A forest spirit and rushing clouds
Source : THE HINDU
The creatures in the forest told him about the Jakhu and where to find him
In the heart of Shimla was the presiding deity Shyamala Devi, the dark one. A British officer had once tried to dislodge her but his sudden demise convinced his successor that she was a force, to be installed in a temple. And around this temple, the city later grew.
Temples and small shrines abounded in the ravines, on mountain peaks, next to a golf course, where even the Army let her be.
A visit to the temple of the Hatu Mata atop the Hatu peak, almost 12,000 feet above sea level, is really unavoidable for any tourist.
My decision to visit Hatu Mata was made on the spur of the moment. The weather seemed perfect. The cab driver, Chandrakanth, was from these parts and in his late 30s. He wanted to start with the Jakhu Temple, which I declined, a bit too firmly perhaps.
Everyone seemed very excited that a film star had recently made an offering there. But I was a bit wary and insisted we head straight to Hatu Mata.
As we climbed higher, apple orchards came into view. Chandrakanth predicted a poor crop. The cherry trees had done better. Sloping vegetable gardens dotted the landscape.
The drive was taking longer than I thought and when we reached the foothill from where the steep climb was to begin, Chandrakanth pointed to the tourism department hotel and said I could have lunch there. We decided to rather have it on the way back.
As we started the climb the clouds began moving in. The road was narrow and winding. When I looked out of the window the gorge was so deep I shuddered. As we moved further up slowly I was tempted to shut my eyes tight.
Chandrakanth added to my cowardice by graphically describing the wildlife that roamed the forest. I looked straight ahead. As we neared the peak it started to drizzle.
The drizzle turned to rain. The car stopped, and I could barely see the colourful wooden structure. “Run carefully,” said my considerate driver. Leaving my footwear in the car, I charged. I could not see much but the drumbeat and voices of women singing propelled me towards the temple. I entered soaked but strangely refreshed.
The tension of the climb had drained away. A group of women were in a frenzy of song and dance, unmindful of everything around them.
The goddess and the lion were both made of dark wood. In the reverberating refrain of the frenzied women calling out ‘Oh maa sheraawali, oh maa sheraawali’ both the mother and the beast came alive. It was mesmerising.
The dance ended just as the rain eased. I wanted to stay on a bit more but Chandrakanth said we had to leave. He must have sensed something. And then it happened.
The clouds sank and enveloped everything. Nothing was visible. Car tail-lights came on and we were crawling. This caravan stopped and moved. When it finally poured, it was torrential. I wondered if the road would just disappear, swallowed by the torrent of water.
But the weather cleared up as we descended. I asked Chandrakanth to find a place to eat. Over a vegetarian meal, for me by choice and for him because it was Tuesday, we spoke about family and children. He confessed he had been worried about the drive down. He brought up the Jakhu temple again. It was a bit late but it was also when I realised he probably wanted to make a thanksgiving to Hanuman.
What is Jakhu, I asked. It could not be a name for Hanuman. ‘Jaku’ is ‘Yaku,’ he replied. “Yaku is not a god,” he said. “He is a forest spirit.”
“Yaksha,” I said, the Yaksha of the enchanted pool. Hanuman was looking desperately for the ‘Sanjeevani buti’ needed to bring Lakshman back to life, but had no idea where to find it. The creatures in the forest told him about Jakhu and where to find him.
The Jakhu sat in meditation and Hanuman waited patiently. The Jakhu pointed in the direction of the mountain. Hanuman did not wait to hear more. He hurried to the mountain, uprooted it and carried it to Ram. The deity of the temple was Hanuman but it was called the Jakhu temple.
Chandrakanth went on to offer his thanks to Hanuman. Considering the devastation caused by the cloudburst and floods in the same area just a week later, I have often wondered if it was a kind Jakhu who guided us down the narrow mountain road.
The writer loves words, those of others as well as her own. She publishes for a living and writes to give herself a life.