The Sarthal Devi shrine , located in the Sarthal Block of Kishtwar District in J&K is a major shrine of Maa Bhuvaneshwari , the mother of universe . Hundred of thousands of devotees visit the shrine every year . The History of the shrine in sarthal dates back to the 11th Century , during the reign of King Agrasen of Kishtwar . The main attraction of the shrine is the Perfectly Carved Black -stone Idol of Maa bhagwati , in the form of Mahishasura-mardini , the idol represents Devi with 18 arms each carrying an object of significance – symbolizing the Union of all the energies of the universe . 18 arms is said to represent the Union of Maa Kali ( 10 hands) , Maa Lakshmi ( 4 hands) & Maa Saraswati ( 4 hands) . Devi also has a 3rd eye representing the Shiva. Thus the devi is complete representation of the Hindu Pantheon .
It is believed that the idol of Devi is not made by any human & is believed to have existed from times immemorial and it Represents Devi itself, Others believe that it was Sage Kashyapa who during his stay in the Kashmir carved the idol to please the devi and put an end to the Demon living in Satisar . Thus the histories of Kishtwar and Kashmir are linked both Geographically as well as Spiritually .
Thus the most accurate history of the shrine dates to the shrine of Sharika bhawani in the Kashmir Valley . In Kashmir , the mother is also called Chakreshwari ( Deity of the Holy Chakra) and believed to have existed since the birth of Kashmir ( According to Nilmat Purana ) . Maa Sharika is said to have moved to (Galigarh-Kaligarh) Kishtwar and Bless the Simple people of the Hilly region. This coincides with the rise of Islamic Conquest in Kashmir and Sikandar Butshikan ( Sikandar, the idol destroyer) destroyed almost every temple and the Idols.
In Kishtwar , the arrival of Devi was a boon for the people , as they were greatly blessed by the Devi but after sometime the people became corrupt and lazy , so devi again became invisible and moved to a higher place called Sarthal ( Sri-sthal), It is where the Devi was represented as the Kuldevi of Kishtwar and each and every person of Kishtwar has a deep faith in Devi. The devi is popularly known as Sarthal Wali Mata among the local populace .
Sarthal Devi Shrine also got a great recognition by the Kings of Jammu and Kashmir. Till day annual pilgrimage called Sarkari yatra ( government pilgrimage) is organized to remember the Golden days and worship the Devi . Also , one of the 16 samskaras , Mundan is done in the Holy Shrine since ages. So people of Kishtwar walked on foot ,travelled 25 km or so and celebrated the ritual in the shrine . Now also the yatra is organized for a 3-day long function including a 2 nights stay in the Dharamshalas ( Dormitories ) in the Shrine constructed in the times of the Kings.
But now, as the Population is Increasing at a faster rate and the number of pilgrims visiting the shrine also increasing the Dharamshalas became obsolete, so Newer Dharamshalas were constructed , but at a slower rate owing to many reasons. The Land in the Shrine is limited, the topography doesn’t permit to build a large number of dharamshalas , The load of pilgrims is also entire the year, the Water availability is not sufficient , but the Biggest Problem is that of Drainage , and Disposal. During the 2 nights stay of the Yatris spanning the year , the preparation of meals , heavy quantity of food wasted on a daily basis is just dumped in the slopes of the hills, The toilets are limited and one can see a number of yatris always in queue waiting for their turn . Days are gone when People would wait for the day, Now Modern technology is the solution of every problem . Some people who do not get their turn for a long time or see the taps running dry , defecate in open. The local residents are not unaware of this situation but they are also helpless. If one travels by a new road which is located below the toilets and dharamshala , His eyes would open towards the ignorance of the generations . a lot of sewage and solid waste generated is dumped in open giving rise to a bad odor and fly-nuisance and several other problems.
The Holy shrine is being converted to a dumping yard and whats more dangerous is that some people Drink alcohol in the dharamshalas. Although a number of things are banned including – Shaving , sleeping on bed, smoking, drinking, cutting trees etc.) but some people have made the mundan a sort of function that needs to be enjoyed and the main focus changes from the worship of Devi to the acts which will bury the head of humanity in Shame .
Strict laws should be implemented to check the use of alcohol in the shrine as this has become a reality now. Yatris should use their time and energy while they are in the shrine for the worship and betterment of the shrine , to clean the entire shrine.
A Shrine board should be formed so that the Money which goes uncontrolled in the hands of Pujaris should go for developmental activities . Government must see this issue and solve the problems in the Shrine , make more Dharamshalas and at a faster speed for the better living conditions of the Yatris .
And Ultimately it is us who have to change our attitude and put an end to the Alcohol –culture in the Shrine, Donate money to the Trust rather than in the temple so that the money will be used for betterment of the shrine and Use the precious time in the Shrine for Developmental activities and Cleaning of the Shrine. Otherwise day will not be far when the Devi becomes Invisible again .