Monday September 16, 2019

Tracing roots of divinity in Himachal Pradesh: An abode of powerful deities

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By Srishti Jaswal

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Everyone knows that Himachal has high mountains and deep valleys, but the startling facts about local Himachali Devi-Devtas (deities) are rarely known to the masses. The Himachali valleys are believed to be home to powerful and majestic souls. It’s believed that these deities can wreak havoc upon everyone as well as reestablish anyone. The people of Himachal worship them with true and unwavering faith.

It’s believed that these divine beings were very powerful rulers of various places in Himachal once upon a time. After their death, their soul, or ‘aatma,’ was transferred into idols which are carried over their ‘Rath,’ or chariots. Each chariot is carried by four men on their shoulders. Many people invite these local deities to their homes to purify or inaugurate various ceremonies.

All over Himachal, many festivals and fairs are organized in which the whole community of Devi-Devtas are respectfully invited. In Mandi, a town in Himachal Pradesh, every year a Shivratri fair is organized in the month of February. It is believed that all these Devi Devtas visit Mandi every year to meet other deities and to celebrate Shivratri.

There is a caucus of deities during the ‘mela,’ also known as ‘jaleb’ in the local language. During the seven day fair of Shivratri, ‘jaleb’ is held on three alternate days. All the important dignitaries are present during ‘jaleb,’ including the DC and sometimes Chief Minister of H.P.

It’s believed that these deities can actually control their ‘Rath.’ If they do not want to visit any place, no matter how much force people exert and try to take them there, they don’t move from their places; if they want to visit some other place than planned, they start exerting force in that direction.

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Many people have witnessed these supernatural powers in ‘Rath’ of these divinities. At times, they bend their ‘Rath’ to bless people. ‘Dev Kamrunaag’ is considered one of the most powerful Devtas. It’s believed that if someone with a true heart wishes and donates a piece of gold in this deity’s lake then his wish will surely be granted.

Locals of Himachal usually worship Lord Kamrunaag for their heir. Another powerful Dev is ‘Prashar Rishi’; it’s believed that he was lord ‘Parshuram’ of Mahabharata. A lake located in the western Himalayas called, ‘Prashar jheel,’ is named after him. There is a small islet in the middle of the lake which revolves and completes a circle of the lake in twelve months.

There are a lot of supernatural phenomena hidden in the hills of Himachal Pradesh which are attributed to these divinities. A lot of research is going on to figure out the significant causes behind these portents. Let’s see what science uncovers.

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Roopkund Bones Study Reveals Mediterranean Migrants in Himalayas

Mediterranean migrants in the Himalayas: Roopkund bones study

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The study involving 28 researchers from institutions in India, the US and Europe revealed that the skeletons belonged to three genetically distinct groups. Pixabay

A study by an international team of scientists has revealed that ancient DNA from mysterious skeletons found in and around Roopkund Lake show there were Mediterranean migrants in Himalayas.

The study involving 28 researchers from institutions in India, the US and Europe revealed that the skeletons belonged to three genetically distinct groups.

The study, published in popular science journal ‘Nature Communications’, covered 38 skeletons found in Roopkund Lake and once thought to have died during a single catastrophic event. However, researchers found that they died in multiple periods separated by at least 1,000 years.

Genome-wide ancient DNA reveals that 23 of the individuals had ancestry that falls within the range of variation of present-day South Asians. A further 14 had ancestry typical of the eastern Mediterranean while one individual was found with Southeast Asian-related ancestry.

According to Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), which was part of the study, it was the first ancient DNA ever reported from India.

Nestled deep in the Himalayan mountains at 5,029 metres above sea level, Roopkund Lake is colloquially referred to as “Skeleton Lake” due to the remains of several hundred ancient humans scattered around its shores.

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Nestled deep in the Himalayan mountains at 5,029 metres above sea level, Roopkund Lake is colloquially referred to as “Skeleton Lake”. Pixabay

“Little was known about the origin of these skeletons, as they have never been subjected to systematic anthropological or archaeological scrutiny, in part due to the disturbed nature of the site, which is frequently affected by rockslides, and which is often visited by local pilgrims and hikers who have manipulated the skeletons and removed many of the artifacts,” says the study.

“There have been multiple proposals to explain the origins of these skeletons. Local folklore describes a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of the mountain goddess, Nanda Devi, undertaken by a king and queen and their many attendants, who “due to their inappropriate, celebratory behaviour” were struck down by the wrath of Nanda Devi. It has also been suggested that these are the remains of an army or group of merchants who were caught in a storm. Finally, it has been suggested that they were the victims of an epidemic.”

The researchers analyzed the remains using a series of bioarcheological analyses, including ancient DNA, stable isotope dietary reconstruction, radiocarbon dating, and osteological analysis.

They obtained genome-wide data from 38 individuals by extracting DNA from powder drilled from long bones, producing next-generation sequencing libraries, and enriching them for approximately 1.2 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from across the genome.

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According to Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), which was part of the study, it was the first ancient DNA ever reported from India. Pixabay

A total of 76 skeletal samples (72 long bones and four teeth) were sampled at the Anthropological Survey of India, Kolkata. Skeletal sampling was performed in dedicated ancient DNA facilities at CCMB in Hyderabad.

A subset of samples were further processed at Harvard Medical School, Boston.

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“We first became aware of the presence of multiple distinct groups at Roopkund after sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of 72 skeletons. While many of the individuals possessed genetic information typical of present-day Indian populations, we also identified a large number of individuals with genetic makeup that would be more typical of populations from West Eurasia (a term used in the study to refer to the cluster of ancestry types common in Europe, the Near East, and Iran)” says Kumarasamy Thangaraj, co-senior author and chief scientist at CCMB.

Dr Kumarasamy and then CCMB director Dr Lalji Singh, who is no more, had initiated the work of sampling the skeletons at ancient DNA lab more than a decade ago. (IANS)