Sonia Sumitra Thakar
India abounds in temples dedicated to Divinity in the form of Shakti – the feminine power. The northern part of the country is replete with shrines in such picturesque locales amidst natural beauty that will not only gratify one’s spiritual yearning but leave one’s eyes, heart and soul satisfied, too.
If you are planning a circuit of the Devi temples in north India, here are some of the most important ones with a deep cultural and religious significance that put them on the not-to-be-missed list.
Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu
The most famous and oft-visited temple dedicated to Shakti in the country is the Vaishno Devi Temple, located in Katra on the sacred Trikuta mountain in Jammu. The shrine itself lies in a huge ancient cave and is dedicated to Vaishno Devi also known as Mata Rani—believed to be the manifestation of Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati, and Mahakali combined. Three naturally formed rocks (locally called pindies) in the cave represent the three forms of the goddess.
This holy spot is believed to be one of the many Shakti Peeths in the country. When Shiva was holding the burnt body of his consort Sati and performing the Tandav Nritya, to save the world Vishnu used his Sudarshan chakra to cut the body into pieces that fell on earth in different places. These spots are known as Shakti Peeths.
Some say that Vaishno Devi is the spot where Sati’s skull fell while some say that it is the place her right hand fell at. This holy place finds a mention in the Mahabhrarat as the place Arjuna was sent to meditate at, by Lord Krishna. It is also believed to have been visited by Prahlad.
The shrine is visited by millions of devotees every year and during Navaratri devotees queue up for hours to have darshan. It is believed that without the Mata’s ‘bulava’ (call) one cannot visit Vaishno Devi; she is the ‘Moonh Maangi Muradein Poore Karne Wali Mata’ (mother who fulfils the wishes of her bhaktas).
Manasa Devi, Uttarakhand
The ancient Manasa Devi Temple sits atop the Bilwa Parvat in the Shivalik range in Haridwar and offers a gorgeous view of the sacred River Ganga and the plains. One of the five holy pilgrimage spots (pancha tirth) of Haridwar, this temple is a famous Siddh Peeth (a place that fulfils all the desires of worshippers). The temple is dedicated to Manasa Devi who is believed to have manifested from the mind of Sage Kashyap. She is also believed to be the serpent Vasuki’s sister.
Bhaktas tie threads on a tree in the temple vicinity with a prayer that their wishes are fulfilled. They come again to untie a thread from the same tree once their prayers have been heeded. This important Hindu place of pilgrimage can be accessed via a trekking route or by cable car.
Jwala Devi, Himachal Pradesh
Located in the lower Himalayas, Jwalamukhi town is home to the Jwala Devi temple in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. This is one the Shakti Peeths and is believed to be the place where the goddess Sati’s tongue fell. Jwala Devi is known as the deity of the flaming mouth and is worshipped in the form of flawless blue flames that, mysteriously, seem come out from the crevices in the age-old rocks. The temple is famous for the fact that no idol or image is worshipped here and the ever-burning sacred fire itself is considered as the form of Ma Durga—the 9 flames representing different forms of the goddess.
The gold gilded dome, silver folding doors and huge brass bell at the entrance add to the grandeur of this unique shrine that is visited by hordes of Devi bhakts and even tourists, curious to see the blue flames. This place is said to have been visited by the Pandavas, too.
Dhari Devi Temple, Uttarakhand
Located in the middle of the river Alakananda, between Srinagar and Rudraprayag in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, is a famous temple dedicated to the goddess Dhari Devi. This temple, too, is one of the Hindu Shakti Peeths and is believed to be the spot where Sati’s upper torso fell. This is why the upper half of the idol of Dhari Devi is worshipped in the temple here. The lower half of the goddess is worshipped as a manifestation of goddess Kali in Kalimath. Devotees believe that the face of the deity of Dhari Devi changes through the day from that of a girl in the morning, to a young woman in the afternoon to that of an old lady in the evening.
Goddess Dhari Devi is considered to be the protector of the Char Dhams (the four primary pilgrimage sites in India). She is also regarded as the guardian deity of Uttarkhand and this temple is an important centre of faith for the people of Garhwal.
Since 2013, the deity is located in a temple on an elevated platform in the middle of the river where it was shifted to from its original abode on a riverside rock. The devastating floods of Uttarakhand in the same year are believed to have occurred due to the wrath of the goddess on moving her idol to make way for the Srinagar Hydel Project. The hydel project was destroyed in the floods. In 1882, a similar incident occurred when a local king tried to shift the idol of the goddess, resulting in a landslide that flattened Kedarnath.
Naina Devi Temple, Himachal Pradesh
The Naina Devi Temple that is located at the edge of the Naini lake on a beautiful hill in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, is believed to be the place where Devi Sati’s eyes fell, and is yet another of the holy Shakti Peeths. This much revered temple houses idols of Ma Kali and Lord Ganesha which flank either side of Ma Naina Devi who is represented by two eyes on the ceiling.
Devotees can undertake the long trek up the hill to have darshan or avail of the cable car facility. The gorgeous views of the Gobind Sagar Lake and surrounding hills from the top of the hillock would bring peace and solace to any visitor. Thousands of pilgrims visit this shrine every year especially during Navaratri and Chaitra festival.
Chamunda Devi Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Located on the banks of the Ban Ganga river, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, is a famous temple dedicated to Chamunda Devi, another manifestation of the terrifying Kali Ma. It is believed to be built at the spot where Ma Kali slayed the demon kings Shumbh and Nishumba. The goddess got the name Chamunda when she killed the demon generals Chanda and Munda. You can read the full story of Devi Chamunda here.
The main deity Ma Chamunda, richly adorned in beautiful clothes, is flanked by images of Hanuman and Lord Bhairo on either side. The temple displays many inscriptions from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Devi Mahatmya. The complex also houses a stone lingam representing Nandikeshwar (Shiva).
The ancient puranas mention this area as an abode of Shiva-Shakti and the divine vibes that this place exudes attract devotees from all over the country to pray and meditate at this sacred spot.
Chintpurni, Himachal Pradesh
The Chintapurni Temple near the town of Una in Himachal Pradesh is an important place of pilgrimage for lakhs of devotees every year. It is one of the seven major Shakti Peeths and is believed to be the place where Devi Sati’s feet fell.
The temple is dedicated to Devi Chintapurni or Chinnamastika (meaning: goddess without a head). The image here depicts the goddess in her headless form as legend goes that the ever-benevolent Parvati cut off her own head to feed her hungry companions with blood after defeating the evil demons.
A gold-plated shrine at the centre of the temple complex is an exquisite installation and attracts hordes of devotees who believe that Devi Chintapurni will relieve them of all their worries and fulfil all their desires.
Each and every one of these temples, situated in a place of breath-taking beauty and satiating both religious zeal and spiritual curiosity, warrants a place on your pilgrimage bucket list.
And while you travel, why not keep yourself meaningfully occupied by chanting the name of God to add to your spiritual experience. You can pick up travel-friendly pocket editions of mantras and prayers that will definitely put you in the right frame of mind to get the best from your pilgrimage. Click here to view the entire collection.