On June 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the redeveloped Kalika Mata temple atop the Pavagadh hill in Panchmahal district. Apart from being an engineering marvel, the 11th-century temple complex, housing a dargah, is an example of harmony of faiths as well.
According to the temple trust, for the first time, the temple will have a shikhara (superstructure and spire) where earlier stood the Hazrat Sadanshah Wali Peer dargah that was relocated to a space next to it in an “amicable settlement” during redevelopment. PM Modi will unfurl the red and golden temple flag as part of the inauguration.
Relocating the dargah was the most challenging part of the redevelopment work, a trust member said on condition of anonymity. “We also rebuilt the dargah as part of the settlement,” said the trustee. The temple and the dargah were rebuilt by Ahmedabad-based architect Ashish Sompura, who is building the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
On Thursday, just before the temple closed to public ahead of the PM’s visit, the site was bustling with activity. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) conducted a mock drill to check the temporary ropeway installed to take PM Modi to the temple that is 800 meters above the sea level even as a cart loaded with carpet grass was being towed by a makeshift pulley to green the area, artisans were fixing the last of the stone tiles on to the pillars of the constructed courtyard of the temple and security personnel were testing the flag pole pulley that the PM would use for the “dhwajarohan” (flag hoisting).
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All these were done amid continuous flow of devotees from nearby districts, besides states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, who had climbed 3,000-odd steps to complete the darshan before the temple closed.
After visiting the temple, some of them go to a corner of the courtyard to an unmarked shrine, inside which there is a grave-like structure covered with flowers, a tray of amulets and another tray with currency notes offered by devotees. This is the dargah of Hazrat Sadanshah Wali Peer that stood in the place of the traditional Hindu superstructure before the redevelopment. It has been relocated a few meters away from the main temple structure.
The occasion is momentous. According to a note from the trust, the temple located in Champaner town, was an erstwhile kingdom ruled by Rajputs who “took pride in being the descendants of Emperor Prithviraj Chauhan”. It is said that the toe of the right foot of Ma Sati fell here and, therefore, the Kalika mata temple is revered as a Shaktipeeth, and Rajput kings would do its flag unfurling. UNESCO has designated Champaner-Pavagadh as a World Heritage Site calling it the “only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city”. This also includes the Kalika Mata temple and the Jama Masjid at the foothill.
It is believed that in the 15th century, Sultan Mahmud Begda conquered Champaner where he set up his capital and “destroyed the shikhara of the temple”, as per a note put out by the trust. The Sadanshah Peer dargah is believed to have been built around that time.
A lore goes that Sadanshah Peer, originally a Hindu Fakir, who embraced Islam to be part of Mahmud Begda’s court after he established his Sultanate in Gujarat and captured Pavagadh, played a key role in saving the temple from being destroyed.
“The idol of the goddess was at a low level and during the redevelopment process, we brought the temple floor to a level where devotees can see the deity at eye-level. The garbha griha has not been touched at all,” says Surendra Patel, chairman of the Kalika Mataji Mandir Trust, who is also treasurer of the Gujarat unit of the BJP and a former Rajya Sabha MP.
According to Sompura, the most challenging part of the redevelopment was “rebuilding without disturbing the idol that is embedded in the wall at the floor level”. “We had to cut the mountain to bring the idol to a level where it would be visible to a person standing even outside the temple,” he says.
The redevelopment used around 3,600 cubic feet of Bansi Pahadpur red sandstone from Rajasthan, the same that is being used to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The dargah was also rebuilt using the same stones.
The dargah, earlier atop the Garbhagriha of the Mahakali temple for centuries, that shifted to around 50 feet away as an independent structure in the same complex has a distinct minaret design around the walls. The site where the dargah stood earlier made way for the shikhara and the gold-plated kalash.
In March 2018, the family of the Diwan administering the dargah moved the Gujarat High court against the (GPYVB), tourism department as well as the temple trust. Later, in 2019, in a joint submission by the petitioner Diwan Shamsher Sha Murtuja and the respondents, it was decided to settle the matter with “allotment of a separate earmarked land in the temple complex”.
Diwan Salim Sha Ahmed Sha, Shamsher’s brother, told The Indian Express, “The dargah has been an intricate part of the temple complex for centuries… The story goes that Sadanshah Peer had stopped Goddess Kali from leaving the hills… Therefore, for both Muslims and Hindus, the shrine holds importance… Since the temple trust decided to build the shikhara, we made way for them amicably as they gave us a space in the complex for the dargah. During designing, we were taken into confidence and were shown the spot. We are happy that the dargah has been accorded the respect and association it has with the temple.”
The redevelopment cost of Rs 125 crore, of which Rs 12 crore was for the temple, was borne by the trust. The Gujarat government’s Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board (GPYVB) spent 70 per cent of the total expenses.
Although there is a cable car facility priced at Rs 130 (inclusive of GST) one way per head, many visitors prefer to walk. Sixty-year-old Jayshree Tadvi from Panvad in Chhota Udepur climbed close to 1,800 steps to arrive at the temple with a dozen coconuts as offering. “The new complex is beautiful. The steps are easier to climb than before. I have always climbed the stairs instead of taking the cable car…,” she says.
Ramesh Baria, a Godhra resident, who visited the temple with extended family, said the old temple had its charm but the new complex is “well-equipped”. “We visit once a year to seek blessings of the Goddess. Now it is more convenient and tourist-friendly, especially the stairs,” he says.