For nearly a century, the village of Gobardiha in Dang’s Deukhuri Valley has hosted an annual Shivaratri melaa (fair). The melaa has many faces. It is at once a ritual of devotion to Mahadev (the great god), a marketplace for traders from near and far, a venue for theater and dance, a gamblers’ den, even a place to search for love.
According to locals, the melaa began in 1982 BS (1925-26 AD). At the time, a local tax collector named Jokhan Chaudhary had a dream-vision that a Shivalinga was buried in a nearby forest. He went to the spot, unearthed the god, placed it beside his Haveli, and built a temple around it. Jokhan invited villagers from all around to worship at his temple on Shivaratri, and he also hosted a giant feast and theater performance in a nearby orchard. At first, only Tharu people and Yadav cow-herders came (very few hill-caste people settled in the Deukhuri Valley prior to the 1960s, when the government eradicated malaria). Today, the melaa is attended by people of all castes and ethnicities.
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