Manali/5: the Lost City of Thava , One Great King and the Cult of Jamlu Devta

While zeroing in on Manali and Naggar I had one very specific target in mind. The lost city of Thava. I came across a reference to this place in a book. Google didn’t help much. No article, no trip report did mention a visit to this place. Even google map would return you with an empty, grey spot where Thava should have been written. After a minute inspection of the map hanging on the wall of Naggar Castle also we did not find Thava anywhere.

Our booking included free breakfast and dinner buffet at Castle restaurant. Last night we had missed this and had gone out to have local food outside in a small roadside stall. Which was delicious. This morning, however, we reached at the breakfast table right on time. Sipping hot, black coffee on the balcony of castle we asked the manager about Thava. He told us it was not far from the castle and also gave us the direction.

After filling our stomach we headed out of the castle. On our way we stopped at the Vishnu temple and the Gauri Shankar temple nearby. Unlike Tripura Sundari or Hadimba temple both the temple exhibit the shikhara style made of stone, that is another signature Kullu architecture. Both the temples were supposed to have been built around 1100-1200AD.

As per the direction given by the manager for Thava we had to take the same route of our previous day’s evening trek. We parked the bike on the roadside and started climbing up. After proceeding for about a few hundred meters we spotted a very old man coming towards us from the opposite direction. Upon asking him about the direction to the temple he explained the route to us in smooth, American accent. We told each other in awe, see what kind of lifestyle he is leading even at this age? People of this age in our country doze off in the waiting room of the cardiology unit.

After walking for an hour we found ourselves standing at a Y-shaped crossroad with a board announcing the ancient Krishna temple of Thava was only meters away. We spotted few small wooden houses where the women of the house were busy attending to their chores. Suddenly the narrow path had ended and gave in to a small piece of open area. And there was our temple; its shikhara was glistening under the clear blue sky of Naggar. And well, apparently the temple had a d2h connection too.

The temple had a stone structure adorned with myriad engravings and idols of weird looking deities whose name I was not aware of. An idol of Lord Krishna was sitting on the main alter. The courtyard had an orange and a tulsi tree in the middle. And a breathtaking view of the valley from it. The priest and his family lives in a small quarter adjacent to the temple. He told us that the temple was built by the Pandavas during their stay in the valley. Thava was the capital of the valley then. Many many years later an earthquake came and destroyed the whole village barring the temple. Since then Thava had become an abandoned city. We were about to leave when the lady of the temple offered us tea.

After leaving the temple behind we came back down at the crossroad again. This time we read the board properly. It was saying two more temples were there at about 2kms (?) distance. This time we had to take the left arm of the Y. the road kept on turning worse and I started wondering if we made a prudent choice here. After some time we deviated from the main road and took the shortcut. A series of steep stairs wound up from the left and vanished into the woods. We started climbing. The afternoon sun was no longer feeling mild on our back. Sweat had started to trickle down. After a while I became pretty sure that those stairs were magical. We would be climbing up for the rest of the eternity but they would not end.

We suddenly stopped short on our way.  Roadblock ahead – a huge tree was lying in the middle of the path. We resumed walking again. I don’t remember for how long we kept on walking, but when I had almost given up a very familiar sound reached my ear, one of my most favourite sounds. Barking of dog, not one but many. To our delight we discovered the steps had finally ended and we had reached a village. Very soon we found the source of the noise – 3 furry people of different shapes and sizes barking at us from the rooftop of a house. We walked past the house hoping they wouldn’t jump off the roof. We had finally arrived at our destination. Standing in front of us were two wooden temples, one of Raja Bali and one of Rishi Jamadagni.

One of the astounding facts about Himachal is its gods and goddesses. Most of them are not our mainstream deities, rather the lesser known characters from Hindu Puranas. One needs to be well conversant with our ancient stories in order to fully comprehend their significance or even barely recognize who is who. If the eastern part of Indian Himalaya is reigned by Tantric Buddhist deities then the western part is the mythical land of Puranas and the forgotten indigenous gods.

Raja Bali was a great asura king of Satya Yug. He was the grandson of Prahlad and great grandson of Hiranyakashipu. Soon he became very powerful and started ruling all three worlds – the earth, heaven and the underworld. Now the gods were never happy with the prosperity of the asuras let alone become homeless by them. Now Vishnu was usually their go-to person in trouble, you know, like the class prefect. Shiva was not so approachable and Brahma, well, he was usually the one who had started the mayhem by giving out boons like illegal trade practice license. So Vishnu was the only available big boss among the three. Vishnu said, don’t worry I will take care of the man just like I took care of his impertinent great grandpa. Cut to the earth. Raja Bali was holding a great yajna celebrating his victory. He was famous for his benevolent charitable nature so nobody would go empty handed from his door. The festivity had reached its peak when a dwarf Brahman boy entered his court. He praised the king and said that he heard so much about his hospitality. Our king was feeling too magnanimous so he told the dwarf that he could take as much as land that he could cover in three steps. The dwarf boy smiled. And then he started growing. The king and his people watched in awe that the little dwarf took gigantic form. With one step he took the heaven, the next step he took the earth and his last step reached till the underworld. Needless to say the dwarf was none other than Lord Vishnu himself. Bali was a good person so he submitted himself to the Lord with utmost humility. Upon seeing his devotion although Vishnu sent him to live in the underworld he allowed Bali to come back on earth to look after his subjects once in a year. And that day is celebrated as Onam. Yes, Bali originally hailed from the state of Kerala.

The story of Rishi Jamadagni is another interesting one. Jamadagni means the one who consumes fire. Even though he was a Brahman born to Sage Richika his disposition was of a Kshatriya. This happened due to a mix up before his birth. Jamadagni’s mother Satyavati was the sister of great king Gaadhi. A sage had asked Satyavati and the queen mother to worship two different trees before conceiving. The trees got interchanged and Jamadagni with Kshatriya nature was born to Satyavati and Vishwamitra with Brahman nature was born to the queen. Jamadagni’s wife Renuka was famous for her devotion to her husband. She was so devoted that she could carry water in unbaked earthen pot. It was only the power of her devotion that could hold the pot together. Once on the way to fetch water Renuka saw the Gandharvas and felt desire for a moment. The pot immediately got dissolved in the water. Jamadagni was a great sage so he came to know about the incident through his yogic power. He got furious. He had four sons. He called his eldest and ordered him to bring him his mother’s head. Well, you see, he had Kshatriya rage. The eldest son flatly refused. Then one by one he called his other sons. They all refused save the last one. He obeyed his father’s order and decapitated his mother. Later when Jamadagni asked him for boons he prayed for the life of his mother and brothers. This eldest son was our very own Parashurama.

The cult of Rishi Jamadagni or Jamlu Devta is very popular across Himachal Pradesh. Even later that day we would come across another temple dedicated to the same Rishi. But how a mythological character of Kerala got a temple to his name in the Himalayas is a riddle I am yet to solve.

To be continued