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Hindu Folk Art – Sculpture - Painting In Himachal Pradesh

A short easy on sculpture, art and folk painting in Himachal Pradesh.

In Malana (the oldest parliament in the world), situated in the Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, Jamlu devata a form of Rishi Jamadagni is worshipped in the form of Khanda. He was supposed to have been carrying 18 images of gods – symbolic representations of the world gods – with him, while searching for an idyllic spot to meditate. A gush of whirlwind scattered the images all over the Beas Valley, each image becoming the God of that area. Jamlu devata is the main god of the assembly of the gods, communicating through gura (his disciple) in trances. The whole community contributes a share of their income to the treasury.

Among Girjjars, Lahaulis and other tribes in the Himalayan peaks, who worship sculpted deities (wood, terracotta, stone) and believe in the presence of benevolent  and malevolent fairies, demons, witches, spirits, etc, a natural instinct for music, dance and color manifests during the varied rituals. Influences of tantric Lamaism and Hinduism exist, side by side.

Perhaps the locale’s proximity to mystic clouds and mesmerizing snow-capped mountains brings them closer to faith and communalism. Felling of trees and creating new waterways are almost a taboo. The enforcement of environmental awareness, the intrinsic knowledge of medicinal herbs, and the importance of maintenance of the ecosystem are a way of life. Worshipping a black Kali sculpture along with Buddha in monasteries, lahauli or the participative society at large again emphasizes the need for togetherness at the unapproachable reaches of the Himalayan settlements.

The repetitive inscribing and chiseling of ‘Om Mane Padma Hum, whether in prayer wheels, metallic sheets or stones used in votive offerings, or on the stones used to build walls around the shrine, is a communal endeavor as much as the carving in half-relief on sandstone or black stone to decorate the reservoir of water and natural springs in the hills, especially around Chamba, Udhampur and Jammu. The themes were of gods, local deities, water nymphs, mermaids, flora and fauna, and geometric designs.

Nature worship seems to have reached its peak, for example, in the slabs decorating the interior springs – three-tiered, three feet in length and two and a half feet in breadth, conical in shape and tapering to a pointed apex.

The upper panel contains the carving of nymphs with wings showering water, and the second one contains the carvings of a palanquin carried by the bearers on logs of wood and followed by a rider. There is a damsel sitting inside the palanquin and peeping through the curtain (as queens were instrumental in the installations) with the showering of lotus petals to the recitation of Vedic hymns. The third panel consists of carvings of birds. Most of them carry the image of Naga Devata (or snake Goddess Manasa).

Chamunda Devi temple in Dhad village near Dharmasthala, Baijnath temple at the ride overlooking the snow-clad ranges of Dhauladhar and Hidimba Devi temple under a rock shelter in the deodar groves of Doongri near Manali stand as a mute witnesses to the flowering of the sculptural tribal traditions.

Bhali Mahadevi temple at Mathana, 9000 feet above Kullu, is famous for a strange natural phenomenon. Every year lighting used to strike at the same place, burning up the whole area. The inhabitants prayed to Shiva, who offered to bear all the consequences of his Rudra aspect on himself in the linga form, but the villagers would have to provide the healing touch to the linga. Even now, lightning strikes once in twelve years, shattering the linga with no destruction otherwise. The villagers apply freshly collected butter with reverence and sincerity and stick the pieces together. The butter loses its melting point and the stone become one. Their knowledge of alchemy is astounding.