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Golu Devta

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Illustration: Embroidery by Jaya V Chala

FOLK TALES OF KUMAON

Golu Devta is amongst the most revered deities of Kumaon. He is regarded as the ‘God of Justice’ who fulfills all the desires of his worshippers. The story of Golu Devta has its roots in folklore and is veiled in obscurity. He is said to be a generous and idealistic King of the Middle Ages who came to command the status of God.

By Anjali Nauriyal

The story of Golu Devta is seeped in folklore and is believed to have originated in the 10th century A.D. He is said to be the son of Katyuri King Jhalrai, who ruled over Champawat.

Oral narratives relating to the life of Golu Devta have travelled from one century to the other, and several versions have emerged.  The details are veiled in mystery and enigmatical but the central thread of the narrative has been handed down to us and is currently part of our valuable heritage.

It is believed that King Jhalrai was childless though he had as many as seven wives. He did everything under the Sun to placate the Gods, travelled to holy lands, gave alms, sought the blessings of religious men, consulted soothsayers, and delighted in philanthropy.

Golu Devta Mandir, Almora.

Still no result accrued, and so one day he sent for the astrologers and pandits. They, studying his horoscope recommended that he should marry for the eighth time if he wished for an offspring.

He prayed to his family deity, Gaur Bhairav to bless him with a child. Touched by his ardour and dedication Gaur Bhairav blessed him profusely and one day appeared before him and assured him that he himself would be born as his son. However, his birth would be from his eighth queen and not any of his previous queens. She would bring him luck and give him his heir.  This son would possess Godlike qualities.

That very same night he had a dream, wherein he saw a beautiful damsel named Kalinka, seated atop Neelkanth peak.

Captured by her beauty King Jhalrai became desperate to meet her. He summoned his inner circle of courtiers and commanded them to accompany him to the holy land. He then dressed himself in royal finery and travelling through forests and vales reached Neelkanth. There he searched all over for the maiden who had captivated him.  He wandered forever without any result, but was not willing to give up his search.

One day during his search in the middle of a dense forest, he reached a pond. There he saw a woman sitting in deep meditation. She was lost to her surroundings and with closed eyes looked ethereal. Without disturbing her he began taking water from the pond to drink. At this the ravishing maiden opened her eyes and stopped him. “This pond belongs to me. You cannot draw its water without my permission, “ she stated.

The King then revealed his identity to her, “I am the ruler of this Kingdom and it is strange that I cannot drink this water? But pray who are you?”

“I am Kalinka, sister of the Panchanam deities. How can I ascertain that you are the real King?”

King Jhalrai could not believe his luck. The woman he was so desperately seeking was sitting in front of him. “Goddess, please tell me how I can establish my real identity,” he asked.

“There are two bulls fighting right there in front of us. They are hefty and powerful. If you can separate the two, I will believe you are King Jhalrai.”

King Jhalrai tried his level best to tear apart the fighting bulls. He tried with all his might, but was unsuccessful. Kalinka then got up herself and in one movement easily separated the fighting animals.

This act of hers greatly impressed King Jhalrai and he expressed his desire to marry her.

She readily agreed, but said that he will have to take the permission of the Panchanam Gods who were her guardians.

The Panchanam Gods were well acquainted with his power and potential and readily granted permission.

And so the two were married without delay and Kalinka became King Jhalrai’s eighth wife.

The seven queens detested the proximity and affection between the newly weds. They became extremely jealous of their husband’s new wife, but were helpless.

Time passed and soon Kalinka was filled with pride. This further aroused the jealousy of the seven queens. They began thinking that after the child is born the king will be further alienated from them. Therefore they hatched a plan; to somehow kill the baby in Kalinka’s womb. They approached the King and convinced him that for the safety of both the would be mother and child,  no outsider could be entrusted with the task of delivering the baby, and so the seven of them would act as nurses.

The unsuspecting king agreed to their proposal.

On the day the child was expected, the seven queens entered Kalinka’s chamber and shut the door from inside. Convincing her that she should be blindfolded lest the process of childbirth and blood make her faint. The seven queens then attempted to kill the baby in the womb. But the baby survived and the eighth queen gave birth to a baby boy.

When the seven queens could not annihilate the baby, they had no qualms in throwing it into a cowshed so that the animals trample upon it.

Then placing a blood-smeared grindstone in Kalinka’s lap they screamed, “Look this is what you have produced.”

The baby remained surrounded by animals in the cowshed for considerable time, but the animals caused him no harm. It did not receive even a scratch. The seven queens then threw it in a bed full of scorpions, and still the baby remained safe miraculously.

Having failed in their gruesome attempts, the seven queens then placed the child inside an iron chest, locked it and slid it stealthily into River Kali.

The chest glided in the river for several days and nights, while the child inside, deprived of air, water, and light, became faint with hunger.

The chest continued its journey and reached Gorighat. In Gorighat, a fisherman was catching fish when he felt that a big fish had got stuck in his net. He quickly started pulling the net and discovered that it was actually a chest.

The chest reached the fisherman. Without wasting any time, the fisherman opened the box and found a beautiful baby boy lying inside. Astonished by this incident, the fisherman immediately called his wife, who was also stunned to see the divine child.

The fisherman and his wife were childless, and upon seeing the baby, both felt a strong desire to raise him as their own. They considered him as a divine blessing and brought the child home. As soon as the fisherman’s wife held the child against her chest, she noticed that her breasts started producing milk.

Husband and wife were flabbergasted by this miracle and considered it as God’s design. After some time, the child was named “Goriya” or “Golu” as he was found near Gorighat.

The arrival of the child filled the fisherman’s house with bliss, and all their hardship and misery started turning into benefit and blessing. In fact, the entire village became a wonderland, and everyone started considering the child as an incarnation of God.

People were unaware of the truth about the child, so they wondered how a miraculous child could be born in the humble home of a poor fisherman. The child’s complexion was as white as milk, and his face was radiant like that of a prince from some kingdom. They did not know that the child was the son of a royal couple. Infact he was the prince of the kingdom.

The child started having dreams. As time went by, the child grew older. One day, the child had a dream about his birth and his parents, how his stepmothers had locked him in a trunk and set him afloat in the river.

When the child told the fisherman about his dreams, the fisherman, fearing separation from the child, claimed they were his actual parents. The child, now aware of his divine Gaur-Bhairav incarnation and his powers, insisted that the fisherman bring him a horse.

The fisherman was unable to provide a real horse to the child, so he called a carpenter and had a horse made of wood for the child. Golu (the child) was delighted with the wooden horse and started riding it and playing with it every day.

One day, he set off towards the capital with his wooden horse. Near the capital, there was a pond where the king’s seven queens used to come for bathing. Approaching the queens, the boy started offering water to his wooden horse.

The attention of the seven queens turned towards the boy, and they said, “Hey boy, you are giving water to your wooden horse. Can a wooden horse possibly drink water?” They started laughing at the boy.

The boy immediately replied to the queens and said, “When Queen Kalinka in this kingdom can give birth to a grindstone, then my wooden horse too can drink water.”

As soon as the boy uttered those words, the seven queens were disconcerted. This information somehow reached King Jhalrai, so he called the boy to his presence and asked him how he could give water to a wooden horse.

The boy repeated his words in front of the king and told him everything about his past. He described how the seven queens had tortured his mother Kalinka and attempted to kill him; how they had put him in a chest and thrown him into River Ganga. Along with that, the boy also told the king about the blessings he had received from Lord Bhairav, which only the king knew.

After hearing the boy’s complete story, the king became sorrowful. He embraced the boy and accepted him as his son, and ordered the seven queens to be put behind bars.

However, Golu, inherently being the deity of justice, asked his father to pardon the seven queens.

Consenting to his request, the king released the seven queens from prison. After his father, Golu took charge of the kingdom. Due to his right decisions and immediate delivery of justice to the people, he began to be called the deity of justice.

(Dr Anjali Nauriyal, veteran journalist, author, actor and social worker is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI)