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.

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