Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma
Fairs and festivals are an integral part of the Indian lives. In India, Mahakumbh Mela, Pushkar Mela etc. are organised which attract lakhs of devotees, traders, tourists across the globe.
J&K is also known for various fairs and festivals such as Jhiri Mela, Bahu Mela, Dera Baba Baisakhi Mela, Sankari Mela, Hemis Gompa Mela etc. which signify our rich cultural heritage. These fairs and festivals add colour and vibrancy in our lives. These fairs and festivals also show the rich culture of the Dogras at national and international level. One such Mela is Jhiri Mela which is celebrated at Jhiri village in Jammu province of J&K. Every year Jhiri Mela is held at Jhiri village on Kartik Poornima (late autumn full moon) during the last week of October or early November. This village is situated around 20 Kms away from Jammu at Jammu-Akhnoor Highway. This year this event will commence from 12th of November. This Mela signifies the honesty, innocence, humility, courage, culture and truthfulness of a farmer. This Mela is attended by lakhs of devotees within India and abroad. Devotees come in this village to pay tribute to the 16th century Dogra hero, Baba Jitto who is also known as the legendry farmer. The fair is celebrated to salute the courage of Baba Jit Mal who is popularly known as Baba Jitto. The whole Jhiri village is magnificently decorated by the local people during the event. 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 laid down his life after he was cheated by the Kardar of the area. He is known for his fearless character. During the event various exhibitions stalls are set by the state departments to demonstrate various technologies for the people. Awareness on various agricultural and allied sectors schemes/programmes is also created among the farmers. Various articles such as pots, books, toys etc. are also sold which are based on Baba Jitto life.
Baba Jitto was from Aghar Jitto village which is about 24 kms from Reasi town. His real name was Jit Mal. He was a sincere, honest and truthful farmer. 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 was a Brahmin and great devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi. His aunt Jojan was hostile 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. There he requested Mehta Bir Singh, a feudal lord of the Ambgrota for a piece of land. 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 worked hard and he transformed the unfertile and barren land into productive land which finally yielded a bumper 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 urged 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. Ultimately she 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 took 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.
During the fair the pilgrims take a holy dip in the pond known as Babe-da-Talab which is known to have miraculous powers for curing the skin diseases. People take the holy dip and offer prayers of regret. During the Mela all types of people take a holy dip. 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 at 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 establish 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.Sports events like kabaddi,volleyball, wrestling tug of war etc. are also organised during the Mela.
The Jhiri Mela is a source of attraction for the devotees from across India and abroad. 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. The Jhiri Mela witnesses’ great hustle and bustle during the Mela as pilgrims’ families and various groups belonging to diverse communities and hailing from different parts of the country gather there to pay obeisance at the Baba Jitto and seek his blessings and the blessings of his daughter Bua Kouri.
Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma