Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jagatsukh and Banahra

Temples of Jagat Sukh
The road-side village of Jagatsukh is located on the left bank of Beas about 15km from Naggar. This ancient village (old name Nast) assumes great importance as it was the capital of Kullu before Naggar. Mian Goverdhan Singh in his book, Wooden Temples of Himachal Pradesh mentions that there are seven temples at Jagatsukh. Penelope describes only two in her book along with mention of a number of stories about Jagatsukh. She gives a vivid description of a bungalow, built in 1880s, in the southern end of the village, for the ‘great father figure of Indian archaeology, General Sir Alexander Cunningham, who used it as his base for an expedition to Ladakh’ (this old bungalow located near present bus-stand of Jagasukh was owned by Pandit Balak Ram, then by an ‘eccentric’ English woman artist Mrs. Budd, and now by Mr Shafi). Penelope tells an interesting story about Jagatsukh, “It was here that, in the early sixteenth century, Sidh Pal met the goddess Hidimba, under the guise of an old woman, who prophesied that he would recover the kingdom of his ancestors. And it was here too that the dynastic name was changed from Pal to Singh, for when Sidh Pal was one day holding a calf for his Brahmin hostess while she milked the cow, a lion suddenly appeared which he killed on the spot and was from then on given the name Singh-lion-which he passed on to his successors”.

During my various visits to Jagatsukh, in late January and early February 2009, I could see temples of Sandhya-Gayitri, Shiva-Parvati, Jagannath, Rama, Jamdagini Rishi, Takshak Nag (Banahra) and Bhandar of Takshak Nag (Banahra) in company of Pandit Mehar Chand Shastri of Jagatsukh. In addition, we also climbed upto the Jagatsukh Fort of Pitti Rajas, also referred by Penelope.

Sandhya Gayitri Temple
The chronology of temples in Kullu Valley is difficult to understand, though there is a reference to an epigraph found in this temple by Hiranand Sastri (Historical Documents of Kullu, 1907-08) on two stone slabs referring to a date of construction around 1428 AD (Hutchinson and Vogel). Most probably, Maharaja Udharan Pal, 72nd Raja Kullu built it. Many authors believe that the present temple (Vernacular Temple) has been build in place of the eighth century original temple (Classical Temple), the relics of which can still be seen in the courtyard of the present one. This gabled roofed temple which has been renovated and modified several times, is covered with the slate roof and built on a rectangular platform.

In its present form, it is a stone and wood structure furnished with a pent roof and verandah. The front of the temple is stone-paved and a flight of steps lead to the wide verandah where the Pujari (priest) or his wife usually sits in sun in the winter days. The entrance into the temple is only about five feet high, so one needs to bend a bit. And those who do not do it, hit their head against the entrance and the lady Pujari then grumbles that the people of present era are losing faith in god and hence being punished right on their head. The present image in the temple is of Sandhya-Gayitri, personification of Rigveda in marble, probably ‘made in Jaipur’. The walls of the temple are made of rectangular stones laid dry in the alternate courses of stone and timber (Type 2). Perhaps for its stone dominated structure, Penelope categories it as a fascinating hybrid of Type 2 and Type 1.

The present day wooden carvings are very elaborate, intricate and innovative. Each verandah post is different from the other, perhaps a tribute to the work of village artisans of Kullu in the modern times. The ornate posts not only provide an aesthetic look to the temple, they also bear the dead weight of the masonry-work of the gabled roof. Overall, the wood-work bear the mark of still-surviving art of wood-carving which now, almost, is confined to the temples.

The best that I like are the verandah-posts (in wood) and lattice windows (in stone) on the side and back walls of the temple.

During my 1990 visit, I could see the detail of this temple as given in a photograph of Penelope’s book: “the lower stone is carved in the classical style, the upper part is decorated with nineteenth-century wood carvings”. It appears that the temple has undergone renovations since then and the lower stone can now (in 2009) be seen in the court yard.

A number of reasons contribute to the decline of the craft of wood carving: an ever-increasing debased aesthetic taste of local people (mostly influenced by Bollywood films and television); lack of patronage and funds, and shortage of wood.

A village fare, Chacholi mela is simultaneously held at the temples of five villages of Jagatsukh, Banahra, Khakhnal, Gojra and Bahnu on the full moon day (Purnamasi) of Chaitra (in February or March). The temple has two tall sactred poles (Dhwajas), indicating the recent renovations.

The illustrious archeologist Omacanda Handa makes a very appropriate comment, “Nevertheless, the deities of the people have been keeping the tradition of the splendid craft alive and going. For, if not the human being, the gods here stubbornly regard tradition, and, if left to them, they would not like to deviate from the traditional values and tastes. These temples hopefully provide a ray of hope for the traditional arts and crafts to survive”.

Gauri-Shankar Temple, Jagatsukh

A few yards behind the Gayitri temple is the location of this beautiful Shikhar (Type 1) temple of Shiva and Parvati (Gaurishankar). It is a very richly adorned temple. Penelope mentions its height as eight feet. It appears that the Archeological Survey of India has done a lot of renovation work here and now the temple looks of greater height than recorded by Penelope. It has a square garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) and a small portico with columns. The lady priest at the temple introduced me to the figures of Vishnu on southern side, Surya on the east and Brahma on the north.

The Ganesha is located just above the entrance door.

The upper part of both the columns are richly carved with floral designs.

Penelope describes, “Leaning up against the plinth are several image slabs of the same presumed early period-seventh to eighth century-as the carving still in situ, except for one lion of Durga killing the buffalo demon which may be of eighth or ninth century”. Despite my best efforts, I could not locate the Durga image. Presumably, this has been relocated or stolen.

Jagannath Temple, Jagatsukh

To the north of the Gayitri temple, a village alley leads to the Jagannath temple, which is relatively of recent origin.

The image of Krishna was brought from Jagannath Puri, hence the name Jagannath temple. Lord Jagannath and Rama (who is enshrined in a house across the street) are also part of the same village fare that is held at the Gayitri temple.

Views of Jagatsukh village from Banahra and Pitti Fort

Takshak Nag Temple at Banahra

This is about two hours uphill walk from Jagatsukh to Takshak Nag temple, located in the sanctuary of the cidar forest in one of the most beautiful and pristine sites.
The temple is on a rectangular platform and further strengthens the view that the fine art of decorative wood carving is still alive among the local villagers and the local deities are at the helm of its proliferation. The temple is of Type 2 i.e. built in the alternate courses of wood and rectangular stones.

The tiring walk to the temple is rewarded with a magnificent view of the background mountains, an extension of Hamta towards its right side.

Looking at the temple, I felt exhilarated. Sometimes, I do feel that I had photographed these temple before their renovation/modification so as to have a comparative account of the shape and structure of the temples.

There are a number of Nag (Cobra serpent) temples in the area. Powerful animals such as Cobras are often considered to be forms of God. The Nag temples are devoted to lord Shiva-the destroyer of all evils and built in the outskirts of the villages. The Takshak Nag temple has a Shivling in it and a place to perform Yajna to invoke divine favour for the welfare of the people and ward-off evil spirits and natural calamities. A village fare is held at this temple after two or three days of Docha Mocha fair in Beas Valley in May. Local people believe that the snakes come out of hibernation around Shivratri (March) time and gain their venom by Nag Panchami (August) when they are worshiped most.

View of Deo Tibba Peak from below the Pitti Fort in Upper Banahra

Takshak Nag Temple Bhandar
About a km walk from the Takshak Nag temple is the Bhandar (store-house) of Takshak Nag in the Banahra village. This is a double story building built with the stone and wood in alternate courses (Type 2). The main door is adorned with ibex horns. The belongings of Takshak Nag are kept in this store-house.
Patal Temple above Banahra
Despite my best attempts, I could not know much about the little temple built at the base of a huge monolith. Remarkably, the view of Jagatsukh village is simply breathtaking from here. The temple is said to be part of legends related to the old rulers of Banahra and Jagatsukh. Its location is very strategic if one starts on a trek from Shuru to Arjun Gufa to Patal temple to Takshak Bhandar to Takshak temple and then onwards to the base of Dev Tibba.

Piti Fort, above Banahra

It took me and Pt Mehar Chand Shastri to locate the ruins of the fort built by Thakurs of Spiti. Penelope mentions fifteenth century as its possible date of construction. Now only a few walls (upto two to three feet high) have been left at the site. The builders of the fort, the Lords of Spiti, notes Penelope, “had a penchant for offering up human sacrifices and for drinking human milk”. These facts are duly qualified by the similar kind of stories told by Shastriji. From here, I could take beautiful pictures of Jagatsukh and Beas river on my southern side, Manali on northern, and of beautiful Deo Tibba in the eastern side. Indeed, a very nice spot to be in.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gajan, Sajla, Khakhnal and Gojra

Temples between Naggar and Gojra on Left Bank of Beas
Penelope Chetwode undertook two treks from Shimla to Kullu Hills on hill ponies: once in September 1931 when her father was Commander-in-Chief of India. The second trek was in 1963-64 when she returned to India after more than 30 years. Penelope insisted to ride the pony even during her second journey from Shimla to Rohtang though most of the trek-route had been widened for lorries and buses to ply. Her book, Kulu, The End of the Habitable World switches effortlessly between the descriptions of the two treks. The narrative mostly contains her impressions of nature, pahari culture and excellent descriptions of pahari temples. Interestingly, she refers to herself as a mandir-mad traveler.

In her own words, “The twelve-mile walk or ride from Nagar to Manali is among the most beautiful in the world. To begin with the fertile valley is nearly a mile broad, but it gradually narrows as the mountains close in on either side. Torrents tumble into the alder-shaded river in a series of waterfalls and the track leads over frequent bridges through several villages with step cultivation in between and occasional deodar forests. At the northern end there is a great mountain wall, topped the snow ridge above the Solang nala, to the right of which is 13,400-feet Rohtang Pass. “

In January 2009, I decided to walk the walk which Penelope walked about 45 years back. I had seen and photographed some of the temples during my earlier visits to the area. However, Penelope’s well researched book provided me a lot of information to make a systematic effort to see the present state of the temples.
I started my walk from Mansari on the main Highway to Gajan village, now connected by a narrow link road. The road construction in these mountains has resulted in ‘ribbon development’ i.e. construction of establishments along the sides of the road. Most of the houses close to road are now concrete structures with flat roofs. During her second trek in 1964, Penelope notices that the appearance of buildings is being “spoilt by the substitution of corrugated iron roofs for the original precipice-slice tiles.” The landscape is still serene but being rapidly consumed by the cell phone towers and the towers for electricity transportation. The coming of hydel projects and roads have worsened the situation. Only such villages/houses which are away from roads are now left with slate-roof houses built in the indigenous timber-bonded style of Western Himalaya, which consists of alternate courses of dry stone and deodar beams.

Docha-Mocha Temple at Gajan (Type 2)
During her 1964 trek, Penelope tried to visit this temple but could not locate it. Later in 1979 and then in 1983 a French observer Ms Helene Diserens visited the temple and published her comments in Central Asiatic Journal. Another French Traveller Mr M. Postel visited this temple and wrote about it in his book Antiquities of Himachal. Dr Laxman Thakur of Himachal Pradesh wrote a short paper on this important temple in South Asian Studies in 1991.

The temple of goddesses Docha and Mocha is single-storied, constructed in alternate courses of dry stone and deodar beams on a rectangular ground plan.

The stone sculptures of goddesses are kept in the garbhagriha or sanctum sactorum of the temple. The two tankri inscriptions on the masks from nearby Karjan village confirm the name of Docha and Mocha goddesses.

It appears that the temple has been renovated recently. Remarkably, it has a lion (vehicle of Durga goddess) in the courtyard of the temple.

However, the most important part of the temple is six wooden sculptures which were either part of this temple or some unknown one. Recently, a new temple has been constructed very close to the Docha-Mocha temple and the wooden sculptures have been placed in a glass showcase. There are two male and four female deities. The main male sculpture (largest one) has been identified as Surya and the other male is his attendant Dandi (Diserens and Postel). However, Dr Laxman Singh identifies the later sculpture as Kuber, the lord of wealth. Both the male sculptures are carved as stand-alone statues while the four female carvings identified as Yakshis appear to be part of a pillar or wall of the temple. Chronologically, Diserens dates two male sculptures to ninth century and females to 10th and 12th century. Postel ascribes date of seventh century, i.e. post Gupta period to these sculptures. There are about four other stone idols stored in the new temple which need to be researched and dated.

Dr Hermann Goetz (1898-1976), a pioneering Indologist, wrote a beautiful book The Early Wooden Temples of Chamba and referred a lot to the temples found all over the Western Himalayas. He assumes that the statues of Docha and Mocha represent Scythian donors (late Gupta period)which are now worshiped as devis. On the day of Full Moon (Poornmasi) in Chait (March), a village fair known as Chacholi Mela is celebrated by the inhabitants of Gajan and Karjan villages.

Shiva-Parvati Stone Shikhar Temple, Sajla (Type 1)
This small stone shrine of Siva and Parvati is just outside the Vishnu temple at Sajla

It shares the compound of Vishnu’s chalet type temple and three tall sacred poles (see below).

The small temple contains images of Shiva and Parvati.
Vishnu Temple, Sajla (Type 2)
From Gajan, I climbed up from one terraced field to another enjoying the Solang Nala mountain view to reach the road-side village of Sajla. Four big cellphone towers have come up in this village (may see the picture on top of this blog posting). A small link road took me to the base of one the towers where I could see the beautiful temple of Lord Vishnu.

The compound of the temple is quite spacious and houses three tall sacred poles (locally known as Dhwaja), each denoting the occasions of renovations and re-installation of the deity. The pole is usually extracted from a huge Kail tree (Pinus wallichiana).
The chalet type temple with the Vishnu’s idol in its sanctum sanctorum has been renovated recently by the villagers’ contribution.
In afternoon, when I reached there, I could see the school classes being held in sun in the temple compound. A village fair is held here in the month of May.

Kartikey Temple, Khakhnal (Type 2)
Only about a km ahead of Sajla, on the main Naggar-Manali road, I had to climb up the village of Khakhnal to see this chalet type newly renovated beautiful temple. The location of the temple is simply breathtaking as I could have the full view of the mountain range above the Solang nala.
The temple has two tall poles in its compound denoting the renovations that it has undergone.
Next to Kartikey, I could see the image of Ganesh, his brother.
Close to the front door of main temple, there is an open hut for a Sadhu. As a coincidence, I could meet Baba Dhyan Giri, the current occupant of the Sadhu Hut, who told that he came from Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu), now living in Himalchal for past 19 years visiting and meditating in various temples and forests. Baba narrated the story of Kartikey as son of Shiv and Parvati with six heads, twelve hands but one body, all shown in the image in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
There are two Shikhar stone temples (Type 1) outside the main temple. One of them is almost in the hollow of a tree while the other one is next to the Sadhu hut. Another Chacholi Mela (village fair) is celebrated on the same date of FullMoon in March, simultaneously in five villages of Gojra, Khakhnal, Bahnu, Banahara and Jagatsukh.

Good to see the village school in progress, quite close to the temples sharing the magnificent backdrop of Solang mountains.
Baba also pointed out to a newly constructed temple of Devi on the slope above the Kartikey temple.
RamaSita Temple, Gojra
From the Kartikey temple, I came down to the main Naggar-Manali road and walked about less than a km to reach the adjacent village of Gojra.
The temple has a nice large stone tank, the three sides with niches for images of deities.

Penelope mentions, “…a large stone tank-full of watercress-to the right of the road, with carvings of the god Narsingh along the backwall. On either side are small sculptured panels showing the lion avtar of Vishnu and a lively nag (serpent) scene, while a vigorous pahari stone lion stands astride the spout which feeds the tank”.

On a careful observation, I could locate only Narsingh carving towards right of the lion spout. Most of niches now empty, I could not see any serpent.
I visited the temple of Lord Rama above the tank. The SitaRam temple is a chalet type temple with idols of Rama, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman.