Here’s a list of some of the most well-known temples dedicated to Goddess Durga, from all over India, and the intriguing stories behind their creation.
Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu & Kashmir
Situated at an altitude of 5,200 feet, the Vaishno Devi temple is one of most revered pilgrimages in India. Unlike most temples that house statues or photographs of idols, the shrine is in the form of natural rock formations called the pindies located inside a dark cave within the crevices of the Trikuta Mountains. The 13km uphill trek begins from Katra, a small town in Jammu, and can be done either on foot, atop a horse or seated in a palanquin available for rent. Once you reach Katra, acquire an entry permit—which is free of cost—at the shrine board counter stating the number of people in your group. This is to ensure the number of people undertaking the journey remains at the stipulated 18,000 people a day. Since millions of pilgrims make this trip every year, the route is well-planned out with facilities like restrooms, food and drink arrangements, a first aid centre and medical shops available along the way.
Top tip: The higher you go, the cooler the air gets. So it’s best to carry light woollens during summer. Winter sees heavy snowfall, so do a pre-check before you plan your trip.
Chamunda Devi Temple, Himachal Pradesh
The Chamunda Devi Temple is located in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh 1,000m above sea level. It sits on the banks of the Ban Ganga River, where pilgrims often take a dip. Legend has it that when two demons, Chand and Mund, tried to provoke Goddess Ambika. She went into a fiery rage and transformed into Goddess Kali who defeated the demons in an epic battle. Elated with Kali’s victory, Ambika decided she would now be worshipped at this temple as Chamunda Devi, a combination of the demons’ names. The temple’s design is simple and the bejewelled idol is often draped in a red cloth.
Top tip: The best time to visit is between June and October as the weather is fairly pleasant throughout. You can opt for taxis or local buses from Dharamsala, which is only 15km from the temple.
Dakshineswar Kali Temple, near Kolkata, West Bengal
Built in 1885 by Rani Rashmoni – in memory of her husband who wanted to construct the temple but died before he could – Dakshineswar is one of the most famous Kali temples in north east India. The name Dakshineswar is derived from the village it is situated in. The temple complex comprises a three-storeyed structure containing 12 shrines of Lord Shiva made of nine spires built in the ‘navaratna’ style of Bengali architecture, a Radha-Krishna temple, a courtyard and a bathing ghat on River Hoogly.
Top tip: Instead of taking a bus or taxi from Kolkata city, hop on a boat across the Hoogly River that will take you directly to the temple’s bathing ghat.
Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati
Nestled in the Nilachal Hills of western Guwahati, the Kamakhya temple has a colourful history. One of the many stories suggests that after Sati’s demise, following her self-immolation, her enraged husband Lord Shiva carried her body on his shoulder and stirred the earth with his taandav. This worried Lord Brahma who asked Lord Vishnu to restore the peace. Using his sudarshan chakra he cut Sati’s corpse into numerous pieces that fell at various spots that are now called shakhti peeths. It is said that her reproductive organs fell on Nilachal Hill. This is why Kamakhya is also known as the yoni goddess. It is even believed that during the monsoon season when the red haematite (present in the soil) mixes with the rain water it signifies the goddess is going through her menstrual cycle. Even the temple area is closed during this time.
Top tip: The temple is located five kilometres from the city of Guwahati, and taxis to the temple are available at the foot of the hill.
Durga Parameshwari Temple, Karnataka
The Durga Parameshwari Temple sits in the midst of River Nandini in the small town of Kateel in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, just 26 km away from Mangalore. A Shiva linga resides inside the temple and is said to have emerged from the earth as a reincarnation of Goddess Durga. The exterior of the temple is spectacular with intricately-carved sculptures of gods and goddesses placed in a pyramid-like structure representative of the Dravidian style of architecture. Each day, free meals are offered to devotees that visit the temple.
Top tip: Try and visit during monsoon season as the temple is surrounded by greenery that blooms in all its glory.