Mahasu Devta is the local deity in the Hanol region in Himachal Pradesh. He is the most unusual God one will come across and plays an active role in society. He is the local police and legal system. He is the arbitrator in any dispute and He is the owner of all the gold and silver, even if the humans are in possession of it. He reigns over the earthlings as well as heavenly bodies- Gods and Goddesses.
The temple is ancient- built in the 9th century in Huna architectural style, however, over the years; there have been other architectural influences on the structure. Today the monument stands at 1000 meters height above the sea level near the river Tamas. This river is equally unusual. The water of this river cannot be used for irrigation or any other purpose owing to the deep gorges it flows through. Its banks are fragile and precipitous. Her name itself suggests anger.
Mahasu is essentially Lord Shiva. Apparently, ages ago, this place was used as a torture camp for the convicts. They used heated drums to torture and punish them. Another legend says that Pandavas escaped the palace of Lakh when it was set on fire. There are also stories of how the locals prayed to Lord Shiva to save them from the devil named Kirmir who was troubling them – destroying their homes and setting them on fire, village after village. Lord Shiva came to their rescue and stayed here to protect the region. Some say that the name Hanol came from Sanskrit word Anal meaning fire while others trace it to a Brahmin named Huna Bhatt whose seven sons were killed by Kirmir.
The locals have a simple way to settle all disputes, a method called Lotapani. (Literally means water in a metal goblet). Water is filled in the metal ‘Lota’ with rituals accompanying it. Both the parties in the dispute are made to drink from it in the name of Mahasu Devta. The guilty party is known to fall sick after consuming such water. Thus, the dispute is settled.
This strange method of governance was acceptable to local people as well as the rules till the British arrived. They found it ridiculous and bothersome. Every attempt was made to stop such practices and get this region in line with their rule but in vain. Till date, the age-old practice of local governance continues.
Mahasu Devta is also very possessive about the gold and silver in this region. None of it can be sold to outsiders. The offender is likely to suffer physically or financially even after surrendering the wealth to the temple treasury.
Talking of the physical temple, it is a perfectly harmonious combination of stone and wood used together. The inner sanctum has a stone sculpted Shikhara in Naga style architecture while it is enveloped by a wooden structure. The twin layered conical canopy ends in a roof that has dangling projections in the balcony. The feel of the structure is very Chinese.
In the main shrine is a bronze idol of Mahasu Devta. Idols of His Mother and four attendants also find a place here. No one but the Pujari is allowed to enter the inner shrine and only Brahmins are allowed to enter the huge storage room. The store has a fascinating gilded door depicting stories of Mahasu Devta.
Those with a hunger for mystery and weird stories, this temple is an ideal destination as it provides umpteen number of unusual things to look at. The legends and stories and the social role this Mahasu Devta plays is quite amazing.
Featured Image: ASI Monument by Ayushpainuly under CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons