The Gods of Kulu

by Prof Homersham Cox

“This article is not only pleasant reading, but possesses considerable ethnological interest, and some historical interest, too.”

The article here is reproduced as it appeared in a 1909 issue of The Modern Review (Vol. 6, Issue 3).

Many English writers have insisted on, and it seems to me, somewhat exaggerated the differences between the various classes of the inhabitants of India. But none of these differences is, as far as my own observation goes, so great as the difference between the men of the hills and the men of the plains. The Bengali and the Panjabi, the Hindu and the Musulman have a great deal in common; but when we enter the Himalayas, we seem to pass into a new atmosphere of thought and feeling. This change of moral atmosphere is, like the change of physical atmosphere, easy to perceive but not so easy to describe. Still a few points may be noted. “Widow marriage” we are told in the Census Report of India “is a badge of social degradation.” In Kulu, no degradation attaches to widow marriage and it is not uncommon. Polygamy is by no means exceptional, as it is among the Hindus of the plains. The marriage of very young children is not usual and marriage is often postponed till after the age of puberty. The marriage ceremony is often dispensed with in favour of a civil contract. Sometimes there is not even a civil contract and the young man and woman merely live together with the knowledge of their parents. No disgrace is thought to attach to such a relationship, and the two are spoken of as husband and wife. The Kulu husband when he does not get on with his wife, often sells her with her own consent to another man; a practice which Hindus and Mahommedans from the plains find extremely shocking. If, however, the marriage customs are lax, the observance of caste rules is extremely strict. In general character the people are singularly cheerful and good tempered, and crime and extreme poverty are almost unknown.

While the people of Kulu may be called Hindus, their religious beliefs and practices differ in many respects from those of the plains. I believe that English officials employed in Kulu have at different times written about the local divinities but none of these writings have fallen into my hands, nor have I any opportunity of consulting libraries. The following account is therefore based only on my own observations and on what I have heard from Kulu peasants. I shall follow a topographical order, so that any visitor to the valley interested in the matter will have little difficulty in verifying or correcting my statements in so far as they relate to external facts. As for the stories given, it will be obvious in most cases and I wish it to be understood in all, that I do not vouch for their truth but merely repeat what has been told me.

The valley of the Beas runs south from Ralla to Larji. It is almost everywhere very narrow, but below the junction of the Sarbari it broadens out for about a mile into a meadow. The Sultanpur dak bungalow lies on the western side and near the northern end of this meadow, and as almost all visitors to Kulu stop in the bungalow for at least a night, we may take it as a centre of reference.

Eastward and somewhat northward from the bungalow, where the meadow is bounded by the main road, is the temple of Ghori Deo. It should be noted that deo, which is an evil spirit in Hindustani, means a god in the Kulu language. The temple is a small plain building without any architectural ornaments. Inside is a low, dark room containing the pindi or body of the god. This always stays in the temple.

When a god takes part in a procession he is represented by his mukh, which consists of hollow silver masks about ten in number carried on a rath. In Kulu proper the rath somewhat resembles an easy chair with a cloth thrown over it so as to cover the whole of the front. The masks are placed on the cloth. In Seoraj the rath is like a box standing on one end, or still more like a truncated pyramid, since the upper square is a little smaller than the base. The four faces are covered with masks. There is a difference of opinion as to the theological question whether the god lives only in the pindi or in the mukh as well. The pindi of Ghori, so far as I could make out through the gloom, for of course I was not allowed to enter the temple, consists of two square blocks of stone placed close together. There is no attempt at representing the form and features of an individual god. In fact, this would be impossible owing to the want of skilled sculptors in Kulu. Even the mukh of one god is like the mukh of another. These masks are of course made by the silversmith, but in the case of some gods, such as Piruthan, one of the masks is of supernatural origin and not made by any human hands.

Ghori Deo is the god of the village Dhalpur. On three festivals during the year in April, July and October his rath is carried round to every house in the village and he receives at each an offering of incense. He is consulted by the villagers about their private affairs and speaks through the mouth of his gur. For, in general, a god has attached to his service; a pujari who worships him daily; a kardar, who attends to his property; and at least one gur through whom he speaks. The pujari must be a Brahman, the kardar whose work is secular, not religious, may be a landholder, and the gur may be of any caste. The wind bloweth where it listeth and a god may choose any man as the instrument by which he reveals his will. The word used in Kulu for a man who is in the condition of being possessed by a god is ubharna. In this state he may run knives into himself, or take hot coals in his hand.

Ghori is not a very great god and is only worshipped in his own village, Dhalpur. Twice a year he pays homage to the greatest of the gods Raghunath. Still, he can shew his power when offended. Many years ago an assistant commissioner thought that the temple of Ghori which is plainer in appearance than an ordinary stable disfigured the meadow, as indeed it does. He had the walls and roof removed, but when the workmen tried to remove the pindi, they found it buried itself more deeply in the ground and resisted all their efforts. After some days of vain exertions, one morning the coolies saw a snake coiled round the pindi. They knew it was the god, and fled in terror. The assistant, too, felt the wrath of Ghori. He had taken furlough and was on his way to Bombay. One of his children died on the Kandi and his wife became mad. Then like Pharaoh he repented, and sent three hundred rupees of his own money to repair the temple of the god. But the kardar kept back most of this money for himself, and received the punishment of Ananias. He himself, and all his family, except one son, died. For a long time, the temple was left unrepaired, and Ghori had nothing but wooden boards to shelter him from the sun and the rain. But in the year of the cholera, the villagers sought the help of their god, for as a Kulu friend said to me, men seek the gods when they fear misfortune, not when they are happy. Ghori promised that if his temple were rebuilt, Kali should not so much as set her foot in Dhalpur. The temple was rebuilt and Ghori kept his word. While in all other parts of Kulu men were dying, there was not in Dhalpur a single case of cholera.

Ghori came originally from the neighbouring state, Mandi. In the old days before the British raj, the raja of Kulu went to war with the raja of Mandi and led his troops across the Bhubhu pass as far as the little village of Guma. On his return after a successful campaign his pony became lame. Then a boy who kept cows began to ubharna, and Ghori said through the boy’s mouth that if the raja would take him to Kulu and give him land and a temple he would heal the raja’s horse. The boy led the servants of the raja into the forests near Guma, where they found the two stones that make the pindi of Ghori. These stones were taken to Kulu and placed, first in the raja’s palace, then near where the post office is now, and then in the village of Dhalpur. But in none of these places was Ghori contented, and he would not be quiet till he obtained his present home, to which he still clings so tenaciously. The difficulty in accepting the story is that the two stones are obviously artificial.

A few steps in front of the temple of Ghori is the pindi of Nanda Deo, the dumb god. This is merely a stone half-sunk, in the ground, like many others scattered through the meadow. On either side of and behind this stone, there are three other larger stones whether in their original position or placed there on purpose I can not say. A flat stone has been put on the top of them, so that a sort of tiny roofed enclosure open in front has been formed. All these stones are natural, not cut or shaped in any way. It will be obvious that Nanda Deo is a very insignificant god. He is a servant of Ghori, who himself is only a second rate god. His chief duty is to look after the cattle in the meadow. When a cow gives birth to a calf, it is usual for the owner to offer some thing to Nanda Deo. He is consulted if there is any sickness among the cattle. He has the same gur as Ghori, but while Ghori speaks through the mouth of the gur, Nanda Deo can only express his meaning by signs and gestures. It is on this account he has received the name of Nanda or dumb. He is not fastidious in his tastes. He will accept a pig, an offering which more respectable gods would refuse.

From the god of the village we naturally pass on to the god of the house. The only household god with whom I am personally acquainted is Gaint, the god of my old friend Rirku who lives in a house in Dhalpur on the border of the meadow between the dak bungalow and the Sessions House. In Kulu, an Englishman is not allowed to enter the house of a Hindu, for he would pollute it by his presence. But last April Rirku’s old house was pulled down and Gaint was removed into the new house. There was a great dinner, to which about forty people were invited and lugri, an intoxicating liquor made from rice, was drunk freely till late at night. In the evening Rirku began to ubharna. It was on this occasion that I saw the god. He is a trident, consisting of a long iron bar terminating in a point and a curved cross bar also terminating at either end in a point. The cross bar is nailed to the long bar at such a distance that the three points lie in the same straight line. He is kept in a basket, and along with him are the tongs used for the fire on which incense is burnt to him, and an iron chain with which men possessed by a bhut or evil spirit are beaten till the evil spirit is driven out. Gaint chose the day for entering the new house. Three goats were sacrificed, two to Gaint himself and one to Ghori. The family god goes wherever the family goes. Thus Gaint was brought by Rirku’s father from Seoraj. Often four goats are sacrificed on entering a new house. Besides those given to the village god and the household god, one is offered to Narsing Bir and one to the jogni, that is to say, the nymph or fairy who is the companion of the household god. She has no pindi and is only known to exist because she appears in dreams or because the god speaks of her. However this time Gaint’s companion did not get a goat.

Gaint was also consulted when the foundation of the house was laid and when the first slate was laid on the roof. The work men had to put off making the roof for several days owing to the unfavourable answers of Gaint. On both occasions he received a goat. The village god, too, is consulted, and if the answers agree all is well. If not, some suspicion falls on the claims of the gur to be an interpreter of the god, and things have to be postponed till a satisfactory agreement is obtained. Formerly the household god used generally to speak through the mouth of Rirku. But the mouthpiece of a god must be chokha, pure, beyond the ordinary purity of members of his caste. Either because Rirku learnt the Roman alphabet, or because of some other impurity accidentally incurred, the god seldom speaks through him now. When it is desired to consult Gaint, three objects are selected, such as for example, a small stone, a flower, and a blade of grass. These are rolled up in three balls of cow-dung and the balls are covered with ashes so as to be indistinguishable from one another. Then the inquirer fixes in his own mind on one object to stand for yes, a second for no, and the third for no answer at all. Then a small child is asked to pick up one of the balls. This is opened and the answer obtained. The process is repeated several times to exclude all possibility of accident. If the same answer is given again and again, the will of the god is clearly known.

When a sacrifice is offered, it is the custom to lead the goat before the god, to see whether he accepts it. If the goat shivers it is accepted, and its head is immediately cut off with a sword. But if it remains still, it is rejected and is taken away for the time. It need hardly be said that the flesh of the animal is eaten by human beings and that the god’s portion is only the smell. There are gods such as Jamlu on Tirpoin who require the goat to be killed in Musalman fashion, by cutting the throat. Some say that the god Jamlu is himself a Musalman, although his wife is a Hindu, and that he cares nothing for Hindu rules about eating and drinking. But others deny this, and say that Jamlu is a Hindu in everything except the mode of sacrifice he prefers. There is no doubt in the case of another god, not known indeed in Kulu, but much worshipped in Allahabad and the surrounding districts. This is Ghazi Mian, who is an historical character and came to India with Mahmud of Ghazni. He was first made by the Musalmans a shahid and pir, martyr and saint, because he had died fighting the Hindus and then made by the Hindus themselves a god. In his case, the goat must not merely be killed in Musalman fashion, but must be killed by a Musalman butcher, whose services are engaged when ever a sacrifice is offered.

We return to the gods worshipped in Kulu. Between the dak bungalow and the temple of Ghori is the rath of Raghunath, the most conspicuous object in that part of the meadow. It is not like the rath of any other god, but resembles somewhat a little house on wheels. These wheels are, or rather were, twenty four in number, six on each of four axes. The house itself, if it were on the ground, would be rather like a small garden arbour. It consists of an inner part, just big enough for a man to sit, and an outer veranda. The whole is entered by a peaked roof. The floor is raised on poles a few feet above the level of the wheels. Raghunath, who is identified with Ram, is the greatest of all the gods. His home is not in the rath but in the raja’s palace. He has no pindi but a murat or image. It is about six inches long, made of gold in the shape of a man, and this is the way in which it came into Kulu. Many years ago, perhaps two hundred or more, there was a raja of Kulu who like Naaman was a leper. At that time the chief god was Puari. The raja asked help from Puari and all the other gods of Kulu, but in vain. Then one of the courtiers said: “There is a god in Ajodhya who can heal the raja’s sickness”. So a servant was sent disguised as a sadhu to the temple of Raghunath in Ajodhya. After waiting some years, he found an opportunity to steal the image and escape with it to Kulu. Then the raja was healed of his leprosy and he knew that there was no god in all the earth equal to Raghunath. The other gods were, it is true, not rejected, but they have been compelled from that time to pay tribute and homage to Raghunath, the god of gods. Puari still lives in the raja’s palace, but his glory is gone. Every god thinks that to his kingdom there will be no end, but sooner or later the time comes, when he fails to give rain or to cure disease, or in some way or other to satisfy the needs of his worshippers, and then he is deserted for other gods.

Raghunath has sixteen pujaris, who take it in turns to serve him. The turns of service recur at intervals of four days and each turn lasts the whole day from morning to evening, so that the god has always four pujaris in attendance. Besides these he has servants to fetch his water and to cook his food. His attendants have to wake him early in the morning, to bring him his morning and evening meals and to put him to bed at night. When Raghunath first came to Kulu, a pujari came from Ajodhya with him. One of this man’s family has been ever since attached to the temple as a priest.1 If the old priest dies without leaving sons, a new one is brought from the same family at Ajodhya. But his duties are no longer so much those of a pujari as those of guru or spiritual guide of the raja. Raghunath has no gur and does not speak by the mouth of any man. Letters containing different statements, perhaps as many as ten in number, are placed before him, enclosed in envelopes so as to exclude all imposture. The one of which Raghunath approves moves apart from all the others, and is opened and read.

In the year 1896, there was a long season of dry weather and the people went to Raghunath and asked for rain. He promised to give rain if his temple were repaired. He was asked to fix a day and he promised that the rain should come in four days. I can testify to this, from personal knowledge, for I was told of the promise on the day it was made. The work of repair was immediately begun, but Raghunath was assured that if rain did not fall at the appointed time, the repairs would be stopped and the workmen sent back to their homes. However Raghunath kept his promise. He does not always shew his power so clearly. There was a quarrel between a brother and sister about some family jewels which had disappeared, and each accused the other of stealing them. After purifying themselves, both went to Raghunath and asked him to punish the real culprit within a given time. I was then leaving Kulu and so did not hear the result, but on my return next year I asked a friend. “I shall never believe in Raghunathji again” was the answer, “nothing happened to either of them.” The anger of the gods may be great, but it is certainly slow.

Raghunath comes out of his temple four times in the year. Two of these occasions are festivals held throughout India; Basant Panchmi, and Dasehra, but the other two are peculiar to Kulu. On one of these the god is bathed in the Beas and on the other in the Sarbari. His wife Sita, and the lion Narsingh who is the god himself in another form, accompany him, and are bathed with him. At all these times the raja must be present. Though he has retained very little of his former political importance, the raja is as necessary as ever for religious purposes and has, in fact, become a rex sacrorum. It is however only for the worship of Raghunath that he is indispensable. His close connection with the god is shewn by his receiving the golden staff of Raghunath, as a symbol of authority, immediately on his accession. On Basant Panchmi and Dasehra, Raghunath is placed in his rath, which is dragged by forty men or more to an assigned spot in the meadow. Close by is a small square paved bit of ground on which at the time of the festival an altar is erected and enclosed by a tent. Here the god is carried from his rath. Dasehra is the most important Kulu jacha or festival throughout the whole year. It lasts five days. On the first, the god is taken to his allotted place. On the second and third, the other gods pay salaam to him. All the gods of Kulu, three hundred and sixty in number, come, that is to say, all the respectable gods who keep a rath, not inferior gods such as Gaint and Nanda Deo. A god who stays away is fined. Some of them have to come long distances, five or six days’ journey. Each god has a special place provided for him and is accompanied by his pujaris and a brass band. Preparations for so many people have, of course, to be made some days before the jacha begins. After a god has paid his respects to Raghunath, which is his first duty, he takes the opportunity of calling on his friends among the other gods. As most of the gods live far apart this is the only time they can meet one another. On the fourth day, the names of all the gods present are written in the Persian character, sad to say, and not in the indigenous Tankri. Then the most important gods are taken before the raja. On the fifth day, Raghunath is again placed in the rath and taken down to the bank of the river Beas. There he receives as a sacrifice the ponj bolli or five gifts, that is to say, a buffalo, a ram, a pig, a cock and a fish. The first three remind one of the suovetaurilia and the coincidence can hardly be accidental. It is sometimes said that Raghunath himself hates blood and that the animals are not offered to him but to Kali. This theory is, I suspect, due to the influence of the Hinduism of the plains. A raja once tried to stop the sacrifices but a severe pestilence broke out and he himself died in consequence. The whole festival concludes as elsewhere in India by the burning of Rawan. This takes place on an island in the Beas called Lanka tapu, the island Ceylon. Then the rath is dragged back to its usual place in the meadow and Raghunath goes to his temple in the raja’s palace.

While the principal object of the festival is to honour Raghunath, business and pleasure are not neglected. There is much buying and selling. Men, as well as gods, greet their old friends from different parts of the valley. Often a circle is formed of men dancing round a god, while a small group of spectators looks on. Every one puts on his best clothes and the women wear all their jewels. In one corner of the meadow whirly-go-rounds moving in a vertical plane are erected and these are for many a great amusement. The scene has some features of resemblance with a London bank holiday, but the differences are all in favour of the Kulu people. These hill peasants have nothing of the rough, noisy manners which characterize the lower classes in England. They can enjoy themselves freely without ever passing beyond the bounds of propriety. The women make no attempt to conceal their faces. But although they are not timid and self-conscious like Indian women in the plains, their behaviour is perfectly modest. Good taste, which in other countries is the result of education, seems to come to these people by nature.

In the adjoining hill state of Mandi, Dasehra is not an important festival and only lasts a single day. The chief god Madhab Rai, who is said to be the same as Krishna, comes out of his temple, and that I am told is all that happens. There is not even, as in other parts of India, a representation of the burning of Rawan. The chief festival of Mandi is Shivratri, which is of little importance in Kulu. Then eighteen gods come to salute Madhab Rai. It seems clear that Dasehra is not an indigenous hill festival or else it would be observed in Mandi as well as in Kulu. Even in Kulu, the representation of the story of Ram and Sita, is not as in the plains, the most prominent feature of the festival. There is no abduction of Sita, no mimic combat, only the destruction of Lanka. That Raghunath came from Ajodhya is no doubt an historical fact. Probably he has taken the place of the indigenous god Puari in an old hill festival which has received some few Hindu modifications.2

On the eastern range of hills at their southern extremity, can be seen indistinctly the temple of Shivaji, locally pronounced Sibji. He is also called Bijli Baba, Father Lightning, a name which recalls Jupiter Tonans. He is the god next in rank to Raghunathji. His pindi, I am told, is a lingam like that of Shiva elsewhere. Every three years it is struck by lightning, or rather thunderbolts, and shattered to pieces with such violence that the pieces are thrown far and wide in the surrounding field. Men are then summoned from the neighbouring villages. They bring with them a kilta, ghi and some silk cloth. After collecting the pieces and restoring them to their original place, they rub them with ghi, wrap them in the cloth and then cover the whole with the kilta. In the morning, the pindi is completely restored just as if nothing had happened. It is on this account the god gets his name of Bijli Baba. Sibji has many mukhs and one of them, distinguished by its extreme ugliness, is of supernatural origin. This one stays in the temple and is never placed on the rath with the others. The story of its discovery is as follows. A Brahman named Bhabhi had some land in the village Ganakla on the further side of the hill, and had employed labourers to dig his field. Early in the afternoon his wife brought the men their usual meal. While they were resting under a tree she took a hoe and began to work herself. When she struck the ground, she heard a groan and a voice saying “do not hit me.” On removing the earth the mukh of Sibji appeared. The woman hid it in her bosom, lest it should be seen by any of the labourers, and took it home. She placed it in a box of mah, a kind of dal, and locked the box. The mah began to overflow the box, and continued to increase in quantity so that at last the whole house was filled. On account of this miracle Sibji is called Mahdeo.3

The Brahman Bhabhi and his wife were astonished at the miracle but did not know if it was the work of a god or an evil spirit. So they said, “If you are a god let the mah diminish to its original amount, but if an evil spirit let it stay as it is.” Then the excess of mah disappeared. Bhabhi and his wife put the tika on their foreheads and worshipped the new god. It was a few days later that the pindi was discovered. The Brahman noticed that his cow was giving much less milk than usual. He suspected his cowherd and beat him in spite of his denials. Then one day he secretly followed the cow and cow-herd into the forest, and saw the cow enter a thick cluster of bushes and go up to a stone on which she herself poured the milk from her udders. Now the cowherd was dumb, but the god came into him, and he began to make signs. The Brahman said, “If you are really a god, give this man the power of speech.” That night the cowherd asked for his dinner, speaking for the first time in his life. Then the god said that he was Sibji and that the lingam and the mukh were his. The Brahman and his wife took Sibji into their house and he blessed them. They had been childless, but now children were born to them, their cattle multiplied and their fields gave abundant harvests. At that time there was a raja of Nagar, which was then distinct from Kulu, who was afflicted by leprosy. He heard of the new god and was healed by him. In gratitude he gave Sibji a temple and lands. All this happened, it should be noted, long before Raghunath came to Kulu.

Paley argues, if I can trust recollections more than thirty years old, on a priori grounds that Christianity must have been attended by miracles at its origin. To me it seems possible to go further and say, that not merely Christianity, but all religions must have been at their origin attended by miracles. As may be seen from the above narrative this was the case with the worship of Sibji. Moreover not only must there be miracles at the birth of a religion but fresh miracles must be performed from time to time, or else the faith of the believers will grow cold. Gods can not, any more than men, always maintain a reputation on the strength of their past achievements. “If the gods did not some times shew their power,” a gur of Sibji said to me, “who would believe in them ?” Then he told me how Sibji had shewn his power to a raja some years ago. This raja had read English at Lahore and doubted the existence of the gods. So when Sibji had left the palace to return to his temple, the raja said in his heart “If Sibji be really a god let him come back to me.” By that time Sibji had reached a little village half way up the hill. Then the men who were carrying the rath felt an irresistible force compelling them to turn back, and indeed it seemed to them as if it were not they that were carrying the rath but the rath that was dragging them along. So they came into the presence of the raja, and the raja knew that Sibji was in truth a god.

At Dasehra, Sibji comes with the other gods to pay his homage to Raghunathji. But at another festival called Ra ri jach, the king’s festival, he himself is the chief god, for then Raghunath does not come. This jacha is the most important after Dasehra, and is attended by sixteen gods. It is held in the spring, in this year on April 28th. Sibji is taken to the raja’s palace and then accompanies the raja who is borne in a palanquin to an allotted place on the meadow, at some distance from the spot where Raghunath stands during Dasehra. Sibji has several gurs. One of them I have known since 1903, when I pitched my tent on another part of the hill on which Sibji’s temple stands. He used to supply me with milk then, and now he often greets me when he comes down into the valley. It is to him chiefly, I owe the account of the introduction of the worship of Sibji into Kulu. Altogether the attendants of Sibji are two or three hundred or more in number, so that it costs a good deal to bring him to a festival. When Sibji came to Kayasth Kohthi, the hill where he now is, there was a god Piruthan living in a village called Trambli lower down on the slope of the same hill. But Sibji would not tolerate his presence there, and turned him out of the Kohthi. Piruthan went to Piri, a village which belongs to the Maharaja Kothi, that is to say, to the western range of hills. He is now the god of the village Piri and occupies a position exactly similar to that of Ghori Deo, and I am told his pindi is of the same shape. Piruthan, it is said, came originally from Cashmere. It may be observed with reference to all the gods mentioned, except the household god Gaint, that there is a tradition of their coming from some other country, and I believe these traditions to be founded on fact. As has already been said, the pujari of a god must be a Brahman. Now as far as I can make out, by inquiry into special cases, there are no real Kulu Brahmans. Every Brahman family came from some other part of India. If the pujari has a foreign origin, it is natural to suppose that the god has a foreign origin too. But though the gods are foreign, the mode of worship seems to be indigenous.

It is not likely however that the old snake gods have been borrowed. I lived near the temple of Nag Deo, one of these gods, for some time in 1903, and used to drink water taken from a spring sacred to him. The temple is empty, but the god is seen to come out of it from time to time, in the form of a snake. Though a small god, he is very good in giving rain. When prayers to all other gods fail, some dirt is thrown into the spring of Nag Deo, and the god sends rain to wash away the pollution.

A very important god who seems to be indigenous is Jamlu. He is a puzzling god, and I have found it difficult to ascertain the truth about him as the statements made to me often contradict one another. My chief informants are: (1) Rirku who has lived all his life in Kulu and faithfully represents Kulu beliefs; (2) Kam Kant who belongs to a purohit family settled for many hundred years in Mandi.4 He has not been long in Kulu, and is inclined to interpret old customs in accordance with the beliefs of modern Hinduism, but he has been at Melana the “head quarters” as he says of the worship of the god. Jamlu is more worshipped in Kulu, than any other god, not excepting Raghunathji or Sibji. He is not known, as far as I can learn, in Mandi or Kangra or the Panjab, but in Kulu he has as many as fifteen or sixteen distinct temples. One of these is on the further side of the Maharaja Kohthi, but the principal temple is at Melana, some twenty or thirty miles north-east of Sultanpur. The people of this neighbourhood speak a dialect of their own distinct from the Kulu, Lahouli or Spiti languages. Jamlu is worshipped in the form of a sword. This is kept in the temple and placed before the gur when he is under the divine influence. Small horses of silver or gold are given to the god and he is the only god to whom such offerings are made. Once a year, in the month of Phagun, about the time of the spring equinox, there is a festival in his honour. A hundred or more goats are then sacrificed, but one of these is killed unlike the others, in Musalman fashion (halal) and its flesh thrown away instead of eaten. At Dasehra, Jamlu does not come to the Dhalpur meadow. He is the only really important god who has no rath. But he shews some deference to Raghunath. He sends his pujari and some servants, with his bell and darch (the bowl in which dhup is burned) as far as the further side of the river at Sultanpur. They do not cross the river, but they ring the bell and burn incense on their own side when Raghunath leaves his temple. In the bhandar or treasury of Jamlu at Melana besides many images of horses, there is an elephant with a rider who is said to be Akbar.

As to the nature of Jamlu different accounts are given. Rirku says he is a Mahommedan god, perhaps Akbar Badshah, while Kam Kant identifies him with a Hindu rishi, Yamdagni. This identification is not, as far as I can learn, known to the Kulu people, and I believe it to be merely an example of the influence of Brahmanical theory. Jamlu might be a Musalman god like Ghazi Mian, but I think there is no evidence of any Musalman warrior or saint dying at Melana. There are hardly any Moslems in the Kulu valley. Now in the time of Attila the Huns used to worship a god under the symbol of a sword, and much earlier the Scythians used to have an annual festival in which they offered sheep, horses and human beings to a sword. The annual festival, the sword and the offerings of sheep and horses all occur in the worship of Jamlu, for no doubt the silver horses have taken the place of an original horse sacrifice.5As to the nature of Jamlu different accounts are given. Rirku says he is a Mahommedan god, perhaps Akbar Badshah, while Kam Kant identifies him with a Hindu rishi, Yamdagni. This identification is not, as far as I can learn, known to the Kulu people, and I believe it to be merely an example of the influence of Brahmanical theory. Jamlu might be a Musalman god like Ghazi Mian, but I think there is no evidence of any Musalman warrior or saint dying at Melana. There are hardly any Moslems in the Kulu valley. Now in the time of Attila the Huns used to worship a god under the symbol of a sword, and much earlier the Scythians used to have an annual festival in which they offered sheep, horses and human beings to a sword. The annual festival, the sword and the offerings of sheep and horses all occur in the worship of Jamlu, for no doubt the silver horses have taken the place of an original horse sacrifice.

Some fifty or sixty years ago a new god arose, not in Kulu but in the neighbouring Kangra valley. I heard of him from a servant named Dhobu, who told me that his father introduced the worship of the god. As I was interested in the birth of a new god, I wrote to inquire of a Hindu resident in Kangra. His account was: “A boy used to take cows to the jungle to graze. While doing so, he used to go and sit with a sadhu or faqir by the river side. The cattle used to go and eat up corn in a farmer’s field. After a long time the farmer became so angry that he ran after the boy in the hope of catching him and beating him to death. The boy being very much afraid of the farmer ran and ran into the jungle and everywhere to escape from the farmer and save his own life but the farmer would not leave the boy but ran and ran. At last the boy called aloud and ordered a tree to open its trunk.6 The tree opened itself and the boy entered. The tree trunk shut itself again after him. Then the farmer could do no harm to the boy and returned home. After many years the boy became a god, began to speak in another man’s mouth and show his godly strength. That god is worshipped by whole Kangra and is called Dewat Sidh.” When I was listening to Dhobu I was under the impression that there was some truth at the bottom of the story and that the boy really existed, though of course without further inquiry it is impossible to make out what actually happened. If this be so, a human being has become a god. “All the gods were once men,” Rirku said to me. He put forward this Euhemeristic theory spontaneously without any suggestion of mine. Whether it be true or not, I do not know, but that some of them were is shewn by the example of Ghazi Mian.

The worship of Kali was introduced in the year of the cholera—1892 I think—into the village Galchet north of Sultanpur. The goddess said through a boy, that if the villagers made her a rath, she would not let the cholera come among them. The rath was made and there was no case of cholera in the village. A negative fact of some interest is, that the worship of Krishna is almost unknown in Kulu. I am told that uneducated peasants have not so much as heard Krishna’s name.

When inquiring into Kulu religious beliefs, it should be remembered that the inhabitants of the chief town, Sultanpur, have come from Kangra and the Panjab. There are also Lahoulis engaged in the wool trade, but so far as I know there is not a single Kulu shopkeeper. Hindustani is generally spoken in the town and not the Kulu language. The townspeople observe the usual Hindu festivals, such as Holi and Dewali for example. These are not Kulu festivals and are unknown in the distant villages. But many of the inhabitants of Dhalpur, a village near the town, have learnt to observe Holi, and have adopted the objectionable practice of squirting red fluid over one another. It is not a pretty festival and one wishes Kulu could be preserved from these foreign influences. The Christian missionaries, the Musalmans, and even the Aryas and the Sikhs are so far removed in thought from a Kulu peasant that they can do no harm. But contact with orthodox Hindus from the Panjab does much mischief. I can only refer in passing to the deplorable fact that education in Kulu is given in Urdu, instead of in the native language.

Lest I should become too tedious, I leave now the gods of the upper world. Before describing some other supernatural beings, I will digress for a little while and speak of two Kulu festivals. The first of these, nauli, or the feast of the new grain, is also held in Mandi and Kangra. The Kulu people are almost all employed in farm work. But most of the grain is not produced for sale. It is meant for the use of the farmer and his family. If there is a surplus it will be sold, while a deficiency must be supplemented by buying. But in normal years the excess or deficiency is a small proportion of the whole. “It is a little wonderful” says Robinson Crusoe, “and what I believe few people have thought much upon, viz., the strange multitude of little things necessary in the providing, procuring, curing, dressing, making, and finishing this one article of bread.” The Kulu peasant knows these things well. From the time of ploughing and sowing till the baking by the women of the house, almost all the work is done by himself, his servants and his family. It is only for grinding the grain that he goes outside his farm. In Kulu watermills are used and the miller is usually paid in kind by some handfuls of flour. Labour expended in producing articles for our own use is not wearisome. The men and women laugh and sing as they reap the harvest or guide the oxen that tread out the corn. Even the children take delight in helping as soon as they are old enough. Still the farmer’s life is always one of anxiety. Want of rain may parch the growing crops or hail beat them down. All the more does he rejoice when his work is brought to a successful end. The bread which is the result of his labours has for him a far greater significance than for the dweller in towns who buys it for a few pence at a shop. It has been obtained at the cost of much toil, of many fears and hopes, and must not be treated lightly or used wastefully. “We reverence bread very much” a zemindar said to me. Above all to be reverenced is the first grain of the new crops. This becomes the symbol, as it is the chief result, of the whole labour of the past year. The friends and relations of the family are invited to join in eating the new grain. All rejoice that they have lived to eat the bread of another year. But the dead are not forgotten. The food for a dead man is placed in a dish in the middle of the room. The son takes pure spring water in his hand and makes three circles of water round the dish. Then the food is given to children in the name of the dead man. It is only after this that the living begin to eat. The dead care very much for their share in the feast and if they are neglected will appear in dreams and complain. This household festival is called nauli and has no fixed date, since the corn ripens at the beginning of June in the valley, but at the end of the month or in July on the hills. In Kangra, I am told, the festival is held everywhere on the first of Baisakh.

The Kulu people are proud of their ghrath or watermill, and think it a hard ship for the people of the plains to have to grind corn by hand. It is much smaller than an English watermill, and the wheel moves in a horizontal not a vertical plane. In old days, it is said, Parameshwar lived among men, but when they invented the ghrath, he was afraid and fled to heaven, thinking to himself: “Men have become so clever; before long, they will make me, too, their servant.”

The second festival is, so far as I know, only observed in Kulu. It is called Dayali, a word resembling Dewali, but I suspect the resemblance is merely accidental. Sometimes however the Kulu festival is called the village Dewali to distinguish it from the town Dewali which is the usual festival held throughout India. This latter festival is not observed in Kulu except in the town Sultanpur. Dayali occurs at the same time as the Roman Saturnalia and the modern European Christmas. Every evening during the festival, which lasts a month, men walk in procession singing obscene songs. Women stay in their houses at these times. The goddesses leave Kulu from shame, and do not return till the end of the month. There is a curious practice observed about the same time as Dayali, but not I am told really connected with it. Mummers go from house to house singing and acting as in English villages. They take with them what is called the harn. It is somewhat in the shape of a goat and is made by two boys with a cloth thrown over them. The antics of this animal are the chief part of the performance.

In all religions, a distinction is made between the gods of light and the gods of darkness, the powers which work for good and the powers which work for ill. The chief evil spirit in Kulu is Narsingh Bir. His name is reluctantly mentioned and he is often spoken of simply as the god. He has no temple, nor pindi, nor rath; he never sends rain, nor any good thing, but only brings calamities. Some times like the Erlking he falls in love with a fair boy or girl, and then the child fades away and dies. So it happened to a very pretty child, the little daughter of one of my friends. “The worst thing of all is death,” the father said when he told me of his loss some months afterwards. When a new house is built, there is always a danger that Narsing Bir may choose one of the workmen as his victim. A few years ago, some Sikh masons employed in Kulu, were warned of this, and advised to offer a goat to the god. Thev said “We do not believe in your gods; we believe in Parameshwar and our own gurus.” It was pointed out to them, in reply, that the gurus might have power in the plains, but they had no power in the hills where the Kulu gods reigned. But the Sikhs would not listen. Now one night Rirku had a dream. He saw a man dressed like a raja sitting on the ground among dirty dishes and cooking vessels. Then the sweeper came to Rirku and said, “The Raja Sahib asks permission to enter the house.” But Rirku answered “What kind of raja can this man be? He sits on the ground among dirty vessels instead of sitting on a chair in a clean place. I shall not let him enter the house;” and, while saying this, Rirku woke from his dream. He went to the house very early in the morning and told many people of his dream, and all feared that some evil was signified. So indeed it proved, for at nine o’clock one of the Sikh workmen fell from the roof to the ground and was so seriously injured, that at first it was thought he would die. How ever after spending a fortnight in the hospital he recovered.

Narsingh Bir does not like flowers, especially red or white flowers, to be plucked in the daytime, for he often comes to smell them himself. There was a Hindustani boy, Baiju, staying in the house of some Kulu friends, who used to pick the wild flowers on his way to school. He was warned by many people, including his Kulu school fellows, not to do so, but he paid no attention to the warnings. Before long, he fell dangerously ill. The Assistant Surgeon said the illness was typhus fever, but there is every reason to believe it was the work of Narsingh Bir. For the boy grew worse and worse, till one night it seemed as if he could not live to the morning. The doctor, after staying with him for sometime, had gone back to the hospital to send medicine. Then the boy began to mutter unintelligible words, and all the people standing round—it was in the middle of the night—said he must be possessed by the god. So Marchu, a man very skilled in mantras, was sent for. He took some mustard seeds in his hand, and soon confirmed the suspicion that the boy was possessed. Then he made two balls, one of ashes and one of flour, and offered them to Narsingh Bir. But this was not enough. A life must be given for a life. Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, but an angry god may often be appeased by the substitution of an innocent victim for the real offender. So Narsingh Bir was promised a goat, and from the very time the promise was made, Baiju began to get well. Four days after the goat was sacrificed. But Marchu committed a sin, for he said, “I will offer the goat my self and take half the flesh, and by means of my mantras, I will compel the god to accept it whether he is willing or not”. However the god refused the goat until the owner of the house came and offered it. Baiju was soon restored to complete health, but Marchu was punished for his presumptions and died a fortnight later.

As already mentioned, the sign that the goat has been accepted is its shivering when about to be scarified. Last autumn (1908) Labhu’s wife was possessed by the god and demanded a goat. The goat had been taken all round the boundary of the farm to the place of sacrifice, when it fell down unconscious. Although the animal was killed and given to Narsingh Bir, men feared that the omen was bad. In fact, Labhu’s poor wife died not long afterwards. This March (1909) Narsingh Bir was seen by Bholu. There is a narrow path, leading from the meadow to the village of Dhalpur, used only by walkers. I have never seen any one riding along it even in the day time. But Bholu saw at midnight, ascending this path, a man in white clothes mounted on a white horse. Fortunately, he guessed at once, who the stranger was, and did not ask his name or speak to him.

Another class of supernatural beings is the jognis, who may be compared with fairies or the Greek nymphs. Some are the companions of the gods. Gaint, for instance, has a jogni living with him. Others dwell in the forests, and their favourite home is a tree growing on the edge of a precipice. About one of this kind of jognis I heard the following anecdote. “My grandfather was a woodcutter and used to work in a forest near the village Shim in the upper part of the Kulu valley. One day he had climbed a tree overhanging a cliff, the finest tree in the forest, intending to lop off a branch. But suddenly he was seized with blindness and it was with great difficulty that his friends were able to help him down by means of a rope. On consulting the mustard seed it was afterwards discovered that the tree was the dwelling place of a jogni. My grandfather remained blind for the rest of his life and no medicine was of any use to him.” There was a gur living in the village of Shamsar in Seoraj who used to tend sheep. One day when out with his flock he fell asleep and did not wake up till it was quite dark and all the other shepherds had gone home. Then he saw two women standing before him who said: “It is too late for you to go home now, come with us, but first bandage your eyes.” He did as he was told, and when he opened his eyes again he found himself in a beautiful room in a cave. In front of him was a lady seated on a golden throne who welcomed him and gave him food in a golden dish. He slept in the cave that night and in the morning the lady told him that whenever he wanted food he need only spread out his coat and whatever he asked for would come to him. But he must never share that food with any one, and above all, he must never tell what he had seen or he would die. After that his eyes were bandaged, and he was taken back to the spot where he had fallen asleep. For some time all went well, but one day his wife surprised him eating the magic food, and insisted on taking some for herself. After this, the food never came again. But the foolish woman would not be warned and worried her husband till he revealed the secret. His death followed, as the jogni had foretold.

The beliefs of which we have tried to give an account may seem naive to the reader, but he would fall into a great mistake if he inferred that the inhabitants of Kulu were an unintelligent and superstitious people. On the contrary they are perfectly sensible and practical in the affairs of their daily life. As for superstition, that word is applied to those supernatural doctrines which the speaker does not himself hold. To a Kulu peasant, as I can testify from personal experience, the beliefs of the Christian missionary seem superstitious. When stories about the gods, heard at different times during sixteen years, are brought together, it may seem as if they occupied a large place in the mind of the peasant, but this is not really the case. It may be only once in a month, or once in several months that he is influenced by his belief in the supernatural. He does not perform any weekly or daily puja, as the Englishman does, or at any rate did thirty years ago. The Kulu people are, no doubt, ignorant of almost every thing outside their own country but so too is the petty shopkeeper or inferior clerk in England. There is this difference, that while the hillman has the good sense and modesty not to talk about what he does not know, the London cockney, whose conceit is as boundless as his ignorance, is ready to express an opinion as to the proper government of any part of the world. Compared with the people of the plains, the Kulu people seem to me to have less national vanity and more national self-respect. They do not shew the same curious eagerness to be praised and patted on the back by any European. “We do not want English women to teach us the shastras” a Kulu friend said to me, “let them stay at home with their husbands, and live according to the shastras themselves.” When an Englishman pays respect and makes offerings to the gods, as many Englishmen in the valley do, it is taken as a matter of course, not as a matter for special gratification. The Kulu people cannot doubt the existence of gods whose power has been proved so often and their faith is neither strengthened by the belief nor weakened by the disbelief of foreigners.



  1. The present priest is the seventh in descent. ↩︎
  2. Some years ago the raja of Kulu had Ram Lila performed as in the Punjab. The Pandit boy who acted Ram on that occasion afterwards went mad, and it has not been thought good since then to repeat the performance. ↩︎
  3. It need hardly be said that this is a false etymology. ↩︎
  4. These purohits came from Bengal to Mandi in the eleventh century with the ancestor of the present raja. ↩︎
  5. See Gibbon who quotes Ammianus Marcellinus and Herodotus ↩︎
  6. Another Kangra friend tells me this is a mistake. It was a stone which opened. The stone is near Hamirpur and has become a place of pilgrimage. ↩︎


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