From the battle to the battlefield. Following on from the previous post, I am continuing the journey to the place where I was born, the holy city of Nasik. On the outskirts of the city are the Saptashrungi hills, a range of seven mountains that form part of the Sahyadri Range which runs all along the west coast of India.
It was here, in the foothills of these mountains, that Durga is said to have fought the epic battle and vanquished the powerful demon Mahishasura.
For many days and nights, the battle raged. Durga chased Mahishasura through the mountains, kicking a hole in one of the peaks in all her fury before entering the dense forest where she pounced upon him with her lion and chopped off his head.
Exhausted, the Goddess climbed to the top of one of the peaks and sat down to rest. And here she rests to this day, carved into the rock face, larger than life, eyes glowering, her eighteen arms brandishing the weapons gifted to her by the gods and smeared in Vermillion. She is Saptashrungi Devi, the Goddess who dwells among the seven peaks.
As if in testament to the story, the head of a felled buffalo carved in stone sits at the base of the temple and the sky peeps through a gaping hole in one of the mountains.
The idol itself is believed to be swayambhu. Something that is not created but is manifest. Of course, an idol as intricate as that could not just manifest but perhaps it is so ancient that the story of its creation has been wiped from the collective consciousness. What remains is the legend.
To the devotees, it is of little consequence. They speak of a palpable energy in the surrounding hills, the presence of Goddess in their midst as real as the hills in which she resides.
Saptashrungi, the seven hills are also mentioned in the Puranas as one of the fifty-one Shakti Peeths, prominent seats of the Goddess, that are spread all over India. They are also the hills where the sage Markandeya is believed to have compiled the Devi Mahatmyam.
For ages, people have thronged to shrine not to be daunted by the extremely difficult trek up or the seven hundred and fifty steps cut into the rock that one must climb to reach the Goddess. Now a tarmac road leads your car to the bottom of the steps but my father still remembers the first time he went up there as a boy, way back in 1956. And I remember being taken up there as a child before the road was made. An experience not easily forgotten.