Celebrating Dogra Folk Hero Baba Jitto’s Sacrifice

Lalit Gupta

Considered as one of the largest fairs after Pushkar in Rajasthan, the Jhiri Mela of Duggar has  emerged in recent times as the important annual congregation of more than six to seven lakh  farmers and other pilgrims who gather here to pay homage to Dogra folk hero Baba Jitto.
The fair which gets name after village Jhiri near Shamachak, situated some 22 kilometers from  Jammu city on Akhnoor-Poonch road, is held on Kartik Purnima every year to honour and celebrate  the memory of 15th-16th century folk hero Bawa Jitto, who laid down his life to defend the values  of honesty and justice.
Like most of the folk heroes who often begin life as a normal person but are transformed into  someone extraordinary by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, Baba  Jitto, originally Jit Mal, was an honest and truthful farmer. A Brahmin and devotee of Mata  Vaishno Devi and Raja Mandalik, Jit Mal used to live in Aghar village near Katra, Vaishno Devi.  Unwilling to put up any more with the hostile behavior of his aunt Jojan, he decided to leave the  village along with his daughter Bua Kori, and go to his friend, Iso Megh at Kahnachak. There he  requested Mehta Bir Singh, a feudal lord of the Ambgrota, to provide a piece of land for tilling.
Mehta Bir Singh gave Jit Mal a piece of barren land after signing an agreement, that he would  give him the one-fourth of his produce. Jit Mal’s hard work transformed the barren which yielded a luxuriant crop. When Bir Singh got the  news about the good yield, he arrived at the fields along with his men and asked them to lift  three fourth of the crop and leave only a quarter with Jit Mal.
Bawa Jitto pleaded Mehta Bir Singh to follow the terms of the agreement but the goons of Mehta  forcibly took the lion share of the crop. Incensed by the injustice, helpless Jitmal, while  uttering last words ‘sukki kanak nain khayaan mehtya, dinna ratt ralayi’ (don’t eat raw wheat, oh  Mehta, let me mix my blood in it’), stabbed himself sitting on the heap of crop, leaving all  grains drenched red with his blood. Bua Kori with help of their pet dog Kalu, located her father’s dead body hidden in the Simbal  tree trunk by the goons of Mehta. She then lit the pyre and burnt herself with her father. It is  said 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 partaken those grains later suffered from various  afflictions, including diseases, untimely deaths, misfortunes and ‘jatars’. To seek pardon from  the wrath of the holy spirit, they not only asked for his forgiveness by worshiping him as a ‘kul  devta’—family deity, but also making it mandatory on their future generations to venerate Bawa  Jitto and pay annual homage at his shrine.
During the last five centuries, the once humble shrine of the Baba Jitto has grown into a sacred  landscape that is spread across more than 520 kanals of land granted as ‘gehar’ by the Dogra  kings. Other than the main shrine, the Samadhi of Bawa Jitto, many other religious structures  including some sixty sarias have been built in phases by devotees in the surrounding land.  Another part of the sacred landscape is the ‘Babe De Tlaa’, a nearby pond which is known to have  miraculous power of curing skin diseases. Believers not only take a dip in the water of pond but also take back home the earth from the pond as ‘shakkar’. It is also believed that if an  issueless lady takes bath in the pond she would be blessed with a child.
Jhiri which witnesses great hustle and bustle during nine-day festival, as pilgrim families and  groups belonging to diverse communities and hailing from parts of Jammu region, neighboring  states like Punjab, Himachal, Haryana, Delhi, U.P. and parts of the country, assemble here to pay  obeisance at the Baba Jitto temple and seek his blessings and the blessings of his daughter-Bua  Kouri. In last few years foreigners have also been seen visiting Jhiri during the fair and enjoy the  unique mix of spirituality and cultural bonanza. The sacred landscape receives a steady flow of  devotees, pilgrims and tourists throughout the year, especially on every Purnima, the full moon day. Especially the members of local and outside communities, who worship Bawa 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 Bawa for his continuing protection and blessings.
Cultural Bonanza
Jhiri mela, the biggest farmer’s fair 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 now popular electronics gadgets, the fair presents hosts of  entertainments for every age group. From the pious minded, there is regular recitation of folk  songs by Yogis and ‘Gardis’ in form of Bawa’s Karaks (devotional ballads) at the main shrine.
Many entertaining cultural shows are also staged. While ‘dangals’— the Indian style wrestling  matches in which wrestlers from far a wide vie for more than 40 ‘maalis’, draw large crowd of  sport enthusiasts. Camel rides, merry go-rounds, giant-wheels, and the famous so-called ‘Mout Ka  Kuaan’-Well of Death (trick motorcycling inside consortium of wood-planks) are special attraction  for children and teenagers.
Government Exhibition and Educational Stalls
During the fair, exhibitions and stalls are organized by different government departments like  agriculture, horticulture and floriculture, drug control organization and rural development and  other departments to educate the people about various government schemes and incentives so that  people could avail the benefits.
BOOST TO LOCAL ECONOMY  The very fact that devotees and pilgrims take back home a piece of sugar cane as a sacred token  has led to a spurt of sugar cane farming in the area. According to In-charge Mela officer, Taseer  Latifi, KAS, local farmers are keeping their major chunk of land for cultivation of sugar cane  only as the demand during mela days fetches them good return and saves the effort of selling it  in wholesale market. He said that most of the dhabas and stalls of eatables especially Jalebi and  Pakoras, which is a specialty of the mela, are being run by locals only. Other than the  shopkeepers, the local transporters like matador and bus owners also earn extra revenue by  ferrying large number of pilgrims to the mela site.
Baba Jitto Shrine Board
Following the recent government proposal to form a shrine board for the Baba Jitto shrine on the  pattern of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, Shiv Khori and Amarnath Shrines Boards, the Jhiri mela and the shrine are all poised for a sustainable development plan. The present management committee under  chairmanship of DC Jammu, Ajeet Kumar Sahu, has streamlined the stalls auction process. This year  the auction has generated revenue of rupees 34 lakhs as compared to last year’s rupees 31 lakhs.
According to In-charge Mela officer, Taseer Latifi, the donation boxes maintained by the Prouhit  families at the shrines labeled as ‘nirman hetu’—‘donations for constructions’, has already been  taken over the Official Committee and donation boxes have been found containing gold and silver  ornaments, foreign and Indian currency.
He said as per the present practice the offerings by devotees are the property of the Prouhit  families. But with the likely formation of Baba Jitto Shrine Board, all the offerings along with  revenue from auctions, parking fees etc would be used in planned development of the sacred  landscape.
Commencing from November 16 to November 24, 2013, the Jhiri Mela, is not only a living  manifestation of vibrant folklife in this age of rapid urbanization but also one of the most  attended fairs in north India. It is a major socio-religious event that brings together more than  six to seven lakh people at Jhiri village near Shamachak where devotes of Baba Jitto forgetting  caste, creed and language share an experience of mass pilgrimage of faith.


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