Ayodhya Nath Kerni
There are large numbers of shakti shrines available in hilly terrain. Be it Himachal Pardesh or Jammu region; the number of such shrines is numerous. According to scriptures Goddess Durga is considered as most powerful Goddess vested with blissful divine powers. The idols of Mata Durga are worshipped in various forms specifically during Navratras. A holy book known as Durga Sapatshati dedicated to Mata contains seven hundred hymns in praise. The presence of cult of Divine Mother was always observed in the society. Idols of Mata are worshipped in nine different forms as each night of nine holy nights is devoted to a particular form of Mata separately e.g Shailputri, Brahacharani, Chanderghganta, Kushmanda, Skandmata, Katyani, Kalratri, Mahagauri, Sidhdatri etc. Chauntra Mata is also believed to be a form of Mahamaya Durga. As the temple is located on Chauntra Hill that is why she is called as Chauntra Mata.
Chauntra Mata temple is situated in Rang -Blandh area of Tehsil Ramnagar of district Udhampur. There is a crossing point known as Kirmu 5 km before reaching Ramnagar while going from Udhampur. A link road leads to Ringla, Rang and Chapriyan Chauth covering a distance of about 23 km. After covering another distance of four km by foot one reaches Chauntra Maata, If one desires to go via Blandh the distance is about 5 km. One more alternative route is available via Dhar road (Thial). Dabra is located at about 5 km distance from Thial and thereby after covering other 3 km one reaches Chauntra Mata. Either way while going to Chauntra Mata one has to travel on foot. The road connectivity to Chauntra Mata has not been provided yet.
Chauntra Hill has a sheer serenity of pine trees making the atmosphere cool and fragrant even during the days when mercury makes life a hell. The existing temple of Mata Chauntra has three stone idols denoting Nagraj, Sandhraj and Chauntra Mata. Initially there was only a small stone erected temple. Due to considerable increase in the number of devotees visiting a new temple has since been constructed. Some rooms are also made available for the night stay of devotees. Besides Chauntra Mata there are other picnic spots and points of spiritual significance available on Chaintra hill. A spot about two kms from Chauntra Mata is known as Mithee Mitti being famous for having milky taste of soil. It is believed that when Pandavas visited the hill cow milk was poured on soil by Droupadi that is why soil gives the sweet milk like taste. Some stone images of Pandavas weapons are also seen here on the points like Panseela etc. Natural bounties and picnic potentials of the hill if developed may attract more tourists.
The legend about Chauntra Mata reveals that a saint namely Sagar was guarding cattle in the grazing area of Chauntra hill. It was probably a rainy season and there was a dense fog all around. Mata Chauntra appeared before him in the guise of a young and beautiful girl. She asked him to allow her to stay at his house for some period of time. Sagar jested out and proposed her to marry one of his seven young sons so that she may stay permanently in his house. She gave a smiling nod to his proposal and committed to see him again. At the same time girl disappears in fog. Sagar found one of his sons dead when he returned home in the evening. All his seven sons died within consecutive seven days. Sagar was deeply distressed and perturbed with sudden deaths. After few days the same divine girl appeared before Sagar on the hill. This time he was very cautious and apologised the divine for not recogonising Her powers. He was weeping and crying all those days. The divine girl consoled and granted him the boon that he may not feel distressed for the loss of sons, one more offspring shall born in due course. She also assured him that all his house hold work would be completed with the help of divine powers. His house hold work would not suffer in any case if he followed certain instructions given to him. Soon he was blessed with one son and when son grew twelve years old Mata Chauntra appeared in his dream and told him that he should get a goat and keep a trident on her back and follow the goat. Where ever the holy mace falls a temple be constructed and accordingly an idol be erected on the same point. The similar dream was felt by Turgu Blandhia a neighbour of Sagar. He assisted Sagar in due process and on the top of hill a small stone temple was erected. At a distance of about 2 km there lived another local presiding deity known as Sandhraj. He declared that he would never tolerate presence of any other power in his area. He challenged Mahamaya to face his attack. After some negotiation it was decided by Mata and Sandhraj to conduct a game of dice and who so ever loses would become slave of the winner. The Mata won the dice(chausar) and Sandhraj became her slave. The entire hill was known as Chauntra hill after this incident. A pindi of Mata was also installed near Sandhraj idol. There was no water available during initial days near the temple. It is a common belief among people that snakes are the lord of spring water. A natural spring of water sprouted with heavy volume of water. It is also held that the villagers assembled for a puja session of Mata. There were offerings of wheat grains and gur etc. The snake appeared and sat on the dump of grains. Incidentally, Gardi pushed the snake with drum beating stick to collect the grains incidentally Gardi and snake died on the spot. The spring water also dried. Presently very little natural water is available near the temple. The images of snake and Gardi Banu were carved on the stone and kept for obeisance of the devotees. It is also common among locals that once king Ram Singh of Ramnagar visited the Chauntra Hill on horse and fell more than once while riding. The natural intuition compelled him to visit Mata. He had the darshan of Mata. As ordained priest Heeru Ram was appointed from a Brahmin family. The share of the offerings of Mata was fixed among jogis and Brahmin which still continues, It is also believed that previously Mata was wandering in all the existing area of southern part of Ramnagar known as Parli Dhar in the guise of a girl. Some times to Thakurdwara to receive nectar etc.The area slided down and on the insistence of Sagar Jogi as stated above Mata temple was erected on the top of Chauntra hill. It is also mentioned that previously animal (bufallow) sacrifice was offered to Mata and later changed to goats and sheep , that too on yearly basis. The devotees visiting Mata shrine are allowed to offer live goats only. After performing few rituals and sprinkling holy water over goat before setting it free as a symbolic rendition of sacrifice. Generally, people instead of offering a goat choose to offer gur Prasad , ration items, floral wreaths and cash etc. on fulfillment of their wishes. The residents of Basohli and Billawer do call Mata as Sandhe wali Mata while rest of people call her as Chauntra Mata.
Despite tough terrain and on foot travel more than fifty thousand devotees visit Mata Chauntra on the first Sunday of Chaitra Navratras each year. A big Mela commences on above day . An extravagant occasion is under taken every year at Mata Chauntra with remarkable passion and interest. Devotees oftenly visit Mata Chauntra through out the year during all the days but Tuesdays and Sundays are preferably opted. Mata fulfils the wishes and aspirations of devotees. In view of providing better facilities to the devotees and making available the road connectivity residents of the area demand constitution of a shrine board to look after the administration of Chauntra Mata. In case moterable road connectivity upto Chauntra Mata is made available the number of devotees visiting shrine is likely to increase manifold.