Kullu: The countdown has begun for the world-famous Kullu Dussehra celebrations that are believed to have started in the 17th century when the ruler, Raja Jagat Singh, installed an idol of Lord Raghunath to remove a curse and seek his blessings.
Kullu Dussehra celebrations — which begin on Vijaya Dashami, the day Dussehra ends in the rest of the country — last for a week. This time the festivities, an amalgamation of Hindu and local ‘Pahari’ traditions, are being held from October 24 to 30.
Organisers said that this time there will be a departure from tradition. For the first time apart from the annual Rath Yatra that is taken out throughout Kullu town, there will also be a colourful carnival and magnificent tableaux showcasing the traditions and culture of the region. However, the annual Rath Yatra which is a time-honored tradition will still be held with the same fervor pomp, and show with which it has always been held.
Each year, Lord Raghunath’s idol is placed on a beautifully-decorated chariot and then there is a grand procession in which the chariot is taken on a yatra throughout Kullu town amid the mandatory presence of the erstwhile Kullu royal family. Also, visitors will get an opportunity to witness the spiritual significance of Lalhri, a traditional dance.
As per the program, the Rath Yatra, a gathering of nearly 300 deities from across the Valley of Gods, will be carried out on the first day, i.e. October 24.
This will be followed by a cultural parade on October 25, the Lalhri dance on October 29, and the Kullu Carnival with tableaux exhibiting the traditions and culture of the region, on October 30.
The week-long festivities in Kullu, which attract an estimated four to five lakh tourists and many researchers from across the globe, are also a culinary adventure. Visitors will be able to savor the rich repast of local delicacies reflecting unique Himalayan culinary traditions and flavors.
Besides, local handicrafts and artifacts like handcrafted blankets, intricate pattu-pattis, exquisite wooden crafts, shingli-mingli, kadu, patish, and more, will showcase the cultural heritage of the region.
So, what makes the Kullu Dussehra unique?
First, it is mandatory for the erstwhile Kullu royal family to be present in the Rath Yatra on the first day and perform Vedic rituals and indigenous customs during the celebrations.
Second, the famous idol of Raghunath was brought from Ayodhya to Kullu during the reign of Raja Jagat Singh who ruled Kullu from 1637 to 1672. The king brought the idol in order to remove a curse which a Brahmin had cast upon him.
Raja Jagat Singh was freed of the curse after he installed the idol on the throne and proclaimed himself to be merely the first servant of the temple.
After that, the royals of Kullu ruled the state in the name of Raghunath, who became the principal deity of Kullu Valley. The Lankadahan ceremony, which began at the time of Raja Jagat Singh, is still performed on the last day of the Kullu Dussehra on the banks of the Beas River.
Unlike other places, effigies of Ravana, Meghnad, and Kumbhakaran are not burnt here during Dussehra.
All the assembled deities participate before they are carried back to their own temples in a beautifully decorated palanquin, amid the sounding of trumpets and beating of drums.
Traditionally, Lord Raghunath’s chariot is wheeled out by tens of thousands of devotees from his historical temple in Sultanpur in Kullu town on the first day of Dussehra.
The assembled deities accompany the chief deity and they all stay in Dhalpur ground in the Valley of Gods till the conclusion of the festival.
Legend has it that Raja Jagat Singh used to invite all local deities to perform a ritual in honor of Lord Raghunath during Dussehra.
Since then, the annual assembly of deities from hundreds of village temples has become a tradition. After the abolition of the Indian princely states, the district administration has been inviting the deities.
According to a reference book compiled by the Kullu administration, there are 534 ‘living’ gods and goddesses in the Kullu Valley, which is also known as Devbhoomi or the land of gods.
The book says the affairs of the Kullu gods are managed by the ‘devta’ committees that comprise a ‘kardar’ or manager of the temple, the ‘gur’ or oracle, musicians, and a priest. It says every year over 250 gods and goddesses assemble for the Kullu Dussehra.
The gods accept the invites of their followers and move to various locations as per their wish, says the book. Sometimes they decide to undertake a pilgrimage. Some do so after one or two years, others do so after 30 to 40 years and some embark on special pilgrimage after hundreds of years.
The ‘devta’ summons the ‘gur’ and speaks through him. The oracle goes into a trance and connects with the deity. The deity’s wish is conveyed and its followers obey the sacred command.
One member of each family has to join the deity’s procession. No one can lift the ‘rath’ or palanquin of the deity if s/he is unwilling to do so. The book says the long and arduous journeys are to be performed on foot and take days, even months to complete. Strict rules and rituals have to be followed. The deity sets the time and pace of the journey.
Local legislator Sunder Singh Thakur, who is the chairman of the International Kullu Dussehra Festival Organising Committee, said the International Cultural Festival is a major attraction for which cultural troupes from over 20 countries have been invited.
He said with the near completion of the four-lane Kiratpur-Manali highway, the travel time from Chandigarh to Kullu has been reduced from six hours to four.
Also, 13 out of the 15 tunnels on the highway have been opened for commuters, and flights from Amritsar, Chandigarh, and Delhi to Kullu operate almost daily.
A seasoned journalist with over two decades of experience, Vishal writes on a wide range of subjects which include biodiversity, climate change and links between environment & development. He also covers politics and other developments in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. He lives in Chandigarh & Shimla.