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The tradition of celebrating festivals or melas at revered shrines is very common in Jammu region and is considered a part of popular Dogra culture. All such melas are organised on some important days fixed long ago by priests or humans. This practice has given more importance and recognition to many religious places where number of devotees and pilgrims visit and join huge congregations for sacred reasons.
The three days Aghar Jitto mela is organised at Baba Jitto temple in village Aghar in the month of June every year by District Administration and Baba Jitto Mandir Development Committee jointly. The temple is located at distance of only five Kms from Katra town. Starting from a simple function, the mela has now become too familiar and prime attraction for visitors of different regions. People of all ages participate in the event with much enthusiasm and ardent zeal.
The event has gained more importance as it is one or other way linked with holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi.
It is also gathered from local people that there was acute shortage of water in village Aghar Jitto. At that time everyone including Baba Jitto had to walk to a far off place for fetching water. Baba Jitto used to perform worship at cave of Mata Vaishno Devi daily which he continued for 12 years. One day Goddess appeared before Baba Jitto and asked him to express his wish. Baba Jitto wished for water. It is also said that seven streams emerged out in the village. Baba Jitto was locally named Mal who belonged to a Brahmin family. He was a staunch devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi and Raja Mandlik. When he succeeded in fulfilling his long cherished wish of water and darshan of Maa Vaishno, he was called Jit Mal by the locals.
Fed up with inflictions and hostility by his aunt Jojan in village Aghar, Jit Mal along with his daughter Bua Kouri moved out of the village to reside somewhere else. In the course of his journey he reached the house of his close allay named Iso Megh at Kanachak in Jammu who had good relations with feudal land lord named Mehta Bir Singh of Ambgrota. Iso Megh asked him to provide a piece of land to Baba Jitto for cultivation on certain terms and conditions. The feudal land lord agreed to take one fourth of the total produce.
Baba Jitto with his hard labour turned the barren land into cultivable field and grew improved quality of wheat crop. Mehta Bir Singh when visited the field turned greedy. He ordered his goons to lift lion’s share of the crop. The wicked action of feudal lord hurt Baba Jitto who in turn pleaded with him to follow initial agreement but all in vain. The poor Brahmin had no other option. He instantly sat on the heap of wheat and stabbed himself to death. Bua Kouri searched out the dead body of her father with the help of a pet dog-Kalu in trunk of Simbal tree. She became very much upset with this incident to the extent that she burnt herself alive with her father’s pyre.
It is said that those who had partaken grains from heap later suffered from ailments and even birds also became victims too. At Jhiri, Samadhi of Baba Jitto was laid where a mela is also organised in the month of October-November in his memory.
The act of Baba Jitto has set an example of justice for others. His devotion, firm faith and principled behaviour forced him to end his life without bowing down before immoral acts and wickedness of a land lord. He has proved corner stone for generations to come. He is no more today but the scene created by him certainly gathers attention of all and develops confidence in humans to fight for justice and rights. Many people worship him in temple in the form of holy Gods or Kul Devta. At present during the harvest season, the people in Aghar village first offer grains to Baba Jitto before eating.
The other side of Aghar Jitto mela offers chance of recreation and exhibitions. The people can enjoy novel experience by meeting strangers and outsiders and get opportunity of interacting and communicating with one another. They also enjoy eateries, entertainment activities, shops and games etc.
The water stream flowing near the temple is considered very pious for expecting and other ladies. One can witness hundreds of women waiting for their turn to take holy shower in the stream. Some ladies also throw wearing clothes in the stream which is not considered a good practice today owing to cleanliness concerns as the clothes seem piling up there one after another.
On the first day of mela, a yatar is held at birth place of Baba Jitto in which pujari/priest divulges about their day to days miseries and problems. This Yatar locally called choki remains continue for whole night with bhajans and karks (devotional ballads) of Baba Jitto along with drum beating by Gardi (one who beats drum or dholak). Many temples are seen surmounted today at his birth place.
On the second day, a shoba yatra is taken out from his birth place to new temple near Aghar market in which several devotees participate. The Jhunda or sungal (Chains), katara (dagger), datryian (sickles), Lota (jug) and other antique objects of Baba Jitto are carried in Palki from temple of Raja Mandlik (Googa peer) and placed in new temple below Aghar market where again a small choki or yatar is organised. The sounds of drums and chains please the visitors and devotees.
On third day, the chains and other belongings are taken back to the temple of Raja Mandlik which is their original place followed by final yatar of the mela.
On the last day popular dangal at Aghar Jitto marks the conclusion of three day mela. In dangal wrestlers from state and outside play bouts and try their luck.
Before the onset of mela, ritualistic food like fried flour and rotis in Kadai (utensils) are offered to five idols (panj peers) including Khwaja Peer at village Pungaas on last Friday. Then these idols are taken to village Kanjali on Saturday where a Yatar or Choki is held at night in which several devotes and pujari perform holy yatar to the sound of drums. On the next day i.e. Sunday at 12 noon, the idols are taken to river Chenab for holy dip and to perform other rituals like roate (big rotis) are immersed into water followed by a traditional yatar. In the evening the devotees return to Agar Jitto along with idols.
This time, the Aghar Jitto mela is being held from 8 to 10 June. The yatar, shhanan (holy bath) of panj peers, immersing of roate and other rituals at river Chenab shall take place on June 4.
In the mela religious songs, dances and dramas by the local and other professional artists are also organised to amuse the visitors. The District Administration also sets up stalls of development activities and welfare schemes. The three days stay during mela at Aghar Jitto certainly offers unique experience of its kind to the pilgrims.
(The author is District Information Officer, Reasi, Ramban)