A congregation of deities in Himachal

By Vishal Gulati, IANS
Saturday, February 26, 2011

MANDI - It will be a divine gathering! More than 200 gods and goddesses will ‘congregate’ here next week to participate in the centuries-old Mahashivratri Fair.

The week-long Mahashivratri Fair, one of the biggest traditional and religious festivals of the country, begins in Mandi March 3 — the day the festival is celebrated in the northern states - at the temple of Bhutnath, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The celebration of the festival dates back to 1526 when the town was founded during the rule of Ajbar Sen.

Sen had invited all the local deities to celebrate the founding of the new town. Since then, the assembly of deities during Mahashivratri has become an annual tradition.

“Over 215 gods and goddesses will participate in the week-long Mahashivratri festival,” Deputy Commissioner Amandeep Garg, who is also chief organiser of the fair, told IANS.

He said special arrangements have been made by the administration during the stay of the gods and goddesses at the Paddal ground in the town. They would start arriving March 1 and stay till the festival is over.

Prem Sharma, director of the state department of language, art and culture, said like the week-long Kullu Dussehra, which is celebrated in Kullu town, Mandi’s Mahashivratri also sees a congregation of the divine and the temporal.

Mandi, also known as ‘Chotti Kashi’ of Himachal Pradesh, is dotted by more than 60 temples. Prominent among them are those of Bhutnath, Triloki Nath, Jagannath, Tarna Devi and Jalpa Devi.

The rulers of Mandi state were devotees of Lord Shiva.

It is believed that ruler Ajbar Sen (1499-1534) saw in his dreams a cow offering milk to the image of Lord Shiva. His dreams turned into reality when he himself saw the cow offering its milk to the idol.

He then constructed a temple there in 1526 — the Bhutnath temple.

Simultaneously, the foundation of Mandi town was also laid and he shifted his capital here.

The actual fair begins the day after Mahashivratri. Every day the deities move in a colourful procession amid beating of drums and playing of ’shehnais’ to a specific temple for worship and later return to the Paddal ground.

During the first day of the fair, Lord Madho Rai, an incarnate of Lord Vishnu and the chief deity, leads the procession. The assembled deities follow him in beautifully decorated palanquins as per their protocol and assemble at the Bhutnath temple.

Three such processions, locally called Jaleb, are taken out on the opening, middle and concluding day of the fair.

The conduit between the mortals and the deities are the ‘gur’ - the traditional shamans of Himachal, who form the core of the communities’ spiritual sustenance. The ‘gur’ mediates between the people and the gods.

Thousands of devotees, including tourists from the US, Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Israel participate in the festivity.

During the festival, transactions worth millions of rupees take place. Kullu and Kinnauri shawls, handicrafts, carpets and dry fruits are a major attraction for the customers.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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