Continuing our series on Stories from the hills…
How Ram reached Kullu and became the prime deity
Kullu Valley, the most fertile region of Himachal Pradesh, watered by the rivers Beas, Parvati and Sarvari, was ruled by small Ranas, each owning just a handful of villages, with their own palaces and forts built on the secure, highest peaks. They lived lavishly and petty quarrels and skirmishes amongst were common.
When Manipal, said to be a defeated and destitute prince from across the Ganga, probably from Bengal, reached Kullu, he sensed that this was a kingdom that might be conquered because of such infighting. However, the Ranas, when faced with an exterior foe, decided to forget their personal enmity and united to give Manipal a sound defeat.
On the run, Manipal took refuge in a thick forest. Hungry, tired and frustrated, he saw an old woman squatting under a tree. As he watched her, he saw that she was trying to stand up with the support of the tree. Forgetting his own exhaustion, Manipal walked up to her and helped her to her feet. The old woman then said in a quavering voice: “I have nothing to give you to show my gratitude, but if you get up on my back, a great reward shall be yours.”
Manipal laughed out loud at this suggestion, for he was a big hefty man and the woman could hardly carry her own weight. But the old woman would not take no for an answer and finally persuaded Manipal to stand on her back. As he stood, the old woman began to swell. Soon she burst out of the forest and still she continued to grow, till she was higher than the surrounding mountains.
Then spoke the goddess Hidimba, for that was who she was, “You shall rule the land as far as you can see. All you have to do is promise that I shall always be the presiding deity and a young buffalo shall be sacrificed in my name every year.”
Manipal readily agreed to this condition, collected his forces and waged war against the local Ranas. This time, he won battle after battle and soon, he was the uncontested King of Kullu. The worship of Hidimba continued for four generations.
The great, great grandson of Manipal was neither a just king nor a benevolent one. On the contrary, he was greedy and especially fond of jewelry.
In his kingdom, there lived a poor but very learned Brahmin. This master of scriptures could barely provide two square meals to his wife and daughter. In desperation, he was thinking about killing himself when he heard that the king of Bengal was holding a debate on the Vedas. The Brahmin journeyed all the way to Bengal, demonstrated his skills and won the duel of words.
The prize was a string of rare black pearls.
The Brahmin did not sell the pearls in Bengal because he wanted to show off his prize to the people in his town and sell the pearls there. Unfortunately, nobody had enough gold to pay for the pearls in Kullu. The King heard of the beauty of the pearls and also their price. He did not want to part with so much gold and so he sent a message to the Brahmin that they should be gifted to him as Nazrana.
The Brahmin was loath to give away his pearls for free and so he made one excuse or another whenever the request was made. The king ultimately got fed up and announced that he would be coming to the hot springs of Manikarna for a ceremonial bath and on his return journey, the pearls should be offered to him. Or else!
Not finding a way out of this one, the Brahmin locked his wife and daughter inside the hut, got up on the roof and waited. When he saw the king’s entourage approaching the hut, he set it on fire. Then, standing on the burning house, he cut off bits of his limbs and threw them at the king. At each throw he would shout “Le Raja yeh moti!” (“Here king, take this pearl!”). Soon, bloodied and mutilated, he collapsed with the house and all three were burnt to death.
Full of remorse, the king returned to his palace where refreshments and drinks were quickly laid out for him. But though he had been fasting since morning, he was not able to eat anything. Every dish he reached out to, turned into a plateful of slimy, slithering worms. His bowl of water had jumping frogs and newts in it.
Three days passed and the king was unable to eat a single grain or drink a drop of water. On the fourth day, a wise old Brahmin surfaced. He advised the king to send for a gold image of Ram, located in a small temple in Allahabad. The idol should reach Kullu on the first day of Dussehra, and it was to be installed as the reigning deity; all other gods in various villages were to be sent for, to pay obeisance to Ram.
The king immediately sent off two courtiers who reached Allahabad and stole the idol of Ram. The temple priest woke up and the thieves were surrounded, but the idol spoke up and said that it wanted to go to Kullu. And so the courtiers from Kullu were allowed to take the idol with them.
But in spite of all their efforts, the courtiers could only reach Kullu on the tenth day of Dusshera. The king, now on his death bed, still had enough wits about him to declare that Kullu Dusshera would begin from that day. Ram was obviously pleased and accepted Man’s meddling in the calendar because nothing untoward happened. The king recovered and thankful to Ram, made him the reigning deity.
But then, from the main temple of Dungri, in Manali, came Hidimba, breathing fire and spitting embers. How dare she be replaced by this upstart from the plains? An argument between the king and the goddess followed in which he was all sugar and flattery and in the end, declared that the animal sacrifice would still continue to be in her name. After a lot of convincing, she was appeased and after accepting the blood from the animal sacrifice, she returned to Dungri, while the celebration continued in Kullu.
On being summoned to Kullu, all the other deities agreed to come and accepted Ram’s superiority. However two gods, Parsurama of Naldera and Jamlu of Mallana, refused to comply. While Parsuram’s idol became so heavy that it was impossible to move it, Jamlu agreed to come up to the opposite bank of the river Beas but refused to cross the river to huge ground named Dhalpur, where the festivities were being held.
Till today, Dusshera begins on the Dashmi[tenth] in Kullu, all the devis and devtas come and bow low before Ram, Hidimba argues with the king through a medium,she is pacified with the sacrifice of a young buffalo, and Parsurama and Jamlu refuse to join the celebration of the Aryan take over, holding on to their tribal individuality.
The introduction to this series can be read at http://kiskikahani.openspaceindia.org/manyramayanas/stories-from-the-hills-i-sitas-abduction-by-ravana/
Noor Zaheer writes both in English and Hindi. She has written My God is a Woman, Mere Hisse Ki Roshnai (Hindi Academy Award), Barh Urraitte, Surkh Karavan Ke Humsafar, Ret Par Khoon, Patthar Ke Sainik, and Aaj Ke Naam. Noor has translated Peter Shaffer’s A Royal Hunt of the Sun and Tennessee William’s A Street Car Named Desire to Urdu for legendary theatre director Ibrahim Alkazi, Shakespeare’s Titus to Hindustani for National School of Drama and adapted M F Hussain’s autobiography for stage for Nadira Babbar. Noor has worked intensively in Himachal Pradesh on the tribal performance tradition and Buddhist influence. She is also the recipient of the Times Fellowship, the Senior Fellowship of the Culture Department, Govt. of India, and was writer in Residence at the Sahitya Akademy. At present she is translating early women’s writings from Urdu to English for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts and working on her next novel in English.