The Navratris or nine consecutive nights of worshipping the nine forms of goddess Durga are observed across homes and temples in India every spring and autumn. Rajasthan’s capital city, Jaipur, has a temple dedicated to the goddess Durga who represents the divine feminine highly revered in Hindu tradition.
The Shila Mata temple is situated within the premises of the imposing Amer or Amber Fort in Jaipur. Shila Mata is venerated as the ‘Aaradhya’ Devi of Jaipur and the temple is opened to devotees only during Navratri. The temple was built by Raja Man Singh in 1604 CE.
As per the Hindu lunar calendar, there are four Navratris in a year – in the month of Ashadh (June/July), Magh (January/February), Ashvin (September/October) and Chaitra (March/April). The Chaitra and Ashvin Navratris are celebrated throughout the country while the Magh and Ashad Navratris are considered gupt or secret.
During gupt Navratri the different forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped secretly. It is observed mostly by practitioners of Tantra and sadhus to obtain special powers. It is believed that the rituals and pujas should be done secretly for them to be successful.
The Shila Mata temple also sees a throng of devotees during the Chaitra and Sharadiya Navratri. On the sixth day of Navratri special prayers are offered at the temple.
Vedic and Tantrik prayers
At the entrance of the Shila Mata temple is a beautifully carved door made of silver. An idol of Lord Ganesh carved out of coral is placed above the door.
On the right-hand panel of the door are the nine forms of the goddess that are worshipped during Navratris – Shailputri, Bramhacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandmata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhdatri.
On the left panel are the 10 forms of Durga that are worshipped during gupt Navratri. These are Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari or Shodashi, Bhuvneshwari, Chinnamasta, Tripura Bhairavi, Dhumvati, Baglamukhi, Matangi and Kamala Devi.
Prayers are offered at the temple as per the Vedic and Tantrik styles. Priests at the temple say the marble slabs put within the premises are hexagonal. The fine filigree work on the main entrance door made of silver is also hexagonal. The jaalis and jharokhas in the sanctum sanctorum are also hexagonal. Tantrik prayers are offered between midnight and 2 am and are not open to devotees.
It has beautifully carved panels, jaalis and jharokhas. The main hall of the temple has 108 pillars which is a sacred number in Hinduism, Buddhism, Yogic and Tantrik traditions.
The image of the goddess is carved on a black stone, thus it is known as Shila (stone) Mata. The idol depicts Durga as Mahishasur Mardini. The goddess has a trishul (trident) in her right hand and stands atop the demon Mahishaur whom she killed. Her face is turned slightly to the right, looking down at the demon.
The idol is always covered in beautiful attire and necklaces made of rose petals and only its face and hands are visible. The temple doors are opened only after bhog or offering to the Devi which comprises Gujiya and coconut.
Shila Mata is regarded as the Kuldevi or family deity of Jaipur’s Kachchwaha Rajput rulers. Before the Rajputs, the Meena community ruled over Jaipur. Later, the Rajputs defeated the Meenas and wrested the Pink City.
Shila Devi is a form of goddess Amba and so the Amer or Amber fort, which was built by Raja Man Singh, is named after the goddess. There are interesting accounts of how the idol of the goddess was brought to Jaipur.
According to some accounts, Man Singh was sent by Akbar to attack Kedar Singh the ruler of Jessore (now in Bangladesh). Man Singh sought the blessings of Shila Mata before the war. The goddess appeared in his dream and asked Man Sigh to free her from Kedar Singh. Man Singh defeated Kedar Singh and brought the idol and established it in the Amer fort. Others say that Kedar Singh gifted the idol to Man Singh who vanquished him in battle.
It is said that initially the idol was placed in the temple facing east. At the time, the city of Jaipur was being built and various obstacles started throwing work off track. Raja Jai Singh then consulted experts who pointed out that since the idol’s face was slightly turned to one side, its gaze was slanted which was causing problems. They suggested that the idol be placed facing north. The king then moved the idol to the present garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) where it faces the north direction.
There is another tale about why the idol’s face is turned sideways. For some time after the temple was built, human sacrifices were offered to the goddess. Legend has it that once Raja Man Singh offered an animal sacrifice which angered the Devi and she turned her face away. Animal sacrifices were offered at the temple till 1972 after which it was banned.
(The image featured at the top of this page has been sourced from Wikipedia. It shows the silver door of the Shila Devi Temple in Amer.)
(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)