The internationally famed Kullu Dussehra has a distinct cognition. In practice on this day neither the Raja began any campaign for victory, nor any kind of Durga Puja is held as is done in Bengal, nor the Ram Lila is played, nor the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran, Meghnath are burnt. Instead of Ram Lila here the important Ras Lila is played. In the past there used to be held Ras Lila, dances concerning Krishna and Gopis, and the entertaining plays of Chandravali, in the camps of Raghunathji.
Kullu Dussehra is week-long congregation of the local devtas and devis, which begins on the tenth of the white lunar period of Asvin and ends on the full moon day. In earlier times shesh (relic) were distributed to all the devatas soliciting their presence in the mela prior to the starting of the Dussehra. Shesh consists of rice (akshat: unbroken rice grains) which the devatas give out to their devotees on different occasions. Nowadays invitations are sent from the side of administration and about two hundred deities attend the festival.
Rites performed before appearance of Thakar:
The three important days of the Dussehra are: appearance of Thakar (Raghunathji), Muhalla (penultimate day of Dussehra), and Lanka Dahan (Burning of Lanka). Actually the Dussehra starts from the first day of the Navratra. On that day a special worship is offered to Raghunathji at Sultanpur. In the earlier days Adi Brahma of Khokhan, Gohari devata of Dhalpur, Durvasa of Palgi, Narad of Ninu also used to join this worship. Now only Gohri of Dhalpur comes in the performance.
The devtas coming from the distant areas like from the Outer Saraj and Inner Saraj start their journey days before and on reaching Kullu they pay respect to Raghunathji at Dhalpur and settle down at their respective places allotted to them. In the morning on the tenth of bright half of Aswin all the devatas come out from their tents and
proceed with the band of their musicians towards the temple of Raghunathji. They are offered, on behalf of the temple, a phagu (a long yellow coloured piece of cloth). Then they come at the praul (the main gate of Tharah Karudu in the palace). The main deities stay there for the day’s procession. The remaining deities proceed to Dhalpur for participation in the reception of the procession.
Hidimba is not present among these deities. She halts at Ramshila, at the head of Akhara Bazar, till the messenger from the Raja with a staff of silver reaches to receive her. Devi Hidimba then goes with the messenger of the Raja first to the temple of Raghunathji and them comes to the palace. There at the Praul of Tharah Karadu, Rajpurohit, the royal priest, in the presence of the devi, causes the Raja to offer worship to the flags, fans and other articles and arms. Then the worship is offered to Naupat (dudumbhi) and the horse of Nrisingh. This is called ghorh- pujan (horse-worship). The Raja then gives one arrow each to four persons. The person of the zodiac sign of Scorpion goes in the eastern direction, that of Cancer to the west, that of Aries to the south and that of the Libra goes towards the north. They don’t return. It is noteworthy that Angad, the leader of the force sent by Shri Rama, who was sent towards the southern direction in search of Sita, belonged to the zodiac sign of aries.
Role of Devi Hidimba:
Before the arrival of Devi Hidimba in the temple of Raghunathji, the Raja starts worship of Raghunathji in the temple in his own palace. He pays reverence at the temple of Devi Mahogra-Tara in the palace. Then closing the Praul of Thara Karadu, he sits behind it.
On the arrival of the Devi Hidimba as her musical instruments are beaten, the priest receives the power of the Devi and he trembling vigorously shouts: “O! grandson!” (O! potru-aa). On hearing this voice the Raja opens the gates and comes out. Thus the action is completed.
Appearance of Thakar:
In the afternoon, on the completion of the above performances, one person goes from the temple of Raghunath with a chhari (a long staff) to the palace to invite the Raja. On the arrival of the Raja the statues of Rama (Ragthunathji) and Sita are decorated with flowers and beautiful clothes and are placed in a palanquin. From the temple the Raja is offered a bagaa (about a meter long coloured costly cloth with which the devatas are decorated) and phargal to the other members of the royal family, and phagu to the sevaks.
The procession then starts from the temple. The decorated horse of Narsingh remains in the front, at the foremost, after this come the raths (palanquines) of the devatas, band of the musicians and those who are traditionally required to accompany. Bijli Mahadev and Hidimiba attend it with their complete nishan (the retinue). After them come the members of the royal family, the band of priests, palanquin of Raghunath ji, the Raja and thereafter come the others.
The wooden rath (chariot) of Raghunathji which is placed permanently at the northern end of Dhalpur ground is decorated with coloured clothes, ornaments and bells. According to the tradition some deities stay on the left, some on the right and others on the backside of the rath along with their bands of musicians, priests and kardars (manager of a devata). On the arrival of the statues of Rama and Sita they are placed in the rath. After performing prayer the Raja, members of his family, the priest of Raghunath and his sevaks, with the band of musicians take round of the rath five or seven times. On the last round the Raja touches the rope attached with the rath. Immediately the people shouting the slogans like Jai Siya Ram, Jai Hanuman, pull the rath and take upto the lower ground where it is stationed during the Dussehra period in the centre of the ground.
During Dussehra, the Raja sits in a palki (palanquin) and begins his Jaleb (procession) from his channhi (camp). About three or four devatas also accompany the procession with their musical band. Well decorated horse of Narsingh remains in the front and they visit all the devatas in the Dhalpur ground. The devatas welcome their arrival by blowing ransingha, blow pipe, or by giving shesh. Jaleb is taken out for the first six days. In the olden days this used to be a great attraction for viewers. The people could see their Raja. On the other hand for the devatas this was not a Jaleb of the Raja but that of Narsingh. In front of the Palki remains the decorated horse of Narsingh, after the palki came the other male members of the ruling family like Tika, Kanwar, then came Vazeer, all in their traditional dress, courtesans, staff holders, fan holders and other officials. All these accompanying the procession enhanced the attraction of the procession greatly. The Thakurs of Lahaul of Keylong, Gumrang and Gondhla also joined in the procession in their own dresses. In this procession the Thakur of Gondhla was called Daroga or the Chief Thakur. The procession started from the channhi and ended at the channhi. In 2004 during the time of election for the Lok Sabha a debate was current and it was suggested that in this age of welfare state the Raja should abandon this tradition of riding Palki. Then a jagati-poochh was held, opinion of the 175 devatas was obtained and the consensus was that ‘no old tradition should be abandoned and no new tradition should be adopted’.
The penultimate day of Dussehra is called Muhalla. This is the most entertaining and attractive day of the whole Dussehra. On this day and also in the night the most interesting part of the festival is held. Villagers come in large numbers from whole of the Kullu district to enjoy the mela, even leaving their important works. On this day
all the devatas pay attendance before Raghunathji. They come with numerous musical instruments and flags. Jamlu of Malana, Jeev Narayan of Jana, Isvari Narayan (Ajimal) of Soyal, Thirmal of Dhara, Girmal of Banogi don’t come in the Dussehra at Dhalpur. They stay at Aangu Dobhi across the river Beas, just opposite to Dhalpur. On the day of Muhalla their Kardars and Gur come with bell and incense holders to pay attendance at Dhalpur before Raghunath. On the same day Hesan (a lady of Hesi class) of Mahadev performs the dance of Chandravali before the temple of Raghunath and gives initiation to the popular folk drama of Haran which is played in every village till the 15th of Posh month. These items were played before the camps of the Rajas also. There the dances of Krishan and Gopis were also exhibited. The night of Muhalla is called Muhalla of the night.
The seventh or the last day of the festival is known as Lanka-dahan or merely Lanka. This is the day of return for the devi-devatas to their home. But ordinalrily no devidevata leaves Dhalpur before the completion of the last rites. On this day the Channhi of the Raja is laid on a new spot, that is the small plain just above the stadium of Kalakendra. Some devatas remain present there. Exhibition of dancing and singing goes on continuously. The Raja remains here till the time the messenger from Raghunath comes to invite him for participation in the Lanka Dahan.
On the other hand devatas start gathering in front of the temple of Raghunath. All the devatas gather with their complete retinues. As soon as the Raja reaches near the Raghunathji all the music and dances stop. The tune of the music changes to a different tone, becoming harsh. The Raja takes circumambulation of the rath. People drag the rath to the edge of the ground towards the Lanka, a ground at a lower level on the bed of the river Beas situated towards Bhuntar. There some bushes and grass are burnt symbolising the burning of Lanka. The task of collecting the grass and twigs starts about a month before the start of the Dussehra. Traditionally this work was done by the people from Bandal and Seogi villages. These villagers were the helpers of Raja Jagat Singh. Among the heap of grass khepre, masks of made of earth, were also placed. The task of igniting the heap and taking out a mask out of the fire is done by the young men of Saari and Khanipandh. They take it out from the burning fire and whoever is successful takes it to the rath of Raghunathji and hands over to the Raja. Traditionally the mask may be considered that of Ravana, Kumbhkaran etc. but historically they appear to be of those of the Raja Sultanchand and Jogchand.
Then a buffalo, a ram, a cock, a fish and a crab are sacrificed. In the olden days a pig and a phadpha, a creature of red colour like a spider, were also sacrificed. The Raja or some member of the family has to give the first strike on the buffalo. Hidimba then moves to her home with the head of the buffalo and then the other devi and devatas also disperse. The rath is dragged back to its original place where it is kept for the rest of the period and Raghunathji is brought back to his orginial temple at Sultanpur. The Raja and his retinue come separately from a different route.
There is a mythological explanation for it. But some people relate it with the local history. It is told that it originated from Raja Jagat Singh who in order to cleanse himself of the sin of the murder of a Brahmin of Tipri village for his not giving the pearls equal to one patha (about half kilogram) which he possessed, started this
tradition. On the advice of the saint Krishandass Payahari, the statue of Raghunathji was brought from Ayodhya which reached here on the very same day in the year 1650 AD and this occasion was celebrated which continued for a full week long. Raja then lived at Makadahar opposite to Haat, near Bajaura. From here the statue was taken to Manikaran, from there to Vashishth, then to Nagar Thawa and lastly to Sultanpur.
Congregation of Tharah Karadu
The real basis of the Kullu Dussehra is the annual congregation of the Tharah Karadu as is confirmed from various traditions. Among the devatas of Tharah Karadu most of them were incarnations of Narayan and Vishnu. On the first day of the mela when Thakar appears at Sultanpur, the procession is led by the horse of Narsingh. Narsingh
is the incarnation of Vishnu. At Malana there is Tharah Karadu and every year the palanquine of Tharah Karadu is taken in the month of Phagun to the temple of Banasur. At Sultanpur in the palace there is the Tharah Karadu ki Praul. Every devata goes to pay homage to it. After paying homage Raghunathji gives attendance at the Paraul, bending there with reverence. On the day of Muhalla an important rite is performed. Every devata attending the Dussehra first goes to the temporary temple of Raghunaji, offers shesh and pays homage. It is also called paying of Trayad̟ a. Then he goes to the channhi of Raja and bows there at the seat of Narsingh. After all the devatas have done like this, the kardar of the chief devata takes some shesh from the heap and putting them in a piece of a plain cloth, offers at the seat of Narsingh. He thereafter reports to the Raja, who is sitting there, the number of the devatas attending the fair. A sevak picks up the heap of the shesh and presents it in the lap of the Rani who is sitting inside. Rajmata or Rajrani then goes into the palace and after performing some rites distributes the shesh among all those present there. It is noteworthy that during all the first five days the horse of Narsingh leads the Jaleb.