“Pankhida re udi ne jajo pavagadh re..
Mahakali ne jay ne kejo garbe rame re”.
The Navratri has begun.
Garba and Dandiya sessions are in full swing these days, in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and in Rajasthan.
This has traditionally been a solemn ritual, religious dance around the lamp, lit during Navratri, in front of Maa Amba, Goddess Durga, in the Gatbha Griha, the sanctum sanctorum of the Shakti temple! It has now taken form of popular culture, primarily influenced by Gujarati folk Dance form, the Dandiya Raas.
The folk tales narrate that once, Goddess Durga or Mahakali took the form of a beautiful damsel and danced in Garba during Navratri festival!
The traditional Garba songs are always in the praise of Goddess Durga and her variant forms.
Like: “Jaya aadya shakti,
maa jaya aahya shakti,
Akhand brahmand nibhavyan,
padave pragatyan ma,
om jay om jay, maa jagadambe…”
“Ma Pava Te Gadh Thi Utarya Mahakali Re
Vasavyu Champaner, Pava Vali Re
Ma Champa Te Ner Na Char Chauta Mahakali Re
Sonide Mandya Haat, Pava Vali Re
Ma, Sonido Tau Lave Jhanjhari Mahakali Re
Mari Ambe Ma Ne Kaaj, Pava Vali Re…”
Or this one: “ Maa tu pavani patrani bhavani maa kalka re
Maa tare dungariye chadhavu te atighanu doyalu re
Maa tara mandap na darshan re karva ati doyala re
Maa tare gaam garbe gunje farte paida thayo re
Maa tare kande kadla jod re jhanjhari jagmage re
Maa tare anguth vinchiya paan re ghughari ranjame re…”
And the all time favourite,
“Pankhida o o pankhida
Pankhida re udi ne jajo pavagadh re..
Mahakali ne jay ne kejo garbe rame re.
Mari Kalka mane jaay ne kejo garbe ghume re…
Pankhida Oho Pankhida !…”
The last song is so popular that whenever there is sizable Guajarati community, be in beyond Gujarat, in Maharashtra or in Madhya Pradesh, the local Musical Bands, compulsorily play this song, be it during wedding ceremony or in a get together!
And, the last three songs clearly talk about Pavagadh and Mahakalika.
But where is Pavagadh?
Let’s have a fascinating journey to Pavagadh, during this auspicious Navratri.
Pavagadh: The Shaktipeeth
Pavagadh is the abode of Goddess Mahakalika. At the top of Gujarat’s high Mountain range, Satpura.
The Pavagadh Shakti Peeth is located at a distance of around 50 kms from the nearest city Vadodara, in the vicinity of Champaner, the ancient Capital of Gujarat.
No, this is not the film Lagaan’s Champaner, but this historical place is immortalized by the legendary medieval musician, Baiju Bawra.
It’s considered one of the 51 Shakti Peeths.
Other Shakti Peeths in Gujarat are those at Asapura in Kutch, Sundari at Halvad, Harsiddhi at Kolgiri and Anasuya on the Narmada.
According to legend, following the destruction of King Daksha’s Yagna (ritualistic sacrifice) and after the sudden demise of Sati, Shiva’s Consort, and Tandava, the wild celestial dance by Lord Shiva, various parts of Sati’s body fell at several places throughout India and the neighboring countries.
These sacred locations are known as Shakti Peeths.
The toe of Sati is believed to have fallen here.
The deep religious fervor and age-old myths attract thousands of devotees at Pavagadh.
Goddess Kali is worshiped here as Dakshina Kali. The Goddess is worshiped here in the Dakshina Marga, with Tantric rites.
The festival season of Navaratri witnesses biggest congregation here. Around 3 to 4 lakhs devotees visit the hill top temple, every day!
In a major mishap in the year 2007, a stampede killed 13 people and around 50 people were injured.
The Temple Atop A Hill
A hilly passage leads to Pavagadh from Champaner.
The 11th century temple is beautifully carved and has the idol of goddess Kali. There is a big open portico in the front, while the idol of Goddess Kali is placed in the inner sanctum. There is also the tantric symbol, the Yantra and the idol of Goddess Bahuchara.
Temple history of Gujarat says that the goddess Kalika at Pavagadh was originally worshiped by the local Bhil tribes. Later sage Viswamitra came here and meditated in front of the Goddess. He built the first temple at the summit. A local river Viswamitri also originates here.
It is also believed that: “OM AIM HREEM KLEEM CHAMUNDAYE VICHAY “ –the Navarna Mantra , the Beeja Mantra of all three Divine Mothers, Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi, and Saraswati was revealed to the Sage, at this sacred site!
To reach this temple, one has to trek around 5 km across the jungle tracks. Two beautiful lakes – Chhasia Talao and Dudhiya Talao are en route the temple. A few waterfalls are also the main attraction of this picturesque hill.
Or, one can reach the temple by the ropeway that is officially known as the ‘Maa Mahakalika Udan Khatola’, which originates at Manchi that is also the parking space here.
The Ropeway is fast and safe, operates from 6 am to 6 pm, upwards. The last trolley comes back from the top by 7.30 in the evening. It takes about 6 minutes to ride.
The steep climb on foot however takes over an hour or more.
The temple is situated at the height of 550 meters (1,523 feet).
Pavagadh or the ‘Quarter of a Hill’ gets its name from the fact that it is a solitary hill standing out alone, hallowed with blowing gentle wind from all around.
The path ascending the hill passes through many curves and cuts through natural ledges of rock built staircase, with steep sides. Midway up this path is a flat ground that is strewn with boulders. The mountain above the flat ground is a steep hill scarp.
Legend has it that the valley surrounding Pavagadh was filled up by the power of the sage Viswamitra. Legend also has it here that the image of Goddess Kali here was set up by Sage Viswamitra himself, during Treta Yuga.
In addition to the Mahakalika Temple, there is one particular temple dedicated to Lakulisa or Lord Bhairava. Built in the 10th century, entirely out of the locally available stones, it has been restored in recent years.
The Mahakalika Temple of Pavagadh is one of the most ancient temples in the area and a popular pilgrimage destinations during Navratri.
Pilgrims come at this hilltop pilgrimage, not just from Gujarat but from the neighboring states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in large numbers. And you won’t believe that many of these devotees often walk all the way from their far off hometowns!
It’s not rare that, you many even come across group of rural people who had walked all the way from their villages in Rajasthan around Udaipur– as far as 400 km!
There are also these regular groups of devotees from Mumbai who undertake this long and onerous journey every year during Navratri, covering a distance of over 450 km!
Many Gujarati NRIs do travel this important Shakti Peeth and the hill of exquisite natural beauty.
From Vadodara, the base can be reached in an hour. Halol is another nearby town, known for its industries. The ropeway, takes you near the temple. There are of course the last 250 steps, which one has compulsorily covered by foot.
Pavagadh Hill is also a sacred site for the Jains with temples dedicated to Rsabhanath, Chandraprabhu and the Parsvanath. Many of the Jain temples had been destroyed during medieval Muslim rules. Though the relics are still scattered all over the place.
Pavagadh In History
Early regular settlement in the area was recorded during 6th century AD, and certain Maitrak dynasty is believed to have ruled the area during 7th century AD.
Champaraj, a contemporary of the King Vanraj Chavda, was the founder of Champakdurga during 8th century AD.
Parmara Kings ruled the region during 9th century AD and by 11th century AD the region was ruled by Bhimadeva who was later defeated by Muslim rulers.
It was during the 13th century AD the Khichi Chauhans, descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan, took over the area and ruled the region till about end of 14th century AD.
Champaner city itself was built by Mehmud Begda (1458 – 1511 AD) to conquer the Rajput built fort on the hills which the Sultan tried for two years, 1482-84 AD. Champaner city began as a siege camp at the foothills of Pavagadh since direct assault on Jai Singh, son of Patai Raval.
Islamic influences were thus evident in the region since the 15th century as Mehmud Begda moved his capital from Ahmedabad to Champaner and changed its name to Muhammadabad.
Mehmud Begda’s successor was Sultan Muzaffar who ruled the region between 1511-26 AD.
In 1535 AD, the Mughal emperor Humayun’s forces defeated Sultan Muzaffar and ransacked the city. Thus the population started deserting the area and the city apparently lost its glory.
In 1536, the Capital was again shifted back to Ahmedabad. Champaner became a totally forlorn city by 1611 AD and with downfall of Mughals, in 1727, the Marathas took over the fort at Pavagadh.
In the year 1803, when the British took over Champaner, it was a lost city covered by a dense forest and had a population of only around 500 tribal and nomadic inhabitants.
The Rajput rulers had built a highly impressive Defense system of forts, many important buildings and gateways before the Islamic rulers took over the area.
There were widespread temple building activities during that time.
These were later destroyed by successive Muslim rulers, who built many Mosques in the area.
And it’s a bit uncommon that, at the Maha Kalika Temple complex has ground floor as the Hindu shrine and the steeple is housed with a Muslim shrine!
Fragments of Hindu temples, Jain temples and many other remains of such structures are scattered in the entire area.
The sparsely populated village of Champaner was once a major city, later desertification set in, and this place was abandoned.
You only have to pay the Rs.250 admission fee if you visit the mosques, and the UNESCO Heritage Site, ‘Pavagadh Champaner Archaeological Park’, around Champaner.
But as a out of the crowd wanderer, you can still wander around the Champaner village and make a note of the imposing walls behind their humble homes and imagine the mega past of this place!
How To Be There
The nearest airport and major railhead is Vadodara, 46 kilometers away.
From Vadodara there are frequent and reliable Gujarat State transport buses, private taxis and even local auto rickshaws. The buses are quite economical and they are not overcrowded.
A Taxi takes Rs 1500, and an auto rickshaw, on the other hand, can charge about Rs. 500 for a one way journey.
Best time to visit is always during and post monsoon season, when the area is cool and lush green.
It’s always advisable to take the Ropeway to the top or if you go via the staircase, it’s tiring, specially during the summer. Experienced Trekkers can always take the natural course and enjoy the journey.
Parking is paid but it’s free as usual, for the State & Central Govt vehicles. During Navratri, getting space for parking is a tough task. Get a Taxi booked from Vadodara, even for return journey. At the parking lot the attendants often double as Taxi agents, but you may be fleeced depending on the plight of your helplessness, even extra people will be put into it.
Nothing much to see at Machi, but get food, snacks, bottled water and ‘Puja Samagri’ for worshiping at cheaper rates.
The Gujarat Tourism run restaurant at the Temple Complex often runs out of stock.
Be cautioned, the crowd is huge during Navratri. So be patient and never hurry.
By Deep Basu
Images too are the author’s self-contribution.