Kahika | The Festival of Absolution, Death and Rebirth

Darpoin Kahika, 2013

Kaika or Kahika is a religious festival, a sort of expiation ceremony, celebrated at various places in the Kulu region. The main purpose of kahika is the transference, and thus removal, of sins (paap) or baneful influences (dosh-khot, kaari-shrapni) to a human scapegoat; first ‘sacrificed’, then brought back to life. In kahika, thru a ritual, both men and deity are absolved. It is considered a yajna, a ritual sacrifice (the scapegoat) with a specific objective (atonement from sins or removal of evil).

Kahika is done regularly or whenever the need is indicated by deity thru its medium (goor). At some temples it’s an annual event and at others not so frequent; usual interval being 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 years or even more. Kahika is held during the months of Jyeshta, Āshāda, Bhādrapada and most particularly in Shraavana.

Places in Kulu and Mandi where Kahika is held


To paraphrase from a book by Molu Ram Thakur:

Kahika probably came from the Sanskrit word kashtika, meaning ‘small piece of wood’. In kahika four branches or sometimes small kelo (deodar) trees are erected at the temple ground.


The absolution rites in kahika are officiated by a man from the Naur caste; who also serves as the human scapegoat.

…[Naur] form a distinct caste [in Kulu]…their duties resemble those of an Acharj Brahman, and they also consecrate and purify houses. They…play a prominent part in the Kahika Mela…

―Tribes and Castes of Punjab

Naur along with his wife, or a woman of his caste if unmarried, comes to the temple a couple of days earlier. Both throughout their stay are treated with warm hospitality, given sur (alcohol), and gifted new cloths. Naur fasts during kahika, starting from the preceding day, taking only milk and fruits.

Although celebrated at diverse places, almost similar rituals are performed in each kahika. At any place, whatsoever, kahika consists of three parts: Absolution, Death and Resurrection.

Kahika Kharerna: Installing the Kahika

On the day of kahika, early in the morning, after rigorous ablutions, Naur puts on new clothes. A tabernacle is erected at a spot on the temple ground, soh. Four kelo (deodar) branches or small trees (~5m) are pitched up at four corners; cut and brought earlier in a big ceremony. A large cloth (usually white) is then spread over and tied to the four tops forming a canopy; a goat is sacrificed immediately (or a ram at each corner). This whole setup is called Kahika; all the important rituals are performed underneath it.

After installation of kahika, priest (pujari) of host deity performs a yajna beneath; offering different grains, fruits, ghi, honey and dub (sacred grass) to the sacred fire. All the while Naur, his companion (Nauran), goors and other karkoon (members of temple committee) dances around the kahika along with deities’ raths (palanquins).

Chhidra: The Absolution Ritual


After oblations to the sacred fire, Naur prepares for chhidra–the remission ceremony. He marks out a holy square on the ground underneath kahika using wheat flour; subdevides it by drawing medial and diagonal lines; pours little heaps of different grains inside the several compartments. Furthermore one handi (pipkin), one tokra (basket) and one damru-shaped basket full of grains (barley, corn) are placed over the square. The damru-basket is usually placed at center of the square. A diya (clay lamp) is then put over the grains of tokra. Naur also places some wooden phalli alongside.

The Holy Square

The Ritual

Soon, the remission ceremony begins. Naur sits on the ground beneath the tabernacle and a heap of barley is poured on ground or in a basket and mixed with leaves of bhekhal (a shrub).

First off, host deity is cleansed. Rath (palanquin) is brought and placed on the ground. A long silken cloth is tied to the rath; the other end is held by pujari and Naur above the damru-basket. Any disabilities, deity may be suffering from, are addressed by the goor. An offering of some money is made to the naur; Who then performs chhidra–the absolution rite–reciting various incantations. At the end of each incantation, pujari and others throw some barley-bhekhal over Naur (or on the ground) saying ‘chhidra’. Naur throws barley-bhekhal over the cloth.

…[Naur] pronounce various sentences which announce the end of the problem in question. After each sentence all the participants in the ritual have to repeat together “chidra” and throw some grains of barleycorn and oats onto [the Naur]…

– Daniela Berti

After deities and karkoon, the people are cleansed. They come one at a time, make an offering to the naur, and describes the sin or misfortune, they want release from.

Naur, then enuciates some verses, that includes the sin or ill-fortune; such as:

paap-kukarm kerira hola, ta chhidra hoasa
(If committed sins or misdeeds, then it’s chhidra i.e. you’re absolved)

dosh-khot keruda hola, ta chhidra hoasa
(If done something immoral or evil, then it’s chhidra)

goru-gobha be dukh deira hola, ta chhidra hoasa
(If given pain to livestock, then it’s chhidra)

gai-bochhu, kutte-barale, bandar maarede hole, ta chhidra hoasa
(If killed cow, dog, cat, monkey, then it’s chhidra)

ghora dhees huidi holi, tuinra bhi chhidra hoasa
(If quarrelled at home then it’s chhidra)

aib-burai kamoidi holi, ta chhidra hoasa
(If earned vice, then it’s chhidra)

jhuthi kasm khaidi holi, ta chhidra hoasa
(If taken false oath, then it’s chhidra)

At the end of each sentence the seeker has to say ‘chhidra’ and throw some barley-bhekhal on Naur (or ground). All their sins and ill-fortunes are so transfered and taken by Naur.

The word used for the service of absolution is ‘chhidra’ derived, I believe, from a Sanskrit word meaning “release” or “freedom from”. The term is thus used for release from an oath, or purification from an infringement of caste rules or from ceremonial pollution, and is then employed in the sense as “chhua kholna” which means literally to “open” or “remove” contamination or taboo.

– H. W. Emerson, Mandi Gazetteer (1920)

Chhidra ceremony is also called ‘chhidra-katna’ i.e. ‘to cut the chhidra‘.

[Yet] another word for chhidra is ‘chhol bhorna’…[The term] ‘chhol’ is from Sanskrit word ‘kshal’ which means to wash away… to cleanse or to purify.

– M. R. Thakur

Thus, the remission ceremony goes on for hours. After chhidra, karkoon along with deities (raths), and others do a dance ritual around kahika. Whilst the whole procession dances to the beats of deity’s band, Naur abuses deity and everyone else present. He speaks and behaves obscenely, and also brandishes the wooden phalluses. Members of the procession throw sattu, flour of parched barley and mustard seeds, into the air and over each other. Nauran dancing, keeps dropping barley grains on her way. She also makes indecently funny jokes on karkoon at times. Other members of Naur-family, too, dance and exhibit the wooden phalluses.

Goors, Darpoin Kahika (2013)

Death of Naur

After dancing for a while the procession gathers around kahika. The next rites are carried out either right away or after taking some rest. Whatsoever, Naur sits underneath kahika–at the yajna spot–surrounded by goors and raths. Deity’s musicians and drummers produce a loud ritual music. Goors metamorphose to their wildest form, jumping and trembling violently. They’re busy in making Naur dead and simultaneously protecting haar (people) from bahn (attack) of dains (witches), demons, ghosts, evil spirits and jognis; known to exploit the times like these. Sattu is scattered as an oblation to drive them away. The malegha-goor (head-goor) recites mantras over some rice and mustard seeds, and puts them into Naur’s mouth along with a coin. He or Kardar (administrator) then shoots four arrows in four directions, and one (harmless) on Naur’s chest, making him fall unconscious. A sheep/goat is thrown across, sacrificed, and a funeral shroud is wrapped around Naur.

Four men carry him, and the procession moves around the temple. Once again sattu is thrown into the air, and on the crowd coming near. Everyone dances and Nauran, when not dancing, cuts jokes with people in the procession.

Nauran dancing along the procession, Darpoin (2013)

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

arrow: Darpoin, Larankelo and Shirad
mantras: Bhekhli
charnamrit: Dayar and Bashauna

Resurrection of Naur

After a certain number of rounds–3,5 or 7–procession returns to kahika. Naur’s body is brought under and surrounded again by goors and raths. Now goors and deities have to bring him back. Once again the sound made by deity’s band is at its peak, and the goors in their violent forms. They recite incantations and say prayers to the deities to restore the naur back to life. They throw rice and mustard-seeds in all directions. Sattu is also thrown into the air. After a while, Naur comes back to his senses, rising slowly from the ‘dead’.

Kahika is at once thrown down, and the procession leaves for hulki (dance of raths) and deokhel (dance of goors), with which this unique display of rituals concludes.

People who’ve come from other places are entertained by the host villagers. Naur and his wife are imperatively given presents–new clothes, ghi, some grains, money from the temple, and a part of the sacrifices–before their departure.

P.S. There is a precept that if a deity is not able to bring the Naur back to life, all the jewellery and ornaments belonging to deity are given to his wife, and the  Rath is burned along with Naur

Watch: Reviving the Naur (Darpoin Kahika, 2013) | Nashala Kahika (2011). 


Daniela Berti, ‘Ritual Faults, Sins, and Legal Offences’

H. A. Rose, ‘A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province’

Himachal Academy of Arts, Culture and Languages, ‘Kulu Dev Parampara’

H. W. Emerson, ‘1920, Gazetteer of The Mandi State’

Molu Ram Thakur , ‘Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Himachal Pradesh’

4 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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