The gurs go in a trance-like state called khel, while answering queries put forth by devotees to seek help of the deity to solve their problems and give messages of the deity to the devotees. Every deity has a team of drummers called bajantaris.

Deity culture is an integral part of life in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. People here have enormous faith in the mystical and divine powers of hundreds of gods and goddesses and the deities play an important role in the religious, social and cultural life of people in the state, also known as Dev Bhoomi.

The majority of people in Himachal Pradesh worship at least one local god or goddess, which is the principal or presiding deity of that place. The deities are considered as guardians and guides and people go to them to seeking blessings and their help on every occasion.

From the birth of a newborn to the death of a person, blessings of the deity are considered necessary.  While people take their blessings before starting any auspicious ceremony or undertaking new work, they also visit them before sowing or harvesting of crops and the fresh produce is not put to use before sending offerings to their deity.

Almost every village or cluster of villages worship a local god or a goddess, however some deities like Bada Deo Kamrunag , Prashar Rishi  and Lord Madho Rai in Mandi district , Bhagsu Nag in Kangra district, Hidimba Devi  and Lord Raghunath in Kullu district,  Shirgul Devta and Renuka in Sirmour district, etc,  have trans-regional followings.

The local deities have a strong institution, which is managed by a kardar. Priests of the deities called as gurs act as interlocutors between gods and devotees and are also known for their oracle powers. The gurs go in a trance-like state called khel, while answering queries put forth by devotees to seek help of the deity to solve their problems and give messages of the deity to the devotees. Every deity has a team of drummers called bajantaris.

The devotees of a particular deity visits him/her in their place of dwelling on every auspicious occasion and pay obeisance during famous annual fairs like Shivratri in Mandi, Dasehra in Kullu , Renuka and Shirgul fair in Sirmaur districts, when hundreds of deities congregate at one place.

Some devotees also invite deities to their places for overnight stay on auspicious occasions to seek blessings or as a mark of gratitude on fulfillment of their wishes.

The devotees offer the best food and make their stay comfortable, followed by a community feast.

Locals also visit deities to seek their help in fighting natural calamities like flood, heavy rain or a draught. Deo Kamrunag is famous as a god of rain and is visited every year by devotees seeking rain; the devotees offer goats to appease him.  They also lodge their protest in the case of failure in fulfilling their wish and a long dry spell during the last winter had put a question mark on the spiritual power of the gur of Deo Kamrunag when people threatened to replace him.

The deities also play a very significant role in protecting the environment, the forests, the water sources and maintaining cleanliness within their area of influence and check use of intoxicants and smoking.  Many deities have banned felling of trees in the surrounding forests, polluting water sources and have checked environmental degradation. They also discipline violators by imposing fines in cash or kind.

The principle deity of Malana, Jamlu devta, forbids all outsiders from entering the village, bans going near the temple by imposing cash fines and dominates every decision related to the village. The residents of Malana had been opposing entry of the police in the area to uproot illegal cultivation of cannabis under the garb of the deity.

Locals also seek their advice in undertaking development projects like hydel power projects, cement plants, etc. A few years back, the deities of Kullu area had joined locals in opposing a proposed snow village project on the snow slopes of Manali through a congregation of deities called Jagti in the area to protect ecology there. The people in Kinnaur district and Tirthan valley had sought the help of local deities to oppose the starting of hydel power projects in the area to save ecology.

Deities also play an important role in the politics of Himachal Pradesh. Leaders of all major political parties seek their blessings for victory in every election and try to use the influence of the deities.  Even locals in many areas seek the advice of their deity before voting in an election.

(This article published in “The Tribune” on 23rd June, 2018)

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