Mandi dresses up for Shivratri

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A rousing reception awaits over 215 hill gods and goddesses who would converge on the sprawling Padal ground to participate in the centuries old International Shivratri fair which begins today at the temple town of Bhutnath, the presiding deity of Mandi town.

Shivratri is celebrated all over the country, but it has assumed a special significance for Mandi, the town of temples, where week-long celebrations are held amidst colourful festivities in keeping with the centuries old royal traditions of the ancient princely rulers of the erstwhile Mandi State when Shivratri used to be a great imperial celebration marked with religious fervour and gaiety.

Mandi rulers were devotees of Lord Shiva. Bhutnath, Trilokinath, Panchvaktra and Ardhnarishwar are prominent among about 100 temples here. Built in Shikhra style these are the finest specimen of hill architecture. Mandi is known as a town of temples and ‘Chhoti Kashi’ of Himachal.

Chief Minister, Mr. Virbhadra Singh, will formally inaugurate the Shivratri Fair on Monday, March 11, 2013.  Himself a former ruler he had restored the ancient glory to the fair in 1984 by elevating its status to international carnivals.

The Shivratri fair is being celebrated here since the very foundation of the present Mandi town in 1526 during the rule of Ajber Sen. Before that the capital of Mandi State was located on the right Bank of Beas at Bhiuli and the town was also located along the right bank of Beas now known as Purani Mandi

Legend says that the land on which the present Mandi town has been established was a dense forest where cattle used to graze. A villager was intrigued to observe that his newly calved  cow was not yielding the desired milk. He kept a vigil on the movement of the cow and was baffled to see that the cow was spilling her milk on a stone. The news spread like a wild fire in the town and also reached the Raja, who verified it personally.

In the meantime Raja Ajber Sen saw Lord Shiva in the dream who ordained him to dig below the stone and he did it. His joy knew no bounds when he found a Shivlinga buried beneath the stone. On that very site he built the temple of Bhutnath and the foundation of the present Mandi town was also laid simultaneously by shifting the capital from Bhiuli to the left bank.

To mark this great occasion a grand congregation of hill gods and goddesses was called to celebrate the birth of the new town on the pious occasion of Mahashivratri. For many years the rulers of the state used to prolong the celebrations for a month but as the years rolled by, the fair has shrunk to a week.

During the rule of Surya Sen  (1664-1679) , who had no heir, as all his eighteen sons had died during his life time, the sovereignty was vested to Madho Rai  (Lord Vishnu).  In the subsequent years the Ratha carrying the silver image of Madho Rai used to lead the Shobha Yatra. The silver image of Madho Rai is still revered as before and his vehicle (Ratha) is in the forefront of the divine march of the hill gods and goddesses.

After independence the role of the Raja is performed by the elected rulers and governors who perform the traditional pooja in keeping with the ancient traditions. The fair this year will commence from March 11. Virbhadra Singh will join the grand Shobha Yatra after the traditional worship of Madho Rai.  Hundreds of gods and goddesses will march in the Shobha Yatra which will terminate in the sprawling Padal Ground around 3 PM when the Chief Minister will formally inaugurate the fair.

Himachal Pradesh Governor Smt. Urmila Singh will declare the closure of fair on March 17, 2013, with the termination of final Shobha Yatra and distribution of prizes to the winners of various events.

State level Shivratri sports are also organised. Shivratri exhibition is one of the main attractions of the fair where privates, corporates, public sector organisations and government departments set up stalls. Evening cultural programmes are the star attractions of the fair where artists of national and international fame regale the audience besides Himachal artists.  The venue of fair this year has been shifted to Padal Ground as the Seri Pavilion is unable to accommodate the increased population of the town