My Travels through the Himalayas – II (Simla to Renuka Lake)

Renuka Lake is the biggest lake in Himachal, lying at a low height of 636 ft south of Simla, which means that the drive from Simla to Renuka goes down the slopes for most parts. The lake lies almost in a valley between several hills and hence, it feels quite warm here, especially if one goes from the cool hills of Simla.

There are actually two lakes here, one bigger known as Renuka and a smaller lake at its foot, called parashuram.

The place is actually dedicated to the legendary wife of sage Jamadagni, whose name was Renuka and her son Parashuram, who is said to have been a sage with great powers and fought with the Kshatriyas i.e., the warrior clans to exterminate them.

There are different versions of the story related to Renuka in different traditions in India. Here, for the visitors not familiar with the nature of Hindu texts, I would like to explain that Hinduism doesn’t talk in terms of any single so-called “true ideology” or “true sacred tradition.” Rather, it has the characteristic of absorbing myriads of beliefs, rituals and sacred traditions within its fold – often these may even be opposed to each other, but all of them are regarded as valid. There is no such thing as a notion of “invalid belief” in Hinduism. Hence, it is possible to get different versions of a story related to a figure in the texts as well as in the folklore and all of them are valid as far as Hindu religion is concerned.

In the Sanskrit texts, the legend says that the sage Jamadagni suspected his wife Renuka and asked his son Parashuram to behead her. Parashuram obeyed his father without questioning him. Jamadagni was pleased by his son and asked him for a boon which he would grant. Parashuram asked his mother to come back alive. Jamadagni used his powers of penance and brought Renuka back to life.

The bigger lake at this place is dedicated to Renuka. In Indian tradition, women often take the form of rivers and lakes. Thus, this lake is an embodiment of Renuka herself. The small lake at the foot of the bigger one is dedicated to her son Parashuram.

Renuka Lake

Parashuram Lake

This journey from Simla was taken by me again with Dr. Ganesh the Associate Fellow (from the previous post), another Fellow Dr. Bapat from Karnataka and his wife who was visiting Simla at this time. We hired a car and came down to Renuka by lunch time – there is a Himachal Tourism retsaurant here as well.

By the time we reached Renuka, we felt very warm and took off our woollens. There are two temples dedicated to Renuka (the red one in the photograph below) and Parusharam (the white one). My companions went in to pray while I stayed out to enjoy the scenic beauty. There are fish in the clear water of the lake, whom people feed soaked black grams.

The lakes are used for boating by the travellers. Palm trees are supposed to be desert trees, but you can see here palm trees growing inside the lake waters!

There is a small zoo here where lions, bear, deer and a leopard have been kept. Personally, I’m not in favour of keeping animals in captivity unless it’s a wild forest reserve where they can roam freely. The animals did look quite lazy and “unhappy” to me and I was sorry for them, though they are fed well.

We started from there around 5pm and reached Simla for dinner. This is a nice picnic spot for residents of Simla, who can go there and come back within a day’s time.

Renuka and Parashuram Temples

At lunch, Dr. Bapat told us that in South India they have a different version – in the folk genre – according to which when Parashuram came to kill his mother (who was a Brahman), she hid behind her maid who belonged to a lower caste. Parashuram killed both of them. When he asked his father to make them alive, his father said that he should just fix their heads to their bodies and they will come alive. In his confusion, Parashuram fixed the wrong heads on wrong bodies, so Renuka got the Brahman’s head with a low-caste body and her maid got a low-caste head on a Brahman body!

It is interesting to see how the folk version changes the equations in the story. The Sanskrit version emphasises the power of penance and the obedience of a son to his father and also his love for his mother. On the other hand the folk version brings out the caste equations in the society and attempts at equalising the castes by exchanging the bodies of two women of different castes.

Himachal’s Hinduism is very different from the Hindusim of the plains in the mainland India. On some levels it accepts the usual social equations, but on other levels, it rejects many notions and the social theories which are used to explain the Hinduism in the plains don’t often work in Himachal. This is because of the diversity of groups of people who have lived in the Himalayas for ages and who have intermingled with each other.

The goddess who is worshipped at Renuka Lake is from neither of these two legends, but she is a local folk goddess, revered by the Himachalis. On another level, the Sanskrit version is also accepted and hence, Parashuram temple is built.

For the devotees, all the three versions – and any other version that they may come across, are valid!

Leopard in the Renuka Zoo

Bear in Renuka Zoo

Come back for the next post – Simla to Dharmashala and Dalhousie

The goddess who is worshipped in the Renuka temple is neither of these two legends – she isLeopard in the Renuka Zoo
17 Responses to “My Travels through the Himalayas – II (Simla to Renuka Lake)”
  1. Archana Ji, Thanks for telling different versions as except for Sanskrit one , I was not aware of the others. Photographs are beautiful, as usual.

  2. Archana says:

    Vijay Ji,
    Thanks. It’s good to know different version as it expands our outlook because we get to know how many different ways of looking at the same feature is their in this world.

  3. Archana says:

    The automatic generated posts showed the following report which says that Renuka Lake is shrinking, which is an unfortunate event and must be stopped. People must be concerned about their environment as ecology is something we survive on and can’t replace.

    Please read this –

  4. Floridawaves says:

    This is a very nice description! Thanks. I specially enjoyed the legends of Renuka. Beautiful pictures too.

  5. Archana says:

    Thanks, Floridawaves, and welcome to the blog!

  6. Chitra Nayak says:

    Interestion story of Paarashuram and different versions too. I liked the cute little temple. First time hearing about a temple for Parashuram.

  7. Chitra Nayak says:

    Interesting story and different versions too. Liked the cute little temple. Coming across a temple dedicated to Parashuram for the first time.

  8. Archana says:

    Thanks Chitra,

    Himachal is full of temples dedicated to different sages. Wait till you see all the posts in the series.

  9. balkrishan Shivram says:

    You know Himachali and their interest . Being all the time near the nature we hardly ever find it unusual.

  10. Archana says:

    Yes, I never could understand how the Himachalis have lost their sense of wonder for the Nature! It is a monumental task to make them travel.

  11. ishu dilta says:

    i like ur site…..

  12. ishu dilta says:

    i like ur site…..
    n i m living in shimla,near lakar bazar,n i like travelling… i m in goa….

  13. Archana says:

    Thanks for your comment and welcome to he blog!

    I had gone to Lakkar Bazar several times when I was in Simla. And I love Goa! I have spent several Christmas seasons there. 8)

  14. Docanand says:

    I did Renuka to Shimla in my Fiat Uno somewhere in 2001, the Lake was beautiful then and I remember feeding the huge amount of fish in the lake with atta pellets. The surrounding of the lake were also nice. Nicely written blog, reminds me of old times.
    Shimla Mall-The place to be

  15. Real nice layout and superb content material, absolutely nothing else we want :D.

  16. You have nice blogging and very well written. I am happy to see this nit and clean blog here. Renuka is one of the amazing travel destination around Himachal Pardesh. Kangra Valley

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