A mystical peace descends the minute I reach Jageshwar. There is something in the air in this little hamlet tucked away under lofty deodars that leaves me completely mesmerized. As soon as we enter Jageshwar, the road is dark even during day.
The thick canopy of deodars ensures a permanent shade. A peculiar aroma wafts in the atmosphere and a continuous sound of the Jata Ganga fills the hills like a spiritual chant – a chant that reaches a crescendo during the silent nights.
There is no other noise – either of people or vehicle. Life moves at a slow pace and the place appears to wrap itself into a timelessness that stretches as far as the eye can see. Shops are mere shacks and they shut as soon as it begins to grow dark. But as evening sets in, the temple at Jageshwar rises to the frenzy of the aarti.
It is an unforgettable experience, a moment that is seared in my memory. It is a feeling that comes alive each time I remind myself of the charged atmosphere at the Mahamrityunjaya temple. The entire proceedings of the almost hour long pooja leaves me in complete obeisance to the Lord – Shiva, conqueror of death itself.
I could actually feel the power in this temple; there was a strange aura that stirred the depths of devotion to the utmost. We, like all the others surrendered entirely to the Lord, knowing that he would guide us through the toughest travails in life. There is that much power in the mantra itself.
The temple, considered a siddhapeeth, houses 108 small shrines within its huge complex, of which three are the main. Each of these 108 little temples consists of a lingam. Built in a light-coloured stone, the structures all look similar but vary in size. The Jageshwar temple enshrines the ardhnareeshwar in the lingam form. The shivlinga there even has a smaller one jutting out of the main lingam.
The Mahamrityunjaya temple has a large lingam where three priests chant mantras in perfect harmony as we performed an elaborate puja in ethereal surroundings. The vigorous ringing of the bells to the accompaniment of the mantras reverberates through the entire valley. It’s an amazing experience, yet it’s so much a part of life.
The Kubera group of temples houses three main shrines comprising the Ekamukhalinga which is one of the rarest specimens in northern India; the Ashthabhuja Durga or the Chandika Temple; and the third that is said to have enshrined a four armed image of Shiva.
During the month of Sravan, a grand mela is held there, that sees thousands of devotees come from all over the country to throng the temple.The town is about 34 km from Almora, on the way to Pithoragarh and Naini, in the beautiful Kumaon foothills of the Himalayan range. The town has over 200 temples, both big and small, at the height of about 1,900 mt above sea level.
It is said that during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, when the Gupta emperors held sway, the Kumaon hills were ruled by an independent dynasty of Katyuri kings. They selected this site to build scores of temples.
The ones which were constructed during the Gupta period were renovated by later rulers of the Ghand dynasty in the 7th century AD. Then more temples were constructed or restored during the Gurjara Pratihara era and also in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Mahamrityunjaya temple seems to be the oldest of all the still-remaining temples and dates back to the 8th century AD. The temples of Surya, Navagraha and Neelkantheshvara are of late Katyuri age. It is said that originally four hundred temples existed here, of which only 108 survived.
Most of the shrines are dedicated to Shiva, who is addressed by diverse names like Jageshwara, which is a variant of Yogisvara (Lord of Yogis). Other shrines go by Shiva’s myriad other names like Dandeshavara, Nilakantheshvara and Mahamrityunjaya.
Temples dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, Navadurga, the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga, Kalika, Pushtidevi and Kubera are also there. These shrines were built by professional builders by the name of Shivism. They belonged to the Lakulish sect.
The temples belong to the simple Nagara style. There is a tall curvilinear spire shikhara, surmounted by an amalaka (capstone) and a kalasha or crown. The square sanctum sanctorum has its entrance through a carved doorway.
Most of the temples have the stone lingams. Impressive stone images are seen around the altar. Two ashtadhatu (an alloy of eight metals) images and a highly impressive image of Ganesha catch attention.
Having experienced the mystical powers of Jageshwar, enhanced by the presence of the soaring Himalayas, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this place both as the abode of the Gods as well as the refuge of those who seek enlightenment....