Nanda Devi Mela

Nanda Devi Mela Nainital
Nanda Devi Mela at Nainital

Nanda Devi Mela is intrinsic to Kumaon, which has always been regarded as the land of Nanda Devi, daughter of the Himalayas, Shakti of Lord Shiva. She has been worshipped from time immemorial in Kumaon and Garhwal, obvious from the many old temples dedicated to her through the state of Uttarakhand. 

Nanda Devi is believed to protect Kumaon, and her people worship her both for material welfare, and for spiritual wisdom. Nanda Devi, epitomises well-being and benevolence, and was the kula Devi or family goddess of the Chand rulers of the region. The Nanda Devi Mela which continues for 3-7 days is celebrated on Nandashthami or Ashtami of Bhadra Shukla.  The fair is believed to trace its origin to the reign of Raja Kalyan Chand in the16th Century, to give it a historical timeframe. But her worship predates recorded history. Traditionally, there was one idol. From the time of Baj Bahadur Chand, it s believed that two idols, dedicated to the two sisters immortalised as the twin peaks of Nanda Devi and Sunanda Devi, were taken out in procession.

Nanda Devi
Nanda Devi. Photo: Rajiv Butalia

The most significant celebration of Nanda Devi is the Nanda Raj Jat, held onece every 12 years when the doli of Devi is carried over the high Himalayan passes on a journey of 3 weeks, from Nauti, near Karanprayag to the base of Trishul. Annually, the Chhoti Jat Yatra from Wan to Bedini Bugyal is a reminder of the Nanda Raj Jat. 

Traditionally, the Nanda Mahotsav was held at Almora annually, and Nandashthami celebration was held in Johar valley, Pindar valley, and through Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Almora districts. It is dedicated to the worship of Nanda-Sunanda, seen as the one Devi, in commemoration of the deep connection of the Kumaoni people with her. It is also an act of faith and supplication that she remain as the benefactor of Kumaon. The folk songs and dances of the area are an expression of this tradition. It is now celebrated at a growing number of places in Kumaon, but some of the well-known places where it has been celebrated traditionally are Almora, Nainital, Nauti, Dandidhara, Munsyari, Ranikhet, Bageshwar, Kot.

At Almora, the procession carrying the Doli of Nanda Devi along the cobbled stones of the market place to the Nanda Devi mandir at Almora, always had a fervour and intensity of devotion that was difficult to match. The cobbled stones have been replaced, and the devotion is now mixed with a degree of event management, and commercial agenda, but the crowds of faithful devotees are reflective of the spirit of worship. The fair culminates at the Nanda Devi temple at Almora that was built during the reign of Raja Udhyot Chand.

Jai Nanda, Jai Sunanda.

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