Kumaon

The culture of the present Kumaon region is a blend of influences from the indigenous population as well as from the immigrants to this region. Consequently, the myths, dialects, languages, folk literature, festivals, fairs and forms of artistic expression are examples of the creative influences of the different cultural groups that constitute Kumaon.

Every peak, lake or mountain range is somehow or the other connected with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess, ranging from those associated with the Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava traditions, to local Gods like Ham, Saim, Golla, Chhurmal, Kail Bisht, Bholanath, Gangnath, Airy and Chaumu. Temples are dedicated to the nine famous Goddesses, other local Goddesses, Bhairava, Surya and Ganesh. The temples at Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Binsar, Thalkedar, Rameshwar, Pancheshwar, Baijnath and Gananath are devoted to Lord Shiva. The temples of Devidhura, Gangolihat, Pumagiri, Almora, Nainital, Kot Ki Mai and Kotgari Devi are associated with the Shakt tradition, while the region of Lohaghat – Champawat (Mount Kandeo) is associated with Kunna Avatar. This region also has two famous Sun temples.

According to Atkinson there were 35 Vaishnava and 250 Shaiva temples in British Kumaon. Eight Vaishnava and 64 Shaiva temples were dedicated to the Shakti or female form alone.

Although Lord Shiva’s influence prevailed throughout Kumaon, mainly because of its proximity to the region of Panchkedars and Kailash – Mansarovar, this did not in any way hamper the influence of the local folk Gods and Goddesses. Although the tales of Nanda Devi and Naina Devi have now been linked together, they began as two different stories.

  • Naina Devi: Naina Devi is a name for the Goddess Parvati. According to the Jagars Naina Devi was established in Kumaon by the Katyuri queen Jiya Rani. On the other hand there is a myth which talks of Sati’s committing suicide by jumping into a sacrificial fire, when she and Lord Shiva were insulted by her father Dakshaprajapati during a Yajnya, to which Shiva and Sati had not been invited in the first place. The myth goes on to say that while Shiva was taking Sati’s body away, her eye fell down at a spot near the temple of Pashan Devi in Nainital. Therefore, according to myth Naina Devi is none other than the goddess Parvati. (It is the story that Sati was reborn as Parvati).
  • Nanda Devi: Nanda Devi is the Greek Goddess ‘Nana’, who came to the Himalaya with the Indo – Greeks and Kushan Kings. However, the fact remains that Nanda Devi is typically a Kumaoni goddess and most popular in the region. Referring to the rich religious myths and lores associated with Uttaranchal, E.T. Atkinson has said: ‘To the beliefs of the great majority of Hindus, the Kumaon (Himalaya) is what Palestine is to the Christian.’

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