"In-Roads", Life Positive Magazine

Mystery surrounded as I stepped into the land of Devalgarh in the Pauri district of Garhwal Himalayas. Literally meaning the hub of gods, Devalgarh is replete with hidden caves, underground canals, and several ancient temples dating back to the 13th century. Established by the King of Kangra named Deval, and reigned lastly by Ajai Pal (1358 to 1370), the land is of legend and unexplored adventure.

Stories surfaced about a most significant Siddha Peetha of Rajrajeshwari, the Goddess worshipped by the kings, and situated high atop a hill in this territory. Interestingly, I had to do no searching for this temple, but merely halt for chai at a local dhaba, where I gazed in stupor with the tiny tea glass warming my palms, I gazed in stupor at a marker that said "Rajrajeshwari Peetham; 9 kms ahead."

Parking the car at the thatched roadside restaurant, and with my shoes dangling behind my backpack, I started my pilgrimage barefoot. A little black doggie followed. Day was fast returning to the lap of the night. Avoiding the designated trail, we opted for a shorter offbeat path, and when presented a choice between two trails, we were guided by our little black companion, whose presence no more seemed accidental. Whenever we rested, she waited. When we gathered strength, she leaped forth joyously and resumed her lead position. Who was she, I wonder. At the culmination of a most fulfilling trek passing through Laxminarayan temple, Bhairav Gufa, Murlimanohar temple, halting awhile at the Gauri temple right at the base of our destination, as we finally reached the Goddess temple—we were in for some interrogation!

"Kunji Ka Prasad" Uniyal, the priest, was well guarded by two of his own dogs, and lots of questions about our origin, last names, and religious calling. I told him candidly that I was neither a Bhandari, nor a Thakur or a Rawat (typical of Brahmin last names) but a Goddess worshipper. This reply not only assuaged his fears; it encouraged him to offer us a stay for the night! His family most lovingly prepared a meal of chulai (greens) and chapatis. Frequent roars of an unseen tiger in the forest, and Pandit Uniyal’s well-guarded tales about the powers of the Goddess, and sharing of wrinkling tantric scripts made the night truly intriguing. The ritualistic fire pit was clearly ensuring the living presence of the Goddess, so much so that I felt my sleep was being cradled in her arms. In the dream that followed, I was visited by a cow who looked at me with large loving eyes, and communicated that she had come to see who had visited the temple! A visitation by Tripura herself.

After the morning bath, and a careful climb up creaking wooden steps till the third floor of the temple (constructed by Ajay Pal in 1512 when he took possession), I bowed to the idol of Batuk Bhairavnath who sat atop a dog. His worship is customary before entering the threshold of the Goddess. The sanctum sanctorum was dimly lit amidst icons of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Hanuman, Shiva, Shani, Ashtabhuji Durga and Chaturbhuji Durga. The golden glorious idol of Rajrajeshwari, who is called by sixteen sweet syllables and decked in color red, shone amidst the yantras. She is the triple goddess that all Hindu kings have worshipped, and her shrine is revered as the Kashi for Shakti-worshippers,

Pandit Uniyal continued to speak lovingly about the Mother and her many miracles, calling her ‘Bhagwati’ all the while. Receiving initiation from him, and pondering upon the enigma of Sri Yantra, I understood that the several angles in the Yantra were but the walls of the fortress where she choses to remain hidden from ignorant prying eyes, yet the gates open effortlessly by the devotion of the sincere seeker. Next morning, our little doggie guide was nowhere to be found. Was she even real... one couldn't help ponder.