The rapturous cadence of bells ringing and the spectacular panoramic view of the Garhwal Himalayas forms the background for the ancient Karthik Swami temple situated at an elevation of 10,000 feet. This lone temple dedicated to Lord Kartikeya in Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand finds mention in the Kumara Khanda of the Shiva Purana. A short 3 km trek from Kanak Chauri village on the Rudraprayag – Pokhari route through the beautiful dense rhododendron forest leads you to this old temple.
Locals say that one should first offer prayers at the Bhairav Nath temple that is at the start of the trek. One can hear the mesmerizing peal of bells as you walk up the eighty-odd steps.
Legend has it that one time, Lord Shiva and Parvathi Devi decided to test both their sons to determine who should be given the honour of first invocation in the universe. The challenge was that whoever circumambulated the universe seven times first would be declared the winner. Lord Kartikeya also known as the God of War and the God of 33 crore devathas immediately set off on his peacock. Lord Ganesha on the other hand, pondered over the task ahead and arrived at the conclusion that his father and mother are the Supreme Creators of the universe and the entire gamut of creation of beings and non-beings existed within them. He calmly circumambulated his parents seven times much to their astonishment.
When asked by his parents what he hoped to achieve from this task, Lord Ganesha replied that the whole universe is created by them and resides in them and so, it is only befitting to circumambulate them and complete the challenge. Lord Shiva and Parvathi Devi were both impressed and astounded at his intelligence and wisdom and so were Saraswathi Devi and Lakshmi Devi who were listening nearby. They decided that Lord Ganesha was the worthy winner and declared that the first puja in the universe must be offered to him only.
Meanwhile, Lord Kartikeya finished his assigned task thinking that he had defeated his brother but upon hearing the events that had transpired, realized that his brother had truly understood the Supreme Truth and was deserving of honour and respect. Much to the dismay of his parents, Lord Kartikeya gave up his body that is the flesh and surrendered his bones to Lord Shiva at this spot. He then headed to either Krauncha Parvat or Mount Kailasha or down south to do tapah (penance and austerities).
Here, the bones of Lord Kartikeya are revered in the form a naturally formed stone image of him. There are also idols of Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya on his peacock behind in the sanctum sanctorum and an akhanda dhuni on the right. The forest god Bana devatha is venerated by all. Lord Kartikeya is worshipped as the ishta devatha by 365 villages in the districts of Chamoli and Rudraprayag.
On a clear day, one can see the snow-clad Bandarpunch, Kedarnath, Meru, Sumeru, Chaukhamba, Nilkantha, Dunagiri, Nanda Devi, Nanda Ghunti, Trishul and many more from this temple. This temple is perched at the end of a narrow ridge and the view of Alaknanda and Mandakini from above is breathtaking.
Locals say that there is a 11-day long Kalash yatra and maha yaga that is conducted in June every year for the welfare of the universe which draws huge crowds. It is said that during these 11 days, Lord Kartikeya will stay in the temple while he resides in a nearby village for the rest of the year. The sandhya aarti and the maha bhandara organised by the temple is a divine experience. People from far-flung places offer their prayers to Lord Kartikeya in the month of Karthik especially on Vaikunta Chaturdashi and Karthik Purnima. The priest says that it is best to visit between October – March if you wish to have darshan of the impressive Chaukhamba peak and the Himalayas.
The bells that hang in different shapes and sizes in the temple complex also has an interesting story behind it. It is said that carrying a bell to the temple on the auspicious occasion of Karthik Purnima will render one’s prayers fulfilled. There is also a ritual of offering combs and vermillion to Lord Kartikeya but not much information is available on that.
The white Himalayas, lush green forests and the scintillating play of light on the waters of Alaknanda and Mandakini in the deep valley below leaves you spellbound. Locals say that sunrise and sunset viewed from this place is ethereal. This exquisite natural beauty offers something for everyone be it a naturalist, spiritualist, trekker, thrill seeker, adventurer and the pious.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)