The week-long festival of Mahashivratri in this Himachal Pradesh historical town, popularly known as 'Chhoti Kashi', began on Saturday with a congregation of over 200 hill gods and goddesses.
The festivities will culminate on February 28.
The Mandi's Mahashivratri, a centuries-old festival, starts a day later it ends in the rest of the country.
The celebrations date back to 1526 when the town was founded during the rule of Ajbar Sen. He "invited" all local deities to mark the founding of the new town.
"Nearly 200 deities have been invited for Mahashivratri. Principal deity Dev Kamrunag reached a day earlier," Deputy Commissioner Rugved Thakur, the chief organiser of the festival, told IANS.
He said the arrival of the deities is still on and they would stay here till the festival concludes.
Like the week-long Kullu Dussehra festivities, Mandi's Mahashivratri also sees a congregation, in which there are both divine and temporal aspects.
Every year, the festival attracts scores of tourists. Many researchers also come here to study local gods and goddesses that arrive in beautifully decorated palanquins amid sounds of trumpets and drums.
During the first day of the festival, Lord Madho Rai, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the chief deity, leads the procession.
The assembled deities follow him in beautifully decorated palanquins, as per protocol, and assemble at the Bhutnath temple here.
Three such processions, locally called "Jaleb", would be taken out on the opening, middle and concluding days of the festival, organisers said.
Mandi, located on the Chandigarh-Manali national highway, is dotted with more than 80 temples built in typical hill architecture.
The prominent temples are those of Bhutnath, Triloki Nath, Jagannath, Tarna Devi and Jalpa Devi.
The rulers of Mandi were devotees of Lord Shiva.
Legend has it that ruler Sen (1499-1534) saw in his dreams a cow offering milk to an idol of Lord Shiva. His dream became reality because, according to legend, he actually once saw a cow make a milk offering to an idol.
That was when the ruler constructed a temple in 1526 -- the Bhutnath temple -- dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The foundation of Mandi town was laid at the same time, and Sen later shifted his capital here.
The administration has since been inviting deities to the Shivratri festivities here, ever since the rule of princely states came to an end.
The administration also offers an honorarium to the "kardars" (attendants of deities) for participating in the festival.
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