Interesting Jagara celebration and bizarre Shannt festival associated with Mahasu Devta (Village deities)

Mahasu Devta temple, Uttrakhand,
Mahasu Devta temple, Uttrakhand,/
The Jagara  celebration associated with Lord Mahasu in the Gharwali region of Uttrakhand, is an odd one,  a sort of cult unheard of outside this place where the main deity is Mahasu Devta.  It is celebrated in the month of  Bhadon on the eve of Naga chauth (Bhadraprada shukla chaturtha), i.e., the fourth day of the bright half.  The worship of village gods has been vogue in this region for centuries. The villagers' deep faith in Grama Devta is unshakable and deep-rooted. 
Village God Ayyanar, Tamil Nadu.
Above image:  ''Ayyanar'' / ''Sastha'' is a Tamil deity particularly revered  in South India and Sri Lanka. His worship is prevalent among Tamils, Kannadigas, Malayalis and Sinhalese.  Some studies suggest that worship of Ayyanar in SE Asian countries existed in the past.  Ayyanar is the  one of the guardian folk deities of Tamil Nadu. The village temples of Ayyanar are usually flanked by gigantic and colorful statues of him and his companions riding horses or elephants. The well known shrine at Sabarimala is actually a Sastha temple though its main deity Ayyappan has now developed distinctly from Ayyanar. It is derived from the root word Ayyan, a honorific used in the  Tamil language to designate either respectable or elder people. (,,

A grāmadevatā is the name of the presiding deity or guardian deity (patron deity), usually goddesses, worshiped in villages in India.   Most of them are village deities who are worshiped solely by inhabitants of their village. Principle Hindu deities such as Shiva and incarnations of Vishnu are  also worshiped alongside the grāmadevatās. Through out Tamil Nadu, almost in all small villages one can see either a small ''Ganesha'' temple or a Grama Devathai temple or both. On the outskirts of most villages in TN, one can see a big  Ayyanar statue riding the horse. He is the guardian of the entire village and the residents there
With respect to the Village gods,  Mahasu brothers,  on this day they  appeared /emerged from the ground with the main purpose of protecting the people here by way of killing all the evil forces such as Asuras and demons who made the life miserable.  On this day as part of the ritual, after giving ritual bathing to the mohras images they are reverentially  wrapped in the cloth and carried ceremoniously. Devotees keep a distance and none goes close to the image. It is a sort of disrespectful act and the offended deity may curse the  defaulter. Once the rituals are over, all the images except one are left in the altar. The one that is kept is taken  in a palanquin. The ceremonies will continue during the day and after sundown  that image is also taken  inside the temple with religious fervor and placed on the altar with others.

At night a flag pole (cut from a kail -blue pine) is planted on the ground to hoist the  flag of the deity. Another pole of similar tree with many  forking branches  - about half of meter from the stem is planted. so that a large squarish slate can be securely placed over the branches. This is called chira. The goat   specifically brought up  here is ceremoniously offered to the deity.   At night  they dance in a circle around chira. 

With the addition of fuel, the Chira  is  kept burning and as the night gets darker, both men and women with the burning torches of resinous wood in their hands dance in a circle around the Chira and dancing and singing  will go on  throughout the night  on the beat of Nagaras and other instruments. At times, people will withdraw from the dance  circle and more will take their places  to keep the chain unbroken. A stressed part of the ritual is occasionally  a man or two would  be possessed by the deity or his deputy (shedkulia) and he or she will cry and shout in a frenzied mood. Totally under the hypnotic sleep, people say the god  has entered into such a person.

Shannt festival was  a sort  of bizarre  festival associated with propitiation of village deities - Gram Devta in the past. It was a common festival 100 years ago  involving  animal sacrifices in large number which is a taboo  now in many states.   The shaant  festival was conducted in a frenzied mood  at Hanol (in Jaunsar-Bawar region in Uttarakhand), the principal seat of Botha Mahasu.

Normally, such  ceremonies included three types: 01. 'Khura Shau' (one hundred legs of animals sacrificed),  02. 'Munda Shau' (one hundred heads of animals sacrificed) and  03. 'Singhaan Shau' (one head of a lion or at least representative a cat).
Last time it was held from 22 May 2004 to 26 May 2004 and was  a low key affair.

 Pandit Devi Ram of Maneoti, Tehsil chopal, who was among the officiating pandits (temple priest)  performing puja during the ceremony, had a meeting with other  pandits.  They took a decision to  stop  the practice of offering goats  or any animal to the deities  and their representatives (Vazirs). The decision was accepted by all except  Shedkulia of Fateh Parvat in Uttarakhand. They also took positive steps:  entry of ladies in the temple and to stop the practice of sacrificing other animals in name of village gods in that Gharwali region. 

Nowadays villagers  in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand in North India   celebrate ‘Shant festival’ with great pomp and show.  Recently in January, 2020  in the villages close to  Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh  it was conducted with vigor and devotion.  The ‘Shant festival’ is actually a ‘festival of purification and is organised to purify the deity, ‘Khantu Devta’ and the temple. Villagers make collective prayers for prosperity and peace of the region . ‘Shant festival’ was organised after 29 years in this area;  despite heavy snowfall,  people were  seen happily dancing at the snow-covered temple to promote century-old tradition.
Mahasu Devta temple, Uttrakhand, Reddit com 
In June 2019 in the state of Uttrakhand over 350 residents of two villages in Chamoli district have decided to  abstain from eating meat for a year after the local deity ordained them to do so. They have also decided to give up an animal sacrifice, a common practice followed by the locals. The deities prohibit consumption of meat and animal sacrifice in villages where Bhagvat Katha is organised. We have to stick to the decision or face wrath."

The animal sacrifices do exist across India, though the govt. has banned it such breach of state laws goes unnoticed in remote villages and it is a difficult job for the government to check them.