Saturday, February 2, 2013

Visiting Dunagiri & Dwarhat

Visiting Dunagiri & Dwarhat

Panoramic view of the Dwarhat township

Farming by the Gagas River 

       The next day was earmarked for visiting Dwarhat and Dunagiri temples and accordingly, we started off at around 10.30 A.M. from Chilyanaula in a local TATA Sumo hired from its owner and driver, Sh. Manohar Kumar (Mobile No.08006664473), whom I found to be a quiet and decent person.  Dwarahat is situated in Almora district of Uttarakhand, 37 kms from Ranikhet and 41 Kms. from Chilyanaula, however, the road conditions are very bad at certain stretches.  Dwarhat is popular for its group of 55 ancient temples.  It is quite a small township placed at the centre of the road from Ranikhet and Garsian, at the intersection of Ranikhet - Kausani road and Almora – Badrinath road.  The township rests of the banks of the Gagas River that emanates from the holy Dunagiri Mountain.  As the name suggests, Dwarahat means way of Heaven where Dwara means ‘way’ and Hat means ‘Heaven’.  The Katyuri and Chand dynasties glorified the region by constructing some fine temples - now renowned throughout the country. Though largely a Shaivite region, the presiding deity, Nanda Devi, is amongst the most exalted in Kumaon. 

Temple ruins in Dwarhat

The Ratandeo group of temples - Dwarhat

The Mritunjay group of temples

Sitla mata temple - Dwarhat

         At first sight, Dwarahat appears to be like any other nondescript little sleepy mountain township one has seen. The gradually rolling slopes are covered with Cedar and Pine trees and the township is almost on flat grounds at certain spots. All is quiet in the cold, crisp air, but for the occasional screeching of truck brakes in the distance, as you approach the township.  Just before you enter the main township area you are greeted by the enormous spread of pink colored buildings, belonging to the Government Engineering College, Dwarhat.  In the centre of the town, roller-coaster roads snake up and down around a crowded market, at the centre of which, is a small town centre, wherefrom the roads lead towards the local Post Office and Police Station et al.  Explore a little distance away from the bustle, up a concrete trail, past the backyards of houses, and one will see something quite different.  Hidden amongst the village houses, both old and new, clusters of ancient temples with exquisite carved friezes dating back to between the 8th and 11th centuries, takes one’s breathe away. Some of them have collapsed, whereas in the others, the giant carved stone blocks threaten to roll to the ground. Others have towering temple tops/shikhars frequented solely by animals of flying kind. Although these temples have been declared as protected monuments by the ASI, they are all but abandoned and appreciated solely by an occasional crazy traveler like me.  There are 55 ancient temples that can be divided into eight distinct groups like the Ratandeo group, Mritunjay group, Badrinath group etc. These ancient temples were constructed mainly by the Katyuri Kings and its architecture resembles the Gurjari School of Art.  Dwarahat also has several temples devoted to the Shakti cult also. Near the bus stand are the ruins of the ancient Syaldeh Pokhar (Syaldeh pond). An ancient temple of Shitala Devi is located here which dates to 1257 CE. A very famous folk-fair of Kumaon called “Syaldeh Bikhoti” fair is held annually near Syaldeh Pokhar at the beginning of new solar year (Vaisakhi or Baisakhi). There are also temples of “Kotkangra Devi” and Kalika Devi in the near vicinity.  It is said that these temples were destroyed by the Rohillas (Ruhelas), who had attacked this part of the Kumaon and since these temples were abandoned and have fallen to ruins.

The reverend 'Maa Dunagiri temple'

      Maa Dunagiri temple located at a distance of 14 kms from Dwarahat. A temple dedicated to Vaishno Devi is adorned by the locales in Dunagiri. Many myths bear testimony to this fact, according to which when Hanuman was carrying the Sanjivani buti (literal meaning – life providing herb), a piece fell here and since then a lot of beneficial & medicinal herbs are found here, this place is known as Dunagiri since times immemorial.   Dunagiri commands an imposing view of the Himalayan Ranges on one side and the Dwarhat township, on banks of Gagas River on the other side. Dunagiri is flooded by tourists and devotees during Chait (April) and Ashwin (September/October) months of Navratras.  There is a huge mela (fair) and congregation of thousands of devotees, thronging the temple precincts during the Navratris.  During the festivities, each night of the Navratri is dedicated to the nine different forms of Goddess Durga. They are Maa Shailputri, Maa Brahmachaarin, Maa Chandraghanta, Maa Kushmaanda, Skand Maa, Maa Kaatyayini, Maa Kaalratri, Maa Chaamunda, and Mata Sidhidaarti.  To reach the Durga temple or Paban Maharaj Ashram from the highway, one has to climb 400 steps on the top of a hill.

Up on top of the 400 stairs - on way to Dunagiri temple

       Dunagiri mountain is said to have been the group of mountains brought by Pavandavas of Mahabharata fame during their Agayat vas (days of banishment from their Kingdom).   Most temples and holy places in India, accrue higher respect & divinity as per the age of the shrine, the older they are, the more reverend are they.   For instance the 3000 year old temple of Kanyakumari may be deemed more potent than a 300 year old temple.  At Dunagiri, it is not in years, centuries nor even millennia that the antiquity of this place is calculated in, but rather in terms of Yugas! A place where mysticism abounds, fascinating legends and numerous mystic stories are intimately connected to Dunagiri.  From the ancient times, places such Drongiri (Dunagiri), Badrinath, Kedarnath have been known as Soul of Gods (Devatma) Himalaya, since these places are also the meditation spots (asanpeeth and sadhna-sthali) of many realized souls.  Dunagiri or Drongiri is counted amongst one of the seven Kulparvats of the Purans. As this destination is replete with association of Ascetics and Saints over eons, just by visiting such a reverend destination, one imbues some of the blessings and spiritual vibrations of the “realized souls”.

Saints live and meditate here in the hallowed environs of Dunagiri

      Dunagiri hill is the shrine or seat of Sri Sri Vaishnavi Mata Bhagvati Jagdamba.  Sri Sri Vaishnavi Mata is the presiding form of Divine Mother among the other forms worshiped in the Valley.  Dunagiri finds mention in the holy scripture of Manaskhand of Skandpuran.   Mother Goddess at Dunagiri is described as Mahamaya Harpriya. The distinctive qualities of Durga at Dunagiri as shul-hasta, mahishasur-ghatini, sinh-vahini are described in the Manaskhand.  Dunagiri Devi is also referred to as Vahyamati which identifies it with its Vedic roots. In Vedic times Durga was known to be a form of Agni.  Till today, there are only two Vaishnavi Shaktipeeths (energy centers) in India.   One is in Jammu, the famed Vaishno Devi Shrine near Katra and the other is the Vaishnavi Devi temple at Dunagiri.  Among all the Shakti temples of Kumaon, Dunagiri is counted amid the most ancient ‘Sidh Shaktipeeth’.  It is counted amongst the primary ‘ugra’ (intense) ‘peeths’, i.e., amongst the primary intense centers of energy, although it is not associated with the 51 Shakti Peethas of the Shiva tandava scriptures and thus, is also known as the Gupt (Hidden) Shakti Peeth. Photographing the actual deity is strictly forbidden and hence no photographs of the same.

Entry gate to the temple of Dunagiri

      Of the eighteen Upanishads that the holy scriptures of Hindu religion, the Shwetashwet upanishad is believed to have been inspired & composed solely at Dunagiri. Fourth chapter of Shwetashwet upanishad ponders over divinity in context of duality of Purush and Prakriti, taking inspiration from Dunagiri’s twin natural peaks (one can see these twin rock pieces inside Dunagiri temple). Hence Manaskhand of Skandpuran bestows Dunagiri with the title of Brahm-parvat (Divine Mountain).

The temple of Ma Dunagiri

     As the place is in existence since times immemorial, it has had several incarnations of Goddesses over the Yugas, starting from the Satya Yuga wherein Bhairavi, the consort of Bhairav or Lord Shiva himself, turns into Vaishnavi Mata. Bhairavi, the Divine Mother of Tantra at the last stage, turns into Vaishnavi Mata while awarding liberation to her devotees, because only in the form of Vaishnavi does she award liberation.  During the Treta Yuga,  Dunagiri finds mention in the story of Ramayana as being the hill where Sanjeevani booti was obtained by Lord Hanuman to revive an unconscious Lakshman in battle of Lanka. Hanuman is often depicted flying through the sky carrying part of a hill. This hill is Dunagiri. Lord Ram’s younger brother, Bharat, also meditated at a hill overlooking Dunagiri. This hilll, still named after him, is now known as Bhatkot (originally Bharat-kot).  During the Dwapara Yuga, Sages are said to have come to the hills of Dunagiri to meditate in solitude. These sages are mentioned in the epic Mahābhārata.  Sage Bharatmuni renounced worldly life and came to Dunagiri to meditate. Dronacharya, the royal guru to Pandavas and Kauravas meditated at Dunagiri (Dunagiri or Drongiri is named after Dronacharya).  Dronacharya’s brother, Garg muni, one of the greatest sages of the Puranic times, also meditated at Dunagiri.  The River Gagas that originates at Dunagiri is named after Garga muni. Dronacharya and Garga were sons of Rishi Bharadwaja, one of the Saptarishis (Seven Great Sages) of this epoch. Sage Sukhdev muni (son of sage Ved Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata) meditated at Dunagiri.  Shakuntala and Dushyant’s son,  king Bharat after whom India is named as “Bharatvarsh” was born at Dunagiri.   Pandava’s too spent time here during their period of anonymous exile and their abode, now known as “Pandukholi”, which is further 5 Kms. ahead on road to Almora, but was not visited by me.

Mesmerizing views from Dunagiri temple

       In more recent times, Dunagiri was the spot chosen by Mahavatar Babaji (who is conjured as manifestation in form of Haidakhan wale Babaji – as referred to in my previous blog) to give Kriya Yoga initiation to Lahiri Mahashaya, hence Dunagiri in known as the birthplace of Kriya Yoga.  A golden palace was materialized here, as mentioned in the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda Paramhansa.  It is also at Dunagiri that Mahavatar Babaji is said to have given initiation to Haidakhan baba in Manas Yog, to Neem Karoli baba in Mantra yoga, and to Sombari baba in Pashupat yoga. Other saints who meditated at Dunagiri are: Harnarayan Swami, Ram Baba, Mahatama Laxminarayan Das, Nantin Baba, Mahant Balwant Giri, MK Bhattacharya, Swami Satyaeshwarnananda Giri.

The Gagas River that emanates from Dunagiri

      Although I have not been able to visit the reverend shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi in Jammu, this chance pilgrimage to such a holy place has in all probability absolved me of my earthly sins.  We were in time to partake the langar (community lunch) at the temple precincts, the scenic & religious images of this famed temple shall remain ever etched in my memory.  Thus, I dedicate this travel-blog to many an unread like me, who had no idea about the spiritual relevance of this destination and may this humble contribution from me enlighten many a unread souls like me, Jai Maa Vaishno Devi.

Here is a video of the destination