Barsa (Shimla), Dec.12: Villagers in the upper hill area of Himachal Pradesh have been observing a centuries old traditional festival called “Shanth" in the local parlance.
The Shanth Yajna festival is held in honour of the local deity, which is worshiped by all.
Participants seek peace and prosperity, and it is believed the festival ensures the deity"s special grace for all who attend it.
Interestingly, the venue and timing of the Shanth Yajna is never specified. It is only when the caretaker gets a vision of the deity, that the “Shanth" is organised.
A privileged caretaker then takes the deity in a palanquin to the specific village under security, where the Shanth Yajna festival is then organised.
Locals consider the Shant Yajna festival equivalent to the Kumbh Mela, the biggest bathing festival of Hindus, that comes every 12 years. The festival can last from one to four or five days. Holding the festival at the same village can take decades.
Recently two Shanth Yajnas were organised here. One was held at Barsa Village of Rohru Tehsil and the other at Pranthi Village of Jubble Tehsil of Shimla District.
In Barsa, the Shanth Yajna was held after three decades, whereas Pranthi Village held it for the first time.
Village priests and the caretaker accompanying the deity Mahsu (Lord Kartikey) offered prayers at the temple and to the Goddess Kali.
Pilgrims travel miles by foot just to have a glimpse of the deity and seek its divine blessings.
"We have come all the way here at the invitation of the local people, and we are heartily thankful to them for this gesture. We have prayed for the peace and tranquillity of the region and that the Almighty blesses everyone," said Hardev Sharma, a Khund or 'warrior" of Arahal Village.
The most important part of the festival is the animal sacrifice, which is done to please Goddess Kali and the local deity.
During the Shanth Yajna, Khunds perform their dances and hold a “Phera" (circling) that signifies the protection force for the area, around the Shanth venue. Women are not allowed to enter the temple for the holy glimpse of the deity. They can only worship from outside.
These Khunds have been taking part in this festival for generations and are looked up with great respect by devotees.
The traditional musical instruments, Khunds and the palanquins of the deities from different villages are the main attraction of the Shanth Mahayagna Festival here.
Organizers of the Shanth Mahayajna believe that this kind of ritual brings people from different villages on a single religious platform. They say that it is the most appropriate way to preserve a centuries old tradition.