Sawan/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 full dedication and pray for the fulfillment of their wishes. Also legends believe that “churning of ocean” took place in this month. This makes Shravan even more important.
In the ‘valley of gods’ Kullu, month of Sawan is popular for its ‘Kahika’ festivals. Its called ‘Penance Yajna’ also because this festival is held to cleanse both men and devta of all sorts of sins (Paap) !. This festival is held not annually but at regular intervals of 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 years or even more in different villages of Kullu on the consultation or desire of the Village Deity.
Kahika festival is mainly held in the following villages/places of Kullu;
Darpoin (Chaknani, Peej) – Jamlu Devta (held after every 5 years)
Rumsu (Naggar) – Devta Jamlu & Shubh Narayan
Bhalyani (Tarapur, Lag Valley) – Devta Katrusi Narayan
Mathan – Bijli Mahadev
Laran Kelo – Larain Mahadev
Shirad – Devta Kali Naag
Diyar – Trijugi Narayan
Bhekhli – Bhekhli Mata (Mata Jaggannathi)
Tiun (Lag Valley) – Devi Fungni
It is believed that first ever Kahika was held by the Devtas at ‘Rumtu Soh’ and the second was held at Rumsu village.
“What does Kahika mean?”
‘Kahika’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kashthika’, which means branches or small pieces of wood.
Four branches of Kelo/Deodar/Pine tree (sometime young trees about 5 metres) are pitched up at the ‘Soh’ – temple ground by the Nor/Naur. A piece of cloth is tied at top forming a ‘Vedi’. This setup is called ‘Kahika’.
Under/inside the Vedi a sacred square with its diagonal and medial lines is marked out on the ground with wheat flour. A small earthen pot (Handi) and a Basket (Tokra) or a Mortar (Okhali) full of grains (barley, Jau) are placed over this square. All the important rituals are performed by the Nor inside the Vedi.
“Who is the Nor/Naur ?”
‘Nor’ is a particular caste in Kullu. Presence of a Nor & his wife (a woman from his caste if unmarried) is must in a Kahika.
A Nor plays prominent role in Kahika festivals, in fact the whole Kahika cannot be done without a Nor! All the necessary rituals are conducted by the Nor and his family.
I hope you got the meaning of Kahika and Nor now. Yes! Then let’s go on to discover what happens as this unique festival progresses.
All the devtas (host devta and guest devtas), their goors, pujaris, kardars sit down surrounding the Kahika. Pujari of the host devta then performs ‘Shanti-Yagya’ before the holy-fire under Kahika. During this Nor, Noran, devtas, goors, kardars, other pujaris and devta-men get up and dance around the Kahika. After a while they again sit down as before. Now the Nor starts the ‘Chhidra’ ceremony.
“What is Chhidra ?,
Etymologically Chhidra means ‘release’ or ‘freedom from’. Another name for Chhidra ceremony is ‘Chhol Bhorna’, here Chhol comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Kshal’ meaning ‘to clean’ or ‘to wash off’.
So, Chhidra/Chhol Bhorna is ceremony to,
•Release from an oath,
•Enable a person to rectify and bring chastity and purity in his life
•Purification from violation of social rules,
•Purification from ceremonial pollution
Thus, by performing Chhidra both Devta and men attain absolution from all sorts of sins (paap) and their sins are in turn taken by ‘Nor’ himself!
As Nor takes all sins over his head, he will die! He will be given a new life, free from all sins, by Deo Brahma (Lord Brahma).
After Chhidra all devtas and Karkuns (devta-men) dances around the Kahika in a circle. Gohari Deu* (Devta Veernath or Veerbhadra, an aspect of Shiva) leads the procession, followed by his goors, pujaris; the host devta, his goors and pujaris and so on. Nor does not join this procession, he and his wife remain inside the circle.
*There is general belief that a Kahika can’t be done without a Gohari Deu an aspect of Lord Shiva.
Then Nor puts on sacred thread ‘yajnopavit’ & calls names to everyone present. He then starts abusing devta and karkuns, speaking and behaving obscene. He even displays objects made of wood and gourd depicting sex. He performs his actions with each devta, goor and others.
In this way the whole procession dances several times around the Kahika.
“Death and Rebirth of Nor”
After the procession all the devtas, goors and other karkuns gather around the Kahika for the last rite – ‘Death and Rebirth’ of Nor. Music of dhols, nagaras, karnals, ransinghas etc. is at its peak. Goors are in their wildest form; shaking and jumping violently with kataras (swords), iron chains & ‘Ghondi-Dhorachh’ in their hands. They are busy in making the goor dead and also protecting Hars (people) from the Bahn (attack) of witches, demons and ghosts, other evil spirits and jognis. Sattu, flour of perched barley and mustard seeds is scattered so as to drive them away.
Methods of making Nor unconscious/dead varies from kahika to kahika. Some of them are,
With an arrow – Darpoin and Shirad Kahika
By Mantras – Bhekhli Kahika
By giving Charnamrit – Dayar and Bashauna Kahika
When the Nor is dead/unconcious a white cloth is put on his body. Four men carry him and the procession moves around the temple or a certain place at Soh, 3, 5 or 7 times. Everyone in the Procession dances in a special way (including Noran occasionally). After certain number of rounds, the procession returns to the Kahika. Nor is brought under kahika and devtas, goors surround him.
Now it is the test of goors and devtas to bring him back to life. They recite mantras, throwing mustard seeds and rice in all directions.
After a while Nor comes back to his senses. The Kahika is at once thrown down and the procesion leaves for Hulki and Deokhel, with which this unique display of rituals comes to its conclusion.
References: Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Himachal Pradesh