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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Enchanting Himachal – Visiting the temple town of Chamba

Enchanting Himachal – Visiting the temple town of Chamba
(A photo essay)
Bird's eye view of Chamba township
Chamba is the millennium town of Himachal Pradesh, having completed a thousand years of its existence.  Nestled on the banks of Ravi River, at an altitude of 996 meters above mean sea level, it is a picturesque little township.   Chamba town was founded by Raja Sahil Varman in the beginning of 10th Century. In the genealogical rolls of the Chamba Rajas, a reference occurs of place, which was adorned with highly fragrant Champaka trees and guarded by Goddess Champavati.  The other legend goes that Chamba was named by its founder after his daughter named Champawati.   The town stands on a plateau on the right bank of the Ravi River, with the entire township having been built around a central Chowgan.  Chowgan is the Persian name of Polo, being of Sanskrit origin, meaning 'four-sided'.   Initially the five Chowgans were a single patch of meadow, but gradual encroachment and access roads has now divided it, as can be seen from the bird’s eye view of the township.  Having been established in the 10th Century A.D, in order to commemorate the event of its competing a 1000 years of existence, the Government of Himachal Pradesh had organized a festival from the 14th to 20th April, 2006 and had also constructed a traditional gate at the Chowgan.
View of the other side of Chamba township from Chamunda temple top
Small villages on spurs surrounding Chamba township (shot with 500mm lens) 
Forest fire over hills across Chamba
The millennium festival commemorative gate at Chamba chowgan 
Panoramic view of chowgan in Chamba
Shopping stalls around chowgan in Chamba
Akhand Palace in Chamba - now a degree college
As the sun sets across the Chamba township
Chamba at night - check out the forest fire in the background
            Chamba town has a number of temples, Palaces and other iconic buildings. The singularly attractive objects of interest are the old temples, which exhibit architectural beauty of design and execution.  The main amongst them, being the famed Laxmi Narayana Temple, which is the main temple of Chamba town, having being built by Sahil Varman in the 10th century AD. There are six other temples within the complex, mostly dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, with one amongst them being dedicated to Lord Hanuman.  The temples are dedicated to Radha Krishna, Shiva Temple of Chandergupta and Gauri Shankar Temple is amongst them. The ancient temple of Vajreshwari is believed to be 1000 years old and is dedicated to Devi Vajreshwari-Goddess of lightning.  The main idol or statute of Lord Vishnu inside the famed Laxmi Narayan temple is said to have been sculpted out from unique and costly marble sourced from the Vindyachal ranges and as per the legends, it is stated that the King lost six of his sons while seeking to transport this piece of marble and only the seventh & youngest son was able to execute the task.  Apart from this main temple complex, the other old temple is that of Hari Rai temple, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and dates back to 11th century A.D and purported to have been built by King Salakara Varman, as is mentioned in a copper-plate inscription of the 11th century.  The statute inside the temple is made of ‘Asta-dhatu’ (a mixture of eight metals), in ‘Chaturbhuj’ (four armed) form.  An interesting anecdote is associated with this temple, during the early 1970’s the statute of this temple was stolen and was recovered after a period of two months, just as it was to board upon an Airplane from Bombay (now ‘Mumbai’).  The other main temple is the Champavati temple built by King Sahil Varman in honour of his daughter by the same name, situated just behind the Police Post near Chowgan, but I did not visit the temple because of intense heat during the day.  Though as per the information, the temple exhibits the Shikhara style of architecture and it has a huge roof in the form of a wheel. The walls are adorned with stone sculptures and the presiding deity of the temple is Goddess Durga, also called the Mahishasura-mardini (Slayer of demon Mahishasura) is worshiped in this temple.
Panoramic view of Chamunda Devi temple
The sculpture of tiger in the forecourt of Chamunda temple
Finely carved wooden panels inside the Chamunda Devi temple
Ancient sculptures outside the Chamunda temple 
The Shivalaya outside the Chamunda temple
The famed Sui mata temple in Chamba
Closeup view of Queen Sui mata in the temple dedicated to her
            Apart from these temples, which are situated right in the Chmba town, there are two other important temples situated a little away from the main township.  The most important one amongst these is the Chamunda temple, perched atop a spur on the ridge known as Shah Madar overlooking the Chamba township.  The temple pre-dates the existence of the Chamba township and is dedicated to the fierce form of Goddess Kali, known as the Chamunda.  The ancient origin of this temple can also be inferred from its style of construction, whereas all other temples in Chamba region are built according to the north Indian ‘Nagara’ style, this particular temple is the only one constructed atop a square platform with wood with garbled roof (single storey) in this region.  The inside of the slate roofed temple is a display of exquisitely carved wooden pillars and roof tiles, displaying figures of Gods, Goddesses and other human and celestial figures.  The statue inside is probably made of ‘Astha dhatu’ (mixture of eight metals) and glitters in the obeisance of her devotees.  There is also a small Shiva temple in the precincts of the temple as well as an old Peepul (Ficus’) tree.  Just outside the main temple gate hangs a huge brass bell alongwith many other smaller bells, an inscription found at the temple site states that this bell weighing 27 ‘Seers’ (an old system of weight in India) and costing Rs.27/- was donated by one Pandit Vatradhara on 2nd April, 1762.  During the ancient times access to this temple was very difficult, however, during the 18th Century (1762) Raja Umed Singh built a stairway from Mohalla Sapri in Chamba running 378 steps to the temple top.  Presently a motorable road runs right upto the temple gate through the Chamba Jumahar Road at a distance of 3 Kms. from Chamba.  However, devout pilgrims prefer to walk up the stairway, as it is believed that the worship is accepted by the Goddess only through this access way.  A fair in held in the temple complex, when the sister of the presiding deity Mata Chamunda Devi, known as Barari Mata visits her for a period of one week during the monsoon season. 
The famed Bhuri Singh museum in Chamba
One of the bronze sculpture's in the Bhuri Singh museum
One of the jewelry item's displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
One of the painted panels displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
One of the painted door panels displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
One of the stone sculptures displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
One of the famed Chamba paintings displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
Another of the stone sculpture displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
Another one of the stone sculpture displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
A  stone panel displayed in the Bhuri Singh museum
Hand painted gold leafed Ramayana in Bhuri Singh museum
An ancient stone edict displayed in Bhuri Singh museum
An ancient copper edict displayed in Bhuri Singh museum
An ancient copper edict displayed in Bhuri Singh museum
(to read the contents please right click to display the photo in a new tab)
The craftsman of Chamba at work
Located on the same Chamba Jumahar Road is the Sui Mata temple, the legend about this temple is that there was intense scarcity of water in the Saho village situated nearby.  King Sahil Varman got an aqueduct built to provide solace to the parched villagers, but try as he may, the water failed to pass through the aqueduct.  As all his engineers & other knowledgeable persons failed to provide any solution, the King turned towards his Priests, who after consulting the celestial stars etc., informed the King that the spirit of the water stream from water source was required to be propitiated with Royal blood.  The King immediately made preparations for sacrificing his son to propitiate the Spirit.  Hearing this, the Queen Sunaina Devi approached the King to spare her son and instead sacrifice her.  The King after consulting the Priests agreed and the Queen was buried alive and from that day onwards the water flowed through the aqueduct and continues to flow till this day.  In order to honour the supreme sacrifice made by the Queen, a temple was constructed at the site known as the Sui Mata Temple and an annual congregation takes place here during the monsoons every year.
The famed Hari Rai temple in Chamba
Presiding deity of Hari Rai temple in Chamba
Panoramic view of the Laxmi Narayan temple in Chamba
The presiding deity of Laxmi Narayan temple in Chamba
Lord Hanuman temple in Laxmi Narayan temple complex in Chamba
Sculpted panel outside the Laxmi Narayan temple complex in Chamba
Thunder goddess or Vajreshwari devi inside Laxmi Narayan temple complex in Chamba
            A yet another place of interest in Chamba town is the Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba which came into existence on 14th September, 1908. It is named after Raja Bhuri Singh who ruled Chamba from 1904 to 1919.  Raja Bhuri Singh appears to have been a great philanthropist, who donated his family collection of paintings etc. to the museum. The other most famous item of the region is the embroidered Chamba-Rumals as their drawings are made by Pahari painters, though the embroidery is done by the household ladies.  Other than this is the famous Chamba Chappal for ladies, which too is beautifully handcrafted and embroidered.  The entire market area catering to all these items including the temples are situated around the Chowgan and during the evenings, it appears that the entire Chamba town descends for walks, meetings & eating.  We too enjoyed the evening out in the Chowgan in Chamba, having some fresh fried fish, Kulfis, softie’s et al.  That is a pen portrait of Chamba town for you.

Here is a link to the video for the destination


2 comments:

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  2. That's my hometown and thanks for covering it that well :)

    ReplyDelete