Garwhal Mahabharata and worship of Duryodhana
In 1970s, aptly named William Sax got a scholarship to study Pandava legends in the hills and dales of Garhwal. In 1978, he returned with a great book on the Pandava leela (a nine day festival celebrated in Garwhal hills), bitten by the bug, he returned again and again gathering more folktales and added chapters to his book. Another chapter came in 1986, another in 1990, another in 1995 and yet another in 1997 as his frequent excursions across the not so beaten path took him to all villages of the region yielding a treasure trove of stories. I am sure he has added more chapters since 2002.
Pandava Leela is the series of stories played over nine days and nights across the garwhal with local variations. In the Garwhal mahabharata, Yudhishthir asked for Five villages and was refused. When they defeated the Kauravas, Yudhishthira gave five villages to surviving Kaurava warriors, one each for Duryodhana with broken thighs, Karna, Bhurishrwa the tunda thakur, Drona and Ashwathhama.
The garwhal brahmins mention their deaths recorded in lowland versions as examples of evil men err blackening Krishna. Anyway, these five villages which Yudhishthira gave are deep in the mountains and are surrounded by 12 villages which were assigned to Virupaksha as per the legend, the jailor for the five. He is a son of Somadatta who was on Pandava side. These five villages in Garwhal claim that the terms were that each village can only send people downhill every year after defeating all twelve villages in competition of skill and strength and hence were always prevented from going down and trading for salt. That way, the defeated Kaurava warriors were effectively imprisoned for life. Over time, the defeated kaurava warriors became the local gods as did Virupaksha,
“HUM Pandveoin ke zamane ke jailor hain!”
Bhurishrwa, Drona and Aswathhama eventually gave up their villages to Karna who is worshiped as God in the four villages, in one he has no hands, which is probably Bhurishrwa’s village originally. Every year the Karna villages still have the competition with Virupaksha villages. But with something called democracy and over population before that, the four villages now do trade with low lands on more regular basis, the annual competition festival now is still celebrated, they sometimes play cricket matches.
The fifth village worships Duryodhana. The priest does all the rituals mimicking the thigh injury deliberately moving as if he had broken thigh. The puja (worship) is done as was done thousands of years ago according to locals.At least till 1980s when William Sax visited the village and first recorded the Duryodhana pooja. Unfortunately the villagers decided to pool some resources and send one of young men from the village for study in far off magical place called Dehradun. That young man studied hard and like most of his country men switched to Doordarshan and watched the creation of B R Chopra on the magical box and slowly saw his GOD die inside him. Returning back home, he told the village elders that err the God in the temple is/are not really liked across the India (even when he played superman!).
In 1995, William Sax returned to that village. The priest does the same rituals, limping away but on being asked by tourists, they say the name of their god is Soma Sekhar not Duryodhan anymore.
William Sax literally recorded the folk legend transition in his lifetime a phenomena which few sociologists see outside the Papua New Gunieaand Amazonia.
Pranshu B Saxena