A journey to eight temples in Garhwal and Kumaon.
Uttarakhand — Dev Bhoomi, the Land of Gods, an abode to thousands of temples that grace the Himalayan landscape. Perched on towering hills, hidden deep inside dense jungles, set alongside a roaring river or tucked within a remote village, these temples are central to life in general, and culture in particular, for the people of Uttarakhand. Though they attract pilgrims from all over the country, their aesthetics and architectural beauty are undervalued. They represent the evolution of temple architecture in Uttarakhand. These architectural marvels, from indigenous wooden temples to magnificent stone structures built in inhospitable environs, are a testament to man’s devotion and determination to preserve his cultural history. They give a fair idea of the architectural ingenuity involved in building them.
Nag Temple, Ghodiappa
This small shrine dedicated to Nag Dev (God of Snakes), situated amidst oak and rhododendron jungles in Ghodiappa, around three to four hours hike from Deolsari, is a typical hill temple. Such small temples can be found peppered across the mountains. They are simple in design and revered immensely by the local people. They receive few visitors, save on certain days of the year, when they host a fair or special pooja that is attended by hundreds. This temple, however, is one of the remaining few that showcase the architecture indigenous to the hills. The sloping layered roofs topped with silver chhatris (replaced due to fear of theft) are now rarely seen, as old temples are routinely being reconstructed.
Bhadrakali temple, Molda
A three-storied tower-like gable-roofed structure, the Bhadrakali Temple in Molda is located around eight km from Barkot, on the Yamunotri route. Situated in the shadow of a massive mountain Bhadrai Danda, it is also known as Sahastrabahu ki Nagri. Several years ago, murti, conch, bell and weapons were found in a cave here. The Tehri Kings were among the patrons of this temple, as an inscription, dating back to 1883, belonging to Maharaja Narendra Shah, tells. The temple is constructed using deodar wood, as well as stones and has some interesting carvings on wood and metal. Bhadrakali, Baisar and Sainsar Nag are worshipped here. Such temples, built like towers, can also be found in Arakot, Chinwa, Paunti and Kharsali in Uttarakhand.
Raghunath temple, Pujaili
Another gable-roofed composite temple in the upper Yamuna valley is the Raghunath Temple in Pujaili. Made from deodar wood and stones, it is particularly noteworthy for its wood carvings on its door jambs. The carvings are done in a series of bands, decorated with floral motifs, snakes, deities, human figures and scrolls. It has features of a typical temple with a mandapa, a garhba griha topped with decorated chhatris, and a circumambulatory path around the garhba griha. Lime is used to bind the various elements of the temple with interlocking devices to provide stability and resistance to earthquakes. Temples with similar architecture are also found in villages like Gair, Deorah and Sarnaul, west of the Yamuna, in Uttarakhand.
Mahasu temple, Hanol
In the region of Jaunsar-Bawar, to the west of Yamuna, Mahasu Devta Temple in Hanol is one of the most important pilgrimage centres. Perched on the banks of the Tamasa river (the short tempered one), it is a striking example of the harmony between stone and wood-based architecture. While the shikhara is done in the Nagara style, it is deftly decorated with intricately carved wooden superstructures. Tiered conical canopies atop slated pent roofs topped by a kalash are added to the arrangement. The ornamentation is complete with dangling friezes and pendant corner bells that produce comforting music. The recently-built Pawasi Devta temple in Maindrath, around 10 km from Hanol, has similar features and ornamentation.
Sun temple, Katarmal
The worship of Sun has been a major practice in the hills for centuries. This is evident in the number of temples dedicated to the Sun God in Uttarakhand. Sadly, most of them are in a dilapidated state today, except the Baraditya Temple complex, in Katarmal, Almora. This massive tri-ratha temple has an impressive shikhara that was damaged during the Anglo-Gurkha wars in the 19th century. It is hollow from inside — a feature uncommon in Himalayan stone temples. The principal shrine is surrounded by a number of smaller spires with fluted amalakas. The deity worshipped in the garbhagriha is a wooden murti of Aditya, indicative of a wooden temple that likely preceded the current stone structure — corroborated by a carved wooden pillar and doors found here — on display in the National Museum, New Delhi.
Jogeshwar temple, Kumaon
Located in a dense deodar jungle, on the banks of river Jataganga, the Jageshwar Temple Complex is a venerated pilgrimage centre in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. This popular temple, mentioned in Manas Khand, was patronised by many dynasties, notably the Chand and Katyuri Kings. The temple was so wealthy that the Chand King, Kalyan Chand (1730-74), borrowed jewels from the temple to expand his kingdom. The major shrines in the complex are dedicated to Dandeshwar, Mrityunjaya and Jageshwar, with a host of other temples worshipping different forms of Shiva – Bageshwar, Baijnath, Bairavnath, Hatakeshwar, Baleshwar and Baneshwar. The earliest temples in the complex can be dated back to the 8th century and the region has seen waves of re-construction over the centuries, thereafter.
On the banks of river Gomati, and under the towering shadow of the Himalayas is the temple complex of Baijnath, located near the ancient capital of Katyuri Kings in Talihat. The beautiful temples, with Trisul, Maiktoli and Nanda Devi Peaks as a backdrop, have withstood the vagaries of time and onslaught of the Ruhella invasions. The main shrine in the complex is dedicated to Vaidyanath Shiva in the form of a lingam. The depiction of Parvati, made of grey chloride schist, is a marvel of art. Another sculptural element of note is a life-size image of Kal Bhairava in vilasasana seated outside the Vaidyanath Temple.
The temple in Kedarnath needs no introduction. It is one of the five Shiva Temples, collectively known as Panch Kedar. Legend: when Pandavas, during their penance in the Himalayas, found Shiva meditating in Kedarnath, He transformed into a bull and disappeared into the ground, but not before Bhima caught hold of his hump. This is worshipped in the form of a rock in Kedarnath. Likewise, other body parts appeared in different places and are worshipped — arms in Tungnath, navel in Madhmaheshwar, face in Rudranath and hair in Kalpeshwar. The stone temples in Kedarnath, Tungnath and Madhmaheshwar, blend seamlessly into the Himalayan landscape. In Rudranath, a hut houses the deity along with smaller spires with fluted amalakas, whereas in Kalpeshwar, a cave serves as the temple. Though the trek to Rudranath is considered to be the toughest, Panch Kedar, the temple in Kedarnath, with Kedarnath massif rising sharply behind the temple, could be one of the most audacious expression of human will. Though the temple is really crowded in the summer months, during autumn, it receives few visitors. You can wander in its vaunted mandapa and admire the sculptures of Pandavas in niches, feel its weathered walls, and submit to the tenacity of faith. The shikhara lighting up a bright golden and blinding snow clad peaks behind remain in your memory.
1. Wooden Temples of Uttarakhand by Richa Kamboj
2. Kedarkhand Hema Uniyal
3. Manaskhand by Hema Uniyal
4. Art and Architecture of Uttarakhand by O.C Handa and Madhu Jain