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.
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 travellers
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
Natures 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.
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
Parvatis body began to fall at different places on earth.
Parvatis tongue is said to have fallen on the spot now known as
Jwalamukhi, and flames arose from it.
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
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.
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 Akbars 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 idols 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
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 temples 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 days collection was being poured out of
boxes onto the floor in the presence of that days 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
pujaris 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
hearts 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.