Ashtdashbhuja Mata (Eighteen armed goddess), an incarnation of Durga has been the chief deity of the Hindus of Kishtwar and its adjoining area from the ancient times. Shri paul, the first saint who settled in Kishtwar, had directed his disciples to worship Durga Mata in the form of Ashtadashbhuja. One of his devout disciples residing at Agral village of Sarthal succeeded in propitiating the goddess who appeared in the form of a pretty girl showing him a place at Kaligarh (Galigarh) where Mata was hidden in the form of an idol. Soon the news was conveyed to Raja Agar Dev of Kishtwar also, a devotee of Mata. He, along his courtiers reached the spot and got back idol of rare black stone dug out and brought it to, Agral where the idol became too heavy to lift. This was an indication that the goddess wanted to make that place her abode. A verse in Kishtwari, coming down to us from our ancestors, testifies the story of the appearance of Mata in eighteen-armed idol form.
A stone temple was got constructed at Agral Sarthal and some devotees along with their families settled there and this settlement was named Agral after the name of Raja Agar Dev. The surrounding patch of dense forest was declared as a property of the temple and a decree was issued that revenue from this forest called ‘Deviyun Van’ (Mata’s Forest) will be spent on the maintenance of the temple. With the passage of time, a new grand temple was constructed about 500 meters away from original site and the ‘Sthapana’ of the idol amidst vedic rituals was done by Raja Maha Singh on Bhadarpad Amavasya Tuesday called by locals as “Magha Amas. From the day onwards the devotees of Mata living in Sarthl, Saroor, kantwara and other areas celebrate ‘Magha Amas’ as a festival with great fanfare.
As regards the shifting of the temple from the original place to the present one, historians have maintained silence. A small temple devoted to the memory of saint ‘thuproo’ also stands nearby, where pilgrims pay their obeisance before visiting Mata’s temple. The temple, in its present form, was got constructed by Maharaja Hari Singh in the year 1936-37 from he sale proceeds of the timber extracted from ‘Dyalwan or Devyouin Van’. A three construction committee was formed, Along with the temple, some Dharmshallas were also built for the stay of the pilgrims. The inaugration of the temple took place on 4th October 1937. Since then the improvement work and extension is going on under the supervision of ‘Sartha Devi management Council’. The devotees of Mata not only from Kishtwar but of whole Doda region are sentimentally attached to this sacred place. The ‘Mundan Sanskar’ (First hair-cut of male baby child0 is ubder taken here amidst great religious fervor and festivities. For performing this ceremony, a yatra along with friends and relatives is taken here. Presents in the form of Clothes, bedding’s and ornaments are offered to the deity. Many miracles are attributed to this powerful deity.
An annual Yatra with holy mace and other presents has been going on since the time of Raja Agar Dev of Kishtwar. On ‘Har Shudi Saptmi (7th day of the bright fortnight of Haar)’ tha ‘Chhari’ along with thousands of devotees leaves for Sarthal from Gori Shanker Mandir Kishtwar. On the next day, a great Havan and Yagya take places where in priests chant Vedic mantras for peace and welfare of the human race. Keertan is also organized and a langer held.
In Dogra rule it was declared as ‘Sarkari Yatra’ and three days holidays were declared for the whole of erstwhile Doda district. The number of pilgrims can increase manifold if the road from Kishtwar to Sarthal is broadened, mecandised and modern amenities for pilgrims enhanced. In the end, I would like too thank Mr Som Nath Sharma for providing us such valuable information, May Mata Rani bless us all.
Jai Mata Di