Vindhyachal – Hill Abode Of Ma Vindhyavasini Near Meerjapur
Vidhyavasini is a name of Devi that simply means the one who lives on Vindhya Hills. Now Vindhya hills pan across the central part of India. Starting from eastern states like Bihar it goes till southwestern states like Maharashtra. I assumed she lives somewhere on this mountain range. Some time back I read Devi Mahatmay, and there is a mention of her living at Vindhyachal. I still assumed it is somewhere on the hills, but where exactly I had no idea.
During some random Google search, I came across the temple of Vindhyavasini at Vindhyachal in Meerjapur district of UP, not too far from Varanasi. It immediately went into my list of places to be visited near Varanasi. Then I was reading Tirthank by Gita Press, and it had the description of all the temples in Vindhyachal. I learned about this being a prominent Devi Kshetra or region where many Shakta worshippers do their sadhana.
It is also said that while in most Shakti Peethas, the body parts of Sati had fallen. At Vindhya, she herself dwells on the hills. The name Vindhyavasini gets mentioned in Mahabharata, Padma Purana, Markandeya Puran, Devi Bhagwat and in various Stuti’s.
When I was seeking ideas for Places in India named after Devi, I learned about Meerjapur which means the city of one who is born of the sea i.e. Laxmi. We often hear its distorted form like – Mirzapur. In fact, at Vindhyachal, all official signboards called the city Meerjapur while the casual ones called it Mirzapur.
As soon as I had an opportunity to visit Varanasi for the upcoming Yatra conference, I grabbed it to visit Vindhyachal. So, come with me to see the temples of the region, where the Vindhya Parvat meets the Ganga.
3 Devi Temples of Vindhyachal
There are 3 main temples in this region that are dedicated to 3 different manifestations of Devi, aligned in a triangle. In fact, the ardent visitors do the ‘Trikon Parikrama’ – walking across the three temples in a triangle.
Ma Vindhyavasini Temple
This is the most important and most popular temple in the region. This is the first temple you get of the 3 main temples when you come from Meerjapur. After parking, you have to walk a few hundred meters passing by the colorful shops on both sides. They sell the items that are commonly offered to the goddess as well as souvenirs that people take back like small brass or copper utensils for pooja at home.
The temple complex, though small has many temples in it. You have to stand in a queue to visit the main temple of Vindhyavasini. There is a huge rush, but the temple authorities manage it quite well, and queue keeps moving. The main shrine gives me the impression that it may have been a cave at some point in time.
The Vigraha of Ma Vindhyavasini Devi is adorned with flower garlands. Only her big eyes in shining golden metal are visible in a black stone face. You get just a few moments to look at her before you are pushed out.
In the temple complex exists another triangle of the 3 manifestations of Devi. On one side of Vindhyavasini is a temple of Maha Kali and on another of Maha Saraswati.
Maha Saraswati Temple
The temple that has Maha Saraswati also has a beautiful double Shivalinga along with Shiv Murti. On the walls, there are Hanuman, Ganesh and Bhairav images that look very old. There are few old stone sculptures, that give a hint of the ancient temple must have been. This temple has an old structure where you see pillars and Gandharvas on the brackets playing music. Painted in bright colors they make the otherwise simple temple look beautiful.
Behind the Mahasaraswati temple is a huge Yagnashala where a Yagna was happening when I visited. It seems anyone can get their Havan Samagri and join the Yagna.
A narrow lane from the temple goes down to the Ganga. When you are at the temple you do not realize you are next to Ganga as the temple is at quite some height. This lane is also full of shops selling the same stuff. At Ganga, people take a dip. Some boats were parked but I did not see anyone boating, probably because the water levels were high due to monsoon season.
This is the second of the trinity of Devi temples in Vindhyachal. Ashtabhuja simply means the one with eight arms. She is the representation of Maha Saraswati as she is defined in Devi Mahatmay with 8 arms.
Ashtabhuja is believed to be the girl who was born to Nand and Yashoda in Gokul, the one who was exchanged with Krishna. She predicted the end of Kamsa and flew away. It is believed that she came here on the Vindhyachal mountains to live. This is the reason she is also known as Nanda and Yogmaya.
Her temple is in a valley, situated between the two folds of the mountain. If you are walking on foot, you need to climb a hill and then descend down 200 odd steps to reach the temple. If you are going by car as I did, you reach the top and then you have to take the steps down.
Many Small temples and Yagnashala
The temple in red has many small temples and a Yagnashala. As you move towards the Garbha Griha, you see a small but ancient Shivalingas with their Nandis. There are ancient stone Murtis of I assume Devi. In a few moments that you get to look at it, it is impossible to make out what they are and no photography is allowed. Hope someone documents these temples soon enough.
Inside the Garbha Griha, there is one Murti of the Devi that looks exactly like the Vindhyavasini Murti covered with flowers and jewelry. On the side is a bronze murti where an eternal Jyoti is lit up in a large oil lamp. Visitors pray to both as they enter through one door and come out through another. It is a typical hill temple, small in size and built at an absolute vantage point.
Kali Gufa or Cave
I could also see some ancient stone murtis lying under a tree. There is a Kali Gufa within the temple complex. You have to literally bend to enter it, stay bent till you come out at the other end. On top of it, I saw a Katyayani Yantra installed.
From here a flight of stairs goes further down to Sita Kund which is associated with the legends from Ramayana. It is believed that this Kund was made by Lakshman for Sita when she felt thirsty. There are small temples around this Kund. From another angle, you can see that it is fed by the waterfalls from the top of the hills.
From the Ashtbhuja temple, you can see the Ganga flowing through the foothills of the region. Some streams coming from either side and joining the Ganga can also be seen. It is like a vantage point that gives you a panoramic view of Vindhya Hills meeting the Ganga. Lush green after the rains, the view is serene.
Kali Khoh or Maha Kali Temple
Located a couple of KM away from Ashtabhuja temple is Maha Kali temple. Just before the temple, I stopped at the ancient Kali Gufa. Here again, you have to bent and enter the cave, stay bent till you come out. There is a lone Murti of Kali to whom a garland of lemons is offered.
Outside the cave, a tree is full of threads tied to it. Like many places in India, you tie a thread asking for a wish and when the wish is fulfilled, you come back to open the thread. A Shivalinga was Nandi is open was also covered with red clothes – asking for wishes.
The Maha Kali temple is again a small temple, but it was as crowded as the other two temples. There are again two Murtis of Kali. The first one that you meet is Bhadrakali and the second one that you meet is Maha Kali – who is the presiding deity of the temple.
Unique Maha Kali Idol
The Murti of Maha Kali is unique. It has a face looking upwards with an open mouth that looks like a well. That is all I could capture in a few moments I could look at it. Behind the temple is a Bhairav temple that you usually find at Kali temples.
A smaller temple dedicated to a saint called Bram Baba has a lot of Khadaun or wooden footwear offered.
A temple dedicated to Durga is next to the main temple. An ancient lion idol stands in front of the temple smeared with vermilion giving an impression that it was once a part of a temple that should be larger than the current one.
A flight of stairs goes from here to Ashtabhuja temple.
Town of Vindhyachal is full of small temples. Let me take you to the one I visited:
Lal Bhairav Temple
Bhairav is supposed to the guard of Devi. This small temple with a Murti of Bhairava in red color. It is the simplest possible temple. A sadhu sitting there told me the stories of 11 Bhairavas across India. One is at Kashi, another at Ujjain and the rest 9 are at different Devi kshetras. This one is Vindhyavasini’s guard or kotwal. Ideally, you need to visit him first, take his permission to visit the Devi.
Adi Shakti Mahamundalini Temple
This is a temple located at Baba Avadhut Ashram, very close to Ashtbhuja temple. The temple is being built still or maybe being renewed. Inside there is a giant Murti of Kali as Mahamundalini and a Yagnashala. Around the temple it seems some sadhus do their sadhana, triangular Yagna Kunds indicate that.
From the back of this temple, you get a lovely view of the hill, forest, and Ganga.
All the temples have their walls plastered with ceramic tiles. How I wish I could get them removed. At all the temples, I saw priests sitting on the same platform as the deity. I found this a bit strange but then who am I to question.
Tara is one of the prime forms of the goddess worshiped by the Vaam or left-hand practitioners or Tantrik practitioners. Here there is a small temple in white dedicated to Tara, right across the banks of Ganga close to the burning ghats.
I could see just a Shivalinga inside the temple and a bull outside. There was no one around to answer my questions. Temple could be in much better condition.
Tarkeshwar Mahadev Temple
Even though Ganga flows right next to this region, the place is full of small and large ponds. Some of them have old stories associated with them and fall on the pilgrim’s route. My sense is that they were a water storage mechanism as in ancient India, not a drop of rainwater was wasted.
Some of the ponds I visited are:
Gerua is the color of red oxide. It is used to dye anything in a rust-red color. Often used to paint walls of homes. It is believed that at some point in time, the water of the pond was Gerua red. One could actually dye their clothes by dipping them in the water.
It is a fairly large tank, lying in neglect today. There are stairs on all sides and ramps too which I assume are for cattle to drink water.
There is a Krishna temple close to Gerua Talab.
This large pond was full of the lotus flowers on half its side. A small Shiva temple was celebrating Bada Ravivar, a Sunday in the year when community meal is cooked, but without salt. People cooking were generous enough to ask me to stay back for lunch. I wish I could stay back for the Chokha made by roasting tomatoes, potatoes and brinjal.
This was the most fascinating discovery. I found this thanks to a board near Lal Bhairav temple pointing to this pond. It actually turned out to be a stepwell built almost like Chand Baori in Abhaneri. It is a deep and square stepwell with pyramidical steps going down. Painted in white it is primarily being used to dry clothes.
It is believed to be built by the kings of Naga dynasty, potentially the oldest place in town, Naag Panchami puja is still done at Nag Kund.
It would be such a lovely place if the pond has clean water in it.
I have already written about this pond in the section of Ashtbhuja Temple. This is a rocky pond that I could only see from a distance due to paucity of time.
Tada waterfall and Vindham waterfall are located close to Meerjapur.
Besides these, there was a huge pond on way to Ashtbhuja temple, whose name I could not figure out.
Festivals at Vindhyachal Temples
Being Devi temples, Navratri – the night days in Indian months of Ashwin and Chaitra are the most important festivals. Apart from this people also visit the temples on Purnima or full moon day.
On Jyeshtha Ekadashi, Kajali – a form of folk singing can be heard here in the temple.
As this region used to be a forest, Devi is also called Vanadurga. On the Jyeshtha Krishna Shashti or the 6th of Jyeshtha month, Aranaya Shashti is celebrated.
Must Eat Food at Vindhyachal & Meerjapur
In a place called Shivpuri, you get these lovely milk Pedas, usually made in small quantity by sellers who sell them on the roadside. I was told about these when I did a post on Mathura Peda.
This one is really light and tasty. Jalebis are never out of sight in Poorvanchal.
Travel Tips for Vindhyachal
It is 70 KMs from Varanasi, which is also the nearest airport.
The railway station is just about a KM away from the temple.
It is about 10 km from Meerjapur the district headquarters.
You get basic food like Aaloo Puri and Jalebi in and around temples. Snacks and beverages are available at most temples. There are very few proper restaurants.
I am not sure about the hotels to stay in this area. You can probably do it as a day trip from Varanasi like I did.