Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lohar Devta Shrine

Lohar Devta Shrine is thirty one kilometers away from Poonch Town and is located in the western side of Tehsil Mendhar on an elevated slope of Ghani hill top in Krishna Ghati range of mountain. The shrine is surrounded by snow clad lofty peeks of Peer Panchal. The Green valley of Mendhar is visible up to Bhimber Gali Top (5400ft). This religious place is about three kilometer inside the line of actual control. A mettaled road goes up to Bhaira Top near the Asthaan of Baba Grib Dass, who was son of a great saint Baba BirmShah of 17th Century AD. From Bhira Top to Lohar Devta one has to travel two kilometers on foot. At Shrine place there is an attractive temple and an ancient pond (14 X 14 ft) constructed with engraved stones. This pond is known as Amrit Kund. The main shrine of Lohar Devta has been constructed recently with the initiative of a sikh devotee S. Rajinder Singh Kaka. Apart from main temple, a langer hall with capacity of two thousand people, two room guest house for pilgrims and public conveniences are there. The eatables and utensils are kept ready for the pilgrims who can stay there, cook meal and eat because such types of facility is not available in that locality.

A big mael is organized twice in year, one on Magar Pornima while the main mael is organized on Bodh Pornima. Thousands of devotees from Poonch, Rajouri, Sunderbani, Nowshera and Jammu assemble here during the mael days and perform the religious rituals. Mostly Hindu Brahmans, the original natives of Poonch are the followers of this shrine. They include Chibber, Manjyal, Bali, Dutta, Sudan and Sasan caste apart from Vermas of Magnar village. As per their belief Lohar was their kul devta and they are his disciples from centuries together. Majority of them participated in Budh Pornima mael and conducted the mundan (tonsuring) ceremony of their children. They also consider their marriage genuine only after taking seven Pharas (rounds) of the shrine.

Before the turmoil of 1947, Lohar Devta was considered an important religious shrine for Hindus of Poonch principality. During the mael days on the eve of Budh Purnima the devotees offer prayers after sacrificing goats at the shrine. Keeping in view this typical type of ritual and attachment of devotees with the shrine, Raja Moti Singh (1852-1892 AD) of Poonch had donated a piece of forteen hundred Kanal land to this shrine in 1860 AD. From 1860 to 1947 this religious place remained the center of great hustle bustle as the followers from tehsil Bagh, Sudnuti Mendhar, Kotli, Thakyala Prava, Rawalakote and Rajouri visited regularly to offer prayers. However due to the happening of 1947 the LOC was demarcated near the shrine and the area remained prohibited for general public for a pretty long period due to security reasons. The majority of devotees of this shrine also migrated from Bagh, Sudhnuti and Poonch to the other parts of the country. Therefore, the shrine remained unattended and the original structure was destroyed and damaged. After 1971 when the ceasefire line was converted into line of actual control and peace was restored in the area, the devotees again started pouring in to this holy place. In the initial stage a small kacha hutment was constructed at the place of Lohar Devta and a Pujari from Julas village started visting the shrine for performing daily rituals. From 1975 onward Lohar devta mael was again restored but the slaughtering of goat on the eve of budh pornima was banned. In 1989, a local sikh S. Rajinder Singh Kaka also started visiting the shrine with great devotion. He decided to construct a pacca complex at this place. With his initiative a number of other devotees also participated in construction work and with the passage of time a magnificent temple, Lunger bulding and guest houses were constructed at the site.

It is very astonishing that there is no original idol of Lohar Devta at the shrine. It is also important to note that there is no Hindu deity with the name of Lohar. Eve then the shrine is considered an important religious place. It is not out of place to mention here that there are ruins of some ancient fort and a complex of buildings about three hundred meters above the shrine on Ghani hill top where engraved long stones are still available in a big area. The natives believe that there was an ancient castle at this place under the name of Lohar Castle. Interestingly there was another important castle in poonch principality which was known as Lohar Kote located 32 kilometer in the north of Poonch town on ancient Tosh-e-maidan route leading towards Kashmir valley. Lohar Kote fort was known as the gate way of Kashmir. Legend goes that there was a great commander Lohar who ruled this area on the order of Greek King Manindra, (The descedent of Alexander the Great in India) who had embraced Buddhism (161-130 BC) after his discourse with Budhist monk Abhinav Gosh in present Mendhar valley where Lohar Devta shrine is located. It is possible that Lohar might have been either a great religious person or a saintly personality cum commander of King Manindra in whose name two castles at Ghani in Mendhar valley and Lohar Kote in Mandi Glen were constructed. With the passage of time these castle gets damaged and turned into ruins but the faith and memories travels with the centuries.

There are a number of engraved stones, pillars and broken idols available at Ghani top. One of them is 16x2” has been brought by the devotees from hilltop to shrine and placed before the temple of Lohar Devta. The pre historic image engraved on this stone resembles Lord Budha. In 1984, a team of archeological department had visited this site but no excavation has so far taken place to identify the real status of this place. It appears from the ruins that there was a big complex and a civilization at Ghani hilltop.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Flowers of Trikuta Hills

Trikuta hills with three lofty mountain peaks are world famous for the sacred pilgrimage of Goddess Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine located in the picturesque backdrop of Pine forests . Lakhs of devotees coming from distant places within and outside India pay homage to the Goddess Vaishno Devi for the spiritual blessings and maintenance of peace and harmony in the society .
Trek route to the sacred shrine starts from Banganga and pass through picturesque spots like Charan Paduka , Adh Kuwari , Bhairo Ghati and enters Vaishno Devi Bhawan .On the way one comes across beautiful flowers decorating the surroundings in an attractive setting of hilly landscape .Different seasons in different moods get decorated differently for adding charm and colour to the pilgrimage of the holy shrine .

Autumn season is seen coloured with attractive hues of falling foliage decorated in red ,yellow or pink .Silk Cotton Tree , Chinese Tallow Tree , Indian Odina Tree , Indian Smoke Bush , Maples are flowerless but are dressed in attractive coloured tints during this part of the season .Winter approaches with sparse blooming of wild plants , shrubs and climbers namely Spermadictyon suaveolens , Porana paniculata , Poinsettia pulcherrima and later get decorated with a magnificent cover of white snow especiallyat spots like Adh Kuwari ,Bhairo Ghati and Trikuta Peaks dotted with green leafy Pines ,Laurels , Monkey Face Trees and leafless Maples , Spindle Trees and Horse Chestnut Trees.

Spring season is more attractive of all the seasons and provide a breathtaking view of Trikuta Hills . Indian Jonquil , Narcissus tazetta locally called Heer minjar in Dogri and Yamberjal in Kashmiri is first to bloom to spread its maddening fragrance all along the hilly trek .Further up in and around Bhairo ghati area .golden yellow blooms of Indian Collyrium , Colchicum luteum locally called Surunjaa in Dogri and Virkimposh in Kashmiri , start flowering amidst patches of snow .Down below ,Silk Cotton Trees ,Bombax ceiba (Simbal ) and Indian Coral Tree ,Erythrina indica (Thubb )get laden with deep red flowers to provide feast to the alluring birds like Mynas ,Crows ,Treepies and Drongos . Bhairo Ghati get dressed up in brilliant blooms of Indian Rose Tree , Rhododendron arboretum ( Chew , Madhaal ,Buraans ) .Now , floral basket of nature gets widely opened up and every inch of surroundings gets all possible hues and tints of flowers .Wheat fields around Katra and Charan Paduka are full of decorative blooms like pink coloured Tulips(Maghoone , Magge ) , pink Geraniums ,yellow Winter Flax ( Basant , Phiyuli ) , golden Carrot Sage ,Eremostachys superba (Gaajarmoola ) , white Butterfly Buddlejas , Langoor Pear ,Pyrus pashia (Kainth ) ,brilliant blue Eranthemum pulchellum , Wild Musk Rose , Rosa brunonii ( Kareer ) and golden yellow Caesalpinia bonduc ( Dudhrehda ) among plethora of other blooms . Decorative Indian Orchid Tree , Bauhinia variegata locally called Katraid is followed by the attractive blooms of Flame Of The Forest in the backdrop of Trikuta hills to add colour and charm to the surroundings .

Summer season welcomes not only attractive flowers of Palash ,Butea monosperma but also beautiful blooms of Indian Laburnum ,Cassia fistula ( Karangal , Amaltaas ) , Scarlet Flame Bush ( Dhaai ,Dhaataki ) , Gulmohar ,Delonix regia , Jacaranda mimosaefolia , Wendlandia heyneii (Pansar ) , Melia azederach ( Dhraink ) ,Sterculia pallens (Udaal ) and Ehretia serrata ( Pauna )

Rainy season is full of clouds and drizzles and it nurtures many fascinating blooms of various monsoon herbs shrubs , trees and climbers . Leucas capitata ( ,Phumman , Dronpushpi ), Gloriosa superba ( Kalihaari , K ukkadsira ) , Strobilanthes alatus ( Pardaah ) , Mimosa rubicaulis ( Raal ) , Ipomea purpurea ( Kharpowa , Ishaqpecha) , Martynia annua ( Bhiddu ,Kaun ) , Impatiens balsamina ( Teera ,Gulmehndi ) , Rabdosia rugosa ( Salaiee , Peeunmaar ) , Mirabilis jalapa ( Gulbaasi ) , Cestrum nocturnum (Raat ki Raani ) , Lagerstroemia indica ( Panjtaara ) ,Oroxylum indicum ( Taatra , Marinjan ) all present their grand panorama amidst lush green verdant surroundings to attract visitors and pilgrims proceeding on way to holy Vaishno Devi Shrine .

Flowers of Trikuta Hills and Vaishno Devi Shrine are vital links in the forest ecology and are a source of food for numerous bees , butterflies ,birds and other wildlife of the area . These flowers are basis of future greenery and important for providing multiple and indispensable ecological , cultural , economic services to the local communities of the area . Goddess Vaishno Devi's happiness lies not only in maintaining religious fervor and devotion but also in conserving nature's beauty in its pristine glory , the way God and Goddesses have created . Spoiling nature and its manifestations in one or the other way is sure to attract wrath of our sacred shrines and we need to look at nature with same reverence as we have for our places of worship