Jageswar in the Himalayas: where the gods touch the earth
Jageswar : An introduction
India is a land of temples & holy places where people used to flock since the ancient times for pilgrimage. The Himalayas secure a special place in the Hindu minds as the mighty mountain is considered as the abode of Lord Shiva, one of the three trinities of Hinduism. From time immemorial pious people had rushed to the holy spots & shrines in the Himalayas braving inhospitable terrain, cruel weather & hostile environment. Since the dawn of the history, kings of different dynasties constructed temples dedicated to gods & goddesses in different parts of the mighty Himalayas.
One such holy pilgrimage site in the Himalayas is Jageswar, in the Almora district in the Kumaun region of the state of Uttarakhand. Jageswar boasts of a temple complex housing more than 124 temples of various sizes dedicated mostly to Lord Shiva, including the temple of Nagesh/Nageshwar, the oldest (8th as per the “Jyotirlingam Stotra”) of the twelve Jyotirlingams of Lord Shiva (The Jyotirlingams being the most powerful manifestations of Lord Shiva in the Linga or phallic form).
Jageswar : The Place
Jageswar is a temple town situated in the beautiful Jataganga river valley at an altitude of 1870 meters, about 36 km from Almora in the Almora district in the Kumaun region of the state of Uttarakhand. Jageshwar was once the centre for Lakulish or Nakulish or Pashupat Shaivism that united and revived the various Shaiva (followers of Lord Shiva) sects in the 1st century AD.
As one approaches the area, the first thing that catches the eye is a tall stone built temple surrounded by a number of smaller ones by the side of a small mountain stream . It is the Dandeswar temple complex, housing the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva with the same name.
Leaving the area behind, as one move on, the main hamlet of Jageswar surrounded by huge Deodar (Cedar) trees comes into view. A small place with a number of shops selling mostly the things needed for Puja or worship, the main attraction of the place is a walled area with a large number of temples (124 in number) of various sizes in a cluster.
A small stream flows by the side of the temple complex.
The Temple Complex at Jageswar
The Jageswar temple complex comprises a cluster of 124 temples, all stone built, dating 8th to 13th century AD. Many of the temples are protected by the ASI (Archeological Survey of India).
The temples were constructed first by the kings of the Katyuri & later by the kings of the Chand dynasty. The older temples were renovated during the reign of Katyuri King Shalivahan Dev.
Adi Shankaracharya , the famous 10th century Adyata scholar visited Jageshwar and renovated and re-established many temples before leaving for Kedarnath & Badrinath in the Garhwal region.
Some temples in the Jageswar temple complex
The temples at Jageswar
The temples of Jageswar can be grouped into two separate groups :
A. The Dandeswar group of temples;
B. Those of the main temple complex.
The Dandeswar group of temples
This group of temples is located about 1 km from the main temple complex, & is the first one encountered when approaching Jageswar from Almora along the Almora-Pithoragarh road. Situated among tall cedar trees & small wild shrubs with beautiful blossoms by the side of a small mountain stream, the place is walled off from the surrounding by a protective fence.
The main temple here is the majestic Dandeswar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva with the same name. It is a tall structure, constructed in the typical Nagara style with a tall spire topped by an Amlok Shila (capstone looking like the fruit of Amla or Indian Gooseberry) & a Kalash (pitcher) as per the tradition, above which is a wooden roof following the Pahari style. The front façade has some intricate stonework in high relief. Inside, there is the standard Linga, the phallic form of Lord Shiva.
Other temples in this complex includes a 10th century (AD) Chandika temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess Chandika & Kuber temple (c. 10th-11th century AD) dedicated to Kuber, the god of Wealth.
Dandeswar group of temples
The main temple complex of Jageswar
This temple complex comprises of 124 stone built temples of various sizes. All the temples are of Nagara style with a curved tall spire topped by an Amlok Shila & Kalash. Some of the temples, especially the larger ones have a wooden roof, reminiscent of the Pahari style.
Most of these were built from the 7th to 13th century AD by the Katyuri & Chand dynasty and rebuilt or renovated by the Gurjara Pratihara dynasty. The earliest temples were built by the Katyuri kings. The Mahamrityunjoy Temple dedicated to the Mahamrityunjoy Linga of Lord Shiva is the oldest one.
There is a small pond called Bramhkund inside the temple complex, the water of which is regarded sacred.
The important temples include Mahamrityunjoy temple, Nageswar (Jageswar) temple, Kedarnath temple, Pushti Mata temple, Nilkantha temple, Dakshinamukhi Hanuman temple, Ganga Mata temple, Lakulish temple & Tandeswar temple.
The oldest temple of the complex, this temple is a large one with a tall spire, atop which is a wooden roof. Inside, there is the Linga of Mahamrityunjoy Shiva. It is believed to be the formed (Sakara) manifestation of the sacred Mahamrityunjoy Stotra, an ancient Sanskrit verse , a verse so powerful that recitation of this can keep away all evils including death.
Nageswar (Jageswar) temple
This is believed to be the original Nagesh/ Nageshwar Jyotirlingam as per the Sanskrit hymn Jyotirlingam Stotra ( “… Nagesham Daruka vane… ”). Incidentally, it can be mentioned here that the other two claimants of the coveted title of Nageshwar Jyotirlingam, viz. The Nageswar temple of Dwarka, Gujarat & the Nagnath temple of Aundha, Maharashtra are located in areas where there was no Daruka tree ever, as Daruka ,which is the other name of Deodar or Cedar tree, grows only in the Himalayas in India.
This temple is a large one, with a tall spire topped by a wooden roof. The entrance is guarded on either side by two Dwarpala-s or Gate-guards. There is a huge snake lying horizontally above the entrance as a mark for the nature of the Shiva Linga inside (Nagesh/Nageshwar means Lord of the Snakes).
Inside, the Shivlinga is divided into two parts. The larger one depicts Shiva and smaller one his consort Parvati . There are two Asthadhatu (an alloy of 8 metals) statues of Chand Kings Deepchand and Tripalchand in the standing posture behind the Shivlinga, one holding an Akhand Jyoti (an immortal flame) in his outstretched hands.
Pushti Mata temple
Dedicated to the Mother Goddess Shakti, this is believed to be one of the Shakti Pitha-s. Pushti literally means nourishment, and Pushti Devi is the goddess who nourishes or grants what any living creature needs. Besides the idol of the goddess, this temple also houses a Shri Yantra, an instrument of immense ritualistic value for the Tantric rites.
Lakulish & Tandeswar temples
These two comparatively smaller temples built in the classical Nagara style without the Pahari type wooden roof have beautiful stone sculptures in front façade.
A moderately large temple built in the classical Nagara style without the wooden roof houses the Shiva Linga of the same name.
Dakshinamukhi Hanuman temple
Dakshinamukhi means “South Facing”, & a Hanuman idol facing south is said to be extremely lucky for the devotees.
Temples at Jageswar Temple Complex
Stone carvings in Jageswar temples
Many of the temples at the Jageswar temple complex has excellent stone carvings. It is simply amazing that the condition of the artworks are so good even after one thousand years.
Stone carvings in Jageswar temples
Jageswar is considered a highly sacred place, & a visit to this place is considered as valuable as the arduous Char Dham Yatra (a strenuous journey to four sacred places in the Himalayas – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri & Yamunotri). People with religious bend of mind come here to perform various religious rituals like Yajna (Fire ritual).
Even for the not-so-pious visitors, the place with a strong medieval archeological aura is a great attraction, especially for those with an interest in the history, sculpture or culture.