Kahika–The festival of Absolution, Death and Rebirth

Shravan month (late July to the third week of August) of Hindu calendar is very important for Hindus, especially for the devotees of Lord Shiva. People worship and offer milk to the Lord with devotion and pray for the fulfillment of their wishes. Also, the legends believe that Samudra Manthan (churning of  the ocean) took place in Shravan, making it even more significant.

In Kulu, Shravan or Shaun* is known for the Kahika festivals. Kahika or Kaika is also called ‘penance yajna’, for it is done to cleanse men (and deota) from their sins or paap. This festival is not held annually, but at intervals of 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 years or more–depending on the consultation or desire of deota.

*at some places in Jeth (Jeyshtha), Ashaad and Bhadon.

Kahikas are held at following villages in Kulu:

Darpoin (Chaknani, Peej): Jamlu Deota — Shravan, around 17th of August — every 5th year — next in 2018

Shirad: Deota Kali Nag — Jeyshtha, around 1st of June — triennial

Nashala: Devi Chamunda — last time in August, 2011, was held after 17 years

Rumsu (Naggar): Deota Jamlu &  Shubh Narain

Bhalyani (Tarapur, Lag Valley): Deota Katrusi Narain — Shravan — triennial

Mathan: Bijli Mahadev

Laran Kelo: Larain Mahadev — Shravan, around 15th of August — one and half years gap

Diyar: Trijugi Narain — Ashaad, about 15th of July — biennial

Bhekhli: Bhekhli Mata

Tiun (Lag Valley): Devi Fungni (Jogni)

and Mashada, Chhamahan, Havai, Bashauna, Narogi.

It is believed that first ever Kahika was  held by devtas at Rumtu Soh and the second one at Rumsu village (both around Naggar).

“What does Kahika mean?”

Kahika is (may be) derived from the Sanskrit word kashthika, meaning branches or small pieces of wood. Four branches* of kelo or deodar or pine tree are pitched up at Soh** by a Nodh/Naur. A piece of cloth is tied from them forming a vedi (canopy). This setup is called Kahika and all the important rituals are performed under it.

*or smaller trees about 5m tall
** the temple  ground

image

Kahika setup at Darpoin Kahika, 2013

A holy square, along with its diagonal and medial lines, is marked out on the ground  with wheat flour. Some diyas (small lamps) and little heaps of different grains are placed in the several compartments of the square. Sometimes a large pot (handi) and a basket (tokra) or a mortar (ukhal) full of grains (like jau, barley) are placed over the square.

Who is Nodh/Naur?

Naur is a particular caste in Kulu. The presence of a Naur and his wife (woman of his caste if unmarried) is the must in a Kahika–without Naur, there’s no kahika–for all the necessary rituals are conducted by him.

I hope you got the meaning of Kahika and Naur. Let’s go on to discover what happens as this strange and peculiar festival progresses.

“Absolution”

All deotas (host and guest), goors, pujaris and kardars sit down surrounding the Kahika. Pujari of host devta then, performs a Shanti-Yajna before the holy fire whilst Naur, his wife, deotas (rath), goors, kardars, other pujaris and devta-men get up and do a ritual dance around Kahika. After a while they sit down as before, Naur then starts the Chhidra ceremony.

What is Chhidra?

Chhidra means ‘release’ or ‘freedom from’. Another term for Chhidra ritual is Chhol Bhorna. Chhol from kshal (Sanskrit), means ‘to clean’ or ‘to wash off’.

Chhidra/Chhol bhorna is a ritual,

• to be released from an oath, 
• to enable a person to rectify and bring  virtue and purity to his life, 
• for purging from violation of social rules,
• purification from ceremonial pollution

Thus, by performing chhidra deota and  men attain absolution from sins (paap), in turn taken by Naur on himself! So, he has to die and be given a new life–free from all the paap–by Deo Brahma (Lord Brahma).

“Curse of Naur”

After chhidra all deotas and Karkoon do a dance ritual around kahika. Naur and his wife do not join the procession and stay inside.

Naur then puts on ‘yajnopavit’ (sacred thread), and starts calling names to everyone present, speaking and behaving obscenely. He even displays venereal objects, made of wood and gourd. He performs his actions with each deota, goor and others present. In this way the whole procession dances several times around kahika.

“Death of Naur”

After the procession, all deotas, goors and karkoon gather around the Kahika for the next rite–’Death of Naur’. The sound of dhols, nagaras, karnals and ransinghs is now at its peak. Goors are in their wildest form, shaking and jumping violently. Some holding katar (a kind of dagger), some chhangal (iron chain) and others ‘ghondi-dhorachh’ (bell and incense burner) in their hands–busy in making Naur dead and at the same time protecting haar (people) from bahn (attack) of dains (witches), demons, ghosts, evil spirits and jognis. Bhungni, flour of parched barley and mustard seeds, is scattered to drive them away.

The ways of making Naur dead/unconscious varies from place to place:

bow and arrow: Darpoin and Shirad Kahika

mantras: Bhekhli Kahika

charnamrit: Dayar and Bashauna Kahika

When Naur becomes lifeless, a white cloth is put on his body. Four men carry him and the procession moves around the temple*. Everyone in the procession dances in a special way (including the wife, occasionally).

*or some other place at Soh

image

Naur's wife dancing.

image

Procession going around the temple.

“The Resurrection”

After a certain number of rounds–3,5 or 7–procession returns to Kahika. Naur’s body is brought under kahika and is surrounded by goors and deotas. Now it’s the test of goors and deotas to bring him back. They recite mantras, throwing mustard seeds and rice in all directions. After a while, Naur comes back to his senses. Kahika is at once thrown down, and the procession leaves for hulki and deokhel (ritual dance), with which this unique display of rituals comes to its conclusion. Naur and his wife are given presents–new clothes, ghi and some grains and money from deota’s bhandar. Naur also keeps the offerings made by the people during chhidra.

P.S. There is a saying that if the deotas are not able to bring the Naur back to life, all the rath are burned and all the jewellery and precious things on rath are given to his wife and family.

Watch: Reviving the Naur (Darpoin Kahika, 2013)

Watch: Nashala Kahika (2011). Events are not chronological, but you can have a rough idea by relating points written in this article and the rituals shown in the video.

______
References:

1.) Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Himachal Pradesh by Molu Ram Thakur

2.) Mandi Gazetteer, 1920

3 thoughts on “Kahika–The festival of Absolution, Death and Rebirth

  1. Jagdish sharma says:

    Information of cultural heritage of kullu you are providing is awesome. Aspects of deity system of kullu is very interesting to know.

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