Kullu's Dussehra: A Week-Long Carnival With Food And Colours
Image Credit: Kullu Dussehra

The Kullu Dussehra is a confluence of colours, communities, customs and celebrations that few mass events can match up to. As the rest of the country winds down one round of festivities and settles in for the brief breather before Diwali, Kullu is just beginning its tryst with gaiety, which lasts for seven days.

Kullu began observing the festival in the 17th century, during the reign of King Jagat Singh. The king had heard rumours that one of his subjects (some accounts say this man was a priest, others a farmer) possessed a trove of rare pearls. The king wanted these pearls for himself and sent his soldiers to confiscate them from the man. The pearls, however, were apocryphal. Fearful at the thought that he and his family would be brutalised or otherwise shamed if they failed to hand over the nonexistent pearls, the man chose to die by suicide. With his final breath, he cursed the king. 

Soon after the incident, the king began to suffer from a disturbing delusion. Whenever he was served a meal, the rice would appear to him in the form of worms. Water would take on the hue of blood. The king had realised by now how unjust his actions had been. He was prostrate with grief and remorse.

Then, a priest approached him with advice on how he might show his repentance. He asked the king to drink the charanamrit of an idol of Lord Ram. The king's men travelled to Ayodhya and brought back an idol of Shri Raghunathji. The deity's presence cured the king of his macabre illusions and he was able to perform penance for his grievous wrong. In gratitude to the lord, he installed the idol of Raghunathji on his throne and declared Him to be the ruler of Kulu. 

Ever since, the Kullu Dussehra has been celebrated with great pomp and splendour. The kul devis and devtas from all over the region (including the very powerful Hidimba Devi) are carried to the temple in Kullu for a ‘durbar’ with Raghunathji. Then they are taken to Rupi Palace to meet with Raja Maheshwar Singh’s family. Finally, the raja and the devis/devtas accompany a chariot procession that takes Raghunathji to the Dhalpur Maidan grounds, where the Dussehra festivities are held.

The crowds of people in indigenous costumes, the vibrant atmosphere, sounds of traditional instruments and  chants that fill the air, and the gaily decorated gods and goddesses being held aloft in their palanquins — it is a slight quite unlike any other. Handicrafts and produce from the region are showcased at the Dholpur Maidan, along with the more typical goods one finds at a large fair. The “natti” — the traditional group dance — is performed at night.

Of course, food is a vital part of the festivities as well. Meals are served in the Dham style: a thali that includes rice, madra (a curd-based dish made with soaked chickpeas), curry (cooked beaten curd), raita (made of dry fruits with a mustard base), pulses and sweet rice. You can also sample an array of breads, including the local variant known as siddu, bhaturas (stuffed or plain), kodra roti (cereal bread) etc. And of course, there are sweets of every kind on offer.

In earlier times, the Kullu Dussehra concluded with animal sacrifice. A buffalo, male lamb, a chicken, a crab and a fish would be ritually sacrificed on the final, seventh day of the festival. In recent years, however, this practice has been discontinued following campaigning by animal rights activists.