The temple stood in a small grassy clearing below the main road, surrounded by hills and a crystal-clear stream flowing in the distance. The ochre sunlight from beyond the hills was reflecting onto the water and the temple, creating a spectacularly magical setting. The Mahasu Devta temple in Hanol lies at the border of Western Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Hanol is a small village on the bank of Tons river.
It has the 9th century stone temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, known here as Mahasu Devta. It is a very remote picturesque location not frequented by tourists but held in very high esteem by local hill people. As per ancient folklore, at Hanol lived a man eating demon. Initially he used to eat everyone he saw and created a lot of panic. Later, at the request of villagers he agreed to eat one person per day. So, one person was sent to him every day from the close by villages.
Once it was the turn of a Brahmin named Uma Bhatt, who had 7 sons. He started sending them one by one. When the turn of the 7th son came, the father could not bear the mental agony any longer. He worshipped Lord Shiva with all his heart and soul. Shiva was impressed by the man’s dedication decided to help the man. He directed Deolari Devi, one of his woman devotees to send her four sons named Mahasu, Pavasi, Vasik and Chalda to go in search of the demon.
They found the demon in Hanol, surrounded him from all sides and after a fierce battle lasting several days, killed him. The villagers rejoiced at this and built temples for all the four brothers. Since then, Mahasu Devta appears in quadruple form as the four brothers. Mahasu Devta’s temple is in Hanol, Pavasi Devta’s temple is just across the Tons river in Hanol on top of a small hillock. Vasik Devta’s temple is a 40km trek up the mountain from Pavasi’s temple, while Chalda Devta’s temple is near Tuni.
Mahasu Devta is believed to be a just and efficient judge and all disputes in the region if not sorted out by the local village headman, are referred him. Even today, the deity exercises his authority over religious and secular matters. The decision of the deity is accepted by the locals as the final word. In Hanol, disputes of various kinds are resolved using a unique Lota-Pani method in which a metallic goblet is filled with water by a person not involved in the dispute.
The persons involved in the dispute have to drink the water invoking the name of Mahasu Devata. The wrong-doer is believed to fall sick on drinking the water. Another unique aspect of Mahasu Devata is his grumpiness when it comes to handling of precious ornaments. Any gold going out of the deity’s domain triggers a series of sufferings for the persons involved as they attract the fury of Mahasu Devata.
The road to Hanol from Dehradun cuts through desolate but very scenic stretches until it reaches the market point known as the Tuni, a small nondescript junction by the river Tons. The whole area has a magical beauty because of which the mind automatically gets pulled towards things ethereal and divine.
Architecturally the Mahasu Devata temple is one of the rarest examples of harmonious combination of stone and wooden to form one composite grand edifice. The sanctum-proper is a shikhara type structure in stone of the classical type; however, the part of shikhara above the sanctum sanitarium has very aesthetically been camouflaged on all sides with an elaborately treated wooden superstructure.
The whole wooden structure is covered with high-pitched slated pent-roof-ends and the projections of balcony are gracefully ornamented with dangling fringes and decorative bells. The temple complex has a pair of spherical rocks about one foot in diameter, which are supposed to be have been used by Bhim (second Pandava) for exercise. They are really very heavy and part of fun here is to try and lift them to your shoulder and throw them back.
It is believed that only a person with the clearest heart will be able to lift those stones without breaking into a sweat. The priests however say that till date no one has been successful in this endeavor. Another striking aspect of the temple is the sight of numerous sheep running around. It is believed that whatever you ask from Mahasu Devta will be granted; in return you must promise to give the God a certain number of sheep.
Upon fulfillment of your wish, you must bring the sheep to the temple where in early days they used to be sacrificed. Nowadays, after prayers, they are set free to roam around in the temple and this is the reason why you find a number of them running around. From May 26, 2004 the Mahasu Devata temple in Hanol reversed its age-old custom of not allowing women to worship inside and sacrificing animals. It is believed that the deity appeared in the dream of a devout and ordered him to allow entry of women and stop sacrifices inside the temple.
The vast mountainous area defined by the watershed of the river Yamuna is dominated by the cult of Mahasu. The Mahasu Devta has his principal seat at Hanol and numerous myths about the magical powers of Mahasu abound in this region and harmoniously co-exist even today, in the age of the internet and amidst other wonders of modern science.
Location: 210 kms from Dehradun, the nearest railhead.
When to go: Round the year. Mahasu Devta’s fair is held in August every year, when the deity is taken out in a procession. Thousands of people from nearby districts, Himachal Pradesh and UP converge in the village. Musical prayers continue for three days and nights.
Accommodation: The only place to stay in Hanol is the GMVNL guest house. It has five reasonably comfortable rooms and a dormitory.
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