One of the delights of staying in the Kullu District is that there are a huge number of local festivals, most of which involve visits from deities from neighboring temples.
I happened to visit one such festival in the village of Jibhi, which took place at a temple dedicated to Sheshnag. There were two ‘visitors’, Latoda (Vishnu) and Phujari (Lakshman, Rama’s brother). They arrived with drums beating and trumpets blaring—not exactly a pleasant and melodious sound, but that’s not the point.When the deities visit each other, they shake and lean towards each other. It is said that this happens spontaneously, with no effort from the men carrying them. It is how they greet each other. Leaning together is rather like giving each other a hug, as it was explained to me.
There was one specially interesting man, a local shaman (the other two ‘priests’ may have been shamans, as well.) You can see him with the extremely long dreadlocks next to Sheshnag. When he arrived, his hair was wrapped, and at the end it was again wrapped. However, when he goes into a trance, he lets it down, and sometimes wraps it around his neck. Periodically over the course of a few hours, everyone would get up and go around again, then things would settle down for a while when men would come to him for prasad and blessings. The women and children stayed on the sidelines.
Later in the afternoon, when it was time for dancing, many of the men formed a long chain and began snaking around the grounds rather wildly. You can see them in the video above, though this was actually before they really got going. A friend explained that the “unbreakable” chain of people is to remind them to stick together no matter what happens. I noticed that that as much as the chain surged and stumbled around the grounds, I never saw anyone let go until it was all over.
No Indian festival would be complete without sweets. When I saw the huge piles of jalebis and other sweets, as well as a variety of pakoras, I thought the sellers must be incredibly optimistic, especially as no one seemed to be buying any at first. However, towards the end of the day, people suddenly descended on them like a swarm of locusts and everything disappeared.
This was definitely not a tourist event, which made it all the more delightful. There were a few Indian tourists, and maybe one or two other foreigners, but I seem to have been the only one who stayed around for any length of time. It was rather like a mini version of Dussehra, which happens usually in October, but that festival is crowded with tourists, as well as many thousands of Himachalis from all over the area. At that festival, a few hundred deities come from the local temples to visit each other.
Festivals like this are one of the things that keep the communities connected with each other. But the deep connectedness and intimacy of relations within the village itself is something Westerners can hardly even begin to imagine.
[All photos by JD Viharini]