6th Day of Nanda Raj Jat 2014: Silence of Sem and Cacophony of Koti

August 22, 2014 Friday

Music died and excitement sunk because someone died in Sem last night. The procession left the village early without any intimation like sudden death. The musicians brought the procession back to life from Ghariyal village.

The narrow stony trail followed the contours of the stepped fields. Some parts of the trail consisted of stony flights of steps and concrete ramps. The trail afforded views of banj (oak) and burans (rhododendron) forests and gave a glimpse of our next day halt Bhagoti.

After Dilkhal, Koti was all downhill. The dry leaves covering the section reduced the protective friction. The procession visited Dharkot, Ghariyal, Dhandiyal, Simtoli, and Sitolidhar villages before stopping at Koti to replenish the energies. All the villages featured many traditional houses facing healthy looking fields, the mini granaries. As we approached Koti, the pregnant fields squeezed the trail in tight hugs.

We reached Koti relatively early around 04:00 pm because we started early, before 10:00 am due to the death. The sun smiled in the friendly sky throughout the day. Both day and night were hot. Salt from the sweat deposited on my clothes. I could however enjoy a refreshing head bath because of a generous local family. Koti had a shop of jalebi and pakora, 2-3 ration shops but Parachute coconut oil was not available. No paper soap. But, along the road on the ground, non-local vendors who slept in open displayed their wares, including cheap bangles, bindis, jewelry, lingerie, and plastic goods.

Koti experienced its share of rituals and traditions. A red and white flag, the sign of Bhagwati, and latu from Bagoli joined the procession. The parasol from Ratura was welcomed at the new temple, whereas a number of village-specific parasols assembled at the old temple. Both the temples are dedicated to the goddess Nanda Devi. The parasols from Khadura, Ratura, Chulakot, and Thapali villages expanded the procession.

Koti blessed with the road was cacophonous because more pilgrims and officials could join the event. The night long loud folk and religious performances belied the essence of pilgrimage. Traditionally, the pilgrimage means reviewing your life, thinking of gods and goddesses, and seeking forgiveness for wrongdoings and a space in the heaven.  Or it was not a pilgrimage. It was a re-creation of a highly emotional episode from the celestial marriage like in marriages of mortal beings. The performances punished many people with a sleepless night. But many people actually enjoyed the performances.

The Garhwali dhol players mesmerized the audience with their skills. Some members of the audience suddenly went into trances. Dharmvir, a local folk singer, drew cheers and applauds from the crowd and earned money, at least one thousand rupees in 3-5 minute performance. Mainly young people gave him money for dancing with him.

As the visitors settled down in Koti and the night thickened, puja and devata dance at the tunes of dhol and damau were performed in a small open space near the old temple around 10:00 pm. Local women dominated the puja and men dominated the dance. Only three women who suddenly felt devata presence in their bodies danced to the drum beats. Men reeking of liquor and beedi sang songs to evoke the devata. The rhythms pleased the ears but the reek disturbed the nose when I tried to go near them.

In Koti, merciless trampling of the fields impregnated with green seeds of life turned the fields into limp soggy mass in a spilt of seconds. The pilgrims who trampled the fields had no remorse because the field owners and the locals did not object owing to the belief that this occasional trampling is good. The trampling was in fact common throughout the pilgrimage.

Next morning as the day woke up, we (did not sleep) heard faint bird chirps and cheeps. But sounds of early morning mountain winds simply disappeared in conversations of pilgrims, announcements and music exiting from the public address systems, and noises vehicles made.

Private and public camps and street lights were quickly wound up as soon as the pilgrims started moving to the next camp. The man made sounds died, the villages (the previous night hosts) again became quiet but not clean like they were before. The mountain winds and sounds flowed freely again.

Picture perfect moments from the 6th Day of Nanda Raj Jat 2014


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