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The seven-day long centuries old Mahashivratri fair of Mandi will commence this year on February 25 when the HP state Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh will inaugurate the fair after performing prayer at the temple of Madho Rai in accordance with the centuries-old royal tradition of the former rulers of Mandi State followed by Shobha Yatra, a divine procession of hill Gods and Goddesses accompanied by thousands of devotees dressed in multi-coloured costumes along with hill orchestra and unique hill music instruments moves elegantly towards the sprawling Padal Stadium.
Town resounds with sweet and melodious tunes of music instruments of the high hills. Men, women and children lining up on both the sides of the road rain flower petals on the images of Devis and Devtas. For the first time in the history of Shivratri Fairs of Mandi the entire Padal Stadium would be rain-covered in view of the vagaries of weather which used to mar the costly celebrations of fairs on which crores of rupees used to be spent by the Government and traders from all over the Country and participating artists from home and abroad.
Marked improvement has been made to beautify the small town which was an uphill task during the tenures of Deputy Commissioners Devesh Kumar and Sanjeev Kadam. The Divisional Commissioner, who has now been promoted and posted at Mandi, is playing a pivotal role in making the town smart despite constraints of space. The roads have been suitably widened and decorated with elegant side walls made of green chiseled stones. Mr. Kumar has suggested that small space outside tarred portion of roads should also be covered under the low cost tiles laid on river sand without use of cement to get rid of the scourge of dust pollution badly affecting the health of the people residing on the road side as has been done in many countries abroad. It will also be economical, he contends. Even small countries have done it to make them dist-free, he says.
The divine procession locally called “Jalebb” terminates at the Mela Ground where the Chief Minister formally inaugurates the fair and takes salutes from the contingents of Police, Home guards and NCC. Bands of Police, Army, Home Guards and mounted Police are among the star attractions of the mega Shivratri Procession. The Chief Minister will also inaugurate the Shivratri Exhibition in which various public and private sectors from across the Country participate. With the passage of time the impact of modern advancement in science and technology the fairs have also undergone a welcome change. The exhibitions play a major role in educating the farming community about the new revolution in the spheres of horticulture, agriculture, floriculture and similar other fields for learning the latest techniques to enhance their income. Thousands of highlanders get themselves acquainted with the changing techniques and technology.
The origin of the Mahashivratri Fair dates back to the era of Raja Ajber Sen who ruled the State in 1500 AD. Legend has it that the land on which the present Mandi town has been established was once a dense forest where cows and cattle used to graze. A villager was astonished to observe that his newly calved cow was not yielding the desired milk. He kept a regular vigil on her and found that she was spilling her milk on a stone in the dense forest. It is said that this news spread in the town like a wild fire and also reached the king, who personally verified it.
In the meantime, it is said, another strange development took place. Ajber Sen saw Lord Shiva in dream who ordained him to dig beneath the stone where the newly calved cow was spilling milk. He did it and his joy knew no boundseed to find a large size Shivlinga buried beneath the stone. He made up his mind to build a big Shiva Temple on the site, now known as Bhutnath. He also decided to shift the town from Bhiuli to the present location of Mandi town.
The inauguration of the new Mandi town was fixed to celebrate the birth of the new town with a bang on the sacred day of Shivratri. A mega celebration was arranged on this occasion. All the hill deities of his kingdom were invited to grace the occasion. The regal celebrations continued for over a month at that time. Since then the Shivratri Fairs are being celebrated year after year. Now the duration of the fairs has been curtailed to one week only since independence. Now the role of the Raja is performed by the Deputy Commissioner and elected public representatives. The D.C. is also the chairman of the Shivratri Mela Committee.
It is also interesting to recall that during the rule of Raja Surya Sen (1664-1679) who had no heir as all his 18 sons had died during his life time, the sovereignty of the state had been vested in Madho Rai ( Lord Vishnu). Therefore, in the subsequent years Ratha carrying the silver image of Madho Rai has been leading the Shobha Yatra. The image of Madho Rai had been made by a goldsmith, Bhima. The silver image of the Madho Rai is still revered as before and his Ratha is in the forefront of the divine march of the hill gods and goddesses to the venue of the fairs. After independence the Mandi State was merged in Himachal Pradesh. Now the role of the Raja is performed by the elected rulers (Chief Minister and Governor) who performs prayer and joins the Shobha Yatra in keeping with the ancient traditions.
On becoming Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh himself a former ruler, enhanced the status of the Shivratri Fair which were first declared as the State fair, then National fair and finally these were elevated as International Shivratri Fair in which the renowned artists from home and abroad regale the people. Himachal Pradesh Governor, Acharya Devvrat will declare the fair closure on the seventh-day of International fair keeping with ancient traditions. He will participate in the last Shobha Yatra starting from the temple of Madho Rai and terminate at the venue of the fair at Padal Stadum. He will distribute prizes to the winner of various events held during the fairs. The Shivratri Flag will be pulled down and handed over to the Chairman Shivratari Mela Committee.