My son, Judhajit and I were planning to visit the ancient Bhadrakali temple at Itkhori since long. The area was before infested by Maoists and wasn’t a safe place. Now the government with the help of local people got rid of them. The Jharkhand government is developing the place as a centre of religious tourism.
Itkhori in Chatra district of Jharkhand state of India is situated at around 150 km from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, at the confluence of two rivers named ‘Mahane’ (or, Mahanad) and ‘Baksa’.
It is a wonderful place with abundance of historic reminiscences and archaeological remnants demonstrating a breath-taking saga of religious tolerance and cultural unity. Besides Bhadrakali, seen as a propitious form of Kali, Shiva and Hanuman idols complete the Hindu influence. Besides these, there is a stupa with 1,008 figurines of Buddha and the charan paduka (slippers) of Jain Tirthankar Sheetalnath. All are made of black stone, with similar aesthetic styles, suggesting religious co-existence in close proximity in the Middle Ages.
On the basis of the inscriptions in Brahmi script near the feet of Maa Bhadrakali idol, it is said that it had been made during ninth century CE by the orders of King Mahendra Pal, who was the king of Bengal and Bihar. The workmanship of the images and statues indicate a highly developed heritage of skills in the finer arts.
Maa Bhadrakali Temple
We visited Itkhori recently. When we started from Ranchi, it was raining. We were a bit depressed as the rains might spoil our visit. As we took the diversion towards Itkhori from NH33 after Hazaribagh the rain stopped, so we could enjoy the spirituality of the place.
The modern day Bhadrakali Temple is built on the ruins of that was built by Raja Mahendra Pal centuries ago.
The Jharkhand Tourism took the responsibility of reconstructing the dilapidated temple with enriched history so that it can be preserved.
After Rajarappa, this is the second most important Shakti Peeths in Jharkhand-Bihar area. The third temple is the temple of Ugratara at Hunterganj in Chatra district. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Surath mentioned in the Markandeya Purana.
Legend of Maa Bhadrakali
Bhadrakali is one of the most powerful forms of Goddess Parvati or Devi. Goddess Parvati is the consort of Lord Shiva and Bhadrakali is one of the nine forms of Devi. The word ‘Bhadra’ is a Sanskrit word that means the one who blesses with good fortune and protects from the evil.
There was a very powerful asura (demon) named Shankhachud who was blessed by Vishnu that no person could kill him. When gods lost their patience over his terror, the commander of gods Kartikeya went to fight him. But Kartikeya fell to the ground by Sankhchud’s attack. Seeing this the Goddess Adishakti took a fierce form of Bhadrakali and fought him but could not defeat him. So she began to swallow the asuras in the battlefield and in the last Shiva destroyed Sankhchud with his Trident.
Maa Bhadrakali is in the gentle form of Maa Mangala Gauri in the temple. The Idol of Maa Bhadrakali is made of Gomed (Hessonite) stone and Ashtadhatu (an alloy of eight metals). Time has not been able to affect it. Initially, there was an eight-handed idol of Goddess Durga beside the Bhadrakali idol but in 1968 both were stolen. Maa Bhadrakali’s idol was recovered but not the other one.
Legends and Folklores
Itkhori’s name also has a legend connected to Buddhism. Buddha visited this historical place and stayed here for some time. After He left, His relatives came to take their prince Siddhartha, the prince of Kapilavastu to His palace but when they could not distract him from meditating they gave up. During this time, of Goutam Buddha’s relatives uttered “It khoyi”…. meaning “lost Him here”… He is lost in meditation. That eventually got distorted to become Itkhori, the name of the place.
According to folklores, Lord Rama, Laxmana, and Sita had come and stayed for some time here during their exile. It is also said that King Yudhisthir had also stayed here during his agyatvas exile (without being discovered). So this place is related to both Ramayana and Mahabharata era.
King Surath, whose name is mentioned in Markandeya Purana, had his capital at the hills of Kuleshwari near Hunterganj in Chatra district. He was defeated by a foreign invader and being defeated he came here at the Ashram of Medha Rishi. At the same time, a rich businessman named Samadhi vaishya, dispossessed of all his wealth by his own family came to this ashram. Both needed to know the cause of their distress. Medha Rishi told them the reason giving many examples and also told that if they want to get rid of their distress, they must pray to the Goddess Bhadrakali. Both of them went to a thick forest near the Mahane river and devoted themselves to prayers and penance. Maa Bhadrakali was pleased and came there to bless them. King Surath got back his desired kingdom but Samadhi vaishya did not wish for his wealth but for ‘moksha’, that he got from the blessings of the Goddess.
The Sahasra Lingam Shiva Temple
There is a Shiva temple adjacent to the Bhadrakali temple. The Shiva-linga has no less than 1008 lingams carved into its surface. The Nandi outside the temple is built from a single rock. 1008 is an auspicious number in Indian culture.
Near the Shiva temple, there is a Hanuman temple. The idol of Hanuman has five heads of different creatures. Such idol is called Panchamukhi Hanuman.
Images of 104 Bodhisattvas and 4 principal Buddha’s are sculpted on each side of a ‘stupa’-like structure. This is a 15-ft structure, of which only the top part of 5 ft can be seen above the ground. The top of the Stupa is in a mace shape over which is a small cover which when lifted let ooze out droplets of water. The government of Jharkhand has planned to build the highest Stupa near this site.
10th Jain Tirthankara Sheetal Nath
In 2012, the Archeological Survey of India has excavated an ancient Jain idol from beneath the temple compound. It proves that long before, Jainism was practiced here. A pair of foot prints which lies here are said to be of the 10th Tirthankara Sheetal Nath. This place is believed to be the birthplace of Tirthankara Sheetal Nath. We couldn’t see that stone-piece as that could be seen only in the afternoon. A huge Jain temple is being constructed nearby, which is supposed to be the second largest temple dedicated to Sheetal Nath.
Archaeologists have stumbled upon a number of antiquities, including Buddha stupas, belonging to the 9th century CE here. Antiquities belonging to the Jainism and Hinduism were also found during the excavation. 417 idols and statues of Lord Buddha were dug out from the temple campus which are kept at a museum in the campus of the District Board.
As we left the temple village, it started raining torrentially. Jai Maa Bhadrakali!
We had our lunch on a highway dhaba at the fringe of the Hazaribagh Wildlife Santuary and then went to visit the Chhinnamasta temple at Rajrappa.
ॐ जयंती मंगला काली भद्रकाली कपालिनी
दुर्गा क्षमा शिवा धात्री स्वाहा स्वधा नमोस्तुते।