Kahika–The festival of Absolution, Death and Rebirth

Shravan month (late July to 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 Samundra Manthan (churning of the ocean) took place in Shravan; which makes it of even more significance.

In Kulu, Shravan or Shaun month is known for the Kahika festivals*. Kahika or Kaika is also called ‘penance yajna’, for it is done to cleanse men (and devtas) 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 devta.

*in some places in Bhadon and also in Jeth (Jeyshtha)

Kahikas are held in following villages of Kulu:

Darpoin (Chaknani, Peej): Jamlu Devta (5 yearly)

Nashala: Devi Chamunda

Rumsu (Naggar): Devta Jamlu & Shubh Narain

Bhalyani (Tarapur, Lag Valley): Devta Katrusi Narain

Mathan: Bijli Mahadev

Laran Kelo: Larain Mahadev

Shirad: Devta Kali Nag

Diyar: Trijugi Narain

Bhekhli: Bhekhli Mata (Mata Jaggannathi)

Tiun (Lag Valley): Devi Fungni Jogni

Chhamahan

Havai

Bashauna

Narogi

It is believed that first ever Kahika was held by devtas at Rumtu Soh and the second one in 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.
Note: Kahi also means body.

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 small 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. Presence of a Naur and his wife (woman of his caste if unmarried) is 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 devtas (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, devtas, 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 in local dialect means ‘release’ or ‘freedom from’; another term for Chhidra ritual is chhol bhorna; chhol comes from Sanskrit word kshal, meaning ‘to clean’ or ‘to wash off’.

So, 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 devta and men attain absolution from sins (paap), which in turn is 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 devtas and Karkuns (devta-men) do a dance ritual around kahika. Gohari Deu* leads the procession, followed by his goors, pujaris, host devta, his goors, pujaris and so on. Naur and his wife do not join the procession and stays inside.

*Devta Veernath, an aspect of Shiva.

Naur then puts on ‘yajnopavit’ (sacred thread). He then starts calling names to everyone present, speaking and behaving obscene. He even displays objects depicting sex, made of wood and gourd. He performs his actions with each devta, goor and others present.

In this way the whole procession dances several times around Kahika.

“Death of Naur”

After the procession all devtas, goors and karkoon gather around the Kahika for the next rite–’Death of Naur’. Sound of dhols, nagaras, karnals, ransinghs is 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 jognisBhungni, flour of perched 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 dead/unconcious, 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 place at Soh.

image

Procession going around the temple.

image

Naur's wife dancing.

“The Resurruction”

After a certain number of rounds–3,5 or 7–procession returns to Kahika. Naur’s body is brought under kahika; where he’s surrounded by devtas and goors.

Now it is the test of goors and devtas to bring him back. They recite mantras, throwing mustard seeds and rice in all directions. After a while he comes back to his senses. Kahika is at once thrown down and the procesion 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 devta’s bhandar. Naur also keeps offerings made by people during chhidra.

P.S.
There is a saying that if the Deities 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 order in this video, but you can have an idea by relating points written in this article and the rituals shown.

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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