In Uttarakhand, where God was born

One of the most offbeat places to visit in Uttarakhand is Manila, unknown by most travellers and still off-topic on most travel guidebooks. Of great natural beauty and rich spirituality, here is where travellers can learn about age-old Hindu traditions and religion.

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View of the Indian Himalayas from Manila, Uttarakhand

A small village in Uttarakhand

India is a very colourful country, and the definition doesn’t stem only from the brightness of women’s saris, but also from the culture, the traditions, the tales that populate the rich heritage of this unbelievable country.

Manila is a tiny village that, apart from a breathtaking view of the Indian Himalayas, doesn’t really have many tourist attractions. If you want to visit luxurious royal palaces, Manila is not for you; if you are looking for a laid-back, natural spot, with the possibility to interact with locals without the intermediary “tourist way” that strives to show what local life looks like, here is your ideal destination.

While dawdling about jungle lanes in the perpetual search of wild animals, it was casually mentioned the existence of two temples and the tale that makes them so unique and important for his community. He started talking randomly and confusedly, and I wasn’t paying particular attention until I realized this was truly off-the-beaten-track.

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Bells at the entrance of Manila Devi temple

The story of the temples in Kumaoni and Garhwali regions

It all began in Uttarakhand, where God, or better nine Gods (all sisters) were born. This state comprises two regions, the Kumaoni and the Garhwali territories, and the story starts in Tella Manila temple, part of the Kumaoni land, around the 16° century. Please note that the word “Tella”, which means ‘downhill’, is my own direct transcription of how locals pronounced it, I’m not sure how this is written in English as I think it can only be found in Hindi characters, or perhaps it even belongs only to their oral tradition.

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Manila Devi, on the right side, without arms

This temple is the sanctuary of Manila Devi, a woman God who, it’s believed, in the 16° century was used to speaking to the people who visited her. When the population in the Garhwali territory learned that the God was speaking, deemed appropriate to move her from the Kumaoni land to their own region.

So one night they went to her temple and started begging her to go with them, but Manila Devi thanked them and politely declined the invitation because, as she explained, her older sister, Kali, already lived in the Garhwali territory, on top of a hill surrounded by small villages and impracticable country lanes, and she couldn’t join her.

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The old temple devoted to Manila Devi, very small, before they built the new one, bigger, to beg for mercy after their lack of care

Why exactly didn’t Manila Devi want to move closer to her sister? Because she is a pure vegetarian God, while Kali is not vegetarian, hence *totally different*, and apparently incompatible, personalities.

At this juncture, I would have considered sensible from the Garhwali blokes to just admit defeat and go back home. At the end of the day, they got rejected by a God, not by a mere human. But apparently pride took over, and Garhwali people, after having unsuccessfully tried to lift the statue, cut both her arms in order to have at least something belonging to her to bring to their region.

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The entrance of Malla Manila temple, where Manila Devi’s arms are kept

Understandably, at this point Manila Devi asked the village nearby, which was entirely inhabited by the priests who worshipped her, to come up and help her since the Garhwali people were cutting her arms to take them away. I’m not sure how this request for help happened, but after hearing some of the tales involving Indian Gods, I’m led to think it happened “via dream”.

Down in the village, the priests, instead of rushing to help Manila Devi, didn’t take the whole accident seriously, furthermore, they thought she was joking. How a God can *joke* is beyond me, but I guess in India everything is possible.

Anyway, the day after, early morning, a priest went up to pray as usual and found the place and the statue covered with blood. He immediately called the rest of the village (a bit too late) so everybody could see what had happened the night before and be ashamed of themselves for not having trusted their God.

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Malla Manila temple, Uttarakhand

They went on an expedition following the trail of blood to find the missing arms and after 6 km they actually found one on top of the hill, where they thought appropriate to build another temple known as Malla Manila temple. Again, the word “Malla”, which means ‘uphill’, is my personal interpretation and transcription of the Kumaoni word.

Built on a beautiful location, from Malla Manila temple it’s possible to enjoy one of the most stunning sunsets of the area, facing directly the Indian Himalayas. Now here Manila Devi‘s arms are carefully kept, cherished and worshipped. Not that the Garhwali guys are coming back to claim them after such a long time, but just in case.

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Inside Malla Manila temple, where Manila Devi’s arms lie

After the creation of this second temple, I thought the tale was over, but my friend warned me that something else, very important, happened afterwards. Manila Devi, the now “armless” God, was understandably very upset, first of all for her arms that were now lying way too far from where they were supposed to be, and secondly, because her priests didn’t believe her when she cried out for help.

So, after this unfortunate incident, she thought appropriate to curse the whole village, letting the priests know that since they hadn’t come up when she was bleeding, every time they would paint their houses, either inside or outside, they would have faced countless problems. Apparently, the priests didn’t believe her this time either and challenged their fate: a priest painted his house for a wedding and, the day after, the whole family was found dead. That was definitely the last time the village underestimated Manila Devi‘s words, and still now nobody paints their houses.

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Where Manila Devi’s arms are kept, in Malla Manila temple

At some points, the tale becomes inevitably fuzzy, but despite my curiosity, I thought I was reaching levels of absurdity myself when I wanted to properly investigate A) why they claimed they found only one arm if now in Malla Manila temple there are both arms; B) when and where they found the second arm; C) how the Kumaoni people reacted to such event and if the diplomatic relations between the two regions were somehow spoiled.

As I couldn’t get any explanation, I just accepted the fact that I couldn’t get every single detail clarified.

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Rainbow on Malla Manila temple

During the whole storytelling, I kept staring at how emotional my guide was while talking about his Gods and their mundane occurrences, sometimes guiltily thinking ‘WTH!?‘, sometimes admiring his absolutely unquestioning faith towards such tales.

“You don’t believe me?” they finally asked when they could no longer avoid my puzzled look. “Fine, next year on April 15th you come back and you will see Manila Devi bleed, like every year always the same day.”

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This is me in Tella Manila temple, not on my way to Hinduism, but mulling over the whole story, and enjoying the priest’s blessing nevertheless

48 thoughts on “In Uttarakhand, where God was born”

  1. Hi Angela,
    What an interesting story… makes you wonder why Manila Devi didn’t just use her powers to stop the Garhwali people from cutting off her arms in the first place. It’d be interesting to see if her statue really does bleed on April 15th – another reason to visit India!
    p.s. love your photos.

    • Thanks Cheryl! You ask a very legitimate question about why the God didn’t use her powers, I will ask my friend, although I got the impression Indian Gods don’t have powers…

  2. Thank you for taking me on this wonderful journey. I’m familiar with much of Hindu mythology and I would not question the story. That’s just me. I think the gorgeous scenes were well worth it whether you believe or not.

  3. Great story and narration Angela, a lot of learning here. It just makes me want to go to India and explore the unusual even more.

  4. Angela, this is a great story! I really like you pictures… I hope I can visit India in the next years. It ranks really high on my bucket list!

    • Thanks, Sebastian. It’s a great story indeed, it immediately captured my attention, very strange tale, I believe in India you can find many, even if it’s a very tourist country, there are many off-the-beaten-path places and stories.

  5. Great stories and pictures. The place looks utterly charming. It might just convince me to go to India some day.

    • India is certainly very touristy, but when you find such offbeat places it acquires a whole new charm, I definitely prefer them to the most tackled destinations (which are still beautiful though..).

  6. Nice pics and interesting narration. I too love visiting Uttarakhand especially Garhwal region. Recently came back from trek to Tungnath. After reading your post I think I should also write about my journey :-) Thanks for sharing

    • Uttarakhand is a very fascinating region, especially the most unspoiled parts, where there are even no roads.. By all means, write about your travels there and your impressions about it, I’m curious to read them!

  7. I’m dying to go to India, not only for the food and sights, but it’s a photo op dream.

    Wow – you caught a double rainbow!

    • True, India is a photographer’s paradise. Can you believe I realized it was a double rainbow only after I saw the picture?? I didn’t see it there, and my friends neither, otherwise I would have taken more of the second rainbow!

  8. That’s the state I’ve grown up in! And you’ve seen a part of it that even I haven’t :) The pictures & the description are both beautiful.

    • Thanks Shivya, I’m glad you liked it. It’s amazing how much Indian states differ from each other, I found Uttarakhand unbearably fascinating. I stayed two weeks and didn’t visit many cities, I aimed more to quality than quantity, so I just soaked up in local culture and lifestyle and found it very interesting. I would really love to go back, probably my next trip to India will include Uttarakhand again.

    • I visited to this place on 19/06/2012 in afternoon,I went there after 17 year and there is my hometown.To be very frankly sharing my opinion that i was very upset why because i waisted my 17 year of not visiting to the heaven of World.I decided that time onward that i would never miss any opportunity to going my hometown which is in Bhagwati Dhurra.One more thing i would like to say the people who do not belive in Hindu Religion they must visit to this auspicious place becuase you will find the miracle of Manilla Maa.Jai Manilla Maa please fufill the wishes of all human being and call every one at your emeprior to feel the motherhood of yours.I bend infront of you and ask for fulfill my wishes becuase iam also your son.I love you mom

  9. good pictures excellent presentation of story/belief of the local who in all plausibility are simple village folks try to look at things from their presepective and life seems so simple try to analyse in our way of sensibilities !!! so much confusion. but what you have covered is just a minimal (small) part hope you get to explore more of what is india

    • Hi Sanjidodeja, thanks a lot for your comment. I think it’s very important to preserve these traditions, even though only for village folks. First of all because village folks are near the majority of the population in India, and also because either you believe in them or not they do constitute a part of your cultural/historical heritage. Sure I’m aware this is just a small part of Indian culture, but I still prefer writing about each tradition I stumble on separately and don’t gather them all together, since they belong to such different backgrounds. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to encounter many other traditions of this kind next times I’ll go to India!

  10. yaaa, all these stories are true in our kumaon region……never visited manilla goin on 27th of june…xcited to see my uttarakhand!!!yiepeee

  11. It is really haven on earth. Excellent pictures captured. It is nature where we find Godliness that touches not only our eyes and mind but our hearts too.Praying to Goddess Manila for her Blessings to all tourists and devotees.

  12. Maa Manila Devi have two temples, one in lower manila(known as talla manila)just 2Kms from Sadar towards Dotiyal whereas the other temple is located just short of Dotiyal and is known as malla manila temple. Both the temples are on the hill tops and beautifully located overseeing the Himalayas ranges of mountains. A doubtlessly heavenly place with full of flora and fauna and pine and teak trees. It is a perfect place for meditation and health recoupment. The local fairy tales speak a lot about the existence and spiritual power of this place. I had the priviledge to visit these temples a number of times as both these temples are located on the side of motorable roads and hence very easy to reach. Jai Maa Manila.

  13. Hi Angela,
    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing and interesting story with peoples. I belongs to same place (Manila) and i remember again a bunch of beautiful childhood memories after reading your blog.

    Again,thank you for visit our beautiful and God Palce.

    Welcome Back.

    God Bless you & your Family.

    Jai Maa Manila Devi.

  14. Heart Touching …Maa Manila Devi …………………………………..
    sight seen …………..

  15. That you have been charmed by the unexplored sites of India pleased me. You already have experienced the beauties lied in the simplicity, but rich in color, of the folklore about the presiding God and the reverence offered by the locals. Uttarakhand itself is an unique place, not for its scenic view, but for the stories as you heard of, in almost desolate points in this region. And it soothes the soul of the believers. I love the photos you have taken which portrays the visual appeal of the serene Manilla. Thank you for sharing your beautiful moments there. And, for sure, I must visit Manilla in my next trip.

  16. This iz d gods way. u people r asking why the almighty goddess didn’t use her powers . Tell me why Jesus’s christ didn’t punish the Jews. Why Lord Krishna remain weaponlessweapon less during the whole battle of Mahabharata
    As lord can alone have the power to destroy the unjust kaurvas and why lord Rama took the help of monkeys and bears to win Lanka. U didn’t believe we the people of uttarakhand even today talk to gods and goddesses as we talk to others and their blessings r always with us. Jai Mahakali jai uttarakhand; the land of gods. GBU all.

    • Thanks for sharing such beautiful pics and story about Goddess Manila Maa.In this entire story you forgot or unaware to tell about the significance of Big Tree that very well clicked by you in your last Pic (Talla Manilla) where you are standing before temple,at the extreme end of pic Big Green Tree covering on top of Temple. This is known as Kalp Vraksh ( Wish Tree) it is believed there is no such tree found in any where in the world ,no scientific name is there for this tree . the people come here and pray for their wish under this tree and when their wishes full fill their they have to visit Thanks giving to Manila Maa.hope you will find it interesting…………


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