something passes) at this shrine for the bathing of the sacred images. Kalhana states that many Kings in various periods plundered the treasury of this shrine. A large number of priests were paid handsome salaries from endowments created for the shrine. Kalhana also mentions his father Canpaka and uncle Kanka frequently visiting the site. It is said that the ancient name of Wangath is Vasisht Ashram and the temple was said to have been formerly known as Sodaratirth.

Temple complex

The ruins of seventeen temple structures of various dimensions and ages can be put into two distinct groups. One group is on the western side and the other is on the eastern side. Each group lies at a short distance from one another and is enclosed by a separate stone wall. The temple complex is constructed of local grey granite and is located along the Kanka Nadi or the Kanak Nadi. There are a number of structures of a third group, the Mathas which stand between the two groups of temples.

First Group

The first group is the western complex of six temples. It is referred to as Shiva Jyestharudra or Shiva Jyeshthesa and is placed on high grounds. It is situated within an enclosure wall. It consists of a main temple of Shiva (Jyeshthesa) surrounded by subsidiary shrines. The principal structure is a square and has two entrances opposite each other facing the Southwest and Northeast. In the centre of the floor is a square unpaved space which marks the site of the pedestal of the image. The ceiling is dome shaped with a pyramidal roof.

Second group

The second group is the eastern complex of temples which is pierced by a two chambered gateway and is enclosed in a massive rectangular stone wall. The six temples inside the walls are partially buried in the ground and are in ruins. The largest temple which is the Shiva Bhuteshwara has a square base similar to the largest temple in the first group.

Central Pavilion

The structures of the third group lie between the Eastern and Western complexes which consist of the remains of a building with 30 monolithic bases or piers at intervals along the side of this structure. This is a Matha or pillared pavilion. Nearby there is an impressive rectangular cistern hammered out of a boulder.

Present Status

The temple has been declared as a centrally protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India.

How to Reach

Air – The closest airport is the Srinagar airport which is at a distance of 50 km to Naranag.

Rail – The Srinagar railway station is the closest railway station.

Road – Taxis are available from the temple complex to the Srinagar airport which takes four hours to reach. A number of tourists prefer to trek the distance.

Accommodation

Most of the tourists stay at Srinagar where there are a large number of hotels to suit various budgets. They then take taxis or trek to all the nearby places.

Conclusion

The temples of Jammu and Kashmir are of immense archaeological and architectural significance. Their roof styles, surfaces and columns differ from the temples in the plains. They represent the glorious past of various dynasties and their craftsmanship and religious patronage ensure that they have made a significant contribution to the cultural heritage of India. Thousands of pilgrims brave weather conditions and tough terrains to visit these temples and worship the various deities of the Hindu pantheon.

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