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May 1, 2011

Page: 37/37

Home > 2011 Issues > May 01, 2011

Culture Plus

Nanda Raj Jat: A sacred festival of Uttarakhand

By Dr Kailash Kumar Mishra

THE localised customs and practices of Hinduism are the binding link between the people of diverse geographical locations and cultures. One such festival of Uttarakhand - Nanda Raj Jat-is worth to be described. Nanda Raj Jat or the royal journey of Nanda Devi is a great cultural festival of the Mountains state of India.

Nanda Devi, according to the folklore of Garhwal and Almora, is the daughter of Himvant, the king of Mountains. Nanda is one of the names of Gauri - the Consort of Shiva. There is also a belief that she is the sister of Gauri and hence she has an independent identity. Nanda is the family deity of Katyuri dynasty of Kumaon. There are ancient temples of Nanda in Garhwal and Almora.

It is believed that during the krishna paksha of Hindu month Bhadav, Nanda visits her mother's place and the event is celebrated on nanda-ashtami in Garhwal and Kumaon regions. She lives on Gaungati peak which is believed to be the abode of Shiva. The legend says that Nanda left her village (mait) and went to the Nanda Devi Parbat. Therefore, when the sacred journey starts, heavy rain occurs as if Nanda is crying and shading her tears. This sacred journey covers many villages and in between Nanda meets her sister in the Bhagwati village. She is worshiped in each and every corner of the State and her identity as a result is seen as the cultural unity of Uttarakhand.

In Chamoli, Nanda Raj Jat is organised once in 12 years. This journey is very tough on account of the landscape it goes through. The sacred Jat starts from the Nauti village near Karnprayag and goes up to the heights of Roopkund and Homekund with a four horned sheep. After some propitiating rituals the sheep is freed with decorated ornaments, food etc. The purpose of the 280 kilometers long arduous trek undertaken by thousands of devotees is to escort Nanda to her in-laws place. The Jat resembles the postnuptial rite of ceremonially seeing off a daughter as she leaves for her husband’s home with all her personal attributes.

Soon after the time-schedule is finalised, the customary chief patron of the event, the prince of Kanswa, arrives in the Nauti village to seek blessings of the Goddess and organise the Jat. He brings a locally made finely decorated umbrella and a four horned sheep. Nanda is decorated in bridal make up and is given a tearful farewell. It is an emotional scene with all the devotees in tears, as if they are bidding farewell to their own daughter, leaving her in-laws home to meet her husband. The image of Nanda and offerings are taken in a procession, accompanied by bare footed devotees. The followers observe self-control, partaking of food prepared according to prescribed norms of purity. The entourage halts at night. The local people from villages on the way turn up in large numbers with chanting of mantras and singing of folksongs to appease the deity. Many villagers join the group and remain with it till the journey ends. Rituals are performed at every halt. Groups from far and near, mainly from Kurud near Ghat, Lata near Tapovan and Almora in Kumaon join the procession with their own idols and umbrellas. Some 300 idols and decorated umbrellas assemble at Waan. It is a tradition in this village to keep all houses in readiness for use by the devotees. The doors are kept unlocked on the day the Jat arrives here.

According to the folk songs sung at Nauti during this Jat, King Shalipal of Chandpur Garhi is said to have laid the foundation of this tradition. He directed his royal priests to worship Nanda Devi according to his instructions. Since then, the tradition of the Jat has continued to this day. After every 12 years, it originates from Nauti after elaborate rituals.

The wide spread tradition of Nanda Raj Jat in every geographical area is adequate evidence that the Nanda Raj Jat celebration is a symbol of cultural unity of the State.

Nanda Raj Jat is an extraordinary example of the cultural richness and intangible heritage of Uttarakhand. This sacred festival offers a kaleidoscopic view of the colourful lives of the inhabitants. Visitors are overwhelmed by the feel of the common under-current of spirituality, love and compassion that manifests itself in myriad ways in the area. Rich and poor, men and women, old and young all are seen breathing and enjoying the air of freedom in cultural unity. The harmony is also observed between the animals and humans and nature and humans in different but fascinating manner.

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Published on: 2011-04-26 (20017 reads)

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