Nanda Devi: Goddess and Daughter
The Nanda Devi peak which lies in the Garhwal region of the Indian state of Uttarakhand is the second highest peak (7,816 metre) of the country. For mountaineers and travellers, the Nanda Devi sanctuary has always been a mystery. Surrounded by two rings of high mountains and closed for expeditions by the Government of India to protect the sensitive ecosystem of the sanctuary, Nanda Devi has remained pristine and untouched mountain peak. However, for the people of the region of Garhwal and Kumaun, Nanda Devi is much more beyond just a peak. In the Garhwal and Kumaun she is considered as a goddess, daughter and protector of the region. The importance of the Nanda Devi can be attested that like Maha Kumbha, in the region of Garhwal a huge pilgrimage Shri Nanda Devi Jat Yatra takes place after every 12 years. During this yatra Nanda Devi travels as divine bride in wedding palanquin and the journey signifies post marital transition from her natal home to that of her husband, Lord Shiva who resides in Mount Kailash in Tibet. In the region of Kumaon Nanda Devi is associated as a divine princess who along with her sister Sunanda were killed by a bull in the forest. There are many temples dedicated to Nanda Devi in Kumaon and Garhwal. However, the important one’s are in Almora, Munshiyari, Lata and Kot.
The aim of this paper is to explore the intricate links between the landscape and identity of the region of Garhwal and Kumaon through the cult of Nanda Devi. The Jagar (waking songs) dedicated to the deity have descriptions about the sacredness of the region. These jagars are sung and at times performed to reiterate the idea of sacred landscape of the region. The presence of important temples like Badrinath and Kedarnath attracts pilgrims from all across the country and connects the region of Garhwal and Kumaun into a pan Indian Brahmanical nexus. However, for the natives it is the presence of Nanda Devi as divine bride or royal princesses that represents part of their local religious domain. Usually in the Brahmanical order pilgrimage is associated with people visiting the temple of the deity to seek their blessings. In case of Nanda Devi, it is the deity that visits the people. This makes her each annual pilgrimage a time for people to celebrate and look forward to. Thus, an attempt would be made to understand the ritualistic politics surrounded around the annual and once in 12 years pilgrimage of Nanda Devi. The author of the paper aims to have a nuanced understanding of the cult of Nanda Devi as a living tradition connecting the geography, identity and religious politics of the region of Garhwal and Kumaun.
Keywords: Nanda Devi’s cult, Central Himalayas, Sacred landscape, Jagar and ritual politics.
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