By: Saroj Thakur
The Blend of Ancient and the Modern
Mandi and Mahashivratri seem to have become synonymous as when we name one the other comes to mind immediately! Like all other festivals Mandi Mahashivratri, too, has some legends behind it and the legend has Lord Shiva behind it. Legend has it that a cow used to drip her milk on a stone in a forest where the present Mandi town is located. The fact was verified by the then ruler Ajber Sen. In the meantime Lord Shiva appeared in the dream and ordained Ajber Sen to dig beneath the stone. He did it and to his pleasant surprise a large Shivlinga was found. He built Bhutnath temple on that spot in 1926.
Bhootnath Temple Mandi
Simultaneously the capital of Mandi State was shifted from Bhiuli to this place where the town is located at present. First Mahashivratri Fair was held at that time and is continuing since then.
The town of Mandi, considered to be the most fashion conscious place in Himachal next only to Shimla, is suddenly filled with an age old mystic presence of gods and goddesses arriving to the town for a great gathering on the occasion of Mahashivratri. For the entire week the town forgets everything else and celebrates the arrival of hundreds of local deities on elaborately decorated palanquins. It is a lifetime experience to watch the gods and goddesses heading for Mandi from various parts of the district, being carried either on back of the accompanying “Gur” or on Palanquins or some even on vehicles!
I was intrigued to find why some of the gods prefer to ride on the shoulders and backs of the accompanying devotees when the journey may take 2 to 3 days to reach the destination? I couldn’t contain my curiosity when I saw a local deity being put on a vehicle at a place near Kataula and asked someone about it. According to my informant the gods and goddesses belong to different categories of Brahmins, Kshatriya and even some lower castes and the Brahmin and Kshatriya would not ever travel in vehicles! The answer surprised me.
The whole of the town reverberated with the sounds of the nagaras and other traditional musical instruments! It seemed as if all these gods and goddesses had thronged all the nooks and corners of the town and the town had suddenly dotted with reds and orange colored palanquins giving the town a holy and mystic look. The god fearing me would bow my head at all the gods and goddesses making all kind of pleas to fill my life with happiness.
Though it is a fact that Shivratri is celebrated all over the country, but it has assumed special significance for Mandi, once the capital town of a princely state. A Shoba Yatra called Zareb marks the beginning of the fair, in which the images of gods and goddesses are carried in palanquins. The Shoba Yatra terminates at Padal ground, the venue of the fairs. The devotees first visit the Raj Madhav temple, which is the shrine of the main god of the area, and then visit Bhootnath temple to worship Lord Shiva, during the fair. The gods astride the palaquins would display their feelings of happiness at meeting Raj Madhav Rao and Lord Shiva the Bhootnath by making their palanquins sway in a joyful manner. These deities seemed so very human to me. I felt so close to their world-the world of ego, happiness and anger as well!
Rishi Kamru Nag, the presiding deity of the Mahashiratri, has a wooden temple near a legendary lake located at a height of 9000 ft above sea level and about 63 km from Mandi town. Kamru Nag came to Mandi town on Thursday and straightway headed for paying his obeisance at Raj Madhav Rao temple. After paying his obeisance he headed for his abode that is Tarna ma temple and it is here that he stays throughout the entire Mahashivratri fair. The legend about Rishi Kamru Nag and his Mahabharta connection made sense to me behind his wish to stay at the top most point of the town and watch the festivity from there. Recorded in the history of Mandi state, Kamru Nag is also a god of rains.
Raj Madhav Rao Temple Mandi
The other main gods and goddesses would come to pay their obeisance to Raj Madhav Rao temple that has a very pretty silver idol of Radha and Krishna. These deities would then wait for the procession called Zareb to start from this place where all the deities would march towards Paddal ground-the venue for celebration of the fair.
The excitement was in the air and the small area was thronging with more people then it could accommodate. Excitement filled with exhilaration and unrest was the mood of the thronging crowds. Overhearing the heated discussions among the devotees having accompanied these deities made me feel how human these simple hilly deities are! There was one deity who was participating in the Zareb after 45 years and his devotees were arguing for the position that they had earlier but was now usurped by other deities! It was a tough job to assign the position to all these deities and then make them proceed in the procession. Egos at work even among deities!
Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal, Chief Minister led the inaugural procession of Raj Madhav Rao, the reining deity of the week long international MahaShivratri festival at Mandi accompanied by 175 deities participating from different parts of the District. It was a pleasure to watch hundreds of devotees, folk dancers with traditional musical instruments clad in colorful attire. The Kesariya turbans of the dignitaries made the scene more colorful! The whole of the procession started for Paddal ground and it seemed as if whole of the inhabitants of Mandi in their Sunday bests were heading towards the venue.
The day was warm and clear. Festivity was in the air but suddenly strong winds gushed forth and the clear sky was dotted with clouds and lightening. We were surprised at this sudden change of weather and wondered about this strange happening. The rain drops made us look towards the sky and also the Tarna Hill where the presiding deity of the Mahashivratri fair Rish Kamru Nag had taken abode.The sudden gush of rain finished as soon as it had started and a sense of relief swept me. But the local people around me were feeling ecstatic as the “god of the rain” Kamru Nag had shown his happiness by this act and had showered his blessings! It sure was a miracle and I bowed my head in reverence at god Kamru Nag and made another silent wish for the happiness of all my loved ones!