Vaishno Devi Mandir- Reasi District, Jammu and Kashmir

Navaratri is a festival of nine days,
where in the three great mothers of the universe Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga
are worshipped. Vijayadashami, the tenth day is to commemorate the blessings
showered by these three goddesses.

Durga is worshipped to invoke
blessings for health, Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity and Saraswati to invoke
Knowledge. All the above goddesses and their blessings are equally important to
us, as everyone needs health, wealth and knowledge to enjoy a worthy life.

Hence all the three goddesses are
equally placed. But a samsari or a family person place goddess Lakshmi slightly
above than other two, as wealth is a must for his daily life. Infact the reason
behind Sri or Srimathi being prefixed before a family person’s name, is to
denote wealth. However a Sanyasi or a seer place goddess Saraswathi slightly
higher and hence their names are suffixed with Saraswathi or Bharati (eg:
Dayananda Saraswati, Chandrasekara bharati etc)

All the above three goddesses have
various attributes and obviously have different names but they are all one and
the same.

This can be observed in Maa Vaishno
Devi temple, wherein all the three goddesses are represented in the form of
Pindis (circular or ball). Each Pindi represents Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durgaa
respectively.

Vaishno Devi Mandir is one of the
holiest temples dedicated to Shakti, located in the hills of Trikuta, Jammu and
Kashmir, India. In Hinduism, Vaishno Devi a manifestation of the Mother
goddess, is also known as Mata Rani and Vaishnavi.

Vaishno Devi temple is near the town
of Katra, Reasi district, Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the most revered
places of worship in India. The shrine is at an altitude of 5300 feet and a
distance of approximately 12 kilometres from Katra. Approximately 8 million
pilgrims visit the temple every year. A rail link from Udhampur to Katra is
recently completed and the nearest airport is in Jammu.

According to Hindu epic, Maa Vaishno
Devi was born to Ratnakar Sagar who lived in south India. Sagar couple remained
childless for a long time. Ratnakar, just a night before the child’s birth took
an oath, that he would not interfere with latter’s desires. The divine child
was named Trikuta and later called Vaishnavi. When Trikuta was 9 years old, she
sought her father’s permission and went to for doing penance on lord Rama an
incarnation of Maha Vishnu. When Sri Rama with his army set out in search of
Sita, he passed by the seashore where the divine girl was in deep meditation.
When enquired, Trikuta told Sri Rama that she was doing penance to marry the
lord himself. Sri Rama told that during his present incarnation, he had vowed
to be married only to Sita viz Eka patni vratastha. However, pleased with her
devotion, Lord Rama called her Vaishnavi, the devotee of Maha Vishnu and
assured that in Kaliyuga he would be born as Kalki and would marry her.

He also told Vaishnavi to meditate in
the caves of Trikuta range of Manik Mountains situated in the northern part of
India. Rama gave her a set of bow and arrows, an army of monkeys and a lion for
protection. Ma observed the ‘Navaratri’ for the Victory of Sri Rama against
Ravana. Hence even to this day devotees read Ramayana during the nine days of
Navaratri, to commemorate the above episode. Sri Rama blessed her that the
whole world would sing in praise of Ma Vaishno Devi and she would become
immortal forever.

Pandit Shreedhar was an ardent
devotee of Ma Vaishno Devi. He resided in a village called Hansali, 2 km. from
the present Katra town. Once devi appeared to him in the form of a girl. The
girl asked the humble Pandit to hold a ‘Bhandara’ (a feast to feed the
mendicants and devotees). The Pandit set out to invite people from the village
and nearby places. He also invited ‘Bhairavnath’, a selfish tantrik.

With the blessings of the Devi in the
disguise of a girl, the Bhandara was a great success. Bhairavnath was under the
impression that the girl had mystic powers. So he followed her to Trikuta
Hills. For nine months Bhairavnath was searching for the mystic girl in the
mountains, who he believed was an incarnation of the Mother Goddess. While
running away from Bhairav, Devi shot an arrow into the Earth from which water
gushed out. The resultant river is known as Baanganga. It is believed that by
taking a bath in that river would wash away all his sins. The banks of the
river, known as Charan Paduka, are marked by Devi’s foot imprints, which remain
intact till date.

Devi then took shelter in a cave
known as Garbh Joon near Adhkawari where she meditated for nine months
attaining spiritual wisdom and powers. Her meditation was cut short when
Bhairav located her. Vaishno Devi was then compelled to take the form of Maha
Kali when Bhairav tried to kill her. The manifestation of the Mother Goddess
took place at the mouth of the Holy cave at Darbar. The Goddess then beheaded
Bhairav with such sheer force that his skull fell at a place known as Bhairav
Ghat, 2.5 km from the Holy Cave.

Meanwhile, Pandit Shreedhar became
impatient. He started to march towards Trikuta Mountain on the same path that
he had witnessed in a dream. He ultimately reached the cave mouth. He made a
daily routine of worshiping the ‘pindis’ in several ways. His worship pleased
the Goddess. She appeared in front of him and blessed him. Since that day,
Shreedhar and his descendants have been worshiping the Goddess Mother Vaishno
Devi.

Stay 
Mata Vaishnodevi shrine is 14 kms from Katra town. There are plenty of lodges available at Katra, right upto 3 star category. One can book the accommodations on web in advance. Some lodging facilities like guest houses and dharmashalas are available on the uphill also. But one has to explore various ways of booking them, well in advance to get an assured accommodation. 

How to reach the shrine 
Walk the 14 kms stretch from Katra to Vasihnodevi temple. It takes about 7 to 8 hours to walk up and 6 to 7 hours to descend. Travellers have to carry their photo identity card to pass through the entrance gate at the Katra town itself. 
The 14 kms stretch is well illuminated for facilitating piligrims to walk at any point of night. It is quite safe as the whole path is well guarded and always crowded. There are plenty of Shops and Restaurants on the way for pilgrim’s requirement. One can get Tea, coffee to snacks and lunch at any point of time. 
Horse or doli for people who cannot walk. They charge about Rs. 2500 to 3000 per horse and the rates are variable depending on the season but one can always negotiate the price. Horse takes about 5 hours to climb up and 4 hours to descend. 
Helicopter takes just 10 minutes to reach the top. But still one has to walk about 2 kms from helipad to the holy shrine. It is better to book helicopter through online, as the local tour operators charge about 8 times the actual cost of helicopter ride. But this service is subject to weather conditions. 
Once we reach the top, leather purse, belt, mobile phone, hand bags are not allowed from the entry of the shrine itself. Locker facilities are available at the entrance and one can keep their belongings there or can leave them in the hotel room and carry only cash so that entry to the temple would be fast and smooth. 
Jai Maata di


Umananda Temple - Peacock Island Guwahati Assam

Umananda is another name for lord
Shiva and the temple of Umananda is situated in the peacock island on river
Brahmaputra. The temple on the island is on a small hillock called Bhasmachala.
As per the Mythology, Shiva resided here as Bhayananda. After imparting
knowledge to his consort Parvathi, Shiva sat for Tapas, but was disturbed by
Kamadeva. Angered by interruption, Shiva burnt Kamadeva into ashes. Hence this
name Bhasmachala. The temple was built by the Ahom King Gadadhar Singha during
the period 1681-1696. The original temple was devastated by an earthquake in
1897. But the temple was rebuilt by a rich local merchant. The lingam is
slightly below and is known as Ardhinarishwara lingam as there is a figure of
Ardahnarishwara carved on the lingam. The island can be reached from Northern
bank by hiring a ferry independently or by steamers either from Sukreshwar ghat
or Fancy bazar ghat.


Uma Maheshwarar Temple – (for incurable diseases!) Konerirajapuram, District Nagapattinam , TN

Uma Maheshwarar Temple in
Konerirajapuram is about 21 kms from Kumbakonam. It is on Kuttalam road via
Thirunageshwaram where we have Rahu temple.

Uma Maheshwarar Temple is very old
and was built in 7th century A.D. initially by Cholas and later developed by
Vijayanagar rulers and Nayakas. The Linga of Lord Uma Maheshwarar is believed
to be swayambhu.

This temple is about 21 kms from
Kumbakonam. One has to take Karaikal road from Kumbakonam wherein we get Rahu
temple in Thirunageshwaram after 6 kms. From there one has to drive 21 kms to
reach Konerirajapuram.

The presiding deity is Shiva, known
as Uma Maheshwarar and his consort Angavala Nayaki (Deha Sundari).

The temple has a bronze statue of Nataraja which is about 8 feet in length, which is bigger than Chidambaram Statue.

The statue of Nataraja looks very
real. As per the story, the Chola King Kandarathitha Cholan and his wife
Sembian Mahadevi were great worshippers of Nataraja. So they asked the
Sthapathi to make a statue of Nataraja with an alloy of 5 metals (pancha loha).
Obediently he made a statue but king did not like it. So he was asked to do
another one. So did the Sthapathi and the King not only disliked but also
furious and ordered Sthapathi to make a very good statue for the third and the
last time, otherwise his head would be rolled.

Poor Sthapathi was worried. While melting the alloy to make the statue for the last time, an old couple came to him asked him for water repeatedly. Sthapathi was already depressed and upset and in his terrible state of mind shouted on the old couple and asked them to drink the molten alloy if he they are so thirsty. The old couple was none other than Ishwara and Parvathi in disguise and the old man without hesitation drank the molten alloy. Sthapathi was astonished and meanwhile he heard the King visiting his place. At that moment he saw the old man turning into a beautiful statue. King was amazed to see the beautiful statue. Sthapathi narrated the whole incident but king never believed. King took out his sword and hit it on the leg of Nataraja statue and immediately blood started pouring from the leg. Now the King was terrified and apologized to Sthapathi. Even to this day, there is mark on the statue of Lord Nataraja ‘s leg.

Later a King named Pururavas who
suffered from Leprosy came to this temple, worshipped Lord Ishwara and by the
grace of Lord his Leprosy was cured. From then onwards this place has a shrine
for Lord Ishwara which is called Vaidyanatha Swamy. Even to this day lot of
people with various health problems come here and offer worship to the Lord
Vaidyanatha Swamy and get their health problems resolved.

The in charge of the temple Sri Gnana
Skandan is very knowledgeable. Under his guidance specific Poojas are performed
for various diseases.

There is a separate shrine for
Angavala Nayaki, adjacent to Uma Maheshwarar Temple. Here Nandi is offered
Pradosha pooja, which is believed to be very auspicious. The walls of the
temple has Brahma, Vishnu, Durga, Dakashinamurty, sage Agastyar and many
ancient idols.

There is a shrine having Pancha
(five) Vinayakas in the temple complex. Lord Nataraja has a separate shrine and
it houses number of idols made of Panchalohas.

Konerirajapuram temple is a complex
of several shrines, which dates back to more than 1000 years and is worth
visiting.


Tripurantakam - Andhra Pradesh

Tripurantakam is situated about 93
kms from Srisailam, on Srisailam – Guntur road and about 150 kms from
Vijayawada.

Tripurantakam seems to have existed
since Tretayug as it is mentioned in Skanda Purana. There lived two demons
(Rakshas) named Tripura and Andhakasura, who were great devotees of Lord Shiva.
They were harassing ever one in all the three worlds. Then Indra and other gods
prayed Shiva to relieve them from distress. Lord Shiva destroyed the two demons
Tripura and Andhakasura and made Tripurantakam his abode. Hence he is called
Tripurantakeshwara and his consort Bala Tripurasundari.

Tripurantakeshwara temple is on a
hill, where as Devi temple is located downhill. There is no motor able road up
the hill but have to climb the steps to reach the Shiva temple

Tripurantakam is considered to be the
eastern gateway to Srisailam. This was developed by Chalukyan kings in 11th
century, and is evident in the inscriptions found at the temple.

On either sides of sanctum sanctorum we find the sculptures of Bhadra and Anubhadra carved on the wall. On the northern side of the temple, there is an opening, which is believed to be a tunnel to Srisailam. There is also a temple for Veerabhadreshwara but unfortunately the head of the idol was destroyed by religious fanatics long ago.

Bala Tripurasundari temple is located downhill about 2 kms away from Tripurantakeshwara temple. Devi temple is located amidst a tank and during rainy days, temple is surrounded by water. The sanctum sanctorum of Bala Tripurasundari is slightly under ground and the local priest says that on the back of devi’s idol, Beeja mantra (seed syllable) is engraved. Since public are not allowed in the sanctum, we will have to depend on the words of the priest. The temple also has a Sri Chakra in the Sanctum.

In the temple passage, there are
plenty of excavated statues of Goddess Chinnamasta and other yoginis. Local
priest and also people offer worship to these idols regularly.


Thyagaraja Swamy and Kamalambal Temple, Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu

Thyagaraja swamy temple is located in
Thiruvarur, about 50 kms from Tanjavore, Tamilnadu. The consort of Thyagaraja
swamy is Niloptalambal. Behind Tyagaraja swamy temple is Kamalambal temple,
where she is in deep meditation.

The temple is ancient and very huge.
It is one of the holiest Shiva temples of south India. Evening Aarati to
Thyagaraja swamy is very popular.

According to the legend, Vishnu worshipped Shiva in the form of Somaskanda, associated with Ajapa dance. Shiva is said to have appeared in an anthill to Vishnu. The image of Tyagarajar is the foremost of seven forms, which lord Indra had asked Muchukunda cholan to pick up the original image of Somaskanda worshipped by Maha Vishnu. Muchukunda cholan had picked the right one the present idol at Thiruvarur). Indra was pleased and rewarded all the 7 idols to Muchukundan, which he placed in 7 different temples in his territory.
These seven temples constitute seven Vitankastalams. They are Thiruvarur, Tirukkuvalai, Tirukkaaraivaasal, Tirumaraikkadu, Tirunagai, Tirunallaaru and Tiruvaimur.

This temple is known for its architecture. The vast prakarams has several shrines of Shiva and his parivara devatas 
The idol of Tyagarajar is housed in a separate sanctum. A special feature of the idol is that most part is covered with cloth, flowers and jewelry, only face is visible. Their feet are kept open on the occasion of Paada Darshanam festival. 
This temple is renowned for music and dance traditions from ancient times. 
Thiruvarur was the cultural center for Cholas who extended great patronage here, especially Raja Raja Cholan I. Sundaramoorthy Nayanar is known for his close association with Thiruvarur. His shrine faces Tyagarajar shrine. 

The pillars and walls of the temple
are adorned with beautiful carvings. In fact we find an idol of Buddha which
was excavated in the vicinity of the temple. 
The vast Kamalalayam tank is situated to the west of the temple. A shrine of
Naganathar is located at the center of the pond. 
Achaleshwara is a temple built in the prakaram which is another Shiva stalam
sung by the Nayanmars. 
Great musicians like Shyama shastrigal, Tyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar- the
trinity of Karnatak music were born here. Dikshitar in particular composed
Kamalamba Navavarana, Thyagaraja vibhakti and Neelotpalamba kritis here. 


Temples of Bhubaneswar, Orissa

Lingaraj temple is the biggest and most popular temple of Bhubaneswar. It is a temple complex having Bhagavathi temple and other minor deities in it. The central shikar is 180 feet tall and represents Kalinga architecture. It was built in 11th century AD by Kings of Somavamshi dynasty and wasfollowed by Ganga rulers. Mukteshwar temple is considered as gem of Orissa architecture dating back to 10 century AD built by Somavamshi dynasty. Temple has a well known as Marichi Kund and believed to cure infertility.

Siddeswar temple is adjacent to
Mukteshwar temple. This was also built in 10th century AD. It is known for its
architectural marvel. This temple has a unique Ganesha idol in standing
posture.

Kedar Gowri temple is situated just
behind Mukteshwar temple. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva (Kedareshwara) and
Gowri ( Kedargauri). It is one among astasambhu (eight) temples of Bhubaneswar

Parashurameshvara Temple is one of
the oldest temples built around 650CE. It is considered as a Shakta temple as
it has deities of Sapta Matrikas.

Rameshwar temple is also an old temple and is called Mausi Maa temple meaning aunt. It is considered as aunt of Lingaraj.

The temples of Lakshmaneshwar,
Bharateshwar and Shatrugneshwar are right in front of Rameshwara temple. All
the three temples are in a row. They are also equally old and neatly
maintained.

Bhaskereshwar temple is also an old temple. Its lingam is very long. It originates from ground floor and extends up to first floor of the temple.

Brahmeshwar temple is also an old
temple dating back to 9th century AD. Temple is known for richly carved walls
and interiors.

Vital Deol temple is quite an old temple dating back to 8th century AD. Temple is dedicated to Chamunda. It is a shakta temple.

Raja Rani temple belongs to 11th
century AD. Originally it was known as Indreswara temple. Now there is no Idol
in the temple.

Mageshwar temple is also an old
temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The walls of the temple is carved and temple is
neatly maintained.

Chowsat yogini temple is about 16 kms
from Bhubaneswar in a village called Hirapur. It is a tantric temple and has no
roof. It is believed that these yoginis fly out every night.


Tarapith- Rampur Hat, Birbhum, West Bengal

Tarapith is located near Rampur hat town of Birbhum district about 275 kms from Kolkata. It is a tantric temple, dedicated to Maa Tara, adjacent to cremation grounds. Legends narrate different stories. One says sage Vasishta, visualized Goddess Sati in the form of Tara here. 
A second legend says that after drinking poison during churning of ocean, Lord Shiva developed intense burning in throat. To relieve his burning Sati in the form of Maa Tara breast fed him.

In the sanctum, there are two idols of Tara. The stone idol depicts Tara breast feeding Shiva. But in front of that stone idol, there is a metal idol, with four arms, protruding tongue and a garland of skulls. She has a silver crown on a flowing hair and she is wrapped in a Sari. She is decked with a garland of Marigold and a silver umbrella over the head. Forehead is adorned with red vermilion. There is a pond adjacent to temple. People bathe the goats in this pond before sacrificing to Maa Tara. A Cremation ground is located adjacent to Tara temple, but there are shops which obscure its entry. Several saints live in this cremation ground in small tents under some huge trees.

Bamakhepa, a Tantric saint
(1837-1911), is held in high reverence in Tarapith. Khepa means mad and Bama
(vama) means Vamachar. So it meant mad tantric saint. He was a great devotee of
Maa Tara and never followed any rules of rituals. Once he was beaten up for
eating food before it was offered to goddess. Then the same night Tara appeared
in the dream of queen of Natore and told her to feed the saint first as he was
her son. After this episode Bamakhepa was fed first at the Tara temple before
offering to goddess. 

A small shrine for Bamakhepa has been built in front of Tara temple, adjacent
to Kal Bhairav temple. Tarapith is a busy temple town, has lot of hotels and
lodges. It is well connected by road from several parts of west Bengal.


Tara Temple- Guwahati, Assam

Ugra Tara temple is located in Uzan
bazaar of east Guwahati. The temple was built by Ahom king Siva Singha in 1725
AD. 
There is no idol in the sanctum. A small pit with water is considered as
goddess Tara. Sati devi’s navel is believed to have fallen here and hence this
temple is considered to be a Shakti peeta. There is a Shiva temple beside Ugra
Tara shrine.

Long ago Yama the lord of Death
complained to Lord Brahma that nobody is coming to hell from Kamarupa (present
Kamakhya) in spite of committing sins because of sacredness of this area.
Brahma told Vishnu, who in turn told Shiva about this. Then Shiva ordered
goddess Ugra Tara to drive away all the people from Kamarupa. When Ugra Taara
started driving away people, they laid their hands on Rishi Vashista, who was
meditating there. He got disturbed and became furious. So he cursed Ugra Tara
and Shiva that they should not get Vedic worship. Hence they are worshipped in
Tantric or Vamachara way in this temple.


Sukreshwar Temple - Guwahati, Assam

Sukreshwar temple is located in the
Pan bazaar locality of Guwahati on the southern bank of river Brahmaputra. The
temple was built by Ahom King Pramatta Singha ( 1744-1751).

From behind the compound of
Sukreshwar temple, there are flight of steps leading to river Brahmaputra. One
can get boats or ferries from this place to cross over to opposite bank or to
visit Umananda temple at Peacock Island.


Someshwar Temple - Kausani, Bageshwar District, Uttarkhand

Someshwar temple is a very old Shiva temple. Someshwar is about 12 kms from Kausani and 35 kms from Dwarahat. Its main entrance is very inconspicuous and one is liable to miss it easily. So after crossing mall area of Someshwar town, one has to start looking for a small board amidst old shops. From a old board depicting the entry to the temple, one has to walk about 100 meters on a narrow path to reach the temple. 

The main temple has a Shiva Linga and has idols of Brahma, Ganesha and Lakulesha placed at the back of Shiva Linga. This Temple was built by ruler Lakshmi Chand in 1602 but the idols which are kept in the temple belongs to 7th – 16th century.

Besides these idols, there are
several sculptures of deities placed outside open to sky without any
shelter. 

The authorities have to open their eyes towards the maintenance of this ancient
temple.