Kewal Krishan Sharma
The river Chandrabhaga rushes down below in all its furry. It is flanked by villages all around. The grassy meadows, the lofty hill tops and the snow clad mountain ranges enhance the scenic beauty of this place. The temple is a land locked place where devotees perform puja, recite mantras and Vedic hymns and offer various precious articles. Dharamshalas in the precinets of the temple have a charm of their own. These provide solace to the devotees who after a long travel require rest and refreshment. This religious place thus having natural beauty and tourist potential should find place on the tourist map of India, so that more pilgrims can come to pay obeisance and obtain blessings after holding Darshan of Mother Goddess.
Rishi Kashyap in Kishtwar:
The entire Valley of Kishtwar was a huge lake for a considerable period, till the water got drained out through a rocky passage by Kashyap Rishi who once visited Kishtwar. The soil appeared again and habitation started taking place.
Like with most of old temples it is not possible to ascertain when exactly the holy idol of mother Goddess firstly appeared. However a learned Sanskrit Scholar of Kishtwar Late Pt. Hari Lal Jyotishi has indicated the appearance of Holy Idol during the visit of Rishi Shri Pal Kaligaraha, which is presently called as Galigaraha. After the visit of Kashyap Rishi, who stayed here for some time, it was Rishi Shri Pal who visited this place. Late Pt. Hari Lal Jyotishi had written a book entitled ‘Sarthal Devi Darshanami, which is based on ‘Rajwansh Keerti Komadi’ by Sangram Dev, Rajwanshawali by Prabhakar and other sources as described by the learned author in his book. The Holy Idol is having eighteen arms and each arm is carrying some weapons like trident, sword, bow, chakara, gadha etc. Rishi Shri Pal having found the Holy Idol got a temple constructed on the eastern side of the village. He got the holy idol installed in the temple with all religious rituals and reciting of Vedic mantras and hymns. With the kind grace of mother Goddess the people of this place became very rich and prosperous. But this did not last for long. The people of this place indulged in worldly enjoyments and forgot their bounden duty. They fought against each other and fell into amoral deeds. Even one of the in habitants dared to kill Mahatama Aapt a popular disciple of Rishi Shri Pal. Seeing all this Rishi Shri Pal cursed the inhabitants of this place and left the village for good. The memorial of Mahatama Aapt is still situated at Lachil village. Pilgrims offer first Pooja at this memorial of Mahatama Aapt while going to Sarthal Dev Ji Darshan. Both Rishi Shri Pal and Mahatama Aapt are remembered on religious occasions by the people of this place. The memorial of Rishi Shri Pal is situated at Motta village of Kishtwar. Many people of this place consider Rishi Shri Pal as their Kuldevta.
After a long span of time during 1170 Vikrami King Agra Dev of Kishtwar once set out to hunt and reached Galigaraha along with his soldiers. Since mother Goddess was to bestow upon him with name and fame, he suddenly saw the Holy Idol in ruined temple in a thick forest. He felt happy on seeing the holy idol and considered it grace and blessing of Mother Goddess. He got constructed a splendid temple of huge and big stones tiles and installed the holy idol with all religious rituals. The people of this place worshiped the mother Goddess and were blessed with peace and prosperity. This village was named as Agaralaya after the name of the King Agra Dev. The remnants of this ancient temple are still found in this village, presently called Agaral. The door frame of the temple made of big and long stone blocks and stone beams are a fine piece of sculpture of that period
Disappearance of Holy Idol
During Vikrami Samant 1604 when invaders were planning to invade Kishtwar the priest of the temple a pious Brahamin become much worried about the security and safety of the temple He as per instruction by Goddess in his dream took the Holy Idol and hid it in the near by forest at a safer place. The memorial of this pious Brahamin stands situated at a little distance away from Agral.
Re-appearance of the Holy Idol:
Again after passing a long time a pious and an innocent herdsman used to take his cows for grazing to the nearby jungle. It was one of his cows, which daily went to a particular place where she licked a stone. The cow began to give more milk than before as compared to other cows. One day the herdsman curious to know the secret and mystery of giving more milk than normal followed the particular cow. After walking a little distance, he saw that the cow was licking a stone and a little distance he saw that the cow was licking a stone and little girl was sitting behind the cow. The girl showed him the place, where the Holy Idol was hidden and directed him to take the same to his village. The cow-herd carried the Holy Idol towards his village when suddenly on the way he felt the idol very heavy. He kept it on the ground to take some rest. After taking a rest for a while he was astonished to see that the Holy Idol did not move from its place. He went to the village and narrated all this to the village headman. All the villagers gathered at this stie and prayed Goddess mother.
Next day a messenger was sent to the King of Kishtwar. The King was a great devotee himself. He had also composed some verses in the praise of mother Goddess and Lord Shiva. Hearing this auspicious news, he came to Sarthal and got constructed a splendid temple at the present site. He got the Holy Idol installed in the temple with all religious rituals.
Since the Holy Idol emerged itself more than once from the nearby forest Raja Maha Singh donated the whole adjoining forest area in the name of the temple, which is presently known as “Deviyum Van”, which means the forest of Devi Ji.
It was again Raja Maha Singh who started pilgrimage once in a year on Ashar Ashtami and Nawami (the 8th and 9th day of Ashar bright half) on state expences. Raja Maha Singh also called a meeting of learned persons and framed some rules and regulations, a code of conduct for the sanctity of the temple premises and the betterment of the pilgrims to this Holy place.
Re-construction of Temple at the present site:
The present temple along with addition of some more Dharamshalas was reconstructed by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1922 AD. Its inauguration took place on 4th Oct. 1937, Maharaja handed over the management of the temple to local Sanatani Hindus. However, the control was transferred to Dharmarth Trust and its sole Trustee Dr. Karan Singh who is a learned scholar and devotee himself became the president of Shri Sarthal Devi Ji Managing Council at the request of then Sanatan Dharam Sabha Kishtwar.
Ishta Devi of Hindus:
The Goddess mother is the Ishta Devi of Hindus particularly of Kishtwar and its surrounding areas from times immemorial. They also visit this place to perform Mundan ceremony of their children on various auspicious days.
The annual yatra popularly known as Sarkari Yatra falling on Ashar Shudi Ashtami Nawami each year is presently being organized and arranged by Shri Sarthal Devi Shrine Management Council Kishtwar. Keeping in view the importance and the sanctity of the occasion Govt. of J&K has declared two Gazetted Holidays for Tehsil Kishtwar on this occasion.