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Chander Verma
Shri Bhima Kali Temple in Sarahan (The gate way of Kinnaur) is dedicated to the mother goddess Bhimakali, presiding deity of the rulers of former Bushahr State, now part of Shimla District known as Rampur Bushahr about 180 km from Shimla. The temple is one of 51 Shakti Peethass. Sarahan is identified with the then Sonitpur mentioned in Puranas.Little about Temple ArchitectureMost of the temples in the region are built on empirical Kath-khuni technique. Layered treatment is the same as that of old houses in the region but they often appear as standlike sentinels in the landscape. The temples vary from a single storey to a tower with seven storeys. The walls are constructed with alternate courses of dry masonry and wood without cementing mortar. This types of wall construction involves laying two wooden wall beams longitudinally parallel to each other with a gap in-between. The space between the two members is filled with rubble stone. Windows are provided in walls with solid plank shutters on all four sides and are usually very small. The same window has rhythmic floral carvings on the outer face with a small opening.Projected wooden balconies are very typical in this structure. The roof structure is constructed out of wooden beams followed by purlins and rafters, topped with slates or wooden shingles.Sarahan in mythologyThis was where Banasura of the leg-end ruled. One night his beautiful daughter, Usha, had a dream. She saw a prince more handsome and far stronger than any man. And when she woke, Usha pined for that prince and told her friend, Chitralekha, about him. Based on Usha's vivid description, Chitralekha made his portrait. Partially consoled, Usha kept that picture close to her. Then Chitralekha vowed she would search the world over for that prince and bring him to Usha.For a long time, Chitralekha wandered till one day she saw Aniruddha, Lord Krishna's son. Here was the prince of Usha's dream! As Aniruddha slept, Chitralekha picked up the bed and brought him to Usha. But the moment Lord Krishna heard of his son's abduction, he marched with his army against Usha' s father. Banasura who hadn't a clue what the battle was all about was defeated. And then the story of the dream was told. Magnanimous as ever, Lord Krishna married his son to Usha and as dowry gave back the defeated Banasura his kingdom of Shonitpur, which is regarded to be the present day Sarahan.Legend Of BhimakaliBetween the legend of Banasura and the present day, comes the presence of Bhimakali - which is what Sarahan is all about. Again in legend, there was a time when demons lorded over the Himalayas and harassed the Gods and the Rishis (saints). After a long sequence, led by Lord Vishnu, the Gods breathed fire and poured their strength to a focus. A huge flame rose and as the clouds of smoke dispersed, they saw that a young girl had taken birth. She was the first Shakti - "Adhishakti".Hemkunt gave her a white tiger to ride on, Kuber gave her a crown, Varun gave her clothes and water. The other Gods gave her the Lotus, Garlands, a Conch, the Chakra and other powerful Devi, was to repeatedly take birth and destroy the demons. As Bhimakali, she appeared at Sarahan - the place is one of the major Shaktipeeths or Shaktipeethas or 'Places of Strength', where the Devi or Goddess appeared. While it was the local Pundits who spent hours with us narrating the legends, many are recorded in the ancient texts of the "Markandey Purana" and the "Durgaq Shaptshatti"The temple complex has another three temples dedicated to Lord Raghunathji, Narsinghji and Patal Bhairva Ji (Lankra Veer) - the guardian deity.
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The Bhimakali temple attaches a bit of history to Sarahan. This tranquil hamlet at an elevation of 699ft. became the capital of Bushahr regency after the royal family shifted their seat here from Kamru fort near Sangla in the valley of the Baspa River. Later when king Ram Singh shifted the capital to Rampur, Sarahan remained the summer capital. The royal family used to live in the temple along with Devi Bhimakali the presiding deity (kuldevi) of the family until they shifted to the Shrikhand view palace built a few meters outside the temple courtyard.In mythology Sarahan dates back to the age of Mahabharata. It is believed that the land of Kinnaur was the place where Lord Shiva once disguised himself as ‘Kirata’. Local belief says that Sarahan is the mythological Shonitpur the seat of the Kirat king Banasura, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva.In the temple complex there are two adjacent buildings – the old resurrected temple and its look -alike a newer one built by raja Shamsher Singh in 1927.The intricate wooden décor is mesmerizing. From inside it is the typical alternate grooved wood and stone structure with thick walls, narrow staircases and low ceilings found in buildings and temples in mountainous regions.There is a Tibetan influence in architecture.This can be regarded as a reflection of the old trade link between India and Tibet which passed through Shalabag, near Sarahan.Apart from the main temples there are three smaller temples within the premises-the Raghunath Ji temple, the Nrisingha temple and the Patal Bhairav temple.There are Hindu as well as Vajrayana Buddhist statues and even statues supposedly of the Kushan era in the temple premises. Legends say the ear of Sati fell at this place and hence it is also considered as one of the 51 shakti pithas.Presently, at the upper most level of the three storied temple the kuladevi of Bushahr estate is being worshipped as Devi Bhimakali . In the second story, Devi Parbati is being worshipped as the consort of Lord Shiva.Puja dali is available at the small shops outside the temple. Leather items, mobiles and cameras are not allowed. These can be deposited for safekeeping in a locker. You will also be provided a cloth to cover your head.It was early morning and there was nobody else except us and two or three aged persons who were someway attached to the temple. Barefoot we went upstairs covering our head with those colorful clothes.Apart from the occasional gong of the bell there was an undisturbed serenity all around. Upstairs you can perform the rituals by yourself. Otherwise the priest is there to assist you in Puja.The entire temple complex was very neatly maintained. The process was so simple and lucid, so uncomplicated and unadulterated that everything was seemingly merging into the peaceful nature around and filling our minds with tranquil surreality.Standing amidst that absolute serenity in the courtyard of an age old temple with the backdrop of snow clad peaks of the mighty Himalayas we felt as if we were standing in front of eternity. We bowed our head in reverence to the century old legends of Sarahan that amalgamates mythology, religion, anthropology and history to create the eternal heritage of today’s India.From Sarahan we drove down 17km. to reach Jeori again. From there we headed towards Wangtoo. Slowly the terrain began to change as we were approaching the interior parts of Kinnaur leading to the rain shadow areas of the Spiti valley.The lush green hills of Shimla made way for the awe inspiring rocky, brown and barren hills that are typical of Kinnaur. Here and there the huge hanging chunks of solid rock was forming gateway to the mythical abode of the heavenly musicians.Our driver stopped at a local temple(Taranda Devi) along with couple of other vehicles to seek blessing from the goddess Sherawali before moving further ahead.High up on the hills there were some human habitations scattered here and there with some scanty pastures. If observed closely, you can make out a thin thread like line stretched across the hills. These are walkways of the local people, mostly tribal, who seldom come down. They grow medicinal plants and some rare varieties of mushroom on the hill side. They are also said to grow narcotics. But the police do not bother to go up the extreme places to enquire.They rarely come down to nearest market places to sell their produce. We also saw a rudimentary cable carriage arrangements, which they use for hauling their goods up the hill while they climb on foot.Wangtoo was only 35km. from Jeori. Still it took almost two and a half hours because of the extremely precarious condition of the road. Here is an example of a man-made disaster in the making. The construction of several tunnels through the mountain sides for the Karcham Wangtoo hydroelectric power project has destabilized the entire area. We witnessed an entire mountain side crashing down in a landslide. There were villages on these hill sides which have now been evacuated. Remains of these villages come down with the debris of the slide. A land and its people sacrificed for modern development. The project may be a necessity for the state and the country but its harsh impact on the delicate ecosystem is scattered like scars everywhere.The river here has turned muddy and flows with a vengeance, augmented by several artificial flow in tunnels.The fresh mountain breeze is overloaded with dust and diesel fumes.After a short stop at the Wangtoo Bridge for security checking we proceeded towards Tapri.The narrow stretch of land between the black hill side and the river can hardly called a road, with boulders littered all around. Our car toiled up the dusty path.We reached Tapri at around 10 o clock only to find the main road completely closed due to yet another landslide caused by the project work.Tapri was a small settlement with few shops. We replenished our stock of dry snacks and started on an alternative route created by the Border roads organization. It was a temporary road build to let the stranded vehicles pass. The road went down almost near the river bed. The Sutlej was flowing only a few meters below. We crossed the belly churning stretch and reconnected with the main road and started to climb again.From here the road improved, and in every turn and bend we could see glimpses of the snow-clad mountains. The Ruldung range was playing peek-a-boo and was cheering us up.After a very strenuous ride we reached Karcham.From Karchan the road bifurcates. After crossing the river, the road at the right hand side runs along the Baspa river to reach Sangla valley while road towards the left continues following the boisterous Sutlej.From Powari the route takes a sudden left turn and starts climbing uphill.To our great relief,this road was smooth and well maintained. After a few more sharp turns we found ourselves hundreds of meters above the river. The tall green pine trees appear again alongside the road.Then suddenly after another sharp turn the breathtaking view of the entire Kinnaur Kailash range unfolded before our eyes. Its enormity made us spellbound and it was impossible to take our eyes away from it for even for a single moment. With every turn it came closer and closer. We felt like we could even touch it with our outstretched hand. Never before have we seen these gigantic white peaks so close to us. At the end of climbing seven kilometers we reached Recong Peo, the district headquarter of Kinnaur.
The Compulsive Traveller
The wood carvings on the temple are simply awesome