Dr. Kavita Suri
Growing up in a city which is dotted with hundreds of temples, all of us listened to the stories about our Jammu coming under the air attack by Pakistan Air Force during 1965 and 1971 wars but no harm was done to it as the invading pilots could see nothing but huge emptiness beneath and only a ‘young little girl holding an earthen lit lamp’ would be visible to them.
Another version of the story is that all the bombs which were thrown by the PAF pilots onto the City, kept falling in the lap of a lady who had held her arms open to receive the falling bombs. Like me, hundreds and thousands of Jammuities have this unshakable belief that this was the Presiding Goddess of the City who saved them and would continue to do so always. Popularly known as “Bawe Wali Mata”, the Goddess Mahakali who resides in the temple located inside the famous Bahu Fort, has been the protecting and reigning deity of our region with whose blessings the town was established and prospered.
Come Navratras and the entire city makes a beeline to the Bahu Temple situated some five kilometers from Jammu city on a hillock on the left bank of the river Tawi. Tuesdays and Sundays are considered auspicious to visit this temple but Navratras witness a significant increase in the number of devotees visiting the temple to seek divine blessings. One can see large gatherings in and around the famous Bahu Fort. Though during Navratras, all the city temples are decorated, this historic Kali Temple or Bawe Wali Mata temple inside Bahu Fort has remained the main attraction for the devotees. Since times immemorial, the Bahu Fort temple has assumed a significant place among the people of Jammu city and attracts people from remote and bordering areas not only during the Navratras but all round the year. The temple where queues seem to have no end, sees crowds that run into tens of thousands over this nine day period. The people have to wait for hours for having Darshans of the Goddess Mahakali. Devotees are commonly seen praying in the temple courtyard in deep meditation chanting “Jai Mata Di”.
Though nobody can say with authority the exact date of construction of Bahu Fort which houses the historic temple of Mata Mahakali or Bawe Wali Mata, yet the popular belief is that the Fort was constructed by the King Bahu Lochan some 3000 years ago. Bahu Lochan and his brother Jambu Lochan (Jammu got its name from him) were two of the 18 sons of King Agnigarbha (also pronounced as Agnibaran) who belonged to the Suryavanshi dynasty of Ayodhya. These descendents from Kush, son of Lord Rama had migrated to Parolnowan village in Kathua district in Jammu region, writes historian Suraj Saraf. The clan spread from there and Bahu Lochan conquered the territory near Bahu Rakh. All of us know the legend that his brother Raja Jambu Lochan was inspired to make Jammu his capital when he saw a tiger and a goat drinking water side by side in river Tawi. When Amir Timur attacked Jammu during 14th century AD, the Bahu fort and the temple existed at that time as has been mentioned in his autobiography, known as Malfuzat-I-Timuri.
The literature available on the history of Bahu Fort says that the 300-year old Fort got its first renovation by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1820 and this trend continued during the reign of Dogras during their rule (1846-1947) from Maharaja Gulab Singh to Maharaja Ranbir Singh, Maharaja Pratap Singh and lasted till Maharaja Hari Singh.
The temple of Goddess Mahakali, the presiding deity of Jammu, in–side the Fort is believed to have been built during 8th century in 1822, a little after the Maharaja Gulab Singh came to power. This temple has an idol of Goddess Maha Kali in black stone. While some believe that the idol or the black stone (Shila) of Bawe Wali Mata was brought from Calcutta where Mahakali Temple of Calcutta exists, another belief is that the black stone was brought from Ayodhya by the Kings belonging to the Suryavanshi dynasty.
“There is another theory by renowned Dogri scholar Om Goswami in his book which claims that the idol of Mata was brought from Bhaderwah by none other than Baba Bhair (Bhair Devta). So we cannot say with authenticity where from it came,” informs Pandit Manohar Lal Magotra, a septuagenarian whose grandfather was made the priest of the temple some 125 years ago by Maharaja Pratap Singh and since then his clan is looking after the Temple. Pandit ji popularly known as Papa ji is the senior-most member of entire clan of the priests who have been serving as the traditional priests of Mata Bawe Wali. All the members have several stories of the miracles of the Goddess to share with the author.
“It is our faith and belief in Mata and the fact that She fulfills the desires of her devotees,” says Pandit Magotra ji informing that the Goddess is protecting and blessing the people of Jammu. Before 1947, many people from Lahore and Sialkot would visit the Temple, informs Magotra sahib adding that even now the temple attracts people from Delhi, Mumbai and even abroad. The number, he asserts, is swelling as the deity is fulfilling the wishes of her devotees and thus they have their staunch faith on Her which makes them revisit her again and again.
Animal (goat) sacrifice was practiced at this temple in the olden times but it has now been discontinued. Nowadays, the goat is brought to the temple by those whose wishes are fulfilled, hymns are chanted by the priests and some water is sprinkled over the animal.
“After the culmination of rituals and incantation of prayers, water is sprinkled over the goat/sheep as a emblematizing the sacrifice. This is called ‘Shilly Charana.’ If the animal shudders after water is sprinkled on her, it means the Goddess has accepted the offerings, thus “Shilly Beejna”, informs Kirpal Singh, an authority on Dogra culture and heritage and Curator, Dogra Art Museum, Mubarak Mandi, Jammu.
The Bahu Fort which houses the temple was originally made of bricks and lime. It has thick walls that are linked by 8 octagonal towers. This octagonal fort is well connected with thick walls. The towers possess enclosures to house guards. The main gate is huge to even let animals such as elephants enter. There are three ponds inside the Fort which was used by Queen, King’s Army and General Public respectively. On the right side is a pyramidal structure, which is a store for ammunition. There’s an underground chamber that was prison. This chamber possesses a secret exit to escape from the fort in case of any emergencies. The first floor is lavishly built with arches and floral designs like a Baradari or a palace. The fort includes a royal stable, a lake for boating and cable car system. To the right of the temple there are a few halls which were used in the past as assembly halls and offices of the Quiledar (master of the fort). The royal stables were also located within this fort.
“Sometimes, the Royal families used to move in here during some occasions,” informs Kirpal Singh adding there used to be rooms at the back side of the temple.
Kirpal Singh himself vividly remembers visiting the temple in early and mid 70’s through a foot bridge which would be constructed by the district administration especially for the Navratras twice in a year from Shahidi Chowk.
“Entire Jammu would come alive during the Navratras and from the lane adjacent to Congress Office in Shahidi Chowk, people of old city would walk up to the lowest point on the river Tawi where makeshift foot bridges used to erected by the administration so that people could visit the Temple and pay their obeisance to the Goddess,” informs Kirpal Singh. The fact is further authenticated by Pandit Manohar Lal Magotra who informs that the lane was known as Bawe Wali Gali and the people would go down that Dakki (slope) to cross the foot bridge. The public transport was inadequate and the people had to walk down up to the temple, he adds.
There were times when the visiting the Temple used to be a big affair as the people would come to attend Bahu Fort Mela on foot or by tongas or via the bridge near Shahidi Chowk. Those days there were no constructions around the temple and the entire area was known as “Bawe Wali Rakh” or simple “Bahu Rakh”.
“This Rakh used to be the forest area where there was lot of wildlife even including Neel Gaay,” informs Dr C.M. Seth, well known environmentalist and former Chairman, J&K State Pollution Control Board. This area was well known for its Motiya (jasmine) flowers. The people from far off would not only offer the flowers in the temple but they would also take these Jasmine flowers wrapped in the Banana leaf to their homes too as offerings, informs Kirpal Singh. The fact is corroborated by Pandit Manohar Lal Magotra who informs that the famous Motiya flower of Bahu Rakh found place even in the famous Karkan-Dogri folk songs too.
“The Goddess and the Motiya flower is still part of our folk songs popularly known as Karkan though now it is fading away as very few people of Jammu listen to our folk music which also glorifies the deity and the environment around her including the flowers,’ says Pandit Magotra ji.
The Temple remains open the whole week but during the Navratras, it opens at 3 a.m. and closes at 10.30 pm. In between, it is closed from 3-4 pm. However, after the Navratras, the timings would be 5 am to 9.30 pm with a break from 1-2 pm, informed the priests of the temple.
One can really experience a sense of strong spiritual awakening after visiting the Temple where the aroma of the burning incense sticks combined with the incantation of hymns and prayers, renders a peaceful state of mind in an atmosphere surcharged with divinity and mystical energy. For all of us, the temple of Bawe Wali Mata is a place where we repose our trust in her, restore our faith in her and experience the real essence of oneness with the Goddess.
(The author is Director and head Department of Lifelong learning (Rural Development) University of Jammu.)
Dr. Kavita Suri