Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Vikas Tandon
In India various international level fairs and festivals are organized such as Mahakumb Mela, Pushkar Mela etc. which are attended by millions of tourists and devotees from every nook and corner of the world. Fairs and festivals are an integral part of the Indian culture. J&K is also known for various fairs such as Jhiri Mela, Bahu Mela, Baisakhi Mela, Sankari Mela, Hemi Gompa Mela, Moungri Mela etc. which signify the rich cultural heritage of the state.
One of the historic Melas known as the Jhiri Mela is oragnised every year at the Jhiri village near Shamachak which is about 20 Kms away from Jammu at Jammu Akhnoor Highway on Kartik Purnima during the October or November to commemorate the Dogra folk hero Baba Jitto who sacrificed his life for honesty and justice. This Mela is believed to be the second most attended fair preceded by the Pushkar fair in Rajasthan. Lakhs of devotees from every nook and corner of J&K and India congregate here in large numbers to pay obeisance to the 16th century Dogra folk hero, Baba Jitto. Baba Jitto is known as the legendry farmer. Besides having religious significance, the Mela also has a social importance. People from different areas get an opportunity to meet together and share their joys and sorrows.
During the Mela the whole Jhiri village is magnificently decorated by the local people. The event is associated with the six hundred year old saga of supreme sacrifice of a hard working farmer and a great devotee of Vaishno Devi who gave his life for justice and exploitation by the 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 exhibition 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, originally named as Jit Mal, was an honest and truthful farmer of village Aghar Jitto which is about 6 km from away from Katra at Katra-Reasi road. He was a Brahmin and great devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi. He was like many other folk heroes who began their life as an ordinary person but transformed into someone extraordinary personality by performing significant life events in his life. It is said that he was fed by the hostile attitude of his aunt Jojan who time and again was threatening the life of his daughter Bua Kauri and ultimately he decided to leave the village along with his daughter. He went to his friend, Iso Megh at Kahnachak. There he urged 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 farm produce. Jit Mal’s hard work transformed the unfertile and barren land into lush green land which finally yielded a luxuriant 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. However, 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. Farmers from the nearby areas were unable to stop Mehta due to his authority and strength. Baba Jitto 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). Injustice done by Mehta compelled Jit Mal to stab himself after sitting on the heap of crop leaving all the grains drenched with the red blood.
After hearing about the death of her father, 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. It is said that after that a very heavy 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 obeisance to him at his shrine.
The locals and people from outside who worship Baba Jitto come here throughout the year to pay homage to Baba Jitto especially on important events such as marriages, birth of their children, mundan ceremonies etc. and seek his blessings. The most important event is Jhiri Mela and people from far and wide visit this spot during the celebration of this event. During Jhiri Mela, Jhiri village wears a festive look. Jhiri village have Samadhi of Baba Jitto as the main shrine followed by various other religious structures. His Samadhi is a symbol of supreme sacrifice. 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 known to have miraculous power of curing the 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 ailments. There are also ancient temples of Sui and Buri which are 5 kms. away from Jhiri village and are famous for the wall paintings and metal idols of Shri Ram and Sita.
This Mela also provides a marketing outlet for the local farmers. This Mela is also called as the ‘Farmers Festival’ and it attracts the farmers especially the rural youths who are losing interest in agriculture. 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. District administration provides security, safe drinking water, un-interrupted power supply, adequate provision of essential commodities, sanitation, fire services, medical services, transport arrangements, accommodation facilities etc. to the devotees.
The folk artists of Jammu and other regions gather here in large numbers to present their folk songs and folk dances showcasing the rich cultural heritage. All this enthralls the audience and adds to the vibrancy and colourfulness of the atmosphere. Various departments such as Department of Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, Health, Social Welfare etc. also set up stalls of their respective departments to create awareness among the people about the various schemes and technologies.
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 is made well in advance for more participation. This fair signifies the Dogra culture and promotes unity, honesty, truthfulness, courage and innocence in the society. More tourist huts and inns need to be constructed to have a nice stay here for the tourists.
Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Vikas Tandon