Our state is regarded as the abode of many gods and goddesses. We have the world famous shrines of Amarnath ji, Mata Vaishno Devi ji, Shahdara Sharief, Gurudwara Nangali Sahib etc which are visited by lakhs of devotees from India and abroad every year ,who pay obeisance at these shrines and seek their blessings for them and their near and dear ones.
Besides, we have the shrine of Baba Jitto, Baba Dhansar, Baba Seyar,Bawe Waali Mata, etc which attract a large number of devotees every year.Udhampur is also famous for various shrines such as Marhara Mata, Pingla Mata, Shiv Temple at Sudhmahadev, Karlah Temple, Bagge Waali Mata etc . One of the most famous shrines in Udhampur is the shrine of Chountra Mata located at a distance of about 60Kms from Udhampur and 22 kilometers from Ramnagar. Located atop a hill amidst the coniferous trees, it presents a panaromic view of Ramnagar and adjoining villages from one side and Thial, Khoon, Gujroo Nagrota and Ramkot from the other side. One can visit this shrine either from the route of Ramnagar or from Udhampur.
According to the pujari of the shrine Mukesh Sharma, the legend has it that once Sagar yogi, a local farmer was grazing his buffaloes on the hills, he was struck by the sight of an extremly beautiful young girl having divine aura and grace. As she appeared, lightening crackled and the lion roared divinely. Sagar, who had seven sons, asked the girl to marry his tall, healthy and handsome sons. The girl promised to visit his home after seven days and asked him to give this message to his sons and she would meet him after seven days and thus, live a comfortable marital life. Saying this, she disappeared mysteriously. As he reached home in the evening,he found, to his shock that one of his sons had died suddenly. After this incident,it so happened that every evening one of his sons died with the result that in a week, Sagar lost all his sons. However, the girl reached his home on the eighth day and asked Sagar where his seven sons were. Sagar now knew that the girl had miraculous divine powers. He fell on her feet and urged her to forgive him. He said that with all his sons having been dead, his lineage had come to an end and invoked her to bless him with a son. He promised to be her devotee and entreated her to have her abode at his home where Heru Ram would be the priest. The girl asked Sagar to have courage and patience and told him that he would have everything including food, milk etc provided he didnot disclose to anybody about her presence in his home and would never visit her abode without coughing and giving her the signal that he was coming.As days passed, Sagar became happy and rich and was also blessed with a son.His crops gave him good produce and his buffaloes produced good milk and they grew in numbers.Seeing all this, his neighbours became jealous of him and thought of an evil plan to find out the secret behind his prosperity and riches.So they asked him to go and see the girl in her abode without coughing and find out the secret.Sagar fell to their evil plan and one day foolishly visited the girl without informing her and found face to face with the goddess.He came out and started coughing.The Goddess became furious, sat on the lion and disappeared leaving him awestruck and perplexed.Sagar was ashamed of himself;he made many entreaties to the Goddess to reside in his home for ever but in vain.Sagar was repentant but it was too late.On the same night, theGoddess appeared in a dream to Targu and made him fell down from his cot.As he recovered and slept, he fell down again.It happened the third time too.He became cautious and now Goddess appeared again in his dream and told him that she wished to remain in his home.She asked him to prepare an iron trident without being hammered, tie it to the back of a goat having grey colour and establish her at the place where the trident falls down from the goat’s back. She also advised him to consult Sagar Yogi in this plan at the house of whom she had stayed for twelve long years. Targu did as he was told and went to Sagar’s home.Both of them tied the trident to the back of grey coloured goat and it fell on the spot where the present shrine is located. Another Diety Sundraj also lived on these hills about two kms away from that site.One day both Sundraj and Chountra Mata encountered each other and decided to establish their supremacy by playing the game of ‘chouser’.Sundraj was defeated .That was how the Goddess came to be known as ‘Chountra Mata’.Sundraj urged the Goddess to make her presence in his abode too.The Goddess agreed to his entreaty and there is a pindi at that site.As there was little water there,Mata also asked Nagraj, the snake God to bring water to her abode upon which Nagraj himself came there with water and started living there happily.But one day as Mata’s Chadi reached with the devotees dancing happily in excitement and gur (jaggery), wheatgrains and halwa being offered to the Goddess, it so happened that the snake god happened to sit on the heap of grains.The ‘gardi’ or the drum beater, with a view to scare away the snake and collect the grains, happened to hit the snake with a stick slaying the snake God. The drum beater too died after ten minutes.After some days, the water brought by the Snake God too spread to the villages of Drabrran and Mattu instead of the villages of Rang and Valand. An idol of the snake God was made and the devotees have Darshans of both the Sandraj and the snakegod alongwith the Mata too when they visit the shrine. There is a pond near the shrine, which never dries up.This water is used to bathe the Mata everyday.
Another legend associated with this shrine is that once Raja Ram Singh, the ruler of Ramnagar happened to reach near the shrine. But suddenly he fell down the horse and as he rode the horse, he fell down again. It happened for some times and he asked his wazir as to what could be the reason for this strange incident.His wazir told him that there must be some divine power there. On being enquired from the local people, the king came to know about the Mahamaya temple and had Mata’s Darshan. He asked the yogi present there to tell him all about the Mata which the yogi did. The Yogi told everything about the Mata to the king. When the yogi offered the king the prashad, the king refused and told him that he would take the prashad from the hand of a brahmin. A brahmin who was grazing the cattle was called and he offered prashad to the king and the king ordered that the brahmin would always remain with the yogi and offer prashad to the devotees. This tradition is being followed even now by the descendents of Sagar Yoji and Iru Brahmin. One of the priests named Jagdish Chander Pujari has brought out a booklet on Chountra Mata containing the story of Chountra Mata ji and other related details such as Arti, Stotram, Stuti, Chalisa, etc.The pilgrims can have all the details about the Goddess and the other aspects. Every year ‘Akhand Jyoti’ is lit in Narsingh Mandir Ramnagar and Durga Mandir Gujroo Nagrota on first Navratra and taken to the shrine with great religious fervour and amidst the recitation of bhajans and beating of drums. This year the the ‘Akhand Jyoti’ will be taken from Ramnagar and Gujroo Nagrota on April 6,which will reach the shrine on 7th April in the morning. After the religious rituals and Havan, a grand community feast (Bhandara) will be organised. A grand procession will also be organised from Udhampur on Apr7, 2019 and after passing through various places such as Manwal, Battal Morh, Dehma, it will reach the sacred shrine in the afternoon.
Thus, there is an atmosphere of religious fervour and frenzy with everybody reciting Mantras and Bhajans in praise of the Mata.There is a big cauldron to cook ambal of pumpkin on this eve.It is thought to have been offered by a king centuries ago.Thousands of pilgrims from within the state and outside take part in the havan and participate in the Bhandara.There is heavy rush of pilgrims on the occasion of all the Navratras and free langars are organised by people and social organisations on both the routes.There is need to connect this famous shrine by road on both sides.Besides attracting pilgrims, this road link will lessen the distance between Thial and Ramnagar and reduce the time drastically.A road from Thial to Chountra Mata is under construction and once completed, it will give a big boost to religious tourism in this area.Such shrines are our rich cultural heritage sites.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English, Govt Hr.Sec.School, Thial ,Udhampur)