Dhungri Mela: Photos of Manali's Hadimba Temple Festival

Gods at Hadimba temple festival, Manali.
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In mid May every year in Manali, in Himachal Pradesh, a festival takes place at Hadimba temple in sacred Dhungri forest to celebrate goddess Hadimba's birthday. This ancient and unusual temple is a four-tiered pagoda with a facade of wood carvings. It was built in 1553 by Maharaja Bahadur Singh, a ruler from Rajasthan, and dedicated to the goddess.

The Intriguing Story of the Temple

Goddess Hadimba was the wife of Bhima, one of the five Pandavas brothers from the great Hindu epic The Mahabharata. According to mythology, she was a hostile demon who lived in Dhungri forest with many others. The Pandavas ended up there after being condemned to 12 years of exile. The demons were going to make a meal of the brothers. However, Hadimba fell in love with Bhima's good looks. Her brother attacked Bhima but Bhima defeated him. Hadimba and Bhima subsequently got married and had a son. Hadimba remained in the forest after the Pandavas left and devoted herself to meditation. She's now believed to protect those who travel through the forest and mountains. What's particularly gory is that up until recent years, people carried out animal sacrifices at the temple to appease her.

The Hadimba temple festival, known as the Dhungri Mela, provides an interesting experience of local culture. These photos show a glimpse of it.

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Crowd at the Hadimba Temple Festival

Crowd at Hadimba temple festival.
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Hadimba temple is one of the most important temples in the area. Hence, people come from all over the region to attend the festival and pay their respects to goddess Hadimba. The colorful audience waits eagerly for the celebrations to begin.

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Carnival and Snacks

Snacks at Hadimba temple festival.
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Meanwhile, the festival environment is like that of a carnival, with food vendors and amusement rides. Here is one vendor selling snacks.

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Gods at the Festival

Hadimba temple gods.
Sharell Cook.

Each village has its own gods and goddesses, and they're dressed up by the villagers and carried in procession to join the festival. They sit in their specially carved wooden raths (chariots) swathed in fancy silk and garlands. Amid a sea of people, they will soon be unveiled and paraded around.

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Unveiling of the Gods at the Festival

Gods and goddessees at Hadimba temple.
Sharell Cook.

The gods, now uncovered, are waiting to be paraded around. They're lined up in full splendor, with their silver face masks glinting. The raths are quite heavy, and their high center of gravity causes them to wobble from side to side as they're carried. Despite this, the carriers apparently don't get tired because the gods' powers are believed to propel the raths forward.

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The Parade of the Gods

Hadimba temple festival parade.
Sharell Cook.

The gods are erratically carried around, accompanied by the noisy trumpeting of the musicians. Beats of traditional music fill the air. The raths lurch wildly, sometimes heading straight into the crowd and chasing people. It's an energetic and chaotic scene. The festival continues on for days, as the gods make their way around to various other temples in Manali.

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Making Religious Offerings

Making offerings at Hadimba temple festival.
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Locals also come to make religious offerings to the deities at the festival.

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Trumpet Players at the Festival

Big horn players at Hadimba festival.
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Long brass trumpets, known as karnals, are a popular traditional local instrument used on ceremonial occasions such as the procession of deities. They're a feature at the Hadimba temple festival. 

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Other Musicians at the Festival

Musicians at Hadimba temple festival.
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The festival involves much singing and dancing. Here, musicians sit around in a circle and play for the Kullu Natti folk dance.

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Folk Dance at the Festival

Kullu Natti folk dance.
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Locals perform the Kullu Natti folk dance by linking arms, swaying to the rhythmic beats of the band and waving handkerchiefs. They all wear traditional, swirling tunics and decorated caps.

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More Dancing of the Kullu Natti

Kullu Natti folk dance.
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The Kullu Natti folk dance continues on for hours with groups of dancers performing it.

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