G. L Khajuria
With the dawn of civilisation, man’s quest has ever long been bewildering and enchanting in seeking solace from the great grace of divine Shaktis whose manifestations have mostly been confined to mountainous region of greater Himalayas. In our State, these divine Shaktis are presiding over every nook and corner and are being revered with utmost devotion and veneration.
The Devi Mata is one having a wide varied personification and is all pervading Shakti. She is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. She has been worshiped over the millennia past as per our religious script, The Vedas, Puranas and Upnishadas. She has also been worshiped as Aditi, The mother of Gods and is supreme, greater good of knowledge, fortune and ultimate bliss. She is the creator, preserver and destroyer of cosmos. She is the perceiver of the unperceived knower of unknown and is with flowing love for her delighted devotees. She is benign enough to forgive all even to errings and saviours us from all miseries and afflictions when we revere her devotedly with true mind, body and soul.
Nestling amidst lush green vibrant and salubrious pines and other broad leaved forests that exist at the sanctum sanctorum of Sarthal Devi. This barely lies 53 kms ahead of Thatri lying on National Highway-1B and some 105kms from Batote. Sarthal Devi Shrine echelons a height of 7,000ft from Mean Sea Level (MSL) and is a kin to the sanctity and Shakti of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi though of course there is no such rush of devotees because of lack of communication and allied facilities.
The Sacred Temple of Mata Sarthal Devi is having a single piece of idol the Goddess with eighteen arms. It is a mystical piece having power Shakti on the beholder where devotees come for Holy Darshan, pay obeisance and obtain blessing. It is believed that this idol is from Kashmir valley.
Some five and half century back, when Sultan Skinder, most prominently known as Sikander ruled Kashmir (1389-1412AD).
According to a popular belief, Sharika Bhawani (Sarthal Devi) who had her abode on Hari Parbat in Kashmir, once miraculously changed herself in the form of a small Kanyna (Girl) and asked a shepherd grazing goats nearby to take her on his back. Though astonished, the shepherd could not make any way out accept to carry out the order of the small girl and taking her on his shoulders; he was wafted through air and finally landed on the mountain by name Ujaal in whose vicinity the Temple of Sarthal Devi Mata till date exists. The shepherd boy rested for a while and when woke up, it was to his astonishment that the little girl took the form of an idol. He further perplexingly observed gushing out of a beautiful spring with nectar clear water.
As per another legend, Raja Agar Dev who ruled Kishtwar those times when once Mata ji appeared in his dream and next day, when the Raja was on hunting spree in the forest, he saw that all his hunted birds falling on a particular spot and to his surprise he found there an idol. So he realised the dream that he had the other night and ordered the locals to carry this idol to the palace. Strange enough, the idol had hardly been carried a mile or so long, when the carries wanted to take rest for a while. They laid the Idol on ground and is believed that this Idol could never be carried away from that spot which made the Raja to believe that this Idol is truthfully the divine Shakti of Mata Ji. As such, a Temple of Sarthal Devi was constructed there and with the passage of time, a new Temple was as well constructed there by Maharaja Gulab Singh.
This Temple of Shrine shakti of Sarthal Devi is mostly revered and venerated and whosever comes here is blessed with the divine Shakti of Mata ji and washes off his sins. The locals and the devotees who throng over here have heartfelt belief and adoration so much that even the childless couples are blessed with child by the divine Shakti of Mata.
It is said that General Zorawar Singh, the Dogra warrior who extended the northern frontiers of India to the extent of Ladakh and Gilgit used to visit the Shrine for blessings and he always came out victoriously. The great Guru Nanak ji during his sojourn is reported to have spent much of his time in Bhadarwah and Kishtwar and most oftenly visited Chandi Mata (Padder) and Sarthal Mata as well for Holy darshan and blessing.
It would rather be no oblious experience for all those who left their home and hearths to escape from the tyranny of the rulers of those olden time, Mata Sarthal Devi provided them zeal and supported them against all oddities and squabbles.
The number of Yatris (devotees) during Navratras on both the occasions around the year are extremely high from in and around the vicinity and also from far flunged areas of Punjab, HP, Haryana, and UP. A two day Mela is celebrated with much fans and fair every year and this year, this is being celebrated in the last week of July.
Apart from the Shrine Temple of Sarthal Devi, there are two other prominent temples, of Shri Sheetla Mata (who cures small pox) and then that of Lord Shiva. In reverence of Sheetla Mata and Lord Shiva, a fair is regularly held each year on Bhadarpada Amavasya and Maha Shivratri. Villagers of the vicinity and those from far flung areas throng in huge procession in new bright coloured attire with music of all hues viz. drums, flutes, bagpipers and bugles for which Bhadarwah and Kishtwar culture like HP folk lore occupy a specific placement in northern part of India.
Mata Sarthal Devi is an important Shakti Shrine in Kishtwar. The Temple and its surrounds are so mesmerising that all devotees are filled up with joy of spiritual bliss and peace. It has an important tourist potential which warrants boosting on larger scale. The Sanctum Santorum has been over the years remained neglected which warrants developments on all fronts. The attention of government both at state and centre level is being invited in arranging adequate funding for all round development of the area. The involvement of multi-disciplinary departments is the paramount need in boosting the areas.
The entire stretch connecting Kishtwar and thence to the scared shrine is in a dilapidating condition which warrants up-grading and improvement to avert the turns and twist and facilitating the tourists and devotees alike. Here the PWD and BRO authorities shall have to make all out efforts for ensuring life line of connectivity.
Restoring back Temple complex: Lot of efforts with extra expertise need to be inculcated to make the monumental heritage of Sacred Shrine a piece of heaven over the spot. The Archeological Department shall have to make the head way and do their best in restoring the Shrine apart from introducing additionalities to beautify the complex.
Carrying out Minor Engineering Works (MEW): Since the areas over the years have very baldly been dilapidated and eroded emanating from weather conditions and biotic interferences. It therefore, become pertinent to carry out all minor engineering works to safeguard the areas under threat of further degradation.
Construction of enroute shelter sheds: Since the yatries (devotes) during navratras are mostly on foot to Shrine, so it is imperative to construct Shelter Sheds enroutes at equidistance for their convenience.
Construction of toilets both for ladies, gents: This is most pertinent to ensure cleanliness of road and its surrounds. All such toilets are needed to be connected with water pipes to keep the area neat and clean. This task have to be taken up by PHE and its associates.
Extensive/intensive afforestation works: This is the paramount need of the hour to improve, protect and preserve the areas insofar as safeguarding environment is concerned.
Introduction of ornamental plants, climbers and creepers.
Such introduction shall have to be inculcated on both sides of the road to give it a picturesque look.
Also, this will boost spiritual and eco-tourism of the area, apart from improving the local economy of the area at large which is clarion call of the day.
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