For a month and a half, only nature is speaking in nine villages located on the outskirts of Himachal Pradesh’s picturesque resort Manali, currently wrapped in a blanket of snow, with no ear for music or any sort of noise.
The locals, who grow prized apples, pears and plums with traditional agriculture practices, besides raising livestock, are religiously observing pin-drop silence for decades with no tiling of land or any other agricultural work that makes noise.
Even the ringtone of cellphones of villagers are in silent mode, no loud conversations and viewing of television programmes or even the tune of musical notes is barred.
The reason: the deities are meditating; their noise will disturb them, incurring wrath.
“These days we are maintaining total silence. We are not doing any work in the fields and our television sets are switched off for 38 days,” Sham Chand, a resident of Goshal village, told IANS on Sunday.
The silence begins every year on Makar Sankranti (January 14) and continues till the end of the month of Magh. This year it will end on February 24.
Even at home the villagers are not communicating with one another in high pitch volume to avoid sin, he said, adding “We believe the deities are deciding the fate of the world in heaven and maintaining silence is must for them.”
This practice has been following religiously in Goshal, Shanag, Breta, Kulang, Majhach, Palchan, Kothi, Burwa and Solang, known for its ski slopes, villages, all located on the banks of the glacial-fed Beas river in the Ujhi Valley of Kullu district.
The population of these nine villages in Kullu district, some 250 km from the state capital, is less than 10,000.
Legend has it that the chief deity, Gautam Rishi, meditated where the centuries-old temple, exemplifying typical hill architecture, situated in Goshal that is home 1,200 people.
The belief: deities Rishi Gautam, Rishi Vyas and Kanchan Nag are attending the annual assembly in heaven and a little noise can disturb them.
Local priest Chaman Lal told IANS that every winter on Makar Sankranti the temple closes down.
“We sealed the doors of the temple on Makar Sankranti. No religious ceremony would be performed till the deities return from their winter sojourn,” he said, adding “the deities will return to earth on Fagli (February 24) when the doors of the temple will be opened.”
In line with tradition, the Gautam Rishi temple is closed after spreading earth inside and planting a seed in a pot full of soil kept close to the idol. Locals believe that if a flower has surfaced on the soil when the temple reopens, it is an augury of happiness for villagers in the coming year.
Instead, the appearance of charcoal signifies that the village is in store for some fire-related tragedy. Grain indicates a good harvest.
When the temple is reopened, amidst the sounding of trumpets and beating of drums, the priest makes a prediction on the basis of the sacred mud spread inside the temple.
Till the deities return to earth, no ceremony in a family will be solemnized in these villages.
Upset over a lost faith, octogenarian Subhash Thakur said modernism has swayed away even village youngsters. “Most of the youth are not caring for customary rituals. Except Goshal, most of the youngsters in the other eight villages are less religious than the older ones, not a healthy practice to pass on the good traditions of our forefathers.”
The picturesque Kullu Valley is famous for its ancient shamanistic traditions that govern the lives of the ethnic communities. As per a study conducted, there are the 534 gods and goddesses in the Kullu Valley who are said to be “alive”.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)