Mrikula Devi Temple of Lahaul- A Divine Poetry in Wood
Mrikula Devi TempleClick thumbnail to view full-size
The arts and crafts of Himachal Pradesh are an expression of a vibrant culture. The hands of craftsmen have created the magic that has transformed jade, silver, and bronze into beautiful crockery, jewelry, and artifacts. This art is on the verge of constant deterioration. The skill of local artisans has created the spectacular treasures of priceless wood carvings.
The devotees from distant places come to pay their obeisance to the goddess Kali in Mrikula Devi temple at Udaipur.
To enjoy the panoramic view of the snow-covered peaks, the tourists too, explore the whole valley and get acquainted with the life and culture of the people.
It is a sub-divisional headquarters situated about 54 Km. from Keylong and located at the confluence of Chander Bhaga River and Miyar rivulet.
The old name of the village was Margul or Marul but the earlier name was Mrikula. But Chatter Singh (1664-1690 AD), the ruler of erstwhile Chamba state annexed Lahaul. After succession, his son Udai Singh (1690-1728 AD), renamed the village Udaipur in 1695 AD. Udai Singh developed the village and made it the headquarters of administration. Later on, the name lost its significance and then again in 1965 the village was renamed as Udaipur.
The best time of the year to visit Udaipur is between the months of June to August.
Mrikula Devi Temple
The temple is of unknown age perhaps the 10th or 11th century AD. It has evolved through several phases of influences during the repairs in 11th and 12th centuries. In this period there were transition phases of Kashmiri art and the Buddhist art of western Tibet. The latter influence is evident in the inner facade of the temple, while the former transitional phase is represented by the three-headed image of Lord Vishnu.
It is believed that the temple was constructed from a block of wood by the Pandavas of Mahabharata fame.
Dedicated to goddess Kali, it is one of the most famous, unique and perhaps the last remaining wooden temple built in the early 8th-century tradition.
The name Mrikula has been derived from the village name where the temple is situated. The village has not much to offer except for its unique temple. The people believe that the goddess fulfills the wishes of those who offer prayers in this temple.
The similar Hidimba Temple at Manali
There is a striking similarity between many figures and other details of the later wood carvings at the Mrikula Devi temple and the reliefs of the Hidimba Devi Temple at Manali. The latter one with its profuse and crude wood-carvings was built in 1559 AD by Bahadur Singh, the ruler of Kullu.
There is a popular belief that the temples of Mrikula Devi and Hidimba temple at Manali were built by the same artisan. This belief has historical evidence too.
It was during the reign of Ajay Varma in Kashmir that the temple of Mrikula Devi was constructed. There is no proof to establish this relationship because no original work of that early period has survived.
A portion of the temple was repaired in 12th and 16th century AD. The influence of the art of Kashmir of 11th and 12th century is clearly evident as in the Tibetan touch in the inner facade, the outstanding feature being the three-headed image of Lord Vishnu.
Prior to the rule of Mauryan dynasty in the 3rd century BC, the temples of ancient India too were built by using wood. But today very little of these temples survive.After the Mauryan period, timber was replaced by sophisticated stone buildings during the Gupta period.
The basic pattern of temple construction was developed in 8th century AD. In Kullu district, the prototype of such architecture can be seen in Gauri Shankar temple at Jagatsukha, the oldest surviving stone temple in Himachal Pradesh.
Beautiful Wood Carvings
The wood carving of the temple belongs to two periods. The impact of the early period can be seen in the facade of the sanctum sanctorum, ceiling and the four main pillars of the mandapa. The latter period influenced the design of two additional pillars, the statues of dewar palas or the gatekeepers placed on both sides of the facade, window panels and the architraves supporting the ceiling. The exterior of the temple is ordinary looking, as it has been rebuilt and renewed time and again because of natural deterioration. The temple has the usual structure of timber bonded stone masonry work prevalent in hills and topped by a gable roof rising like a pyramid.
The artistic quality of wood carvings on wall panels inside the temple depict the scenes from the Mahabharata; the Ramayana like Sunderkand and Yuddhakand; the grant of land by Raja Bali to Vaaman; the three headed incarnation of Lord Vishnu; the churning of the ocean or the Samudramanthan; and Amritpaan or the drinking of elixir by gods, etc.
The ceiling consists of nine panels of different size and shape while eight of these borders the big piece at center. This central panel, around which the other panels stand, has been done in the Lantern style. The masks or Kirtimukhas on the central panel are characteristic of the 7th and 8th-century art.
The four figural panels on the four basic directions depict the Gandharvas busy with their consorts and holding the crowns, bracelets, jewels, chanvaras or fans. The dancing postures of these deities are those of the Bharat-Natyam and the costumes resemble the late Gupta period.
Also depicted are the Nataraja and Gauri with dancing Ganas. Bhairavas, the alter-egos of Lord Shiva flank the image of the latter on both sides.
The next panel is different in the sense that it deviates from the Hindu theme or myth and depicts the "Assault of Maya". Here Lord Buddha is shown in the center sitting on the Vajrasana in Bhumisparshasana calling the Earth goddess to witness his victory over Maya or the god of Lust and death?
The facade of temple carries elaborate, rich and intricate carvings. The niches of the door jambs have been carved into complex gables and are executed in late Kashmiri style.
The facade depicts the Ganga, the Yamuna, several Yakshas and. Kinnaras, ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the Navgrahas and Surya or sun god. Surya is repeatedly shown on his chariot drawn by seven horses making it explicit that the temple was dedicated to Sun god at some point in time.
Restoration Work at TempleClick thumbnail to view full-size
The architecture of the temple is quite impressive. The masonry work on the temple structure in combination with the alternate layers of stone and wood was preferred due to the climatic and seismic compulsions. This is known as the Kath-Kuni style of architecture still common in hills. The stone wooden alliance has become a part of the tradition and has never been abandoned by the people. This classical trait gradually became a part of folk culture or architecture.
The top of the temple is covered with a steep gable roof with wooden shingles. It gives the look of a pyramid which is very similar to the Shikhara or the style of pointed roofed temples of stone as are found in the plains.
Like the Lakshana Devi temple of Bharmour, the Mrikula Devi temple has an anteroom or mandapa in front of the main shrine with a solid wall enclosing the structure.
It does not look impressive from outside, as it remained exposed to the vagaries of nature and was rebuilt again and again. In vivid contrast with the ordinary exterior, the interior is rich in artistic quality.
The temple is perched on the slope of a mountain. In the structure of the temple, the boulders are filled in between wooden beams. The dimensions of the temple are 33 by 23 feet and the height is 12 feet.
The southern side of the temple rests on a 6.7 feet high platform, while the northern side has almost been dug into the hill. To save the structure from snow pressure and avalanches, the gap between the wall and the hill has been filled up with stones and earth.
The Silver Idol of Kali
In 1569-70, the silver idol of goddess Kali in her incarnation of Mahishasurmardini or the goddess who killed the buffalo headed demon was installed by Thakur Himpala.
The idol was cast by one Panjamanaka Jinaka from Bhadravah in Kashmir. The workmanship of the idol is not of a very high standard because the bodies of the goddess and the buffalo look bloated. The head of the statue is too big and the crown of the goddess resembles the ceremonial headgear of a Tibetan lama.
The enclosing frame suggests the Rajput style of Rajasthani brass idols of the 15th and 16th century while the back of the seat resembles that of early Moghul thrones.
The impact of the Moghul and Rajput styles is due to the reason that the latter had considerable influence in Bhadrawah as they had penetrated there via Balor.
The element of Tibetan influence is also not surprising in the neighboring area like Lahaul. Because the people of Tibetan descent in Lahaul treat Markula Devi as Dorje phag-mo which in Sanskrit means Vajravarahi.
Prior to the building of Mrikula Devi temple, the area of Lahaul had been under the supremacy of Ladakh for centuries. It was during this time that the Buddhist style of sculpture was introduced in the valley.
When the temple was renovated into the Hindu shrine, it was natural to choose the image of Kali because of its superficial resemblance to Vajravarahi.
The uneducated local population in its naivety could hardly distinguish between the Buddhist and the Hindu interpretations of the great goddess.
This Hindu revivalist style was introduced by Raja Pratap Singh (1558-82) of Chamba. The depiction of scenes from the episodes of Ramayana and Mahabharata is typical to this style.
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma