Nanda Devi Temple in Almora
Nanda Devi Temple, Almora
Introduction to Nanda Devi Temple
Nanda Devi is the is the most popular goddess worshiped in several places in Garhwal & Kumaun region of Uttarakhand, the Indian state in the Himalayas. The region around Mount Nanda Devi, a 25000+ feet high peak of the Garhwal Himalayas, & the sanctuary of the same name, involving Pithoraharh, Almora & Chamoli districts of the state has the largest number of followers of the goddess, & hence the number of temples dedicated to her.
This article is about the Nanda Devi temple which is located in the Almora town.
The Legend of Nanda Devi
As the local legend goes, the goddess Nanda Devi & the goddess Sunanda Devi were born as a princesses in this area. They were very fond of each other & were always seen together. Once they were roaming in the forest when a bull started chasing them. The two goddesses started running to get escape from the raging animal, but it was hotly pursuing them. They became tired & hid behind a banana grove. They would have escaped, but suddenly a goat came & ate the leaves of the banana trees. Now the goddesses were exposed, & the bull saw them. They had nowhere to go, & the animal attacked & killed them. The goddesses thus left their human bodies & became two high peaks with the same names, Nanda Devi & Sunanda Devi.
The goddess Nanda Devi was being worshipped since a very early time. The mighty peak with the same name was always looming large on the horizon looking down the region, & people looked upon it as their patron goddess. The people started worshipping the goddess in the form of idols, & in early days only one idol of Nanda Devi was worshipped.
During the period of Chand dynasty, the worship of Nanda Devi took a bigger shape. The Chand kings regarded the goddess as their protector, & her stature increased many folds. The simple worshipping took the form of big fairs, involving a yearly celebration known as Nanda Jat.
The custom of worshipping two goddesses (Nanda Devi & Sunanda Devi) started from the reign of the king Bal Bahadur Chand.
The kings started building big temples dedicated to the goddesses, & at present there are many such temples in several places in the region.
Nanda Devi temple in Almora town
At the centre of the town of Almora in the state of Uttarakhand, in the Lal Bazaar area is the temple dedicated to the goddesses.
The temple is situated at the top an elevation, approachable by good roads. The road passes through rows of shops of the local bazaar. The temple is enclosed within a walled area. There are two temples there, one dedicated to Nanda Devi & Sunanda Devi, the other one to Lord Shiva.
Both the temples are built in Nagara or North Indian style with slight modifications. Both has excellent stone relief work in the outer walls. Let’s have a look at them one by one.
The two temples
The Shiva temple
With five tall spires or turrets built in the Nagara style with prominent Amlok Shila & a wooden roof on top (a feature not seen in classical Nagara style temples), the stone built temple bears marks of weathering all over. The outside walls have stone carvings which were once excellent, but in majority of areas now in a somewhat decaying stage, even covered with moss. High relief stone works showing animals like elephants, horses, snakes, birds, fishes, flora like flowers, human figures (one once beautiful panel shows a central male figure seating with some female figures, presumably a king with courtesans), figures of gods & goddesses can be seen.
Inside, a medium sized Shiva Lingam stood at the centre. There is a metal snake coiled around the Lingam. On one side along the wall of the sanctum, there are two stone slabs with high relief work of Lord Ganesha in one, & two female figures on the other. I could not make out who they were; two goddesses, or two princesses.
Photos of the Shiva temple
The Nanda Devi temple
This temple is also a modified Nagara style temple with a tall turret with an Amlok Shila atop which is a wooden roof. The outer walls are decorated with stone work of men & women, animals, flowers etc.
Animals include horses, deer, tigers, elephants & snake. One panel shows a hunting scene where two tigers are hunting deer. In others, rows of beautiful horses & regal elephants are seen.
Human figures represent Yogis with Rudraksh beads in hand, kings, dancers & musicians, and some others, may be with local mythological or historical connections.
Interestingly, there are some copulating figures showing couples in different postures of intimate contact.
Inside, there are two idols of Nanda Devi & Sunanda Devi, the two goddesses looking to the devotees with benevolent eyes.
Stone carvings on Nanda Devi temple
As one enters the temple premises, a serene atmosphere engulfs one immediately. The sounds & the cacophony of a busy town seem vanished magically. The stone figures on the temple walls stare mutely at the spectator with thousands of untold stories in their frozen lips. And the gods seem to look down benevolently. It is an out-of-the –world experience.
Almora has a hypnotic spell of its own. The Nanda Devi temple just emphasizes it.