Naina Devi Temple is a must visit in Nainital especially for people who seek spirituality and wish to offer their prayers to Goddess Naina. This Temple is greatly visited by local devotees during religious festivals. It was originally constructed in the 15th Century during the Kushan reign but another version states that it was built by Moti Ram Shah, an avid devotee of Mata Naina. Though the past of this Temple differ, we cannot rule out the massive destruction it went through after a huge landslip hit Nainital in 1880 which claimed 151 lives. It was then rebuilt in 1883 and since then has become the most visited and worshipped Temple in this region. The central presiding deity being Mata Naina Devi is represented by two large almond shaped eyes flanked with Mata Kali and Lord Ganesha on either side. Located in the centre of a 1.5 km long and 0.5 km wide land and the northern banks of the 93 ft deep Naini Lake, this Temple adds more charm to its surroundings and the lake.
The Naina Devi Temple is also known as one of the 51 Shakti Peeths and one of the highly treasured Shakti Temples in India. According to an ancient Hindu myth, during the Satya Yuga or 'The era ruled by Truth', King Daksha wanted to avenge Lord Shiva for marrying his daughter 'Sati' against his wishes. He organised a Vrihaspati Yagna and invited all the deities except Lord Shiva and Sati, though Sati talked her way through Shiva to be able to attend this Yagna despite the fact that he did not want her to go, he gave up and allowed her to go along with his escorts or followers called the 'Ganas'. On arriving at her father's place, she was completely neglected and was treated worst than a stranger which hurt her and after a heated argument between them and Sati trying to convince her father of the good virtues of her husband, it seemed unsuccessful and the King did not deter from his ferocity. This broke her up so badly that she jumped into the burning pyre and succumbed to death. This episode enraged Shiva to such an extent that he went to the Yagna and completely destroyed the area.
One version states that Lord Shiva was so grief stricken that he carried Sati's charred body on his shoulders and ran about the world performing the 'Tandav' or 'Dance of destruction' that separated Sati's body into 51 pieces which fell on the earth at different locations. Another version states that while Shiva performed the 'Tandav', Lord Vishnu, 'the Preserver' intervened after persuasion from other Gods and requested Lord Shiva to stop the dance after which he divided Sati's body into 51 pieces using his 'Sudharshan Chakra' [A disc shaped sharp holy weapon of Lord Vishnu] that made Lord Shiva regain his consciousness and sanity and he restored King Daksha's Kingdom and replaced his head with a Goats head to teach him a lesson after which the King became an avid devotee of Lord Shiva. Both versions do clarify that the 51 pieces of Sati did fall on 51 different locations on this earth now called as the 51 Shakti Peeths and considered very sacred.
It is believed that Sati's eye fell on the very spot where the Naina Devi Temple is located and hence, the name 'Naina' was derived, which means 'the eye of Sati'. Since 1918 the Durga statue immersion ceremony and Durga Pujas are held every year and celebrated by devotees from across the town.