The Valley of Gods


Feb 14, INDIA (SUN) — More than 120 different Deities arrive in Kullu Valley for the Ratha each year.

Kullu in Himachal Pradesh is called the Valley of Gods. The name comes from the rich culture of ritualistic worship and the exhaustive list of gods worshipped. Each village has a local god and festivities attached to him or her. A photo exhibition on the Kullu valley was jointly sponsored by the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and the images document the amazing collection of objects of worship in Kullu Valley.

The number of gods, demigods and spiritual personalities worshipped in Kullu number around 300. Each village has a god, and in some villages there may be two or more. The forms of worship are different and unique. Here the gods act as moving beings rather than being statues fixed within the temple. Each god has his own temple, but they are generally devoid of any idol.

Gods are represented by ratahas (palanquins), studded with metallic mohras (faces), adorned with variegated cloth lengths and flowers, and lifted on the shoulders by two men. Women have hardly any role to play in the affairs of the gods. The rathas are accompanied by bands of eacj deity’s musicians, attendants, followers and carriers of symbols of royal or divine artifacts, etc. The rathas often move in a leisurely manner, meeting with friends, etc. besides actually speaking through the medium of gurr (priest) and answering various queries of the devotees.

First there is the Supreme Personality, Narayana, after whom the gods (or demigods) of Kullu can be classified into three groups. The first are the ancient rikhis and pious women of epic character. The second type belong to the Naga (serpent) class and the third are tribal chiefs and folk heroes.

Tharah Karadu, Tharah Narayan: There is a famous saying in Kullu: tharah karadu, tharah narayan. Narayan, of course, is Vishnu, who is worshipped as God in many villages. Tharah literally means 'eighteen', but scholars have interpreted it in several ways: as multitude or an auspicious number, etc. The term karadu similarly has been given several meanings, but its origin can be easily traced in the Sanskrit word karanda, meaning basket.

Raghunathji: Raghunathji is the chief Deity who presides over the Dussehra festival and the many other gods come to Dussehra and pay homage to him. It is said that once all the gods of Kullu, numbering around 360, attended the mela but the number kept on dwindling with the passage of time. In the last decade the number was reported to be around 120 - 130. The Deity of Raghunathji was brought from Ayodhya during the reign of Jagat Singh in the middle of 17th century, at the same time Vaishnavism was introduced in the state.

Naga: Kullu is a great centre of naga worship. An entire class of the gods belong to this category. The nagas worshipped in Kullu are the offspring of baski or basu, as the ancient serpent king is commonly called by people. The total number of nagas worshipped in Kullu is estimated to be over 70.

Paras Ram: Paras Ram is an epic character. He is believed to have visited Kullu much before the founding of the kingdom. He settled five villages here, one of which is Nirmand, on the right bank of Satluj, where he is revered even today as a god. He must have reigned supreme before the advent of Raghunathji.

Jamlu: Jamlu is one of the mightiest deities of Kullu. His abode is Malana, a remote and secluded village. This aloofness enables him to maintain independence for himself and his subjects. There are several other abodes of Jamlu, either representing himself or some other minor god of the same name, in the district. Jamlu is said to be a brother of Gepang, the god of Lahaul.

Jamlu is independent in that he neither pays tribute to the Raghunathji temple in Sultanpur, nor attends that temple, nor pays his respects on the Dussehra, as most of the other Kullu deities are compelled to do. Jamlu does not have his own ratha but his relics in the form of musical instruments are worshiped and displayed on festive occasions.

Dussehra: The proceedings of Kullu Dussehra start only in the presence of the goddess Hadimba. The Hadimba Devi reaches Kullu all the way from Manali on the first day of Dussehra. The moment she reaches Kullu, the palanquin of Raghunathji is brought out to the festival square and put in the ratha. She is very much revered in Kullu and is also called the grandmother of king of Kullu.

The other deities also come to pay homage to Raghunathji in his temple in Kullu. Around four o’clock in the afternoon all the deities being carried on the palanquins gather on the main festival square. Some of them enter the square rocking frenziedly and the devotees holding them rejoice, singing and dancing often going into a trance. The ratha with Ragunathji is pushed forward by fervent crowds towards another square. All the deities follow their master. This is how the festival begins.

On the seventh and the last day Raghunathji is called for Lanka Dahan (burning of Lanka). The idol of Raghunathji is kept in the ratha. The bushes are gathered and burnt as representing the Lanka of King Ravana. The masks of Ravan, Kumbhkaran and Meghnath are tied with the arrowhead and burnt in the fire. The festival apart from the dance, drama and rituals has a commercial aspect also. Traders from various parts of the district come to Kullu to sell their commodities, craftsman also find an opportune time to display their skills. The number of gods attending Kullu Dussehra, during the past 10 years is estimated at around 130.

Source: Vihangama, IGNCA.


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