Temple of Hidimba.

A popular attraction in the town of Manali, the 463 year old temple of the mother goddess Hidimba, enjoys a momentary spell of quietude in the morning hours of a heavy tourist season, atop the thickly deodar studded hill of Dhungri once free of restraining guard fences and littered waste. Among Kullu’s large cohort of 365 gods and goddesses of mixed origin, Hidimba is perhaps one of the most ancient and prominent in terms of historical significance. She is one of the few deities of non Vedic roots, still worshiped in the country and quite probably existed before the arrival of the Vedic Aryans – who over the centuries flooded the country with divinities of their own creation.

First featured in the Vedic epic Mahabharata as a dark skinned forest dwelling demon princess, who seduces the mighty prince Bhima and later bears him a son, some scholars believe the enigmatic figure belonged to one of the several non-Vedic tribes of North Iranian stock who coexisted with the Vedic Aryans during the same time frame – sharing a relationship ranging from open hostility to friendship and largely looked down upon in Vedic literature composed to assert Vedic moral character and superiority.

A subtle form of ancient world propaganda that makes it difficult to ascertain the true nature of things other than what can be excavated from the only available source, that is the Vedic texts, it is likely, Hidimba was some form of a tribal goddess of a now forgotten non-Vedic tribe, important enough to be inducted into Vedic lore in a minor role, but interestingly not as an avatar of a Vedic deity.

The temple with its three tire slanting roof was built close to the middle of 15th century in the Pagoda style of architecture – a borrowed construction method reflecting oriental Buddhist influences that was slowly seeping into the valley during the period. It houses an ancient cave believed to be inhabited by Hidimba during her penance for attaining celestial status, as mentioned in the epic Mahabharata.

Highly revered by the local populace of present day Kullu, the deity is an influential figure in Himachal’s consortium of divinities and plays an important role in the festival of Dusshera – a congregation of the gods in the month of October.  Manali is one of the few places where a temple dedicated to her exists.

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