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As we approached the gate of the enclosure inside which stands the cluster of Jageshwar group of temple, we could hear the Sholakas, mantras echoing in the premises. A family was conducting pooja in Mahamrityunjay temple. Mahamrityunjay temple is  the oldest and the biggest one in the group. Stately Devdars on the other side of the river gliding behind the temples stood silent and meditative. Dotted with many Nagara styles of temples of different sizes, the place enticed me to travel into the era long back. Why so many shrines were erected in such a small area? The temples are said to be erected between 8th to 18th century i. e. from Katyuri king’s time to Chand dynasty period. Did different kings built different temples to pay homage to God? Did they get it built for fulfillment of their wishes or to commemorate their victory in any battle? Did any of them got erected any of the temples as penance? These Devdars, the river, the mountains…are they witness of the those times? So many questions rushed through my mind but none of them lasted more than a second. They evaporated sooner than they were generated. Such was the magical impact of the tranquility spread all around that all thoughts and curiosity vanished and calmness spread within.
There are about 123 temples in the cluster and every shrine has a shivlinga inside it. Though the stone plaques in front of some temples displayed the names of Surya temple, Navgrah temple but these too looked like other temples. Some of the statues found here are now kept in the museum at Jageshwar. The museum has two galleries and some rare sculptures are displayed here. The temple of Navdurga and Pushtidevi were locked at the time we visited so could not see them from inside.

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Bal jageshwara/ Tarun Jageshwar temple in the premises is considered to be one of the 12 Jyotirlingas.

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.

In the above shloka mentioning all the jyotirlingas, the eigth one— Nagesham Darukavane is said to be referring to Nageshwar/ bal jageshwar at present day Jageshwar in Almora district of Uttarakhand. Darukavane means forest of devdar and the dense forest  of devdars around the temples justifies the explanation.
This temple faces west. Outside the entrance on either side are two well sculpted images of dwarpals Nandi and Skandi with all their arms and armaments.

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The Shivling in the sanctum sanctorum is swayambhoo and appears to be divided in two parts.  The larger part depicts Lord Shiva while the smaller one devi Parvati.  There are two Ashtdhatu statues of Chand kings Deepchand And Tripal Chand in standing posture behind the Shivlinga. There is a burning light[jyoti] in cupped hands of the statue of King Deepchand, reputed to be burning  incessantly from times immemorial.

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Mahamrityunjay temple is perhaps the only temple of Shiva called by this particular name. As is evident from the name devotees come here to perform the life saving pooja. This is east facing temple and the unique Linga here has an eye shaped opening. God here is worshiped as savior from death. Chanting of mantras and their reverberation leave a very powerful impact.
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Almost all the temples have carved stone gate with images of dwarpals on both sides. On the shikharas of temples various images of Gods, mainly Shiva with ganas are etched.

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The temple has an interesting legend attached to it. It is believed that Lord Shiva had come to this site for meditation. So when the women folk of the village came to know that  a young yogi with haloing aura  has come to meditate, they all gathered to catch a glimpse of him, making the men folk infuriated and to control the situation Shiva converted himself into a child and since then he is worshipped  here in his child avatar.
Many years ago Jageshwar used to be a pilgrim halt enroute to  famous Kailash Mansarovar yatra. It is also said that Adi Shankaracharya stayed here and worked towards restoration of the temples before moving towards Kedarnath.
Though normally in the month of march it is not very cold in the valley but this year weather showed different patterns of  mood. We were told that till a week ago the road to the temple was covered with snow.  Thunderous rain and hailstorm two days ago too contributed in  bringing the temperature considerably down. It was very early in the morning. The sand stone floor of temple premises was bitingly cold. The carpets spread to make pradikshna easier for devotees were drenched with the moisture, water literally oozing out.
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Logs burnt in open courtyard. One  pujari sat near it. Yellow, orange flames leapt and danced in air. Harmonious echo of chanting of prayers, blowing of conch, peeling of bells, murmuring of river Jat ganga transported me in a trance like state. Rising column of smoke as if invited to accompany it to the mystique horizons.The Devdars around the temples stood close giving ample shade to let the silky , tender blades of green grass flourish while few sunrays haltingly stepped in to kiss the glistening dew drops and droplets on leaves and grass.
If at all the moments could be frozen………………….
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All the pics by Sunder Iyer

The day was folding its wings slowly. The golden rays were gradually retreating to the shadowy darkness of dense cedar jungle. Tall elegant cedars on both sides of curvy hill road stood rapt in eloquent silence. We were on our way to Jageshwar temples group{ about 36 Km from Almora in Uttarakhand}

We could hear the soft murmuring of water. A group of centuries old temples came in view on one side of road. There were one or two others scattered on either side of road. It felt like being on the threshold of long passed era of history, steeped in spiritualism and mysticism.

By the time we reached the Kumaon Mandal guest house sun had set. Standing on the balcony in front of our room we looked at the cluster of temples. The only road of small hamlet of Jageshwar ran lazily from one side of temples while river Jat Ganga flowed encircling the temples from back . Tall devdars standing erect on the hills beyond the river stream turned blackish green as the lengthening shadows of dusk engulfed them. Whole aura was permeated with a mystique feel. Looking at the temples I could feel a calling from beyond.

Away from the chaotic mess of routine life, the tranquillity in the valley acted like balm on tired mind. Now and then sound of bells in the temple echoed in the valley. Gradually the shapes and contours of temples merged in the darkness. The river, calling in a soulful voice could be heard more distinctly. And then slowly the full round moon stepped in above the majestic trees of devdar.

Bathed in moon light the hills, the small houses, the temples, the river, the forests all looked ethereal. On left side of the guest house on a high hill was this huge leafless tree. Its round solid trunk holding the naked braches and branchlets spreading in all the direction looked majestic. It’s whole being sparkled in silvery grandeur. The conical tip of the shrine below it glittered like a source of light to illuminate the darkness within.

Nothing more celestial could have I conceived. The tranquil wind blew very gently. No, not even blew it was whispering, breathing peace to every thing around.

It was the night preceding Holi festival. Some where in the village people were singing the folk songs,accompanied by the beats of drums. Riding the air currents the songfull voices reached us……big round moon floating in the sky, the transparent silvery blue moonlight layer spread all over, the wind permeated with melodious voices…the silhouettes of temples .draped in mellow light……life seemed just complete…no haste to rush anywhere…no heed to passing of time …felt like being a part of scheme of nature….Oh! it was such a liberating feeling.

And then another glorious day dawned.We got up early, took bath and were in balcony.The hamlet was still in arms of sleep but nature has awakened. Sun God has started stretching it’s bountiful arms.Making way through the dense devdars light was creating hazy, pious pattern over the temples. Pujaris in the temples have started the early morning havans and smoke column rising from vedis lovingly embraced the haze of lights and behind the temple complex rose the black gurgling column of the smoke emitted from a burning pyre. Behind the temple complex is the cremation ground. The cremation ground dates back to the time of Chand dynasty and now is used by the inhabitants of the nearby villages. Watching the three kinds of smokes and haze coiling,uncoiling,emerging from different sources and mingling,unmingling with one another was an experience beyond words. The celestial, the pious, the beginning, the end altogether they created mystical inscriptions in the space over the temples and those centuries old Devdars watched solemnly. When a small ray of light flickered over the leaves of cedar I felt them smiling with compassion over my feelings of amazement and complete surrender to the almighty pulsating source of divine energy .

It was the morning when you can almost feel that you have met God.

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Pictures by Sunder Iyer