Uttarakhand: Land of Temples (Part 1)

Uttarakhand has been almost my second home for the last 3–4 years. With each passing year, my fondness for the place, people, culture and spirituality keeps growing and intrigues me ever so more. The more I travel to the place, the more I fall in love with it.

My journeys to Uttarakhand have taken me from mountain treks to beautiful homestays, from jungles full of beautiful birds and animals to people with really welcoming and warm hearts. I can never pinpoint what is it exactly that draws me to this place again and again; perhaps a beautiful combination of everything into one single entity, which I feel is quintessentially me. To add to that the support and love of the same shared in equal measure by my wife, just makes it perfect.

In this article though, I seek to write on something deeply embedded in the culture of the place. So let us embark on the journey of this which symbolizes the religious grandeur of Himalayas- The Temples.

Uttarakhand is also known as ‘Dev-Bhoomi’ which literally means land of the Gods. Being rich in religion, history and culture, Temples are aplenty in Uttarakhand and stories connected to each temple are fascinating. I have had the chance to visit some of the temples on my visits to this beautiful region.

While most of us have heard of and been fortunate to visit the famous temples such as Kedarnath, Badrinath, Panch Kedar, Nanda Devi etc, while some of the temples are more famous than the others and have many visitors, in this particular blog I will be writing about the temples which are perhaps not as famous, but steeped in spirituality and an equally important part of the local cultural ethos, something I feel people from other places might want to explore at some stage. 
Temples have always been an integral part of our culture and heritage, passed on from generations to generations. Thomas. S. Monson perhaps sums up the importance and place of temples in our culture perfectly when he says, “Temples are more than stone and mortar. They are filled with faith and fasting. They are built of trials and testimonies. They are sanctified by sacrifice and service.”

i) The Katarmal Sun temple:
The Katarmal Sun temple is an ancient temple built around 9th century CE and is said to be only the second Sun temple in India after the famous Konark temple in Orissa. It is located about 2 kms from Kosi village, about 19 kms from Almora in Kumaon.
 The temple is located on a small hill. There is a motorable road which takes you up more than half the way. The rest needs to be completed on foot, it is a low incline ascent, a pleasant walk rather on cobbled pathways, which takes one through the typical village houses lined up along the road.
 The temple premises itself is a serene place at the top of the hill overlooking the valley and with a beautiful Himalayan view. It is a rather large-ish complex, with the hill on one side and the valley on the other and has typical Kumaoni temple architecture all around.

Typical Kumaoni temple architecture.

The temple of the main deity, Lord Surya or the Sun God can be seen along with about 44 smaller temples of other deities in Hindu mythology.

Temples of other deities at the complex.

The entire temple complex is said to be constructed by the Katyuri King Katarmalla around 9th century BC. The main deity is Lord Surya or the Sun God, which is also called as Burhadita or Vraddhaditya.

The unique architecture of the main temple allows the first rays of the sun to fall directly on the idol of the deity Vraddhaditya (another name of the Sun God).

View from the front door of the main temple. The first rays of the sun are supposed to come through this door onto the idol of the chief deity Lord Surya.

This picture below is the main temple at the temple complex. Note the top of the main temple tower. The piece supposed to be at the top of the tower is missing and can be seen on the floor on the left. The reason for this, as legend has it, is that Katarmal had received Divine instructions that the entire temple was supposed to be built in one night; however by the time they reached the top of the tower, they saw the first rays of sunlight and had to abandon further construction and so the top piece had to be left as it is.

Main temple of Lord Surya.

ii) Kasar Devi Temple:
The Kasar Devi temple is located in Kasar Devi village, about 9 km from Almora.
It is another unique temple in these parts of Kumaon, based in Kasar Devi village, the temple is built on small hillock overlooking the Hawalbagh valley on one side and Almora town on the other. It also gives a grand view of the Himalayas. The hillock is lined with Deodar and Pine trees all along.

Kasar Devi Temple as seen from above

Built in around 2 CE, the temple is dedicated to Kasar Devi, a reincarnation of Goddess Shakti or Durga. The temple has undergone redevelopment in recent years, but the main structure of the same remains as was.
 A very unique characteristic of this temple, is that it is said to be very powerful, and people who have spent time here meditating feel a rejuvenating force from within. A possible reason for the same might be that there is said to be a very strong geomagnetic field around the place similar to Machu Pichu and the Stone Henge. This has been confirmed by NASA and more research is underway.

Main temple complex.
A Shardul (tiger) stone idol in front of the temple. The tiger is said to be the Vaahan or ‘vehicle of consciousness’

The temple complex also houses a Lord Shiva temple which is said to be built by a person from South India around 6 CE.

Lord Shiva temple.

Kasar Devi has also seen a host of top personalities and celebrities visit the place. It is said that Swami Vivekananda used to meditate here back in the 1890s. Following that, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, author D.H Lawrence and many others have spent time in this village.

Entrance of the main temple.

iii) Vridhh Jageshwar:

Vriddha Jageshwar is located at about 39 kilometres from Almora, the nearest big city. It is located near Jageshwar, which is famous as one of the twelve Jyotirlingas.

The road from Jageshwar is about a 3km uphill drive. The roads are winding and picturesque and once you reach Vriddha Jageshwar it offers a beautiful view of the Himalayas.

View from the Vriddha Jageshwar Temple.
Pristine Himalayan Beauty.

Vriddh literally means ‘Old’ and Jageshwar is another name for Lord Shiva.
As legend has it, this used to be Lord Shiva’s abode, where he meditated for long till he grew a long beard and actually started appearing like an old man. After that He made his way further down Jageshwar temple.

The main Vriddha Jageshwar Temple where Lord Shiva is said to have stayed and meditated.
A Kashmir Rock Agama peeping at me!!

iv) Chitai temple of Golu Devta:

Lord Golu Devta temple at Chitai is located about 9–10 kms from Almora.

Lord Golu Devta is the considered to be the chief Deity of the the Kumaon region. Considered a reincarnation of Lord Shiva, Lord Golu Devta is called as the ‘dispenser of justice’ or ‘Lord of Justice’ by the locals.
While temples of Lord Golu Devta can be seen all across Kumaon, the Chitai temple is considered to be one of the the most important temple.

The tradition at the Chitai temple is that devotees tie a bell to please Golu Devta when they come to the temple to ask for any wishes to be fulfilled. One can see scores of bells tied in this fashion all along the temple premises.

Scores of bells can be seen tied at the temple by the devotees.

Another unique belief of the locals is that since Golu Devta is the ‘dispenser of Justice’, people write letters and even legal affidavit copies to present ‘their side of the story’ in the hope that the Lord is listening and will give justice to the respective aggrieved parties.

Letters (and even legal affidavit copies) are written to Golu Devta as proof in any dispute by the devotees.

There is so much more to the charisma and divine spirituality of this place. Uttarakhand is indeed enchanting. So stay tuned for the next edition of this blog, which will be posted shortly, where I will share my experiences of similar temples, this time in Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. Till then, Take care!! Be good!!

{A special mention for this blog goes to our dear friends Julia and Lat Singh, who were our wonderful hosts in Hawalbagh, Almora for this particular trip, without whom we would not have been able to discover these places. Please ensure you visit their place ‘Innisfree at Hawalbagh’ (also an FB page); I can assure you will have the most wonderful time.}