Hotels in India »  Pilgrimage Tours India » Jwalamukhi


A marvel in itself, it is perhaps the only temple in India where natural jets of flame flare out from the hillside covered by the ancient, holy edifice. Known as Jwalamukhi-the Flaming Mouth- the temple has been a major attraction for an assortment of people down the centuries.

Kings, maharajas, emperors, courtiers, travelers from faraway lands, prime Ministers, and jet set swamis have, in all humility, joined the ranks of countless inspired pilgrims who have made their way to Jwalamukhi or the temple of the flaming mouth. For many, visiting Jwalamukhi has been the realization of a fondly nurtured dream.

The majority of pilgrims leave behind offering for the temple Gooddess and donations for the temple in cash, jewellery and kind, and on 16h October, 1991 the temple registered a record collection Rs.86,000/-. Between 1987 and 1992 alone, the temple received a total of 10 quintals of silver and four kilogrammes of gold from ardent devotees. The annual collection of the temple exceeds Rs.60 lakhs.

Beginning from Hsieun Tsang, the 7th century century A.D. Chinese traveller’s account of tongues of flames leaping forth from the hillside, the reaction and responses of even the casual visitor make interesting reading, right upto the present day.

Today, as in years gone by, the gleaming, gold gilded roof of the temple attracts attention from afar. Nestling in the Shivalik hills in Himachal Pradesh, the temple, said to have been built some 800 years ago, has lent its name to the hills around as well, which are known as the Jwalamukhi range. In the distance beyond stand the legendary Dhauladhars-the white mountains.

The structure of the temple itself is unremarkable. A long flight of steps flanked by makeshift shops selling the traditional offerings of coconuts, red gold edge pieces of cloth in various sizes, miniature silver umbrellas, bangles, hand woven baskets and bric-a brac leads upto the temple. It is the wonders housed inside the temple that evoke veneration and awe. Jets of gas escaping from the hillside cause small explosions as they come o life when a priest puts a matchstick to them. Clear, icy cold water from a natural spring remains in contact with hot, orange-blue jets of flame-and still retains its frosty coldness.

Through the centuries, pilgrims and priests have combined to leave a fascinating impress of Nature’s canvas: colorful pieces of mythology, history and riveting ceremonies have been appended to the continuously burning flames to impart an aura that is certainly magnetic, if not mesmeric.

Mythological, the temple belongs to the golden period when the gods roamed the Earth. One day, Lord Shiva, the Destroyer in the Hindu Trity, went to the house of his father.Instead of being welcomed and honoured, Lord Shiva was humiliated. On learning of the treatment meted out to him, Parvati, his consort, was hurt beyond measure and committed suicide. Grief stricken, Shiva picked up her corpse and wandered round with it, refused to part with it even when various parts of Parvati’s body began to fall at different places on earth. Parvati’s tongue is said to have fallen on the spot now known as Jwalamukhi, and flames arose from it.

According to another legend, the Goddess appeared in a dream to a Brahmin in far away South India, and directed him to proceed to the hills of Kangra in the shadow of the Dhauladhars and search for small tongues of flame leaping from the ground. The Brahmin, it is said responded discovered the sacred spot and in due course of time, erected a temple.

Some people believe that Jwalamukhi represents the flaming mouth of Jalandhara, the demon whom Lord Shiva crushed to death by placing on him a huge mass of mountains. Popular beliefs and history are often intertwined at Jwalamukhi. For instance, it is a fact that Akbar the great Mughal Emperor visited the temple. The water course which today drips into a tank in the temple premises is said to have been constructed by Akbar in an attempt to douse the jets of flames in the temple.

The story goes that when the flames refused to be vanquished by the water channel specially constructed for the purpose, Akbar with utmost humility, became a devotee of the Goddess, and overcome by emotion, presented a chattra (umbrella) of gold to the goddess. But when leaving, the Emperor looked back with immense pride at the valuable gift that he had made to the Goddess, and was mortified to find that the gold had turned into copper!

Later Akbar’s son Jahangir invaded the Kangra valley and after seeing Jwalamukhi, wrote in his Tuzk (memories) near the temple and on the slope of the hill there is a sulphur mine and its heat causes flames to continually burst forth. They call it Jwalamukhi(flaming face or fiery mouth), and regard it as one of the idol’s miracles… Jahangir goes on to relate the legend of Shiva and Parvati and other stories connected with Jwalamukhi.

In 1809, Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited the temple and after dyeing his hand in saffron, stamped an agreement in the temple premises with Raja Sansar Chand-the local ruler. Later after tasting success in the Afghan war, Maharaja Ranjit Singh gilded the roof of the Jwalamukhi temple as a thanksgiving. His son Kharak Singh, presented to the temple a pair of silver plated folding doors.

It is recorded that in 1835 the temple had a score of the most beautiful dancing girls. Today all that has changed. While improved and faster modes of travel (there are daily flights to the Kangra valley and more than 500 buses and 200 cars/taxis touch Jwalamukhi each day during the peak Navratra-Nine Sacred Nights-sea son) have ensured greater number of pilgrims than ever before, the administration of the temple has undergone a sea change.

In princely times, temple affairs were guided and supervised by the princely state of Nadaun. The raja (ruler) took upon himself the task of deputing particular Pujaris (priests) for daily rituals. After India gained Independence and the break-up of the feudal system, the pujaris of Jwalamukhi administered temple affairs to their advantage-and the detriment of pilgrims. As a result, in March 1987, the state government enforced an Act which empowered it to take over the administration of the temple.

Under the new system, the Temple Officer-who is a government official-ensures that the 102 pojaris at the temple perform the rituals on a daily rotation basis. 40 percent of the temple’s daily collection goes to the pujari on duty on that particular day. The remaining 60 percent is spent by the Government on improving and developing facilities for pilgrims and the poor and needy.

During my visit to Jwalamukhi Avinash Chandra Dani, the courteous young Temple Oficer, allowed me a rare peek at the innermost, fascinating workings of the temple. The preceding day’s collection was being poured out of boxes onto the floor in the presence of that day’s pujari.

Bank notes and coins of every possible denomination came tumbling out in a jumbled mass. There were also a couple of gold earrings, a gold bangle and silver trinkets. It took more than three hours to complete the counting. The pujari’s 40 percent takings amounted to Rs.40,000/-.

All through the counting, conducted in a small room, and thought the rest of the day, the temple courtyard reverberated with the mellow sound of temple bells and the animated, joyous cries of pilgrims who had fulfilled their heart’s desire of visiting Jwalamukhi and witnessed the phenomena of burning jets of flame.

At noon, almost 200 pilgrims who had been fed in the temple in the daily ritualistic ceremony called langar raised their voices in thanksgiving to the Goddess. And at nightfall, I watched the all powerful Goddess of Jwalamukhi being ceremoniously, reverentially dressed and decorated and laid to sleep on a bed for deep red gold brocaded velvet. Frenzied drumming by a blind drummer, the forceful clanging of all the temple bells in unison, and he deep notes of a shehnai announced he beginning o the engrossing ceremony.

A beautiful crown of gold, the daintiest of silver sandals, exquisitely designed bracelets, bangles and necklaces were among the princeless pieces of jewellery that were tastefully, carefully set out by the pujari to adorn the imagined image of the goodess as she lay on the bed devotees joined the pujari in singing a humn of praise, and at 10 p.m. a green and gold sequined velvet sheet was pulled over the bed of the goddess.

I followed the file of devotees as they tip-toed out of the massive temple doors, down the long flight of steps, into the bracing, cool night air, yes, there was no doubt about it: a visit to Jwalamukhi casts a spell over you-a spell in which the rational and the irrational merge into one.

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