Devbhumi’s Dussehra

Legend has it, that many centuries ago, the king of Kullu had solicited the divine presence of Lord Raghunath from the priests of Ayodhya in order to reverse a fatal curse that had been bestowed upon him. He was granted his wish in the form of a smaller idol of Raghunath with the condition of placing him upon the throne of Kullu, whom the Raja and his progeny would indefinitely serve as the Lord’s humble servants. Grateful and relieved, the Raja readily accepted these terms and opened his gates to Lord Raghunath, who was situated in a consecrated space in his palace compound and thus began the exemplary ritualistic observances of Dussehra at the Kullu palace hosted on behalf of Lord Raghunath by the Raja of Kullu himself.

Every year, the Himalayan Devbhumi heralds Dussehra with one of the festival’s rarest celebrations in the country. Presided by the erstwhile reigning family of Kullu, the Dussehra festivities in Devbhumi commence with all three hundred deities of the valley congregating at the Kullu Palace.

On the day of Dussehra, every deity is joyfully decorated, placed on holy palanquins and carried to the palace by the temple priests and devotees by foot. The various festive entourages are accompanied by reverent drums and local trumpets known as narsinghas. Upon their arrival, each entourage is welcomed by the ceremonial King, after which it proceeds to ordain the blessings of Lord Raghunath at the family’s Raghunath temple that is situated adjacent to the palace.

This day-long procession comprises of around three hundred divine entourages being carried into the Kullu Palace as well as the Raghunath temple. At the end of the day, all the deities are taken to the town’s Dhalpur grounds, wherein they set up a ten day-long camp and mela to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Furthermore, Devbhumi’s Dussehra is rare in two particular regards : –
One, it is the only Dussehra celebration that does not revolve around burning Ravan’s effigies, but rather, around a grand Rath Yatra led by the valley’s two presiding deities i.e., Kullu’s Lord Raghunath and Manali’s Goddess Hadimba. Two, it marks one of the rare instances wherein the two grand epics i.e., the Ramayana and the Mahabharata converge in a fascinating synchronicity.

A local priest at the Kullu Palace candidly waits for a procession to arrive.
The Kullu family’s household help on-looks the palace courtyard on the morning of Dussehra.
A divine entourage flanked by its priests, devotees and musicians as it enters the Kullu Palace.
Ceremonial drummers and trumpeters herald the arrival of a divine entourage.
The Raja of Kullu greets one of the local deities as his son and grandson stand in reverence.
Women of the royal household of Kullu pay homage to one of the processions.
A divine entourage. Dominating its front are the deity’s chelas dressed in white half-robes. They hold herbal incense that is burned in order to keep evil spirits at bay.
The chelas are believed to be chosen godmen who are blessed with an inborn clairvoyance that allows them to enter a state of trance and converse with the divine.
A divine entourage tilts their deity as a gesture to bless the Raja before proceeding to the Raghunath Temple.
A closeup of one of the local deities. Brass and gold plated idols are native to the Kullu valley, also known as Devbhumi.
A devotee carries forth his deity’s palanquin through the procession.
One of the younger descendants of Kullu being felicitated by a devotee with a ceremonial scarf.
Trumpeters wait for the arrival of another divine entourage.
Meanwhile, priests from Ayodhya conduct the Dussehra aarti at Kullu’s Raghunath temple. As promised by the Raja’s ancestor centuries ago, they are brought down to Kullu every year in order to see the festive proceedings through.
Devotees praying at the Raghunath temple.