RAKKH PATRIKA

15 August 2020

The Majestic Forts and Temples of Kangra

The royal town of Kangra is a treasure trove of scenic treats, wealth and history. Historically, the kingdom of Kangra comprised of three capitals. The third capital which is tucked away in the hills, is what we know as present-day Kangra. Nagarkot, Susarmapura, Bhimkot and Katoch are names that are often associated with Kangra. The captivating Kareri river flows here from the melting snow of the Dhauladhar range and can be best described as cinematic. Alpine forests, quaint villages, pristine streams and green meadows make Kangra quite the dream destination.
Kangra flourished under the Katoch dynasty whose founder Bhumi Chandra is said to have been born of God Ambika’s perspiration. According to mythological lore, when Bhumi Chandra destroyed a demon for Goddess Ambika, he received the large kingdom of Kangra (which spanned Kutch, Khadi and Multan) as a gift. This is also when he was also conferred with the title of Katoch (best in swordsmanship) by the Goddess. Even to this day, descendants of the Katoch clan use this title as their surnames. Given Kangra’s religious and mythological past, it isn’t surprising that the region comprises not just of majestic forts but also impressive temple structures. Like the one you’ll find in Kangra fort, where Goddess Ambika has been worshipped for centuries as the clan Goddess of the Katoch Kingdom.

Miniature Kangra Paintings - Himachal Pradesh

Rajanaka Susarma (royal descendent of Bhumi Chandra) finds mention in the Mahabharat. He is said to have fought for the Kauravas in the battlefield, only to die at the hands of Arjun. The famous Kangra fort is believed to have been built by him, around which the city of Susarma Pura (Kangra) was built.  
Huge of walls of black stone, eleven gates and twenty three bastions add might to this monument. Gateways of the royal Kangra fort open to a sprawling courtyards and ancient temples of Ambika Devi, Lord Mahavira and Lakshmi Narayana. In the past, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim rulers and later even the British sought to conquer this fort. It’s appeal didn’t just lie in its impressive structure. Within the walls of the fort, lay secret treasure wells! Perhaps this is why the fort was always guarded by vigilant guards. It is believed that Hindu rulers offered silver, gold and priceless jewels to the deities housed in the temples of the fort. In a matter of time, this wealth started piling up in secret treasure wells. The news of Kangra fort’s dazzling treasures reached kings like Alexander the Great and Mahmud Ghazni who made attempts to seize the fort and its wealth. The latter was apparently successful in looting eight wells, and later the British managed to loot five around the late nineteenth century. It is believed that there were 21 such treasure wells in total.

Image Credit: Royal Kangra

Adjoining Kangra Fort is the royal museum- Maharja Sansar Chandra museum, named after a king who defeated the Mughals and recaptured his ancestral Kangra fort. The museum includes several galleries that showcase royal costumes, a darbar hall, Kangra’s famous miniature paintings and the maharani’s bedroom. The walls of Ram Gopal temple in Guler town of Kangra district depict the famous miniature paintings. Mainly inspired from the wars fought by Rajput kings, local artists are believed to have created these paintings under the reign of Nurpur rulers. 

SMALL ROOM

Speaking of temples, one must mention that Kangra is known as the valley of temples or Dev Bhumi. It is also known as the Thakurwada. This is befitting for a valley where one can find 3000 temples, big and small. The unique Masroor Rock Cut Temples popularly known as the Himalayan Pyramid definitely stand out in the region. Dating back to as far back as the 8th and 9th century, the entire temple is a cluster of 15 rocks carved out of a single massive rock. The mesmerizing temple complex is 40 kms west of Kangra and is popular for its striking architecture. Upon entering the complex, you’ll catch sight of the Masroor lake which shows a partial reflection of the temples. The Pandavas are said to have resided in these temples during their exile. These temples are built in the shikhara (spire) style of architecture (popularly seen in many temples of North India) and are 2,500 feet above sea level. The main shrine houses idols of Lord Lakshmana, Lord Rama and Goddess Sita. Intricate carving and sculpting of figurines (of Gods and Goddesses) mark the walls, doors, lintels and spires of this complex. The temple was originally devoted to Lord Shiva and later it came to known as the shrine of Lord Rama. The visual theme of these temples is said to have been inspired from festivities around the coronation of Lord Shiva. 

The old township of Kangra is where one can find the Brijeshwari temple- a religious monument that drew plunderers from across the border. Rulers and looter took active interest in the immense wealth that lay within the temple. Dedicated to Goddess Vajreshwari (one of Durga’s avatar), the temple is known to be one of the 51 shaktipeethas in India. Legend has it that when Goddess Sati’s father organized a yajna (fire ritual) and didn’t deliberately invite his son-in-law (Lord Shiva) to the holy ceremony, Sati took great offence and immolated herself in the fire. Devastated by this loss, Lord Shiva took the lifeless body of his wife in his arms and started doing the dance of cosmic destruction, also known as the Tandava. Afraid that Shiva’s anger would destroy the world, Lord Vishnu intervened and shredded Sati’s body with his chakra. Wherever her body parts fell, over those spots a shrine or a shaktipeetha was created. It is said the Brijeshwari temple was constructed where Goddess Sati’s breast had fallen. Beautiful silver idols of Gods and Goddesses enhance the charm of this gorgeous white temple. A lively bazaar offering devotional food or prasad, leads the visitor to the temple which is located very close to the Kangra Fort. The Mahabharata mentions that the temple was built by the Pandavas after Goddess Durga appeared in their dreams to advise them to build a shrine a Nagarkot, where they could live unharmed. Kangra served as refuge for the Pandavas in the ancient times, but today, the town’s a refuge for any visitor who is enamoured with history, legacies, hidden treasures and mythological tales.
Interestingly, Kangra is in very close proximity to Dharamshala. For an unspoilt view of the captivating Dhauladhar snow-capped mountains, visitors could plan their stay at the Rakkh Resort in Palampur which is perched on a hill top. To soak in the serenity of Kangra and its offerings, you could head to the hills anytime from September to November, which is supposed to be the best time to tour the valley.

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The Rakkh Patrika

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