Garhwal and Kumaon are the two Himalayan hill regions. This is Jageshvar, in Kumaon's Almora district. The temple complex has 108 temples to Shiva in various forms, of whom Jageshvar, "The Attentive Lord," is but one manifestation. The earliest temples date from the 7th century, but it has been added onto by the rulers of several local hill dynasties.
|This is a close-up of the Jageshvar temple itself. The style of this tower, with the slanting sides and the wooden roof, is very characteristic of these hills.|
|Many of the temples are much smaller, sometimes only big enough for a few people at a time to enter. These two temples are each dedicated to different forms of Shiva, as identified by the carved panels over the entrance: the one on the left as Lakulisa (an ascetic form), and on the right as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance.|
|This picture of a linga, the pillar-shaped object which is the symbol of the god Shiva, comes from one of the small outside temples at Jageshvar--really nothing more than the linga itself, set on a low base. The linga is often described as a "phallic" symbol, and this dimension is clearly part of the the linga's meaning--as one can clearly see from the form of the Gudimallam Linga (2nd C. BCE), in which the top of the shaft is very plainly shaped. Yet the symbolism of the linga goes far beyond this. One of Shiva's fundamental characteristics is that he transcends duality--all duality, any duality. As but one example, he is at the same time the perfect husband and the perfect celibate ascetice--a combination that it is impossible for mortal men to fulfill. The two essential parts of the linga are the shaft and its base, which can be interpreted as symbols for male and female reproductive organs. Thus, in his symbolic form Shiva transcends the most basic reality that defines each of us as human being, namely our sexual identity. The base of the linga is also important for worship. During worship devotees will pour water (and milk, honey, yogurt, and many other things) on top of the linga, and then catch the runoff from the spout of the base. This is considered to be prasad or sanctified food/drink, and is taken and given to devotees as a sign of Shiva's grace.|
|All the temples in the Jageshvar complex are dedicated to Shiva, except for one to Hanuman (considered in the popular mind to be an avatar of Shiva), and a few temples to the Goddess (Shiva's wife). This here is an image of Kubera, a minor deity associated with the mountains and with being the guardian of mineral wealth, and it was in a very small temple outside the main wall enclosing the Jageshvar complex. You can see that it has been draped and decorated for worship, and that surrounding it are the various paraphernalia associated with ritual worship (including the ubiquitous plastic mineral water bottle).|
|This is the entrance to a smaller temple in a village just up from Almora town. It is called the "Golmandir" or "bell temple" because the path to the temple (and the temple itself) is strung with bells (which visitors ring with great abandon). Ringing bells is a very common act in Hindu worship and temple visits, both as a way to announce one's presence, and to offer the deity the pleasing sound that this brings. Many of these bells were presented to the deity/temple as thank offerings by people who had come to ask for favors, and had been given what they asked for.|
|These temples come from Baijnath, a small village in the Kumaon hills;
they were probably built in the 14th century CE. This particular
form--tall, thin, and topped by the circular stone disk known as an
amalaka-- is very characteristic of the traditional temply style in
the hills. "Baijnath" is a colloquial form of "Vaidyanath," which is
Shiva in his form as the "Lord of Physicians." As with Jageshvar,
Baijnath was a whole grouping of temples, but the largest and most
important image was not of Shiva, but Shiva's wife Parvati. Her
statue was about 4 feet tall, carved of a rosy quartz decorated with fresh
roses, and it had little figures stuck onto it representing episodes from
Parvati's life. Photos of this image are not allowed without
permission form the Architectural Survey of India (in New Delhi, far, far
away), so I didn't take that photo.
This and all the other pictures of Baijnath were taken in June 1990.
|Here's another shot of temples at Baijnath--both of these are essentially idle temples (no worship is performed in them, and the doorway to the one on the left is actually shut up with a piece of plywood. The people running the temples would like to renovate them properly, but lack the funds to to do. Here again you can see the typical architecture of the Kumaoni temples, with their high towers (the tower's highest point is directly over the temple's primary deity). The style of the temple on the left is somewhat reminiscent of the Kedarnath temple in the Garhwal.|
||In the back side of the Baijnath temple complex is this image of Shiva in his wrathful form as Bhairava (note the skull cup in the hand on the right). There are purplish flower blossoms visible on the statue's limbs, evidence of worship sometime earlier in the day. To the left of the statue is a trident with a red cloth (the latter a symbol of the Goddess Parvati), and below and between the two is a small linga, whose top is also adorned with a blossom.|
|One of the real treats about walking to Baijnath was passing through small towns and villages on the way, in which people were doing their everyday tasks-- in this case, plowing up a paddy field to prepare for transplanting rice. The region's topography means that there is very little arable land, and places in the bottom land such as this are very heavily farmed.|
|After the men plow, the women plant. Here are the bundles of rice seedlings--which in real life are such an electric green color that they seem somehow unreal--which will be set into the prepared paddy field.|
|Here's the Nanda Devi temple in the town of Almora. Nanda Devi
(identified with the mountain peak of the same name) is an important local
goddess throughout the Kumaon region. Her temple is unusual in
that it is built more like a traditional house (low, almost flat-roofed)
than a temple, although the other temples around it have more traditional
spires. By far the best information about Nanda Devi can by found in
Mountain Goddess, by William S. Sax (Oxford U. Press, 1991)
|This is one of a series of erotic carvings on the exterior of one of the temples in the Nanda Devi complex. These carvings were not much bigger than my hand (a large hand, to be sure), but the figures had been carefully outlined with sindhur, the red paste used to cover images in worship. In traditional Hindu thought, sexuality was an accepted part of life, and the pleasures of the flesh were seen as things to be enjoyed (this was the sort of thinking that produced the Kama Sutra).|
|Here's another of the carvings. It's interesting that these were on the outside of a temple in a very public spot--not at all hidden for anyone walking by.|
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Last modified 24 December 2003