A translation from French of an article by Helene Diserens (1920-2005) published 1991 in Bulletin d’Études Indiennes.

The Yoginis of the Upper Kullu Valley (Himachal Pradesh)

by Helene Diserens

During my several visits to the upper Beas valley, I stumbled across a few little wooden temples (ranging in height from 1 to 1.30 m), most of which were devoid of images. These are temples of jognis — jogni is the local term for yogini — where dried flowers, a few coins, and traces of coloured powder bear record to the passage of a worshipper. These temples and their surroundings have always seemed deserted to me, although local children would often throw stones at me if I ventured too close.

Many legends about the jognis still exist, but no one likes to talk about them, thus gathering more information was difficult. “They’re omnipresent, powerful, and travel through the air. They don’t enjoy being disturbed by humans or hearing their noises. They are good, yet they are also capable of evil. When we irritate them, they become enraged and cause us problems,” was the standard response.

A yogini, ca. 1000 Kannauj, U.P.
(Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery)

Who are these jognis so powerful, so mysterious? Are they fairies, goddesses, demons? What are their powers? When they get angry, what sort of mischief do they cause? These are the questions to which I devoted part of my research in the upper Kulu Valley.[1] This study deals mainly with the jogni group.

Legends about Jognis

The best known legend about the origin of the jognis of the upper valley is that of the jogni of Gosal. It was gathered at the turn of the century and published in English by Howell (1918: VI, 69-81). This legend is related to an event in the history of Kulu dating from the beginning of the 16th century. Here are some excerpts:

In 1500, the upper Kulu valley was dominated by Jhinna Rana. This powerful rana watched over the region from his winter fort at Manaligarh perched on an eminence above Manali and from his summer fort at Madankoth on another eminence above Gosal. Thw raja Sidh Singh was newly installed on the throne of Kulu. This powerful Jhinna to the north of his kingdom was in his way and, to get rid of him, he bribed Muchiani, the rana’s bodyguard. Muchiani (of dagi caste) was a very skilful archer, and one day while escorting Jhinna Rana across the plain, he aimed at his master and killed him with his first arrow. The horse, without its rider, continued its course towards the fort. The wives of the rana were watching for his return, and they heard the gallop of the horse and saw him going towards his stable. Then they heard in the distance the rhythm announcing a death: it was Muchiani riding to the fort, banging on the wire mesh of a winnowing sieve as a drum.[2] The rani, understanding that the rana was dead, gathered her ladies (among whom was Muchiani’s wife) and, like a true rajput, the legend goes, she set fire to the fort of Madankoth. She perished in the fire surrounded by her ladies. After this immolation, the rani became a fairy (yogini) and her family built her a temple in the ruins of the fort. For their part, the descendants of Muchiani declared that the wife of the dagi, having perished with the rani, was also a fairy and they erected a temple for her above the village of Burwa.

A local version, narrated to me by the pujari of Gosal, says that the souls of all the ladies flew away and settled for a few days in a house that was particularly clean since the woman who lived in it washed its floor seven times a day and swept it as many times.[3] Then the souls settled in a walnut tree in the village of Shanag, where the villagers erected a house for them in which two jogni, Sita and Gauri, are still worshipped.

According to another local variant, narrated by Rohit Ram, the rani set fire to the fort’s supply of gunpowder which exploded. Her soul and those of all the other women scattered in the area, some settled in the waterfall on the opposite side of the valley, others in walnut trees, rocks, etc.

For G. Jettmar-Thakur (1983: 28), the two jognis of Manali are deified sati. They were described to her as being very ‘thin and hungry’, their fall to earth after the explosion of the fort having lasted a very long time. In an unpublished manuscript, Jettmar-Thakur (1988: 6, 11) writes that the jognis are beautiful fairies, guardians of springs and trees, that they act in pairs and that they are like giggling little girls.

Home of the Jognis

The jognis are of a wandering nature. They move through space by air. Their favourite domains are the high forests and the pastures above the treeline. Very many accounts tell of the sound of their chatter and laughter being frequently heard on the heights, and men who go to these regions take infinite precautions not to attract their attention or disturb them, so much do they dread their malevolence. In this connection the pujari of Hidimba Devi recalled a memory of his youth: he had gone up to the high pastures near Brighu Lake in company with other young men to watch a herd of horses. Coming from a place where no mountaineer dares to venture, they heard female voices, it was the jognis talking and laughing in a very animated way. Their conversation went on for a long time and the young men discerned perfectly that they were speaking Kulvi, but they did not understand a single word they said. They left the place in silence so as not to annoy them.

The jognis like to stay in other natural places that now seem very close to the houses. But let us not lose sight of the fact that, as the villages grow, it is the houses of men that come closer to those of the supernatural beings. The jognis take residence in trees, with a preference for walnut trees, and on rocks. The foot of such trees is often surrounded by a platform of stones, and in other places wooden temples are erected, which more often than not have neither pujari nor gur (medium oracle). When the jognis take residence near a house, a small temple is placed for them on the roof ridge. The jognis sometimes take over an entire village. Their presence then forces the villagers to respect certain prohibitions: for example, any young woman dressed in her bridal finery is forbidden to enter the village of Kanyal, any horse is forbidden and all the deities are unwelcome, even Hidimba Devi, who was the owner of the village and its surroundings before the division of the property belonging to the deities. No one could explain to me the reasons for these prohibitions.

Sanctuary of the Jognis

The waterfall, called Choierh,[4] upstream of Vasisht is considered the home of all jognis. They live in a natural cavity in the cliff at the foot of a high waterfall, which they particularly like since, hidden by the curtain of water, they feel protected from the eyes and ears of humans. Legend has it that it is not the crashing of the water that drowns out their voices, but the beating of drums that they make to better isolate themselves from prying ears. I visited this cave in 1988: it is cluttered with a few crumbling rocks but it is empty of images and of any construction. The noise and humidity make it perfectly inhospitable to humans and access is difficult as it is in a jungle and on a steep cliff.

This cave is their only true “sanctuary”. It is an important place in the upper valley. The deities and devotees go there on various occasions to perform propitiatory rites in the jogni territory.

In order to facilitate many rituals (baths and cutting of the first lock of hair in particular), a stone temple has been built below in an accessible and open area where a large number of people can gather. An adjoining building is used to prepare the communal meal that accompanies the ceremony. A pujari and a gur (of thakur and harijan caste respectively) were attached to this temple but they have died and, as far as I know, have not been replaced. Jettmar-Thakur (1988: 6) reports that the local people consider it more important to make the offering of the hair to the jogni than to their village deity.

To avoid having to climb up to this temple, these rituals are often performed in the temple courtyard of Vasisht village. The pujari of Vasisht Rsi officiates on an ancient tulasikota now used as an altar for jogni-puja. The offerings are compulsorily vegetable as Vasisht Rsi disapproves of any animal sacrifice.

Jogni-puja and bali[5]

The jognis of the upper valley are worshipped by all castes and Hindus. Sacrifices (bali) and rituals (pujari) are dedicated to them in the temple courts of all the deities of the upper valley. I have never seen such rituals performed in front of jogni temples but the possibility cannot be ruled out at this stage of my study. Bali and puja are done on various occasions, for example at a ritual bath, a cutting of the first lock of hair for boys, a special ritual for girls, or for any personal or collective intention.

The bali precedes the puja. A male animal (a sheep or a goat) is sacrificed. For financial reasons or ease of transport, the sacrifice is often that of a young animal, a lamb or a kid.[6] On special occasions, the number of animals is multiplied. A coconut is offered when the bali is vegetarian.

The jogni-puja is always accompanied by either strictly vegetarian or mixed (vegetarian and meat) offerings. It is generally accepted that two-thirds of jognis are vegetarian and the rest non-vegetarian. This ratio is verified when the offerings are placed on the three dishes prepared after a meat sacrifice: only one dish is garnished with pieces of the sacrificed animal.

The offerings are presented to the jognis on three small slate plates called poteli [पॉटड़ी]. A mandala is first drawn on each slate with “red” kumkum. A piece of red thread, sweet foods, a nut (remember the jogni predilection for walnut trees), petals of seasonal flowers as well as small change are then placed on the slate. On a single slate the liver, heart and a piece of intestine of the animal victim are added. I have never seen blood or alcohol offered at the jogni-bali performed at the Hidimba Devi temple. At the Hidimba Devi temple, the animal is sacrificed on the terrace in front of the temple; the gur, assisted by the pujari, performs the puja on the veranda sheltered by the temple roof. When the ritual is over, the three poteli are placed at the ends of the terrace. Crows and dogs scurry to consume the food and children collect the change. The jogni have accepted the puja; the speed with which the offerings disappear marks their satisfaction.

Number, Name[7], Images of Jognis

Generally speaking, people in the villages say that the jogni are very numerous and that it is impossible to count them. The number sixty-four seems to be a recently introduced concept, not yet known to all; it is in any case a conventional number that cannot be taken literally and would have no meaning in this particular context.

The villagers collectively call them devi and sometimes pari (fairy), but never ‘witch’, since they do not possess or bewitch people in the area. Rohit Ram called them pari at our first interview, but the very next day he told me emphatically that they are really devi (see note 5).

On the other hand, no jogni has an individual name: they are always referred to — and worshipped — collectively. It is therefore unnecessary to distinguish them from each other. One of them is sometimes personalised by her place of residence but this is not her personal name. Sita and Gauri, the two jogni of Shanag mentioned by the pujari of Gosal are exceptions but their names are ignored elsewhere, even in the nearby village.

During our talks the pujari of Hidimba Devi confirmed to me that he knew of no individual names for them. When I left Manali, he gave me a list of sixty-four names copied from a book. On my return to Paris I saw that it corresponds to the list of sixty-four yogini in the Kasi Khanda (45, 33-43) of the Skanda Purana,[8] a list among so many others that it is of little significance at this stage of my study.

These anonymous jognis have no further image. Their temples often contain a rough stone[9] often blackened by rituals. Such stones, called pindi (“pellets”), are found in the shrines of deities who have not been given religious iconography, such as goddesses,[10] deified figures, naga or minor gods. These deities, probably supernatural beings from ancient cults, have thus preserved such primitive representation. The provenance and discovery of these pindi always have a supernatural character told in the legends.

Organisation, Hierarchy, Status of Jognis

They are still considered collectively and no organisation or hierarchy structures their group. They have been able to maintain their powers and total independence until now. The current popular tradition of the upper valley does not assimilate them to village deities or to minor deities attached directly or implicitly to their own deity.

The status of a jogni becomes ambiguous as soon as she becomes individualised, for example by bearing the name of a village (e.g. the jogni called Sita and Gauri of Shanag). She still belongs to the community although she is already involved in the process of integration of the local pantheon; as she rises in the hierarchy, her origin will gradually be forgotten. I observed during my stays in the region the arrival of a jogni in Gosal and then, after some years, the making of a mohra[11] to give her an image. Her mohra now hangs on the rath of Rsi Gotam, Beas and Kana Nag (the three male deities of Gosal and neighbouring villages). Within a few years her demoness origin will probably be forgotten and a goddess will enrich the hitherto exclusively male local pantheon.

Jognis of the Neighbouring Regions

The upper Kulu valley is a transition zone between the more accessible lower regions of the Indian plain and those beyond the first high barrier that marks the border between Hinduism and Buddhism. It is therefore interesting to compare the jogni of Kulu with those of Mandi in the south and those of the Lahaul valley in the north, a valley where Buddhism and Hinduism coexist.

Yogini of Mandi

Mandi is about 120 km south of Manali. The new town was built in the 16th century and is strongly influenced by Tantrism. The sixty-four yogini are associated with Kali and Syama in two temples built on the outskirts of the city in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.[12] They are collectively represented on a stele in the courtyard of these two temples.

The stele, erected in front of the entrance to the temple of Sidh Bhadra Kali, depicts sixty-four heads on its ‘front’ side, six of which are crowned, and footprints on its ‘back’ side. The symbolism of the sati stones is so obvious that I identified this stone as a funerary stele, but a meeting informant told me that it represents the sixty-four yogini[13] and that they are disciples of Siva in Mandi. Bhadra Kali being a śakti form of Siva, the association of the yogini with Kali and Siva is compatible. On the other stele, placed horizontally in front of a Mahisasuramardini stele in the courtyard of the Shyama Kali temple, the yogini are represented only by footprints, a common symbol of a goddess in this Himalayan region.

Dehejia (1986: 23-27) points out that the association of Kali and Syama with the yogini is mentioned in the Kali Tantra (Brhatdtantrasarah)[14]: these two goddesses have a thousand yogini at their service, reports this text. These functions of servants or followers are also found in the 59th chapter of the Mahabhagvata Purana,[15] which describes the sixty-four yogini as servants of the palace of Kali and the city of the goddess. The nature of the yogini of the city of Mandi is thus essentially different from that of their independent counterparts in the upper Kulu valley.

The authors of the Mandi Gazetteers do not speak of the jogni of the city but only of those of the mountains. They are called jogni in the 1904 edition and witches in 1920. One author tells of a fight between the deotas and the jognis in August. The fight is terrifying and the victory is not necessarily that of the deotas. As a precaution, the shepherds move their flocks away from the battlefield and the inhabitants of the villages barricade themselves in their houses and protect their crops by throwing rapeseed. It is also said that these jognis bewitch and possess people.

Yogini of Lahaul

The high Pir Panjal range north of Kulu has never been an impassable barrier for gods, demons and other spirits. Thus, in the valleys of Kulu and Lahaul the same legends are often told, but in complementary versions.

In Lahaul, demons called jogini live at very high altitudes. They love the flowering pastures which they reluctantly abandon when the snow covers them. They come down to spend the winter months in the valleys where they harass humans, especially women, whom they bewitch and possess. In February the joginis of Lahaul hold their general assembly for three days with their counterparts from Chamba and Tibet. Each one arrives by air riding a ridge beam and brings her contribution to the feast: an ibex, a yak, a dzo, a sheep or any other piece of choice. In Buddhist Lahaul, the meeting is held at Tandi at the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers and in Hindu Lahaul around the Trilokinath temple; the non-coincidence of dates allows the same jogini to participate in both assemblies. These meetings still take place today and the villagers take all sorts of precautions to bar the joginis from their homes and drive them out of the area (Gill 1972: 93-102). The nature of these precautions shows striking parallels with our so-called pagan traditions of certain Christian festivals where much energy is expended in making movements and noise to scare away the evil spirits of winter and hasten the arrival of spring.

Here too the nature of the yogini of Lahaul is different from that of their Kulu counterparts. The diversity of their aspects: demons of the high Himalayan peaks, independent deota in the upper Kulu valley and servants of Kali and Syama in Purana Mandi, mark different degrees of integration and ascension in their respective pantheons.

Role and Powers of the Jognis[16]

We have seen that, collectively, the jognis of the upper valley are independent and are in no way subordinate to any deity. They respond to a deity’s request to give humans the powers they need, but no deity, however powerful, can anticipate how they will act. The malevolence or benevolence of the jogni is, if not uncontrollable, at least unpredictable.

Although he considers them devi, Rohit Ram defined them to me as intermediaries between a deity and people. People approach the jognis, he told me, to ask them for a power they need in certain circumstances and, on his side, if he so desires, the local deity asks the jognis to give them to the people. Although the decision to ask the jognis remains with the deity — if and when he so desires — on their side, the jognis either give or do not give these powers. When these powers are slow to manifest, people are confused: has the deity not asked the jognis for their benevolent participation?

The nature of these supernatural powers has only been defined for me through anecdotal accounts. The first (below) on the appointment of a new gur, tells of a situation in which the deity has not yet manifested his will. The second, building a new rath, describes the efforts and precautions of the villagers to secure the benevolence of their goddess and the jogni. The last two testimonies tell us that the jognis can make a rath’s movements uncontrollable by an overload of energy.

After the death of her old gur,[17] nine long years passed without Hidimba Devi appointing her new gur. The devotees’ anxiety grew with the times, they did not understand what was happening: was Hidimba Devi angry with them or was it a manifestation of malice by the jogni? The absence of a gur deprived them of a direct dialogue (see below, note 19) with their goddess and, not knowing what to do, they multiplied the sacrifices. In a state of trance, the gur of the Panchbir, addressing them one day, told them to stop harassing their goddess: “You cannot force Hidimba to recognise her new gur if she does not want to. Hidimba Devi will appoint him when she decides,” he said clearly. In this circumstance the jognis were not responsible, as the deity had not yet asked them for their cooperation.

The construction of the new rath of Hidimba Devi illustrates particularly well the nature of these powers and the complexity of the interactions between the villagers, their goddess and the jognis.

The various stages of construction took almost two years and the rath was completed in the spring of 1990. So it is a very long story, of which I report here only two stages: the forest stage, when the villagers went up into the jungle to cut down the trees, and the final stage, when the villagers asked the jognis to give the new rath the power that would make it usable.

The old rath was very old and the villagers of Dhungri and Manali feared that it was no longer strong enough to withstand the weight and bumps it would take on outings. The date of its construction was no longer in the memory of the village.[18]

The decision taken by the villagers was serious in many ways. It would involve a significant amount of community involvement over long periods of time and would be expensive to finance. But what concerned the villagers more was not to make mistakes that might displease their goddess or attract the malevolence of the jognis by not respecting prescriptions of which they were not aware. Whether in its bare form of a wooden structure used to transport a deity or adorned with the mohra, the riches and insignia of his power, the rath is particularly sacred: it is a major symbol through which the deity manifests himself to the community; it is truly his very essence.[19] Building this rath was therefore an undertaking that could have serious and unpredictable consequences if the goddess did not accept it. The villagers of Dhungri and Manali had no oral or written tradition about the rituals of such a construction.[20] They therefore decided that the rath to be built would be identical in every respect to the old one and that particularly strict measures would be observed during the construction period to isolate it from all sources of pollution and impurity.

This means that, during the various stages of the work, the entire population of two villages observed ritual prohibitions and obligations in order to maintain the necessary degree of purity and to preserve their villages, work areas and tools, as well as the wood supply, from contamination until the end of the undertaking. The slightest impurity in the whole community, or in one of its members, would result in a rejection by the goddess, rendering the new rath useless, and everything would have to be started from scratch. I saw a picture in which the men were working in dhoti because trousers are an impure garment. You have to understand how amazing it is to see these mountain men doing heavy work in dhoti, a garment otherwise foreign to the region; only a pujari wears it, and only for the time of celebrating a puja.

It was also necessary to make all the jognis, whom they would inevitably displease by entering their domain and felling walnut trees, all things that angered them and made them malicious, propitious. The villagers would therefore try to appease them throughout the work by multiplying the puja and bali (each time many adult animals), so that at the end of the undertaking they would give the rath the supernatural energy required to be accepted by Hidimba.

As a precaution it was also decided to make a sufficient supply of wood, not only for the construction and maintenance of this new rath, but also for the construction and maintenance of a second one when necessary.[21]

On the date fixed for the start of the operation, a good sixty men from Dhungri and Manali went together to take a ritual bath at the hot spring of Vasisht (the holiest spring in the upper valley). Dressed in clean clothes, they then went to the temple courtyard of their village where they all spent the night. None of them went home that night, nor the following nights, until the work in the forest was finished. Ritual bathing at the sacred spring, sexual abstinence, more severe fasting than usual and many sacrifices of adult animals were some of the rules applied in a maximum way for this stage.

Their first day in the forest was spent selecting the walnut tree. The discussions were long because the stakes were high. Their choice was only made when they all agreed.

The next morning, before felling the walnut tree, they worshipped the tree with a bali of about ten sheep, followed by a jogni-puja. When the tree fell to the ground, a new sacrifice was immediately offered to the jogni. Finding that this tree could not provide a sufficient quantity of good quality wood, the men selected a second walnut tree and repeated bali and puja. In the end, four walnut trees were felled, but the rituals were only performed for the first two trees.[22]

Then the work of squaring the trunks, cutting them into planks, etc. continued for several days during which five more sacrifices, again of several adult animals, were offered to the jogni.

The transport of the planks to the village was done on the backs of men, taking infinite precautions to ensure that the wood did not come into contact with the ground. Otherwise other purification rituals would have had to be performed.

I pass over the long months of processing the wood and building the rath in the village by simply saying that they were punctuated with sacrifices to the jogni.

When the thauli (the caste and functional name of the carpenters-masons) completed the construction of the rath, the villagers wanted to make sure that all the standards of purity had been met and that Hidimba Devi accepted her new rath. These matters were too important to question the deity through a simple ‘question session’ (the gur in a trance state). So it was during a long and costly ritual of path, that the villagers questioned their goddess. Hidimba Devi replied that they had correctly followed the prescriptions, that she was satisfied and accepted the new rath. A sacrifice of gratitude was immediately offered to the jognis.

The new rath, trimmed with cloth, was taken to Vasisht to be washed in the water of the sacred spring and then the villagers took it up to the highest pastures. Up there, in their true domain, the devotees of Hidimba Devi asked the jognis to give the new rath the power it must have to be used by the deity. The anguish of the villagers that the rath would remain inanimate or, on the contrary, be uncontrollable by a superintensity of energy was real. So important was this request that most of them added additional offerings to the large collective offering of the community on a personal basis.

The jognis, too, were satisfied and, during the puja, they gave the necessary power to the new rath, which, since the spring of 1990, has been Hidimba Devi.

An early account tells how the jognis rendered the Manu Rsi rath of Manali permanently useless. Several years ago, the deity had come out of his temple and his devotees were carrying his rath. Suddenly, for no apparent reason it seems,[23] the bearers were jostling each other and the rath was swaying dangerously; the bearers could no longer control this force: the Manu Rsi’s rath was uncontrollable and, through the voice of the gur, the villagers learned that the jognis had overloaded it with energy. Since this incident, Manu Rsi has been deprived of his rath and is dependent on Hidimba Devi who has given him a place on hers.

The second testimony relates how Hidimba’s rath was rendered momentally uncontrollable when she was going down to Kulu to participate in the Dussehra. On the roadside in the Patlikhul bazaar, a small merchant had prepared his best tea, well sweetened and with plenty of milk, to offer to his Devi when she passed his stall, i.e. he had filled glasses with this good tea for the rath bearers. The rath bearers, a little excited by the alcohol they had received at a previous stop, did not stop. After a good kilometre near the next bridge, the carriers could no longer control the movements of the rath, which forced them to turn around and return to the stall where they consumed the offering. Then they set off again without incident towards Kulu.

In conclusion, who are the jognis of the upper Kulu valley? Are they really different from their counterparts in neighbouring regions and what place do they occupy in the pantheon of the upper valley?

Since political boundaries and high mountain ranges have never been impassable barriers for supernatural beings, the jognis are probably the same everywhere. Their habitat on the heights and the fear they inspire have contributed to a better preservation of their origin by delaying, to a certain extent, their transformation by the human world. The differences were gradually built up over the centuries when, without realising it, people elevated these demons from the ancient cults into the hierarchy of their pantheon.

A supernatural being, god or demon, is a reflection of what people think of it, what they expect of it, what they do with it. Admittedly, the relationship between these jognis and humans is very fragile, but the villagers of the upper Kulu valley today perceive them as devi, since, by means of propitiatory rites and the respect of certain rules, they manage to prevent their malevolence and make them benevolent. Appeased and satisfied, they grant them the powers they need to communicate with their goddess, who in turn shows her satisfaction. The story of the construction of Hidimba Devi’s new rath helps us to better understand the role and power of the jognis of the upper Kulu valley and to perceive the extreme complexity of the interactions between gods, demons and humans.


Yoginis, called jognis in the Upper Kulu Valley region, are supernatural beings, (female demons), from ancient cults. They are numerous and they live in an egalitarian group, without structure or hierarchy.

Their extreme mobility in the air, their residence in natural places, high pastures, trees, rocks etc. and waterfalls, where they convene in a cave hidden from humans by a sheet of water, their anonymous status (no individual mime or image), ail bear witness to their desire to live outside the confines of the human world.

These jognis are independent and are not linked, either directly or implicitly, to any god. They do, however, collaborate with them.

They are considered by the people in the region as mediums between the gods and humans. The jognis answer the requests of the god or goddess of a village to give humans the powers they need but their malevolence or benevolence is either uncontrollable or at best unpredictable.

Relations between jognis and humans are consequently fragile but villagers of all castes look on them as devis. They manage to foresee their malevolence and to make them benevolent by respecting certain rules; they perform many rituals, puja and bali, in their honour but do not consider them to be village deities.

Several accounts have made it easier to pinpoint their rote more clearly and to comprehend the extremely complex interactions between them, the gods and humans.


[1] Rohit Ram Sharma, pujari and kardar of Hidimba Devi, was a valuable informant during our many discussions. I am very grateful to him for his friendly help. His first-hand information enabled me to study and analyse the role and powers of the jognis and their relationship with Hidimba Devi and the villagers of Dhungri and Manali.

I would like to thank very warmly Ms. Nalini Balbir and Ms. E. Eczet for their ever-precious help in overcoming the inconveniences created by my lack of knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindi, as well as Mrs. A. Fremont, who sent me an excerpt (Les fees) of her doctoral thesis (defended on 25 May 1992).

The proper names are deliberately transcribed without any diacritical marks.

Several parts of this study refer to Gananath Obeyesekere’s 1984 book, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini, and, in particular, to Chapter 2 “The Assembly of the Gods”, pp. 50-70.

[2] The drum is an instrument used exclusively by low caste men. The rhythm for announcing a man’s death was therefore known to the Muchiani dagi.

[3] This detail about the extreme cleanliness of this house where these souls have stopped indicates that they are considered pure beings who only descend to earth in purified places suitable for gods.

[4] According to Diack (1896: 56) and Hendriksen (1976: I, 67) chhó, means waterfall.

[5] Bali and puja are the terms in common use in the region for rituals performed in honour of the jogni. The offering of a puja shows that they are truly considered devi. However, the ambivalence of their status becomes apparent when, after the ritual is over, the food offering is placed on the edge of the terrace, i.e. on the periphery of the sacred area. (Obeyesekere 1964: 54, 63-64).

[6] The average price of a young animal can vary from Rs 100 to Rs 200 and an adult from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000. The total price of a jogni-puja costs around 500 rupees but the price can rise depending on the offerings. According to custom, the family also makes an offering of food (ranging from a simple sweet to a meal) to anyone in the temple at the time of the ceremony.

[7] Rose (1883: 212, 214-15), Diack (1896: 68) and Hendriksen (1976: 55) refer to them as: “spirit, malignant or malicious spirit, fairy, witch”. Rose adds “But in Kulu the jogini [….] seemingly ranks as high as any deota”.

[8] Vedavyas, K. D. 1961, Skanda Purana, Kaśi Khanda. Part VI: ch. 45, vers 33-43.

[9] These pindi have various shapes. In the jogni temples they are stones with a somewhat rounded top and their visible part is 20-30 cm high. The pindi of this region are often confused by authors with linga.

[10] Goddesses, the legends tell us, are often ancient raksasi. I already have some good reasons to think that the raksasi are not the only demons to rise in the hierarchy of the Kulu pantheon (cf. infra).

[11] Mohra is the term used locally to designate the “mask” that materializes the image of the deity. These masks are made using the so-called “lost wax” and “repousse” techniques. The faces of modern mohra are generally made according to a stereotyped model.

[12] The Shyama Kali temple was built on a hill overlooking the city and the Sidh Bhadra Kali temple was built on the ridge of the hill between the Beas and Suketi rivers near their confluence. The present boundaries of the city extend far beyond the sites of these two temples. Raja Shyam Sen (1664-1679) and Raja Sidh Sen (1684-1727) are the respective founders of these temples.

[13] This information is confirmed in a monograph written by the Principal of Mandi College Dr. N. Upadhyay, Temples of Mandi, Mandi 1986. This author also mentions the yogini stele of the Shyama Kali temple.

[14] Vasumati Sahitya Mandir, 10th edn., Calcutta, n.d. p. 311.

[15] Quoted in P. Kumar [Sharma] 1974, Śakti Cult in Ancient India, Varanasi, p. 144.

[16] Folk tradition makes no reference to an animal protection function. The local deity protecting animals (wild and domestic) is “devta Dani” to whom many stone temples are erected in the jungle and countryside.

[17] Kahlu Gur, the father of Thule Ram, the current gur of Hidimba Devi. A gur, in this Himalayan region, is the man chosen by a deity to be his oracle (cf. infra, note 19).

[18] The older ones say they have never heard of it, some suggest 500 years, which corresponds to the construction of the temple in 1553, and others 300 years, but these two hypotheses seem to me equally arbitrary.

[19] A deity expresses himself through his rath and through his gur. It manifests itself to its faithful when it wishes (the rath’s outings are always exceptional as they only take place at its request.) and it expresses itself by the movements (swaying, walking pace, etc.) of the rath, each one having its own significance known by all. The stretchers are carried on the shoulders of two bearers and these frequently take turns, so that the movements of the rath do not depend on the will of a bearer, I have always been told. The second means of expression of a deity is the voice, and sometimes the gestures, of its gur. The deity chooses its gur and designates him to the community; from that moment on the words pronounced by the gur in a state of trance in certain ritual circumstances are truly those of the deity. A dialogue without intermediaries is established, the faithful themselves question their deity who answers them in their own words, questions and answers multiply, a real conversation begins. The rath and the gur are thus two means of expression whose value is particularly solemn when they are expressed together.

[20] I was told that ancient manuscripts in tankari(?) script could have described them but, as no one could read them anymore, they were destroyed. The outline of the ritual followed for the construction of Hidimba Devi’s rath was inspired by that of a relatively similar undertaking done in a village in the valley. Rohit Ram told me that he meticulously recorded in Hindi (for all to see) the details of the various rituals performed for Hidimba Devi.

[21] The supply of wood was deposited in the shahal (vault) of the bhandar where the personal objects of the deity are kept. The bhandar and, more particularly, the shahal are areas protected from aggression of any kind in order to preserve the purity of a divine abode.

[22] It can be estimated that between Rs 40,000 and Rs 80,000 was spent to cover the cost of sacrifices for this part of the work alone (see note 6).

[23] This incident is probably one of the many episodes of a long socio-religious conflict between the villagers of Dhungri and Manali from the beginning of the 19th century (Research in progress).


DEHEJIA, V. 1986 Yogini Cult and Temples. A tantric tradition, National Museum Janpath, New Delhi.

DIACK, A. H. 1886 The Kulu dialect of Hindi, Civil & Military Press. Lahore.

Gill, M. S. 1972 Himalayan Wonderland. Travels in Lahaul-Spiti, Vikas Publishing House. Delhi.

HENDRIKSEN, H. 1976 Himachali Studies I. Vocabulary. Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab Historisk-filosofiske Meddelelser, 48, 1. København.

HOWELL, G.C.L. 1918 “Some Notes on Ancient Kulu Politics”. Journal of the Panjab Historical Society, VI: 69-81. Lahore.

JETTMAR-THAKUR, G. 1983 “The Kulu Rsi-Cult: notes on the position of Vedic sages as village gods in the Himalayas”. SARAS Bulletin, 3: 25-36. Reading.

JETTMAR-THAKUR, G. 1988 Raksasa Lore in the Kulu Valley (Unpublishedt).

de MALLMANN, M. T. 1963 Les enseignements iconographiques de l’Agni-Purana; [Chapter VIII Les soixante-quatre Yogini: p. 169-182, Annexure II: p. 292-307]. PUF. Paris.

OBEYESEKERE, G. 1984 The cult of the Goddess Pattini, University of Chicago Press. Chicago & London.

Rose, H. A. ed. (1883) ed. 1982 A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Census Report of the North-West Frontier Province for the Punjab, Superintendent Government Printing, Punjab. Lahore.

THAKUR, M. 1981 Himacal me pujit devi-devta (A detailed Study of Folk Tales of Local Gods and Goddesses of Himachal Pradesh), New Delhi.


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