Blue serene sky dotted with a white fluff of clouds. You never know where the sky ends and the snowy mountains begin. Everything is enveloped in a mysterious mist that hides and reveals at will. You look down at the valleys, at the ocean of green. You see waves upon waves of pines in numerous hues of green. There is a nip in the fresh crisp mountain air and a jungle fragrance floating. Among this breathtaking view, in the thick forest of Himalayan ranges, on the bank of river Baner (Banganga), is situated a very powerful shrine of Hindus well known as Chamunda Devi.
On the cliff of the Shah Madar range, overlooking the pretty little town of Chamba, just 15 kilometers from the famous Dharmashala is situated this nearly 700 years old temple, built by Raja Umed Singh. The old temple seems to be damaged and a new one built in its place. Earlier, one had to climb nearly 400 steps to reach the shrine, but now there is a road that gets you much closer.
As with every shrine, there is a story to this temple too. Goddess Ambika was in deep meditation and the Devils Chanda and Munda were troubling her to ensure her penance is broken. Goddess Ambika was very angry with them when her intense concentration was broken and she turned into a ferocious Goddess riding a lion, wearing the skin of a tiger and garland of human skulls. She then destroyed both the devils, Chanda and Munda. She is therefore called Chamunda and represents the fierce warrior feminine power. This Goddess is also referred to as Goddess Kali or Durga.
The temple is built in wood and its roof is made of the traditional local roofing material of slates. It is not a very imposing structure in terms of its size. Compared to the huge temple complexes you get to see in South India, this temple seems quite modest. Just an open Mandap outside the sanctum sanctorum and a Kunda (water reservoir for devotees to bathe in), that sums it all up. However, it is has a quaint charm of its own. God Hanuman and God Bhairava are guarding the Goddess on either side of the entrance. Behind the temple is a cave-like structure with a phallic symbol or Shivlinga. God Shiva and Goddess Shakti are said to have lived here and thus the temple is also called Chamundi Nandikeshwara Dham. There are footprints in the temple which are said to be that of the Goddess herself and forms an important feature of the temple.
The wooden pillars are carved with figures and scriptures in ancient languages. The ceiling is absolutely amazing. It is divided into nine squares and each one is intricately carved in beautiful floral patterns and animal motifs. The inner ceiling has carvings done in silver foil.
Bells are another specialty of this temple. There is a huge brass bell hung at the entrance of the temple. When it rings its sonorous sound your mind automatically clears off all other thoughts and worries and gets concentrated on ‘here and now’. It is now prepared to take in the positives vibes of the place. However, the fascinating part in this temple is that bells are offered to Chamunda Devi as she fulfills the wishes of the devotees and the place is teeming with tiny brass bells tied on red threads.
Chamunda temple attracts Hindu devotees throughout the year but the Navaratri is a very special time. Thousands of devotees from all over India come here to celebrate the fierce feminine force of this great Yogini and receive her blessings.