Chamoli – A Second largest District
Chamoli hosts a variety of destinations of pilgrim and tourists’ interest. Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib, Valley of Flowers and Auli. Chamoli also happened to be a birthplace of “Chipko movement”. Chamoli proved itself “the most spectacular in its natural assets; be it scenery, valley aspects, water-edges, floristic varieties, dramatic landform or the climatic cardinalities”. The district is also inhabited by Bhotiya ethnic group who adhere to Hinduism.
The region covered by the district of Chamoli forms part of the Pauri Garhwal district of the Kumaon till 1960. It occupies the northeastern corner of the Garhwal tract and lies in the central or mid-Himalayas in the very heart of the snowy range described in ancient books as Bahirgiri, one of the three divisions of the Himalayan mountains.
Chamoli, the district of “Garhwal’’ the land of forts. Today’s Garhwal was known as Kedar-Khand in the past. In puranas kedar-khand was said to be abode of God. It seems from the facts vedas puranas, Ramayna and Mahabharat that these Hindu scriptures are scripted in kedar-khand. It is believed that God Ganesha first script of vedas in Vayas gufa situated in the last village Mana only four km. from Badrinath.
According to Rigveda (1017–19) after Inundation (Jalprlya) Sapt-Rishis saved their lives in the same village Mana. Besides there the roots of vedic literature seems to be originated from Garhwal because the Garhwali language has a lot of words common with Sanskrit. The work place of vedic Rishis are the prominent pilgrim places in Garhwal specially in chamoli like Atrimuni Ashram in Anusuya about 25 km from chamoli town and work place of Kashyap Rishi at Gandhmadan parwat near Badrinath. According to Aadi-Puran, vedvyasa scripted the story of Mahabhrat in Vyas Gufa near Badrinath. Pandukeshwar, a small village situated on the Rishikesh Badrinath high-way from where Badrinath is just 25 km away is regarded as Tapsthali of king Pandu. In Kedar-khand Puran this land is regarded the land of Lord Shiva.
The authentic script about the history of Garhwal is found only 6th AD onward. Some of the oldest examples of these are the trishul in Gopeshwar, lalitsur in Pandukeshwar. The Narvaman rock script in siroli the chand pur Gari rock script by king Kankpal authenticates the history and culture of Garhwal.
Some historians and scientists believe that this land is origin of Arya race. It is believed that about 300 BC, Khasa invaded Garhwal through Kashmir Nepal and Kuman. A conflict grew due to this invasion a conflict took place between these outsiders and natives. The natives for their protection built small forts called Garhi. Later on, Khasa defeated the native totally and captured the forts.
Khasa confined Garhwal of hundreds of Garhi in to fifty-two Garhi only. One vashudev general of khasas established his regime on the northern border of garhwal and founded his capital in joshimath then Kartikeypur. Vashudev katyuri was the founder of katyura dynasty in Garhwal and they reign Garhwal over hundreds of years in this period of katyuri regime Aadi Sankaracharya visited garhwal and established Joshimath which is one of the four famous Peeths established by Aadi Sankaracharya. In Bharat varsh other these are Dwarika, Puri and Sringeri. He also reinstated idol of lord Badrinath in Badrinath, before this the idol of Badrinath was hidden in Narad-Kund by the fear of Budhas. After this ethicist of vaidic cult started to pilgrim Badrinath.
According to Pt. Harikrishna Raturi, king Bhanu pratap was the first ruler of Panwar dynasty in garhwal who founded chanpur-Garhi as his capital. This was is strongest Garh for the fifty-two garhs of garhwal.
The devastating earthquake of 8 September 1803 weakened the economic and administrative set-up of Garhwal state. Taking advantage of the situation, Gorkhas attacked Garhwal under the command of Amar Singh Thapa and Hastidal Chanturia. They established there reign over half of the Garhwal in 1804 up to 1815 this region remain under Gorkha rule.
Meanwhile, the king of Panwar dynasty Raja Sudarshan Shah contacted east India Company and sought help. With the help of British he defected Gorkas and merged the eastern part of Alaknanda and Mandakini along with the capital Srinagar in British Garhwal from that time this region was known as British Garhwal and the capital of Garhwal was set up at Tehri instead of Srinagar. In the beginning British ruler kept this area under Dehradun and Saharanpur. But later on the British established a new district in this area and named it Pauri. Today’s chamoli was a tehsil of the same. On 24 February 1960, tehsil Chamoli was upgraded to a new district. In October 1997 two complete tehsil and two other blocks (partially) of district chamoli were merged into a new formed district Rudraprayag.
Fairs And festivals
Festivals play an important role in the life of people in the district, as elsewhere, and are spread over the entire year, the most important being briefly described below.
Ram Navami falls on the ninth day of the bright half of Chaitra to celebrate the birthday of Rama. The followers of Rama in the district observe fast throughout the day and the Ramayana is read and recited and people gather to listen to the recitations.
Nag Panchami is celebrated in the district on the fifth day of the bright half of Sravana to appease the Nagas or serpent gods. Figures of snakes are drawn in flour in wooden boards and are worshipped by the family by offering milk, flowers and rice.
Raksha-Bandhan is traditionally associated with the Brahmanas and falls on the last day of Sravana. On this occasion a sister ties a Rakshasutra (thread of protection)—commonly known as Rakhi—round the right wrist of her brother in token of the protection she expects to receive from him. Fairs are held on this occasion at Kedarnath, Karnaprayag and Nandprayag.
Janmashtami – the festival celebrating the birth of Krishna, falls on the eighth day of the dark half of Bhadra. As in other parts of the state, devotees in the district fast the whole day, breaking their fast only at mid-night when worshipers throng the temples and foregather to have a Jhanki (glimpse) of the shrines and cradles specially installed, decorated and illuminated in homes and other places to commemorate the deity’s birth. A special feature of this festival is the singing of devotional songs in praise of Krishna in shrines and homes. The Chhati (sixth-day ceremony after birth) is also celebrated by the devout. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm at Nagnath, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
Dushera – falls on the tenth day of the bright half of Asvina and commemorates the victory of Rama over Ravana, the preceding nine days being celebrated as Navaratri dedicated to the worship of the goddess Durga. Ramlila celebrations are held at different places in the district particularly at Kalimath.
Dipavali – the festival of lights, is celebrated in the district, as elsewhere, on the last day of the dark half of Kartika when the houses are illuminated and the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped. Festivities start two days earlier, with Dhanteras, when metal utensils are purchased as a token of the desired prosperity, followed by Naraka Chaturdashi when a few small earthen lamps are lit as a preliminary to the main day of festival. For traders and businessmen Dipavali marks the end of the fiscal year and they pray for prosperity in the new year. On this occasion the people of the district perform mela nritya, a type of folk dance, a distinctive feature of the district.
Makar Sankranti – a bathing festival which falls either on 13 or 14 January when people take bath in the Alaknanda and big fairs (Uttaraini) are held at Karnprayag and Nandprayag.
Sivaratri – falls on the 14th day of the dark half of Phalgun and is observed in the honour of Siva. People fast throughout the day and a vigil is kept at night when the deity is worshipped. The Siva temples are specially decorated and illuminated and large numbers of devotees offer water and flowers to the symbols and images of Siva and sing devotional songs in his praise. Big fairs are held on this occasion at most of the Siva temples of the district particularly at Dewal, Bairaskund, Gopeshwar, and Nagnath.
Holi – the spring festival, is celebrated on the full moon day of Phalgun. People start singing Phaags (Songs of Phalgun) during the nights, long before the festival. A flag or banner is installed at a central place in the village on the 11th day of bright of Phalgun and is burnt on the 15th day which is known as Chharoli when ash mark is put on the foreheads of friends and relatives. The following day is marked by common rejoicing when, till about noon, people throw coloured water and coloured powder on each other and in evening visit relatives and friends.
Many fairs are held in the district, the important ones being mentioned below.
On the 13th day of April every year the big fair known as Bishwat Sankranti is held in the district. This fair is also mentioned in the Pandukeshwar inscription of Lalitashuradeva issued in the 22nd regnal year. It is also held at Ming (14 April), Aser (15 April), Hans Koti (16 April), and Kulsari and Adbadri (17 April). Another important fair of the district is the Gaucher Mela held at Gaucher in Karnprayag in the month of November every year and is attended by number of persons. Others fairs of importance are the Nautha at Adbadri, Naumi at Hariyali, Nanda Devi at Bedni, Dattatreya Pooranmasi at Ansuya temple, Nagnath at Dewar Walla.
Nanda Devi Raj Jat – Nanda Raj Jat, the big pilgrimage of Nandadevi, is unique to Chamoli. It is very old traditional pilgrimage from the time of shalipal in the ninth century. There are no historical records but it is gathered from the local folklores and folksongs (jagori) that Shahipal who had his capital at Chandpur Garhi, buried a tantric instrument at Nauti nearby, and installed his patron-goddess Nandadevi (Raj Rajeshwari) there. The Royal priest, Nautiyal, of Nauti was made responsible for regular worship of the goddess.
King Shahipal started a tradition that a big pilgrimage (Nanda Raj Jat) would be organized every twelfth year to escort Nandadevi to her in-law’s place, near Nanda Ghungti peak. When the capital was shifted by Ajay Pal, Kunwar (the younger brother of the king), who had settled at Kansuwa nearby, was authorized to organize Raj Jat on behalf of King.
Traditionally the Kunwar comes to Nauti to seek the blessing of the Devi to organize the Jat. A four-horned ram takes birth in Kasuwa area thereafter. A time schedule is drawn up for the Jat so as to reach Homkund on the Nandastami day in August/September, and Kulsari on the preceding new moon for special worship.
Accordingly, the Kunwar reaches Nauti with the four-horned ram and ringal-umbrella. The Raj Jat starts on the long round-trek of about 280 km. with 19 halts on the way, taking about 19 days. Bhumiyal, Ufrai and Archana Devis are worshipped prior to the departure. The golden image of Nanda devi is carried in a silver palanquin and thousands of devotees follow in a long procession.
Great festivities and religious observances mark the Jat wherever they halt or pass through. The procession swells as it advances with various groups joining from far and near with their idols and umbrellas. Special mention may be made of those coming from kurud from Ghat, Lata near Tapovan and Almora in Kumaon. Some 300 idols and decorated umbrellas assembles at Wan, en route Homkund.
Mass participation and religious devotion are unmatched, for the Jat involves a long and arduous journey over treacherous terrains rising to an altitude of 5,335 m at Jiura Gali Dhar from a near 900 m at Nauti, walking barefoot over snow and moraines and passing through deep forests.
At Shail Samundra the pilgrims see three lights and a streak of smoke just before dawn as a divine beckon.
Surprisingly the four-horned ram, loaded with the offerings for the goddess, guides the procession of devotees from the Nauti till it reaches Homkund, near the base of Nanda Ghungti, resting every night near the Nauti umbrella of the goddess. At Homkund it manifests human emotions and tears are seen in its eyes before it leaves everyone behind to get lost towards the mountains, laden with the offering of the devotees for the goddess Nandadevi.
There is a unique custom of keeping everyone’s house unlocked in Wan village for the use of the yatris on the Jat day, according to the divine instruction of the goddess Nandadevi, and it is followed religiously. The last Nanda Devi Raj Jat was held during August/September 2000. Smaller Raj Jats are organized annually from Kurud village near Ghat, covering a smaller circuit in August–September.