Mehrauli area is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Delhi. It was the first capital of post-Rajput era and all the rulers ruled from here. It must have had a Hindu imprint at some point in time. But most of them were destroyed to create a Muslim identity for the area. Temples were destroyed to create mosques and build the tallest minarets. One temple that survived all the destruction was Yogmaya temple. Which is located right behind the Qutub Minar? As you go from the Qutub complex towards the Mehrauli bus stand, on your right you would see a stone gate with two lion figures adorning both its sides. Enter the gate and walk about 150 meters or so and you would see the temple on your left.
Yogmaya Temple, Mehrauli
The Yogmaya temple aka Jogmaya temple is an ancient Hindu temple. Believed to be more than 5000 years old. And dedicated to Goddess Yogmaya who is an incarnation of Mahalaxmi.
Mythologically she was the sister of Lord Krishna, born to his foster mother Yashoda. When Kansa tried to kill her by way of hitting her newborn head on a slab of stone, she flew away. And told him that the child who would eventually kill him has already been born. She is supposed to be a pure goddess. This temple is also said to be one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. And at this spot, the head of the Devi had fallen in the Pind form.
This is one of the five temples dedicated to Yogmaya. Other 4 being in Barmer, Jodhpur, Vrindavan, and Multan. In fact, some ancient Jain scriptures mention this Mehrauli area as Yoginipura, probably named after this temple. And it is not too difficult to co-relate this as ancient Jain temples are also present in this area. It is also supposed to be one of the five surviving temples in Delhi from the Mahabharata period. Location wise, it should be falling within the walls of Lal Kot. The early 8th-century fort of Delhi built by the Tomars. There was a sun temple in the vicinity of this temple, but that can not be traced now. There is supposed to be a tank to the north of the temple, which I could not see.
Ancient Yogmaya Temple
It is said that Krishna and Arjun came to pray at this Yogmaya Temple during the Mahabharata war. When Arjun’s son Abhimanyu was killed by Jayadrath, he took a vow that he would kill Jayadrath by next evening or self-immolate. But the next day, Kauravas kept Jayadratha away from Arjun, making it impossible for him to be killed. It is at this point in time that Arjun and Krishna came to this temple and asked the Devi to help them. And it is said that she with her Maya created a temporary eclipse that gave Arjuna an opportunity to kill Jayadratha. Another legend says that Yudhisthira had built this temple after the Mahabharata war.
Yogmaya temple is now managed by a trust. And a family of the priest’s who have been taking care of this temple for ages. I got to speak to an elderly lady who said she is the eldest daughter in law of the family who takes care of this temple. Since the family is big now, they take turns to do the Pooja in the temple and this year they are doing the Pooja. She explained how they do the Pooja. And told us all the mythology associated with the temple and its building while holding Durga Saptashati in her hands. She said that the current temple is not more than 60 years old. But the small room called the Goddess’s Bhavan is centuries old. The room has never been changed. Although marble and tiles have been added over a period of time.
She showed us the beautiful fans that adorn the ceiling of the temple. The center one being presented by the president of India during the Phool Walon ki Sair festival. Other fans were presented by other state governments. She explained the Goddess is Shakti. And since Shiva is always above Shakti, the Shivalinga in the temple is placed slightly above the level at which Goddess is placed. She also showed a longish room adjacent to the main temple which she said was an attempt to convert the temple into a mosque by Aurangzeb. And it is evident in the fact that temples are always square and mosques are always rectangular or longish on one side.
She told us the anecdote associated with this attempted conversion. She said that the men who were employed to bring down the temple had a strange experience. During the day whatever they used to break, used to come up again at night. And the men involved would lose their hands. When this kept getting repeated, Aurangzeb gave up this temple. And this is how it managed to survive. That long room has now been converted into a storehouse for the temple and is used to store the food items that are used to feed the needy. What I enjoyed most about my visit to the temple was this conversation with this lady. She spoke with so much affection and everything she said showed her total devotion towards the Goddess.
There was gratitude in her voice and a realization of bliss for being able to spend her time with her deity. It is not very often that you meet such people in today’s time. All the people visiting the temple came to her and touched her feet. She would bless all of them generously. Her whole personality exuded devotion and affection. It was a pleasure to just sit by her side and observe her.
Phool Walon Ki Sair Festival
Yogmaya Temple today is also a part of the famous Phool Walon ki Sair festival in Delhi. Which is a festival that happens in September – October every year? Where the floral fans are offered at this temple along with the Dargah of Baba Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, which is situated close by. This makes this temple a part of the new age legacy where festivals transcend religions and faith. And they become more community oriented. The lady priest also said that the two shrines share their devotees. Most of the devotees who visit one shrine also visit the other.
With all the antiquity and mythology associated, it is a simple temple, with randomly done artwork on the outer walls. It is surrounded by houses on all sides and the temple dome is hardly visible from a distance. The entrance gate on the main road is the most ornate part of the temple. If you are looking for architecture or grandeur, this is definitely not the place. Nonetheless, visit it to meet so many legends and myths, and definitely, perseverance to survive eons.
You can walk around the area outside the temple, to see some upmarket boutiques. Some ancient monuments and some monuments that carry multiple eras within them. The landmarks of the Mehrauli will be covered in the next walks. But with this walk just go around and feel the place for all that it has seen in the living history of Delhi.
Recommend you to read the following travel blog on Places to Visit in Delhi.