Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shila Mata Temple at Amber Fort, Jaipur

The Shila Mata (Stone Mother or Stone Goddess) temple at Amber Fort is dedicated to the Goddess Kali. Although Jaipur is known for its murtikars (idol carvers), this particular idol was not made in Jaipur, but came to Jaipur from far away Bengal.
Raja Mansingh I of Jaipur (1550 - 1614) was sent to Bengal by the Mughal Emperor Akbar to consolidate Mughal power in Bengal and to crush anyone who resisted Mughal overlordship. The chief opposition to the Mughals came from the Bengal Sultanate (Afghan chiefs who had broken away from the earlier Delhi Sultanate) and the local landed barons of Bengal (collectively called the "Baro Bhuiyan" or the Twelve Chiefs, although there were more than 12). 
Raja Mansingh I successfully quelled all oppposition, and was rewarded with three successive governorships of Bengal. Shila Devi was the patron deity of Kedar Ray, the Raja of Sripur (one of the Baro Bhuiyan). Mansingh carried away the idol from Sripur, brought it to Amer Fort and installed it in a temple. Along with the idol, Bengali priests also were brought to Jaipur, and their descendants continue to officiate at the temple.
Silver-engraved entrance door to the Shila Devi Temple at Amer Fort, photo from Wikipedia
The Shila Mata temple draws in large crowds during the winter Navratri (Festival of Nine Nights). People come not only from Jaipur city, but from the entire countryside around Jaipur. This year Navratri is between 25 Sep 2014 to 03 Oct 2014.
Navratri, or 'Nine Nights' is a widely celebrated Hindu festival. Within a year there are at least 5 different Navratris, but the most popular is the Sharada navratri (or Maha Navratri). It is believed that during these nine days the goddess Durga manifests herself in different forms, and each of these is worshipped. The last day of this Navratri corresponds with the festival of Dussehra. Dussehra has dual significance in Hinduism. While on one hand it is celebrated as the day which godess Durga slays the demon Mahishasura, it also marks the slaying of the demon king Ravana, by Lord Ram. Both events heavily emphasise on the victory of 'good over evil'.
A painting depicting goddess Durga as 'Mahishasurmardini' (The Slayer of the buffalo demon Mahish)
During this festival, Amer is very crowded, as many people offer prayers at Shila Mata temple. Crowds and elephants don't go well together; so there are usually no elephant rides during at Amer Fort during this period.

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