These Tower Temples of Kullu Valley were built primarily as garrisoning stations. As a defensive structure that not only provided a vantage point for safeguarding the village but also served as a storage structure. So basically, these tower temples were not just a place of religious gathering but acted as a multi-purpose building.
The towering structure of Chaini Kothi (Chehni Kothi) aptly fits the above description. This tower temple of Chaini is the tallest standing structure of its kind in the entire Western Himalayas. Currently, the Great Tower of Kothi is 45 meters (approx.) tall. This tower survived the devastating 1905 Kangra earthquake, although it ended up two upper storeys short because of the earthquake shocks.
A restoration program carried out by the locals helped in the preservation and restoration of this temple. The natives of Chaini Village are popular as great wood-workers. And the Great Tower of Chaini, that survived the 1905 Earthquake, that reshaped the topography of the entire Tirthan – Banjar Valley, bears testimony to these craftsmen’s skills.
It is believed that this temple was built around the 17th Century by a local King Dhadhu and that’s why this temple is locally known as Dhadhiya Kothi as well. The tower temple stands on a plinth, which is almost 15 meters deep, and is made of locally available stone and deodar wood.
Because these temples were meant to be defensive structures, no permanent staircase was built at its entrance. A hanging wooden stair was used and it was moved inside the temple once the last person had moved in.
These days, you will find a wooden staircase permanently fixed to the temple entrance, which must be some 12 meters above the ground level. Warning signs have been placed at the foot of the staircase, informing the tourists about potential risks.
A projected balcony, 12 meters above the ground, serves as the second entrance to the tower. You get to reach inside the main tower complex only after you have climbed another 3 meters from the projected balcony, by means of another wooden staircase. Its not before you reach at the fifth floor, you get to see the palanquin and Goddess Idols.
Entrance inside the temple is allowed only if the menfolk are wearing a dhoti.
From atop the temple, you can see the wide spread of the valley and also the towering mountain ranges from rallying all along. A thick deodar forest guards the village (Kuthed-Chehni) on one side, where as the Great Tower protects its western horizons.
Right across this temple lies the bhandar of the Shringa Rishi, presiding deity of the Tirthan-Banjar Valley. It is also a tower temple but considerably small in height in comparison to the Great Tower of Chehni. It must be 30-35 meters tall and only locals can move inside this temple. A wooden stair leads inside the temple.
These two towers are separated by an open courtyard and all the religious proceedings are carried out on this ground. A new temple has been constructed in the Bagi Village, a couple of kilometers from Chehni and that too is a wooden wonder erected by the local people as a tribute to Shringa Rishi.
Shringa Rishi has four ‘popular’ temples in the Banjar Valley and another one in the far-off lands of Sirmaur District.
After every twelve years, Shringa Rishi pays a visit to the Jamlu Devta of Malana in Kullu Valley. I have been told that the meeting of these two deities is celebrated as a great fair in the Banjar Valley. The departure ceremony, I was told, is nothing less than a rock concert, in terms of energy and enthusiasm.
Then there is another Tower Temple in the same village, popularly known as the Muralidhar Mandir, a five storey temple dedicated to Krishn Bhagwan.
[The idol of] Raja Madav Rao, the theocratic ruler of the state of Mandi in Himachal Pradesh leads the Shivratri processions of Mandi Shivratri. A similar idol has been established here in the Muralidhar Mandir of Banjar. One half of the building is occupied by the temple priest and his family.
At the entrance of this temple, one can see Tankri Inscirptions, which I was told couldn’t be translated by experts. I believe if it is Tankri, it must have been translated by someone. Hopefully, I will get a translated version of those inscriptions before I publish this post.
All these towers are in a dilapidated condition. One can easily see vertical fissures, broken wooden beams, and the retrofitted elements of these structures giving away gradually.
If ever you get a chance to visit the Great Tower, make sure you go inside if only it is extremely important.
This is another Dhankar in the making. Sooner or later, they will start calling out for its preservation.
How To Reach?
It takes not more than 45 minutes walk from Bagi Village to reach at the Chehni Kothi. Bagi Village, where the new temple of Shringa Rishi is located, is connected by the road.
The Bagi Village is located just 10km from the Banjar Town , on the Aut – Aani National Highway 305.
P.S. Aut – Jalori – Aani is no more a State Highway. It has been granted the status of NH-305.