Jageshwar Dham is the Shiva’s abode as Jageshwar or Nagesh in the wooded highlands of Uttaranchal. I had seen images of stone temples of Kumaon region of Uttaranchal and always wanted to visit them. What I had not expected is a whole temple town dedicated to Shiva temples. We reached Jageshwar from Almora after a short drive of 35 km that goes through the tall pine trees. As we got closer to the Jageshwar town, the pine trees gave way to the Deodar trees and the valley wore a dark green look.
A few km short of Jageshwar we got the first glimpse of stone temples here. A small group of temples was standing across a small stream separating the hill and the road. After a km or so, we found ourselves in a small valley surrounded by a thick cover of dark green and tall deodar trees. On one side of the road is the KMVN Tourist Rest House and on other the Jageshwar Temple Complex. In between, there is a small building with a lovely doorjamb. This is the ASI site museum – a treasure I would soon discover.
Jageshwar Temple complex is like a small nest in the middle of tall and thick Deodar trees along the bend of a river.
A few houses with intricately carved wooden doors and windows are scattered on the hill facing the Jageshwar temple complex. The lane opposite the temple has a small market and that is all. You see a complete town in a narrow valley that has an ancient temple complex with no less than 130 temples, a village, its market, a river and a jungle. All in one frame. You wonder how it would be to live here – like living in an extended family home where a lot of guests come visiting. Or would you live as caretakers of the ancient temples, after all the life here revolves around the temples? How it would be to see the snowfall and add a layer of white cover to the landscape. There was no end to the scenarios that played in my mind.
Come with me to see one of the oldest surviving temple towns in North India.
The main temple complex that is defined by a tall stone wall, called Jageshwar Dham, contains 124 big and small temples within its precincts. From a distance, you can see the temple Shikharas or the temple spires. I felt a certain pull that did not let me take my eyes off the temples all the time that I was in Jageshwar.
Shiva Temples of Jageshwar
There are 124 temples in the Jageshwar Dham temple complex – all dedicated to Shiva in the form of a Linga. However, each temple has a different name, some called by the different forms of Shiva but some dedicated to other celestial forms like Nav-Graha or the nine planets. There is one temple dedicated to Shakti and has a lovely idol in it. One is dedicated to Dakshinmukhi Hanuman and another to Nav-Durga.
Most temples have a Shivalinga inside them. The names of the temple come from the panel on top of the temple entrance. For example, Kuber Temple has a Kuber panel, Lakulisha Temple has a Lakulisha and the temple with dancing Shiva panel is called Tandeshwar Temple.
Most of the temples at Jageshwar Temple Complex are built in Nagara style with tall shikhara dominating the temple structure. Additionally, the bigger temples have a wooden roof built over them – this is specific to this region. It is called Bijaura in the local language. This gives a Nepalese or Tibetan touch to these temples. There are a few that are made in South Indian style that makes you wonder about the sacred geography of India before the transportation revolution.
It is said that Jageshwar used to fall on the ancient pilgrim route to Kailash Mansarovar. It also finds mentions in the travelogues of Huan Tsang.
Most temples were built by the Katyuri dynasty that ruled the area from 7th to 14th CE. These temples were then maintained by Chand rulers who ruled from 15-18th CE. Inscriptions in the temples also mention Malla Kings.
Festivals of Jageshwar Dham
Two main festivals associated with Shiva are celebrated at Jageshwar. One is, of course, Shivratri and the other is Shravan Maas or the Hindu month of Saavan that roughly falls from July to August.
I was told the temples remain crowded during this time.
History & Legends of Jageshwar Dham
A temple booklet tells me that Jageshwar Jyotirlinga finds a mention in the Manas Khand of Skanda Purana. There is a mention of 8th Jyotirlings that is called Nagesh and that is located in the Daruka Van. The name come comes from Devdaru trees that surround the temple. Stream flowing next to the temple is called Jata Ganga i.e. Ganga that is coming out of the locks of Shiva.
Alternate names of Jageshwar include – Yogeshwar, Hatkeshwar, and Nageshwar.
As per the legends, after destroying the Daksh Prajapati, and after smearing his body with the ashes of his wife Sati, this is where Shiva sat to meditate. A story says that the wives of the sages got attracted to him and this infuriated the sages. In response, Shiva cut off his phallus and that brought darkness to the earth. To solve this problem, sages then installed the Linga as a representation of Shiva himself. This is how the tradition of Linga worship started.
Another legend says that Luv and Kush – sons of Lord Ram performed Yagna here. They invited various devatas here for the same. It is believed that they were the ones to first set up these temples.
Main Temples of Jageshwar Dham
Jageshwar Temple – 8th Jyotirlinga or Nagesh Jyotirlinga
There are 12 Jyotirlingas across India – the sacred Shiva temples. A Sanskrit Shlok by Adi Shankaracharya talks about all 12 of them in a verse:
सौराष्ट्रे सोमनाथं च श्रीशैले मल्लिकार्जुनम् । उज्जयिन्यां महाकालमोकांरममलेश्वरम् ।
परल्यां वैद्यनाथं च डाकिन्यां भीमशंकरम् । सेतुबंधे तु रामेशं नागेशं दारूकावने ।
वाराणस्यां तु विश्वेशं त्रयंम्बकं गौतमीतटे । हिमालये तु केदारं घुश्मेशं च शिवालये ।
ऐतानि ज्योतिर्लिंगानि सायं प्रातः पठेन्नरः ।सप्तजन्मकृतं पापं स्मरणेन विनश्यति ।
All practicing Hindus want to visit them in their lifetime. Seen through a contemporary lens, if you see all these places, you have seen all four corners of India. All of these are located in different regions and in very different landscapes.
The Jyotirlinga at Jageshwar is in the form of Nagesh or the king of Snakes. Indeed, the Shivalinga here is adorned with a serpent.
Jageshwar temple is located at one end of the Jageshwar temple complex, facing the west direction. Two life sizes idols of Dwarpalas stand on either side of the main entrance – they are called Nandi and Skandi. Inside the temple, you pass through a Mandapa to reach the Garbhagriha or sanctum Santorum.
On the way, you can see a lot of small idols of Shiva Parivar like Ganesha and Parvati. All of them wear the signs of regular worship. The huge Shivalinga can be seen on the ground. You can request the temple priest to show you the real Shivalinga – which is a pair of two stones – representing the Shiva and the Shakti.
The stone is supposed to be Swayambhu i.e something that has emerged on its own from the womb of the earth. It seems there is an active water source that passes beneath the Shivalinga. You can see the bubbles that emerge from it.
Arti at Jageshwar Temple
You can attend the evening Arti that happens around sunset time. It takes around 45 minutes and this is when the stone temples come alive with music and chants. There is not much crowd. You can easily sit around the Shivalinga and watch the priests bathe it and dress it up. You can also perform the Arti. This is the regular Arti open to anyone. You can also get special Poojas like Rudrabhishek done here.
There are two metal images of Chand rulers – Deepchand and Tripalchand standing behind the Shivalinga. Deep Chand holds the diya or lamp in his hands. This is an eternal flame that keeps burning all the time. It takes 1.25 kgs of pure ghee to keep it burning. Devotees offer this as an offering to the temple. It seems this is an ancient practice across Shiva temples in India. I remember reading about a similar practice in ancient Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu.
Mahamrityunjay Mahadev Temple
Mahamrityunjay Mahadev temple is the oldest and the largest temple of Jageshwar temple complex. It is also located in the center of the complex. You see it on your right as soon as you enter the temple complex.
This is supposedly the first temple where Linga was first worshiped, starting a tradition of worshipping Shiva as a Linga. The priest will point out an eye like an incision on the stone lingam here. The Shivalinga at Mahamrityunjay Mahadev temple here is quite large with the Mahamrityunjay mantra written on the wall in bold letters.
Archaeologists have found 25 inscriptions on the walls of this temple that date back to 7-10 CE. These inscriptions are in Sanskrit language and Brahmi script. On the Shikhara of the temple is a panel showing Lakulisha being worshiped by a royal couple. Above it are carved the three faces of Shiva.
As a typical ancient Indian temple, its stone walls are carved with all signs of auspiciousness and prosperity. It is here that I got a feeling of how our ancient temples would have looked. The priests and people – both locals and visitors come and sit around temples. They interact, they worship, they share and the temple becomes a common place for people to meet and greet.
Pushti Devi Temple
This temple is located towards the extreme right of the complex and just behind Mahamritunjay Mahadev temple. It is a relatively small temple with a long vestibule that has typically Himalayan roof of slanted slate slabs. It has an idol of the goddess who is also known as Pushti Bhagwati Maa.
Dakshinukhi Hanuman Temple
One of the temples has a life-size Hanuman idol. To me, this idol looks relatively new, as the idol does not match the aesthetics of the rest of the temple.
Nav Griha Temple
This is a group of 9 temples dedicated to all the 9 planets in Hindu cosmology, including a temple dedicated to Sun God.
Kedarnath Temple – another of the Jyotirlingas, is also located in the state of Uttarakhand, high up in the Himalayas. In this temple the Shivalings is in the shape of an irregular rock – just like it is at Kedar Nath.
Lakulisha is considered 28th avatar of Shiva, some even call it an independent cult it itself. It seems this form of Shiva is worshiped in Uttarakhand and in Gujarat. It is often shown with a stick in hand. At Jageshwar it is seen at the panels of few temples.
Standing next to Lakulisha temple this is another small temple with Shivalinga in it. The front panel depicts a dancing Shiva or Shiva performing Tandav.
Batuk Bhairav Temple
This is the first temple you see on your left – right next to the place where you take off shoes to enter the temple complex. I assume the idols inside are some forms of Bhairav. Devotees visit this temple in the end, as they leave the temple.
Kuber Temple Complex
Kuber Temple complex is situated slightly on a hill across the stream that surrounds the main temple complex. In fact, it is a good spot to get a top view of the Jageshwar Temple Complex.
Like all other temples, Kuber temple also has Shivalinga as its prime deity. There is a panel above the temple door with Kubera panel carved on it.
A small Chandika temple stands next to the Kubera temple and this too has Shivalinga as the main deity.
Dandeshwar Temple Complex
Dandeshwar temple complex is located about a km from the main Jageshwar complex. It has one big temple, in fact, it is the biggest or tallest temple of the region – Dandeshwar. Then, there are 14 subsidiary shrines – some of them on a platform in front of the temple and some scattered around it. Some of these have simple Shivalingas in a yoni and some of them have Chaturmukhlingas.
Shiva here is in the form of a Shila or a Rock and not linga. The priest told us the story of the temple. He said that Shiva was meditating here in this jungle, that also used to be the abode of many sages. Once the wives of the Rishis saw the Shiva and they got attracted to him. Watching this sages got angry and converted Shiva into stone and that is how he remains here. Isn’t it another version of the story we heard before.
It is not documented anywhere but the name of the temple itself comes from the word ‘Dand’ which in Hindi/Sanskrit means punishment.
The metal idol of Paun Raja that can now be seen in the local ASI museum was a part of this temple.
Between Jageshwar and Dandeshwar too, you can see small shrines on the side of the road.
Archeological Museum – Jageshwar
This is a small but a well-maintained museum of ASI, showcasing the local sculptures. Most of the sculptures on display here are either from the Jageshwar temple complex or around.
You can see stone images of Dancing Ganesha including one with Ashta Vasus, Surya in standing position, various Uma Maheshwar and Vishnu Images. Shakti images appear in the form of Chamunda, Kaumari, Kanakdurga, Mahishasurmardini, Laxmi & Durga. There are royal images depicted royal devotees and royal processions. The doorjambs are worth admiring as are the large stone panels carrying inscriptions.
They are not the best sculptures that you would see in India, but they are the best-maintained sculptures. They have not been attacked or damaged. You can see their original colors and neatness with which they have been sculpted. Some of them show signs of worship with yellow and red colors but most of them are clean.
The best piece at ASI Museum Jageshwar though is the life-size image of Paun Raja or the king in Asht Dhatu or an alloy of 8 metals. This was brought here from Dandeshwar temple down the road. It is a rare sculpture from the Kumaon region.
We were strictly told – No Photography, so I could not take any pictures but they thankfully handed me a booklet on museum artifacts at the exit. I had a small conversation with the museum officials and realized that these images are prone to theft, hence the security is very high.
Travel Tips for Jageshwar
- Jageshwar is about 35 km from Almora which is the closest big town. From Haldwani/Kathgodam it is about 120 km. You have to go by road, there is no train or air connectivity. Drive is beautiful.
- You need about 3-4 hours to see all the temple complexes and the museum. If you want to perform Puja or attend evening Arti – plan to stay here for a day.
- Rates for various rituals are fixed and a board outside the temple clearly tells you these rates.
- ASI Museum at Jageshwar is open from 10 AM – 5 PM and is closed on Fridays. Entry is free.
- Take a walk along the stream and enjoy the thick Deodar forest that kind of nest the Jageshwar Temple complex.
- You can also visit Vridhh Jageshwar Temple that is about 14 km from Jageshwar and requires a bit of hiking.
- There is KMVN Rest house that is located right next to the temple and gives a lovely view of the temple. Other hotels and resorts are situated at some distance.
- You get simple food in the few shops around the temple. Most of these shops close by 8:00 PM or so.
Recommend you read following travel blog on places to visit in Uttarakhand.