118 years of Trust Regional vignettes THE TRIBUNE
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Saturday, December 12, 1998



A view of the Jawalamukhi shrineWhere thousands throng for darshan

By Bijender Sharma

HUNDREDS of years ago the town was an international seat of trade and business. Now it is known for its religious sanctuary the world over. Ruins of substantial buildings still remain. The town was a part of the Nadaun kingdom. Raja Amar Chand ruled the state. Raja Amar Chand succeeded his father, Raja Sir Jodhbir Chand, who was an illegitimate son of Sansar Chand. He lived at Amtar, on the left bank of the Beas and close to Nadaun. According to history, the town was established by the Gosains, who were the principal inhabitants of the town. Though still a thriving and opulent class, they have of late declined through profligacy and extravagance. Their business as wholesale traders gives a certain commercial importance to the town. The principal export was opium, collected from Kulu, and passed on into the plains. Rolia, a drug prepared from the fruit of the anola, and extensively used as a medicine and for dyeing, was also exported in considerable quantity. The city business was linked with Samarkand and Yarkand in Central Asia.

The sacred flame in the templeThere was a time when demons lorded over the Himalayas and harassed the gods and all good people. Lord Vishnu and other gods prepared to destroy the demons. They breathed fire and poured their strengths to a focus. A huge flame rose from the ground and as the smoke clouds lifted, the gods saw that a young girl had taken birth. She was Adishakti, the first Shakti. Hemkunt gave her a white tiger to ride on. Kuber gave her a crown. Varun gave her clothes and water, and the rest gave her lotus, garlands, conch, chakra and a host of other powerful symbols.

She grew up in the house of Prajapati Daksha and was known as Sati (or Parvati). In time, she became the consort of Lord Shiva. Once Sati’s father organised a huge Yagya and all the gods and kings ,except lord Shiva and his daughter, were invited. When Sati came to know of this, she decided to go away. At the Yagya she found that no seat had been kept for her husband, and the only welcome she received was from her mother. In anguish she cried? "I do not wish to keep the body which my father had given birth to". "She threw herself on the flames of the Yagya and died. When lord Shiva heard of this, his rage knew no bounds and holding the body of his wife, he began stalking the three worlds. The other gods trembled before his wrath and appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu let fly a volley of arrows that struck Sati’s body and severed it to pieces. Across the country, where those pieces fell, rose five Shaktipeeths, sacred to all Hindus. Her tongue fell at Jawalamukhi.

Over 800 years ago, according to a legend related by the priests, the goddess revealed herself to a Brahmin devotee resident in the far South, and directed him to go Kangra hills where he would find the burning flame in a spot overgrown with forest. The Brahmin, having obeyed the call, discovered the sacred spot, and erected a temple to the goddess. This story however, completely ignores the far more ancient legend, which identifies the flame of Jawalamukhi proceeding from the mouth of the Daitya king, Jalandhara.

Jawalamukhi is a place of Dhumra Devi. It is recognised and acclaimed as the highest seat of power amongst the 51. Shaktipeeths. It is said that the tongue of the Mahasati goddess fell here. In this abode of God, Devi is seen in the form of a celestial flame (Jyoti).

The present temple of Jawalamukhi is built against the side of the ravine. The interior of the temple consists of a square pit about three feet deep with a pathway all round. The flame escapes at other points from the crevices of the walls on the sides of the pit.

There is no idol of any kind. The flaming fissure is considered as the fiery mouth of the goddess, whose headless body is said to be in the temple bhawan.

The income of the temple, which is considerable, belongs to the Bhojki community of priests. Earlier the temple was controlled by the Gosians, and all religious duties were performed by them.

At one time the Katoch Rajas appear to have taken over control of the entire income. Under Muslim rule, tax of one anna was levied on all pilgrims coming to the shrine.

When Maharaja Sansar Chand-II of the Katoch dynasty was defeated by the Gurkha troops of Nepal under the command of Amar Singh Thapa, the area was ruled by them. After a period of three years, Raja Sansar Chand-II took military assistance of the Sikh monarch, Ranjit Singh. The Sikh monarch entered the area and fought the Gurkhas in August 1809.

The Gurkha army, exposed to malaria, suffered from sickness.Fever decimated their ranks and reduced the strength and courage of the survivors. Yet the battle was long and fought furiously.

At last fortune smiled on the Sikhs. The hill Raja Ranjit Singh went to Jawalamukhi, and there, in the holy temple, Ranjit Singh signed an agreement. Under the Jawalamukhi treaty, he reserved for himself the fort of Kangra.

The Katoch king of Nadaun at that time had magisterial and judicial powers within the limits of his Jagir. His father’s mother was a Gaddan, and famous for her beauty and charme. Jodhbir Chand had two sisters, also illegitimate, whom he gave in marriage to Ranjit Singh.

With the change of the times the religious city became part of Kangra district. Jawalamukhi shrine is the most popular pilgrimage centre for millions of devotee from all over the world.Top


A distinctive community

The 'samadhi' of Mahant Elaichi GirAMONG the religious orders in the hills, the most remarkable are the Gosains, who are found mainly in the neighbourhood of Nadaun and Jawalamukhi, but are also scattered in small numbers throughout the district. They used to be the greatest capitalists and traders in the hills and were an enterprising and a sagacious tribe. They have monopolised the trade in opium, which they buy in Kulu and carry it down to the plains of the Punjab. They also deal in charas, shawls, wool and clothes. Their transactions extend as far as Hyderabad. The Gosains are distinguished by the general name of Dasnami or Saniasi, and are divided, as the former name implies, into 10 tribes. The prevalent tribe in these hills in Gir. The founder of this caste was one Shankracharya, whose 10 pupils are the patriarchs of the 10 sects into which the brotherhood is distributed.

A disciple of Shankracharya came to Jawalamukhi and established his community. After that Mahant Elaichi Gir came and took the control of the city. He was a Sidh Purusha of this community. Sons in this community are not eligible to get the inheritance of the father, whose heirs are his adopted disciples.

The Gosains are divided into small akharas, each with a recognised head or mahant, who has supreme control over all the property, personal and real. When a Mahant feels that his end is near, he elects one of his disciples by word of mouth to succeed him. His election is seldom disputed. Should the mahant die suddenly without having nominated a successor, the fraternity meets, and with the aid of other Gosains, proceeds to elect one of their numbers to the vacant office. After the appointment of the new mahant, he proceeds to a second ceremony of even greater interest — the distribution of the deceased mahant’s effects, in which he is guided by no rule, but simply by his estimate of the relative worth and capacity of each of his disciples. This distribution called bhandara, strange as it may appear, is seldom contested. A Gosain body is not burned but buried, and over his remains a cenotaph is raised, dedicated to Mahadeo, and called a math.

Every Gosain, after death, is supposed to be incorporated with the divinity of Mahadeo. The ceremony of admitting a chela is very simple. His choti, which every Hindu cherishes on the crown of his head, is first severed by the guru. The hair is then closely shaved, and the gurumantra is read. The chela is thus initiated.

The city of temples was established by the great saint Mahant Elaichi Gir.

During the golden days of these Gosains (there were as many as 22), akharas were set up on the track from Jawalamukhi to Kulu. Each akhara possesed 700 to 800 kanals of land, and every akhara was under the control of a mahant.

At present the descendants of Gomti Gir are living at the Jia estate, which is located near Kulu. Gomti Gir is the last mahant, who himself owned all 22 akharas.

In keeping with their long traditions and customs, one of the direct descendants Vinod Mahant, comes on the eve of the first Navratra held in the month of Chaitra in order to perform the traditional pooja of their gaddi, kept under lock and key at Devi Tal located in the heart of the city.

— B. S.


An oil -rig in operation near JawalamukhiA task well begun but half done

ONCE bustling with activity in connection with the drilling operations of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, this township is now confined to the flow of pilgrims to the holy shrine of Jawalamukhi.

The offices of the ONGC in and around the town are virtually locked for the past four years as the commission has abandoned its drilling operations in the Changartalai area of Deotsidh and Baggi, near Jawalamukhi. The store office of the ONGC has become a junkyard of condemned equipment and tools scattered around. The administration office of the ONGC on the other side of the town has been taken over by the state government where the HP Agro Industries has set up its divisional office.

The exploration of hydrocarbons in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh was undertaken by the ONGC from its inception in 1956 due to the presence of oil and gas in this area.

Before Independence a survey was conducted in 1835 by Medlicott the Superintendent of the Geological Survey of India. The area was scientifically examined in 1853 by Macardiew of the GSI. In 1856 a committee was appointed for the purpose by the Punjab government. Macardiew, accompanied by Major Lake, Commissioner of Jalandhar division, and two civil engineers visited the area. The committee suggested the appointment of a person by the government to collect samples of the hydrocarbons present there. These samples were examined in Lahore in 1940. The government expressed willingness to launch exploration operations. Meanwhile, Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement was launched, and the plan was shelved.

After Independence Jawa-harlal Nehru asked Indian geological scientists to try and find oil and gas in the area. The operations were conducted with the assistance of Rumania, Italy, France and the erstwhile USSR.

Besides carrying out geological mapping and seismic surveys, drilling of exploratory wells was undertaken in phases on the basis of surveys carried out by the CGG of France in 1984.

The drilling operations of three super deep wells commenced in 1987 in Changartalai, Nurpur-Lunj and Jawalamukhi Baggi. Out of these three wells only the Jawalamukhi Baggi well has been completed to a depth of 4935 metres. The Nurpur well has not made much headway, while the Changartalai one has been prematurely abandoned. Now the operations were shifted by the ONGC to Madhya Pradesh. The ONGC authorities claim that work had to be abandoned because oil was not struck at any of the three sites. But reports said the ONGC had closed down the drilling task midway though the chances of gas being there were bright. Even at the Changartalai well drilling was done up to a depth of 4800 metres. The Jawalamukhi well was drilled up to a depth of 6,720 metres against a target of 7,000 metres. However, oil could not be struck.

At Nurpur the drilling was stopped at a depth of 4,935 metres against the target depth of 7,000 metres.

Millions of rupees and valuable foreign currency were spent by the government through the ONGC on this project without getting any positive results.

People of the area have urged the Centre to set up an inquiry commission to probe why the drilling operations were abandoned midway. They claimed that oil and gas definitely existed in the area, but the ONGC closed its operations because of ‘political considerations’.

— B. S.Top


A heap of garbage dumped outside the bus standCleanliness drive needed immediately

DESPITE the local nagar panchayat’s claims to the contrary, the town is fast losing its "religious maggot" thanks to garbage littered in different parts. The sanitation system is not only bad, the overall civic system is totally paralysed.

Heaps of garbage are lying in most streets. Garbage remains uncleared for weeks together. This is despite the authorities’ claim that in the past six months over 20 dustbins have been placed in various streets and localities. The residents are sore at the dumping of garbage behind the bus stand. During the rainy season, the area is water-logged. Sweepers generally dump the garbage on both sides of the bus stand.

At the bus stand there are dhabas and snack bars, and the shopkeepers generally throw waste in the open. Most of the shopkeepers have also encroached on government land behind their shops. A few of them have erected walls on the encroached land.

There is a water tank amidst the garbage dumps and thousands of tourists who approach the tank find it difficult to drink water. Officials of the nagar panchayat says there is no permanent place in the town for dumping garbage. Enquiries reveal that a few years ago the local administration had drawn up a plan for the beautification of the area, under which a community hall and a shopping Complex had been proposed. About 50 shops were to be built on both sides of the bus stand.

The community hall was to come up in the heart of the town. The hall was meant to be used for marriages and other social functions. The nagar panchayat could have earned about Rs 10 lakh annually by way of rent from shops and the community hall.

But as ill-luck would have it, the proposal was shelved with the transfer of the officers concerned. After that nobody was interested in the plan. Various diseases have been reported from the local hospital. Last year also the diseases were widespread due to sewage waste having found its way into piped water. With heaps of garbage piling up the sanitary conditions were poor.

The nagar panchayat has earmarked funds for the development of the town. But local residents have asked the nagar panchayat to spend at least 10 per cent of the development budget on cleaning up these places. They have also demanded that the garbage dumps should be removed immediately.

— B. S.Top

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