Like other mountainous regions of Uttarakhand, Jaunsar Bawar is also known for its magnificent Himalayan landscape. However, the picturesque valley bound by River Yamuna in the east and River Tons in the west is famous for yet another reason – its unique Mahabharata connection. In the local folklore and customs of the valley, mythic figures from the epic appear frequently. Many people share the belief that Veda Vyasa wrote Mahabharata in a place now known as Vyas Shikhar near Deoban of Jaunsar Bawar.
- Places associated with the epic
It is believed that the Panadavas, the great heroes of Mahabharata, spent their exile in this region. Local people say that the Pandavas, on the run from the wrath of Duryodhana, took shelter in a cave of the village Lakhamandal. Many also claim that the name of the place derived from ‘Laksha’ or lacquer which means that the mythical Lakshagraha (House of Lacquer) of Mahabharata was built here. The ancient Shiva temple complex in Lakhamandal is believed to be constructed by Yudhishthira himself. For the locals, the twin Manav-Danav (Man and Demon) stone sculptures near the main shrine, were representations of the two Pandava brothers – Arjun and Bheema. On the trekking route to Har Ki Doon, there is a Duryodhana Temple at Osla where the local villagers regularly worship the Kaurava king – the enemy of the Pandavas. Even a small village like Netwar proudly boasts a Mahabharata connection. This small mountainous hamlet has a small wooden temple dedicated to another towering figure from the Kaurava camp – the great Karna.
- Mahabharata connection of the local people
Some families from the Jaunsari community, who live on the lower parts of the valley, claim to be direct descendants of the Pandavas. The Bawaris – who live on the snow clad upper regions, similarly, claim a Kaurava lineage. Some legends say that when the Kauravas were defeated in the battle of Kurukshetra, the people in the valley who had been their followers cried so much that Tons River was created from their tears. Another legend has it that it was born out of the tears of Shurpanakha, the demoness from Valmiki’s tales. These claims of Mahabharata bloodlines identify the ethnic people of Jaunsar Bawar as direct descendants of the first Aryans.
- Continuation of age-old traditions and customs
Local hill people of Jaunsar Bawar region, who descended from the mythic clans of Mahabharata, are much different from the average Garhwali and Kumaoni people of Uttarakhand in terms of their living traditions and customs. Many of them can be traced back to the tales of Mahabharata. A perfect example of this would be the practices of polygamy and polyandry. Though modernity has changed much in recent time, both these practices have been quite predominant among the Jaunsari people who trace them back to the tale of Draupadi’s five husbands. Another unique custom practiced by the Jaunsaris is the tradition of bride price. The rituals and festivities of the Jaunsaris and Bawaris often celebrate Pandava or Kaurava figures. The Pandava Nritya is one such popular tribal celebration in Jaunsar Bawar. A festival is also celebrated to honour Duryodhan.