During the last week of March, we went to Dumkin, a beautiful hill village located in Kaule VDC of Chitwan to observe the mela, a traditional and religious fair that is often organized in the villages. I have seen many mela at the lowland but it was my first visit to observe mela in the hill.
Dumkin is about 3 hours of uphill walk from Upardang Gadi. We went through the mixed forests of rhododendron, chilaune and katus.
The forest is dense and really beautiful with brilliant red rhododendron flowers that attract many colorful birds and butterflies.
Yeselu, yellow berries, were plenty on the both side of the trail which was sweet and delicious. We also ate kaphal and other berries in the forest. It was really nice walk through the lush green forest.
Our team heading to Dumkin
Walking through many hills, we arrived in the beautiful village surrounded by traditional houses and huts. Panoramic view of series of hills from the village looks really wonderful.
Lush, green forest
But, there is not much trees and forests as the terraced land is used for agriculture. The mela was held on the summit of the tallest hill which is about half an hour uphill walk from the Dumkin village.
There are many small temples in the middle of the sparse forest. Just below the shrine, there is terraced farmland all the way to village.
By the time we arrived for mela, thunderstorm and sudden downpour welcomed us. People took the refuge in temporary huts with roofs made of leafs. When rain stopped, mela began again with live performance of Damai Baja (traditional music played especially in marriage ceremony) that attracted people of all ages and they enjoyed singing and dancing.
Many temporary shops appeared and varieties of readymade food items like biscuits, noodles, candies, beers, alcohol were spread on the ground. Gambling and drinking raksi (local alcohol) are common in the mela. All these activities were done outside of the fence that surrounded the shrine.
Puja, worshipping the God, was going on the temples inside the shrine but main puja would be done the following day. The mela went for whole night but we returned back to village for overnight stay.
Next day, there were more shops and people in the mela. Suddenly, a woman, Mataji (mother/worshipper), behaved strangely inside the shrine. People whispered that she got this mysterious fits (chopnu) because her soul had been captured by Goddess. Uttering some mantra, she started shaking her body violently with untucked hair flying in air. She looked like living Goddess.
She shouted and complained that some stupid people contaminated her shrine and fell down trees. She started walking on her knees like tiger and circled around the temples. In front of main temple, she twisted her body like snake. Then, she began dancing uttering mantra. Mantra is not well versed and she was just reciting the names of different Gods and Goddesses. Pujari (male worshiper) offered her milk, sugarcane and fruits which she devoured quite strangely. Then, she asked money and people offered her money. But, it seemed she was not satisfied as she asked for more money. She also gave blessing to people.
A couple with their newly born son came to offer her cloth, money and fruits. People informed us that they had desired a son and Mataji had given blessing them last year. Mataji with her assistant came out of the fence and started telling the fortune of the people who offered rice and fruits to her as the fees. Modus operandi of the fortune telling is similar with that of others.
Religious faith is deep rooted in Nepali society. There are temples and shrines in almost every village where people worship every morning. Religious and cultural festivals are celebrated whole heartedly with worshiping and offering for God in first place. Occult practices and matters pertaining to fortune telling and faith healing are taken for granted by rural communities. Ignorance, lack of education, and lack of self-esteem and self-confidence play major role over the mentality of these people. So, they can be easily lured and deceived by ones who claimed themselves so called fortune tellers or faith healers.
Prime forests are fast degrading and deteriorating due to human settlement, encroachment and exploitation. But, forest patches adjacent to the temples and shrine receive some sort of protection. These forests are regarded sacred so left untouched.
Gambling and drinking lead to disputes, quarrel and fight among people in these mela unless the organizer is strict on this regard. On the other hand, this sort of fair helps to enhance social and cultural harmony. This also helps to promote culture, local products and tourism that should be instrumental for the development of local economy.