Surrounded by tall Deodar trees, a narrow walkway takes you to the Hidimba Devi temple in Manali. Temple kind of merges with its dull-colored surroundings and yet stands out courtesy of its elaborate roofs with a metal canopy on top. Hidimba Devi is the presiding goddess of Manali, an area that is home to many Gods, Goddesses, and Rishis.
Legends of Hidimba Devi
Hidimbi and her brother Hidimb lived in the forests in the foothills of the Himalayas, the same region that we know today as Manali. The siblings belonged to the Rakshasa Jati. Hidimbi had a vow that she would marry the one who can defeat her brother. You can interpret it as her desire to marry someone very strong.
Pandavas, during their exile, came to this part of India. Bhim defeated Hidimb and married Hidimbi, making her the first daughter-in-law of Kunti. However, as per her community laws or her desire, she decided to stay in her own region and not move with the Pandavas. Her son would be the next king of the forest. Bhim and Hidimbi had a son Ghatotkach, who played a major role in saving Arjun during the Mahabharat war.
Son of Ghatotkach – Barabarik would go on to be the only witness of the Mahabharat war. He is celebrated as Baba Shyam of Khatu.
Recommended Reading – Hidimba by Narendra Kohli looks at the interaction of Pandavas and Hidimba as the interaction of the civilized world and tribal cultures.
Hidimba in Manali is believed to be an incarnation of Durga. People come to her with all their problems with a belief that she will help them out of them.
History of Hidimba Temple
Hidimba temple must have been a cave temple at some point in time, just as most Devi temples on hilltops are. The present temple is built around a cave. The main deity is a rock emerging from the ground.
King Bahadur Singh built the present temple in 1553 CE as per the inscription on a wooden panel near the entrance of the temple. It is built in a typical Kathkuni style of temple architecture prevalent in hill regions. Alternate layers of stone and wood are used to build the temple. There are three-tiered slanting roofs and the finial or Shikhara is in conical shape built-in brass.
She is also called Dungri Devi after the Dungri village that the temple is located in.
Read more – Goddess Bhimakali of Sarahan
Visiting Hidimba Devi Temple
I reached Manali after a 15-day Himachal road trip across different valleys, driving through some of the most treacherous roads on earth. At Manali, I saw greenery after many days and it was like a return to civilization as I know it. So, when I visited the temple, it was to say Thank you for completing a journey of a lifetime.
As I walked among the tall trees, they had me thinking about how small we are when compared to nature, how powerless and helpless, and how dependent we are on nature. By now I was used to seeing stone and wood temples, but this temple was one of the larger ones I saw. It stands proudly surrounded by trees all around.
Carved wooden door
Closer to the temple the first thing that caught my eye was the intricately carved wooden door with various forms of Devi carved on it. There are auspicious symbols like a full pot or purna-ghatak, foliage, and animal figurines on the door. Among other deities, there is Mahishasurmardini, Vishnu Lakshmi on Garuda, Shiva Parvati on Nandi, and a devotee with folded hands. On the top of the lintel is Ganesha along with a Navagraha panel.
Inside the temple, you see the huge rock that is the main deity. Close to it, there is a small Murti is metal is kept. There is another rock with the footprints of the Devi. This means she is present here in three forms – a rock, a Murti, and Charan Paduka.
A hanging rope inside the sanctum has an interesting history. In the good old days, criminals would be hung by this rope and their heads hit on the rock. Yes, the temple played its role in ensuring justice in its jurisdiction.
Came out and as a reflex action started walking around the temple in a clockwise direction to take the parikrama. This is when I saw all the horns hung on the walls of the temple. At first sight, they scared me, but then I understood they are a part of the temple. Probably remains and reminders of the animal sacrifices made in the past.
It took me a while to take my eyes off the horns and take them to the richly carved windows of the temple.
Located close to the temple is a small shrine dedicated to her brave son – Ghatotkach.
A board there told me that there is a temple dedicated to Barabarik as well, but I was destined to meet Barabarik at Khatu Shyam a few years later.
Festivals at Hidimba Devi Temple
Navaratri is the main festival celebrated here. I was told there are long queues around the temple during these nine days of the Goddess. A fair-like atmosphere gets created during these times.
Doongri festival is celebrated on Basant Panchami as it is considered to be the birthday of Hidimba. It would roughly fall in February when flowers are blooming all around. Another version of it takes place on the 1st of Jyeshth month, roughly in May.
Villages from around come with their Gods and Goddess on chariots or colorful palanquins to celebrate the festival for 3 days. The deities like Kartikswami of Simsa, Chhandal Rishi of Parsha, Shrishti Narayan of Aleo, Shriganh of Jagatsukh, Vishnu of Shajla, Maladevi of Sial and Sankh Narayan of Nasogi, are brought in processions with music to Doongri. On the 4th day, the fair shifts to the temple of Manu in the village of Manali. They fly kites, play games, and pray to the Goddess.
This festival is also known as Hidimba Devi Fair or Mela. The Internet tells me that this fair is completely organized and managed by local women.
Saroohni or Bahadur Singh ki Jatra is held on the first day of the month of Savan that falls during monsoon months. In a way, it celebrates the successful transplantation of paddy.
Devi also participates in the famous Kullu Dussehra at the end of the Sharad Navaratri. In fact, the Dussehra begins and ends in presence as she blesses the ceremonial horse. the royal family of Kullu considers Hidimba as their Dadi or grandmother or in other words their ancestor. They used to visit her prior to their coronations.
Tourists at the temple
This temple is quite popular with tourists. Almost everyone visiting Manali visit this temple. The area surrounding the temple is called Dungri Van Vihar. You can see Yaks around ready to take you for a joy ride.
There are photographers who can dress you up in a Himachali outfit and take a memorable picture of this dress. Many honeymooning couples are posing their most romantic poses for posterity. Overall, there is an atmosphere of joy all around.
This temple is a declared “Monument of National Importance”.