Deuli Institution of Kulu | A Brief Introduction

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The Kullu valley is endowed by nature with snow-clad mountains, rich flora & fauna, and scenic beauty. In the same vein, it is home to a wealth of local heritage, which is embodied in its traditions, art, and culture. The veneration of the local deities is an essential part of this heritage. There is a tutelary deity associated with every village, clan, and family, who is periodically worshipped and propitiated. The deities are referred to by the people simply as deū (OIA deva) or debi (OIA devi) depending on the gender. And if one is being more specific, a deū is further addressed as bīr, nāg, narāin, māhadeū, thān, etc. and a debi as nāgni or nāgan, the feminine counterpart of a nāg, and jogni or māhamāi.

Deu Jeem Narain, Jana village.

In this pantheon, nāg and narāin deities appear to be serpent deities who are associated with springs, streams, and lakes as their guardian spirits. The popular expression “thārā nāg, thārā narāin” alludes to the vast number of nāg and narāin deities that are worshipped in Kullu. The bīrs (OIA vīra) are most likely deified heroes or chiefs. The thān (lit. place) deities are considered the primordial deities of a particular place. The jognis are feminine nature spirits who are said to dwell in forests, waterfalls, and mountain tops. They are revered generally as a group, such as phungni, nauni, solā- surgani or senchari etc., rather than an individual.

The worship of a deity as kulz, the ancestral deity, by a family or clan is the most crucial part of the religious setup in rural Kullu. The kulz is propitiated for all events of importance such as harvest, birth, marriage, sāzā (sakranti) and so on by the family (or clan) for both protection and blessings. For this animals (goats or sheep) are often sacrificed to the deity — the meat is afterwards consumed during feasts amongst the clan or family members. In fact, a deity is sought for guidance not only on personal matters but also on social and even political ones. Consequently, the local deities play an essential part in the daily lives of the people.

Each household (tol) protected by its kulz is required to fulfil certain obligations. In general, these include: a periodic contribution, sundh (OIA samudha), of grain — mostly cash these days — towards the expenses of worship, usually after the harvest; the attendance (chakari) of one male member of the tol on occasions of special significance; and a general adherence to the orders of the deity.

Normally, a clan’s deity has jurisdiction over a single village or a couple of nearby villages where clan members reside. Oftentimes, though, a deity is acknowledged as the tutelary of a broader area, such as a phāti or a kothi, where different clans may have their own kulz. A phāti consists of up to twenty villages, while a kothi contains two to seven or more of these phātis. The local populace refers to this deity as bada-deu or badi-debi, depending on the gender, with bada or badi meaning “greater.” Other deities under the dominion of a bada-deu or badi-debi typically act as bāhan, or subordinate to the latter.

In the vicinity of the temple is the residence of the guardians of the deity (the vāhan), or, as the villagers say, his “bodyguards”. Guardians are represented by stones, trees or bushes, either near the temple or in the forest. The places where they reside are often filled with nails, tridents or metal birds, as many ex-voto placed there by devotees. The vāhan are considered to be inferior deities or evil powers (bhut), who, after being overcome by the divinity, have become not only his servants but also his guards. They remain violent, even bloodthirsty, and the villagers always say that they are the real recipients of the sacrifices of animals offered in the temples of the divinities…

Berti, D. ( 2001). La Parole des dieux. Rituels de possession en Himalaya indien. Paris, CNRS Editions, 2001, 338 p.

The dominion of a deity is called hār (literally “garland”), and its inhabitants are referred to as deity’s hāri, hāriye, or haryān.

the way… deities… are approached and treated by their priests and devotees… show that they are regarded as rulers with royal authority… more apparent in those situations where the deities are brought out of their temples… in form of raths. Their public appearances are normally combined with processions or parades through the territory that is believed to be under their protection and jurisdiction. The organization and outward appearance of these parades follow the example of the former human kings and rulers; they depict the deity as “raja” or “rani” in relation to their subjects.

Luchesi, B. (2006). Fighting enemies and protecting territory: deities as local rulers in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh. European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 29–30 (Summer): 62–81.

The temple of a deity is called a dehra (OIA devaghara, temple) in the Kullui language. In most cases, it is a small wooden structure in the shape of a hut housing, as the body of the deity, just a crude stone called pindi or pinda-pran. In some instances, the shrine of the deity is merely a rough stone platform situated beneath a large tree.

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When a deity participates in a procession, he or she is represented by a rath (lit. chariot), which is carried on the shoulders of men. On rath, i.e., the wooden structure, are affixed mohrā (OIA mukhara) – faces of metal or alloy such as gold, silver, brass, bronze, or ashtadhātu – symbolising the deity. Rath is adorned with flowers, brocaded silk and cotton scarves (bāgā), jewellery, garlands (mostly marigolds), and other ornaments.

…the divine presence does not seem to be concentrated in a unique object (for instance, the mohra, but is delocalized and distributed throughout the various components the wooden frame, the mohra, as well as the other items with which the palanquin is prepared…the deity’s power is present in the whole assemblage of the representation. The assemblage [the Rath] is the deity.

Berti, D. (2004). Of metal and clothes: the location of distinctive features in divine iconography (indian Himalayas), in P. Granoff & K. Shinohara (dir.), images in Asian Religions. texts and Contexts, 2004.

According to the popular belief, when on the move, the mohra were usually placed in a kardu (OIA karanda, ‘basket’) rather than a rath. Kardu is basically a round bamboo basket about two to two and a half feet high and of the same diameter, decorated just like a rath but carried by a single person. The need to traverse great distances most likely gave rise to the idea of a rath at some point in history. It is believed that this practice began or gained popularity towards the end of the seventeenth century, after Raja Jagat Singh (r. 1637–1672) inaugurated the Dashahra festival in Kullu about A.D. 1661.

Mohra of deity Vishnu of Sajla Village © Prashant Thakur.

The rath (i.e. the wooden frame) and kardu are usually kept in the deity’s mandhār (bhandār, storehouse) along with mohrā, nashān (insignia) and other belongings. A kardu or rath is decorated and taken out only for processions and occasions such as jāch (OIA yātrā, ‘fair’), satrāra, and deūpherā (lit. deity’s tour). On these special occasions, as said before, one male member from each of the households in the deity’s hār needs to be present.

In the deity’s satrāra, people assemble and carry the rath or kardu to the dehra where certain rituals are performed and deū-debi is appeased with prayers and offerings. A pūch (query) session is also held where people consult the deity, through the goor (shaman), regarding various matters. In the evening, a feast called charua (OIA charu, ‘oblation’) is given to all present. These “appearances” are held only two or three times a year and on certain auspicious dates. Satrāra of a deity is also called dhūp (lit. incense).

A deity is periodically taken on phera (lit. tour) of the hār also. Furthermore, deities often pay ceremonial visits to each other, attend festivals, go on pilgrimage, and go for bhauti or feast, on the invitation of a hāri. On the move, rath is accompanied by bāzgi (musical band), kārkun (attendants) and the followers—collectively called deulu (OIA devakulika, ‘temple attendant’).

In general, a deity has attached to his/her service some attendants called karkūn, each having a specific responsibility regarding the rituals or service of the deity. The size of such a staff varies from deity to deity, but the most common members are karmishth or kārdār (manager), pazyāra (priest), and goor (shaman). This well-established institution is called deūli. Any wishes or orders the deity expresses, through the shaman or goor, are interpreted and acted upon by these kārkūn. A kārkun is also called kāmdār, kau-karindā or kār-karindā.

Some of the Kārkūns in the Deuli institution:

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Karmishth or Kārdār: The person responsible for the overall management and organization of the deuli. All the work or deukārz (OIA devakārya) in deuli is executed under his direction and supervision. He acts together with other kārkūn as their leader. He always belongs to the upper castes.

Pazyārā: The priest. In the Kullu valley, worship at a deity’s temple is not practised on a daily basis; rather, it is reserved for special occasions and performed by the pazyārā.

Goor: The shaman, the spokesman of a deū-debi, the communication link between people and the deity. People ask him to interpret their problems and give advice on decisions to be made. A goor is addressed by a deū-debi as his or her pātru or phātar (OIA pātra, ‘vessel or recipient’). He is said to be selected by deity itself and can be from any caste.

A goor (shaman) in Kulu Dussehra 2019 © Arun Chaudhary.

Mandhāri (bhandāri): Keeper of deity’s mandhār or storehouse, a separate building from the temple and always built in the village.  Deity’s mohrā, jewellery, clothes and other precious ornaments are kept in a small room inside bhandār.

Kathiālā: The helper of mandhāri who looks after the kothi or granary of deity. His duty is to collect money and grain for deukārz from the residents of deity’s hār. The collections are executed periodically and depending upon the size of hār there can be more than one kathiālā.

Bānth: The cooks.

Kāhr or Zamāni: Decorators and carriers of the rath.

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Kāith: Accountants.

Bāzgi or Bazantari: The musicians who play drums and the shahnai.

Nashandār: Carriers of the artefacts or insignia.

Zathāli: They act as messengers and inform the hār of every deukārz and other activities. A zathāli is called zeltā in the Sarāj area. Zathāli belong to the lower castes.

Thus are the religious ideas of the people of the Kulu valley that revolve around the local deities and are embedded in their everyday lives and social organisation. 

The origin of the worship of local deities is all but lost in antiquity. The oral religious traditions (such as bhartha or ganāi, lit. news) and folklore connected with the deities give a rough idea of how things may have been, but proper research is lacking in this regard. Many of the local deities are nowadays associated with the mainstream Hindu gods and goddesses.

Hinduism must have arrived in the Kulu valley in the distant past, and a form of Buddhism once flourished here as well. Both of these facts are evidenced by historical writings (Hiuen Tsang, 7th century A.D.), numismatic findings (coins of Kuluta kings, 100 B.C.–100 A.D.), archaeological remnants, stone temples, and art related to the Kulu valley.

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Naturally, these incoming religious ideas more or less modified the pre-existing belief system in the valley. Making in time the religion of the Kulu people living in its villages, a mix of different religious ideas and customs and, if one is observant, having the aboriginal nature and ancestor worship at the core.

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6 Responses

  1. Hem Raj says:

    18 kardu devtao k nam btaiye . jgh k hisasese

    • Shyno killings says:

      Banjar -shringa rishi
      Anni – shamsari mahadev
      Barshaini -jagtham rishi
      Manali-hidimba temple
      Goshal village near manali-gautam rishi
      Diyar near bhuntr -triyugi narayan
      Naggar village -jeeva narayan
      Naggar town-Shubh narayan
      Malana -jamdagni rishi (jamlu devta)
      Halan (upper valley )-harshu narayan
      Shalin – shandilya rishi
      Chachogi – ambal temple
      Ajimal village seol – ishwari narayan
      Kais -thirmal temple
      Kasol village – kasoli narayan
      Banogi – girmal temple
      Kais- sinhmal temple
      Kais- bhag singh temple

  2. Suresh Relu says:

    why the deity of kullu is called tharahkardu..nd what is the story behind it?

    • Shyno killings says:

      Today there are 18 major deities across the Kullu District, which are popularly called as ‘Tharah Kardu’, which is a term used to describe all the 18 major deities of the Kullu Valley. ‘Tharah’ is a pahari word which means Eighteen, where as ‘Karadu’ means basket. The word ‘Karadu’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Karand’ which means a basket made of bamboo.

      The legend says that Saint Jamadagni, while returning from his ‘Kailash Pilgrimage’ carried images of eighteen different gods with him in a basket. However, he met a demon called ‘Banasur’ on his way back to the Kullu Valley at the Chander Khani Pass near modern age Malana Village. The sage lost control of his basket and all the 18 images were scattered throughout the Kullu Valley. There are several other stories related to the magical figure of ‘eighteen’.

      • Apoorav says:

        Tharah doesn’t mean 18 brother , Tharah means ‘boht sankhya mai’. All the deities of Kullu and seraj region are denoted as tharah kardu , not only 18 ,researh more and you will get to know what I’am saying.

  3. Shyno killings says:

    Banjar -shringa rishi
    Anni – shamsari mahadev
    Barshaini -jagtham rishi
    Manali-hidimba temple
    Goshal village near manali-gautam rishi
    Diyar near bhuntr -triyugi narayan
    Naggar village -jeeva narayan
    Naggar town-Shubh narayan
    Malana -jamdagni rishi (jamlu devta)
    Halan (upper valley )-harshu narayan
    Shalin – shandilya rishi
    Chachogi – ambal temple
    Ajimal village seol – ishwari narayan
    Kais -thirmal temple
    Kasol village – kasoli narayan
    Banogi – girmal temple
    Kais- sinhmal temple
    Kais- bhag singh temple

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