A four-horned sheep is leading a 280 kilometre religious yatra which will course through tough Himalyan terrain of Uttarakhand in the coming week.
The procession, named Nanda Devi Rajjat Yatra, held 12 yearly, got off to a traditional start from Nauti village in Chamoli, about 205 km from Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand on Monday.
It will culminate at Homkund after coursing down Juragali Peak at 17,500-ft height.
According to a legend, the yatra signifies an emotional moment when Mother Nanda (local deity representing Gauri) leaves her home in Nauti village to meet her consort Lord Shiva in the Himalayas and the lucky four-horned sheep leads her way to husband.
But, why the four-horned sheep? Bhuvan Nautiyal, the president of the Nanda Devi Rajjat organizing committee, says the sheep are keen mountain trekkers--- they reach the destination like naturally trained guides, picking the safest and the best desire lines (chosen paths) in the treacherous terrains. And the rare four-horned one is considered to be the keenest of all.
In fact, the family where it is born is considered blessed, he says, detailing one of the popular legends justifying its significance to the yatra. There are many other modern stories which identify the sheep as a common traditional link in the Indo-Tibetan culture.
But, it is a fact that the four-horned sheep is picked to escort Devi Nanda to Her consort. That is the reason why the sheep, loaded with offerings by people along the path, is set free at Homkund with the belief that it would help Devi Nanda reach Her consort Shiva, says Nautiyal.
The royal link
The locals believe that rare sheep is born only after the Kunwar of the Royal family from village Kansua, about 215 km from Dehradun, takes the pledge to conduct the yatra and fixes the date of its commencement.
The legends go that a leopard tells where it is born.
The cat is seen lurking around the cowshed where the four-horned sheep is born. The news spreads all around. Thereafter, the Rajguru (Royal Purohit) from village Nauti visits the cowshed to confirm the divine incident. Once he gives his nod to the yatra, the leopard stops showing around the cowshed.
The owner of the sheep then takes it to Kansua to hand it over to the Royal family where the sacred sheep is worshipped daily by the members of the royal family.
The preparations to make the ringing bells for its horns and legs also take place in Kansua along with a Raj Chatoli (Royal umbrella) made out of cane for Devi Nanda.
This time, the divine sheep was born in the cowshed of Reva Singh Chaudhary of village Dandoli in Kalsir Patti near Kansua, Nautiyal says.