The cult of Saivism has found expression in Bihar in a large number of Shiva temples and particularly on the districts bordering Nepal. North Bihar districts, namely, Champaran, Saran, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga and Saharsa have got quite a few Shiva temples.
The influence of Nepal, where Saivism has a very great holds, is clearly one of the reason why there are so many Shiva temples in these boarder districts. Many of these Shiva temples are visited by thousands of pilgrims from Nepal.
The Singheshwar temple at the village Singheshwar in Saharsa district is one of the ancient Shiva temples in Bihar. It is visited by lakhs of pilgrims in the course of a year although it is not very easily accessible from the other parts of Bihar.
The Kosi River has ravaged the district of Saharsa for decades. Saharsa has a railway connection with Mansi on the Sonepur-Katihar railway line of the North- Eastern Railway now, but a decade back the railway line was permanently breached at quite a few places.
Even now the nearest railway station for Singheshwar is Madhipura about 8 miles away. The road connecting Madhipura to Saharsa is still extremely bad and passenger buses can negotiate it only if fair weather. On all-important roads there are quite a few culverts which have not got bridges.
The standard of health in the area has been extremely poor till recently due to the constant, unpredictably flood ravages of the Kosi. Kala-azar, malaria, blackwater fever, hookworm, dysentery, skin diseases, was some of the scourges, which took a heavy toll every year.
The Kosi currents, they say, would poison anything that would be touched. Fertile plains yielding good crops were covered with sand by the change of current of the Kosi. Mango orchards literally dried up after the Kosi water inundated them.
Most of the villages of Saharsa district remained water-logged for most of the year. There were hardly any long-distance roads and the pathways could be negotiated by bullock-carts only. Kosi floods frustrated the people and made them listless fatalists.
Their songs, folk literature etc. evolved round the dreaded mother Kosi. Their children could not be easily married, as people in non-Kosi areas would not give their children in marriage, to parties in the Kosi region. Mothers would sing lullaby songs to the children that if they do not behave, Kosi mother would come and sweeps them away.
The writer has seen young children tied up to post oil the verandahs of huts by the Kosi River as no one knew when the Kosi flood would come. Kosi has been known to change her course quite a few times and has devastated thousands of acres of land. Kans and Pater, peculiar kinds of thick long grasses with rapidly spreading roots would grow and turn fertile fields into jungle patches harboring wild boar and deer.
Hundreds of these animals will come out even in daytime and eat away the small patches of crops that might have been raised. The poverty of the better class people and the economic emaciation of the common mail encouraged anti -social elements, and heinous crimes have been quite common for the last one century.
Due to very bad communications control of crime is a difficult problem. Three hospitals are the only places in the district where a postmortem examination could be held. Post-mortem on putrid bodies, if held days after life has become extinct, call hardly be an aid to investigation.
Administrative headquarters of the subdivisions and courts had to be shifted several times because of the Kosi inundation. Towns were sought to be protected in vain by ring bunds after ring bunds.
But Saharsa district has not been so dismal always. The great temple of Singheshwar at one end of the district could not have been there otherwise. Saharsa was once the granary of North Bihar with fertile lands, plenty of food crops and mangoes.
The water-communication brought boats laden with merchandise to the villages. Nathpur, Bhaptihahi, Nirmali were prosperous villages with flourishing trade and commerce. The first two have completely disappeared and half of Nirmali has gone into the Kosi bed. Before many of the railway sections were washed away some of the areas could export jute and foodgrains.
There were indigo plantations owned by Europeans at one time in various pockets of the district and they did quite good business and lived in peace and amity with the people. One of them, John Christian, composed many bhajans in Hindi. This area has produced earlier a large number of poets and philosophers.
One of them, Mandan Mishra, lived at Maheshi village and had a great philosophic discussion withSankaracharya. There are quite a few old seats of temples scattered throughout the district. But all this dismal picture is likely to change as the Kosi has been chained in 1963 by an immense barrage and the flood water will now be running through canals for irrigation purposes.
Lakhs of acres of land in Nepal and the districts of India like Saharsa, Purnea and Darbhanga will he Irrigated. Roads are being constructed and the railway communication is being made more secure.
It is expected that the economy of the district will substantially change in the course of a decade from now. It speaks a lot for the religiosity of Hindu India that inspite of the generations of the people of this district fighting against death, disease, starvation and frustration, the Mahadeo temple at Singheshwar acted as a beacon light and a source of inspiration by drawing pilgrims in their myriad’s from even far beyond tile confines of Saharsa district.
In the shattered economy of the district the money that the pilgrims spent in the temple at Singheshwarsthan and in the district was a great boon. It is to be noted that the flow of pilgrims to Singheshwar- sthan had never stopped and on Shivaratri day thousands of visitors have always been visiting the temple.
The temple of Mahadeo, at Singheshwar village in Madhipura subdivision in Saharsa district is commonly accepted as very ancient. According to the Legend prevalent in the area, Sringa Rishi who had performed the Putreshti Yajna for king Dasaratha installed the Shiva linga. The legend has induced a number of barren women to pay a daily visit to the temple.
The present temple, over the ancient lingam was constructed about two hundred years back by a merchant of Bhagalpur by the name of Hari Charan Choudhury.
Barah Puran has a story as follows:-Once upon a time Lord Shiva went to a forest called SIesh Atmak and told Nandishwar that he should not divulge to anybody where he had gone. Lord Indra with Lord Brahma, and Lord Vishnu went to Mount, Munjwan and asked Nandishwar where Lord Shiva had gone. As Nandishwar did not tell them of Lord Shiva’s whereabouts, these three gods went to the Slesh Atmak forest in search of him.
Their Lord Shiva took the form of a deer. Recognizing him, they ran to catch hold of him. Indra caught the front portion of tile horn of the deer, Brahma its middle portion, and Lord Vishnu caught the root. The horn broke into three pieces and the deer disappeared. Then they heard a voice from the heaven addressed to them to the effect that they would not be able to find Lord Shiva and that they were to rest satisfied with the portion of the horn in their hands.
Lord Indra established the portion of the horn, which had fallen into his hand, in heaven. Lord Brahma established it at that very place. Both these parts came to be known as Kokaran. Lord Vishnu established on earth what had fallen into his hand, for the good of humanity, and this place came to be known as Singheshwar.
Two of the boundaries of Singheshwar mentioned in the Barah Puran axe north of Mandrachal and south of Munjwan Shikhar. Mandar Hill of Bhagalpur district is commonly accepted as the Mandrachal and the present temple is to the north of Mandar Hill.
Munjwan Shikhar stands for a peak in the Himalayas and the Mahadeo temple is south of it. Some time back in 1937 there was a title suit between the pandas of the temple and the people.
The pandas had claimed the temple to be their private property and contested that it was not a public one.
According to them, two of their ancestors, Anant Thakur and his brother Mahesh Thakur, had set up the lingam. The pandas, however, conceded that the original temple had fallen down and Hari Charan Choudhury built the presenttemple, but they continued in their private possession.
This contention of the pandas was, however, rejected in the Civil Court and the temple was declared to be a public property, The Maharajadhiraj of Darbhanga had assigned a neighboring village, Gouripur, to the deity.
According to the Judge’s order, in 1945, a Trust Committee was formed and the pandas were instructed to act as the Pujari of the deity under the Manager to be appointed by the Trust Committee. It was decided, further, that, after meeting all the expenditure for the maintenance of the temple and the observance of the ceremonials, a certain portion of the income will be set apart and the rest will be divided among the fourteen families of the pandas according to their accepted shares.
The temple was brought under the control of the State Government from 1957, when the Religious Trust Act was passed. Now there is a Committee set up by the Religious Trust Board and the Sub- divisional Officer of Madhipura is the President. The pandas are also represented in the Committee.
On a common estimate near about three lakhs of pilgrims visit the temple every year. The amenities for a place visited by lakhs of people are, however, poor. There is a dharmashala,which can accommodate only about 100 persons. At the time of the mela the Government provides a number of tents and sheds.
The bulk of the floating population of thousands daily during the mela time live either in bullock-carts or under the trees. The Government arranges sanitary arrangements and water supply, along with the supply of electricity.
During the occasion of Shivaratri, when thousands of people come every day to offer puja to the lingam, a large cattle fair is also held. This cattle fair continues for about 15 days and the turn-over of the cattle is said to be numerically second only to that of Hariharkshetra mela at Sonepur in Saran District.
There is nothing specially striking about the architectural beauty in the construction of the temple, Within the temple compound there are various other constructions and particularly a small temple of Ram Janki set up by one Raghubar Das decades before.
There is also a samadhi of another saint, Bir Bharati, in one corner of the compound. Some of the door frames and platforms were constructed as gifts from pilgrims.
There are 14 families of pandas associated with this temple. It is peculiar that none of the boys of these families has yet taken to higher education. Some of them are quite affluent, having large landed property, besides their income from the temple.
These pandas are,however, comparatively not so rich as the pandas of Gaya or Deoghar Vaidyanath Dham. The treatment meted out by the pandas to the pilgrims is quite good. It is found that none of the 14 families of the pandas has produced a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. Even the economically poorer panda families stand on a false sense of prestige and do not want to do any other work excepting that connected with the temple.
The relative inaccessibility of Singh- eshwarsthan stands in the way of the economic betterment of the pandas or in the improvement of the amenities, for the pilgrims. Road or railway as in the case of Vaidyanath Dham or Puri Jagannath or Varanasi does not directly link the place up. The flow of pilgrims is mostly from within the district, excepting on thebig occasions like Shivaratri, unlike the repeated visits paid to Varanasi or Vaidyanath Dham.
A pilgrim from outside the district rarely repeats his visit to Singheshwarsthan in spite of the great sanctity of the place.The pandas of Singheshwarsthan, as a rule, do not own separate houses where pilgrims could be lodged. The Trust Committee does not find a large enough surplus from where a good pilgrim house could be constructed.