Commemorating Dogra Folk Hero’s sacrifice

Lalit Gupta
Notwithstanding failure of the state government to pass the Baba Jitto Shrine Board Act which would have ensured proper management and governance of the sacred shrine of Bawa Jitto, the centuries old Jhiri Mela, held to commemorate his supreme sacrifice, continues to witness an upward trend of pilgrims and tourists.
Despite the token involvement of Tourism Department in promoting one of the most attended fairs in Jammu and Kashmir, every year, few days before the Jhiri mela which is held on scared day of Kartik Purnima, all roads leading to the otherwise clam and quite village of Jhiri in Marh block of Jammu, come alive with constant flow of devotees. From nooks and corners of Jammu region as well as other states, men, women and children, in small and large groups, riding all kinds of public and private transports arrive here to worship and pay homage to 16th century Dogra folk hero Bawa Jitto.
After fair of Pushkar, Jhiri Mela, is one of the most attended fairs in north India, which brings together more than five to seven lakh people to Jhiri village near Shamachak, some 22 kilometers from Jammu city on Akhnoor-Poonch road.
To be held on November 6, this year, the Jhiri Mela, which commemorate the supreme sacrifice of a simple and honest Dogra farmer who preferred to kill himself in protest than agree to the unjust demands of the local landlord to part with his right full share of crop, is a living manifestation of power vibrant folklife in this age of rapid urbanization and globalization.
Such is importance of this sacred spot of village Jhiri, that it has acquired the status of a thirtha for the local as well as outside communities. The Samadhi of Bawa Jitto, a symbol of his supreme sacrifice which he made some 550 years ago, through passage of time has acquired an aura of sacredness. It stands surrounded by many other religious structures which have been built in phases by devotees including local rajas, dewans, wazirs and rich persons. Thus the place and its environs have emerged as a destination of pilgrimage tourism.
In present times, the Jhiri mela has undoubtedly emerged as an important tourist attraction. Few days before the fair mela, the Jhiri village starts donning a festive look. Set up local as well as outsiders, a huge market comes up at the site of the Mela. The shops, stalls and kiosks selling sweets like jalebies, pakoras, all sorts of wares; pottery, vases, utensils, farming implements, clothes, bangles, souvenirs, hair adornments, toys to books on Bawa Jitto and other folk deities, witness great rush of customers. Umpteen numbers of entertainment stalls, merry-go-rounds, slides, maut ka kuaan (in which a motor biker rides up the walls of a wooden well) and rural sports like dangal (wrestling) also form an important feature of the fair.
Legend: According to folklore, the Bawa, called as Jit Mal, was an honest and truthful farmer. A Brahmin and devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi and Raja Mandalik, he used to live in Aghar village near Katra, Vaishno Devi.
Fed up with the unfriendly attitude of his aunt Jojan, who even threatened the life of his seven year daughter Bua Kori, Jit Mal decided to leave the village and go to his friend, Iso Megh at Kahnachak Where, Mehta Bir Singh, the feudal lord of the Ambgrota, upon Jit Mal’s request gave him a piece of barren land only after signing an agreement, that he would give Mehta one-fourth of his produce.
Jit Mal worked hard day and night and transformed the barren land into a lush green field which subsequently yielded a luxuriant crop. As soon as, Bir Singh got news of extraordinarily good yield, he arrived at Bawa’s field along with his men and asked them to lift three fourth of the crop and leave only a quarter with Jit Mal.
When all requests to the landlord to follow the terms of the agreement fell on deaf ears, Bawa Jitto who was left with no solution and means of help, uttered last words: ‘sukki kanak nain khayaan mehtya, dinna ratt ralayi’ (Oh Mehta, don’t eat raw wheat, let me mix my blood in it’), and stabbed himself while sitting on the heap of crop and leaving all grains drenched red with his blood.
Later, Bua Kori with help of their pet dog Kalu, located her father’s dead body which had been 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 afterwards a fierce rain storm raged the area and the heap of blood strained grains was washed away.  All those people and even the birds, who had partaken those grains suffered from various afflictions, including diseases, untimely deaths, misfortunes and ‘yatrs’. Realizing it was the wrath of the holy soul, they not only asked for forgiveness by worshiping him but also made it mandatory on their future generations to venerate Bawa Jitto and pay annual homage at his shrine at Jhiri.
Since ancient times, the members of local and outside communities, who worship Bawa Jitto as a kuldevta (family deity) other than making their hazari on kartik Purnima day, also come here throughout the year  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. One other important ritual associated with Bawa’s shrine at Jhiri, is the ritual of taking of holy dip in Baba Da Talab which is known to have miraculous power of curing skin diseases and also blessing the childless mother with children.
Mela Arrangements: Led by SDM, Sunaina Mehta, this year’s Jhiri Mela Management Team is laying greater emphasis on sanitation and free flow of pilgrims during the nine-day long mela. Talking to Excelsior Sunaina Mehta, who is also daughter of the soil and belongs to Jhiri, said that in order to ensure proper sanitation during the mela, other than 180 functional toilets with 24 hours water supply, 10 pre-fabricated syntax toilets have been installed for convenience of the pilgrims. “To ensure that the mela ground remains clean, more than 40 large dust bins have been put at various spots. A mechanism of regularly lifting of the garbage from dust bins and its disposal at a far off selected site has also been ensured by roping in municipal officials of urban local bodies of Kour, Akhnoor, Chowki Choura and others”, she said.
SDM, Suanaina Mehta, said that to ensure free flow movement of pilgrims, the shops will be put up at a distance from the main shrine. Similarly langars, which earlier stood scattered, now would put be put up as clusters on the periphery of the mela ground.
“Water requirement for drinking and sanitation purposes had been ensured by round the clock pumping station.  The bathing ghats which had been clogged due to recent floods, have also been de-silted so that the devotees can take the bath properly.
Wasim Raja Khan, BDO and Deputy Mela Officer, said that the recent auction of shops etc has resulted in a quantum jump of revenue as compared to last year’s revenue of rupees 35 lakhs, this year’s auction of shops has yielded near half a crore rupees.  Looking at the upward trend of  pilgrims which as per rough estimate is likely to cross seven lakhs, all out efforts to being made are make the mela as a viable platform for the economic development of local communities  and also to make visit of devotees and tourists to the mela as comfortable and memorable as possible”, he said.
Commenting upon the government bandobast for the mela, local cultural activist lamented that that other than putting of few posters and banners during the days of the mela, the involvement of Tourism Department in promoting sacred shrine of Baba Jitto at Jhiri as a pilgrimage tourism destination was negligible. They also raised their concern about deployment of less number of police personnel to ensure proper security during the mela.
While various state agencies are yet to wake up to draw and put into operation a comprehensive plan for the proper development of Baba Jitto shrine as a pilgrimage destination, from the point of view of the dynamics of folklore, Jhiri Mela which also known as ‘Farmer’s Festival’, continues to play its pivotal role as an extended moment of significant transfer of heritage, when next generation rises to receive, and go forward, to make possible the continuity of culture and tradition.


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