Worship in Transition
An Encounter with the Rājrājeshwarī Devī of the Garhwal Himalaya
The state of Uttarakhand in India is referred to as dev bhūmi (Land of the Gods) as it is home to several devī-devtās (local deities), sages, and ṛṣis whose presence renders the geography of this land a potent one. The soundscape of temples in Uttarakhand includes bells, chants, mantras, and ḍhol-damauñ, the latter referring to two rhythmic instruments which are used to facilitate divine possession. Kandara village is situated in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district where there is a temple of a goddess named Rājrājeshwarī Devī who is said to be a form of goddess Durgā. During the times of Navrātri, the nine forms of goddess Durgā are worshiped. It is also one of the times where various religious practices in conjunction with worship take place in the Garhwal Himalayan region. As a result, an older idol of the devī was replaced by a newer one during this time in the Rājrājeshwarī Devī temple of Kandara village. Like in the case of the Rājrājeshwarī Devī, through her naur (representative/medium), the Rājrājeshwarī Devī engages with her devotees and ‘remembers’ their problems and conflicts which she attempts to resolve if asked. Through these transactions, a strong intimate bond at the level of everyday living is formed with a deity. This photo essay aims to provide a closer peek into the realm of lived practices and traditions from the Central Himalayas and to document such experiences which often lie in the zone of orality. The worship of the Rājrājeshwarī Devī holds not only a cathartic value but a protective function which she fulfills by ensuring good health and prosperity for the entire village.
Copyright (c) 2023 Vineet Gairola, Shubha Ranganathan
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