Counted among the 12 Jyotirlings in the country, Jageshwar lies in a beautiful narrow valley hedged by monarch-sized, ancient deodars. Of the over 100 small and large shrines of this complex, the three outstanding ones, in terms of sculpture, are dedicated of Jageshwar, Mrityunjaya and Pushtidevi.
Jageshwar temple has sculpted dwarpals standing guard at its entrance . Although the presiding deity at Jageshwar is Shiva a strong Buddhist influence is visible in the carvings. It is about 100 Kms. from Nainital.
Jageshwar houses nearly 200 temples built in honor of Shiva Mahadev. Considered to represent one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India, Jageshwar attracts thousands of devotees during Shivratri very year. They are very sacred centers for the worship of Shiva and are said to have tantric powers too. The town is situated about 34 km from Almora town, on the way to Pithoragarh and Naini. The place is marked for its peaceful environment and pious rendition. Embellished with the tall deciduous deodar trees and winding river Jata Ganga, which finds its way to the side of the temple complex. The continuous chain of snowcapped mountain ranges loom large over this beautiful temple site. Often, pious men from the Himalayas come down here to meditate. Many travelers are also tempted to sit down for some meditation in these portals of piety.
History tells that during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, when the Gupta emperors held sway, the Kumaon hills were being governed by an independent dynasty of Katyuri kings. They selected this site for building temples. The temples originally constructed during the Gupta period were renovated by the rulers of the Ghand dynasty in the 7th century AD. Numerous temples were constructed or restored during the Gurjara Pratihara era and also in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Mahamrityunjaya temple seems to be the oldest of all the temples and dates back to the 8th century AD. The temples of Surya, Navagraha and Neelkantheshvara are of late Katyuri age. It is said that originally four hundred temples existed here, of which only about one hundred and eight have survived.
There is a gigantic temple structure known as Dandeshwar temple, dedicated to one of the aspects of Lord Shiva. The temple complex is charming and antiquated with fine samples of ancient iconography. Apart from an 18th-century icon of the dancing Shiva, there is a huge iron bell at the gateway of the temple. The bell forms an important link between the local deity known as Gollu Devta and Lord Shiva.
Most of the shrines are dedicated to Shiva, who is addressed by diverse names. Jageshwara is only a version of Yogisvara (Lord of Yogis). There are other shrines with variegated names of Shiva like Dandeshavara, Nilakantheshvara, Mahamrityunjaya, etc. Other temples dedicated to Surya (the Sun God), Navadurga (nine manifestations of the goddess Durga), Kalika, Pushtidevi and Kubera are also present here. These shrines were built by professional builders by the name of Shivism. They belonged to the Lakulish sect. The Jyotirlinga at Jageshwar is visited by thousands of Shiva devotees who come to offer prayers during Shivratri.
The temples belong to the simple Nagara style variety. There is a tall curvilinear spire shikhara, surmounted by an amalaka (capstone) and a kalasha crown. The square sanctum sanctorum has its entrance through a carved doorway. Most of the temples have the stone lingams. Impressive stone images are seen around the altar. Two ashtadhatu (an alloy of eight metals) images are outstanding. Particular mention may also be made of a highly impressive image of Ganesha. The Ekamukhalinga is one of the rarest specimens in northern India. There are two magnificent life-sized dwarapalas (door guardians) outside the Jagannath temple.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS
The famous Pooram Festival (April/May) is celebrated at the Vaddakkunnath Temple. There are nightlong fireworks and a magnificent elephant procession. Shivratri (in March/April) is also celebrated with great fanfare. During Onam, the harvest festival (August/September), the entire state wears a festive look.
About 3 km uphill Jageshwar is a small temple called Vriddha Jageshwar. This temple is said to be the abode of Shiva, before he came down to Jageshwar. The fascinating aspect about Jageshwar and Vriddha Jageshwar is the unremitting peace they emanate. There are caves all along the countryside.
HOW TO REACH
The nearest railway station, at Kathgodam, is 135 km away. Jageshwar is just 34 km by road from Almora. Many buses and taxis ply regularly. One can also come via Nainital, which is 100 km southwest of Jageshwar.