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By Suresh Nautiyal

MUCH of Hinduism's myth and mores stem from the Vedas, the sacred compositions believed to have been acquired between 4,000 and 3,500 years
ago. Many of the Vedas' inscriptions speak of places in Kedarkhand and Manaskhand regions of Himalaya, now popularly known as Uttarakhand
(Uttaranchal state), where Lord Shiva, one of the Trinity, still reigns supreme and is worshipped as a manifestation of Atman, the ultimate essence.

With the wandering of time, Uttarakhand witnessed religious antagonism between Shaivas and Vaishnavas as well as war between Buddhism and Hinduism. During the course of his religious exploits in Uttarakhand, Adi Shankaracharya, a Vedantin and an antagonist of all those sects which were not based on the Vedas, waged a war against Buddhism. His anti-Buddhist posture ultimately led to the extermination of Buddhism in Uttarakhand and restoration of the old Brahiminical order.

Though, the attempts at establishing Brahminical order in Uttarakhand were
successful, local deity worshipping cults continued to flourish unaffectedly. Even today, in remotely pristine Uttarakhand culture, Kuladevatas or the local deities dominate the religious order.

Har-Ki-Doon Valley is one such place, where Mahabharata's much abhorred
character, Duryodhana, is worshipped as any other deity. He, in fact, rules supreme there. Not surprisingly, this, perhaps, is the only place in India where Mahabharata's prime 'villain' like Duryodhana is held in high esteem and worshipped like other deities.

This wonderland is called as Jaunsar-Bawar in Dehradun district and Rawain
in Uttarkashi district. There the people are culturally distinct from their Garhwali or Kumaoni brethren. The Jaunsaris are one of the few polyandrous societies anywhere and they tend to be more liberal and their women enjoy greater freedom of choosing and divorcing. Jaunsaris are also famous for their colourful clothes and festivals.

Lakhamandal is in the same area where Duryodhana had tried to get the Pandavas burnt to death in the Lakshagriha or the palace made of wax. The
land is replete with icons of the Mahabharata age. The local people consider
themselves as inheritors of them. It is believed that the kingdom of Raja Viraat was also in the same region.

The area, connected with Dehradun by road via Mussoorie, has two main rivers, Tons and Yamuna. Two valleys are named after them respectively. Just two km ahead of nondescript Osla, begins the beautiful valley of Har-Ki-Doon, nestling in the green pastures. Twin rivers Rupin and Supin form a confluence at Netwar where stands the wooden temple of Pokhu Veer, a local deity. From this place, these two rivers flow as Tamasa or Tons that falls into Yamuna near Kalsi.

This entire region of sporadic villages is considered to be the domain of Duryodhana Maharaj. The virgin region is replete with natural beauty capable
of hypnotising. A true civilisation in picturesque and sacred environment. A
civilisation dependent on happiness, not on money and material. The man whom the spirit of Duryodhana visits is called Maali. He issues orders while the spirit has taken over his 'subjects' carry them out undefiantly. In other cases, Sayanas, or the elderly, of the villages issue orders, which are final. But, if problems still remain or are not solved, Duryodhana Maharaj is approached for the final and unquestionable judgement.

According to Dr Shivanand Nautiyal, a sociologist and a senior politician from Uttarakhand, there is an interesting story according to which Maali even ordered that the sheep of the adjoining Himachali villages be stolen as Himachali villages had encroached into their lands. The result was that a Panchayat was called and the entire village assembled at night and herded some 300 sheep from Himachali villages into their land, as commanded by Maali. When the row came up over the issue, Maali was again approached who decided if the Himachali villages paid a penalty, the sheep could be herded back.

Siting an example here is to illustrate how dependent the local people are on their Duryodhan Maharaj. The reason being that complaints are hardly directed to the government representatives like Patwari because Duryodhana is the final word.

Duryodhana's entry into this magnificent land is filled with myths and still sung by locals and narrated through Jaagars, a form of invoking the deities. Dr Nautiyal says that legend has it that during Dwapara Yuga, King Duryodhana, after travelling through Kashmir and Kullu, arrived in Hanol situated in Jaunsar-Bawar region where he was mesmerised by the sheer natural beauty.

He thought it was the place for him and appealed to Lord Mahasu, the reigning local deity, that a piece of valley, next to Himalaya, be given to him, which Lord Mahasu accepted and bestowed upon him this region instructing him to look after the people carefully. Even today, inhabitants of Har-Ki-Doon believe that their king Duryodhana is the one who looks after them.

Except Sukkundi, Rekcha, Rala Sankari, Sauni, Saturi, and Panwari villages,
all of them have three chambered wooden temples of Duryodhana, where Bajgi
and womenfolk can enter only first chamber. Perhaps, it is because these are
considered as low in the traditional social order. On the other hand, Savarnas and pujaris are allowed to enter even the last chamber. The reverence is deep-rooted and a Naubati, or traditional playing of drum, is conducted thrice a day in honour of their beloved king.

It is only Jakhol village where an idol of Duryodhana has been installed. Incidentally, Jakhol is the seat of the Lord and also it is here where his main temple is seated. Other such village temples do not have idols of Duryodhana. The icon is carried to each temple turnwise. When the customary journey is concluded it is taken back to the main seat in Jakhol. The villages, those do not have his temples, place Doli in Panchayati Chowks, community places, and offer prayers and arrange for fairs in his honour.

Every year, Duryodhana's tour starts on the 21st of Ashaha month when all
Sayanas assemble in Jakhol andwhich Sayanas and Bajgis to take part in the
procession. The head pujari and bajigi tour and meet other sayanas and bajgis in different villages. The pujaris of the Duryodhana temples are strangely Khas Rajputs of Jakhol and Phitari villages, who also join the procession. On 25th of Asharha, Duryodhana Maharaj arrives in Kotegaon, another sear of the Lord, where he is welcomed by the representatives of the 21 villages and a fair is held in Kotegaon from 25th till 27th. The next day, i.e. 28th, is for carrying the Doli to Datmer village of the Badasu belt, where a similar fair is organised. 30th of Asharha is the day for the rest for the deity.

Only dhoop deepam are offered and Arati is performed in the evening. Duryodhana's caravan arrives in Fitari village on the first of Shravana where he is appeased with dishes cooked in milk and ghee. On2nd of the month, famous Soni fair is held in Fitari and the same night the Doli retreats back to Jakholi where a fair is held on 3rd and 4th, traditional dances of men and women are also organised. The 5th day of Shravana is the day for rest. The idol arrives in Dhara village the next day where again a fair is held. Finally, Doli is carried to Osla on 19th. Fair, dancing, merrymaking, eating and drinking go on and thus concludes the tour of Duryodhana Maharaj.

Raksha Pher, the next phase of the tour, starts on the same line. On the 15th day of Pausha, Duryodhana arrives in his capital village of Jakhol, where his return is celebrated by all young or old equally, turning the ambience perfectly euphoric as crazy dancing and drinking go on through the night.

Author: Suresh Nautiyal ( Click here to read Profile of Author)

(Formerly a Special Correspondent with The Observer, the writer is a
Delhi-based Freelance Journalist accredited by the Press Information Bureau,
Govt of India).