Bhaderwah and Kishtwar in Jammu province are dotted with a number of famous pilgrimage sites, all located in the lap of splendid nature. These sites attract thousands of people every year from all over the country. A visit to any pocket of the area richly endowed with nature’s wealth is a life time experience.
One such place, which is very significant both as a religious pilgrimage and also as a popular tourism circuit and is thronged by devotees in large numbers, is the shrine of Chandi Mata or Machail Wali Mata. “Chandi Mata” - the `Goddess of Benevolence’ showers blessing to all irrespective of caste, creed and colour.
Machail Yatra has become one of the most popular annual pilgrimages of the state after Amarnath Yatra and is organized every year during the month of August. This is in spite of the fact that the yatra started in the year 1980 when Thakur Kulvir Singh Jamwal began this yatra from his ancestral house at Chinote Bhaderwah to Machail in erstwhile Doda district which now falls in district Kishtwar.
There’s an interesting anecdote as how this yatra began. Thakur Kulvir Singh Jamwal, while talking to KTNS, narrated that he was serving in Jammu and Kashmir police department as Assistant Sub-inspector and was on his duty in Machail in the 1970s.
He was blessed with a child in January 1977 strangely he (child) would fall ill in the month of August every year and this continued from 1977-1980 when he saw a deity in his dream. He proceeded to Machail Yatra to pay his obeisance to the deity. Again he saw the deity in his dream who asked him to come back after some time. On August 10, 1980, he proceeded to yatra from Chinote Bhaderwah to Machail thereby making the beginning of the yatra which now holds a special place in the chronology of events in any calendar year in the state. He said that in 1980, he was accompanied by 25 members out of who 23 were the members of his family while two were employees from the police department. Then in 1981 and 1982, the yatra was led by Master Krishan Lal of Atholi, in 1983 it was led by Sewa Ram and in 1984, Nek Ram of Kishtwar led the Yatra. In 1985, Kulvir Singh again led the yatra from Chinote, Bhaderwah and after that the yatra became a regular feature from Bhaderwah. With each passing year, the number of pilgrims went on increasing. In 1985, we had a bus full of yatris, he recalled. Slowly and steadily the number of pilgrims proceeding to Yatra swelled to thousands.
Now, a large number of devotees from across the state take part in the yatra. The mention of Machail yatra would be incomplete without the mention of “Trishul Bhaint” yatra, which has become an innate first step of main yatra.
The “Trishul Bhaint” yatra is organised by one Shimal Kumar Jain from Doda. Kulvir Singh informed that he had requested his friend Shimal Kumar Jain in 1986 to offer a Trishul (trident) for yatra. In response, Shimal Kumar brought a Trishul from Muradabad and offered him at Chinote in the form of procession (yatra) in 1986, that was the beginning of “Trishul Bhaint” yatra.
Now the yatra is an annual feature. The “Trishul Bhaint” yatra leaves from Doda city to Chinote Bhaderwah every year on July 1. It is preceded by a Jagran at Radheysham Temple at Doda city on June 29 which is followed by break on June 30 and the next day i.e., July 1, the yatra leaves for Bhaderwah. In the Trishul Bhaint Yatra at least 50-60 buses leave Doda for Chinote. After reaching Chinote, the yatra is received and welcomed with great zeal by the local people at Chinote.
Enroute yatra, arrangement is made for drinking water and eatables at several places. The pilgrims after reaching Chinote pay obeisance to the deity (Chandi mata) which is followed by a Jagran and a langar (community lunch) after which the people leave for their homes.
Kulvir Singh told, “The trident (Trishul), which is brought from Doda, is then taken from Chinote to Machail, in the form of “Pavittar Chharri” (holy mace) after one month and 18 days of “pooja” at Chinote. The yatra which starts from Bhaderwah on August 18 is joined by people from Doda and other parts of the state at Pul Doda.
According to a legend, the Goddess Chandi appeared at Machail in the shape of Shila (Pindi). The mother came here from her Mindhal Battas (HP) to bless the simple, ignorant, helpless and deprived people of Padder area.
The Machail Yatra is a unique pilgrimage with unique features. Besides spiritual, its social aspect is more effective and impressive where the devotees are asked to shun social evils for the welfare of society and mankind.
In Jammu, her temple is in Mahalaxmi Mandir at Pacca Danga. Yatra at Jammu region starts with a religious procession which passes through Jain Bazar, Link Road, Purani Mandi, Raghunath Bazar and Indira Chowk and then joins the yatra at Chinote Bhaderwah.
On the day of Machail yatra, the volunteers from Bhaderwah serve the yatris with eatables at Chandi Mata Mandir. They reach early morning at Chinote where they prepare lunch and prasad for those visiting from Jammu and other regions to join the yatra.
A number of buses in a cavalcade leave from Chinote and pass through Bhaderwah Seri Bazaar where the locals greet the yatris and wish them successful yatra for the peace in the area. The main stopover or reception stations en-route are established at Bhala, Pul Doda, Prem Nagar, Thathri, Kistwar, Paddar, Massu, Chishoti, Atholi Gulabgarh, Layondee, S Kunderpul, Chishoti, Hamooree and then at Machail Mata’s temple. Through out the route religious congregation and Bhandaras are organized to highlight the importance of the yatra. The yatra from Gulab Garh leaves on foot towards Machail which is about 30 km.
The holy shrine of the Goddess Chandi is situated at a height of over 8,000 feet above the sea level in Machail village in Padder surrounded by high mountains, thick Deodar forests, attractive meadows and world famous sapphire mines.
The most attractive lion astride idols of the Goddess Chandi and Lakshmi Ji made of pure silver are a rare sight and source of inspiration for the pilgrims who come to seek blessing of Goddess.
The most important and impressive aspect of the Machail Yatra is the unique holy mace of the Goddess which leads the pilgrims and provides them with strength and inspiration enroute. Amidst natural splendour, the people trek the mountainous route chanting “jai maa chandi”, “jai maa chandi”. The entire yatra route is followed by river Chenab which was earlier called “Chandrabagha” which has an enchanting cascading flow here.
The route is a mix of plains and mountains, broad and narrow route, even somewhere the route is so narrow that only a single person can pass through. In the yatra route there is a place which is called “darshani darwaza” where the yatris keep their holy maces and perform pooja and then the holy mace is carried forward and the yatris follow. After reaching at the temple site a full night “jagran” is organised where after the people leave for their homes in the morning. Another important feature of the yatra is that after the yatra concludes, the holy mace is brought back and is placed in the “Mata Chandi’s temple at Chinote, Bhaderwah.
The Chandi Dham Machail has both Shiv and Shakti. On the one hand, the Goddess Chandi (Shakti) is blessing her devotees at Machail village while on the other hand there’s a Shiva Lingam on the opposite high mountain where the pilgrims visit to pay obeisance on the pious occasion of the Shakti yatra. The mountain is called Shiv Pahad which often remains covered with black clouds. The devotees describe it as a unique union of Shiva and Shakti at Machail.
Yet another beautiful aspect of the spiritual Machail Yatra, which gives an opportunity to have a union with the magnificent nature, is that it has strengthened the spirit of religious tolerance, bonds of secularism and mutual brotherhood among the masses which is apparent from the fact that even the Muslim brothers remain present in good strength to receive the Yatra where-ever it passes.