Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma
Jhiri village is located around 20 Km away from Jammu at Jammu Akhnoor Highway. Every year Jhiri Mela is held at this village on Kartik Poornima (late autumn full moon) during the last week of October or early November. This year this event will commence from 3rd of November.
This Mela is believed to be the second most attended fair preceded by the Pushkar fair in Rajasthan. Lakhs of devotees come here from every nook and corner of India to pay tribute to the 16th century Dogra hero, Baba Jitto who is also known as the legendry farmer. During the fair the whole Jhiri village is magnificently decorated by the local people. The weeklong event is associated with the supreme sacrifice of a hard working farmer and a great devotee of Vaishno Devi who fought against injustice and land lord system. He laid down his life after he was cheated by the Kardar of the area. The fair is celebrated to salute the courage of Baba Jit Mal who is popularly known as Baba Jitto. Baba Jitto is known for his fearless character. The Jhiri Mela signifies the honesty, innocence, humility, courage, culture and truthfulness of a farmer. During the event various exhibitions stalls are installed by the state departments which signify the articles such as pots, books, toys etc. mostly based on Baba Jitto life. During the fair the pilgrims take a holy dip in Babe-da-Talab which is known to have miraculous powers for curing the skin ailments.
Baba Jitto was an honest and truthful farmer who used to live at Aghar Jitto village which is about 6 km from Katra. Like many other folk heroes who begin their life as an ordinary person but are transformed into someone extraordinary personality by performing significant life events in their lives. Baba Jitto, originally named as Jit Mal, was a sincere farmer of village Aghar Jitto. Baba Jitto was a Brahmin and great devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi. His aunt Jojan was having hostile behaviour towards him and finally he decided to leave the village along with his daughter Bua Kouri. He went to his friend, Iso Megh at Kahnachak and there he requested Mehta Bir Singh, a feudal lord of the Ambgrota, to provide a piece of land for farming.
Mehta Bir Singh gave Jit Mal a piece of barren and unfertile land after signing an agreement that he would give him the one-fourth of his produce. Jit Mal’s hard work transformed the unfertile and barren land into productive land which finally yielded a excellent crop. When Bir Singh came to know about the excellent crop yield, he arrived at the fields along with his men and instructed them to lift three fourth of the crop yield and leave only a quarter for Jit Mal. Baba Jitto requested Mehta Bir Singh to follow the terms and conditions of the agreement but Mehta forcibly took the major share of the crop. Injustice done by Mehta compelled Jit Mal to stab himself after sitting on the heap of grains which got wet by his blood. He uttered his last words “Sukki kanak nain khayaan mehetya, dinna ratt ralayi” (don’t eat raw wheat, Mehta; let me mix my blood in it).
His seven year old daughter Bua Kouri with the help of their pet dog Kalu, found the dead body of her father which was hidden in the Simbal tree trunk by the goons of Mehta. She then lit the pyre and burnt herself with her father. After that a fierce rain storm raged the area, the blood strained grains were washed away and all those people, even the birds, who had taken those grains later suffered from various ailments, untimely deaths, misfortunes etc. In order to seek pardon from the wrath of the holy great spirit, they not only asked for his forgiveness by worshiping him as a ‘Kuldevta'(family deity) but also making it mandatory for their future generations to venerate Baba Jitto and pay annual homage to him. The Samadhi of Baba Jitto and his daughter were raised at Jhiri in Shama Chak village which is about 18 Kms. from Jammu and 5 Kms. from Misriwala on Jammu-Poonch Highway. A temple was built at the site of martyrdom of father and the daughter. Since then every year the Mela is organised at this place. Baba Jitto sacrificed his life to get his due share of agricultural crop from landlord Bir Singh who denied him to give the committed share. After that Baba Jitto became famous among the farmers’ community.
There is also a pond which is commonly called as the Baba-da-Talab where the people take the holy dip and offer prayers of regret. During the Mela all types of people take a holy dip which is believed to cure skin ailments. It is said that if a childless lady takes bath in the pond, she is blessed with a child by the blessings of Baba Jitto and Bua Kouri. The pilgrims take the mud of the pond to their homes as they consider it as Shakker which is believed to cure various diseases. Even during the marriages and mundane ceremonies people pay homage to Baba Jitto. During the event the state Government organises various camps and install various exhibition stalls to create awareness among the farmers on agriculture and allied sectors. Cultural programmes depicting the Dogra culture are also organised during the event. Wrestling, sweet stalls, merry- go- rounds, giant wheels etc. add charm to the Mela. There are also ancient temples of Sui and Buri which are 5Km. away from Jhiri village and are famous for the wall paintings and metal idols of Shri Ram and Sita.
This place is a source of attraction for the pilgrims from all over the nation. The Jhiri Mela is an important annual congregation of farmers and other pilgrims who gather at Jhiri village to pay homage to Dogra folk hero Baba Jitto. The fair is held every year to honour and celebrate the memory of 16th century folk hero Baba Jitto, who laid down his life to defend the values of honesty and justice. Jhiri Mela witnesses great hustle and bustle during the seven-day festival as pilgrims families and various groups belonging to diverse communities and hailing from different parts of the country assemble there to pay obeisance at the Baba Jitto and seek his blessings and the blessings of his daughter Bua Kouri. People from every nook and corners of the country have also been visiting this spot throughout the year and enjoy the unique place of spirituality. Especially the members of local and outside communities, who worship Baba Jitto as a Kuldevta (family deity) come here to pay obeisance on occasions of important events in their families like marriage, birth of child, mundan (tonsuring ceremony) or simply to thank or entreat the Baba for his continuing protection and blessings. Jhiri Mela like other such congregations is a spectacle to behold. Apart from large number of kiosks of eatables and merchants displaying their wares for sale, which include from trinkets to new popular electronics gadgets, the fair presents hosts of entertainments for every age group of people.
Jhiri Mela is a major socio-religious event that brings together many people at Jhiri village where devotees of Baba Jitto forget their caste, creed and language and share an experience of faith with full devotion. Security, safe drinking water, un-interrupted power supply, adequate provision of essential commodities, sanitation, fire services, ration and other commodities, medical services, transport arrangements, accommodation facilities etc. are provided to the devotees by the district administration. Keeping in view the large influx of the people, a control room to monitor the arrangements and civic amenities at the site has been established. Wide publicity of mela through print and electronic media well in advance is also done so that more and more people participate in the event. Most of the stalls of eatables especially Jalebi and Pakoras, which is a specialty of the mela, are being run by local people. This fair signifies our culture and promotes unity, honesty, truthfulness, courage and innocence in the society.
Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma