The Deota is believed to be one of the most powerful gods in these hills. He is the family of the Kotkhai and Khaneti chiefs and also of the Thakur of Karangla. More than 3,000 years ago, when there were no Rajas or Ranas in the country (except perhaps Banasur in Bashahr) the people obeyed the deotas as spiritual lords of the land, while mawannas held parts of the country. The deota Kana was supreme in Kotgarh and Khaneti Shadoch country. As he had only one eye, he was called kana. He delighted in human sacrifice, and every month on the Shankrant day a man or woman was sacrificed to him as a bali. Each family supplied victims by turn.
Legend says that there was a woman who had five daughters, four of whom had in turn been devoured by Kana Deo and the turn of the fifth was fixed for the Shankrant day. A onctemporary god, called Khachli Nag, had his abode in a forest called Jarol, near a pond in Khaneti below Sidhpur (on the road to Kotgarh). The poor woman went to him, complaining that the deota Kana had devoured hundreds of human beings and that her four daughters had already been eaten and the same fate for the fifth was fixed for the Shankrant. She implored the Nag to save her daughter, and he having compassion on her. said that when Kana deo’s men came to take the girl for the bali, she should look towards the Nag and think of him.
The woman returned home, and when on the day fixed Kana deo’s men came for the girl, she did as she had been told. At the same instant a black cloud appeared over the Jarol forest, and spread over the village of Melan and the temple of Kana deo, with lightning and thunder. There was a heavy downpour of rain, the wind howled, and a storm of iron hail and lightning destroyed the temple and the village. Both the temple of Kana and the village of Melan were swept away, but their remains are still to be seen on the spot. They say that large stones joined together by iron nails are found where the temple stood. Images of various shapes are also found in the nala.
Now, there was no other deota in this part of the country, and the people began to wonder how they could live without the help of a god. The custom was that they could hold no fair without a god riding in his rath, so they took counsel together and decided that the Deota Nag of Kachli should be the one god of the country. They chose his abode in the forest and begged him to accept them as his subjects, promising that they would carry him to Melan, build him a new temple, and love frim as their lord, and that on mdd days he should ride in a rath and be carried from place to place and be worshipped as he might please. But the Deota Nag was a pious spirit, his ascetic habits would not permit of pomp and pageantry, so he declined to offer himself as a god of the country, but told the people that he was a hermit and loved solitude, and that if the people were in real earnestin wishing for a god, they should seek one at Kharan (a village in pargana Baghi-Mastgarh, now in Bashahar) where there were three brothers, deotas in a single temple. He advised them to go to Kharan and beg these deotds to agree to be their lords, and promised that he would help them with his influence.
The Kharan Deotas came in their raths for a mela at Dudhbalt (in pargand Jao, now in Kumarsain) and there the Sadoch people proceeded to obtain a deota as king over their country. While the three Kharan brothers were dancing in their rath, the people prayed in their hearts that whichever of them chose to be their god, might make his rath as light as a flower, while the other raths might become too heavy to turn. They vowed in their hearts that the one who accepted their offer should be treated like a king, that his garments should be of silk, his musical instruments of silver, that no sheep or she-goats should be given him, but only he-goats, and that his dominion should be far and wide from Bhaira near the Sutlej to Kupar above Jubbal (the custom still ia that no sheep or she-goat is sacrificed before Chatar-muth deota and no cotton cloth is used)- Their prayer was accepted by the second brother, who was called Chatar-mukh (four-faced); The name of the eldest brother is Jeshar and of the yaungest Ishar. When Chatar-mukh caused his rath to be as light as a lotus flower, eighteen men volunteered to carry it away from the mela, and dancing bore it home on their shoulders.
The Kharan and Jao people, finding that Chatar-mukh was stolen from them by the Shadoch people, pursued them shooting arrows and brandishing dangras. The brave eighteen halted at a maidan behind Jao village, where there was a free fight, in which Kachli Nag mysteriously helped them, and Chatar-mukh by his miraculous power turned the pursuers arrow against their own breasts and their dangras flew at their own heads, until hundreds of headless trunks lay on the maidan, while not one of the Shadochas was killed. The Shadoch people then carried the rath in triumph to Shathl village (in Kotgarh), in the first instance, choosing a place in the middle of the country, so that the god might not be carried off by force by the Kharan and Jao people. Thence the deota was taken to Sakundi Village (in Kotgarh), but the deota did not like to live there and desired the people to build him a temple at Melan, nearly a furlong from the destroyed temple of the deota Kana Deo to the Kotgarh side. This was done gladly by the people and Chatar-mukh began to reside here.
The people say that nearly 150 years ago Chatar-mukh went to Kidar Nath on jatra (pilgrimage), and when returning home he visited Mahasu Deot at Nol, a village in Kiran in Sirm6r (Kiran is now British territory, probably in Dehra Dftn District) as his invited guest. But one of Mahasu’s attendant deotas troubled Chatar-mukh in the temple at Nol and frightened his men so that they could not sleep the whole night. This displeased Chatar-mukh, and he left the temple at daybreak much annoyed at his treatment. He had scarcely gone a few steps, when he saw a man ploughing in a field, and by a miracle made him turn towards the temple and ascend it with his plough and bullocks.
Deota Mahasu asked Chatar-mukh why he manifested such a miracle, and Chatar-mukh answered that it was a return for his last night’s treatment ; that he, as a guest, had halted at the temple for rest at night, but he and his Ioshkar had not been able to close their eyes in sleep the whole night. Chatar-mukh threatened that by his power the man, plough and bullocks should stick for ever to the walls of the temple. Mahasu was dismayed and fell on his knees to beg for pardon.
Chatar-mukh demanded the surrender of Mahasu’s devil attendant, and he was compelled to hand him over. This devil’s name is Shirpal. He was brought as a captive by Ohatar-mukh to Melan, and after a time, when he had assured his master that he would behave well, he was forgiven and made Chatarmukh’s wazir, as he still is, at Melan. Shirpal ministers in the temple and all religious disputes are decided by him ; e.g.> if anyone is outcasted or any other chua case arises, his decision is accepted and men are re-admitted into caste as he decrees (by oracle).
Some other minor deotda also are subordinates to Chatar-mukh, the chief among them being : (1) Benu, (2) Janeru, (3) Khoru, (4) Merelti and (5) Basara. These deos are commonly called his bhors (servants). The people cannot tell us anything about their origin, but they are generally believed to be rakskas, who oppressed the people in this country until Chatar-mukh subdued them and made them his servants. These bhor deos are his attendants and serve as chaukidar at the temple gate.
Benu is said to have come from Bena in Kullu. He was at first a devil. When it is believed that any ghost has appeared in a house or has taken possession of any thing or man, Deo Benu turns him out. Janeru came from Paljara in Bashahar. He, too, is said to be a devil, but Chatar-mukh reformed him. His function is to protect women in pregnancy and childbirth, also cows, etc. For this service he is given a loaf after a birth, Khoru appeared Khoru kiar in Kumarsain. He was
Atul Mehta: originally a devil, and when Raja Mahi Prakash of Sirmor held his court at Khoru and all the hill chiefs attended it, the devil oppressed the people until Chatar-mukh made him captive and appointed him his chauukidar at Melan temple. Merelu came out of a marghat (crematorium). He, too is looked upon as a jamdut or rakshak. He had frightened the people at Sainja in Kotgarh, but was captured and made a chaukidar at Melan.
Basara Deo is said to have come from Bashahr State, and some say that he was a subordinate deo of Basaru Deota at Gaora and troubled his master, so Basaru handed him over to Chatar-mukh ; but others say that Powri, wazir of Bashahar, invoked Chatar-mukh’s aid as he was distressed by the devil Basara, and Shirpal, Chatar-mukh’s wazir, shut Basara up in a tokni. Thus shut up, he was carried to Melan and there released and appointed a chaukidar- The utensil is still kept at Melan. This deo helps Benu Deo in turning out ghosts (bhut, pret, or charel). Basaru Deo was given Mangshu and Shawat villages where only Kolis worship him.
The people of Kirti village in Kotgarh worship Marechh deota. Less than hundred years ago Chatar-mukh deota came to dance in a kirti jubar, and Marechh deota opposed him. Chatar-mukh prevailed and was about to kill him, when Tiru, a Brahman of Kirti village, cut off his own arm and sprinkled the blood upon Chatar-mukh, who retired to avoid the sin of Brdhm-hataya, (murder of a Brahman). Chatar-mukh, feeling himself polluted by a Brahman’s blood, gave Marechh deota the villages of Bhanana, Kirti and Shawat, and then went to bathe at Kedar Nath to get purified.
Every twelfth year Chatar-mukh tours in his dominion, and every descendant of the eighteen men who brought him from Dudhbali accompanies him. They are. called the Nine Kuin and Nine Kashi. Kuin means original people of respectable families, and Kashi means f those who swore/ The Nine Kuin took with them nine men, who swore to help them to carry Chatar-mukh from Dudhbali. When the deota returns from his tour, these eighteen families are each given a vidaigi gift of a pagrari, and all the people respect them.
An annual mela is held at Dudhbali, to which Chatar-mukh goes to meet his two Kharan brothers. A big Diwali mela is also held at Melan every third year. Every year Chatar-mukh goes to the Dhada mela in Kotgarh, and in Sawan he goes on tour in Kheneti State (Shadoch pargana).
‘The old pujaris of Kana deota were killed by lightning or drowned with the deota, and when Chatar-mukh settled at Melan, the Kharan pundits also settled there, and they worship him daily morning and evening. His favourite jatra is to Kedar Nath, and this he performs every 60 or 60 years. He does not approve of the bhunda sacrifice, though his brothers in Kharan hold every twelfth year a bhunda, at which a man is run down a long rope, off which he sometimes falls and is killed. Chatar-mukh goes to see the bhunda at Kharan, but does not allow one at Melan. There is a big fair at Melan every third year. The deota’s image is of brass and silver. When he returns from Kidar Nath, a diapan jag meld is held.
People believe that Chatar-mukh is away from his temple in Magh every year for 15 days, and that he goes to bathe at Kedar Nath with his attendants. They say that the spirits fly to Kedar Nath, and all work is stopped during these days. His bhandar (store house) is also closed, and his deva or gur, through whom he speaks, does not appear in public or perform hingarna. The people believe that Chatar-mukh returns on 15 of Magh, then his temple is opened amid rejoicings.
Some say that there is a place in Bashahar, called Bhandi Bil, where the hill rakshasas and devils assemble every year early in Magh, and Chotar-mukh with other deotas of the hills goes to fight them and returns after fifteen days. The people say that Chatar-mukh has eighteen treasuries hid somewhere in caves in forests, but only three of them are known. The treasures were removed from the temples, when the Gurkhas invaded the country. One contains utensils, another musical instruments, and the third gold and silver images of which it was once robbed. The remaining fifteen are said to be in caves under ground. The deota holds large jagir from the Bashahar, Kumarsain, Kot Khai and Khaneti chiefs.
His chief Kardar are the gur, bhandari, khazanchi, darogha of accounts. Four of them are from Kotgarh, and two from Khaneti. All business is transacted by a panchayat. The deota also holds a jagir from Government worth Rs. 80. Kumarsain has given him a jagir of Rs 11 and Khaneti one of Rs. 22. The three Kharan brother once held certain parganas in jagir, pargana Raik belonging to Jeshar, pargana Jao to Chatar-mukh, ‘and pargana Samat to Ishwar, but they have been resumed. Nearly 150 years ago the Melan temple was accidentally burnt, and when a Sirmur Rani of Bashahar, who was touring in her jagir came to Melan, the deota asked her to build him a new temple. She asked him to vouchsafe her a miracle, and it is said that his rath moved itself to her tent without human aid, so she then built the present temple at Melan, some 30 years before the Gurkha invasion. The devotees of other Deotas jest at Chatar-mukh’s powers.
Till nearly seven generations ago the Ranas of Kotkhai lived there and then transferred their residence to Kotgarh. When at Kotgarh, the tikka of one of the Ranas fell seriously ill and the people prayed Chatar-mukh to restore him. Chatar-mukh declared he would do so, but even as her gur was saying that the tikka would soon recover, news of his death was announced. Thereupon one Jhingri killed the gur with his dangra, but the Rana, was displeased with him, and the family of the murderer is still refused admission to the palace. Some say that the blow of the dangra was not fatal and that the gur was carried by a koli of Batari to Khaneti where he recovered.
Chatar-mukh has given the Khaneti men the privilege of carrying him in front, when riding in his rath, while the Kotgarh men hold it behind, Another mark of honour is that when Chatar-mukh sits, his face is always placed towards Khaneti. He is placed in the same position at his temple.
Chatar-mukh does not like ghosts to enter his dominion, and when any complaint is made of such an entry, he himself with his bhors visits the place and captures the ghost. If the ghost enters any article, such as an utensil, etc., it is confiscated and brought to his temple.
Chatar-mukh is a disciple of Khachri Nag, who has the dignity of his guru or spiritual master. Kepu deota at Kepu in Kotgarh is a mahadeo and Chatar-mukh considers him as his second gurti. Dum deota at Pamlai in Kotgarh, a derivative of Dum of Gathan in Keonthal, is considered subordinate to Chatar-mukh and has a separate temple at a distance. Marechh Deota of Kirti and Mahadeo of Kepfi can accept a cloth spread over the dead, but Chatarmukh and Purn cannot do so.
What became of Kana deota after the deluge at Melan can not be ascertained, but a story believed by some is that he took shelter in a small cistern in Sawari Khad. A woman long after a deluge tried to measure the depth of the cistern with a stick and Kana Deo’s image stuck to it, so she carried it to her house and when his presence was known, Chatur-mukh shut him up in a house at Batari village. Some say that the woman kept the image of Kana in a box, and when she opened it, she was surprised by the snakes and wasps that came out of it. The box was then buried for ever.
Photo and written by: Abhinav Jaret