Walkthrough: Kullu Dussehra | Dancing with the Divine

Hundreds of mountain gods climb down from every corner of Kullu valley, carried on shoulders of devotees through treacherous paths to assemble in the historic Dhalpur ground.

Amidst the sound of deafening trumpets, all these mountain Gods and Goddesses line up to pay their respects to Raghunath Ji on the occasion of seven day long Dushehera.

The devtas come dressed in their fineries, embellished with gold and silver ornaments replete with bright coloured parasols escorted by their musicians and priests.

The spectacle of a ‘devta’, royally seated on a decorated palanquin, swaying to the melodious tunes of conchs and trumpets is a sight to behold.

And when hundreds of devtas dance to the tunes of traditional folk music, it sure as hell is a psychedelic affair.

Here I walk you through the colourful Dhalpur ground.

Enjoy the virtual experience!

The Decorated Rath of Raghunath Ji at Dhalpur Ground

The Decorated Rath of Raghunath Ji at Dhalpur Ground

The Decorated Rath of Raghunath Ji at Dhalpur Ground

Last Day of the Festival – Lanka Dehan

Hundreds and Hundreds of Deities Greeting the Chief Deity.

Hundreds and Hundreds of Deities Greeting the Chief Deity.

The atmosphere turns melodious with divine sounds of drums and trumpets that reverberate in the valley until the wintry fog rising from the Beas absorbs it all.

The erstwhile King of Kullu brought the idol of Lord Ram (Raghunath Ji) from Ayodhya in 1651 and invited the deities from across his empire to participate in the first ever Kullu Dusshehra.

The erstwhile King ensconced an idol of Raghunath Ji as a mark of penance and established him as the theocratic King of the kingdom. An invitation to the festival was to be treated as a Royal Command and ‘absentees’ were penalized by the Royal deity.

Matters related to land rights, territorial disputes were discussed in the Royal Assembly held on the sixth day of the festival.

The procession (jaleb) observed a fixed pattern of deities occupying the space around the chief deity. Whenever this fixed pattern was disturbed, skirmishes were inevitable. The immediate left and right positions to Lord Raghunath have often remained a bone of contention.

Territorial disputes and supremacy battles have often led to devtas boycotting the festival as a mark of protest. Once a dispute lasted 11 years when Shringa Rishi, the presiding deity of Banjar Valley, withdrew from the festival.

The immediate right position is called dhur, which is known to have occupied by Shringa Rishi since long. On the other hand Balu Nag, believed to be incarnation of Lakshman, claims to be the rightful heir of the dhur position.

Nonetheless, the decorated rath of Lord Raghunath, tied with massive ropes, is pulled across the Dhalpur ground by devotees and that marks the beginning of the week long social, economic, and cultural extravaganza.

The Decorated Palanquin of Balunag

The Decorated Palanquin of Balunag

Decorated Palanquin of Shringa Rishi of Banjar

Decorated Palanquin of Shringa Rishi of Banjar

The Idol of Raghunath Ji

The Idol of Raghunath Ji

Deities Lines up to Greet the Royal King

Deities Lines up to Greet the Royal King

The idol brought from Ayodhya was placed at different places (Makarsa, Manikaran, Vashishth, Haripur to name a few) before it was finally installed at Sultanpur in 1651.

The first day officially begins when Devi Hidimba, the great grandmother(kul devi) of the Royal family, is brought from Manali on her colorful palanquin. Earlier animals were sacrificed to please the Goddess but in the wake of NGT Judgement, coconut shells have subtly replaced goats and lambs.

Finally when Devi Hidimba has arrived, the King Deity is surrounded by hundreds of devtas in their decorated palanquins, everybody waits for the flag signal from Bhekhli Temple located atop a hill overlooking the Dhalpur ground, with bated breath.

A saffron flag is  waved from Bhekhli Temple and the much awaited signals from heavens mark the beginning of Rath Yatra of the King Deity.

Goddess Hidimba and Ghatotkach

Goddess Hidimba and Ghatotkach

Karuna Goswamy has written a fabulous photo-book that encapsulates the journey of Kullu Dushehera since it’s inception.

In her words:

The Dussehra of Kulu is visibly different, in so many ways, from the festival of the same name that is celebrated in large parts of northern India. The spectacle takes another form here. No deota or devi travels without a band of dedicated musicians and essential functionaries; and at any given time, scores of small ‘processions’ can be seen to be moving about. Rama, in the form of a small metal image designated as Raghunath ji, the ‘state deity’, installed in a shrine within the royal complex of buildings in Sultanpur, is whom the deotas come visiting.

The first and the last day of the festival are the major attractions. Because of devotees thronging in from every part of the country, it is advisable that you make use of public transport.

P.S. I am eternally thankful to my friend Aayush Sharma for allowing me to use his images. You may follow his interesting Facebook Page (The Wonderland of Kullu and Lahaul)

Suggested Reading: Role of the Raja in the Kulu Dussehra | Situating the Cult of Rama in the Kullu Valley | Kings, Gods, and Political Leaders in Kullu

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