Divine battle in Kullu Dussehra has chief minister stepping in

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Kullu (Himachal Pradesh): It is a divine battle that has been going on for decades, involving the followers of two rival deities of Kullu Valley. This time even Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has stepped in to urge for peace.

Support TwoCircles

Dhumal has asked followers of the two rival deities – Shringa Rishi and Balu Nag – to put their heads together and come out with a solution.

When the Dussehra festivities end in the rest of the country on Oct 17, it is time for the week-long celebrations in Kullu Valley to begin. Unlike other parts of the country, here effigies of Ravan, Meghnad and Kumbhakarna are not burnt during the centuries-old Kullu Dussehra.

However, a ‘Lankadahan’ ceremony is held on the concluding day of the festival, on Oct 23, when the ‘evil empire’ is destroyed by over 200 assembled deities.

Every year the district administration invites the local deities, whose diktats are followed with reverence by their followers, to attend the festival.

However, due to the ‘war’ that has been going on for decades among the followers of Shringa Rishi and Balu Nag – over the superiority of their deity – the organisers have not invited the warring deities to the festival.

“Like the previous years, this year also we have not invited both the deities. But their followers have decided to participate in the festival nevertheless,” Kullu Deputy Commissioner B.M. Nanta told IANS.

Prem Sharma, director of the state department of language, art and culture, said the rivalry between the followers of Shringa Rishi and Balu Nag is over the important position the deity would hold during the procession taken out on the last day of the festival.

“As per tradition, the idol of the superior deity is carried on the right side of the chariot of Lord Raghunath (Lord Rama) during the Lankadahan ceremony. For many decades, Shringa Rishi, who was ‘guru’ of Lord Rama, used to occupy that place.”

“After 1971, followers of Shringa Rishi boycotted the ceremony for 11 years over some dispute. During that period, Balu Nag, who is considered the incarnation of Lord Rama’s brother Lakshman, took that spot. Later, when the conflict among their followers grew stronger, both stopped participating in the festival,” Sharma explained.

“Now they have again started participating again after a gap of 18 years. Tempers often rise among the followers during the ceremonies over the place of honour for their deities,” he added.

In the past few years, the movement of both the deities was restrained to prevent clashes among the followers.

The district administration has already imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code against gathering of five or more people to prevent any untoward incident.

Mohar Singh, the head priest of Shringa Rishi, said: “It’s an order of Shringa Rishi to participate in every Dussehra festival. The god does not require any invitation. It’s his right to take part.”

Nanta said special security arrangements have been made to tackle any incident. “We are trying to sort out the issue amicably between the warring deities,” he added

The chariot of Lord Raghunath, the chief deity, accompanied by palanquins of other deities will reach the historic Dhalpur Maidan here Oct 17 and stay till Oct 23, the day the Lankadahan ceremony is performed.

The Kullu Dussehra dates back to 1637 when Raja Jagat Singh was the ruler of the valley. He had invited all local deities to perform a ritual in Lord Raghunath’s honour.

Since then the assembly of deities from hundreds of villages across Kullu district has become a tradition.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])