From Yarkand to Ladakh, the town of Mandi has attracted traders and invaders since time immemorial. And Mandi has welcomed them all.
The International Shivratri Festival of Mandi has begun and the mood here is festive and joyous. This is unarguably the biggest festival of the region, which made its way into the mainstream in the year 1527 A.D. And since then it has become that one event for which everybody waits impatiently.
Faith in the deities can be explored through the sights, sounds, and liveliness of the Shivratri Festival. The fashioning of traditional palanquins and the Grand Procession of the Deities (called Jaleb) is an awe-inspiring experience for the faithful as well as non-believers.
However, to see the Shivratri festival, or for that matter any traditional festival of Himachal, from a religious perspective would be entirely wrong.
These festival always attracted the traders from the far off lands of Ladakh, and Hoshiarpur planes in Punjab since its inception. So its just not the congregation of the faithful but much more than that.
Assignment of Kingdom to Madho Rai
Madho Rai or Madhav is one of the many names of Sri Krishna. In the year 1648 A.D, the then King of the Kingdom, Raja Surya Sen assigned his kingdom to Lord Krishna. Surya Sen, father to 18 sons saw all his kids dying in his lifetime, which prompted him to assign his kingdom to someone who was beyond life and death, and time.
The Kingdom was then handed over to a silver idol of Lord Krishna and thus came the system of Theocratic Kingdom of Mandi.
Surya Sen, lord of the Earth and destroyer of his rivals, had this blameless image of the blessed discuss bearer and master (guru) of all the gods, the illustrious Madho Rai made by Bhima, the goldsmith in the year 1705 , on Thursday the 15th Phagan. – Gazetteer of the Mandi State, 1920
And thus the King handed over his Kingdom to the Supreme King.
There are many other stories associated with the festival of Shivratri.
Jaleb – the Procession of the Nobles
So invitations are sent to all the deities of the region, and the numbers vary somewhere between 200-220. In the year 2015, 190 deities have marked their presence in front of Raja Madho Rai.
Dev Kamrunag is the Presiding Deity of the Shivratri Festival and he is the first one to pay homage to the King. The remaining deities line up in front of the King to pay their homage. Once the meeting ceremony is over, the entire procession marches its way to pay obeisance to the Lord of the Lords, Mahadev Shiva at the Bhootnath Temple. From Bhootnath, the procession marches to the paddal Ground where all the deities line up.
Imagine the congregation of 190 deities from across the region. A sight to behold!
This procession of the nobles, accompanied by their priests, musicians, and the believers is what we call the Jaleb. The first and the last Jaleb are nothing less than a grand Rock Concert.
This year, the first Jaleb was on 18 February while the last Jaleb is scheduled on 24 February. The Rain God, Kamru Devta stays all the while atop the Tarna Temple and keeps his vigil.
A group of six Godessess follow the tradition of not moving out of the Raj Madho Temple and stay within the temple premises throughout the festival. It is believed that they are the Queens of the Emperor. Their palanquins are covered and only the priest or someone from the family of the Royal Lineage is allowed to see them.
These six goddesses are Baglamukhi, Budhi Bhairava, Rupeshwari Devi, Bushai Devi, Budhi Bhairava, and Kashmiri Mata. I am not sure about the location of their original temples but they all are clustered between Mandi and Pandoh on the either side of River Beas.
Participating Deities in the Festival
I have been told that there are 190 deities participating in the Shivratri Festival this year. You may want to read about some of the deities and their beautiful temples.
Changes Over Time
This festival, like many other things in life, has seen quite a few changes. Many devtas abandoned the festival because of their differences with the local administration. Sometimes, it was a matter of appropriation.
But the biggest change that this festival has seen is abandoning the system of animal sacrifice, ordered by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh. This is going to be the first Shivratri in almost 350 years when no animal will be sacrificed on the altar of faith.
Same thing happened at the Kullu Dusshehra Festival this year. Even the Devta Sansad decided to honour the decision of the High Court. At the same time, a review petition has been filed in the High Court.
Meanwhile, today is the third day of the festival and its been the worst rain hit festival of my life. Today it rained for more than 10 hours and next three days are going to be very difficult for the management.
Dev Kamru, the rain God, is believed to be angry over the animal sacrifice being banned. The joyous spirit of Shivratri is surely gloomy this year. Whatever lies in the future, lesser mortals like me do not know.
For good or bad, only time will tell.
P.S. All Photographs by Jaipal Mandyal
Edited I came across a research paper written by Elisabeth Conzelmann that provides insights into the historical aspects of Mandi Shivratri. She mentions that the concept of the Madhyam Jaleb (second procession) was introduced after the State came under the British Rule. Prior to that, there were only two Jalebs, one at the beginning, and another at the culmination of the festival.
And although an annual event since its inception, historical records suggest that Shivratri Festival was suspended during the Second World War until 1947.