A pilgrimage of faith

Pilgrims paying obeisance at Chandi Mata Dham. -Excelsior/Tialk Raj
Pilgrims paying obeisance at Chandi Mata Dham. -Excelsior/Tialk Raj

V K Magotra
The entire newly created district of Kishtwar, J&K state is bestowed with shrines and pilgrimages. Prominent among them are the Zairats of Shah Farid-ud-Din and Shah Asrar-ud-Din in Kishtwar town, the eighteen -armed Goddess at Sarthal village and Chatarbhuja Chandi Mata in Padder area.
The annual pilgrimage to the Chatarbhuja Chandi Mata at Machail village is catching up fast despite lack of basic amenities viz ., connectivity by road, boarding /lodging facilities enroute and at the site of the temple.. Thanks to Goddess Chandi for her majestic and divine blessings where all discomforts turn into comforts when unprecedented rush of devotees throng during the month of August every year from almost all parts of northern India. The fair though annual remained confined for local populace till 1981 and gained popularity day by day after 1986 onwards when Thakur Kulveer singh devotee of Mata started Chhadi yatra (holy mace) every year along with thousands of pilgrims from Chinote Bhaderwah. The temple of Chandi Mata is situated at Padder Machail which is almost 8500 feet above sea level and is surrounded by snow peaked mountains. The prominence of the temple is attributed due to Kulveer Singh a good natured conscientious police officer who was once posted at Machail (Padder). He would spend most of his time in nearby temple of Goddess Chhandi. His penance and constant spiritual practice brought fruit. He achieved the cognitive force and became a visionary. After some time he was transferred. On receiving his transfer order he was filled with grief and full of tears. During the night he had a dream-he saw a very powerful light shinning in the room. Someone was telling him.” My child do not be overwhelmed with emotions. I will come to home on this date. I will rise from earth in your garden”.
And the same happened. The “SWAYAMBO MURTEE” of Goddess glared from the earth at Chinnote village Bhaderwah . This was brought in a procession to the house of the disciple and people from all parts of erstwhile Doda and Jammu districts thronged in large numbers to have darshan of Mata Chanddi. From this day, Chinnote temple BHADERWAH became the place of pilgrimage. A large no of people under the supervision of Thakur Kulveer Singh-devout devotee of Mata take “Charri- Mubarak” from Chinnote Bhaderwah to shrine of Mata at Machail”.
The yatra commences from Gatha village- the ancient abode of ” Vasuki Nag” and devotees reach Kishtwar by bus- the first stop of yatra, then it stops for night rest at Atholi-Paddar and Chashooti. On 5th day it reaches ancient temple of Chandi mata Machail. With prominence of the shrine in view, the Governments of J&K and Himachal Pradesh brace up themselves for making journey of pilgrims safe and comfortable.
The hazardous journey of 67 kms on foot has been reduced to 22kms now with connectivity of 45 kms trek by road from village Galhar to Massu village and only 22 kms trek on foot march needs to be connected by road which is inhabited by Mansu- Chashooti -Machail villages. Other means of reaching the shrine is by helicopter from Jammu and Gulabgarh.
In Atholi – the Charri Mubarak is received by local population with religious fervor and gaiety under the leadership of Pt. Krishan Lal – a great disciple of Mata. The local populace make all arrangements to accommodate the thousands of devotees here during their stay. Many villagers of surrounding villages namely Gulabgarh, Paddar, Kundial, Afani etc join the main procession, it becomes imperative for the Charri Mubarak to halt at Atholi. The soil of Paddar is famous for production of “black -Zeera”.
The holy Chharri would set for its last journey of 18 kms so as to reach Chashoti village for night stay. After staying for night the Chharri covers the distance of 4 kms in morning to reach the ancient temple of Chandi Mata at Machail to offer the prayers. The pilgrims on seeing the shrine raise full throated shouts in praise of Goddess, “Jai Chandi Mata” (salutation to the divine mother)
On the peak day of the fair, pilgrims perform Pooja and religious rites in this ancient temple. On reaching the shrine, there is a strange feeling of peace and exaltation; One is simply lost in something greater than oneself. The devotees offer cash and kind, even some backerwals/Gujjars who accompany the holy Chharri, offer goats at this holy occasion. After performing Pooja the pilgrims start returning to their destinations. It is a most exhilarating and fascinating pilgrimage of its kind. According to one belief, trident (Treshul) of Chandi Mata was brought to Machail village from Mindala village of Himachal Pradesh by one of her true disciples. The village Mandala falls in Pangi tehsil of Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh where there is an ancient temple of “Goddess Chandi”. Goddess appeared in old lady’s house in village Mindala. This old lady Dumari reluctantly offered space to “Mata” in her house when her seven sons expired one after other. It is said that Mata appeared in a dream to this old lady and asked her to vacate her house for ‘HER’. This old lady after facing all tribulations promised Mata for this on a condition: whenever there will be drum beating in her memory, the first beat of the drum should be in her memory. Since then this practice is prevalent. Whenever there is fair/yatra the first beat of the drum is held in memory of this old lady.
The stone formation (Lingum) symbolizes the abode of Goddess, is still popular in Mindala village. Later on Mahraja Chamba also decorated this temple. The temple of Machail is having three Goddesses statues. Each one is in Marble, Silver & Brass in addition to foot stone formation lingam which are decorated every year on this day of fair.
The scenic beauty of the area/yatra of Chandi Mata is attracting many people from and beyond Kishtwar district now-a-days. As per latest reports, a record number of pilgrims approximately 3 lakh surpassing all previous records visited the shrine of Chandi Mata Machail by ending July 2018 this year. More than 4 lakh pilgrims are expected to pay obeisance at Machail Mata Temple since the commencement of current annual yatra from 25/7/2018 which culminated on 24/8/2018. Devotees have complete faith in a holy deity (Chandi Mata) as their wishes get fulfilled as a result of which there is increase in number of followers from all over the country. The pilgrimage of Chandi Mata is next to pilgrimage of Baba Amarnath in J&K State as far as foot journey is concerned.
A pilgrimage to Chandi Mata Machail is indeed a pilgrimage of faith. Undeterred by two tragic accidents recently held which have taken toll of over 20 people and injured many near Thathri on Batote- Kishtwar National highway and on Paddar-Kishtwar road, the pilgrimage continued uninterrupted. Unflinching faith speaks of devotees determination to surpass all heavy odds enroute to get solace on reaching the destination—the site of historical temple of Chandi Mata at Machail.
(The author is former Media Officer of the Ministry of I&B, Govt of INDIA).