Uma Devi Temple A sacred oasis in the Himalayan folds of Kashmir

Shakeel Bin Abdul Ali
Spurred by a request from an old friend in Brari Angan-the locale of the renowned Mata Uma Bhagwati Temple-we found ourselves drawn to this sacred site. During a Sunday excursion, our introduction to a venerable individual, Fatima Apa, a sexagenarian lady entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the temple keys, marked the beginning of a remarkable journey. Upon reaching our destination, a heartwarming sight awaited us-three young men from our Hindu community patiently anticipating the keys held by Fatima Apa, a lady of the Muslim faith. This manifestation of religious harmony struck a chord with us, emphasizing the distinct and harmonious cultural fabric woven around the Mata Uma Devi Temple. Let’s explore the deep-rooted history, spiritual significance, and the captivating convergence of diverse communities that position Mata Uma Devi Temple as a symbol of unity in the embracing Himalayan landscape of Kashmir.
Located in the tranquil embrace of the majestic Himalayas, Uma Nagri, positioned in Uttarasoo within the Anantnag district, is the abode of the revered Mata Uma Devi. This enigmatic temple carries profound religious importance, originating from local beliefs that Hindu goddess Uma specifically selected this celestial location as her sacred dwelling. Referred to as Brari Angan, the temple transcends its role as a mere place of worship (Sidh Peeth), evolving into a site that intricately weaves together legend, spirituality, and the breathtaking beauty of the natural surroundings.
According to local Hindu belief, the Mata Uma Devi Temple is unique in its manifestation of the divine. The goddess is personified in the temple as a river that takes the form of Omkara, symbolizing the entirety of the universe, with the assistance of five springs. Two of these springs merge into one, signifying the union of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati (Shiv Shakti), a sacred communion revered by devotees.
The site has evolved into a popular religious destination where pilgrims come to seek the blessings of the presiding deity, Uma Bhagavati. Devotees believe that the goddess chose this specific location in the Himalayas, creating a spiritual connection between the divine and the earthly realm.
Swami Swaymanand Ji, played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the temple in its present form. Legend has it that the temple incorporates five springs, forming the celestial ‘Omkara.’ The belief in the spiritual union of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati is deeply ingrained in the local lore, making Uma Devi Temple not just a religious site but a testament to the divine relationships within Hindu mythology.
Every year, the shrine commemorates two significant events:
a) Uma Jayanti, celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Paksh Navmi, and b) Nirwan Diwas (death anniversary) of Shree Shiv Ram Koul Jalali (Swami Shivananda Ji), the founder Mahant of Mata Uma Bhagwati shrine, on Pusha Shukla Paksh Pratipada (first day of full moon). During these occasions, a Maha Yagya (Hawan) is solemnised, drawing thousands of devotees seeking blessings from Mata and Guru Maharaj. The celebrations are now organised by Mata Uma Bhagwati Asthapan Trust, in collaboration with the village Baradari (brotherhood) and other devotees in exile at Jammu after the exodus.
The history of the temple is enriched by the spiritual journey of Shree Shiv Ram Jalali, later known as Swami Shivananda. Originally deputed to collect land revenue and taxes , Shree Shiv Ram experienced a profound spiritual transformation upon reaching Brari Angan in Uttarasoo in the year 1772. Intensifying his meditative practice, he attracted the attention of the locals, who sought initiation from him.
Shree Shiv Ram Koul Jalali served as a ‘Kardar’ (Revenue Collector) during the reign of the Afghan Governor of Kashmir, Haji Karam Dad Khan. Known for his integrity and deep devotion to goddess Uma Devi, Shree Jalali was stationed in Sunachh village near Brah, approximately 5 kilometers from Uma Nagri. Guided by a divine vision of Mata Uma Bhagwati, he was directed to forsake worldly pursuits and journey to her abode in the village of Uttarasoo.
Despite the challenging accessibility of the dense forested area, the saint prayed to Mata for guidance, and she instructed him to follow a crow at Brahm Mahurat (wee hours) the next day. Acting on Mata’s guidance, he reached the destination in the dense forests, where five springs-Brahma Kund, Vishnu Kund, Rudhra Kund, and Shiv Shakti Kund-formed the shape of Omkara. Under a Deodhar tree, he initiated meditation and lit an unbroken flame (Akhand Jyoti), which persisted until the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, commonly known as Dhooni Sahib.
Word of the saint’s continuous meditation and spiritual progress spread, prompting local officials to report to the governor of Kashmir. Despite the governor’s summoning, the saint did not attend his court, leading to the deployment of armed soldiers. However, when they arrived, they were startled to find two lions flanking the saint. Frightened, the soldiers retreated, and upon returning to the governor, they reported the miraculous sight.
Intrigued, the governor visited the spot with his bodyguard and witnessed the transformative power of the saint. Impressed, he offered 1600 Kanals of revenue-free agricultural land and a forest strip (now Beat No. 68) for the shrine’s maintenance and pilgrims’ use. This location came to be known as Brari Angan (the cat’s compound), also referred to as Uma Nagri.
In 1782 A.D,Shree Shiv Ram Koul adopted the name Swami Shivananda and initiated a tradition of investing a boy from Kelam village with the sacred thread (Yagneopavit) as his disciple. This practice continued until the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. The last living Mahant, Sh. Swami Satyananda Ji, passed away in exile in Jammu.
Restoring Sacred Spaces: A Journey of Preservation
While compiling information for this article, this author reached out to Shree Brij Lal Marhatta, a resident of Brari Angan who has been a migrant in Jammu since 1990. His insights offer valuable perspectives on the historical context and subsequent endeavours to revive and maintain the shrine complex.
In the early 19th century, various Mahants undertook the development of the shrine, engaging in the construction and modification of its springs in the form we see today. The Diwan Khana, a decorative building comprising the Mahants’ residence, kitchen, and dining hall for Mahant, staff, and visiting devotees, was constructed on the ground floor. The first floor housed the conference/pravachan hall, Mahant and attendant rooms, and guest rooms, while the second floor served as storage for fuel and rations. This expansive building became the focal point for visiting dignitaries, Sadhus, and devotees.
On the left side, a two-story Dharmshalla with five rooms on the ground floor, a front veranda, and a large Hawanshalla attached to a community kitchen on first floor for rituals stood. Another smaller building, Dhoni Sahib, measuring around 30ftx30ft, was located in front of Diwan Khana. This building housed the continuously burning Akhand Dhoni and a Shiv Lingam for devotees to perform pooja, archana, and darshan and relics of Swamiji.
A 15ftx15ft pond, 6 ft deep with steps on two sides, received water from the main springs of Devibal through a pipe. This facilitated pilgrims in taking a holy bath before engaging in pooja archana. Adjacent to the Dharmshalla was a cowshed.
Unfortunately, the entire campus suffered destruction during the period of militancy after 1990. However, through community efforts and donations, the shrine complex was fenced, and the temple underwent renovation from 2012 to 2014. Despite these efforts, there is still a considerable amount of maintenance work to be completed, including the reconstruction of the Hawan Shalla, the establishment of a stormwater drain to prevent flooding, and the provision of tile flooring and paths in and around the complex. Additionally, the construction of separate toilet blocks for men and women is needed to facilitate pilgrims. The upkeep of the Shrine and its immovable landed property is currently managed by the Mata Uma Bhagwati Asthapan Trust, established by Lt. Swami Satyananda Ji.
Uma Nagri has become a lighthouse for spiritual seekers and tourists alike. Beyond the sacred temple, the area boasts other famous spots such as Kokernag, Daksum, Verinag, Achabal and a less explored place Chattapal. These destinations, located in proximity to Mata Uma Devi, offer visitors an opportunity to explore the natural beauty and cultural richness of the region.
The Mata Uma Devi Temple serves as evidence of the harmonious blend of spirituality, mythology, and the beauty of nature. The spiritual ambiance enveloping the temple, along with its historical importance and the narratives of spiritual encounters, attract both pilgrims and tourists. Uma Nagri, cradled in the Himalayan embrace, invites all to witness the mystical union of the sacred and the earthly, making it a timeless gem in the cultural fabric of Kashmir. The rich history of the temple and the legends associated with it are a testament to the enduring allure of Mata Uma Devi and the profound spiritual experiences that unfold in the heart of the Himalayas.