A Demoness’s Temple

An unacknowledged character of Mahabharata, she was an epitome of a strong and devoted woman. Woven with intricacy, her love story has a history unmatched. How did she manage to bring in so much love and affection in the hearts of people that an entire temple was dedicated to her? Let’s find out.
In search of Hidimba; The Broken Inkpot- WordPress

In search of Hidimba; The Broken Inkpot- WordPress

Several stories of our childhood start with the phrase, "Once upon a time, there lived a demoness waiting near the tree." As we grow up, this very demoness becomes famous all over media. Subtle changes are made to her name, make-up, accent, but the tree remains her permanent home. While the tree has no story to narrate, there is a wide variety of folklore and myths associated with the demonesses. On the one hand, they are considered gigantic ogres, while on the other hand, they are considered protectors or saviors.

The epic of Mahabharata portrays many exciting characters of demonesses, but one character that caught my attention is Hidimba. Since minimal effort is given to reveal her quirks, victories, desires, fears, and secrets, I decided to explore a side of Hidimba that has been camouflaged by the ravages of time.

It has been more than a decade since my last visit to Manali. Himachal - a place full of lofty, snow-covered peaks, charming valleys, cascading waterfalls, and lush green woodlands, everything about this place is magical. Known as a tourist's paradise, its enticing beauty and magnificent landscapes took away my breath. We went to Shimla, Rohtang Pass, Spiti Valley, and Kangra.

While all these places have had a long-lasting impact on my mind, there was this one temple that has fascinated me to a large extent. The Hidimba Devi Temple in Manali, also known as Dhungiri temple, built by Maharaja Bahadur Singh, is one of the most magnificent temples that is dedicated to Mahabharata's bravest character, Hidimba Devi.

As soon as I entered the temple, it took me to an entirely different world, a world full of mythological characters with their shades. Born as a demoness or rakshasi, Hidimba was the sister of a powerful demon named Hidimb, the ruler of the Kamyaka forest. According to the legend of Mahabharata, when the Pandava brothers were heading towards the Kamyaka forest after escaping from Duryodhana's evil plan, they encountered the demon brother-sister duo. However, the encounter was far more than just ordinary. Upon learning that the Pandavas were staying in the forest, Hidimb planned to kill them. Thus, he ordered his sister Hidimba to lure them into a trap. Transforming herself into a beautiful woman, Hidimba executed her brother's plan.

Little did she know that her heart would change and fall in love with a person she had to kill. Hidimba fell in love with the well-built and handsome Bhima at the very first sight. She was so lost in looking at him that she ultimately revealed her identity as well as her brother's true intentions. Warning the Pandavas of her brother's impending attack, she also helped defeat Hidimb. After the war, Hidimba requested Kunti to let her marry Bhima. He, too, put forth a condition that he would leave Hidimba once their son was born. Left behind to fend herself and her son, she still stood firm and single-handedly brought up her son. Growing up, her son became a warrior like his father.

My train of thoughts came to an abrupt halt as I came out of the temple. Lush green forests surrounded the temple. While this may sound absurd, the forest had a different charm. I constantly felt somebody's presence that kept me unsettled throughout the journey. This might be a preposterous theory of a tired mind, but another possibility could be that it was Hidimba's presence that was still guarding the forest.

When I asked the locals about it, I got to know something quite rarely heard. The locals said that Hidimba practiced Tapasya meticulously in these forests and was thus, blessed with supernatural powers. Later on, she was considered a Devi or goddess and was also regarded as the region's protector. The only quality that made her different from other demonesses and Hidimb was her kind nature. Perhaps this was one of the main reasons the locals worshiped her and dedicated a temple for her. Today, Hidimba Devi's temple stands in its full glory, and its mysterious beauty attracts thousands of tourists from all over India.

I have been to many different shrines across the world, but the Pagoda-style framework of ancient Hindu temples always fascinated me. I arrived at the temple in the late evening, which may explain why it appeared eerie and gloomy from a distance. But as soon as I got inside, my perspective shifted. The temple's interiors were gorgeous, with intricately carved wood. It was built on top of a large, holy rock, a "manifestation of the earth goddess."

A three-tiered wooden roof and lower boards in the shape of projecting canopies were incorporated in the design. This lovely temple has an old-world beauty to it. Its serene environment may readily reach the depths of one's spirit, making it an ideal retreat for nature and peace enthusiasts like myself. The temple is nestled amid a dense pine forest, which is no less a sight for nature enthusiasts. It was the most congenial temple visit I made while strolling through the woods. It was thick, dark, chilly, and enchanting—an unforgettable experience. This location had a peaceful ambiance that relaxed the spirit and fostered a mood of humility. Although it may seem strange, something was captivating about the trees, and I sensed someone's presence—was it Hidimba Devi?

Well! Maybe it was all in my head. It made me reconsider my skewed understanding of the Mahabharata. Locals believe that Hidimba Devi still guards the forest and serves as a guiding beacon for the people there. We visit many sites, but just a handful of them stick with us—Hidimba Devi temple is one of them.

But, to me, Hidimba Devi is Mahabharata's unrecognised heroine. She is an example of a brave and loyal lady who accepts her fate with dignity and raises a warrior boy alone on her own with the highest humility and honesty.

Hidimba: The Forgotten Wife; Image Source: YouTube: Epified

Hidimba: The Forgotten Wife; Image Source: YouTube: Epified


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