Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kangra, Himachal Pradesh

   Kangra is a charming town located just 17 km away from Dharamshala, in one of the prettiest valleys of the Himachal. Brimming with lush green terraces and orchards, it overlooks a gushing stream known as Banganga. Once the ancient capital of a powerful hill state, Kangra was known for its magnificent temples and as a thriving centre for arts, in particular, the exquisite Pahari style of miniature painting that flourished during the reign of Raja Sansar Chand (1775-1823). Fine murals commissioned by the King are still to found in palaces and temples across this area. However, at Kangra itself, only a fort and a handful of temples remain, as a reminder of Kangra’s glorious past.

   Just outside the town is a beautiful temple. It is renowned for it is legendary wealth and craftsmanship. Dedicated to Bajreshwari Devi, invaders from the north systematically attacked this temple and Mohammed Ghazni is known to have looted a king’s Ransom in gold, silver and jewels in the year 1009. Destroyed completely in 1905 by an earthquake, the temple was rebuilt in 1920. It continues to be a busy place of pilgrimage even today. Stalls outside the temple provide everything pilgrims’ may need and also sell brass puja utensils, incense, sacred threads, flags and images of the goddess.

   Kangra is famous the world over for its astounding beauty. Surrounded by splendid valleys, it is dotted with several ancient shrines, making it a destination hard to resist for any traveler. A visit is an experience to be remembered.

Kangra Fort

   The Kangra Fort was built by the royal Rajput family of Kangra (the Katoch dynasty), which traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom, mentioned in the Mahabharata epic. It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India.


   The fort of Kangra was taken by the Mahmud of Ghazni in AD 1009. In 1337, it was captured by Muhammad bin Tughluq and again in 1351 by his successor, Firuz Shah Tughluq. But it was not completely subdued until 1622, when after a siege of fourteen months, it was conquered by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir who garrisoned it with his troops and appointed a Governor to keep the turbulent hill chiefs in check.

   In the second half of 18th Century, following the decline of Mughal power, Raja Sansar Chand-II succeeded in recovering the ancient fort of his ancestors, in 1789. But by carrying his ambitions too far he came in conflict with the neighboring hill chiefs, the Gurkhas.In 1804, crossing the Gadwall finally in 1805 the Gorkha army conquered Kangda valley across the Sutlej River after continuous fighting for three years. Till 1809 Gorkha Army conquered Kangda Fort. Subsequently in 1809 the Gorkha army was defeated and they had to retreat across Sutlej River. Concurrently as British East India Company was also in their expansion spree of colonization advanced up to Nepal’s the then border. Finally, with Maharaja of Punjab, Ranjit Singh was the conquerer of Kangra Fort in 1809. It remained in the hands of the Sikhs till 1846 when it was made over to the British Government, along with the surrounding hills. A British garrison occupied the fort until it was heavily damaged in an earthquake in the year 1905.

Around Kangra


   Jwalamukhi is a famous temple to the goddess Jwalamukhi, the deity of flaming mouth, built over some natural jets of combustible gas, believed to be the manifestation of the Goddess. Raja Bhumi Chand Katoch of Kangra, a great devotee of goddess Durga, dreamt of the sacred place and the Raja set people to find out the whereabouts of the site. The site was traced and the Raja built a temple at that location. The building is modern with a gilt dome and pinnacles, and possesses a beautiful folding door of silver plates. Under the gaze of the Dhauladhar range and set amidst the undulating hills that character sub-Himalayan Himachal Sati's tongue is believed to have fallen at Jwalamukhi and the goddess is manifest as tiny flames that burn a flawless blue through fissures in the age old rock.

   The temple located on a small spur on the Dharamsala-Shimla road at a distance of about 20 km from the Jwalamukhi Road Railway Station attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. No idol is located in the temple and the deity is worshipped in the form of flames which come out from the crevices of the rock. They are natural jets of combustible gas. There is a small platform in front of the temple and a(check usage) big mandap where a huge brass bell presented by the King of Nepal is hung. Usually milk and water are offered and the ahutis or oblations are offered to the sacred flames in the pit, situated in the centre of the temple in between the floor pillars supporting the roof.
   The deity is offered Bhog of Rabri or thickened milk, Misri or candy, seasonal fruits, milk. There is a mystic Yantra or diagram of the goddess, which is covered with, shawls, ornaments and mantras are recited. The puja has different 'phases' and goes on practically the whole day. Aarti is performed five times in the day, havan is performed once daily and portions of Durga Saptasati are recited.
   The temple was looted and destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1009. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, learning about the legends of Jwalamukhi tried to douse the flames with a stream of water. However, the great power of the Goddess, still kept the flames burning. Realizing the power of Jwala Devi, Akbar came with his army to this temple. He brought a Gold umbrella (Chatra) for the Goddess, but on offering, the umbrella turned into an unknown metal suggesting that the Goddess did not accept his offering.
   Maharaja Ranjit Singh paid a visit to the temple in 1815 and the dome of the temple was gold-plated by him. Just a few feet above the Jwalamukhi temple there is a six-feet deep pit with a circumference of about three-feet. At the bottom of this pit there is another small pit about one and a half feet deep with hot water bubbling all the time.
   The temple is identified as one among the 52 Shakti Peethas . It is also one of the most renowned temples of Goddess Durga