Kullu Dussehra with Dei Saab Rupeshwari Kumari Singh
Famed over the centuries for being India's most enigmatic celebration of Dussehra, Kullu's Dussehra remains as unique as it was 5 centuries ago. This year, Rajputana Collective is privileged to have Kullu's Dei Saab Rupeshwari Kumari Singh account for what these divine festivities have meant to her- as the eldest child and daughter of the house of Kullu.
My memory takes me to the Dussehra of 2001 when I was merely 3 years old. My grandfather called for me, I see myself running towards him in a baby pink frock and my new sandals. He handed me a 50 rupee note and told me, “ you are a big girl now.” From this day forth, he would give me 50 rupees for next seven days of Dussehra as my daily allowance. Ecstasy filled me and I felt like a responsible girl. Holding my father’s finger, I stepped out of the camp into the mela ground. I see it all at once- the toy vendor, the balloon seller and the cotton candy man. So many options to choose from. Ever since then, Dussehra has been etched into my memory as my favorite festival.
Kullu’s Dussehra resonates with divinity. When the country ends its Vijay Dashmi celebration, the Dussehra celebrations at Kullu have only just begun. The festivities go on for seven days, ending with a Lanka Dehan. According to ancient Puranas, the Great War between the demon king Ravana and Lord Rama went on for seven whole days, wherein Ravana is known to have breathed his last on the new moon. Therefore, Kullu celebrates its Dussehra for seven days. The new moon falls on the seventh day, when the rituals of Lanka Dehan are commemorated. It is the most special festival of the year for the people of the valley. They get to meet their beloved deities and dance with them on the invigorating beats of the local dhols and narsinghas.
Kullu Dussehra revolves around the prime deity of the Kullu valley, Lord Raghunath ji. The 16th century ruler of Kullu, Raja Jagat Singh was considered as one of the most powerful kings of Kullu. During his period, the kingdom was consolidated and people lived a prosperous life. As the story goes, power is infectious and is often accompanied by demons of its own.
Raja Jagat was given a piece of false information that a brahmin named Durga Dutt has a rare collection of beautiful pearls, the kind only fit to be owned by a Raja. Upon hearing this news, Raja Jagat Singh instantly wanted to make them his. He promptly went over to Durga Dutt's house and ordered him to hand over the collection of pearls. Despite the brahmin’s constant refusal, the Raja did not budge from insisting for the pearls to be handed over. Afraid of thr Raja's last warning, the poor Brahmin set his entire family and house on fire. He cursed the selfish Raja- “You will be punished for your cruelty!”
Having been responsible for the death of a Brahmin (Bhram hatya) the Raja soon developed leprosy. Desperate for a cure, he took shelter under Fuhari Baba who was also known as Kishan Das Ji. As an act of penance, the baba advised the king to bring the idol of Lord Rama from Tretanath temple, Ayodhya. As per his instructions, the idols of Tretanath temple were to be brought across by another Brahmin known as Damodar Dass Gosain and installed in Sultanpur Kullu.
Upon the successful completion of this act, the king was indeed cured of his illness. Grateful to have miraculously got his life back, Raja Jagat Singh devoted the rest of his new life to Lord Raghunath Ji. He declared him the ruler of Kullu valley, and offered him the raj gaddi or the royal throne. He declared himself as the first servant of the lord.
Thereafter, Raja Jagat Singhji invited 365 deities from all around the valley to participate in the forthcoming Kullu Dussehra festivities. Since then, the festival is celebrated with full pomp and show. Having transformed with the times, the Kullu Dussehra grows larger and grander with each passing year. Today, it is the most awaited event of the year. It is lovely to see the deities all decked up in their finest jewels, clothes and fresh flowers, carried forth in palanquins by accompanying villagers. These villagers are the ones who bring life and energy to this event. It is overwhelming to see their dedication towards their deities. The children as well as the old folks walk miles on foot with the divine palanquins to reach the Dussehra grounds at Dhalpur in Kullu.
Growing up in such a blessed and religious environment, I too share similar sentiments with my valley residents. Lord Raghunath ji is not a deity but a family member for us; in fact, he is the head of our family.
This humanization of deities constitutes the very soul of the Kullu valley. Gods are brought down from their divine statuses to be revered as family members. I have seen people dance with Lord Raghunath ji, take every life decision as per his answer, and empty all their worries in front of him. In today’s times when the world is modernizing, visiting temples or merely offering a prayer is looked down upon by the newer generations as obsolete. Nevertheless, the valley’s deeply rooted culture and faith is passed on to the next generation as inherited legacy, that everyone takes immense pride in.
My household starts buzzing almost a month prior to Dussehra. Everyone is all over the place, sending invitation letters to all the deities, stitching new clothes for Raghunath ji and organizing the utensils and furniture. All these household rituals have been kept intact for as far as my memory takes me.
My favorite part of Dussehra's preparation is the making of barley grass garlands. This dash of Dashain in our Dussehra is owed to my grandmother, who comes from the long line of the Ranas of Nepal, as did my great-grandmother. In Nepalese culture, barely grass garlands are worn around the neck during Dashain festivities.
My great-grandmother, late Rajamata Yeena Divyeshwari Devi started making these garlands for Lord Raghunath ji, Sita mata and Hanuman ji.
Later on, when my grandmother came, these garlands were made for all the men of the family who took part in the first day of the procession.
I have always loved to make little bundles of grass twigs, hand them over to Dadi and watch her seamlessly tie a thread around them. On the first day, right before the procession, we line up in my great grandmother's room and wait for our turn for the tikka. In Nepal, it is a tradition for elders to apply tikka on the younger family members’ foreheads, handing them the barley grass garlands as a sign of blessings and prosperity. Being the eldest in my generation, I have the privilege of standing first in line every year. “May you come with a worthy husband next year”, my 90-year-old granny blesses me. Dussehra celebrations without her will always feel incomplete.
As the procession begins, the men of the house walk alongside the palanquin of Ragunath Ji and the women follow them to Dhalpur in cars. As a little girl, I used to sit atop the car and wave at my grandfather each time I caught a glimpse of him. I sat with folded hands waiting for the rath to graciously be pulled by thousands of devotes. The rath in the middle, surrounded by palanquins of deities, is a sight to behold.
Our camps are set up In the mela ground near the temple shivi and the men stay here for 7 days until the Lanka Dehan. Every evening around four o'clock, Dada gets ready in his full regal attire to head the Narsinh Jaleb. It is said that the Raja is an incarnation of Lord Narsinh and he will protect the festivities from evil eyes. The Raja is taken on his sukhpal (palanquin), accompanied by a bunch of deities around the mela grounds to create a protective holy fence. I remember everything by heart, which ornament or garment Dada would dawn next. I stand right next to him, ready to hand him everything.
Girls are not supposed to sit on the raj gaddi or sukhpal. After my brother’s birth in 2003, he used to sit with Dada everywhere as a kid, making my sister and me envious. On one such evening, Dada told us that there were chairs set up for both my sister and I, such that we could watch the festivities and local dances with him. We were so excited that we remained glued to our seats until it was time to wave Dada goodbye for his Jaleb.
I have been lucky enough never to miss a single Dussehra celebration in Kullu. No matter where I am, I always make sure to return home to witness this event. The triumph of good over evil, blessings of countless deities gathered in one place and the richness of the valley is something I would never want to forsake being a part of. I am 24 today, running towards Dada, this time in a fuchsia saree waiting for him to hand me my daily allowance, which is now is 300 rupees a day. I feel like a responsible girl, as he first told me I was.