Goddess Nanda Devi is the daughter of the Himalayas and the wife of Lord Shiva. The people of Uttarakhand worship Nanda Devi with deep faith and you will see numerous shrines and temples dedicated to Nanda Devi in this region. Along with temples, there are several festivals and functions devoted to Nanda Devi, the most significant of them being the Nanda Raj Jat held in Nauti and Nanda Mahotsav (Nanda Devi Festival) held in Almora.
When is Nanda Devi Festival celebrated?
Nanda Devi Festival starts on the Shukla ashtami of Bhadra month, i.e. the 8th day of the month of Bhadrapada (Radhastami). The festival is celebrated for 3 days with great zeal and favour.
Where is Nanda Devi Festival celebrated?
Nanda Devi Festival is celebrated in many places, the grandest of them being Almora. Nanda Devi is considered the Kul Devi (family deity or mother Goddess) of the Pal people of Garhwal region and Chand people of Kumaon region. By virtue of this, Nanda Devi Festival is celebrated at Almora, which used to be the capital city of the Chand kingdom. Nanda Devi Festival is also celebrated in Johar where it is known as Nandastami. In Garhwal region, the festival is celebrated at Nauti, Devrada, Kurud, Gair, Simli, Kalimath, and other places.
Nanda Devi fair in Kumaon
The Nandadevi fair is held at Almora, Nainital, Kot (Dangoli), Ranikhet, Bhowali, Kichha and also in the far flung villages of lohar (like Milam and Martoli) and Pindar valleys (like Wachham and Khati). In the villages of the Pindar valley people celebrate the Nanda Devi J aat (journey) every year, while in lohar people come from far and wide to Danadhar, Suring, Milam and Martoli in order to worship the Goddess. In Nainital and Almora thousands take part in the procession carrying the dola (or litter) of Nanda Devi. It is said that the Nanda Devi fairs started in Kumaon during the reign of Kalyan Chand in the 16th Century. A three day fair is held at Kot ki mai or Kot bhramari devi. The fair at Saneti comes every second year. Both these fairs are rich in folk expressions and many village products are brought for sale.
How is Nanda Devi Festival celebrated?
Almora- The preparation of the festival is done in a religious way which starts on the 5th day of the Bhadra month. On this day, Nanda Devi is worshipped along with Lord Ganesha and other deities. On the next day, banana plants are chosen for making the idols of Nanda and Sunanda. All the banana plants in the garden are worshipped with diya and chandan and holy raw rice are flung on them. The first leaf to move after being touched by the rice is deemed auspicious and that tree is chosen for making the idol of the goddess. The same procedure is repeated for four times and four banana trees are chosen for the ritual. The chosen trees are marked by tying them with red and white clothes.
On the early morning of the next day, i.e. the 7th day, the plants are worshipped and a sacrifice is made. In earlier times, a live sacrifice was made. Nowadays, a symbolic sacrifice is made by using coconut. After the prayers, the branches of the chosen plants are cut and taken to the Nanda Devi temple with music and dance. Chand Rajwansh or a representative of the Chand tribe perform the puja ritual and purify the branches. The branches are inspected and two finest branches are chosen for making the idols of Nanda Devi and Sunanda Devi. The skilled artists make the idols of Nanda and Sunanda Devi which are further adorned and dressed up with Pahadi clothing.
The dola (palanquin) with the idols of Nanda and Sunanda Devi are carried by people and a religious procession is held with people singing folk and religious songs, dancing, and reciting folk stories as they move forward. Johar- Nanda Devi Festival is celebrated with the same amount of zest in Johar too but the rituals differ slightly here. 3- 4 days prior to the festival, the goddess is worshipped at the temple with drums and music. On saptami (7th day of Bhadra month), few people are sent to get Brahma Kamal from high up the Himalayas. The people bringing Brahma Kamal reach the temple early in the morning of ashtami, i.e. the day of puja. Villagers sing ‘Chila twi devik seva kaul baras din’ as they proceed towards the temple and buffalos and goats are sacrificed.
History of Nanda Devi Festival
In 1655, the Chand king, Bajbahadur Chand after his victory in the Junagadh Fort brought the idol of Nanda Devi from the fort to Almora and placed it inside his Malla Mahal. Prior to the placement of the idol of Nanda Devi, Sunanda Devi was worshipped as the Kuldevi of the Chands. After the placement of Nanda Devi, both Sunanda Devi and Nanda Devi started being worshipped as sisters. The idol of kuldevi Sunanda Devi is sanctified with puja and placed in a silver box at the royal family’s house. Apart from the priest and the king, no one is allowed to see the idol. On ashtami, the rajwansi taking part in the puja brings the silver box with him and the idols of Sunanda Devi and Nanda Devi are cleansed, decorated, and worshipped. Along with the worship of idols of these goddesses and the idols of other gods in the temple, the silver box is also worshipped.
The story behind using banana leaves to make the idols of Nanda Devi and the ritual of sacrificing a buffalo goes as follows. Nanda was also the name of the sister of one of the Chand rulers, Kalyan Chand. One day, as she was travelling towards her maternal home, a buffalo started following her. She hid behind a banana plant to escape from the buffalo. At the same time, a goat came by and ate the leaves from the banana plant behind which she was hiding. As a result, the buffalo killed her.
Kalyan Chand established the temple of their family goddess Nanda Devi in memory of his sister and also started the ritual of sacrificing a buffalo or a goat. To emphasize the importance of banana plant, the ritual of making the idols using banana leaves was started. Since that day onwards, this ritual is followed during the Nanda Devi Festival in Almora. When the festival started being celebrated at Nainital, the same ritual was followed.
Significance of Nanda Devi Festival
Apart from the religious significance of the fair, Nanda Devi Festival used holds great cultural significance too. Singers and dancers sing folk songs and perform dances either solo or with their bands. Toys, cosmetics, regional sweets, and other items are sold in the festival. In the earlier days, people used to perform the ritual of Panchabali or Ashtbali, where along with 7 goats, 1 buffalo was also sacrificed, totalling the number to 8. Inflation, high prices of goods, and the protests against sacrificing animals have led to the decline of these rituals.