Driving about eight kilometres from Almora in the hill state of Uttranchal there stands the fascinating Chitai temple with acervate of thousand bells hanging around the temple complex.
The bells vary in sizes and are caparisoned with fluttering red ribbons and threads that hold strips of paper that include battered letter envelopes, government bond- stamp papers. The Chitai along with others in Champawat and Gorakhal are the temples in honour of the most revered Godlings of Kumaon called Golu Devta (also called Goril and Gwalanath.) Golu represents social justice.
Even as there are rivers, valleys, pinewoods, an environment rich in medicinal plants, snow-capped mountains, life in general in the hills is rather tough. Access to courts and justice both in terms of money and actual means to reach the courts is not easy.
Mr. Gyan Joshi a priest at the Chitai temple states the fact that to actually go to courts that are quite far from villages needs both time and money. They need justice by means that is convenient and accessible. Then there are people who are helpless and are against someone who they cannot confront for fear of the power and influence of the accused. It is Golu Dev who comes to their aid and it is with his help that they get justice. Joshi went on to narrate how the Godling has assisted several people to get justice. He recounted how a young woman whose husband would go to the city to seek seasonal work was intermittently raped by her father in law. “She had no place to go or anyone in whom she could confide her suffering and dilemma. It is believed that she filed a petition in the Chitai temple within a short period her father in law contracted leprosy. There have been incidents when a man has been cheated of his rights on a piece of land by his brother, after petitioning to Golu Dev he found that self-realization dawned on his brother who then resorted to giving him his rights over the contentious land. Golu either punishes the accused, or he assists in making the accused change his mind to follow dharma.”
“Prayers to Golu Devta are the only answer to face epidemics, natural calamities and enemies who resort to black magic to harm others. He is the Ishta devta (personal deity) for a large number of people and families in Kumaon,” says Himani Pande archivist with the Indira Gandhi Center for the Arts. The ritualistic procedure associated with the court of Golu comprises of the complainant writing a petition and posting it or placing it in the temple. “Thick smothered moth-eaten stacks and bundles of ancient appeals for justice, written on watermarked stamped papers are crammed into the lofts of the temple. On getting justice goats are sacrificed as an offering of thanksgiving; or those who abhor animal sacrifice offer huge brass bells, sweets, fruits and cash instead,” says Himani.
There are about twenty-five Godlings in Kumaon in whom the God-fearing bestow their faith and devotion. The origin of most Godlings is rather obscure although each is said to be linked with the Gods of the Greater Tradition especially the trinity –Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh; some of them have come into prominence in the past five hundred years.
Golu is considered to be an ‘avatar’ (reincarnation) of Bhairava considered to be a fierce deity, a manifestation of Shiva symbolizing dissolution, and in Buddhism, he is perceived as a protective deity. Golu was the son of Raja Jhalroa (circa 14thcentury). As a child, he was pushed into a pitcher packed with salt by his stepmothers who then went on to throw the pitcher into the Gori Ganga. Apparently, the salt turned into sugar and the child was magically nursed back to life by local villagers. Since the child was found in Gori Ganga he was called Goril, which over time was distorted to Golu.
One day, Goril rode his wooden pony to the river and tried to make it drink water. On the same location, his stepmothers were bathing. Seeing Goril’s efforts to make his wooden pony drink water they ridiculed him. Golu calmly responded, “Can a woman give birth to a gourd?” Evidently, the stepmothers on Goril’s birth had remarked that his mother had given birth to a gourd. Soon his father came to know the cruel, unlawful behaviour of the queens and ordered them to be killed. He also asked Goril to come back and claim his heritage of a ruling prince, but Goril renounced the world and became a maverick saint.
Golu is considered to be benevolent deity symbolizing love, justice, and dharma. He is easily appeased and does not call for pompous rituals. Dharma is an eminent concept that engenders harmony in society. Dharma incorporates both neeti (to lead a life that is compatible with social and family norms) and nyaya or social justice.
Golu, as he is now popularly known today, was depicted by a simple, grotesque dark rock. The tradition of Golu worship has changed considerably over time. Today the temples of Golu have a dark figure riding a pony. The offerings in yesteryears were simple, but in present times petitions are made with elaborate offerings and pujas. One of the interesting developments has been the offering of kichadi or small packets with rice and black gram. This offering has been associated with tantric practices to ward off evil. In addition, there are now small prayer books of Golu Chalisa available.
For local people, the Golu represents fast-track justice. He exemplifies solutions to everyday problems hence even the mention of his name works wonders. For instance, a principal of a school only when he threatened to petition Golu was he able to stop the villagers from letting their cows from entering and damaging the school fields. Next time you are climbing the hills of Uttranchal make sure you do not miss the backside of trucks that have– Horn Please, and Jai Golu Dev written. Golu watches over the operators and drivers, countering the risks of technology and travel. In whispers, the Kumaonis say, “Wrongdoers fall ill and die, this form of Bhairav has dark powers…..”