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‘Jhande ka Mela’ in the heart of Dehradun
On the fifth day from Holi begins a celebration in the Doon valley that is rooted in the origins of the story of this beautiful valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is a celebration of its history and its legends, of its dignity and its faith. These grand celebrations are now underway as the lovely spring season enables the pilgrims to enjoy nature’s beauty along with the spiritual experience.
Deep in the heart of the valley lies a beautiful monument which tells the story of how the valley first came to be populated and how it got its name. The monument is always alive with the faith with which devotees throng to its doors to be blessed by the Mahant , who is like a “living Guru” for them, carrying on the rich traditions started by Ram Rai, the founder of the valley.
Not just the people of the valley and the surrounding hills but followers of Guru Ram Rai and the Mahant (who is referred to as Maharaj ji) from various parts of northern India gather at the “Darbar Sahib” or “Jhanda Sahib” once every year in large numbers to celebrate the arrival of Ram Rai in the valley. It is believed that he arrived here on his birthday. It was in the month of March, on the fifth day after Holi in the year 1676 that Ram Rai and his followers reached the area where the city is now located.
Son of the seventh Sikh Guru Har Rai, Ram Rai fell from grace when he performed miracles in Aurungzeb’s court and deliberately misinterpreted lines from the Adi Granth to please the Mughal emperor. Pleased by Ram Rai’s performance, Aurungzeb had become his patron. One of the emperor’s friends, Raja Fateh Shah, King of Garhwal, allotted some land in the Doon valley to Ram Rai. Removed from the line of Sikh Gurus, Ram Rai decided to establish his "Dera" or camp here. “Doon” means valley. Hence the name of the town that grew up around the camp and soon began to expand with the large number of devotees of Ram Rai who began arriving in large numbers from Punjab.
When he passed away in 1687, Aurungzeb built a grand cenotaph to honour his memory. This cenotaph, which stands in the “Darbar” is a replica of Jehangir’s tomb in Lahore and is a marvel of Mughal architecture with innumerable attractive frescoes on many of its walls.
The Jhanda Mela is inseparably linked to the history of the city. In fact, it is related to the birth of the city of Dehra Dun and continues to be emblematic of its character and ethos. Preparations go on for several days in every crowded lane in the Jhanda Mohalla located in the heart of Dehra Dun’s old bazaar only a twenty minute walk from the Railway station. Traders begin to gear up for the crowds that they know will come to pay obeisance at the Ram Rai Darbar and to take part in the annual Jhanda Mela. Shops are repainted and decorated, fresh stocks are ordered and displayed.
Ram Rai’s followers started their own traditions, separate from Sikhism. His followers have been known as “ Udasis” or “Ram Raiyyas” and they follow the "Sanatani" way of life, worshipping the "Mahants " who successively occupied Ram Rai's "Gaddi" after his death. In fact, this line of “Mahants” was started by Punjab Kaur, Ram Rai’s wife. She appointed a “Mahant” after Ram Rai’s death and the tradition of Mahants is carrying on since then. The present Mahant is Devendra Das.
According to the tradition of the Darbar, the Mahant sends a messenger with a “Hukmnama” to the resident Mahant of Behlol Pur in Mohali district near Chandigarh, informing him of the date on which the Mela would begin and also directing some “Sangats” (devotees/pilgrims) from Punjab to begin their journey to the Darbar Sahib. These pilgrims walk all the way from Punjab to the Doon valley, taking the route which was taken by Guru Ram Rai.
People of all religions and faiths flock to Jhanda Sahib. The Jhanda Mela begins with the hoisting of a new flag (Jhanda Sahib) on a hundred feet tall pole outside the Darbar Sahib five days after Holi. The pole, which is a tree trunk brought from the Doodhli forests, is changed every three years. This year, it was changed. Before the new Jhanda Sahib is hoisted the pole is bathed in curd, ghee and Gangajal. The historic significance intertwined with the benediction of the Ram Rai Darbar make the Jhanda Sahib and the festival held around it a unique living heritage which is, in fact, inseparably linked to the very birth of Dehra Dun.
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