Ancestral Voyage: Unravelling the reverential interplay of Heritage and Legacy



In the annals of human history, the ancestral realm stands as an immutable cornerstone, weaving a tapestry of heritage and legacy that transcends temporal confines. My recent journey to Maa Hidimba Devi temple in Manali was an endeavor to delve into the profound intricacies of this interplay, wherein the echoes of bygone epochs reverberate through the corridors of time, shaping the collective consciousness of successive generations. The journey not only connected me with my familial roots but also illuminated the relevance of a living tradition. It is the repository of ancestral wisdom, traditions, and narratives that serve as the bedrock upon which societies are built. As technology advances and resources become more accessible, delving into one's lineage has become a necessary pursuit, offering individuals a profound sense of connection to their roots and a deeper understanding of their identity.

Realization of your ancestral root is a gradual unveiling of familial narratives and cultural traditions passed down through generations. It may begin with a curiosity sparked by family stories or historical accounts, leading to a deeper exploration of genealogy and ancestral records. With each revelation, there comes a sense of connection, as individuals unearth the shared experiences and collective wisdom that bind them to their forebears. In the midst of obsessive individualism driven by the West, our society is still functioning on the model of community-based life enlarging into the greater Indian civilization. The Indian situation which is driven by communities ‘castes’, Jati, families, and other collectivities, is irreplaceable and not substitutable by the state. However, there is a constant advocation of the breakup of the Indian collectivises to reduce and atomize the larger Indian society into individuals.

Cultural Lineages: Dimasa Kachari Heritage and the Hidimba Legacy

The Dimasa Kachari once established a powerful kingdom (also referred to as the Kachari Kingdom) that flourished significantly in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam from around the 13th century onwards. The Kacharis have left indelible traces of their civilization in different parts of Assam. The ruins of Dimapur and the rock-cut temple at Maibang located in the Dima Hasao district of Assam, bear testimony to their attainments in sculpture, architecture, and engineering.

The Kachari Buranji stated that the powerful branch of the Dimasas ruled on the bank of the Dhansiri River with Dimapur as their capital and are said to be the earliest settlers of the valley, according to historical accounts. There are legendary accounts as regards the origin of the Hedemibial line of Dimasa rulers. According to one account, the first Dimasa king Bicharpatipha was a descendant of Ghatotkacha, the son born of the second Pandava Bhima of Mahabharata fame and the princess Hidimba. Dimasa Kachari, the royal family who had been ruling over an extensive territory from their capital at Dimapur attained a divine descent and Ghatotkacha was said to be the first ruler of the Dimasa. It had a strong impact in inspiring the Dimasa rulers and aristocracy surrounding them with intense pride in their origin who before long turned to be champions of their faith.

The Dimasa state was known as Heramba Rajya and the Rajas called themselves Herambeswara (Lord of Heramba).  From this time, the name ‘Hidimba’ or ‘Hidimba’ frequently occurs in inscriptions and other records. They are believed to be the Kshatriyas and a genealogy of a hundred generations reaching Bhim, one of the warriors of Mahabharata. They professed to be the dynasty of Ghatotkacha, son of Bhim and princess, ‘Hidimba’. The mighty resources of the Dimasa state have been illustrated by the magnificence of the remnants and ruins of the palaces, forts, and tanks which are still extant on the left bank of the river Dhansiri. These all remind us that in the period in which the Dimasa Kachari ruled from Dimapur, they had attained a high degree of civilization and had been then ruled in the Brahmaputra valley with full glory. Dimapur on the north bank of the Dhansiri river was a fortified city. Puranic Hinduism spread to Assam presumably through the Gupta rulers (300-500 AD). Material evidences of the Puranic Hindu pantheons are found in Surya Pahar, Ambari, and Dah Parvatia all of which belong to the 5th to 9th centuries.

The Ahom historical records confirm that during the Ahom invasion of Assam in 1228 A.D, the Kachoris held dominion over the valley, with their capital situated at Dimapur, formerly called Hidimbapur, along the banks of the Dikhou river, now located in Nagaland. Remnants of an ancient city, including a palace, can still be observed amidst the ruins in this region. The copper temple of Sadiya, venerating Kachar-Khati Gosain, along with the yearly homage paid to the Cachar Raja and the religious observances at the Sadiya temple, served a unifying role akin to the Olympic games and the temple of Apollo at Delphi in the consolidation of disparate Hellenic states. This comparison highlights the intricate interweaving of indigenous tribal traditions and a wider historical account of the Indian civilization within the cultural milieu of northeastern India.

The shared heritage of Manali’s Maa Hidimba Devi Temple and Dimasa Ancestry:

The roots of the Dimasa Kachari community of northeastern India and the Maa Hidimba Devi temple in Manali share a distinct cultural and ancestral connection that highlights the cultural intersection of heritage and contemporary identity. This diverse and distinct cultural history of India is a manifestation of a ‘vision of Oneness’ for the whole existence- a vision linked to all the traditional communities of India. Regrettably, colonial divisive policies and mischievous interpretations through the education system made us look separated and unrelated and did not align with indigenous historical perspectives or cultural developments.

My last month's journey to the Maa Hidimba Temple in Manali was not merely a physical voyage but a soul-stirring quest to rediscover the essence of our identity and lineage. As I traversed the winding paths that led to the temple, I felt a profound sense of anticipation and reverence, knowing that I was treading upon the sacred ground that had been hallowed by generations of worshippers before me. As I entered the temple complex, I was greeted by the sight of the majestic pagoda-like structure, its wooden facade adorned with intricate carvings that spoke of ancient craftsmanship and artistic finesse. As I approached the sanctum sanctorum, I found myself enveloped in a cocoon of tranquility, a space where time seemed to stand still. The aura of Maa Hidimba permeated every corner, her presence palpable in the flickering flames of the oil lamps and the fragrant offerings laid at her feet.

The Temple which is revered with devotion by the native people of Himachal Pradesh, celebrates Maa Hidimba of Mahabharata with intricately carved wooden doors and a wooden shikhara.  She is revered and worshipped as a powerful and benevolent deity who resided amidst the ancient forests of Manali, where the temple now stands. Her divine presence is believed to bless worshippers with protection, prosperity, and well-being, making the temple a cherished destination for spiritual seekers and devotees seeking solace in her benevolent embrace. Maa Hidimba after giving birth to his son Ghatotkacha went in isolation and meditated. With her austere life dedicated to penance, Hidimba acquired several supernatural powers and turned into a goddess. The temple was built in 1553 CE by Maharaja Bahadur Singh, where Devi Hidimba performed meditation.

My interaction with the Pandits of the temple at their house was not merely a casual encounter but a profound moment of connection, bridging the gap between past and present, tradition and modernity. The Pujari regaled me with tales of bygone days, recounting the legends and lore that had been passed down through generations, each anecdote woven with the threads of reverence and devotion that bound our family to this sacred place. Our interaction with the descendant of the Maharaja Raja Maheshwar Ji, was a momentous occasion, brimming with anticipation and curiosity. Here was a custodian of a noble lineage, a bearer of a legacy that stretched back through the annals of time. Our conversation soon turned to the revered deity of Maa Hidimba Devi, whose ancient temple stands as a testament to the enduring faith and devotion of the people of the land. The descendants shared anecdotes and legends that spoke of the deep spiritual bond between the royal family and the divine mother, whose benevolent presence was believed to protect and nurture the land.

It's a journey that transcends geographical boundaries and spans generations, offering individuals a deeper understanding of their identity, heritage, and place in the world. It’s an exploration of the multifaceted journey of reconnecting ancestral roots, delving into the motivations behind this pursuit, the methods employed, and the transformative impact it can have on individuals and communities. It narrates the story of a shared legacy of communities of greater India.


In an age marked by social divisions and polarization, fragmentation, and isolation the temple served as a beacon of inclusivity and solidarity, reminding me of the power of collective identity in fostering a sense of belonging and connection. It involves reinterpreting traditional practices and narratives to fit contemporary sensibilities and values.  Ancestral connection in this context can involve embracing and celebrating the diversity within one's lineage, and acknowledging and integrating various cultural traditions and practices. The bonds forged through rootedness serve as a bulwark against the tide of alienation. Whether it be through familial ties, cultural traditions, or geographic locale, rooted communities provide a support network that nourishes and sustains their members. These communities become repositories of collective memory and wisdom, preserving traditions and customs that enrich the fabric of society. This visit to our ancestral temple last month served as a profound reminder of the enduring relevance of ancient traditions in our modern age.

I would also like to bring into another bridging point is the shared ancestral connection with Khatu Shyam Madir, located in Rajasthan. Khatu Shyam Ji is the manifestation of the son of Ghatotkacha, Barbarika. He is also revered as the incarnation of Lord Krishna. Many devotees from the country and abroad come to this place to pay a visit to Baba Khatu Shyam Ji. It will be another voyage of rich cultural heritage and spiritual legacy in the coming days ahead. Temples are living repositories of history, culture, and spirituality. These ancient edifices stand as architectural marvels, intricately designed to reflect the spiritual beliefs and cultural heritage of the land. It serves as custodian of cultural heritage and embodies the collective consciousness of a nation steeped in tradition and diversity, serving as pillars of strength and resilience in an ever-changing world.

Dr. Phirmi Bodo 

Assistant Professor, Centre for Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University 

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