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Mystic of Jaunpur-Jaunsaar

The great penance of Yamuna shaped Jaunpur-Jaunsaar with her sweat giving the region a meaning. The awe inspiring beauty of the land compelled Kauravas and the Pandavas to make it a sojourn and eventually the seed of a unique lineage was sown. And the tales are still narrated at nights by wrinkled faced elders gurgling hukka beside cozy fire of the chulha inside the pine fragrant and homemade wine scented wooden houses.

The mystic Jaunpur-Jaunsaar with its neighboring Rawaeen and Bhaabur collectively form a hidden buffer zone between the trio district of Tehri Garhwal, Dehradun and Uttarkashi with Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh as the northern frontier. Musoorie, Vikasnagar and Hatkoti in Himachal Pradesh are the three entry points to the region the scenic beauty and rich culture of which is certainly exclusive in the entire mountains. Primarily a tribal habitation, the region is home to the Brahmins, Rajputs and the collective clans of craftsmen, artisans and musicians all living together in remote areas of either side of Yamuna river which coins the name Jaunpur-Jaunsaar. The other river divide is that of the Tons river in Rawaeen which is one of the wildest rivers in Asia and is a major tributary of Yamuna uniting at Kalsi. It is Yamuna who cushions the turbulent Tons in her tolerant domain as she is the outcome of age’s old patience.

The essence of origin
According to the local legends, Surya Dev married Sangya who couldn’t stand the heat of the Sun god during intimacy and hence created her clone Chhaaya for the purpose without the consent of her consort. In course of time Chhaaya gave birth to Yama, the god of death, and Yamuna. Once while playing, Yama accidentally kicked Sangya who got annoyed to the extent that she cursed Yama of a rotten leg. Yamuna, who loved her brother dearly, went to the harshest region (the present Yamunotri site) to undergo age’s long penance which ultimately got Yama out of the curse. Yama blessed his sister with the boon to continue flourishing lives and that a dip in her water would save from akaalmrityu or untimely death. The ritual of Bhaiyya Dooj is celebrated hence. Jaunpur and Jaunsaar are two fertile zones on either side of Yamuna and the elders of the villages assert that Jaunpur-Jaunsaar literally means Jamuna Paar and Jamuna Saar respectively. Life begins and ends in Yamuna for the people of Jaunpur-Jaunsaar as for them it is not just a river, it is a heavenly bliss.

The history of the belief
The serpent god is the prime deity of the region who is worshipped as both Naagraaj and as Bhadraaj or Balram, the elder brother of Lord Krishna. One of the major temples of Naagraaj is located at Kyaarkuli village on the Dehradun-Mussoorie highway and that of Bhadraaj Devta is situated on a mountain top near Mussoorie. The other ancient temples of Naagraaj are located at Naag Tibba, Naagthaat, Devalsari and the one at Untar village is one fine piece of village architecture. However, the customs and rituals clearly indicates the influence of the Pandavas in the region and practices like polyandry is still in vogue in the remote areas. The ASI protected Shiva temple at Lakhamandal in Jaunsaar is believed to have been built by the Pandavas and the area is often linked by some believers with the Laakshagriha conspiracy of the epic Mahabharata. Hundreds and hundreds of stone Shivalinga are still being unearthed from around the temple and village which supports the Puranic belief that the Pandavas built one Lakh Shivalinga to get out of the curse of Guru Hatya (killing of kin and teachers) during the great war of Mahabharata. Later, the five brothers with their consort Draupadi moved towards the Swargarohini peak which dominates the Harkidun meadow in Rawaeen. On the other hand, the Harkidun valley is believed to be the domain of Duryodhana and Karna who spent a considerable span of time around the valley. The Someshwar temples at Mori, Netwaar, Saur, Osla, Dhaatmeer, Jakhol and the villages along the Karmanaasha and Supin rivers were built by Duryodhana and Karna as indicates the temple plaques. Some elders believe that it is Duryodhana and Karna who were worshipped as gods.

The other prime deity of this divine land is Mahaasu Devta, a manifestation of Lord Shiva, who is one furious god of justice. Mahaasu Devta was called upon by the people from his seat in Kashmir to settle score with the demons and evil intensions that haunted them. The major temples of Mahaasu Devta are at Hanol near Mori, Biroud near Nainbaag and Lakhwaar near Mussoorie. An enormous procession is held each year during September as thanks giving to the lord who devastated the evil and brought a fair deal.

Fairs and festivals
Jaunpur-Jaunsaar-Rawaeen-Bhaabur is the land of fairs and festivals the colors and joviality of which keeps embracing the calm of the mountains all the year round.

Maagh ka Mela or Maroj knocks the door during the whole month of January when the crisp winter Sun brings along the much needed warmth after the long chilly nights. The tired terraced fields go for a prolonged sleep under the thick blanket of soft snow. There is no work to do and the spirits are high. At dawn, the smoke coming out of the kitchen chimneys through granite slab roofs of wooden houses gel together with the morning vapors to ward off silence from the valleys. And it really works as the menu of the day remains mutton, mutton and mutton be it chili salt roasted with boiled potatoes, pan fried with choice of green or red chutney or the Pahaari way flavored curry. Even the infants with no teeth are made to taste some. No work means no work which saves time for the major work for the preparation of excellent homemade herbs and grains wine. Within no time, the Sun gladly becomes the focus light and gaiety enthralls. Eating, drinking and social visits brings the Sun for a rest and huge bonfires lay the carpet for the virgin evening. The voice of the dusk echoes with sounds of laughter, whistling and distant efforts of heaving while the baajgi (village drummers) basks his drum skin beside fire. Raasu, Tandi and Pandava dance revolves around the fire and the evening matures into a satisfied night.

Dubdee, the first feast
Dubdee is a harvest celebration in which a bunch of the first ready crops of the season is worshipped by the womenfolk and plundered later by the men folk amidst continuous vigorous drum beats. Later, both men and women dance throughout the night. Dubdee is a phenomenal procession in which a bunch of different crops, which grow in the region, is erected in a small field. As the evening approaches, the sound of excitement takes over the tweeting of the cicadas and the crickets as people start gathering at the field after hearing a typical drum beat. The village informer or announcer called 'Pari' then shouts in a typical rhythmic tone- "Gaon ki Rehne… Dubdee pujene aijaao…” (come on all the Rehne or daughter-in-law to worship Dubdee). The Rehne start gathering in all their finery. Only the Rehne or daughter-in-law of the village worship Dubdee. The Dhyaane or the daughters of the village join later in singing and dancing. According to the belief, Dubdee is also seen as a Dhyaane or daughter of the village who was prohibited by her in-laws to go to her village to witness Dubdee, the first festival of the year. She later died. The curse of a Dhyaane can be devastating, commit any sin but never upset a Dhyaane believe the people of the region. In order to pacify her curse, the village Rehne worship that Dhyaane in the form of that bunch of crops singing the Dhyaane's last song- "Pehl ki Dubdee re tewaaraa, me bhai me to jaano desa" (the first festival Dubdee has come, I want to go to my village for the same). Women folk keep on fasting that day and eat only after the prayers are done. They offer Pinoa, a mixture of different floor primarily Jhangora, to Dubdee. Pinoa is dipped in pure ghee and is eaten as Prashaad. Cooked rice and milk is also offered. Men folk wait anxiously to snatch maximum out of the Dubdee bunch once the women are through with prayers and offerings while the Baajgee (the drummers) warm their drums beside fire, getting ready to throw energy through their beats. Soon after singing their last words, the women folk run off and the men folk attack Dubdee in order to seek maximum blessings in the forms of the snatch and within no time, the bunch gets disappeared. Then goes the singing and dancing session from the field to the village Pandaal where all the villagers and guests participate. The whole village echoes with the sounds of joy overlooked by the pacified soul of the ever blessing Dhyaane.

Mahasu jaagda, the enlightening awakening
Every year on the Ganesh Chaturthi, people from nearby villages and far gather for an enchanting night awakening locally known as "Jaagda" in praise of the great Mahasu devta. Mahaasu Devtaa, according to one belief, is one incarnations of "Mahaa Shiv" who along with his allies Raghunaath, Chaaldaa and Bothaa had come long time back in the Jaunpur-Jaunsaar region to get people rid-off a demon. It is one belief that the demon had sealed the breasts of womenfolk of the region in order to prevent any infant from feeding resulting in the infant’s death. An episode in the Krishna Puraan supports this belief that Kans had a threat of life from the 8th kid of Devki, Kans’s sister. This whole chaos could have been an attempt by Kans to make survival impossible for all the young ones in his region and in the neighboring provinces. The people of the region, when had enough of the demon’s torture, called Mahasu devta from the highlands of Kashmir. Mahasu devta is one such deity of fury and anger that the demon couldn’t continue his evil practices and never returned to the region. Ever since then, Mahasu devta has his seats or temples, at Hanol in the Tons river valley and at Lakhwaar, Laksiyar and Biroud villages along with other villages in either sides of Yamuna river. Chaalda Devta, as the name suggests, is ever moving and never sits in one place for long. The grandeur of the majestic ancient images of the great lord is visible for people only once a year for two days and a night in between on Ganesh Chaturthi when people spend the days and night singing and dancing in trance with the Devta’s Paalki. (However, visitors can see the image requesting the temple priest). The Pandavas also dance in praise of the lord using the believer’s bodies. Huge goats are offered to the lord not to be slaughtered but to be left in the wild later which remain unharmed by humans or the wild beasts. This mesmerizing procession keeps going on till 4 O’clock in the morning after which the Devtaa bathes in closed doors all by Himself unattended even by the temple priests. The next day, wheat flour is thrown in the air by the temple priest and later by the mob and who so ever comes under the shower of the flour is bound to visit the Jaagda each year.

Bagwaali, the belated diwali
People of the region celebrate Diwali, what they call Bagwaali, precisely one month after the Diwali that rest of India celebrates. They have their own peculiar customs which are cherished during the festival. An interesting story leads to the logic behind such a delay. According to the local belief, which has traveled through words of mouth, once a fierce battle ensued between the Raja of Kumoun and the Raja of Tehri. The Kumouni fighters, who were famous for their warfare, were in large number. The Tehri Raja, on the other hand, was sharp with brains. He knew about his people in Jaunpur-Jaunsaar as most of the area falls in Tehri. There used to be ‘Nau Gaja Bhad’ (nine feet tall men) in some of the villages of Jaunpur-Jaunsaar. The Tehri Raja took along ‘Bhad’ from each of these villages to fight against the Kumouni army. Diwali was few days away and the ‘Bhad’ had gone out to fight such a violent army so the villager with little hope didn’t celebrate Diwali. However the Tehri army won the battle and the ‘Bhad’ returned home a month after Diwali. Celebration was bound to take place to welcome the victorious ‘Bhad’ and to resume the paused Diwali. Ever since then, the people of Jaunpur-Jaunsaar follow the same regime. The Jaunpur-Jaunsaar Diwali embarks celebrations with a different kind of firework. On the first day womenfolk, while singing folk songs grind Jhangora and Kouni (types of rice) to prepare delicious cookies called ‘Askey’ after which the first day is named as. The night is spending munching, drinking Soor (homemade wine brewed with herbs and grains) and dancing. Notably, Pandava dance is the pride of the region. Next day is known as Pakodya as pakoda of various pulses are cooked, all the while munching, singing and dancing continues. The third day which falls on Amaavas Sankrant is known as Baraaj on which people spent the whole night making long ropes of Babaeen (kind of hay) to play Bhaand (tug of war) the next day, Huge sacks of dry weeds and crop leftovers, known as Dhimsiya, are first worshipped and then set to fire which sources fire to individual torches made out of Bhimal twigs. These torches are called Holday which people juggle around with in the fields. Long time back, humans used to slide down a long rope from a hill top to the valley below carrying Holday in hands, thankfully the suicidal performance has been replaced by a human effigy. Forth day is the much awaited day of playing Bhaand (tug of war). The rope is considered as Naag devta who is the prime deity of the region and hence it is made to purify in the village stream. Then follows a hilarious tug of war between men and womenfolk in which most of the time the womenfolk win. After the decisive game is over the rope is covered with a huge metal cover and is guarded the whole night or else it (the deity) will runoff to other village, believes the villagers. The festival that begins late ends late as well. All the while munching, drinking and dancing continue.

Other fairs which keeps the spirits high throughout the year are Devgati ka mela (February-March), Bissu ka mela (April), Challi ka mela (3rd May), Asaad ka mela (July), Saawan ke mela (August) and Bhadraaj ka mela (16-17 August).

Work hard party harder
The people of Jaunpur-Jaunsaar are primarily self sufficient farmers and have enough for a healthy sustenance. The bovine connection with Bhadraaj Devta has blessed them with immense livestock and milk and milk products. However, in the olden days, it was only salt for which they used to venture to places like Vikasnagar and barter salt with pure ghee as they never commercialized milk owing to the belief that it was the Devta’s bliss. Eventually, they began trading milk products like ghee and curd along with fresh and organic vegetables that includes beans, cucumber, gourd, bitter gourd, pumpkin, lady finger, radish, carrot, buck weed, corn, walnut, fern and wild mushroom. The humble villagers would wake up at 4 in the morning and would walk with their ponies laden with fresh pick to distant places like Nainbaag, Mussoorie and Vikasnagar. Gradually, commercialization got intensified and excellent yields like Rajma, rice, wheat, potato, pea, culath, jhangora and gainth became popular all over the neighboring districts. Ponies got to get some rest giving way to loader jeeps. The horticulture of the region is flourishing too and the goods are finding place in the markets in the metros. Some of the private orchards are producing top grade fruits and its products out of Rhododendron, apple, apricot, plum, kiwi, pear, peach, mango, strawberry and the wild berries and flowers. Floriculture is also in full swing. The cottage industry incorporating trees like Gainthi (for utensils and furniture), Bhimal (for toiletries and fiber) and Himrai (for medicinal use) and the multipurpose Ringaal is one promising avenue to fetch self employment and big time revenue.

Paradise revealed

Tourism (both pilgrimage and adventure) is the latest opportunity to boost the economy in the region. Although the Yamunotri highway snakes along against the flow of the gorgeous Yamuna, the Jaunpur-Jaunsaar long remained isolated and unexplored due to same misconceptions of the past. The course of time has has changed to a great deal and tourism is expanding in the region at a vigorous rate. The pristine Harkidun meadow in the lap of Swargarohini peak and the Jaundhaar glacier has emerged as one preferred destination among keen trekkers and botanists. The skilled ones cross the Bharaasu pass and the Rupin pass to land into Chitkul in Sangla valley Himachal Pradesh. The Harkidun meadow is no less than the Valley of Flowers during monsoon. Considering the habitation of a healthy population of leopards, Himalayan black bears, antlers, pine martens, porcupines and other mammals, reptiles and birds, the valley has been protected as Govind Wildlife Sanctuary which is a windfall gain for naturalists and environmentalists. A visit to the Ruinsara, Judaataal and Saruka lakes is worthwhile. Other destinations of tourist interests are Mahaasu temples at Hanol and Lakhwaar, the fruit orchards at Tiuni and Arakot, camping and rafting in Tons near Mori, the pine forest at Jarmola, the wide fields at Purola, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected sites at Lakhamandal, Purola, Hanol and Kalsi, camping, rafting and angling in Yamuna, trekking to the tops of Naag Tibba and Naag Thaat, the tranquility at Chakrata and Kanasar with Tiger falls, Benog Mountain Quail Bird Sanctuary at Mussoorie, souvenir shopping at Purola, Nowgaon, Tiuni, Nainbaag, Vikasnagar, Kalsi and Mussoorie. There are GMVN guest houses and Forest Rest Houses all through the trails. There are neat, clean and reasonable private lodges also. In any case, food and shelter is not a constraint in Jaunpru-Jaunsaar because the people of the region are humble and friendly.