Some 30 kms from Almora, beyond Bare China, the temple complex of Jageshwar is in the midst of a forest of devadar trees. It is both a Shaktipeeth, and regarded as among the 12 jyotirlingam. It is said that ‘Nageshwam Daruka Vane’ is with reference to Jageshwar. Dwadash Jyotilingam Stotra states:
सौराष्ट्रे सोमनाथं च श्रीशैले मल्लिकार्जुनम् । उज्जयिन्यां महाकालमोकांरममलेश्वरम् ।
परल्यां वैद्यनाथं च डाकिन्यां भीमशंकरम् । सेतुबंधे तु रामेशं नागेशं दारूकावने ।।
वाराणस्यां तु विश्वेशं त्रयंम्बकं गौतमीतटे । हिमालये तु केदारं घुश्मेशं च शिवालये ।
ऐतानि ज्योतिर्लिंगानि सायं प्रातः पठेन्नरः । सप्तजन्मकृतं पापं स्मरणेन विनश्यति ।।
The many ancient temples here are a reflection of a past era when this place is believed to have been among the gupt or sacred secret tapasya sthals of the Himalayas. The place was called Yageshwar from the time when the sapt rishis had done a major yagya here. It is also known as Jaganath. Nearby, Uttarbahani and Purvabahini rivers flowing north and eastwards have their sangam or confluence. The waters are considered to be as sacred as the Ganga. As at Badrinath, the Brahma Kapali Brahma Kund is regarded as particularly auspicious for bathing.
The place merits mention in the Manas Khand of Skanda Purana. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself had done tapasya at Jhakar Saim, for untold years and consequently all the gods and goddesses had also done tapasya here, making it a place of powerful divine energies. It is referred to as Rikheshwar, where rishis have done tapasya.
There is a cluster of large and small stone temples, officially numbered as 124. They are well preserved, and currently within the purview of Archaeological Survey of India. The temple architecture is of the simple Nagara style which has tall curvilinear spire – sikhara – surmounted by an amalaka or capstone and a kalasha as crown. The square sanctum sanctorum is through an entrance through a carved doorway. Most of the temples enshrine a natural stone lingam. Impressive stone images are seen around the altar.
There is no definite proof about the construction of Jageshwar group of temples but these are mostly stated to belong to the post-Gupta and pre-medieval era. Several temples were built between 8th century – early Katyuri Dynasty to 18th century, during the Chand Dynasty. These temples were renovated during the reign of Katyuri King Shalivahandev. There is an inscription of Malla Kings on the main temple premises indicating their devotion to Jageshwar. Katyuri Kings also donated some villages to the temple for their maintenance. Chand Kings of Kumaon were great devotees and patrons of Jageshwar temple.
Some of the main temples in the complex here are of Jaganath, Mahamrityunjaya, Pushti Mata, Kedarnath, Naun Durga, Sri Hanuman, Pashupatinath and Surya adi Navgraha. According to tradition, the kings donated generously in the name of Jaganath, and some 365 villages were donated to the temple. The Kings are also believed to have kept their wealth here for safe-keeping, taking it at times of need. It is said that during the rule of Raja Deep Chand a planned enemy attempt to capture the temple was successfully fobbed by a swarm of bees from Jhakar Saim which attacked the approaching army. It is well known that siddha sthans are protected by the unseen hand of divine providence.
Adi Shankaracharya-ji is believed to have visited here and renovated and re-established many temples before he finally departed for Kedarnath. The pilgrimage to Jageshwar was considered as sacred as Badrinath and Kedarnath. Pilgrims used to stop here during their pilgrimage to Kailash and Mansarovar. Because of restrictions on the number of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar, pilgrims were later diverted towards Kedarnath. For years it remained a pilgrim stop on the Kailash Yatra. Jageshwar remains one of the most important teerth sthans of Uttarakhand. The Kailash Manasarovar Yatra to Tibet, organised by Govt. of India, and the Adi Kailash Yatra in Pithoragarh, both pass through Jageshwar on appointed days from June to Sept.
During the month of Shravan, there is an atmosphere of piety and festivity as people from Kumaon throng to the Shravan mela traditionally held here. In 2020 and 2021 in keeping with Covid restrictions, the Mela has not been held. At other times of the year, except for particular auspicious occasions, it mostly remais a quiet, sleepy village, hidden from the glare of undue publicity, despite the attempts to make it part of the religious circuit of tourist destinations.
The imposing and spectacularly large devadar tree at one end of the complex is said to be some 5,000 years old. At the entrance is a Bhairav mandir. On the opposite side, there is also a sanyas dhuna. When blog is offered at the temples, it is also offered, behind the Jaganath temple, within the temple complex, where the living siddha samadhi of a Puri sanyasin is also venerated. Across the river is a temple dedicated to Kuber, the god of wealth.
Among the many sacred places in this region are Jhakar Saim where there is a Shiva lingam, that arose when the sapt rishis witnessed Lord Shiva’s divine lila and become aware of his maya. In fact legend states that several Swayambhu lingams manifested at that time in the region, and later temples were built to protect and worship there. The Airawat gufa, where many rishis and siddhas have done tapasya is believed to have been from the time that Devaraj Indra, ruler of the celestial regions had disembarked here from his vahan or vehicle, Airawat. The divine elephant was among the precious navratna which came from the ocean at the time of the great churning of the oceans.
Walking along the ridge above the temple complex, a 3 km hike from the temples, is the Bridha Jageshwar mandir. It is also accessible by metalled road. The Dandeshwar group of temples are found towards the beginning of the Devadar forest as one enters towards Jageshwar.
Jageshwar, is deeply revered among the many sacred spaces of Kumaon, that are all believed to be inter-connected at subtle levels. It is believed that Jageshwar protects the region of Kumaon, as does Nanda Devi, herself protected by Trishul.
Directions to get there:
Located 36 km northeast of Almora town in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand state, beyond Bare China and Panuanaulla, 3 kms from the village of Artola on the Almora-Pithoragarh highway, it is at an altitude of 1870 mts.
Jageshwar : Abode of Lord Shiva/C.M. Agrawal. 2000, x, 166 p., colour plates, $41. ISBN 81-7479-033-0. (C.M. Agrawal is on the faculty of the Department of History, Kumaon University, Almora.)