The Sankri Devta Mela

Ashok Sharma
Fairs and Melas are an intrinsic part of Indian socio cultural and religious life.In India,we have a no. of world famous Melas such as Mahakumbh Mela,Pushkar Mela etc.which attract millions of tourists,traders and devotees from across the globe.
The state of J&K is also known for various fairs and melas such as Jhiri Mela,Bahu Mela,Hemis Gompa Mela etc.which bear testimony to the glorious and proud cultural heritage of our state, which has been bequethed to us by our forefathers.In fact, fairs and melas have been organised in various parts of our state, especially Duggar region since ancient times.These fairs and melas add colour and vibrancy to our life and provide an escape from the drudgery of life as people get a chance to meet each other in such Melas.Besides having religious significance,these fairs and melas also have social and economic importance and serve to break the monotony in life and bring all the people belonging to different communities and religions together and thus,foster bonds of brotherhood and amity. They also provide opportunity to the traders to sell their goods and earn their living.These fairs and Melas are an important part of our rich culture.They impart a new life to the monotonous life and refresh and invigorate our lives.Through these fairs,the artisans and craftsmen are also provided an opportunity to display and sell their articles of art and craft, tools and implements.These melas also serve as a platform for the old and budding artists to come together and transmit our cultural heritage such as bhakhan, baaran, geetru, folksongs etc to the coming generations. These melas also help to showcase the rich culture of the Dogras at national and international level through folk dances such as Kud, Fumnian, Gagail,etc. It is a feast to our eyes and ears to watch the Dogra art and culture live.Though the whole Duggar region is known for various fairs and Melas, perhaps,nowhere in our state,as many fairs are organised as in Udhampur district.

Sankri Devta Mela Aug 30- Sep 01

One famous and historic mela called the Sankri Devta Mela or simply Sankri Mela ,which is held at Sankri in village Meer, about 37 Kms from Udhampur,near tehsil Panchari Headquaters,in the months of August-September every year on thursday or sunday that comes after Bhadon or Bhadrapada Amavasya. The mela actually starts two days earlier before the scheduled day and thus, lasts for three days.According to Dhani Ram, the nonagenarian priest of the widely reverred Sankri shrine, the Yatra to this holy shrine has been going on since olden times and going down the memory lane, he recalls how his uncle Gokul Chand used to perform the role of priest or ‘pran’ in the shrine when he was a child.Dhani Ram was nominated as the new priest of the shrine in 1930 in a’ pagri tying cermony’ when he was just 10 years old .Since then, he has been performing the role of ‘Pran’ with devotion and dedication.According to him,the legend goes that once one of his forefathers was grazing his cattle when he saw a handsome and strongly built young man reclining on the ground with his horse grazing in the pasture .The man asked the stranger to tell him his name and the purpose of coming over there but the stranger refused to say anything about himself.On great persuasion, the young man moved to a nearby place ‘Parnathi’,sat on a flat rock and said that he was Sankri and he moved from place to place and that he had found a suitable place as his abode.He also promised to be their’ Kuldevta’ and fulfil their wishes if he was worshipped in the way he desired.He said that he had various shastras or vaans such as Dudaana vaan which he ordained to give to the Pran’s family, Trishul to the Suri family, Gungraal vaan to the Kamali family and Gurj to be placed at Thunal.He also demanded that Sacrifices and gold tikka be offered to him and nominated one of the the forefathers of Sanjay Kumar son of late Vidya Ram as goldsmith through whom he would accept the gold tikka .He also wished that his’ yatar’ should be carried out once every year in the month of Bhadon with dhol and bansuri.He also ordained that he would accept all those offerings which shall be offered to him through the Pran.Saying these words, the stranger disappeared.The pran further told that after some days a stone idol appeared miraculously on a rock.This idol then reappeared at the place called ‘Truta Sankri’.After a few days the idol reappeared at the present place.The people took the idol to ‘Truta Sankri’ but it again appeared at the place where the temple stands.This was how the deity was installed and worshipped.
Thousands of people from the nook and corner of Udhampur district and outside assemble in large number to take part in the Mela and have blessings of Sankri Devta.The Mela starts two days earlier than the scheduled day of Pooja and Yatar which is performed on Thursday or Sunday after the auspicious occassion of Bhadrapada Amavasya.On the first day, the Mela is inaugurated by a VIP, generally by a Minister or the local MLA after which an Indian Style Wrestling Match ( Dangal) is organised,in which wrestlers from within and outside the state take part and thousands of people converge from neighbouring villages and outside to watch the Dangal. There is an atmosphere of enthusiasm and exuberance all around. On the second day, the Department of Youth Services and Sports organises sports events in which the students from different schools take part. The folk artists of Panchari and other regions gather in large numbers to present folk songs and folk dances showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Duggar. All this enthralls the audience and adds to the vibrancy and colourfulness of the atmosphere. On the concluding day, the vaans such as Dudana vaan, Trishul, Gungraal, Gurj and other vaans are taken to the holy shrine and ceremonial Pooja/Yatar is performe, in which the various deities are invoked and their glory sung.Prasad is also distributed to the devotees on this occassion. Various Departments such as Floriculture, Health and Medical Education,etc. also set up stalls of their respective departments to enlighten the people about various Government schemes and need to eradicate social evils. The District administration makes elaborate arrangements of transport, drinking water,security, electricity, sanitation, checking of rates of essential commodities,etc under the overall control of the Mela Officer. Temporary sweet shops are established and bangle sellers are the main attractions at the Mela and they have a hey day.There is an atmosphere of religious fervour and enthusiasm with people singing local folksongs and chanting bhajans.
According to the Priest/Pran of the shrine, Dhani Ram, this historic Mela attracts more than fifty thousand devotees from various parts of our state. Thus, there is need to provide more facilities to the devotees and boost religious tourism and flori-tourism to this widely reverred shrine. The Krimachi-Panchari road needs to be widened and upgraded and the Meer-Sankri road also needs macdemisation to attract tourists. The road at ‘Chobu Nallah’ near Kainthgali needs to be realigned in view of frequent landslides and disruption of traffic at this trouble spot.
The Government has constructed a tourist hut near the site but there is also need for provision of view points, more accommodation facilities and carrying out plantation along the paths/track etc to the shrine. A children’s park also needs to be developed in the vicinity of the shrine.As the climatic conditions of this region are much similar to those of the Kashmir valley, there is ample scope for developing floriculture and horticulture in Panchari and Bomag region.All this can help a lot in boosting tourism and attracting tourists, especially from Jammu and neighbouring states to this beautiful region.The Pran and other local people have played a great role in bringing about much development at the spot. They resented that very little help has been received from the Government and much of the development brought about there has been possible due to the donations/offerings of the devotees who participate in large numbers in the Mela and many of the local devotees pay obeisance to the Deity throughout the year.He dreams to construct a big and grand temple and a big sarai at the site. Sankri, Panchari, Lander, Moungri and other beautiful sites need to be promoted as rural tourist spots to attract a large footfall of tourists,especially in the summer season when the salubrious climate of Panchari provides a much needed relief and pleasant escape from the scintillating heat of the plains and cities.More tourist huts and inns need to be constructed so that the tourists can have a nice and memorable stay there.