Thursday, 15 March 2012

Jhanda Mela at Guru Ram Rai Durbar in Dehradun

Written by Anil Singh

Jhanda Mela at Guru Ram Rai Durbar in Dehradun is a major religious event of the city.

On the eve of Jhanda Mela (Flag Fair) a large number of devotees, mostly Sikhs, gather at Guru Ram Rai Darbar to lift the 87 ft mast bearing the flag of Guru Ram Rai.

It’s believed that the town of Dehradun was founded in the early eighteenth century (1700s) by Ram Rai, the elder son of seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Har Rai.

Ram Rai came to the city in 1675 and set up his dera here. ‘Dera’ which refers to a camp, over the years got twisted into Dehra; which when prefixed to ‘Dun’ a local term used for a river valley between a smaller mountain range (Shivaliks) and the main Himalayas; gave the city its present name Dehradun (Ram Rai would have founded the city in early 1700s as Deradun).

A brief look into the history of Ram Rai and the situation which led to Har Rai making city his home and the founding of the city of Dehradun will be interesting.

Sikh Guru Har Rai died in 1661. He was survived by two sons, Ram Rai and Harkishen.

Both claimed succession, but since Ram Rai was the son of a handmaiden (or handmaid which means a personal maid or female servant of Har Rai), hence Harkishen was preferred over his brother.
Ram Rai, disappointed with the decision, refused to abide by the judgement; and revolted.

The situation went so bad that the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was asked to intervene.

As a solution to the brotherly feud, Aurangzeb made Harkishen retain the crown and sent Ram Rai away.

Call it, Aurangzeb’s masterly stroke; he did not abandon the pretension of Ram Rai to the spiritual leadership of his sect. This was his way of keeping Harkishen as a puppet king.
Harkishen died in 1664 and was succeeded by his uncle Teg Bahadur. This was the right opportunity for Ram Rai to again press for his claim. This time around, Aurangzeb decided to have a long term solution to this problem. As part of the solution, Teg Bahadur was arrested and executed in 1675 and Ram Rai directed to retire to wilderness and refrain from meddling in public affairs of the state or face the same fate.

Abiding to the Mughal emperor’s directive Ram Rai resided for a short time at Kandli on the Tons and then settled down in Kharbara or Khurbura locality of modern Dehradun. Notably, mughal Emperor Aurangzeb gave all assistance to Ram Rai to settle in Dehradun. The Aurangzeb’s assistance in helping Ram Rai settle here, is clearly seen in the wall paintings and the general architecture of the Durbar Sahib. The Archaeological Survey of India has taken up the restoration of Darbar Sahib’s wall paintings depicting the Mughal, Rajasthani and Kangra style of mural paintings.

The walls of the Guru Ram Rai complex present richly decorated paintings on various subjects. Most prominent are scenes from the Mahabharat, Gita, Krishna Leela and Ramayan. Besides Noor Jahan, Heer-Ranjha and Laila-Majnu, some Britishers also find place in the paintings of the famous Durbar Sahib.

The construction of the Durbar was initiated by the Guru’s wife Mata Punjab Kaur in 1676 (Yes, unlike the current Guru, Mahant Devendra Das who is a bachelor; many previous Gurus including Guru Ram Rai were married) and was completed in 1699. The Darbar or Place building is modeled on the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir.

In order to find a suitable location for his camp he dedicated to pitch a Jhanda tied to a javelin. The spot in village Dhamwala, where his javelin pierced the earth became the dera (base camp) of the guru and is known as Jhanda Sahib. In following centuries, this settlement got marked as a Gurudwara called ‘Ram Rai Darbar’ a seat of the Udasi sect.

After Guru Ram Rai, a line of Gurus ( now hold the title of Mahant) sat on Guru Ram Rai ji’s seat. The present Guru, Mahant Devendra Das, holds the seat and is the head of the Gurudwara.

About Jhanda Mela:

Every year on the fifth day of Holi - a festival of colors, in the sacred memory of the revered Guru, a fair known as Jhanda Mela, is held near the Ram Rai Durbar in Dehradun.

This year’s Jhanda Mela marked the 336th birth anniversary of Guru Ram Rai. The founder of the seat of the Udasin sect in Dehradun.

The main event of the Jhanda Mela is the erecting of a 87 feet long Mast.

On the day of erecting the mast, first of all the old mast is removed; after that, one can see a large number of men wrapping covers around the mast, offered by devotees. A total of 20 shaneel (velvet) covers, one darshani cover and 40 covers made of cotton cloth cover up the mast. The wrapping up of layers of cloth by pilgrims is an act of thanksgiving and wish fulfillment.

The syncretism practiced by Guru Ram Rai and Mahants, draws in Lakhs of devotees belonging to all religions to the event every year. Conforming to its antiquity, a large number of sikh devotees from India and abroad visit for pilgrimage.

The credit for transforming the simple ceremony of raising the flag into an egalitarian and community show goes to Guru Ram Rai’s wife Rani Punjab Kaur.

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