The Goddess Who Went to Nepal

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    The Taleju Bhawani temple in Bhaktapur, around 15 kms from Kathmandu, Nepal and the Tulja Bhawani temple in Tuljapur, near Solapur in Maharashtra, are more than 2000 kms apart. But connecting these two temples is a fascinating story of a king, most probably linked to the Chalukyas from the south, who established a dynasty in Nepal, and introduced the worship of Goddess Bhawani there.

    Goddess Taleju Bhawani is the patron goddess of the Newar people of Nepal. The Newars are a community, who were among the earliest inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley. They follow a unique form of Hinduism, that combines Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

    There are three main temples in Nepal dedicated to Goddess Taleju Bhawani, located at Kathmandu, Patan (around 7 kms from Kathmandu) and Bhaktapur. The current temples dedicated to the Goddess were built in the 1500s by the Malla kings, who claimed themselves to be the descendants of Nanyadeva, the founder of the ‘Karnataki’ dynasty of Mithila and Nepal.

    Even today, historians in Nepal, as well as North Bihar, acknowledge that they know very little about the early history of King Nanyadeva and where he came from. What is agreed upon is that in 1096 CE, a ruler named Nanyadeva expelled the Sena armies of Bengal from North Bihar and established the ‘Karnataki’ or the ‘Karnat’ dynasty, with Simraungadh (in present-day South Nepal) as its capital. His descendants ruled for 229 years till 1326 CE, when the armies of Ghyasuddin Tughlak conquered and sacked Simraungadh, forcing the ruler then, King Harisingh Deva to flee to the Nepal hills.

    It is said that King Harisingh Deva, took with him the Yantra (a geometrical diagram used in tantric worship) of the Goddess Bhawani, which his ancestor had brought with him from the South and installed it in Bhaktapur in Nepal. The Newari community, who are among the earliest inhabitants of the central Nepal region, were very closely connected with the Mithila region of North Bihar culturally, for hundereds of years. Hence, it is no surprise that the Newar community soon adopted the worship of Goddess Taleju Bhawani.

    Some historians like RC Mazumdar believed that the rise of the Karnataki dynasty in North Bihar may have been connected with the invasions of Chalukyan kings Someshwar I and Vikramaditya VI in the second half of the 11th century, when a number of military adventurers from the South accompanied them. The Chalukyan kings who ruled from Badami in Karnataka, controled a vast area that stretched from Tamil Nadu to the western border of Bengal. Other historians like KP Jayaswal, believed that these southern settlers were remnants of Rajendra Chola’s army, who carved a kingdom in the North. While all of this is yet to be proven, we know that Nanyadeva did establish his kingdom in 1096 CE.

    According to local folklore, it is said that once Goddess Bhawani appeared to King Nanyadeva at night and gave him a Yantra, as well as a Mantra to activate that Yantra (a tantric practice). She told him it would bring him unimaginable wealth and power. It was this Yantra, which Harisingh Deva took with him to Nepal, and installed there. The deity ’Taleju Bhawani’, with four heads.

    In Nepal, there are numerous ‘Bhasha Vanshavalis’ or chronicles of Nepalese kings, which are not considered ‘purely historical’ texts by trained historians. But in them, we find some interesting references. For example, according to these 'vanshavalis' the original home of these kings was the ‘Konkan Desha’, and they had settled on the banks of River Chandrabhaga, before moving North. The River Chandrabhaga flows through the Solapur district of Maharashtra and is not very far from the city of Tuljapur, famous for the temple of Tulja Bhawani. This hints at some ancient connection. Sadly, the temple at Tuljapur has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, due to invasions, and as a result, its early past has been wiped out. The Tuljapur temple gained great prominence during the reign of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji, whose family deity was Tulja Bhawani.

    In Nepal, a local ruler Jayasthiti Malla (r. 1382-1395) married the granddaughter of the last Karnataki ruler Harisingh Deva, thereby connecting his lineage with that of the more illustrious Karnataki kings. From then on, the Malla kings declared Nanyadeva as their ‘Pradhan Purva Purusha’ or their illustrious ancestor. Interestingly, 'Malla' was not a dynastic name, but meant a stong man or a wrestler. It was a title which several dynasties prefered to name themselves as, both in Nepal and in India.

    The Malla kings also began worshipping the Goddess Taleju Bhawani as their patron goddess, a tradition continued by them until the Gorkhas overthrew the dynasty in the 18th century. However, so strong was the devotion to the goddess in the valley, that the Gorkha king Prithvi Bikram Shah, continued the state patronage of the goddess.

    Of the three temples dedicated to Taleju Bhawani in Nepal, the oldest one is in Bhaktapur. It contains the original Yantra of the Goddess brought to Nepal by Raja Harisingh Deva.

    The shrine dates to around 1550s and was built during the reign of King Mahendra Malla. It is a tantric temple, with the golden image and the Yantra of the Goddess. No photograph of the deity has ever been taken. Interestingly, it is the only temple open to devotees throughout the year. The temple in Kathmandu is open to public only once a year, while the one in Patan is accessible only to the priests. All kinds of tantric worship practices are incorporated in the worship of the Goddess.

    Even today, the Goddess, Taleju Bhawani keeps her secrets, not only the secrets of her worship but also of her journey from Maharashtra to Nepal.

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