Shimla: The week-long Mandi shivratri festival got off to a spectacular start Friday with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh leading a procession of presiding deity Raj Madhav from his temple to Paddar Ground, the venue of the festival.
The colourful procession included local deities in decorated palanquins (who are brought to Mandi every year to pay obeisance to the presiding deity), instrumentalist, band squads, devotees, contingents of Himachal Police and Home Guards.
Cabinet ministers Kaul Singh Thakur, Prakash Chaudhary, and Anil Sharma, Chief Parliamentary Secretary Sohan Lal, Chairman of APMC (Mandi) Harinder Sen, Chairman of mandi Nagar Parishad Sushma Shonkhla and other dignitaries also participated in the procession.
Addressing a mammoth gathering, Singh announced a 10 per cent hike in the `nazarana` (honorariums) offered to the local deities and the `bhajantris`, traditional folk musicians.
He also announced that a `Sanskriti Bhawan` would be constructed at Mandi for the people accompanying the deities.
The Chief Minister inaugurated an exhibition put up by various state departments, public sector undertakings, self-help groups and commercial organisations.
Later, he also inaugurated `Saras Mela` in which various handicraft and handloom items are being displayed by traders from different states.