Saturday, September 23, 2000

A Valley of Myths and Legends
By Mary Parmar

KARSOG, the beautiful bowl-shaped valley in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, is full of myths and legends.

It is a place where each stone, hill slope has a tale to tell. Each little rivulet and stream is gurgling with some mythological episode of the bygone era. The valley is surrounded on all sides by hills, and atop the hills is the abode of various devtas and devis like the Shikari Mata, Chindi Mata, Kamrunag, Mahunag and Kamaksha Mata. In the lap of the valley itself is the temple of Mamleshwar. This temple of Lord Shiva is believed to have been built by the Pandavas during their period of exile.

It is believed that the word ‘Karsog’ is derived from two words Kar and Sog i.e. to grieve or lament. It is said that long ago, the mighty Rakshasa Bhitrasur (some legends mention him as Bakasur) strayed into this thickly populated area and found that he would face no problem in satisfying his hunger. He decided to stay here and each day caught hold of people and cattle and ate them. The helpless people were finally able to reach an agreement as per which each day a person had to take to the demon a basketfull of hill delicacies and also be his meal. So each day, there was a lot of grieving and weeping, i.e. Sog. Thus the area came to be known as Karsog.


Photo by Meetu SharmaDuring these days the Pandavas were in exile. Bhima, on hearing the sound of weeping from a house, enquired about the cause of grieving. The old women of the house told Bhima that it was the turn of her only son to be the meal of the demon. Bhima pacified the old women and said that he would go to the demon instead of her son. So taking all the food prepared by the women, he proceeded to the cave of Bhitrasur. There he ate up all the delicacies prepared by the old women. Finally, when the demon woke up to have his dinner he was annoyed to find no dinner. But there sat Bhima with a smug look on his face. Bhitrasur was annoyed and started beating his empty stomach which sounded like the beat of a hundred drums. He demanded his food from Bhima. Bhima calmly told him that he had eaten up all the food. The demon as furious and flung himself at Bhima and a great fight ensued. Bhima slew Bhitrasur and drew out his liver and threw it. Now, near the temple of Bhooteshwar at Alad lies a liver-shaped stone. Before dying, Bhitrasur expressed his wish to be remembered for time immemorial. So, in the temple of Mamleshwar built by the Pandavas, is the dhoona in a hollow place where logs are burnt throughout the day and night. Before dying, Bhitrasur told Yudhishthira that his spirit would not be free as being the master of the shamshan adjunct to the temple of Bhooteshwar, he used to accept the bodies of dead persons but now Bhima had killed him in his own territory and there would be nobody to take care of his duties. Yudhishthira promised that his duties would be duly taken care of and even to this day if the shamshan near the temple goes without receiving a body, a funeral pyre is lit up of straws and the last rites are performed.

In the temple of Bhooteshwar is the five-faced idol of Lord Shiva and behind it is the idol of Mahakal, which is kept hidden. It is the belief that if one looks at it, one will die. Even the poojari worships it with his face turned away. The shamshan sthal is also used for tantrik kriya.

Photo by Meetu SharmaAnother tale is about the marriage of Bhima with Hidimba. The place Mamel is said to have been derived from mallyudha which is said to have taken place between Bhima and the demon Hadim. It is believed that while the Pandavas were wandering in the wilderness of Karsog, Kunti, tired and exhausted, asked Bhima to get some water. Bhima went in search of water and came to a clear pond some distance away from the place where the present temple of Mamleshwar is situated. After bathing, he washed his dhoti and soaked it with water to carry it to Kunti to drink. While Bhima was bathing, Hidimba, the rakshasni happened to pass by and, smelling human flesh, was drawn to Bhima. Hadima fell in love with him and decided to marry him. Disguising herself as a beautiful damsel, she approached Bhima and warned him about her brother Hadim and asked him to flee.

Bhima refused to leave. In the meanwhile, Hadim too reached the place and, sensing the desire of his sister, attacked Bhima. Thus, a mallayudha ensued and Hadim was killed.

After killing Hadim, Bhima proceeded to meet his mother Kunti accompanied by Hidimba. Hidimba fell at Kunti’s feet and implored her to give permission to marry Bhima. Kunti was hesitant and said that in this period of wandering and despair, her sons were her only solace and that she could not part with them. Hadima said, "Mother, your son will always be with you. I will not keep him." So Kunti gave her permission for the marriage and Hadima bore a son, Ghatotkacha, who fought for the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. Hidimba roamed about the hills and valleys of Mandi and the adjoining Kulu region where there is an ancient temple dedicated to her.

There are scores of other legends associated with the enchanting Karsog. The present area of Karsog is part of the erstwhile Suket kingdom which traces its roots to the Vedic period. The imprint of the Vedic age can be seen not only on the ancient temples, but also on the traditions and customs followed to this day. This remote area has been able to retain most of its unique cultural heritage. But now with the invasion of modern communication, technologies and better road and travel facilities, the area has opened up to the outside world and changes are evident. However, the people are still steeped in deep religious and ancient beliefs and have unflinching faith in their local gods and goddesses.

People have great belief in tantrik vidya and jadoo mantra. To cure any physical or psychological ailment help from the devtas as well as tantriks is sought. The ghoor or the chelas of the devta have an important role to play in the lives of the people.

Karsog is also believed to have numerous spirits — some evil and some good. The Kali Tamsheera, for example, frightens the shepherds and the cattle in the jungle. The Yogmarg eliminates ghosts and is considered to be the avtar of Hanuman. The Battad is responsible for rodent infestation in the house, Putna causes harm and illness to small children and the dhoomri jhoor is the devta of storm and rain. To gain respite from the rain and storm, the devta’s help and blessings is sought. The Narsing devta is considered the avtar of Vishnu and resides in all homes. The Veer Jogni is worshipped by tantriks and so is the Mahakal.