‘Music is the way through which Gods are invoked’.
I don’t remember exactly but the first time when I heard about ‘JAGAR’ the ultimate Uttarakhand tradition was from my husband. Few years this tradition hit my mind again, over the few drinks that when we (a bunch of friends ) were sharing our real ghost stories in a resort in the Corbett National Park. One of our Pahadi (native of hills) friend shared his experience about Jagar and there was horror, excitement and a deep sense of self-realization in his story. It kept me glued for days and I used to wonder if I will ever get an opportunity to experience this by myself!
Before I proceed further, have you heard about Jagar before? Iif not then let’s understand and know what is really a Jagar?
The word Jagar comes from the Sanskrit root, Jaga, meaning “to wake”.
Jagar (Devanagari: जागर) is a ritualized form of ancestor spirit worship practiced in the hills of Uttarakhand, both in Kumaon and Garhwal. As a ritual, Jagar is a way in which gods and local deities are woken from their dormant stage and asked for favors or remedies. The ritual is connected to the idea of divine justice and is practiced to seek penance for a crime or to seek justice from the gods for some injustice.
So I hail from Garhwal ,Uttarakhand and married into Kumaoni community (again native of hills ). I even asked my Mum once if she knows about Jagar, and she only answered that this ceremony is practiced in the darkness of the night,deep in the forests on the hills and practiced only by the ones who have a deep knowledge about it.
Let me tell you friends, last year I witnessed Jagar in my house itself, it was performed in our ancestral home few days before Diwali as my Mother-in-law wanted our ancestors and Gods to come and bless her grandchildren and had been wanting to conduct Jagar from quite some time!
So my in-laws had planned a small Pooja followed by Jagar at our ancestral home located in Manan (Almora) which is some 120 kms away from Haldwani (my in-laws current residence). We had to join them from Gurgaon so instantly we booked our tickets. And since it was going to be a hilly ride with our two little kids, so we had also booked Innova for a comfortable ride and after a night halt in Haldwani; we left early in the morning for Manan from Haldwani.
Thankfully we reached on time (4~5 hours) and without any motion sickness. Our cab dropped us in the middle of the market road and we took out our luggage; for the last leg we had to walk by foot. All the houses in the village are located either uphill or downhill and are only accessible by foot. Interestingly ours is on the uphill so trekking till there isn’t an easy task (for city-goers like us) but my 3.5 years old daughter was very excited to see the ambience around; lush greenery, lesser crowd, lesser noise and a sparkling stream flowing adjacent to those steep graveled lanes. Thankfully few villagers came and helped us with our luggage; and another teenager girl happily carried my infant for the entire route and I just had to hold my daughter’s hand and follow their footsteps!
Back at home, all the preparations were already on the full swing. We quickly freshened up and changed our clothes for the pooja, panditjee (priest) had already arrived and was busy with the arrangements! In most of the houses, place for pooja happens mostly in a Garret so that the place remains pure and separated from the other household chores and at the same time can receive plenty of sunlight for the prayers. And there are usually narrow stairs built up to access that place so kids can’t be left unattended at any point of time. The pooja took us almost 2 hours and I was quite hungry by then as I was constantly breastfeeding my child to calm him down. But since pooja was happening at our place, we all had to be fasting; atleast not eat anything in front of others !
Downstairs there were people who had come to meet us, my in-laws were delighted to greet them all and introduce our kids to them. Little girls of the village were quite excited to meet my daughter; she also took immense interest in meeting them all and was much elated to receive plenty of attention. Little girls were singing songs and bhajans in the courtyard and occasional dancing was part of the joy and devotion for the almighty to shower all the blessings on us! I too joined them with claps but was too shy to dance infront of the elders and the rest of the crowd; I was still getting pampered as a ‘Bahu’ and that kept me happy as well!
Soon we were finished with the ceremony and I could see bunch of men from our community preparing for the evening bhandara (satvik vegetarian meal) at our place; actually the entire village was invited for the feast. It was a delight to watch family’s men preparing the food while women were of course busy with other activities. In the meantime, we also visited our main temple for the worship that was again situated on the top-hill; carrying my son was a big task so I left him while he was sleeping in the house. However both my kids soon joined us, there was a big Jamun tree in the temple’s courtyard. They had fun collecting the fallen jamuns from the floor and throwing them towards the mountain. Until I scared my daughter that there is a high probability of a lion or Tiger to peer in from the bushes behind, she wasn’t just ready to go back. Well it’s not a joke, in such remote villages it’s a common phenomenon for the predators for occasional show-up!
Finally by around 6-7 pm, after all had received the bhojan; we also devoured the yummy Prasad. The sun had almost set and honestly post that hectic travel and scrumptious food, I wanted to retire instantly but then I noticed some new faces grabbing their seats in our living area; and I was like, who they can be ?
By that time, both of my kids had already fallen asleep and I didn’t wanted to wake them up. ‘Jagar is going to happen now’; I heard a whisper and I realized I had nearly forgotten about this thrilling event!
So there are proper instruments and rituals to be followed for the Jagar; unbeknownst to me a normal priest isn’t equipped to perform a Jagar.
An old man (Dagariya) said to have conducted enormous Jagar was invited at our place,and when he came, a silent paused prevailed in the atmosphere and soon the place was filled with more curious villagers and there was hardly any place left to even stand there. Since Jagar was conducted at our place, so we (ideally my in-laws) were referred as Syonkar, (the person who has organized the Jagar to seek divine intervention to his problems). Soon Dagariya changed his attire into a plain dhoti, sat peacefully on one corner of the room and lit a Diya; he closed his eyes and began spluttering few prayers in himself.
There were 2-3 tribal people (Jagariya) who were called with their strange instruments probably Hurka (हुड़का), Dhol (ढोल) and Damau (दमाऊ) and they began chanting some songs in Kumaoni (our Hilly dialect). They were slowly increasing the pace of their prayers and soon it changed into a thunderous ballad, clearly they were calling the Gods. The face of the Dagariya suddenly changed, it felt as If he was unable to see anything or his pupils went upside down but his body was shaking up vigorously.
My in-laws were standing next to him with folded hands, I could barely understood anything. Dagariya got up and he took the position like of a horse. Later my hubby told that the Golu Devata (our kuldevta) had acquired his body and had to come to bestow his blessings on us. I was soon called with my son, by that time he was already awake. I was asked to greet and fold my hands to him as the God himself had come to bless my children.
Dagariya took my son from my arms and suddenly began tossing him in the air, I was horrified but my husband assured me well. Within a minute he dropped my son back to my lap and gave his blessing, clearly what was happening around I couldn’t understand even a word!
Next minute, they called for my daughter; she was still sleeping. A bit funny but as he took her in his arms and tossed her in the air, she was still in her deepest sleep but the next second she opened her eyes. She was shocked to be in someone else’s arm and began shouting, ‘Mumma, Mumma’.
Soon she was given back to me, the Jagar was happily performed; my Mother-in-law had visible tears of accomplishment in her eyes. There were many people in our house waiting for their turns and soon they flooded the Dagariya with their requests and complaints. I can’t comment what they finally received out of their small tryst with their Kul-devata whom they believed had acquired his body but as a highly revered ritual, everybody around me had a satisfactory gleam in their eyes.
We stayed there for total 2 nights, the morning we were travelling back; I spotted that Dagariya ( the same person who completed the ritual that night) wearing a crisp shirt and trouser and smoking a local bidi near the market area. He appeared to be a simple human being but that night he played the most important role of acting as a medium to reach us to our diety.
Within fraction of the second, I asked myself If I should bow myself down to him or forget him like any other person on the hill.
You may ask my belief about this ritual but I may not be the right person to comment upon. Jagar is often performed in the middle of the forest around midnight and now-a-days is performed in the cities as well due to the high migration of hilly people to the metros so there can be a difference in experience as per the situation.
But to understand Jagar, one needs to understand about Folk Hinduism spread across the Garhwal and Kumaon regions of the Uttarakhand. Life on the hills is very hard and challenging and each family has its own Kul Devta or Kul Devi protecting their boundaries. In addition, there were numerous other benevolent demigods and goddesses that could reward people, as well as malicious spirits that could torment people. At ancient times, when people wanted to stay together and protect their families with limited means they had, Jagar gave them a divine way to connect with their ancestors and gods to seek blessings from them, make confessions and explore a meaningful way to continue with their lives.
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