Delhi is one of the oldest living cities in the world, a city that was born to be the capital city of Pandavas in Mahabharata. It has seen many kings and their kingdoms come and go. Every era in a way continues to live within the megacity it is. Ancient Temples of Delhi today stay in the background as the bigger buildings in red sandstone stand proud and tall. Allow me to take you to some of the oldest living temples in Delhi.
Devi Temples of Delhi
Once upon a time, Delhi was called Yoginipura. It must have had yogini temples, probably placed in the form of a Yantra. Was the Qutub Complex that was built after destroying 27 Hindu and Jain temples, a hub of Yogini temples – probably. Let us visit some of the ancient and old Devi Temples of Delhi that are still living.
Yogmaya Temple in Mehrauli
This temple is the only one that has managed to survive in this region, just behind Qutub Minar. It is a small temple, where the Devi is worshipped in the Pindi form. Devi here is believed to be the girl who was exchanged with Sri Krishna in Mathura at their birth. She is also believed to be Vindhyavasini who lives in Vindhyachal.
Read our detailed post on Yogamaya Temple in Delhi.
Kalka ji Temple, Kalka ji
Kalka ji is one of the oldest Shakti temples located in New Delhi. The area around it and now the metro station gets its name from the temple. The hill on which the temple is located was called Suryakoot. Hence, Devi is also known as Suryakoot Nivasini. The same can be seen in the representation of 12 temple doors that represent the 12 Rashis or zodiacs that the sun transcends during a year and the 12 Adityas.
Kalika Devi comes in the story of Durga Saptashashi when she vanquished asuras like Chand Munda and Rajtabeeja.
In the middle of the hustle-bustle of South Delhi, this temple still takes you back in time. You pass through the typical shops that you find outside Devi temples, selling everything that you can offer to the Devi.
The temple is small but the Vigrah of the Devi is beautiful. It captivates you with its mystical energy. There is a small temple of Dudadhari Bhairav. There are many smaller temples around the temple, but I need to visit at leisure to write in detail about them. However, I do remember visiting the small Kuti of a baba who lived close to the temple and it was an experience.
The present temple dates back to the 18th CE when the Marathas built it. The older temple must have existed in the same place. Some people believe that Krishna and Arjuna visited this and the Yogamaya temple before the Mahabharata war. This is also the area where the Chauhan women including Samyogita potentially performed Jauhar when Ghauri attacked. It was also called ‘Satiyon ki Yaad’ in some historical references.
Jhandewalan Devi Mandir
Jhandewalan Devi Mandir belongs to Adi Shakti. She was discovered by a devotee called Badari Bhagat, whom she directed to her Murti in a dream. Murti found was without arms, so the arms of silver were added to it. This Murti is still worshipped in the main cave temple that is now at the lower level of the temple.
The main temple now has a replica of this Murti. You see the images of Mahakali and Mahasaraswati on either side of the main Murti indicating that she represents Mahalakshmi. The temple Shikhara is designed in the form of a Kalash, a symbol that has been used traditionally to represent the goddess. On the outer walls, all the Navadurgas are present.
There are smaller shrines dedicated to Mahalakshmi, Ganesha, Annapurna, Durga, Sheetala Mata, and Kamdhenu. One corner temple has the Jot or eternal flame of the Devi. Behind the temple on a slightly higher level is a Shivlinga in a large room. It is quite a modern version of Shivalinga.
You can pick up a copy of the temple story from the office at the entrance.
Kali Temple at Bangla Sahib Road
This is a small temple that I discovered only because I was staying right next to it. Like typical Devi temples in North India, it has a small Vigrah surrounded by engraved silver panels. It was morning and shringar has just been done with fresh flowers.
Inside the temple, there is a Gufa where the Devi is worshipped in her Pindi form. There is a similar cave-like temple for Balaji and Mahalakshmi. There is a Shivalinga that is believed to be Swayambhu and a Navagraha Mandala.
As per the board at the temple, the temple is at least 500-year-old. It used to be a Teela or a hillock, where Sadhus used to worship. Even when the plans were drawn for building New Delhi, the temple stayed at its original place.
Other Ancient Temples In Delhi
Located just outside the Purana Qila, this is a Mahabharata-era Bhairon Mandir. It is believed that the Murti was brought here by Bhim. You can see a huge crowd in this temple on Sundays. It is more popularly known for the alcohol that is offered to the deity here.
This small temple is also within the premises of Purana Qila. The name suggests that the temple may have belonged to Kunti – the mother of Pandavas. It is a very small temple that seems to have miraculously lived through all the ages.
There used to be a Sheetala Mata temple in Purana Qila but we lost it a few decades ago to development.
Shivalay at Katra Neel
Katra Neel is an old locality in the Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi. There are many old Shivalaya that are found here, mostly inside the Havelis. Some that I remember visiting are Dhumimal’s Shivalay, Ghanteshwar Mahadev, etc. So many small Shivalays or ancient temples in Delhi concentrated in a small area probably tell us a strong Hindu locality that lived here through the Islamic era of Delhi.
Gauri Shankar Temple
This temple is visible from Red Fort or Lala Qila. You must have seen it at the Independence Day celebrations almost every year. The temple is small, but the Linga here is believed to be at least 800 years old. The story goes that the Linga was located next to an old peepul tree. Maratha warrior Apa Gangadhar Rao dreamt of building this temple, and then he took a vow that he will build the temple if he wins the battle he was fighting. He won and built the temple.
This temple is located opposite the old Delhi railway station. The name literally suggests that it was a Shiva temple located in the forest once upon a time. When I visited it many years ago, there were lots of visiting Sadhus who lived here. Temple is a complex with many small temples. There are bells right outside for anyone who wants to ring and say a quick prayer while passing by the temple.
Delhi was once the city of Kayasthas – the community of bookkeepers and accountants. Chitragupta, the celestial account keeper of Devatas is obviously their deity. In the heart of Delhi is a road named after Chitragupta and at the end of this road is located this Haveli-like temple dedicated to Chitragupta.
I recently visited this temple and learned that it belongs to a family. The priest family living here has been serving the temple for at least six generations. I also learned that 12 Gotras of Kayasthas come from 12 sons of Chitragupta from his two wives – Iravati and Nandini. These being: Kulshrestha, Mathur, Gaur, Bhatnagar, Saxena, Ambasta, Nigam, Karna, Srivastava, Suryadhvaj, Valmik, Asthana.
The temple is small although the compound is quite large. There is a Shani Temple behind the main temple. Inside the temple, there are many deities including Hanuman Ji.
The priest told me that on Bhai Dooj, also known as Yama Dwitiya, that falls two days after Diwali, Chitragupta Katha is said in the temple. It happens only once a year on this day. I saw people putting Kartik deep below the plants in the temple in the evening. The Arti on the walls of the temple tells you the story of the community.
This temple is a lesser-known heritage of the city of Delhi.
We know there was a Sun Temple at Surajkund, which is now technically in Haryana but a part of NCR. There must have been other Sun temples as the Sun family has a fair presence in Delhi. There are many Shani temples, and Saturn as we know is the son of the Sun. The Yamuna river that flows through Delhi is Sun’s daughter. The oldest locality in Delhi is called Mehrauli, derived from Mihira – another name of Sun.
However, like most other Sun temples, be it at Konark or Modhera or in Kashmir, there is hardly any Sun temple that has survived in the capital city.
Jain Temples of Delhi
Jain Temples are also scattered across the city of Delhi, though not many register them. They are some of the oldest living ancient temples in Delhi.
This is the most visible Jain temple as it stands right opposite the Red Fort and wears the same color. Belonging to Digambar Jains, the temple besides having Murtis of Jain Tirthankars also has a huge library.
I remember this temple for the bird hospital that is a part of it. One of its kind hospital treats all kinds of injured and sick birds. Birds are kept here till they heal and set free.
Naughara Jain Temple
This Shwetambar Jain Temple is located in Naughara at the end of both Kinari Bazaar and Paranthewali Gali. It is an incredibly beautiful temple located on the first floor. You can spend some time admiring the temple. When we visited, priests affectionately showed us around, telling us the stories of Tirthankars.
No photography is allowed in this temple.
Dada Bari Jain Mandir
This is a temple located on the Mehrauli Gurgaon road. Most people see the board but miss taking a small detour to visit the temple.
Read our detailed post on Dadabari Jain Temple.
Apart from this there is Kalibari temple and Birla temple on Mandir marg. Both of these are about 100 years old, making them the first new-age temples in Delhi.
If you know of any other ancient temples in Delhi, do tell us about them in the comments and we will update this post.