village in the western Himalayas has a setting that only the Gods could have
This was where Banasura of the leg-end ruled. One night his beautiful
daughter, Usha, had a dream. She saw a prince more handsome and far stronger
than any man. And when she woke, Usha pined for that prince and told her
friend, Chitralekha, about him. Based on Usha's vivid description,
Chitralekha made his portrait. Partially consoled, Usha kept that picture
close to her. Then Chitralekha vowed she would search the world over for
that prince and bring him to Usha.
For a long time, Chitralekha wandered till one day she saw Aniruddha, Lord
Krishna's son. Here was the prince of Usha's dream! As Aniruddha
slept, Chitralekha picked up the bed and brought him to Usha. But the moment
Lord Krishna heard of his son's abduction, he marched with his army
against Usha' s father. Banasura who hadn't a clue what the battle
was all about was defeated. And then the story of the dream was told.
Magnanimous as ever, Lord Krishna married his son to Usha and as dowry gave
back the defeated Banasura his kingdom of Shonitpur, which is regarded to be
the present day Sarahan.
Banasura could not have chosen a more beautiful place to rule. This small
village in the western Himalayas has a setting that only the Gods could have
created. Far below in the valley, and miles out of its source in Mansarovar,
tumbles the river Sutlej. Across lies Shrikhand and the other snow covered
peaks, some so sacred that none may climb them. It is a land closely
connected with the epic Mahabharata and the exile of the Pandavas. Alongside
Shrikhand is a huge Shivalinga, the Bhimadwar that is visible from Sarahan
and is said to have been built by that mountain of a man, Bhima.
Around Sarahan itself are fields and orchards, small villages and thick
Legend Of Bhimakali
Between the legend of Banasura and the present
day, comes the presence of Bhimakali - which is what Sarahan is all about.
Again in legend, there was a time when demons lorded over the Himalayas and
harassed the Gods and the Rishis (saints). After a long sequence, led by
Lord Vishnu, the Gods breathed fire and poured their strength to a focus. A
huge flame rose and as the clouds of smoke dispersed, they saw that a young
girl had taken birth. She was the first Shakti - "Adhishakti".
Hemkunt gave her a white tiger to ride on, Kuber gave her a crown, Varun
gave her clothes and water. The other Gods gave her the Lotus, Garlands, a
Conch, the Chakra and other powerful Devi, was to repeatedly take birth and
destroy the demons. As Bhimakali, she appeared at Sarahan - the place is one
of the major Shaktipeeths or Shaktipeethas or 'Places of Strength',
where the Devi or Goddess appeared. While it was the local Pundits who spent
hours with us narrating the legends, many are recorded in the ancient texts
of the "Markandey Purana" and the "Durgaq Shaptshatti".
Another Legend Connected To The Devi
Ages back, another legend goes,
the devotee, Bhimagiri, set out from Bengal to tour all the places sacred to
Shiva and the Devi in the Himalayas. He carried just a staff and the image
of the devi tucked in his matted locks. When he reached Sarahan, his staff
sank deep in the ground and there lay buried the image of Bhimakali. She
appeared to him and said that this was her true home and here she would
live. Bhimagiri lodged himself in a cave on the hillside and after his
death; it was decided to build a temple.
A spot, some distance from the present complex, was chosen but every night
the pile of construction material would mysteriously shift. The obvious
message received, the temple was then built on the present site.
As time passed and the mists of myth gave way to verifiable history, the
beautiful spot of Sarahan became the capital of the princely state of
Bushair. The Raja (king) moved here from Karmu, their original seat in the
Baspa Valley. In the 18th century, he moved to the banks of the Sutlej and
made Rampur, on the lower boundaries of the state, his capital. Bushair was
regarded as one of the wealthiest states of the region and was a major
entrepot for trade with Tibet, Ladakh, Kashmir and Khazakstan.
But here legend creeps in again and the story is told of two brothers who
set out from home. One night, as they slept, a boulder grew between them. In
the morning, when one brother woke up, he couldn't see the other.
Thinking that he had left, his brother took a high road and began walking.
After a somewhat tortuous sequence of events, he became the ruler of the
area. The other one woke later and found his brother gone. He took the lower
path and in time became the Rajpurohit (the head priest of the kingdom).
interlocked wooden beams encasing Ashlar worked stone, the outer walls of
the Sarahan temple complex encase roughly an acre of buildings and
courtyards. On an edge, in the classical shikhara style of temples, is the
one dedicated to Lord Narasingh (also spelt as Narasimha or Narusimha). And
in the centre of the courtyard is a raised stone platform. Till its recent 'straightening
out', this pointed towards the peaks of Shrikhand and the state of
Kullu - a one time enemy of Bushair.
After a hard stride over Masoi's stone, comes the second courtyard and
the right hand side is lined with rooms of the erstwhile rulers. There is a
temple dedicated to Bhairon and then the main focus of the complex, the
temple of Bhimakali.
Now locked and used as a repository, the older temple has a weathered and
distinguished look. During the devastating earthquake of 1905, it tilted
towards a side but the inherent elasticity of the wood-beam structure
prevented major damage. A later earthquake straightened the plumb to an
extent. The foundations of this remarkable building are said to rest
three-storeys deep, and now a disused tunnel connects it to the village of
Ranwin, a kilometre away. Through this underground passage, the pundits
would enter and leave the temple.
Rebuilding Of A New Structure
Completed in 1943, by old temples side
is the newer temple with a similar architectural pattern but with heavier
carving on the woodwork and a fascinating roofline. Here, with a host of
other deities, are two images of Bhimakali. The first portrays her as an
unmarried maiden and the second as a mature woman.
For Sarahan, at a height of 200 mts and 184-km from Shimla, if one were to
use the phrase that the stones are soaked with history, it would hold
perfectly true. From the time when Goddess Sati scattered her body over the
land and her ear fell in Sarahan there are also flecks of blood and washes
Every dawn brings lifting voices of the say's first Aarti at the
temple and the sound pours over the little villages, carries to the high
mountains and its strength churns in the tumbling waters of the icy Sutlej.
Tales Woven Around Sarahan
Centuries ago, the raja of Kullu declared
war on Bushair. After a bloody battle, he was defeated and the dismembered
head of its ruler was brought to Sarahan and placed on this stone platform.
The defeated people of Kullu and the raja's family asked for the return
of the head so that they could perform the final rites. The ruler of Bushair
laid three conditions before he would return the head - the land seized
across the Sutlej would be retained, Kullu must promise to never again
challenge its neighbour and the captured image of Lord Raghunath (the
pattern Devta of Kullu) would not be returned.
The defeated kingdom accepted all these conditions and in return only asked
that Bushair celebrate the festival of Dussehra. This was accepted and
Dussehra is now a major local festival. The image of Lord Raghunath was
ceremoniously installed alongside that of Bhimakali. Then about a century
ago, a new temple was built and here it presently rests.
After this sanguinary story comes another. As one climbs the stairs from
the first courtyard, passes the magnificent bras plate doors and enters a
short hallway, there is a large flagstone on the floor. A few years back,
all around this, smooth light grey Kota stone was laid. But his hunk of
rough quartzite still dominates the middle. Kanwar Gopal Singh, scion of
Bushair's princely family who superintends the temple complex told the
A tradition that still continues to an extent is that no individual should
build a house similar in design or as grand as the temple or the ruler's
palace. In the village or Rohru, a man named Masoi decided that this
unwritten code did not apply to his and built for himself a house inspired
by the design of the Sarahan complex. This was taken as a sign of both
sacrilege and revolt and an army detachment was sent to crush him.
Masoi's house was razed to the ground and this stone from his roof was
brought and symbolically placed here. And every person entering the complex
now walked over that stone and let everyone know that those who tried to
rise above their appointed station would be crushed and trod upon for all
times to come.