This shrine or Ashapura is steeped in antiquity as far as its origin is concerned. There are references to this goddess in the Puranas, Rudrayamal Tantra and so on which are all said to point to this shrine in Kutch.
Be that as it may, today there is no trace of any ancient records or writings which give any indications of the beginning of worship at this shrine amongst the existing records in the possession of the trust.
One fact firmly stands out that this deity was very much there in 9th century AD when the Samma clan of Rajputs from Sindh first entered western, or more correctly, north-western Kutch. They were followed in the later centuries by more families or this clan which eventually established them in the region and one of their line got control of the whole state of Kutch in the beginning of the 16th century. This was Khegarji I, the son of Jam Hamirji who was murdered by Jam Rawal earlier. Both the Jams (in Sindh a Raja or Chieftain was called ‘Jam’) were profound devotees of Ma Ashapuraji.
There are a couple of legends connected with this deity. The most well known and popular version is that about 1500 years ago Karad Vania from Marwar (a term loosely used in olden times for the present – day Rajasthan) was touring this area to sell his wares, and stopped in the spot where the present temple of the goddess stands to spend the nine days of ‘navratri’ as he was a devotee of the Goddess Amba. He did not have any issue, so he always prayed to her to give him a child. While sleeping in the night he saw the deity in his dream who asked him to build a temple on the spot where he stopped. As a token of the veracity of this dream, She is said to have added, on waking up he would find a coconut and a ‘chundri’ (a piece of red-coloured cloth with tie and dye work on it). But the Goddess had given specific injunction that after the temple was built its doors should be shut and were not to opened for six months by which time she would establish herself therein. However a couple of months before the expiry of six months Devchand (the name of the Vania) started hearing the sounds of celestial music after sunset and during the night. He could not contain himself after some time and opened the doors of the temple and so found the deity on her knees in the pose in the midst of her attempts to stand up as She appears today.
Thus it is likely that the image in/nature formation of a rock may have already been there, and was being worshipped in that state, and Devchand had a temple built over it on her wish for a child having been fulfilled. This is a seismic area having earth tremors of low and after a few decades high intensity, at times causing damage to buildings. This temple might have suffered damage at intervals of a few centuries and was rebuilt. The existing inscriptions on slabs of marble point to this possibility. Hence it can safely be inferred that this shrine is certainly very ancient.
Apart from the main temple or Goddess Ashapura at Mata-no-Madh there are temples dedicated to Hinglaj Mata, Chachra Bhawani, Khatla Bhawani (on a hill to the north-west of the main temple) and Jagora Bhawani in a cave in one the hills nearby. Then there are temples dedicated to lord Shiva and other deities too.
The ‘Mahant’ or the presiding saint of this shrine belongs to an order known as Kapadi, perhaps a distortion of the sectarian term Kapalic found in Hindu scriptures. He is called Raja. The Raja who ordains disciples is a celibate monk and thus the whole order is sworn to celibacy. The senior disciples can also have their own disciples. Because of this it is said that once upon a time there used to be a large numbers of Kapadis residing at Madh.
It appears that the institution of the rajas started some time around the 5th century AD, and first in the line was Devi Raja. Here again there is no written history available. However two brothers belonging to Chavan clan of Rajputs arrived at this shrine from Marwar. One of them was enjoined to be celibate and was given the task of performing the main religious ceremonies; the second one was appointed to do the rest of the work such as keeping the temple clean, preparing for the daily ceremonies, guarding the temple etc. The descendents of the second brother who are Chavans (Chauhans) still continue to perform these duties, and in the absence of other Kapadis (there is only one at present, the raja) they perform some ceremonies too. These Chauhans are known as Shuvas who in lieu of the duties they perform are allowed to keep all the offerings made in the temple in cash or kind pilgrims.
During the year special ceremonies are performed at the shrine of the Ashapura Mataji during the ‘Chaitri’ (April/May) and ‘ashvin’ (September/October) Navratris. Out of the two the latter has greater importance as is the case elsewhere in the country. The ‘Mahant’ or Raja fasts during the nine days and performs the ‘Havan’ ceremony at midnight of the seventh (‘Saptami’) day. On the next day (‘Ashtami’) the main puja is performed by the Maharao or any other member of the former ruling family of Kutch. Formerly he-buffaloes used to be sacrificed at the shrine along with a goat before the image of Bhairav on this morning. Perhaps in ancient times it is likely that even human sacrifice may have taken place there. During the puja and on the previous day liquor used to be poured (‘Abhishek’) on the Goddess.
The Samma clan has been referred to earlier. These chieftains and their descendents started calling themselves Jadejas after an ancestor named Jam Jada. Traditionally they were worshippers of Goddess Mahamaya (popularly called ‘Momay’). On coming into Kutch they of course brought the portable ‘puja’ of Momay with them consisting of small wooden or stone images which were placed on small wooden stools; and every Jadeja chieftain had his own such compact easy to carry deity for his own and the family’s worship. This was perhaps necessitated owing to the wandering lives they lived for centuries. After coming to Kutch they became ardent devotees of Ashapuraji whom they considered to be their guardian deity (‘Rakshak’ and ‘Shayak’ ‘Devi’). The battle cry of the Jadejas was ‘Jai Ashapura’. It can be discerned from the folklore and bardic poems that the Jadeja chieftains regularly worshipped at the shrine of Mata-na-madh and greatly respected the institution of the Kapadis and Raja.
Rao Shri Khengarji I chose Bhuj as the capital city of Kutch and after he subdued the whole area and became its all powerful ruler in the early 16th century that the yearly worship at Mata-no-madh shrine in the Ashvin Navratri must have started. The Maharao or any other male member of the royal family carry two long and large fly-whisks (‘chamars’) made from strips of the quills thinly shredded from the tail feathers of peacocks. These are taken from Bhuj to Mata-no-madh. A puja ceremony is first performed of the Momay Mata of Maharao Deshalji on the fifth day of navratri in the old palace in Bhuj from where the ‘chamars’ are carried on the right shoulder and the person who carries them walks barefooted from the shrine of Momay upto the palace gate from where he goes by car to his residence outside the town. On the afternoon of the ‘saptami’ he goes to Madh and the next morning after bathing in the ‘Chachra Kund’ a puja of Chachra Bhawani is performed and from there the ‘chamars’ are carried in a procession, every one walking barefooted again, accompanied by music played on the shennai and the local Aadivasi community members knows as Jagarias singing the praises of the Goddess Ashapura and recounting the miracles of the deity with the accompaniment of small drums, carried in their hands and walking backwards right up to the steps of the main temples. In the temple the old chamars hanging one on either side of the Goddess are taken down by the attending bhuva and the Maharao hands over the fresh ones to him which are put up.
Then begins the main ‘ashtami’ puja which has been performed by the house of Kutch traditionally for the last (at least 450 years) few centuries. At the end of this ceremony a bunch of the local vegetation called ‘patri’ is placed on the right shoulder of the deity and the person performing the puja ceremony stands in front of the Goddess with one end of his ‘angvashtra’ (called selo in Kutchi) spread out in both his hands and the bells are rung and Jagarias again playing the drums, sing the prayers of the deity. After some time a few strands, rarely the whole bunch, falls into the cloth. This is taken to be the blessings of the goddess. The buffalo sacrifice was given after this ceremony, but it has been discontinued and instead food, mainly sweet rice or wheat, is cooked and given to poor as ‘prasad’. It may be interesting for the readers to know that this author has seen with his own eyes, women of the Charan community collecting the blood of buffalo as soon as its head was severed by the stroke of a sword in ‘katoras’ and drinking it on the spot! Such women in those days must have come into an intense mental sense of devotional animation, for otherwise it is not easy to swallow blood in its raw state in a few gulps at a stretch.
Then the Maharao goes for the ‘darshan’ of lord Bhairav followed by a visit for ‘darshan’ of the Raja (chief mahant) in his apartment where he sits on a special ‘gaadi’ on a raised ‘sinhasan’ (canopied platform made of marble) and the former ruler of Kutch sits in front of him at a lower level after making his suitable offerings. The Raja blesses the Maharao who then leaves for his quarters at Mata-na-madh, and there after the Mahant makes a return visit or call on him when he rides in a decorated / bullock – cart (‘rath’) and goes in a small procession preceded by musician playing the shennai. At the Maharao’s residence the raja along with the Maharao and then returns to his residence. Thus ends the last ceremony of the ashtami day at this shrine of the Goddess Ashapura.
One special peculiarity concerning the ashtami of the navratri here is that where as in other major and minor ‘peetns’ of the Goddess the ‘Havan’ ceremony takes place on the ‘ashtami’, here in Mata-na-Madh it is performed at midnight of the ‘saptami’ or the seventh day of Navratri. Whether this practice has been followed all along or was started later is not clear for no records speak of it. But it is likely that this arrangement was a mutually agreed procedure whereby the Raja, having his own important position in the shrine, could go through the all important ‘Havan’ ceremony and the Maharao on his part, as the ruler of Kutch and an ardent devotee of the Ma Ashapura, could perform the main ‘puja’ without coming in the way of the Mahant.
Not only the house of Kutch, but persons from various communities very much revere this deity and come for her ‘darshan’ all the year round, particularly during the ‘chaitra’, and in greater numbers during the ‘ashvin’ Navratri. The numbers of pilgrims is increasing year by year, and according to our estimate 2 or 2 ½ lacs of people came to Mata-na-madh in 1994. Even some Muslim families have faith in Ashapuraji. Jains also worship at the shrine, and some sects from amongst them have the needs of young married ladies shaved at the Chachra Kund. Substantial donations also are being given to the trust (Shri. Mata Na Madh Jagir Trust) as also to Shri. Ashapura Bhandar & Atithigraha trust for further development of the temple complex. The Goddess fulfils the hopes, aspirations and wants of those who have faith in her, and hence her name. Some persons have also had experience of miracles at her shrine. There is no doubt about one fact, and that is, when stands in the temple facing the image of Ashapuraji and the sanctum sanctorum more often than not, one would feel, or be aware of, a definite pure divine aura that leaves a lasting impression on ones mind. Of course a prerequisite is the pureness of mind and the genuineness of ones faith.
The concept of female divinity is not confined to the Hindu religion alone, for glimpses of this are to be seen in the devotional practices of ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome etc. and of course in Christianity where Mother Mary has a definite special place, particularly in the form of worship practiced by the Roman Catholics. Certain tribal peoples also worship some forms of goddesses in their own way. Thus this worship of the mother or a divinity representing ‘power’ (‘shakti’) or as the giver of bounties in the form of money or wealth (Lakshmi) as also good crops and food (Annapurna) is widely preformed.