I have planned this trip for a while. Actually I had a bhakal (a commitment homage and offering to a Hindu Deity) for a very long time, and I am going there almost 5 years later, that is before the massive 2015 earthquake. Kavre was one of the most seriously hit districts at that time. I saw photos of the crumbled temple on newspapers and social media. The more harrowing part was that the Saathi Ghar, the beautiful village of an array of 60 mud houses, 1 km away from the temple, was completely annihilated during that time.
Finally, I have a date and time to go to Palanchowk Bhagwati. Called a car, collected few relatives and off I went.
It’s 2 hours drive from my home, around 55 km north-east of Kathmandu, Panchkhal Municipality of Kavrepalanchok District. It was 8:30 AM when we reached and almost time for Nitya Puja. Nitya Puja is an everyday ritual offered by designated Priest at a designated time. We quickly queued for darshan (ritual) and did our prayer and made our offerings to a three feet tall stone idol of Goddess Bhagwati. My mom says the more you look at Her, the more you are spellbound by Her beauty, which is so true, I could not take my eyes off her.
Let me try describing her: A polished black stone idol with 18 arms. Bedecked with silver ornaments. Drenched in vermillion. The Goddess Bhagwati holds Astra/Nastra (weaponry and symbols) Patra (vessel), Trishul (trident), Kulhadi (Axe), Damaru (two headed-drum), Chakra (disc), Gadha (mace), Khunda(scimitar), Matsya (Fish), and Ghanta (bell) on her hands. More prodigious arms of Bhagwati extend and grab Mahisasur’s (Buffalo Demon King) toupee and tail. Slayed Shumbha and Nishumbha, Mahisasur’s henchmen lie by Her feet. Mounted on Her stride lion, one foot tramples Mahisasur, while the hand holding the trident stabs him.
Palanchok Bhagwati Goddess is believed to manifest herself in three different incarnations in parts of the day. She is Bhagwati, the embodiment of Supreme Power, the Divine Mother of the Universe, and the Savior of mankind from evil and misery in the mornings. Saraswoti, the Goddess of Learning and Wisdom in the afternoon. And Kali, destroyer of evil forces at night. The priests at the temple perform Nitya Puja every morning at 9 and evenings are scheduled for Aarati, rites of offering oil wick lamps.
Revered as a pilgrimage site, the Bhagwati temple overflows with pilgrims on Saturdays and Tuesdays. On every Chandi Purnima or Baisakh Purnima (full moon day in May/June), a festival marks the temple site with people streaming in from the nearby villages, and towns mostly located‘ by the Arniko highway. Twice every year, during Dashain and on Buddha Jayanti (Buddha’s birth anniversary), chariots bearing the images of Goddess Bhagwati and Kali are driven around the village of Palanchok Bhagwati.
The myth has it, King Manadeva I (464-505 A.D.) dreamt of Goddess Bhagwati wishing her idol from a village of Buchhakot (Kavre district) to be relocated at someplace with a northerly bearing. The King with his queen set forth on this mission with Her idol to fulfilling Her wish. Her idol could not be hoisted at any force from Jagpankpur where they had camped the previous night. Stunned King called in Royal Priests for consultation. They advised it was Her wish to be enshrined here. The foundation stone of Palanchok Bhagwati temple was laid then and there. Every year, the residents of Buchhakot which sits atop a hill to the south of Palanchok (visible from the temple site) on the Sindhuli /Bardibas highway in Kavre district, visit Palanchok Bhagwati to pay their homage performing Kshama Puja (a ritual perfomed to seek forgiveness) on the full moon day of Baisakh (May/June)
A five minute’s walk from the Bhagwati temple is Kalika temple dedicated to Goddess Kali, an elder sister to Palanchok Bhagwati, Sobha Bhagwati and Naxal Bhagwati in Kathmandu. The idol of Kali, resembling a stone pillar, is lodged in an inverted stance. Myth has it, a 65-year-old priest of Palanchok temple, Vidyamananda Bajracharya, with the assistance of Newari Priests did it to forbid Kali’s frequent devouring of humans who visited the Goddess after sunset. This site too is under construction. And behind it, I saw ongoing re-constructions of the Saathi Ghar I mentioned earlier. I read that all the houses of the village will be restored to its former glory. It’s a happy thing, isn’t it?