by Adbhuta Hari Dasa
Manali is a mountain tourist’s town in North Indian state, Himachal Pradesh. Situated at an altitude of 2000 meters and surrounded by almost 6000-meter high snow-capped Mountains it serves as a base for many tourists who come there, for trekking, skiing, rafting or just relaxing in a peaceful, natural environment during the summer season. The Kullu valley in which it is situated is considered to be one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. This valley which was formerly known as the end of the habitable world is in fact a place where the first civilization began. Historical name of Manali was “Manu-Alaya,” or the “Home of Manu”. Vaivasvata Manu author of Manu Smriti, “the codes of conduct”, supposedly lived here after the flood in which the world was deluded. He became a first progenitor of the Earth planet, giving thus Manali historical importance as a cradle of human kind.
To experience this land of the demigods I have travelled up to Kullu valley in a bus that was swinging to and fro on the twisting road through the rolling hills. As my body appeared to be dancing, my heart was filled with the joy absorbing the unmatched beauty of the BeasRiver, which following the main road was rushing along its rocky course amid grassy meadows. When I arrived in new Manali I first decided to visit the closest Hidimba temple which was located on a small Dhungri hill in a thick forest amidst tall deodars. Winding uphill path surrounded by wild flowers and huge boulders led me to a majestic four stored wooden Hidimba temple in a Pagoda style with three successions of superimposed roofs, each one little smaller than the one below it. The top one was circular and crowned by a brass ball and trident. Entrance of the temple was beautifully engraved with the detailed carvings of the birds, elephants, demigods, crocodiles, dancers and various flowery motifs. And the walls were decorated with horns of the animals. The line of visitors was very long, but when I entered the temple two priests allowed me to remain inside for a longer time. The four walls enclosed the temple; dark mysterious interior produced a feeling of being in a deep cave. Accustomed to the dim light I noticed large natural boulders. On one of them there was imprint of the Hidimba’s lotus feet which everyone was touching offering respects and giving donation, and of two brass deities of Durga situated on the opposite side. One was commanding a deep reverence depicting Durga killing the buffalo demon.
On the way out inquiring from local people about the deity I meet Rajesh from New Delhi who with his family is a frequent visitor of Manali during a summer seasons. He told me that Hidimba is identified with a goddess Durga and as believed it is a deity associated with rain. He told me a local story how Hidimba, became goddess of the royal family. King that ruled Kullu valley was cruel and whimsical man; he had ordered that his subjects should bring fresh milk daily to his household. Anyone who disobeyed his orders would be severely punished. One day it was the turn of a poor Brahmin, who had no cow of his own, nor did he have the money to buy milk. Knowing that he would have to face wrath of the ruler, the Brahmin got milk of his wife, who had given birth to a baby. That day, the king relished the sweet dish more than ever before. He asked the Brahmin to explain about the superior quality of the milk he had supplied. The Brahmin told the truth that the milk he supplied was not of a cow but from the breast of his wife. The king thereafter ordered that henceforth he should have for his sweet-dish woman’s milk instead of a cow. He decreed that all newly born babies in his domain should be killed and that the woman’s milk be brought to his kitchen. People had no choice but to obey. One day goddess Hidimba in the guise of a strange looking old woman spotted a young man fast asleep on a rock in the outskirt of king’s capital. She woke him up saying ‘you are going to dethrone the cruel ruler and free my people from the atrocities he is inflicting upon them. I am Hidimba. Thousands of years ago, I ruled over this land. I was married to the great warrior Bhima. Ghatotkacha, the hero of Mahabharata, is my son. You may treat me as your grandmother.” No sooner did she utter these words to the surprise of that young man, than a large crowd armed with swords, sharp iron-bars and sticks advanced towards the fort of the ruler. Hidimba grew to an unusual height and carrying the young man on her shoulders asked the enraged crowd to follow him and kill the tyrant. He should be your protector and future ruler, she added. The young man endowed with her might and skill, led the inspired people and stormed the forth. They killed the tyrant. The Pal dynasty, which sprang from that young man, ruled the country for eighteen hundred years up to 1841.
Raja Bahadur Singh built the present temple in 1553. According to Mahabharata after marrying Rakshasi Hidimba, Bhima one of the Pandavas after escaping from the wax house and killing Hidimba’s Rakshasa man-eating brother lived in this valley for about a year. Bhima then returned to his brothers and mother and Hidimba gave birth to a son named Ghatotkacha.
The extensive forest where the Pandavas stayed after the escape from the house of lac was the abode of the cannibal Raksasa Hidimba. Hidimba having the same name as her brother who was the chief of the Raksasas was sent by him to kill Queen Kunti and the Pandavas while they were asleep and bring them to him. But on arriving at the place where they slept Hidimba beholding unrivalled beauty of mighty Bhima, who was guarding his brothers, fell under the control of the deity of love who pervaded the nature of every being. Her love for Bhima was stronger than her affection for her brother, so she assumed excellent human form and advancing towards Bhima inquired from him about his whereabouts. She introduced herself and offered her help in rescuing them from her brother. But Bhima refused, not fearing anyone. Seeing her sister’s delay frightful man-eating raksasa came hither in a wrath to kill Pandavas along with his sister who disobeyed his order. But after dreadful fight Bhima killed the Raksasa and later upon request of his mother and Yudhistira Maharaja agreed to marry and stay with Hidimba until she obtains the son.
During the Dussehra festival, which is one the biggest festival in the KulluValley, Hidimba is the first deity among 200 of them, which are brought by the villagers from far and near to the Kullu town, to pay homage to the main deity of the Kullu valley, Lord Rama, celebrating his victory over the demon Ravana. This deity Raghunathjee of Sultanpur (Kullu) was brought from Ayodya and installed by Raja Jagat Singh in 1651. He introduced and initiated all local deities of demigods to pay homage to Raghunathjee once a year during Dussehra festival.
On the way to a Ghatotkach temple some fifty meters from the Hidimba temple there was a small market where people were relaxing and watching their children riding on hired Yaks or playing with Angora rabbits, lambs and pony horses. There was a man with a python coiled around his neck, which would kiss a person who gave a donation. I just offered him my respect from a distance. Ghatotkach temple is actually a tree under which is considered Ghatotkacha, Bhima and Hidimba’s son, one of the heroes of Mahabharata was performing austerities. Base of the tree was filled with the old knives tridents, metal objects and horns of the animals which people left there as an offering in exchange for fulfillment of their desires.
Leaving the playful market and Hidimba temple, I went down the hill and crossing unpolluted, cold Manasu river entered the Old Manali. Atmosphere was very peaceful and charming. Recently built temple in a modern style enshrined the older structure where the only deity of Manu in the world is situated. The story of Vaivasvata Manu is mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam, Matsya, Vishnu and Bhavisya Purana.
Many if not almost all cultures around the world have their own version of Great Flood. The most similar to story of Vaivasvata Manu are Noah from Bible and Gilgamesh from Babylon. The most common elements of the stories are that the Supreme Lord protects his devotee. He gives him spiritual instructions and instruction to ensure survival of all species. Flood was sent at the end of the time cycle or as a punishment for human transgressions. Boat is used as a means to survive the flood (which destroyed the old race) and repopulation of the earth after the flood. The stories from Maori (New Zealand), Hawaii, Inca, Celtic, Assyria, Masai (East Africa), Aztec, Greece and Apache include more of above, mentioned elements than the other cultures.
According to Vedic scriptures fourteen Manus live during one day of a secondary creator Lord Brahma. At the end of each and every Manu there is always devastation up to the earthly planets, which are in middle planetary system, and the vast water is fearful even to Lord Brahma who lives on the highest planet in this universe. After one such Manu passes on, inundation takes place and another Manu begins his life -span. In this way the life cycle of the universe is going on. In this day of Lord Brahma six Manus passed away and six inundations took place. According to British Museum, Paleontologists also list six major extinctions that happened in the intervals of roughly 200,000,000 years. This is very similar to duration of life of one Manu, which comprises seventy-one sets of four millenniums. One cycle of four ages equals 4,320,000 solar years. 4,320,000 multiplied by 71 give the duration of life of one Manu, which is about in the calculation of human beings, 306,720,000 years. The present, seventh Vaivasvata Manu has already lived for 4,320,000 years multiplied by 28.
The Lord in order to show special favor to his devotee Vaivasvata Manu, during his life as king Satyavrata, incarnated Himself as Matsya (the gigantic fish) and saved him from the great flood. Manu and the seven sages Kashyapa, Attri, Vasishtha, Visvamitra, Gautama, Jamdagni and Bharadwaj, survived the flood in a boat, which when the water subsided rested on the Himalayas. Seven sages went to perform austerities and Manu descended to Manali. He is the original father of mankind, and therefore, in Sanskrit, mankind is called mänusya. Interestingly English word man is derived from Sanskrit Manu. Vaivasvata Manu is the son of sun-god Vivasvän, to whom Lord Krishna instructed the teachings of Bhagavad-gitä prior to His teaching them to Arjuna.
In the temple I was welcomed by the priest whom at first I mistook to be one of the tourists from the west due to his fair complexion. He wore a pant and shirt but he had an attractive traditional hat. He was very kind. After showing me the deity of Manu made in a black stone he offered me and the other visitors carinamrita and maha prasadam. With the help of the green eyed boy Bhasu who allowed me to take photos of the temple from the roof of his house which is just next to the temple, I came to know about the history of this temple. Traditional folk story says that once a sage came to a village, and asked for some milk from one lady. She could not fulfill his request because the cow was not at that time at a cow pen. Then the sage requested her to provide milk from the calf. The lady did as the sage instructed, and then he transformed milk into curd and revealed his name as Vaivasvat. The sage then ordered her to dig the floor of a cow pen. When the place was dug up a deity of Manu was found and that proved the authenticity of the statements of the sage. The local people then installed the deity and establish the temple at this place.
I circumambulated the temple and then climbed up the mountain to have a better view of the Kullu valley. The landscape was breath taking. Valley was filled with tiny fields, fruit orchards and dense forests. Many waterfalls from surrounding mountains were rushing into the Beas River. It is believed that on those Mountains in Bhrigu kund and Beas kund, Brighu Muni and Vyasadev performed austerities. Many other sages like Markendeya, Narada, and Kanva also performed austerities here. It is said that Pandavas visited and resided in the Kullu valley. Five kilometres south from Manali there is a cave called Arjuna Gupha where it is believed that Arjuna on advice of Vyasadeva performed austerities in order to get Pashupati weapon from Lord Siva. On the way back, towards New Manali, I enjoyed pure, refreshing air, pleasant climate and tasty nourishing fruits from the fertile Kullu land, which were uncommon for the rest of India. Everything reminded me of a familiar European flavor.
To reach the Vashist village, which was three kilometers away from Old Manali on the other side of the valley, I hired a riksha driver. We crossed the Beas river nowadays used for rafting since it’s powerful waters are hoping along from stone to stone along the stream’s edge, and then we drove by uphill road arriving to a small narrow parking lot some twenty meters before Vashisht village. From there the Vashisth temple was in walking distance. Heading towards the temple I was looking at the Beas River whose historical name Vipasha is mentioned in Mahabharata, Padma, Vishnu, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, and Markendeya Purana. According to Srimad Bhagavatam Lord Balaram on his pilgrim tour took bath in this river. Vamana Purana mentions this river as a place where Lord Visnu is present in Dvijapriya form and Narasimha Purana refers to the worship of Lord Visnu on it”s banks in the Yashaskara form. Vipasha literally means “liberator from bondage”. Vashishta Muni was grief stricken at the death of his hundred sons, killed by a king of Ayodya Mitrasaha who was cursed to become a Raksasa named Kalmashapada. He tied himself and jumped into this river to commit suicide. The waves of the river untied the knots of the rope and saved him. According to Mahabharata he later gave up the idea of committing suicide hearing from Adrisyanti, Wife of his son Shakti that his dynasty won’t become extinct since she was about to give birth to a son who later became known as Parasara Muni.
Place near Vashisht temple called Tat baba is considered to be Vashistha’s ashram where he lived and performed austerities. A small cottage-type temple of Vashishta is in the middle of the village. Entrance to the courtyard of the temple and surrounding houses are made in combination of wood and stones. The most remarkable carving on the temple was of the stag looking over his shoulders. Deity of Vashishta is made of the back stone painted in red. Next to the temple there is a stone tank fed by a sulfur spring. The water was very hot and many people came there to take bath. On the right side above the Vashishta temple is a Sita Ram temple. According to the local story inscribed on the board on the temple, Laxman came here in search of Vashishta who was lord Ram’s family priest. At that time Lord Ram returned to Ayodya after killing the demon Ravana. He desired to perform an Aswamedha sacrifice. After prostrating himself before the spiritual master and offering prayers Laxman delivered the brother’s message. Vashistha Muni was pleased and promised to accompany Laxmana for the purpose. As Laxman was tired, Vashistha asked him to shoot an arrow into the ground. As a result hot water gushed out of the ground producing a hot spring, in which Laxman took bath refreshing himself.
While I was returning to New Manali I shared rickshaw (Auto Rickshaw) with an inquisitive young couple from France. They curiously listened as I spoke to them about the Big Flood story and about importance of the holy name, another flood which at present by mercy of Srila Prabhupada is inundating the whole world with the love of Godhead.