The weeklong Kullu Dussehra festivities started in this Himachal Pradesh town Monday.
Kullu Dussehra is a centuries-old festival with a difference as celebrations begin in Kullu on 'Vijaya Dashami' when these end in the rest of the country. Moreover, effigies of Ravan, Meghnad and Kumbhakarna are not burnt here like in other parts of India.
"The weeklong Dussehra celebrations began this (Monday) morning," Deputy Commissioner (Kullu) B.C. Nanta told IANS. "Around 200 deities have reached the Dhalpur grounds in decorated palanquins. The chariot of Lord Raghunath - the chief deity - was also wheeled out of the temple amid beating of drums and playing of trumpets."
The deities from different villages will be here during the festival and will pay obeisance to Lord Raghunath (as Lord Ram is known in the Kullu valley).
Governor Prabha Rau inaugurated the festival and witnessed the arrival of Lord Raghunath's palanquin.
The festival dates back to 1637 when Raja Jagat Singh was the ruler of Kullu. He invited all local deities in Kullu from various temples to perform a ritual in honour of Lord Raghunath during Dussehra.
Since then, the annual assembly of deities from hundreds of village temples across Kullu and nearby valleys has become a tradition.
It is the only festival in the country where such a large number of deities are assembled at one place.
This time the district administration, the chief organiser of the festival, has not invited two deities of Kullu - Shringa Rishi and Balu Nag - for the festival. The followers of the two have been clashing over the past few years on the superiority of their deities.
"We have told the followers of the warring deities to settle their scores before participating in the festival," Nanta said.
Prem Sharma, director of Himachal's department of language, art and culture, said the rivalry between the followers of Shringa Rishi and Balu Nag has its roots in a three-decade-old dispute.
"As per tradition, the idol of the superior deity is carried on the right side of the chariot of Lord Raghunath during the concluding Lankadahan ceremony. For many decades, Shringa Rishi used to occupy that place.
"After 1971, followers of Shringa Rishi boycotted the ceremony for 11 years over some dispute. During that period, Balu Nag who is considered the incarnation of Lord Ram's brother Lakshman took that spot. Later, when the conflict among their followers grew stronger over the issue, both stopped participating in the festival," Sharma said.
"Now when they have again started participating after a gap of 18 years, tempers rise among the followers during the ceremonies for the place of honour for their deities," he added.
Both deities had been placed under 'house arrest' last year after tempers flared among the followers. The district administration had imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code and asked the followers not to bring the deities to the concluding ceremony.
Superintendent of Police K.K. Indoria said special security arrangements have been made for the festival.
The festival will conclude with the Lankadahan ceremony on the banks of the Beas river Oct 4. All the assembled deities will participate in the ceremony before being carried back to their own temples.
Himachal Pradesh has accorded the status of international festival to Kullu Dussehra, which attracts many tourists.
During the weeklong festivities, special cultural programmes and a fair are organised. Kullu and Kinnauri shawls, handicrafts, carpets and dry fruits are major attractions of the fair.