Mandi, March 7: Deities from hundreds of village temples started assembling in this historical town of Himachal for the week-long Mahashivratri festival that began on Monday, organisers said.
"A total of 216 deities have been invited for Mahashivratri this year. Principal deity Dev Kamrunag reached here on Sunday," the festival organiser additional district magistrate Vivek Chandel told IANS.
The arrival of the deities in beautifully decorated palanquins amid sounds of trumpets and drums has begun and the maximum would reach by Tuesday, when the festival would be traditionally inaugurated by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.
Chandel said last time 185 deities participated in the festival. "This time too we are expecting a congregation of more than 180 deities."
The festivities will conclude on March 14.
Like the week-long Kullu Dussehra festivities, Mandi's Mahashivratri also sees a congregation of the divine and the temporal.
The Mahashivratri celebrations in Mandi date back to 1526 when this town was founded during the rule of Ajbar Sen. He "invited" all local deities to mark the founding of the new town. Governor Acharya Devvrat will be chief guest at the closing ceremony.
During the first day of the festival on Tuesday, Lord Madho Rai, considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the chief deity, will lead the procession.
The assembled deities follow him in beautifully decorated palanquins, as per protocol, and assemble at the Bhutnath temple here. Three such processions, locally called "Jaleb", would be taken out on the opening, middle (March 11) and concluding days of the festival.
Mandi, located on the Chandigarh-Manali national highway-21, is dotted with more than 80 temples built in typical hill architecture.
The prominent temples are those of Bhutnath, Triloki Nath, Jagannath, Tarna Devi and Jalpa Devi. The rulers of Mandi state were devotees of Lord Shiva.
Legend has it that ruler Sen (1499-1534) saw in his dreams a cow offering milk to a Lord Shiva idol. His dream became reality because, according to the legend, he actually once saw a cow make a milk offering to an idol.
That was when the ruler constructed a temple in 1526 - the Bhutnath temple - dedicated to Lord Shiva. The foundation of Mandi town was laid at the same time, and Sen later shifted his capital here.
The administration has since been inviting deities to the Shivratri festivities here, ever since the rule of princely states came to an end. The administration also offers an honorarium to the "kardars" (attendants of deities) for participating in the festival.
Every year, the festival attracts scores of tourists. Many researchers studying local gods and goddesses also arrive at this time.
During the festivity, the organisers would hold a "bajantri" (drummers) competition in which over 3,000 artistes are likely to participate.