Goddess Bhimakali – family deity of the Bushahar dynasty lives and rules in Sarahan. It was the capital of princely state after it moved here from Kamru near Sangla. Before it was moved to the banks of Sutlej at Rampur. Sarahan is located uphill from Jeori, a small hill town with Bhimakali temple is at the center of its existence. The drive to Sarahan takes you a bit away from Sutlej. But a lot closer to the lovely views of Shrikhand range of Himalayas.
Legends of Bhimakali Temple
The oldest legend at Sarahan pre-dates Bhimakali. It is said that Banasur, the son of Bali, ruled this land. His daughter Usha fell in love with Anurudh, the son of Lord Krishna in a curious way. Anurudh apparently came in Usha’s dream. The girl shared the dream with her friend Chitralekha. Who drew the picture of the prince and went out to find him for Usha. She brought Anirudh to Sarahan while he was sleeping. When Krishna came to know of this, he declared war on Banasur. In the end, Usha and Anirudh were married. It is said that their descendants have ruled this place since then. Of course, it came to an end when India got independence in 20th CE.
The legend of Bhimakali comes from the story of Sati. Who was the daughter of Daksha and wife of Shiva? She killed herself when her father invited everyone for an important Yagna, but did not invite her husband Shiva. Shiva went into a rage and carried her burnt body all around. The places where her body parts fell became the Shakti Peethas. It is difficult to find a word in English that can translate Shakti Peetha. But they are high energy spots charged by the divine feminine energy. There are 51 such places across the Indian subcontinent. Bhimakali is supposed to be one of them. As per the legend, the ear of goddess Sati fell here.
Bhimakali Temple Architecture
The Bhimakali temple complex has many temples. You enter the temple complex through an intricately carved wooden gate. You see the stone structure with the carved wooden top on your right. On your left are ancient stone temples. In the front is a canteen and a Vishram Griha or a rest house for the pilgrims to stay. A small stone temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was the first one I visited. It was similar to Narsingh temple that I had seen in Rampur. Built-in simple Nagar style, the temple Shikhara was surrounded by a slanted slate roofed wooden corridor.
The sculptures around it were simple but followed the iconography as per the scriptures. The shikhara of this temple is well sculpted with many figures including a prominent 3-faced figure. When you stand in this courtyard, all around, you see the delicate interplay of stone and wood – complimenting each other. Stone brings in its toughness and earthiness. Wood brings in its delicacy and ability to be carved at the hands of a craftsman.
Carved Silver Door & Scriptures
The Bhimakali temple compound is located a few steps up from here. A heavily carved silver door and an even more intricately carved silver doorjamb welcome you into the temple. The door not only has the various deities carved but also has inscriptions written in Devanagari and Gurmukhi script. We took a flight of steps to reach the entrance of the temple. That led to another courtyard that gives the first glimpse of the temple. I wondered about the Gurmukhi script. And was reminded that this state was a part of the larger Punjab state. Punjabi is pretty much an accepted language here. We stepped in to reach another courtyard and got the first glimpse of the tall temple structure. There were few more steps through another gate guarded by the two lions of the goddess to be taken before you can enter the temple.
Two tall stone and wood structure stand next to each other. The one on the right-hand side is a little plain and older of the two. The one on the left is the current practicing temple. It has some brilliant wood carvings on top. The new temple was built in the 1940s. But the idol was shifted here in 1962. The old building is now used for storage. The unique part of this temple is the tall structure. The actual temple is on the top floor. As if the deity has been raised to another level of height. Inside the temple, you go through the stairs to first reach the temple on the first floor that belongs to Parvati – or the daughter of the mountains.
We saw a huge Tijori or a treasure chest inside the temple. That was obviously locked. But reminded me of the fact that temples used to be a kind of banks in earlier days.
Goddess Bhimakali is located on the second floor along with other deities including an image of Buddha. All 9 avatars of Devi are present here in form of idols including a prominent one of Chamunda. The small mask-like metal crafted figurines along with the main idols intrigued me. The priest told me these are Kuldevatas of the queen who married into the royal family of Bushahr. How equitable the society would have been then. When not only the girls would continue to pursue their faith after marriage but their faith would also be seamlessly assimilated into their adopted family.
Unique Architecture of Temple
The Bhimakali temple is unique in its architecture. Even across Kinnaur and rest of Himachal Pradesh. I did not find a temple that looked anywhere close to this temple. I would later learn that this was a directive. That no other building or temple can be built in the same fashion. It seems everyone followed. This can be a way to give a unique identity to the deity. Or this could be a height of reverence for her. From the windows of the top floor of the temple, you see a lovely view of the hills around. Especially the view of Shrikhand range. It felt as if the best view from this place has been reserved for the goddess Bhimakali. And her devotees who pay her a visit.
Museum at Temple
Temple complex also has a small museum that showcases the various items used by the temple overages. It has old utensils – the size of which tells the number of people who used to feast here. Weapons that I suppose are associated with the goddess. Various musical instruments that I assume would have been played at festivals held here. Various lamps tell the shapes and styles practiced by the craftsmen here. A small temple dedicated to Lankra Veer – a local incarnation of the Bhairon or Bhairav is located next to the museum. There is a fairly large Havan Kund with a slanted roof on top. There are living units in front of the temple that is used by the families of the priests.
Not too far from the Bhimakali temple is the old palace of the Bushahr family. It is partially open to the public. Take a walk around the streets leading to Bhimakali temple. Around temple, it is a typical temple street. Lanes of shops selling items that are offered at the temple. The mountain peaks all around, make Sarahan what it is – a Himalayan town.
No photography, no bags, and no leather items are allowed inside the temple. You are given a cap to cover your head while in the temple complex. You can take pictures inside the complex, though.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Himachal on my travel blog.