22 Jan, 2020
Renuka ji lake, a Ramsar site, is a relatively small wetland area, located within the Renuka ji wildlife sanctuary in Sirmaur district, Himachal Pradesh. This photo essay explores the various actors who participate in the annual festival conducted within the wetland complex and their role as well as devotion to the wetland.
The usually peaceful lake is host to a vast gathering of people from across Himachal Pradesh owing to its cultural significance.
The religious significance of the wetland is due to the temples of deities Renuka ji and Lord Parshuram on its banks.
As per tradition, the palanquin of Lord Parshuram is brought to Renuka from the ancient temple in Jamu Koti village and it departs after the performance of religious ceremonies, including a dip in the Renuka lake.
The fair marks the reunion of Lord Parshuram with his mother Mata Renuka once a year on the eve of ‘Dashmi’ and the people take a holy dip in the Renuka lake on ‘Prabodhini Ekadashi’. It is considered auspicious for families to visit this festival, especially mother and son.
The pilgrims observe various religious rituals at the lake such as overnight stay on the bank, bathing, religious walk around the lake, making offerings and feeding the fish in the lake.
The 2019 fair from 7-12 November featured exhibition stalls by the state departments, commercial stalls and a dedicated amusement park area for children. The fair also featured live comic shows and daily performances on traditional music and dance by local folk artists.
The religious offerings are made at the Ghats (separate according to gender) in the form of rusk, puffed rice, atta diyas. Devotees also made offerings of dry corn kernels which would eventually be distributed amongst the poor.
The annual fair plays a dual role of combining culture and economy. For many visitors, especially the youth and traders, the event served a socio-economic purpose for trading goods which were not readily available in their villages as well as a source of entertainment. According to many, the 2019 fair saw reduced footfall and was not considered to be as profitable.
Visitors recognised the lake for its spiritual and aesthetic value. For them lack of too many structures around the lake allowed it to maintain its beauty and peaceful appeal. They also identified plastic pollution and lack of sanitation as a threat to the lake.
The Renuka ji wetland provides its guests with a variety of services, like water purification, cultural value and recreation. It is also home to variety of plant and animal life and a source of fresh water. However, arrival and active engagement with a enormous number of guests can put immense pressure on even the best hosts!
Photos and Write-up by
The views expressed in this photo essay are purely those of the author.
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