Religion is an integral part of our culture and India is the land of gods,saints and seers. In Hinduism, various gods and goddesses are worshipped in the shrines across the length and breadth of our country.There are a number of famous shrines such as Ajmer Sharief, Kedar Nath temple, Badrinath Temple, Golden temple and others which attract devotees and pilgrims from various parts of our country and abroad.Like other parts of our country, Jammu Division of our state is known for many shrines such as Vaishno Devi ji Shrine, Shahdara Sharief shrine, Pingla Mata Shrine, Bawe wali Mata shrine etc.Lacs of devotees visit these shrines every year to pay obeisance and seek the blessings of Gods and Goddesses for themselves and their nears and dear ones.One of the widely reverred shrines of Udhampur is the shrine of Bagge Waali Mata meaning’the Goddess who has lion’ located at a distance of about 30 Kilometers from Udhampur. Located atop a hill,it presents a panaromic and captivating view of the towns and villages of Manwal, Battal, Kishanpur,Pinger, on one side and of Rehmbal and Katra on the other side.According to the priest of the shrine, Pandit Shankar Dass, the Goddess, who is the presiding Deity of Darsoo and other adjoining villages and who is reverred in this shrine had its abode in Himachal Pradesh.About twenty generations ago ,the local Thakur families migrated from Darsoo to Chamba in Himachal Pradesh perhaps due to turmoil and unfavourable conditions and settled there. But soon they started suffering in various ways.Some of them fell ill while others died.Mata came to one of the members in a dream and told him that she wanted to come to a place near the village of Darsoo.The said Thakur made up his mind to return back and started his long journey on foot.It so happened that as he moved , a goat with an iron chain tied to its back symbolising the Goddess on its back moved,ahead of him.Two sculptors walked behind the Thakur.Walking on and on , the goat reached the village and stood on a stone for some time.The sculptors started sculpting the idol of Mata but then the goat suddenly started moving ahead.As the goat reached the site where present shrine is located,it dropped the iron chain and disappeared mysteriously never to be found again.The sculptors started sculpting the idols of Mata and the shrine came into existence.
According to the priest, the shrine is centuries old and nobody knows who exactly sculpted the original idols and when .The shrine has two sculpted idols of one each of the Goddess and the other of Veer Langar.These idols remained in the open for a long time when one of the great mystics and religious scholars of Udhampur, late Pt. Dev Raj Sharma (Dec 04, 1912 to Dec10, 2008) who had studied Sanskrit Vishard at Uttarvehni,started living at the shrine first from 1963 to 1968 and later from 1970 to 1978.He would remain in a hut and meditated at the shrine for a long time in all types of weather.Narrating his experiences, his illustrious son Pt Prabhakar said that the roof of his hut would be blown off by strong storms many a time and he would sleep in the open.He got constructed a small temple and the pilgrims started visiting the shrine in large number. It so happened that In 1962 and 1971,the Indo China and the Indo Pak war erupted respectively and thousands of refugees from Pakistan were accomodated at Manwal, Kishenpur and adjoining villages.They lived there for a pretty long time.Many of them too started visiting the shrine and their descendents continue to do so even when they have settled at other places like Jamm and other places.Pandit Dev Raj Sharma motivated them to donate labour and carry some material such as brick, stone, sand etc as they came to visit the shrine. In this way he got constructed a small temple and resculpted the idols as the old ones had been broken and disintegrated.Pt Dev Raj was an ardent devotee of the Mata and it is believed that he had a Darshan of the Deity.As goats were offered at the shrine, he installed an idol of Mata Vaishno Devi ji there but it is said that the Goddess expressed her anger and the old practice of offering goats at her altar was reverted to propitiate the Deity but it is ensured that the the goats are sacrificed outside the temple and the idol of Goddess Vaishno Mata is properly covered to prevent any drop of blood to fall on it.Local people offer goats at the altar of the goddess on special ocassions such as marriage of the eldest son or the birth of a child.They also sacrifice goats as half yearly and yearly ritual.Generally what they do is to take a goat one day before the day of sacrifice is made.The goat is taken through the way on which the goat is believed to have walked originally.The goat is taken amidst beating of drums and reciting the bhajans in praise of Mata and eulogosing her glory.As the procession moves ahead, Jaatar in honour of the Deity is performed at some points amidst singing of Kaaraks.The devotees stop there for the night and in the morning, the Jaatar is resumed after taking bath and purifying themselves.The Jaatar is performed for a long time and finally the goat is sacrificed at the auspicious time but not later than midday.According to the locals, it invariably rains there on the day on which the offering is made to the Goddess.
Ths famous shrine attracts a large number of devotees through out the year but during Navratras, heavy rush of pilgrims is witnessed.On the eve of each Navratra, religious rituals are performed with havan and Community feast (Bhandara) is organised day and night.But the priest at the shrine rued that there is lack of facilities such as water and approach road to the holy shrine as a result of which many sick and infirm devotees can’t visit the shrine..A three story building to provide shelter to the pilgrims at night as well as during rain is under construction but it involves a lot of carriage charges due to lack of road connectivity.Similarly, there is shortage of drinking water at the shrine.Sometimes, the water has to brought on the mules from a long distance, the priest said.So there is need to provide road connectivity and water facility to the shrine for the pilgrims and provide viewpoints,toilets, gardens and parks, construct shelters along the track in order to ensure pleasant and comfortable journey of the pilgrims.
As the shrine is located atop a pictursqe hill amidst coniferous trees, presenting a panaromic and breathtaking view of many towns and villages, there is huge potential for tourism in the region.Moreover,rural and ecotourism can also be promoted in the area and pilgrims can be motivated to stay at the houses of local people as Paying Guests and study their social life from close quarters.Besides, tourist circuits and package tours can be promoted in the region to highlight the archaeological , historical and aesthetic importance of the region as world famous Surinsar and Mansar lakes, archaelogical monuments at Manwal, famous Chountra Mata shrine , Narsingh Dev ji temple at Jansal and the temple of Lord Jagan Nath ji at Thial are other major tourist and religious spots within a distance of about thirty Kilometers from the shrine, where the pilgrims visiting Bagge waali Mata can be taken and their journey made memorable.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English, Govt.HSS, Thial (Udhampur).