Yogmaya Temple in Mehrauli, located right behind the famous Qutub Minar complex is probably the oldest living temple in Delhi.
Mehrauli itself is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Delhi. It was the first capital of the pre-Islamic era and all the rulers ruled from here. It had a strong Hindu and Jain imprint at some point in time. 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 the Yogmaya temple. 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 sides. Enter the gate and walk about 150 meters or so and you would see the temple on your left.
Jain scriptures mention this Mehrauli area of Delhi as Yoginipura, probably named after this temple. It is not too difficult to co-relate this as ancient Jain temples like Dadabari is still present in this area.
Legends of Yogmaya
The Yogmaya temple aka Jogmaya temple is an ancient Hindu temple. It is believed to be more than 5000 years old, taking it to the Dwapar Yuga when the Mahabharata war happened.
Goddess Yogmaya is believed to be an incarnation of Adi Shakti Mahalaxmi. It is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. The head of the Devi had fallen here in the Pindi or a stone form. She is supposed to be one with the dominant Satva Guna, hence no animal sacrifices, no non-vegetarian food or wine is permitted in this temple.
Yogmaya was the sister of Sri Krishna, born to his foster parents Yashoda and Nand. When Kamsa tried to kill her by way of hitting her newborn head on a slab of stone, she flew away from his hands. She announced that the child who would eventually kill him had already taken birth. She then went to the Vindhyachal Parvat and lived there as Vindhyavasini. A temple there on the hill duly celebrates her. Even in Durga Saptashati, she is mentioned as born to Yashoda and Nanda in this cycle of time.
Some scholars believe that the head of Yogmaya is in Delhi and her feet are in Vindhyachal.
Mahabharata & Yogmaya
Some sources mention that Krishna himself had built this temple. The story goes 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 the next evening or self-immolate. 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. She with her Maya created a temporary eclipse that gave Arjuna an opportunity to kill Jayadratha.
Yet another legend says that Yudhisthira had built this temple after the Mahabharata War.
For me, all these stories just establish the antiquity and continued worship of Yogmaya.
History of Yogmaya Temple at Mehrauli
Yogmaya is the Kuldevi of Chauhan kings who ruled from Qila Rai Pithora in Delhi.
One wonders how this ancient temple survives all the waves of invasions in the city of Delhi. For the longest time, it must have lived literally in the eye of the storm. It was first attacked by Ghazni and then later by Islamic invaders. In mid-16th CE, Hindu king Vikramaditya Hemu restored this temple.
In the late 17th CE, Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of all temples including this one. His army trying to destroy it had a strange experience. During the day whatever they used to break, used to come up again at night. They started losing their hands in the process. When this kept repeating, Aurangzeb gave up and this is how it managed to survive. You can see a long room built around the temple. They were trying to convert it into a mosque. Remember, temple structures are always square and mosques have longish rooms.
This room now works as a storehouse for the temple, used to store the food items that are used to feed the needy.
It is safe to assume that temples may have been constantly preserved by the local population who worship the mother Goddess.
A little-known fact about this temple is that India’s great uprising of 1857 was planned on the premises of this temple.
Yogmaya temple is supposed to be one of the five surviving temples in Delhi from the Mahabharata period. Another old temple is Bhairav Temple right outside Purana Qila which was the site of Pandava’s Indraprastha. Other old temples are located close to Nigam Bodh Ghat and in the lanes of old Delhi like Khari Baoli.
Visiting Yogmaya Temple
Location-wise, it should fall within the walls of Lal Kot – the early 8th-century fort of Delhi built by the Tomar kings. There was a sun temple in the vicinity of this temple, but that can not be traced now.
It is a rather small temple. You would tend to miss it till you get to know its long history. There is supposed to be a temple tank or Johad called Anang Tal to the north of the temple, which I could not see.
Yogmaya temple is now managed by a trust. A family of the Vatsa priests has taken care of this temple for centuries if not more. I spoke to an elderly lady who was praying in the sanctum of the temple. She is the eldest daughter-in-law of the Vatsa family who takes care of this temple. She said, since the family is big now, they take turns doing the Pooja in the temple and this year her branch of the family is in charge of doing the Pooja.
Holding Durga Saptashati in her hands, she said that the current temple is not more than 60 years old. However, the small sanctum called the Goddess’s Bhavan is centuries old. The room has never been changed. The marble and tiles have just been added over a period of time.
The deity you see covered in clothes and flowers is just an envelope that covers the main deity beneath it. As I mentioned earlier, in Pindi Swaroop, the Devi stays inside a well-like formation.
She explained the daily rituals of the temple that includes the bathing and Shringar of the Devi twice a day. The water, curd, milk, and honey with which the deity is bathed are then distributed as Charnamrita to the devotees. Only men are allowed to be inside for the Shringar. The sanctum is too small to accommodate more than a few people.
She explained the Goddess is Shakti and how Shiva is always present with Shakti. While showing me the Shivalinga, she pointed out that it is placed slightly above the level at which Goddess is placed. She showed me the long room adjacent to the main temple which she said was an attempt to convert the temple into a mosque by Aurangzeb.
She pointed me to the beautiful fans that adorn the ceiling of the temple. The central big one was presented by the president of India during the Phool Walon ki Sair festival. Other fans were presented by other government officials.
What I enjoyed most about my visit to the temple was this conversation with this lady. She spoke with so much affection. Everything she said showed her total devotion towards Devi, 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. Everyone visiting the temple came and touched her feet. She would bless all of them generously. Her whole personality exuded devotion and affection as if she is the Devi herself. It was a blessing to just sit by her side and observe her.
Like all Devi temples, Navaratri is the biggest festival celebrated at Yogmaya Temple. Of the two main Navaratri, the Sharad Navaratri falls sometime in October and is celebrated with a lot of fervor at the temple.
Phool Walon Ki Sair
Phool Walon ki Sair is a festival that was started by Bahadur Shah Zafar. Some say that Akbar II started it when his wife visited the Goddess to pray for the safe return of her exiled son.
This festival originally used to take place in the monsoon month of Saavan, on Shukla Chaturdashi or the 14th day of the bright fortnight. Is it just a coincidence that at Vindhyavasini temple in Vindhyachal, Kajri is sung during Sawan or the monsoon months? I wonder what is the relationship between the monsoon and the Goddess. However, in modern and secular times, it takes place in September-October sometimes. This means it sometimes even falls during the inauspicious Pitripaksha or fortnight of the ancestors.
Indra Dhwaj Festival
It may have also coincided with the ancient Indra Dhwaj festival that used to happen on Bhadrapad Shukla Ashtami. Remember Delhi was the land of Indra and it was a tradition to worship him during the rainy season.
In the good old days, people from Shahjahanabad used to walk to Yogamaya Temple for Phool Walon ki Sair. They used to offer fans made of flowers at the temple on Wednesday and at the Dargah of Baba Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki on Thursday. It was like a grand picnic when urban people used to step out to spend some time in the forests.
This festival makes this temple a part of the new age legacy where festivals transcend religions and faith and become more community-oriented. The lady priest at the temple 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 stories associated, it is a very simple temple, with randomly done artwork on the outer walls. It is surrounded by houses on all sides and the temple Shikhar 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. Visit it to meet so many legends and stories, and definitely to see the perseverance to survive for eons.
You can walk around the area outside the temple, to see some upmarket boutiques and some ancient monuments. Just go around and feel the place for all that it has seen in the living history of Delhi.
Other Yogmaya Temples
There are many other temples dedicated to Yogmaya across India.
Some of them are:
- Vindhyavasini at Vindhyachal near Varanasi
- Yogmaya Temple at Barmer
- Yogmaya Temple at Jodhpur
- Yogmaya Temple at Vrindavan
- Multan is currently in Pakistan
- Alamthuruthi in Kerala
- Yogmaya Temple near Agartala in Tripura
Other Devi temples in Delhi include Kalka Ji Temple and Jhandewalan Temple. If you know other temples, please do tell us, and we will update the post.