Symphony in stone – Bhimakaali Temple

The Bhimakaali temple is an exquisite temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess. The Puranas link it to the demon slaying Goddess who descended to the earth and chose to stay on in the beautiful environs of Sarahan (HP) after the battle.

Symphony in stone – Bhimakaali Temple

Usha was the beautiful princess of Shonitpur, accomplished in 64 Kalas and 14 Vidyas, she was the darling of her father, the great Banasur, the powerful king of the Himalayan kingdom of Shonitpur. Banasur was trying to find a suitable groom for his daughter, but Usha had other plans. One night, in her dream, she saw a handsome young man, who smiled at her, crinkling his amber coloured eyes. She lost her heart to him. She did not know who he was. The strange dream kept recurring night after night and Usha pined away for this unknown young man. Her friend Chitralekha, who was a good artist as befitted her name, couldn’t bear her friend’s distress. She asked Usha to describe the young man and drew a portrait based on the description. Usha wept with joy, as she saw the face of the young man of her dreams emerge on the silk cloth through the deft fingers of Chitralekha.

Chitralekha then took the painting and went in search of the young man. After traversing the length and breadth of India, she found the young man from the portrait fast asleep in his bed in a palace in Dwaraka. He was Aniruddha, the grandson of Lord Krishna. Using her special powers, Chitralekha abducted the young man, still asleep in his bed, and transported him to Shonitpur. When Usha saw him, she was overjoyed. Aniruddha woke up in a strange palace, only to find a beautiful young princess tending to him. Like Usha, it was love at first sight for him as well. They decided to get married. Meanwhile, Lord Krishna had realised that his grandson was missing. When he found out that Aniruddha had been abducted to Shonitpur, he marched to Shonitpur with his army. However, when Lord Krishna realised that his grandson was in love with Usha, he married Aniruddha to Usha and returned the kingdom of Shonitpur, to Banasur!

This is the story an old priest tells you in Sarahan, a sleepy little village near Rampur in Himachal Pradesh, a faraway look in his eyes as he recounts the story. According to him, Sarahan was the Shonitpur of ancient days. Today, not much remains of Banasur’s legacy in Sarahan, except a charming tale of the romance between a young princess and the man of her dreams, literally!

These days, Sarahan is famous for its magnificent Bhimakali temple complex, a lovely fortified complex built in typical Pahadi style, with a sloping slate roof and alternate layers of stone and wooden beams. The Goddess Bhimakali is a form of the Adishakti, the primal energy manifested in a female form.

The Puranas have it that a long time ago, some demons started harassing the Rishis meditating in the mountains of Himachal. The Rishis prayed to Vishnu. Lord Vishnu closed his lotus eyes and concentrated on the source of all energy. Miraculously, a huge flame rose from the ground and turned into a fiery young woman. She was bestowed with many gifts and powers by the gods. After she destroyed the demons, the Goddess liked the mountains so much, that she chose to dwell there permanently. Thus was born the legend of Goddess Bhimakali, the presiding deity of Sarahan.

The Goddess couldn’t have chosen a better place to dwell. For Sarahan is a beautiful mountain village located on a high ridge that overlooks the stunning Shreekhand range of snow clad peaks. The rumbling, thundering Sutlej River snakes her angry way through the valley below. The temple complex is the nucleus around which life revolves in Sarahan. There are lovely cobbled streets dotted with apricot and apple trees that meander behind the temple complex.

Sarahan was the summer capital of the princely state of Rampur Busheher. Even today, one can see the signs of royal patronage. There are palaces belonging to the erstwhile royal family of Rampur Busheher in the land surrounding the temple complex. The current CM of Himachal, Raja Veerbhadra Singh is also the current King of Rampur Busheher and the only person, apart from the temple priest, who is allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and touch the Goddess for Pooja.

The temple complex is spread across three courtyards. As you enter the complex, you walk into a huge, sunlit courtyard that has the temple guesthouse, canteen and office rooms flanking it. On the right side, there is a lovely small stone temple of Lord Narsimha built in the Naagar style of architecture. As you leave the first courtyard to enter the second one, your eyes are dazzled by the exquisite brass and silver carvings on the huge door. Above the door there are intricately carved wooden windows. The second courtyard leads to a short pair of stairs. As you climb the stairs, you find yourself in the innermost courtyard. There are two temple towers here. One is the older temple structure, built out of interlocking wooden beams and alternate layers of slate rock. This tower was damaged in the  major earthquake that rocked the region in 1905. The structure survived because of its inbuilt stability but was declared too dangerous for regular worship. Subsequently, in 1943, another tower was built, meticulously recreating the traditional architecture alongside the old tower. The Vigrahas of Goddess Bhimakali and Lord Raghnath were then ceremoniously shifted to the new temple tower. The old tower is now opened only on major festival days. As you enter the new temple tower, you have to follow successive flights of wooden stairs to the topmost floor, where the sanctum sanctorum is located.

The best time to be at the Sarahan temple is late evening. As the shadows begin to lengthen, the lingering last rays of the sun bathe the crown of Shreekhand in a luminous, golden glow. The bells for the Arati start tolling. The entire temple complex reverberates with the haunting echo. People of Sarahan drop whatever they are doing and make their way to the temple. Soon, lilting voices soaked in devotion start chanting the words of the Arati. The dimly lit sanctum sanctorum is full of the flickering glow from the flames of the silver Arati vessel. Through that glow, Goddess Bhimakali smiles serenely at her devotees, as she watches over her beloved Sarahan.

How to Go

Sarahan is located at about 170 km from Shimla, off the Shimla-Rampur Highway. There are regular buses plying from Shimla to Rampur. You can easily get local transport from Rampur to Sarahan.

Where to Stay

HPTDC runs a decent hotel in Sarahan, but for the most atmospheric experience, try the temple guesthouse. They have good rooms with an attached toilet and hot and cold running water at a very reasonable price.

What to Do

Sarahan is the base for several treks in the region. It is also a convenient stop on the way to Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh.

About Author: Shefali Vaidya

Shefali Vaidya is a writer, photographer, newspaper columnist and mum to triplets, who loves to travel.

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