NANDA DEVI RAJ JAT
Nandadevi Raj Jat is an important religious event of Chamoli district in Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. It involves a long trekking for taking the area’s reigning deity – Goddess Nanda to her divine destination of Gaungati peak which is believed to be the abode of her consort, Lord Shiva. The Raj Jat (originally Raj Yatra-the royal journey) is taken up every 12 years, after elaborate preparations by the descendants of the royal priests now living at village Nauti and royal class of Kunwars living in Kansuwar. The purpose of the 280 kms. long arduous trek undertaken by thousands of devotees is to escort the Goddess to her in-laws place. The Jat resembles the postnuptial rite of ceremonially seeing off a daughter as she leaves for her husband’s home with all her personal effects and dowry.
AN ANCIENT TRADITION
The event starts off on an interesting note when priests and patrons associated with this ancient tradition assemble and put their heads together to draw a time schedule for the retinue to reach the scheduled spots on the itinerary on specific auspicious dates. The objective is to reach Home Kund on Nandastmi, falling sometime around August-September and Kulsari on the succeeding new moon for performing special rituals related to worshiping of the Goddess.
Soon after the time-schedule is finalized, the customary chief patron of the event, the prince of Kanswa arrives in Nauti to seek blessings of the Goddess and organize the Jat. He brings offerings including Ringal-Ki-Chhantoli, a specially prepared umbrella and a four horned ram. Goddess Nanda’s idol, which is made of gold, is placed on the Ringal-Ki-Chhantoli which becomes the seat of the deity.
The four horned ram acts as guide and also the carrier of personal effects of the Goddess. Surprisingly, the ram leads the Jat on the tortuous trek and when it rests during the night, it sleeps near the image of the Goddess. On the last day of the journey after the final pooja, the ram leaves alone towards the snow-clad peaks and gets lost in the wilderness.
GENESIS OF THE TRADITION
Nanda Raj Jat is an ancient tradition, which has been in vogue in the region for a long time. The genesis of Nanda worship is wrapped in mystery. However, most scholars agree that its genesis dates back to the 9th century or even before. According to the folk songs sung at Nauti during this Jat, King Shalipal of Chandpur Garhi is said to have laid the foundation of this tradition. He directed his royal priests to worship the Goddess according to his instructions.
After performing special worship of the other Goddesses-Bhumial Devi (Goddess Earth), Utrai Devi and Archna Devi and Archna Devi – all popular deities of the region, he preserved a meticulous record of the yatra programme to escort Goddess Nanda to her in-law’s place after every 12 years. He entrusted his royal priests residing at Nauti the responsibility to execute the Jat with the help of royal patronage and local people. The king also authorized his younger brother settled in the nearby village of Kansava to represent the royal house in this Yatra and help the priest perform all rites and rituals connected with this event.
REVERENCE AND PURITY
Since then, the tradition of the Jat has continued to this day. After every 12 years, it originates from Nauti after elaborate rituals. The image of the Goddess and offering are taken in a procession, accompanied by bare footed devotees. The followers observe self-control, partaking of food prepared according to prescribed religious instructions only and participate in fervent rendition of devotional songs and dances. The entourage halts at night. People from villages on the way turn up in large numbers, have darshan and make offering to the deity. Many people join the group and remain with it till the yatra concludes. The accompanying group of devotees swells with every passing day. Night halts are made at specific villages on the itinerary where all necessary arrangements for the boarding and lodging of the retinue are made by the villagers. Special poojas and rituals are performed at every halt. Groups from far and near join the procession with their own idols and umbrellas. Prominent among such are the groups from Kurud near Ghat, Lata near Tapovan and Almora in Kumaon. Some 300 idols and decorated umbrellas assemble at Waan. It is a tradition in this village to keep all houses in readiness for use by the yatris. The doors are kept unlocked on the day the Jat arrives here.
The Jat concludes on the 22nd day (Nandastami) at Home Kund, about one km from the foot hills of Nanda-Trisuli peak. Before reaching the final destination, the Jat has to cross the crucial Jyunva gali/Rupkund cliff which is difficult to negotiate.
The priests and devotees at Home Kund offer special prayers and rituals and load their offering on the four horned ram. The Goddess is decorated in special bridal make up and is given a tearful farewell. It is a pathetic scene with all the devotees in tears, as if they are bidding farewell to their own daughter, leaving her in-laws home to meet her husband. The image of Goddess is left there. The four horned ram proceeds towards Kailash (Trishuli peak), the abode of Lord Shiva on its own. The peak is a part of Nanda Parvat which is the highest mountain of the Chamoli district and is widely revered by one and all. Women of the area believe that the mist around the Nanda Kot peak is the smoke coming out of the kitchen of Goddess Nanda. So overwhelming is their feeling for the Goddess that they become incredibly sentimental and break into tears while singing the songs associates with their revered Goddess whom they regard as a pampered daughter of their own.
Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati both have been associated with Himalaya which is believed to be the abode of Gods. Shiva is believed to reside at Mount Kailash while Parvati (Shail Putri) is mythologically regarded as the daughter of the hills. Parvati is also known as Nanda in Garhwal & Kumaon area and the highest peak of the district has been identified with the name of reigning deity of the area.
The popularity of the Goddess can be gauged from the fact that Nanda temples are dotted all over prominent places in Garhwal and Kumaon. Some of the ancient Nanda temples are located at Nauti Chandpur, Kurur, Devrada, Kulsari, Navdkesri, Lohajang, Shila Samudra, Nandakot Vaidini, Srinagar, Sink, Devikhet, Nandprayag, Gopeshwar, Helang, Lat, Niti and Badrinath. Similarly, prominent Nanda temples in Kumaon region include the temples located at Nainital, Almora, Baijnath, Shuwbhgash, Munsyari, Doonagiri, Jageshwar, Bageshwar and Ranikhet. These and the wide spread tradition of Nanda Jat in these areas are adequate evidence that the Nanda Jat celebrations are a symbol of cultural unity of the Uttarakhand area.
NANDA IN HISTORY
The genesis of Nanda Devi is not very clear. Folk lyrics suggest that Nanda was princess of the Chanda dynasty of Almora. Some people associate the Goddess with Yog Maya, the daughter of Nanda, who replaced the eighth issue of vasudev (father of Krishna) and who escaped from the hands of her assailant, Kansa and forewarned him of his impending death at the hands of Krishna. There is no mention of Nanda in the Puranas or either scriptures. However, certain later inscriptions mention a Goddess with names similar to Nanda. The Goddess finds mention in Sanskrit literature. Some very old statues found in Mathura show one Goddess as Ennansha. Accordingly, some people believe that the same Goddess was subsequently regarded as Nanda. Naini (of Nainital) and Naina (of Himachal Pradesh) also appear to be variants of the same Goddess. There are ancient temples of the Goddess at about twenty places over Garhwal. Similar temples are found in Almora region also.
THE LEGEND OF NANDA DEVI
King Jasdhaval of Kannauj is closely associated with the history of Nanda Raj Jat. It is believed that Jasdhaval’s queen, Vallabha, was the daughter of rulers of Chandapur (Garhwal). Once upon a time, the queen was cursed by Nandadevi. Because of this, her kingdom became victim of draught, famine and many other natural calamities. The royal priest divined the reason and advised the king to participate in Nanda Raj Jat to get rid of the curse. Accordingly, King Jasdhaval, queen Vallabha, teenaged prince Jadeel and princess Jadeela alongwith a huge entourage including dancing girls and musician arrived in Garhwal and joined the Jat near village Wan. However, they did not remove their shoes or quit partaking of prohibited food and vices despite the fact that beyond Rin Ki Dhaar, even carrying these things along is traditionally prohibited. Defying the norms, the king held a dancing session. Since then, the place is known as Patar Nachonia (the spot where this was organized) The queen who was pregnant delivered in a cave about four kms. from Rupkund. The royal entourage had to make a night halt there.
The king’s irreverence earned the Goddess’ wrath, who caused very heavy snowfall that night. It was followed by a deadly avalanche in which the entire royal entourage perished. Some persons are said to have slipped into the nearby Roopkund lake and died. According to the local legend, the dancing girls frozen and turned into rocks that can still be seen arranged in a circle. This accident is believed to have occurred sometimes around 1150 A.D. Jasdhaval is believed to be an ancestor of the prince of Kansua and thus began the tradition of offering homage to jasdhaval at this point.
In some areas, there is a tradition of organizing annual Jat as well. These Jats are slightly different and cover smaller circuit. Such annual Jats are common in Garhwal-Kumaon areas. At many places, fairs are held and special worship is performed in Nanda temples. Places associated with such celebrations include Danpur, Katyur, Vadhan, Nainital, Almora, Johan, Kurur and Devrada. At Kurur, the celebrations continue for several days and Jat is taken upto Vaidnikund.
A VIBRANT CULTURE
Nandadevi Raj Jat is as excellent example of the vibrant culture of Uttarakhand pulsating in a land blessed with superb natural beauty with verdant villages, meandering streams, high mountains, deep gorges and a rich cultural heritage. The festival offers a kaleidoscopic view of the colourful lives of the inhabitants. Visitors are overwhelmed by the feel of the common under-current of spirituality, love and compassion that manifests itself in myriad ways in the area.
PLACES TO SEE
Lohajang : Lohajang is situated at a distance of 7 kms. uphill from Bakargad. The trek is a strenuous one, but the picturesque views of natural splendour throughout the route makes one forget the perils of this arduous trek. Lojanjang is situates at an altitude of 2280 mts.
Bann : The village of Bann is located at a distance of 5 kms. from Lohajang. The entire route is up hill but the road wide and comfortably with tall birch, oak and Deodar trees lining its sides. The village is inhabited by Palso shepherds and farmers. The dwelling units of this village are single, double or triple storyed and of a typical style, suited to the mountains. The village is famous for the shrine of Latu Devta. Accommodation is available in Dak Bunglow & Tourist Rest House.
Bedini Bugyal/Vaitarani : Situated close to Bann, Bedini Bugyal is a beautiful meadow, carpeted with soft, green grass. One can find patches in the meadow where myriad variety of beautiful flowers in full bloom add a dash of colour to the charming green meadow. A small lake known as Vaitarani is situated in the midst of this meadow, where tarpans are offered. A small temple is also situated here.
Pattar Nachoniya : Ahead of Bedini Bugyal is the legendary Pattar Nachonia where King Jasdhaval is said to have made his female courtesans dance. Legend has it that the king’s indulgence earned the ire of the Goddess Nanda Devi and the dancing girls were turned to stone. These stones can still be seen today, arranged in a circle at this very spot.
Gangotri Cave : This cave is where the pregnant queen of the Jasdhaval, Vallabh, delivered a child.
Kaliuva Vinayak : 5 kms. from Pattar Nachonia and at an altitude of 3000 mts., the place offers a panoramic view of Trishul and Nanda peaks. Situated here is a famous stone of lord Ganesha, worshipped as Kailura Vinayak.
Bagwawasa : The place is filled with Brahmakamals, the magical aroma of these magnificent flowers creates a mystical ambience. The lore behind the name Bagwawasa seems to be that is one has to make a dwelling (wasa) then it has to be here, for, ahead of it is the deadly precipice, known as Juna Gali, or the alley of death.
Roopkund : Roopkund is a mysterious lake which is situated at an altitude of 5029 mts. In the interior of the district Chamoli. The lake is rather shallow having a depth of about 2 mts. With the edges covered with snow for most part of the year. When the snow melts, human and equine skeletal remains can be seen, some of them with flesh attached. These remains have been preserved in he alpine conditions for centuries. It is believed that these are the remains of about 300 persons who died about 500-600 years ago. There are may theories explaining these findings, but none are satisfying. Hence the lake is also known as the ‘Mystery Lake’. It is however one of most popular treks in the Garhwal, as it abounds in spectacular mountain scenery.
The otherwise quite & serene mountains of Garhwal reverberates with a flurry of festive activity during the Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra, a royal pilgrimage through the precipitous mountains, that has been in vogue since time immemorial. Seeped in deep-rooted religious tradition, folklore and mythology, the yatra is associated with the legend of Nanda Devi, a Goddess held in reverence of the local inhabitants of the region. Perhaps, it is their faith and intense devotion alone that helps them not only to smile their way through the tortuous trek but also to survive the tortuous trek but also to survive cheerfully even in the harsh climatic conditions. Page has been viewed 113 times..