Kullu Dussehra: Different Stages of its Celebration
Introduction: Dussehra is one of the important festivals of India. It is celebrated at different places in different manners. Literally the term Dussehra (dash-hara🙂 means annihilation of the ten sins. In its second form (du-shahara🙂 the term means annihilation of the evil doers, since we know from the literary sources that on the very same day, according to the Vedic traditions, Indra killed Vritasur; Durga, in the Puranic Age, killed Mahishasur; and Lord Rama, in the Treta Age, launched his victorious campaign against the cruel Ravana.
The internationally famed Kullu-Dussehra has a distinct cognition. Till sometime back the local people did not know it as Dussehra. In the rural areas even today it is known as Vida-Dasmi (vida:-dasmi:) i.e. Vijayadashmi or only Dashmi. In practice on this day, as stipulated in the shastras, neither the Raja began any campaign for victory, nor any kind of Durga Puja is held as is done in Bengal, nor the Ram Lila is played, nor the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran, Meghnath, etc. are burnt. Instead of Ram Lila here the important Ras Lila is played. In the past there used to be held Ras Lila, dances concerning Krishna and Gopis, and the entertaining plays of Chandravali, in the camps of Raghunathji, and at the channhi (cha:nṇi: = shamyana, tent) of the Raja of Kullu and that of Shangri.
In reality Kullu Dussehra is neither a proper form of Vijaya Dashmi nor that of Dussehra. This is basically the week long congregation of the local devatas and devis, which begins on the tenth of the white lunar period of Asvin and ends on the full moon day. In order to participate in this celebration in earlier times the deities coming from the distant places like Saraj started their journey about a fortnight before. They gave the information at Sultanpur about their arrival, paid attendance at the Raghunathji and rested at the allotted place in Dhalpur.
In those days shesh (relic) were distributed to all the devatas soliciting their presence in the mela prior to the starting of the Dussehra. Shesh consists of rice (akshat = unbroken rice grains), etc., which the devatas give out to their devotees on different occasions. Nowadays invitations are sent from the side of administration and about one hundred and fifty deities attend the festival.
Rites performed before the Appearance of the Thakar: The three important days of the Dussehra are: Appearance of Thakar i.e. Raghunathji, Muhalla i.e. the penultimate day of Dussehra, and Lanka-Phukni (Landadahan) i.e. Burning of Lanka. Actually the Dussehra starts from the first day of the Navratra. On that day a special worship is offered to Raghunathji at Sultanpur. In the earlier days Adi Brahma of Khokhan, Gohari devata of Dhalpur, Durvasa of Pa:lgi, Narad of Ninu (Ni:ṇu:) also used to join this worship.
Now only Gohri of Dhaldpur comes in the performance. The devatas coming from the distant areas like from the Outer Saraj and Inner Saraj start their journey according to their convenience on the same day or two to threes days before it. On reaching Kullu they pay respect to Raghunathji at Dhalpur and settle down at their respective places allotted to them. In the morning on the tenth of Bright half of Aswin all the devatas come out from their tents and proceed with the band of their musicians towards the temple of Raghunathji. They are offered, on behalf of the temple, a phagu (pha:gu), a long cloth piece coloured yellow. Then they come at the praul, the main gate of Tharah Karudu (t̟ha:rah-karad̟u:) in the palace. The main deities stay there for the day’s procession. The remaining deities proceed to Dhalpur for participation in the reception of the procession. Hidimba (hid̟imba:) is not present among these deities. She halts at Ramshila, at the head of Akhara Bazar, till the messenger from the Raja with a staff of silver reaches to receive her. Devi Hidimba then goes with the messenger of the Raja first to the temple of Raghunathji and them comes to the palace. There at the paraul of Thara Karadu, Rajpurohit, the royal priest, in the presence of the devi, causes the Raja to offer worship to the flags, fans and other articles and arms. Then the worship is offered to Naupat (dudumbhi:) and the horse of Nrisingh. This is called ghorh-pujan (ghor̟-pu:jan), horse-worship. The Raja then gives one arrow each to four persons. The person of the zodiac sign of scorpion goes in the eastern direction, that of cancer to the west, that of aries to the south and that of the libra goes towards the north. They don’t return. It is noteworthy that Angad, the leader of the force sent by Shri Rama, who was sent towards the southern direction in search of Sita, belonged to the zodiac sign of aries.
Role of Devi Hidimba: Before the arrival of devi Hidimba in the temple of Raghunathji, the Raja starts worship of Raghunathji in the temple in his own palace. He pays reverence at the temple of devi Mahogra-Tara in the palace. Then closing the praul of Thara Karadu, he sits behind it.
On the arrival of the devi Hidimba as her musical instruments are beaten, the priest receives the power of the devi and he trembling vigorously shouts: “O! grandson!, “ (O! potru-a:). On hearing this voice the Raja opens the gates and comes out. Thus the action is completed. There is a cause for saying grandson to the Raja by the devi. Vihangmanipal, the founder king of the Kullu kingdom, due to some reason came fleeing from his kingdom Prayag (Allahabad) through Mayapuri (Haridvar), Manikaran and reached Nost (Jagatsukh) where he stayed as a servant in the house of Chhaperam, a kumhar (potter). Those who accompanied him were his queen, son Pachhpal, and priest Udayram. One day he was sleeping at Jayadhar on a rock named Hidimba-ri-dhar. Jawala Pandit of the Panjlotu family of Shuru village saw the sign of circle in his feet and he foretold that he would become a Raja.
On the next day of full moon day of the bright half of Chaitra, in the Chachauhli, fair in the forest named Jinhada, situated at some distance from Jagatsukh, at Basnara (present Bhana:ra:) village, Vihangmani saw an old and weak woman carrying on her back a load of Kilta, basket. Vihangmani said, taking pity over her, “Oh grandmother, give me this load, I will carry”. He took both the old woman and her load over his back. After climbing the upwards part of the path they rested at the place named Jooda. the old woman said, “O grandson, (O! potru-a:), I want to repay your debt. For a moment you come on my back. As soon as he climbed on her back, she flew up and on reaching at some height she asked him, “What do you see now? “
Vihangmani said, “I see the area from Dalasani upwards to Vyaghani”. The old woman said, “Let you be the king of the region”. Large number of people had gathered in the Chachauhli fair. They were looking for the change of their cruel ruler, a Rana. The people, when they saw a stranger, garlanded him and enthroned him as their king. They shouted ‘Jai Deya’ and declared him as their king. This old woman was Hidimba and till date she is respected as the grandmother of the Raja. At the end of the Dussehra a larger part of the sacrificial goods goes in the share of Hidimba.
Appearance of the Thakar: In the afternoon, on the completion of the above performances, one person goes from the temple of Raghunath with a chhari (chhar̟i:= a long staff) to the palace to invite the Raja. On the arrival of the Raja the statues of Rama (Ragthunathji) and Sita are decorated with flowers and beautiful clothes and are placed in a palanquin. From the temple the Raja is offered a bagaa (ba:ga: = about a meter long coloured costly cloth with which the devatas are decorated) and phargal to the other members of the royal family, and phagu (pha:gu) to the sevaks (servants).
The procession then starts from the temple. The decorated horse of Nrisingh remains in the front, at the foremost, after this come the raths (palanquines) of the devatas, band of the musicians and those who are traditionally required to accompany. Bijli Mahadev and Hidimiba attend it with their complete nishan (nisha:n = the retenue). After them come the members of the royal family, the band of priests, palanquine of Raghunath, the Raja and thereafter come the others.
The wooden rath (chariot) of Raghunathji which is placed permanently at the northern end of Dhalpur ground, is decorated with coloured clothes, ornaments and bells. According to the tradition some deities stay on the left, some on the right and others on the backside of the rath alongwith their bands of musicians, priests and kardars (ka:rda:r = manager of a devata). On the arrival of the statues of Rama and Sita they are placed in the rath. After performing prayer the Raja, members of his family, the priest of Raghunath and his sevaks, with the band of musicians take round of the rath five or seven times. On the last round the Raja touches the rope attached with the rath. Immediatley the people shouting the slogans like Jai Siya Ram, Jai Hanuman, pull the rath and take upto the lower ground where it is stationed during the Dussehra period in the centre of the ground.
Traditions of the Rath: Rath is one of the important parts of attractions of the Dussehra. It remained a symbol of religious tolerance since ancient times. Till a few years back the rath used to be parked at a corner in the ground. Now as the time has changed a brick structure has been prepared in which it is kept safe in lock. It is also decorated on the day of Basant Panchami. The rath is not prepared every year a new. It is repaired as and when required. Deodar wood is used for the construction of the body of the rath and for the wheels the wood from the tree named mahun (ma:hun) which in the Vedas is named as bilba, is used. Axles are prepared from ban or mohru trees. Badai, the common carpenter, does the work of dressing the wood but the work of construction of the rath is done by the traditional carpenter thaauee (tha:u:-i:).
These traditional carpenters belong to Su-aa (Su:a: ) village in Kothi Bhulang (Bhu:lang). The smiths work on the nails and other items of iron. They sit on the lower part of the rath. When the rath is being dragged the koli people water the wheels, maintain the wheels is working order and remain ready with tools like adze for any kind of emergency. In case of need they may cut the rope with the adze. Some persons accompany the rath carrying wooden rods in order to give break to the speed of the rath, whenever required, and change its directions. In olden times these thick ropes were prepared from the bagal or moonj grass which are available locally. The villagers of Bandal, Seogi, and Denhidhar (dehṇ:dha:r) collected the grass and prepared the ropes. During the festival also they were required to stay with the rath. People consider it a pious work to pull the rath and they also carry home the pieces of the rope considering it to be sacred.
On the second floor of the rath in the centre a low table is pepared on which the statues of Raghunath and Sita are placed. On its four sides sit the priests of the Raghunathji, sevak, Bhatoo. the royal priest, the royal astrologer and the descendents of the families who had come accompanying the statue from Ayodhya. The roof is made of wooden planks. This is covered with coloured clothes and a silver spike is placed in the centre. After the performance of the circumambulation of rath no person can ride on it. After the rath has reached the lower Dhalpur ground the statues are taken out and are kept in the tent already laid there. Puja is performed there in the morning and evening daily. On one side of this temple there is laid the channhi of the Raja. In those days he was addressed as Raja of Rupi. A similar channhi of the Raja of Shangri was laid on the other side where now a days there exists the Kalakendra. Then both the Rajas used to accompany the rath. In the day devatas used to visit these resting places and in the night dances were performed. The last Raja of Shangri, Raja Raghubir Singh, died in 1964 and after that the tradition accompanying him also banished.
Dhalpur Ground: Dhalpur ground has an important relation with the Kullu Duessehra. The festival is held here from the beginning to the end. Earlier it was called thara-karadu ri soh. According to the people’s belief when the Vedic Rishi Jamdagni was going on pilgrimage to Kailash, he was carrying a karadu, a basket, in which there were eighteen mohras, masks, of devatas. On the return he stopped on the top of the Chanderkhani pass. A sudden blow of forceful air scattered the masks and spread to distant places. There each one of them became a devata and they settled in their respective places. When their annual assembly was held the place was called tharah karadu ri soh. Usually the place has been known as Sha:d̟, a kitchen garden. Many folk songs record this fact. For example:
dha:n za: t̟u ra: jheche ri u:jhi: ra, mautshi ma:hula: ga:d̟a; hora: ja:cha: si: kundha: kuṇi: -na, vida: dasmi: sha:d̟a:.
Translation: The zaatu rice of the Upper valley of Beas, and fish from the rivulet of Mahul are excellent. While the fairs at other places are held in the small corners, Vijay Dasmi is held in the vast plain of Shaada.
When the rule of the Rajas began it was called Rani ri shaada, because the Rani started sowing vegetables etc. here. It was also called Kata:gali shaada. This is because there might have been a garh, fort. It is believed that the ground was founded in the time of Raja Bahadur Singh (1532-75) but it was named after his brother Dhal Singh. In the history it is also known that the ground remained under the control of the Rajas of Lag valley. There were two brothers Jogchand who lived in Dugi Lag and Sultan Chand who lived at Sultanpur, who also founded Sultanpur. Raja Jagat Singh (1637-1672) was successful with the help of Raja Suraj Sen of Mandi in defeating Sultan Chand and capture Sultanpur from him. It is also believed that Bhag Chand and Dhal Chand were brothers and Dhalpur was founded in the name of Dhal Chand. The devi and devatas who come from all over the district stay here during the Dussehra period. There is a place fixed for each devata. But there is no written document to specify this fact. This is also necessary because there are new devatas coming every year.
Besides the two camps of the Rajas, dances used to be held before the resting place of each devata and people could sit anywhere they liked. Because Vida Dasmi is always held from the tenth of the bright half till the full moon day, therefore the people enjoyed watching the performances in the moonlight. But a few years before the Independence some unpleasant incidents started occurring and a bad atmosphere was being created. This was one of the causes for the establishment of the Kaladendra.
Jaleb: During the day the atmosphere used to be calm. The people coming from the villages enjoyed seeing the Jaleb. The tradition of Jaleb remained in practice among the Rajas for long. In the Shivratri in Mandi and Minjar in Chamba the procession taken out on the last day are named as Jaleb. In Kullu the Raja sits in a palki, palanquine, and begins his procession from his channhi. About three or four devatas also accompany in the procession with their musical band. The well decorated horse of Narsingh remains in the front and they visit the whole Dhalpur at each devata. The devatas welcome their arrival by blowing ran-singha, blow pipe, or by giving shesh. Jaleb is taken out for the first six days. In the olden days this used to be a great attraction for viewers. The people could see their Raja. On the other hand for the devatas this was not a Jaleb of the Raja but that of Narsingh. In front of the Palki remains the decorated horse of Narsingh, after the palki came the other male members of the ruling family like Tika, Kanwar, then came Vazeer, all in their traditional dress, courtesans, staff holders, fan holders and other officials. All these accompanying the procession enhanced the attraction of the procession greatly. The Thakurs of Lahul of Kolong (Khangsar), Gumrang and Gondhla also joined in the procession in their own dresses. In this procession the Thakur of Gondhla was called Daroga or the Chief Thakur. The procession started from the channhi and ended at the channhi. In 2004 during the time of election for the Loksabha a debate was current and it was suggested that in this age of welfare state the Raja should abandon this tradition of riding Palki. Then a jagati-poochh was held, opinion of the 175 devatas was obtained and the consensus was that ‘no old tradition should be abandoned and no new tradition should be adopted’.
Muhalla: The penultimate day of Dussehra is called Muhalla. This is the most entertaining and attractive day of the whole Dussehra. On this day and also in the night the most interesting part of the festival is held. Villagers come in large numbers from whole of the Kullu district to enjoy the mela, even leaving their important works. On this day all the devatas pay attendance before Raghunathji. They come with numerous musical instruments and flags. Jamlu of Malana, Jeev Narayan of Jana, Isvari Narayan (Ajimal) of Soyal, Thirmal of Dhara, Girmal of Banogi don’t come in the Dussehra at Dhalpur. They stay at Aangu Dobhi across the river Beas, just opposite to Dhalpur. On the day of Muhalla their Kardars and Gur come with bell and incense holders to pay attendance at Dhalpur before Raghunath. On the same day Hesan (a lady of Hesi class) of Mahadev performs the dance of Chandravali before the temple of Raghunath and gives initiation to the popular folk drama of Haran which is played in every village till the 15th of Posh month. These items were played before the camps of the Rajas also. There the dances of Krishan and Gopis were also exhibited. The night of Muhalla is called “ra:t ka: muhalla:”, Muhalla of the night. On this night the maximum items of entertainment are played and maximum crowd gathers on this day. This role is now played by the Kalakendra.
Role of Kalakendra: Kaladenrra has played a major role in giving the present form to the famous Dussehra festival. There were many reasons for its founding. One reason has already been explained above. In those times Sh. Lal Chand Prarthi was MLA from Kullu in the Punjab Assembly. He was keenly interested in the subject of folk culture, language and art. For cultural shows stages were constructed every year. But it was felt difficult to construct large stages every year. The site of the present Kalamendra was found quite suitable. But this is the place of channhi of Raghubir Singh, Raja of Shangri. During those days he was the defeated candidate against Lal Chand Prarthi for the same seat of MLA in the Punjab Assembly. His supporters objected to the proposal. But he was a person of liberal mind. He agreed to donate the site for such a great public cause.
Lanka-dahan, Burning of Lanka: The seventh or the last day of the festival is known as Lanka-dahan or merely Lanka. This is the day of return for the devi-devatas to their home. But ordinalrily no devi-devata leaves Dhalpur before the completion of the last rites. On this day the Chanhi of the Raja is laid on a new spot, that is the small plain just above the stadium of Kalakendra. Some devatas remain present there. Exhibition of dancing and singing goes on continuously. The Raja remains here till the time the messenger from Raghunath comes to invite him for participation in the Lanka Dahan.
On the other hand devatas start gathering in front of the temple of Raghunath. All the devatas gather with their complete retinues. As soon as the Raja reaches near the Raghunath all the music and dances stop. The tune of the music changes to a different tone, becoming harsh. The Raja takes circumambulation of the rath. People drag the rath to the edge of the ground towards the Lanka, a ground at a lower level on the bed of the river Beas situated towards Bhuntar. There some bushes and grass are burnt symbolizing the burning of Lanka. The task of collecting the grass and twigs starts about a month before the start of the Dussehra. Traditionally this work was done by the people from Bandal and Seogi villages. These villagers were the helpers of Raja Jagat Singh. Among the heap of grass khepre, masks of made of earth, were also placed. The task of igniting the heap and taking out a mask out of the fire is done by the young men of Saari and Khanipandh. They take it out from the burning fire and whoever is successful takes it to the rath of Raghunathji and hands over to the Raja. Traditionally the mask may be considered that of Ravana, Kumbhkaran etc. but historically they appear to be of those of the Raja Sultanchand and Jogchand.
Then a buffalo, a ram, a cock, a fish and a crab are sacrificed. In the olden days a pig and a phadpha, a creature of red colour like a spider, were also sacrificed. The Raja or some member of the family has to give the first strike on the buffaloe. Hidimba then moves to her home with the head of the bufaloe and then the other devi and devatas also disperse. The rath is dragged back to its original place where it is kept for the rest of the period and Raghunath is brought back to his orginial temple at Sultanpur. The Raja and his retinue come separately from a different route.
The Changing Pattern of Dussehra: In 1952-53 changes were brought in the tenancy laws, as a result of which the old tenants of the devatas became owners of their land and the devatas became landless which stopped the only source of their income. They were compelled to stop attending the Dussehra for which they had to incur heavy expenditure. This was a matter of concern for the government. Dussehra was not held in this year. Sh. Lal Chand Prarthi, MLA, who was himself an artist and extremely interested in the promotion of the folk culture got sanctioned a sum of rupees five thousand with which some dance parties were invited and the festival started on a small scale. Slowly this fund started getting increased and then some devats from the nearby villages were also invited.
In 1966 on the formation of the new Himachal, on the reorganization of the Punjab State and merger of the hilly areas in the Himachal Pradesh, the fund was slightly increased from rupees five thousand to ten and then to fifteen thousand. Dussehra was declared as the state level festival and in 1970 it was declared as of national level, as a result of which the cultural troops started coming to participate from other states also. Slowly parties were invited from the foreign countries also. In this manner the difficult times passed and the festival has now stood up in a new and changed form.
Clamour for status and remuneration: After the start of the new trend of payment for the participating parties of devatas their numbers increased gradually from year to year. In the fifties in the twentieth century no devata was willing to join the mela. Now when the funds have become available much liberally, there is a clamour among the devatas and new and new devatas are joining the mela. Rupees 24,925 were distributed in 1977 in which 60 devatas had attended. In 1995 the number of participant devatas increased to 119 and a sum of rupees 2,46,307 was disbursed which further increased to rupees four lakhs in the year 2003.
There was a conflict of the old and the new traditions. After the devatas who used to attend the mela in earlier times stopped coming to join it, some other devatas were encouraged to join in order to keep the old tradition live. Some of the devatas somehow agreed and they helped in the continuation of the tradition. They then occupied the vacant seats, some of which were prestigious, closer to the Raghunathji in the mela. Afterwards when the new trend started the old devatas also started joining the mela. They then made demand for their lost old status. There was clamour for the prestigious places. Consequently some struggles continued for long and still continues. Some important devatas involved may be named as Balu Nag, Shringa Rishi, etc.
Conclusion: A question is often raised for the reason that the Dussehra of Kullu starts on the tenth of bright half of Aswin on the day on which it ends at other places. There is a mythological explanation for it. But some people relate it with the local history. It is told that it originated from Raja Jagat Singh who in order to cleanse himself of the sin of the murder of a Brahmin of Tipri village for his not giving the pearls equal to one patha (about half kilogram) which he possessed, started this tradition. On the advice of the saint Krishandass Payahari the statue of Raghunathji was brought from Ayodhya which reached here on the very same day in the year 1650 and this occasion was celebrated which continued for a full week long. Raja then lived at Makadahar
(makad̟aha:r), opposite to Haat, near Bajaura. From here the statue was taken to Manikaran, from there to Vashishth, then to Nagar Thawa and lastly to Sultanpur.
Congregation of the Tharah Karadu: The real basis of the Kullu Dussehra is the annual congregation of the Tharah Karadu as is confirmed from various traditions. Among the devatas of Tharah Karadu most of them were incarnations of Narayan and Vishnu. On the first day of the mela when Thakar appears at Sultanpur, the procession is lead by the horse of Narsingh. Narsingh is Nrisingh, the incarnation of Vishnu. At Malana there is Tharah Karadu and every year the palanquine of Tharah Karadu is taken in the month of Phagun to the temple of Banasur. At Sultanpur in the palace there is the Tharah Karadu ki Praul. Every devata goes to pay homage to it. After paying homage Raghunathji gives attendance at the Paraul, bending there with reverence. On the day of Muhalla an important rite is performed. Every devata attending the Dussehra frrst goes to the temporary temple of Raghunaji, offers shesh and pays homage. It is also called paying of Traya:d̟a:. Then he goes to the channhi of Raja and bows there at the seat of Narsingh. After all the devatas have done like this, the kardar of the chief devata takes some shesh from the heap and putting them in a piece of a plain cloth, offers at the seat of Narsingh. He thereafter reports to the Raja, who is sitting there, the number of the devatas attending the fair. A sevak picks up the heap of the shesh and presents it in the lap of the Rani who is sitting inside. Rajmata or Rajrani then goes into the palace and after performing some rites distributes the shesh among all those present there. It is noteworthy that during all the first five days the horse of Narsingh leads the Jaleb.
International Trade Route: Silk and Pasham Trade: Kullu lies on the traditional ancient international trade route linking Afghanistant on the one side and the Central Asia on the other. Valuable goods like silk, pasham, wool, sugar, tea, opium, salt, borax, spices, gold, silver, precious metals, cotton cloths, jewellery and all sorts of goods passed through this route. Important stations on the route lay on the one side Mandi, Kangra, Nurpur, Pathankot, or Mandi, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, Lahore and further. Towards north it passed through Lahul, Leh in Ladak and through Karakoram, and into the Central Asia, Kashagar, etc. Kullu Dessehra provided the traders an opportunity for sale and exchange of their goods.