The four-century old Shivratri fair always has a long divine guest list. The annual fair happens in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh during February-March. The fair begins with the arrival of Kamrunag devta (deity) in Mandi town. Then a stream of hill deities reaches Mandi. Almost all the deities pay a visit to the old Madho Rao (Krishna) Temple located within DC office complex. Thereafter every day the deities assemble at specially created Dev Sadan (Deity House) until the last day of the fair. The deities meet fellow deities and visitors at Dev Sadan, the temporary day home for these celestial figures. The deity caretakers (kardars) spent nights in the temples or with their relatives in the town. A few deities also camp with in the house. More than two hundred local / village deities reach Mandi to attend the fair.
Each village of Mandi district has a separate deity. The local deities are called papa (male figures) and papra (female figures) in Himachal Pradesh.
The deities are represented by small mask-like processional plaques (mohras) of metal (brass, gold, silver…). These plaques follow a set of design rules. At the bottom a 2-3-foot wide wooden frame with two long poles sits. More than four feet tall frame is decorated with colorful silk cloths. The masks, home to the spirits of the village deities, are placed on the cloths. The masks are crowned with bulky canopies, the headgears in jazzy color schemes that will catch your attention first. Gods wear a variety of dome like canopies, whereas goddesses mainly use chatra. Chatras are generally smaller than the image. Under the big canopies, multi-faced or single-face masks are installed. In some frames, you will find masks of both god and goddess.
The host, the Himachal Pradesh administration, facilitates stay of the caretakers by offering:
- Allowance for deities and the accompanying musicians
- Ration consisting of rice and pulses for the caretakers
This assembly of gods and goddesses from various Himalayan hamlets is a sight to be experienced personally. We visited the Dev Sadan almost daily during the 2013 edition of the fair.
Today’s photo story introduces you to some of the celestial figures who graced the occasion.
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