For many of us, India presents overwhelmingly visual impressions. It is beautiful, colorful and sensuous; captivating, intriguing and puzzling.
My last visit to Hadimba temple in Manali had it all. I witnessed a unique Hindu ritual that has been under controversy even within Indian society for ages.
This rite is not exclusive to this region. You may see it throughout India, but it was the first time for me.
Reading this post, you’ll learn of some of the most common elements included in the Hindu rite that you may see elsewhere in India. But there are some less common features, though they reflect an ancient sound of India’s past. Seeing those features in action blended with an Apple, Samsung, and Google vibe was quite an experience.
But First things first…
Where is the Hadimba Temple?
Hadimba temple is located in the Dhungri village 2 km above the famous hill station of Manali in the Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh.
The temple stands amid a sacred cedar forest in the verdant foot of the Himalaya Mountains. The sanctuary is built over an enormous rock that juts out of the ground, worshipped as a manifestation of Durga, the “Hill Mother” or goddess of the earth. The temple was constructed in 1553 by Maharaja Bahadur Singh, who made a promise to the Hidimba, deity of the Mahabharata epic.
We’ll get to how to reach the Hadimba temple at the end of the post. Now let’s get into the incredible story that made this place so famous…
Here’s Why Hadimba Temple Became So Popular
The reason Hadimba temple is so famous in India is that it is linked to a well known pan-Indian great epic of the Mahabharata.
It all started when the Pandavs brothers and their mother had been forced to leave their future kingdom. Not only were they thrown into a long exile, but they were also persecuted and constantly were under a threat of being hunted down. Their political rivals just couldn’t sleep well until they knew that the Pandavas were no longer a threat. That’s what happens when you’re playing in the game of thrones.
This is how the Pandavas ended up dwelling in the creepiest and haunted forests of Manali’s…
Manali Tourism Office– The Demon Department Welcomes Fresh Human Flesh
Today many people would be very happy to spend their exile in Manali. But back in the Mahabharata times, it was a whole different story. It was far from being a relaxing place; no trance parties at the forests, rooftops restaurants, tea stalls, vibrant markets, and luxury resorts. Back then it was only a dense forest loaded with hostile demons who hated intruders.
It was the creepiest of all forests. And even brave guys like the Pandavas felt goosebumps when the trees’ lower branches swung down as if about to grab their arms. They needed the arms badly because the forest was full of mean Rakshasa’s ( Demons).
Even Into the Darkest Forests Light Can Get In
Like all good stories, the good guy always falls with the wrong chicks. Here, Hadimdi, who happened to be a nasty Rakshasi (demoness) and the sister of the meanest demon (Rakshasa) in the forest, fell in love with her ‘meal’. When the Pandavas arrived in the forest they found a spot to lay down to have some rest. Bhima, the strongest brother was awake and kept a watch. Hidimba asked his sister to go after them and make sure that tonight they’ll have some proper feasting. As soon as Hadimba saw the handsome Bhima, she transformed herself into a beautiful woman and warned the Pandavas about the danger they’re in.
But a guy like Bhima doesn’t fold up for anyone, not even for the toughest guy in the hood. After all, he had a reputation to think of. It didn’t take long until the Hadimb and Bhima met up at the ‘ring’ for a win or die kind of fights. Bhima killed the Demon. Not only were the Pandavas were saved from being a steak on a demon’s plate but Hadimba won the heart of Bhima.
It was great to say that the two got married and lived happily ever after but that wasn’t what happened. The two got married alright and they even had a boy called Ghatotkacha. But a short while later the Pandavas had to leave the forest.
A few years later, Bhima and the Pandavas had to leave Hidimba and Ghatotkacha, who had grown up to be an undaunted warrior. He promised the Pandavas that he would come to them, whenever they needed him.
He will prove his loyalty and his great skills in the art of war when he joins the Pandavas in fighting their enemies in the Kurukshatr epic battle.
From the depth of History and mythology to Hadimba’s temple 2013…
Endless lines of Indians who’re coming to received the sacred ‘sight’ of the Goddess- A Blessing through the Eyes
June has always been a crazy season in Manali, and the place is packed. Children are on their summer vacation, and for many Indian families, it’s a great time to leave the hot plains and go up to the mountains to get some cool breeze.
But there is almost no such thing for an Indian family as taking off to a family vacation without including a visit to a famous temple. The Himalayas are the abode of Gods. And there is no slight chance for them to miss a Puja in a Himalayan temple such as Hadimba’s. I can bet that for most of them visiting Hadimba’s temple was the part of their itinerary from the first place.
Before drilling in let’s find out what are the key elements of Hindu Puja
What’s a Puja?
The term Puja refers to the activity of worshiping the Gods or Goddesses. It combines a whole set of activities in a public temple or inside the house. Chanting of the sacred sounds ( Mantras), ringing bells, The pouring of water or milk, presenting flowers, sipping of sanctified liquid offerings, eating of consecrated food (Prasad) are all part of the Hindu Puja.
The Hindu Puja is super sensual as all senses are in full action.
Seeing is Touching
Diana Eck, one of the leading scholars for Hinduism from Harvard University, called it ‘Seeing the Sacred’. When a Hindu goes to the temple, he won’t tell you “I’m going to worship the God or Goddess”…He will say I’m going for a “Darshan” –that is an ‘auspicious sight’ of the divine. For Hindus, the deity is present in the image, the visual apprehension of the image is charged with religious meaning.
In the Hindu ritual offerings and prayers are not the only components, beholding the image is an act of worship and through the eyes, one gains the blessings of the divine.
When Hindus travel for a vacation, and they do that each month of the year by the millions, there will always be a religious aspect included in their itinerary. And they are always after a Darshan of the place of pilgrimage or for the Darshan of the deity of the place.
And here we were standing in the longest line ever. The previous iPhone launch lines compared to this looked like a line for collecting the first prize of the lottery. It felt like all India was here waiting for a Darshan.
A Son Comes To Pay a Visit To His Mother
On the same day, we went to see Hadimba temple the place was loaded. There were huge bronze pots lighten up on a designated area close to but not inside the temple courtyard. The sound of Religious music was heard from a distance and getting stronger. A large number of Pujaris, (those who are in charge of the procedure of the ritual in the Hindu temples) indicated that this Puja was not an ordinary one. It seemed like we’re inside the middle of a massive event. Not only by a local standard but something much bigger.
Splashes of blood were all over the back courtyard behind the temple leading to an open space in the forest…
We’ll get to that soon.
What was all the fuss about?
By now you know who Ghatotkacha is. And you also know that Hadimba is his mother. And you know their part in the highest authority tale which constitutes Hindus identity. That may explain why there was such enormous excitement. Not only of the locals but also of the endless Indian tourists who were there. It seems that we arrived in the day when Ghatotkacha came from Banjar valley, 80 km away, where he paid a visit to his mother.
They first met in Manu temple in old Manali. From there they’ve been carried in their chariots to Hadimba temple in Dunghri followed by enthusiastic devotees.
By the time they reached Hadimba temple, a gift was waiting for them…
Blood Offerings- Maintaining the Natural Order
Blood offerings and/or animal sacrifice is commonly known as Bali. Sacrifices and offerings to the Gods have been always an integral part of the Hindu tradition. It reflects a prominent principle of maintaining the cosmos. It preserves a fundamental connection between man and the Gods (or a higher level of being). The sacrifice has been always the heart of the ritual. But it has been under a dispute since forever. Is killing a living being, a certain animal- horses, cattle, goats, and sheep the only way to keep the universe balanced?
Not all the gods in the Hindu pantheon demand blood sacrifice. Those who do, are mostly described as “fierce, violent and ‘hot’”. The gods who fall under this category are dark forms such as Durga, Kali, and village goddesses like Hadimba in our case.
In Hindu belief, simply performing the act of giving blood to divinity will not always appease the god and guarantee protection. The ritual or sacrifice requires the incorporation of honor and devotion toward the particular deity.
A Lesson In Past Tense And Present Tense
What struck me, besides the fact that it was the first time in India that I saw Bali Puja, was the fusion of old traditions such as animal sacrifice with endless shots of the latest version of iPhones. People were taking photos, text messaging their friends, calling and surfing the net at the same time as the Bali Puja when animal blood offer has been made.
How diverse India is. Technology is being worshiped as well as the Goddess in the ancient cedar forests of Dunghri.
How to Reach the Hadimba temple
There are two entrances to the temple. One is from Dunghri village and the other one from Old Manali road.
From Dunghri Village: If you are coming from New Manali use the Old Manali Rd. After 600 meters you’ll meet a fork junction, turn left towards Dunghri. Within less than 2 km up you’ll be at the gate of the temple.
From Old Manali to the back entrance of Hadimba temple:
A starting point would be the Old Manali bridge. Turn to your right and after less than 10 meters you’ll hit away heading up. With a little leg work, you’ll get to a road (Hadimba Rd.) which will lead you right to the back entrance.