Sunday, August 30, 2015

A brush with the Kumaoni culture & heritage

A brush with the Kumaoni culture & heritage
Sunrise across the valley in Timila Village, Raikhet, Almora, Uttarakhand
            Children’s growing up has its own advantages & disadvantages, for one when they are young and in primary classes, if travel bug hits you, one can forego a few days of classes, without much of a hassle.  However, if they are in higher classes, this liberty goes away and you have to adhere to the school schedule strictly and in the senior most sections, it is almost impossible even to get out during the routine holiday sessions too.  I got struck with a similar predicament this year and could not go ahead and book in advance, as the schedule of teachers & tuitions were not clearly chalked out and hence I had no other option but to check into my small pad in Timila village in Ranikhet Tehsil during the summer vacations in June, 2015.  Thus, it became the first occasion for me to experience the culture & heritage of Kumaon at close quarters.
The Jagar ceremony about to begin
           I have traveled all across Kumaon extensively and also many regions of Garwal, but merely as tourist, merely touching upon the tourist spots spread across Uttarakhand (earlier known as Uttaranchal).  However, the extended stay in a nondescript village exposed me to the day to day routine and cultural heritage of Kumaon region.  The Central Himalayan region comprising Kumaon and Garhwal is known as Uttarakhand.  This region has largely remained unknown due to lack of information and accessibility. From early times onwards, geographical factors have played a key role in shaping the history and culture of this region. Another factor which has contributed in a large way towards the culture of Uttaranchal is the waves of migration to this region from the Gangetic plains, Punjab and Rajasthan particularly, also extending from parts of Maharashtra during the medieval periods, either because of exploitation by Muslim invaders or on invitation to scholars & Pundits by the Royalty of the region. The impact of these migrations can be seen in the religious and socio-cultural practices of the people of Kumaon and Garhwal. This is particularly evident in the rich folklore of Uttarakhand, which throws a vivid light on the social and cultural conditions of this region.
The Jagariya with traditional instruments Dagru & Thali
The Syonkar on left foreground, Priest on right foreground and Dagariya near temple
            The day we reached our modest dwelling, there was quite a cacophony in the vicinity and in no time we received an invitation to be part of a Jagar ceremony being convened by our next door neighbors.  This was an alien concept for me and after checking out as to what would be our part in the proceedings, whether some monetary donations etc. was required to be made etc., we proceeded to be a part of the proceedings.   Jagar is a form of ancestor spirit worship practiced in the hills of Kumaon and Garwal. The word Jagar originates from the Sanskrit root Jaga (meaning to wake), Jagar is a medium or way by which Gods and local deities are invoked or woken from their dormant stage and asked for favors or remedies for certain problems plaguing the person or village as a whole.  It is attached to the idea of divine justice and is organized to seek penance for a crime or seek justice from the Gods for some injustice.  Music is the medium through which the gods are invoked. The singer or Jagariya sings a ballad of the gods with references drawn from the great epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and also from folklore of local deities, wherein the adventures and exploits of the God being invoked are sung.  Apparently, the hard life of the hills accompanied with lack of basic facilities and isolation from the mainstream, accompanied with constant exposure to the vagaries of nature, has inspired a strong belief in paranormal phenomena and also in numerous Folk Gods who have gained great reverence and respect of these hill dwellers. Every village had its own God protecting its boundaries called Bhumyal or Kshetrapal, each family has its Kul Devta or Kul Devi and numerous other benevolent demi-Gods/Goddesses and malicious spirits, which could reward or torment people and had to be appeased.  The isolation of these regions of the Himalayas has promoted the emergence of local religious traditions, which are still strong in these regions along with mainstream Hinduism.  Jagar ceremonies are of two types one is the Dev Jagar, the invocation of a god, usually local gods in the body of the medium and the other is the Bhut Jagar, the invocation of a deceased person spirit or soul in the medium’s body.
The Jagariya in his full rhythm
Having experienced the rituals, I got interested in understanding the proceedings of Jagar and collected first hand information from he villagers as well as the oft reliable source i.e. the internet.  The integral parts of the Jagar ritual are – i) Jagariya is the person who is the singer of the ballads of the Gods and who leads the rituals and invokes the Gods by calling upon them, he is assisted by two or more men who sing along with him in chorus; ii) Dagariya is the medium, whose body is used by the Gods when they are invoked. Dagariya comes from the Kumaoni word Dagar (meaning way), he is the one who shows the way; and iii) Syonkar is the person who organizes the Jagar to seek divine intervention to his problems. The Jagar is held at his home or family temple.  The rituals are followed in the prescribed manner - The room and during this occasion the family temple,  in which the Jagar is to be performed is purified by purification processes closely administered by the Jagar singer or ‘’Jagariya’’.  The ‘Dhuni’ or sacred fire is lit for performing the ‘Homa’, which is the process of chanting or recitation of religious hymns through purification by fire.  The musical instruments used are the ‘Hurka’, ‘Dhol’, ‘Damau’ & ‘Thali’ all of which are percussion instruments native to Uttarakhand, played by the professional musicians & Jagariyas themselves.   The actual ritual begins with singing of ‘Sanjhvali Geet’, wherein all Gods are remembered and their names repeated and assistance sought for a successful completion of the Jagar.  This is followed by the ‘Birtvai’, wherein the divine spirit being invoked upon is praised and ballads related to his or her adventures and his or her life are sung out loud.  The next stage is known as the ‘Ausan, wherein the beats of the ‘Hurka’ and the other instruments are slowly increased in a crescendo.  Now the ‘Dagariya’ starts going into a state of a trance with frenzied movement.   Another essential part of the ritual is known as the ‘Guru Aarti’, as it is based on a local belief that all Gods, Demi-Gods in the local pantheon of Kumaon are believed to be disciples of Guru Gorakhnath and therefore, he too is appeased and remembered and his protection is also sought.  As the ceremony nears its end, ‘Kakh Raman’ is applied on foreheads of all present, which is the  ash known as ‘Bibhuit’ obtained from the ‘Homa’ ash, offered during the fire sacrifice made to the Gods.  Thereafter, some senior citizens expresses the ‘Dainik Vichar’, which means thinking about the provider, they contemplate about God and the way he provides for us.  As the ceremony draws to a close, the people present are ritually blessed by the priests who pray for their prosperity, this is known as ‘Ashirwad’.  Finally, to conclude the proceedings, the Gods are requested to return or ‘Prasthan’ for their respective heavenly abodes, at this concluding stage of the Jagar cenermony/ritual.  Behind the performance of Jagar is the deep-seated belief of the people of Uttarakhand in divine justice and the law of “karma’ (‘As you sow, so shall you reap’ theory).  It is a deep seated belief set in the minds of these hill people that bad deeds shall be visited upon the doer and that justice will finally be delivered by the Gods.  This has been the essence of their honesty and simplicity, because of which they lead a simple & pure lifestyle, which is now being eroded through exposure to modern way of life, as in cities.
Headed for the village temple of the local Kshetrapal
Front view of Bambaiyanath temple, Timila Village
The Homa site inside Bambaiyanath temple, Timila Village
        As narrated hereinabove, every village has its own God to protect its boundaries known as the Bhumyal or Kshetrapal.  Similarly, Timila village also has its own temple dedicated to village God called ‘Bambaiyanath’.  Although the place where I have built my dwelling is part of the Timila Gram Sabha, but it is known as Badhan Khet and the actual Timila Village is situated below in the valley.  The next morning, as was our plan chalked out even before arriving at Timila, we started early, before the Sun was up to its zenith, as the June Sun is really harsh in the mountains.  It took us a good part of an hour to reach our destination, although it was all the way downhill.  The temple is situated on a spur, right before the actual village boundary starts.  Although there is no visible form of any God or Goddess in the temple, but there is a big Homa spot and evidently the Shaivite traditions are followed here.  There is a small temple dedicated to Goddess Kali also within the precincts of the temple.  A local resident of Timila, who is also overseeing the work of construction, Sh. Bansi Dhar Papnae had graciously extended his help to take us to the village temple and is also an active participant in village activities.  He assured us that it takes about 15 odd minutes for him to reach the top i.e. upto the roadhead, where our dwelling is situated.  Assured that it would not be an arduous trek, we started our ascent, but to our dismay found the trek a wee bit difficult, particularly for my daughter.  After resting hither & thither, we finally reached our next destination for the day i.e. Golu Devta temple of the village.  We performed a small Puja ceremony, conducted by our benefactor Sh. Bansi Dhar Papnae, who is also a Bramhin.  However, by this time we were literally famished, both with exhaustion and hunger, as we had proceeded for the temple without partaking our B’fast.  Having performed the Puja, we sat outside the temple courtyard to partake our packed B’fast, comprising of Aloo Pranthas & tea, which was akin to a picnic. 
 Brass bells of many shapes & sizes inside Bambaiyanath temple, Timila Village
Goddess Kali temple in the precincts of Bambaiyanath temple, Timila Village
Idol of Goddess Kali in the temple in the precincts of Bambaiyanath temple, Timila Village
Sh. Bansi Dhar Papnae offering prayers & performing puja in Golu Devta temple, Timila Village
            We passed our next few days cocooned in the village and our days passed like bliss, with nature at its purest, no noise, dust or suspended particulate pollution.  As the sun set, the twinkling lights of the mountain homes alongwith the twinkling stars merged and occasional firefly passing by was a mesmerizing experience.  Thus, we spent our first vacation in our new dwelling nestled in the hills of Kumoan, experiencing its cultural heritage et al.
Enjoy some views from Badahan Khet, Timila
Lal Kurti region of Ranikhet as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village
Pali village as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village
Mangar village as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village
Himalayan ranges  as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village
Close up of Trishul mastiff at sunset as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village
The hill lights & twinkling stars at night as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village
A joint family dwelling in Timila Village as seen from Badan Khet, Timila Village