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Indian village deities worth a billion

By Baldev S Chauhan in New Delhi
October 06, 2006 02:20 IST
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Close to some 200 devtas (village deities) of the Kullu Dussehra are carried for the annual meeting, on a sprawling meadow in the midst of Kullu town on the banks of the Beas, some 240 km from here, for a week.

According to estimates, these deities are said to have some 300 kg of gold, besides other valuable ornaments and antiques.

Back in their native villages they own pagoda-roofed and timber-multi-storeyed temples and huge tracts of land, which are all in the name of the village deity.

According to rough estimates, all the deities of the valley own gold, silver and other ornaments, antiques, musical instruments, and their temples and land worth about Rs 100 crore.

In accordance with tradition, people carry idols to the Kullu town each autumn for the annual gathering by the Beas. However, there are now concerns about their security.

"With a rising number of thefts in recent years, mostly by outsiders, we are concerned about our security, especially when we move out of the temples, on foot, along with the valuables to places like the Kullu Dussehra.

Each deity is carried in a colourful palanquin accompanied by an entourage comprising village elders, priests, and devotees, with the deity's hill band playing and announcing the passing of the deity.

According to sources, deities are said to have at least a kg of gold and other valuables. It isn't unusual for villagers to offer gold in small quantities on important occasions. Many of these deities are said to be centuries old. Sources say some 50 deities own 2 to 9 kg of gold, in addition to other valuables.

"Devta Khurijal has 8 kg of gold, Anant Balu Nag 6 kg, and Devta Markandey Rishi from Mangalor village some 5 kg," said Gian Chand Sharma, a priest at the annual Kullu gathering.

"Lomesh Rishi had 45 kg of silver, Anant Balu had 80 kg of silver and Narayan devta owned 40 kg of silver," added Sharma.

The week-long colourful Kullu Dussehra is held a day after the Dussehra festival ends in the rest of the country. Some 200 deities gather at the Dhalpur meadow in Kullu town by the meandering river Beas.

Raghunath, the local deity, plays host to the festivities, which attract hordes of visitors from around the Kullu valley and across the country and overseas.

Jamlu is the oldest deity of the valley but is not included in the week-long festivities. It was reported in March that temples in Himachal were repositories of wealth. According to the latest count of donations made to temples, including cash and jewellery, carried out by the state government for 2005, there are at least 13 temples that have an annual donation income of at least Rs 10 lakh.

There have also been cases of rising thefts in some temples in recent years. The state government was considering installing alarm bells in some of the state run temples to keep thieves away.

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Baldev S Chauhan in New Delhi
Source: source

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