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Beauty and the beast

The Hidimbi Devi temple

The Hidimbi Devi temple

Surprising uniqueness and striking incongruities mark the Hidimbi Devi Temple and the adjacent Tree Temple for Ghatothkach in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. An easily trekkable 200 metres through tall deodar trees, up a tiny hillock, in Dhungri Village, on the outskirts of Manali, take us to the cave temple for Hidimbi Devi, built on a huge rock.

Also known as Hadimba Devi, in the Mahabharata, Hidimbi is the sister of a rakshas called Hidimba, who ate human flesh. When the Pandavas escaped from the Palace of Wax in which Duryodhana had tried to burn them alive, they reach Hidimbavana, a forest. Smelling humans, the rakshas, Hidimba, sends his sister to bring them to him. The vigilant Bhima kills Hidimba. Heeding Hidimbi’s plea, his mother Kunti suggests that he marry her. Bhima reluctantly agrees and the following year a son is born to them. He is Ghatothkach, who later plays a significant role in trouncing the Kauravas. Thus goes the story …

The three-tiered temple for Hidimbi Devi, with its conical, metallic ‘shikara’ (tower), 24 metres in height, is for the most part built of wood. The tiers are made of wooden planks, one placed above the other. The outer prakaras are wide and stand on an elevated 12-ft high platform. Built by Raja Bahadur Singh in 1,553 AD, the intricate carvings on the façade and the windows are breath-taking. Figures of Lord Siva, Parvati, Durga, Vishnu and Ganesha, and a panel carved with Navagrahas are an art lover’s delight. So are the exquisite ornamental carvings on the door frame and on the lintel at the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum. Little wonder then that the Hidimbi Devi Temple has been declared as a Protected Monument of National Importance.

Diminutive idols

As I crawl down into the cave temple , I am surprised at the all-of-three-inches diminutive brass idol of the deity inside. As Hidimbi belonged to a clan of demons, I expected something gigantic and ferocious. Soon I remember that the Mahabharata portrays her as a selfless, devoted woman, whose piety and penance elevated her to the level of a goddess. Up North a few temples for Hidimbi Devi exist but the one at Manali is the most famous, the guide informs. It is said that Hidimbi performed tapas at this very place.

Skeletal heads and horns of animals hang from the walls of the outer prakara. As we find out later, animal sacrifice was practised at the temple till some years ago.

Temple for Ghatothkach

Again, several horns are fixed on the Tree Temple for Ghatothkach, just a few metres away. Immediate affinity arises in my mind as I stand before the altar of the great warrior, who though half human and half rakshas, won hearts through his geniality and significance in the Kurukshetra War. It is an open shrine under a huge deodar tree, again with a very small figure of Ghatothkach. Both temples impress in their own way. Yet nagging thoughts of the horns and heads of beasts keep coming back to my mind long after I move out.


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2022 11:35:08 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/temples-dedicated-to-demoness-hidimbi-devi-and-her-son-ghatothkach-in-manali-himachal-pradesh/article19270468.ece