Nature, myth and history of Syahi Devi Temple
Last year, when we went to Shitlakhet, we headed for an early morning trek to Syahi Devi temple. But we started a bit late, and then we had a packed schedule in the day ahead. And, with some clear view of Nanda Devi range consuming lot of our time, we dropped the idea of going till the top and returned mid-way. I had then decided that, I won’t let that happen next time. Hence, when I visited Shitlakhet again this year, I kept the very next morning after my arrival for the trek to temple. What a beautiful day it was, calm and clear. Now, in the hindsight when I look back at that decision, how remarkable it turned out to be, as the second morning onwards, the weather went for a toss.
As I have written earlier as well, Shitlakhet near Almora is famous for its glorious panoramic view of Himalayas. It was first chance for me to catch a view from the top. It actually has got a 360 degree view of the surroundings- from hills of Nanital to Mukteshwar on one side and then amazing view of Himalayas from Kedarnath to complete Nanda Devi range and Panchachuli peaks and ranges upto Nepal. A descent altitude of above 7100 feet gives it an advantage of height for such a view.
But this place is also home to famous temple of Syahi Devi. Whereas, there can’t be any doubt about the beauty of this place, it has got many myths attached to it. The temple was built by Katyuri Kings of Almora and if you believe the legends than it would have been built almost 800 to 900 years ago. But here at this temple, you won’t find any architectural complex or structure as we see at other temples built by Katyuri kings such as Katarmal Sun temple, or Jageshwar, Bageshwar or Baijnath temples. Actually this temple premises looks largely refurbished. May be, the original temple built by Katyuri Kings would not have been able to withstand the onslaught of nature and harsh weather.
It is also said that before this temple was built, the original idol of Syahi Devi was established at another hill, almost half a kilometre away. Syahi Devi was considered to be the clan goddess of the Almora kings. Hence, the kings built a new bigger temple for their goddess at this place. When the temple was built, then to manage the daily rituals and prayers of the temple descendants of Guru Gorakhnath were brought here from Nepal. The same lineage still manages the temple. It is said that Katyuri Kings were great architects, but they would do all their construction only in night, and hence even this temple is said to be built just in one night.
There is another piece of story. It’s said that britishers used to call this hill as Tiger Hill and reason for this was that there is a huge deodar tree on the top inside temple complex. When seen from Almora, this hill top resembles the face of a tiger and this tree plays an important role in that formation. Tree is centuries old and it is said to have survived over a dozen major lightening attacks in its life. Having said that, its also a fact that earlier this area was covered with very dense forest and wildlife was very active in this region. People will not venture alone here and even pilgrims coming to temple will come in groups.
As with all Devi temples in India, there is also a Bhairav temple close by. You will find metal bells tied around the temple. This phenomenon can be seen in many hill temples in Uttarakhand. These bells are tied by the devotees whose those wishes are fulfilled, for which they had prayed at the temple. It is also said that the goddess idol reflects three different colours during the course of the day- golden at sunrise, black during the day and dark bluish in the evening.
It is said there are nine goddess sisters in this region. Syahi Devi is the most prominent and is surrounded by eight others such as goddesses of Doonagiri, Mallika Devi, Kasar Devi, Banad Devi, Devidhura, Hartola Devi, Naina Devi, and Jhola Devi. All of them are located in different surrounding hills. And, myth goes that these nine sisters keep talking to each other.
This place has also got some history attached to it. It is told that from 25th to 28th May 1898, Swami Vivekanand came to this place and meditated at the site of the old temple of Syahi Devi. We have known that there are many places in this region which have association with frequent visits of Swami Vivekanand. In August 1890, he is said to have stayed at Kakrighat, right in the bottom of other side of this Shitlakhet hill. Then in January 1901, he is said to have stayed at Adwait Ashram, Mayawati near Lohaghat for almost 15 days.
Besides everything, this place is indeed amazing for its weather, location and views. Shitlakhet hill is also said to be the perennial source of water for its surrounding regions, rivers and villages. This place is at higher altitude than Almora and gets good snowfall in the winters, specially the area around temple gets many feet of snowfall every year. Visiting this place during winters in time of snowfall is added thrill. But keep yourself prepared for heavy cold.
How to reach
Shitlakhet is 36 kilometres from Almora and 30 kilometres from Ranikhet. But this distance is for the village at the foot of the hill. Syahi Devi temple is on the top of the hill and it is further five kilometres from village. One has to trek upto the temple. If you start trek from the village, then it will take around one and half hours to reach to top. But there is a mountain path till half way up, which can also carry smaller vehicles. That can save your trekking time by half. Still, joy of trekking is amazing in forest. And it itsn’t a tough trek.
For more on beauty of Shitlakhet, read: A photo journey to Shitlakhet, a hidden gem in Kumaon
You can also watch a video on all the legends related to this temple on my YouTube channel, by clicking on the link below:
Have you trekked up to Syahi Devi temple in Shitlakhet and watched the magnificent Himalayan views? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!
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