mythologies of kumaon and garhwal

By Nidhi Rauthan

The tales told from almost forever, leaving the legacy behind still followed and believed in with faith, is mythology. There are numerous communities and several religions and cultures in the world and many are not even discovered yet, amongst all of them also exists the religious beliefs, the holy rituals and the rich culture of the Garhwal and Kumaon region in the small state of Uttrakhand, in India. Though, the place seems quite little comparatively, the number of divine Spirits and deities that the people pray to are just nearly uncountable. Uttrakhand is one of the most visited places in India majorly due to holy shrines and rivers situated here.One out of the four holy pilgrimages of Hindus (chaar-dhaam) The Badrinath, exists in Garhwal in the Chamoli district of Uttrakhand, the temples are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, which is mentioned  to be made during the Vedic period in the ancient texts and is believed to be  restored by  a learned philosopher Adi Shankaracharya in 8th century AD. The other pilgrimages being Dwarka in Gujarat, Shree Jagannath Temple of Puri in Odisha and Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu.

The Panch Kedar is situated in the Garhwal Himalayan region of Uttrakhand dedicated to Lord Shiva. Kedarnath, Madmaheswar, Tungnath,  Rudranath, and Kalpshwah comes under the panch Kedar (five Kedar) where the temples of Lord Shiva are located. Kedarnath is one of the key pilgrimages which underwent a severe catastrophe not very long back in 2013. The reason of this calamity is considered to be the repositioning of the Dharidevi Temple by the government officials near Srinagar, Uttrakhand as the temple was going to submerge in the dam being constructed at the moment and the same night the disaster took place, it’s firmly believed that whenever someone tries to displace the temple from its position the goddess gets berserk with resentment which results in destruction.

naina devi temple in nainital
naina devi temple in nainital

There are 51 places on earth which are named after the parts of the burnt body of goddess Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva, who was the incarnation of goddess Parvati. In her anger on her husband’s insult by her own father Raja Dakhsh Prajapati, for not being invited to a sacred yagna, she sat on the fire of the yagna. On hearing this, Lord Shiva in his black mood blew the gasket, having no control he laments and does tandava carrying the body of Sati on his hands and 51 pieces fell on different places on earth and those places became sacred.  The temple of Dhari Devi is made on the banks of river Alaknanda where a portion of the body of goddess Sati fell.  Similarly, the temple of Naina Devi in Nainital is where the eyes of Devi Sati fell, in the Kumaon region of Uttrakhand. The goddess is greatly believed in Kumaoun along with Nanda Devi, situated in Almora. It’s the second highest mountain in India annually folks celebrate the presence of the goddess and in every 12 years, there is a really massive yatra that takes place in the mountains where Devi Nanda is taken back to her husband’s home with offerings.

Also positioned in the Garhwal are the Panch Prayags, these are the places where the sacred rivers conflux, the panch prayags means ‘the place of sacrifice’ in Sanskrit, it includes Vishnuprayag, Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag, and Devprayag.

At the height of 10,200 ft in Himalayas is situated a beautiful town Gangotri in the district of Uttarkashi , it’s the place from where the holy river the Ganges originates, the story of origin of Ganga on earth  from the locks of Lord Shiva  is the most popular one in Hindu mythology, the stories that are not very well know but deeply believed in, lies in the interiors of Garhwal and Kumaon.

Apart from the major gods and goddesses the people of Uttrakhand, especially in the mountains have numerous Kul Devta (guardian or family deity) whom they pray to for the health, wealth and safety of the entire clan, it differs in different villages, for instance in few villages the kul devta is considered to be Lord Satyanath, in few places it’s goddess Raj Rajeshwari, Narsingh, Ghadiyal and many more.  To celebrate the presence and to impress their deity folks meet annually and organize a huge pooja ceremony and present the offerings at the temple. One such very prominent ceremony of goddess Anusuya, takes place in the Gopeshwar Mandal, in the district of Chamoli, it’s one of the most celebrated events in Garhwal that takes place once every year in the month of December in poorna-mass (full moon). Devi Sati Anusuya, wife of the very prolific sage in the ancient period,  Atri Muni. She was considered to be the most chaste woman who never even thought about a man except her husband, getting a little envious the three goddesses, Devi Laxmi, goddess Parvati, and goddess Saraswati decide to send their husband Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma to Devi Sati Anusuya and examine her. Reluctantly agreeing to the condition they appear in front of Devi Anusuya disguised as sages and request for food that’s when the test begins when they demand to get fed by Devi Anusuya  they being naked,  that is when she faces a great turmoil,  all tensed she closes her eyes and thinks of her husband and gets the solution, she sprinkles some sacred water over the sages as suggested by her husband when she closed her eyes and they turn into infants, she feeds them and qualifies for the challenge. Latter, the three goddesses come to take their husbands turned into babies and apologizes to Devi Anusuya since then she is prayed as a goddess.

nanda devi temple almora
nanda devi temple almora

People gather together from five villages Devaldhaar, Khala Mandal, Banswara, Kathy and Saghar, each carrying a palanquin of goddess taking them to the main temple presenting the offerings and taking it back to the village the other day. The atmosphere becomes full of the pure devotion of the devotees towards their deity.

Pandava Nritya (dance) is another very prominent pooja that takes place in different villages of Garhwal where people who are possessed by the spirits of the Hindu Epic, Mahabharata’s characters performs the whole play of Mahabharata, it is celebrated for a whole month and people from different places come to experience the event. Just like Garhwal, there are several Kul devtas in different towns such as Mool Narayan, Nauling devta, Banjain Devta, they also pray to various Naag devtas (god of snakes) like Kaali Naag, Basuki  Naag, Pingli Naag, etc. Such grand prayers takes place mostly only in the villages in the mountains and are the basics of our origin our very own existence, and though thousands of people participate in it, one unpleasant fact is that the majority of the people performing and organizing them are of older generation and the upcoming generation is hardly aware of these rituals, the underlying tales, and their values. It’s true that lately, we have seen such personalities those who in the name of god have corrupted the society and led people to the path of superstitions to gain from the loss of others, but it’s on us to see and find out what is worth believing.

The pilgrimages the annual prayers, or others that takes place in long time spans, brings all the long lost people busy in their lives to meet again revive their memories, and come back for once to the villages which are being abandoned day by day, for the atheists if not anything, then at least this one great reason should be enough to nourish our rituals, the folktales and stick to them. It’s the presence of so many divine powers in our state that makes it the Dev Bhoomi and our responsibility increase to maintain the legacy, further sustain it and spread awareness among the new generations.

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