After two years of Covid lull, thousands flock ancient hill temple to celebrate Ashtami in J-K

Bhaderwah: After two years of lull due to Covid, thousands of devotees thronged the ancient Asht-bhuja’ temple on a hilltop in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda district here on Monday to celebrate ‘Ashtami’, the eighth day of Navratri, officials said.

Ashtami, a prelude to Dussehra, is an important religious symbol of the Nagas here. To mark the festivities, about 20,000 people, largely the Nagas, gathered at the 8,000-feet-high temple which is also known as the temple of Goddess Sheetla at Rehoshra Dhar, they said.

Rehoshra Dhar is devoid of people in a radius of about eight-kilometre due to ice, and its lower reaches host the ancient Naga cult that comes alive during Navratri, especially on Ashtami.

Located on a mountain pass, 43 km away from Bhadarwah town, the temple is believed to have its origins in Mughal emperor Babar’s era.

Navratri, considered the last festival during the harvest season, marks the beginning of autumn. The season is followed by harsh winters here.

The traditional celebrations started early in the morning with the opening of kewaars (doors) of the historic temple and the Nagas sacrificed dozens of sheep to the deity according to their ancient custom, the officials said.

Chief organiser and sarpanch of Sunarthawa Panchayat Rakesh Charak said, “This is the most ancient festival of this area. Due to the pandemic, the festival remained suspended for two years. Navratri is incomplete without paying obeisance to the goddess on Ashtami here at Rehoshra. We are delighted to be here again.”

Pratibha Rajput, a young devotee, said, “Before four months of dull life (winter) during which we mostly remain indoors, this festival not only rejuvenates us but also gives us a chance to meet our relatives and friends. Besides, all our wishes are fulfilled by Rehoshra Mata.”

‘Charri Mubarak’ (holy mace) from Chinta, Shourara, Nalthi, Chirala, Sunarthawa, Atalgarh, Rainda and Dalain reached the temple at 12 pm, after which devotees began celebrating Ashtami with the traditional Dekhu dance.

Volunteers of Chinta village served langar to devotees while the administration had made adequate security arrangements for their safety, the officials said.

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