Himachal Pradesh – Fairs
Fair & Festival
India is a land of myriad festivals, in rhythm with the cycle of the seasons, with sowings and harvesting. and around them have grown legends, most depicting the victory of good over evil. These fairs and festivals lend color and gaiety to life and Indian calendar is marked by plethora of such big and small occasions. Some festivals are of religious nature, others are related more to, change of season and harvesting. They have a long past and many have undergone major modifications. Though the enthusiasm for some also seems to be fading, nevertheless they do bring about a change in the lifestyle of the people. Some festivals and fasts are religion specific protocols aiming towards communication with the divine. The liveliness of the people is reflected in the colorful vibrancy of the fairs and festivals. Processions, prayers, new attires, dance, music etc. are elements related to any such celebration.
The Puri-Rath Yatra, Allahabad-Kumbha, Alleppey-Boat Race, Pushkar-Camel Fair, Goa-Carnival so on and so forth all reflect the diversity of the land and its people but common emotion of revived vigour, joy and sharing.
Vasant beckons spring. Scattered amongst the ripening wheat are the bright yellow flowers of mustard. Tender blossoms appear on the mango tree and ‘song is bestowed upon the bird’. On that day everyone wears a special shade of yellow. The festival is dedicated to Saraswati, goddess of learning and the arts.
After about two months comes Holi, the very end of our cool season. It is a festival of colour, truly democratic and egalitarian. All barriers are down, all inhibitions shed. Boys and girls, men and women of all ages, all castes, and all classes participate. None is high and none is low. Anyhow, when a person is plastered with colour he is not easy to identify. On the eve of Holi bonfires are lit and Holi itself is celebrated by the throwing of colour, by gaiety and noise, one could even say, by wild abandon. In time the festival has also become associated with the ‘Lila’ of Radha and Krishna and has inspired some of our most sensuous poetry.
The people in Himachal love Festivals, and participate in all the local festivals and fairs with great enthusiasm. All the bleak details of their otherwise poverty ridden lives,handicapped by the terrain and its geographical isolation, are forgotten as they proceed, singing and dancing with great abandon, to take part in these community festivities.
As in most agricultural communities, most of the fairs and festivals here are connected with the various seasonal changes. Springtime brings the joyous festival of holi when the valleys and houses welcome the new season with drum beats and songs. The beginning of hindu new year in the month of Chaitra brings with it the Navratri festival and the Jatras in honour of the goddess Bhagwati; and as the Rabi (wheat) crop gets ready for harvesting, comes the Baishakhi (Basoa) festival of the farmers.
There are many folklores connected with the beginning of each festival-some link them with the gods and others with the changing seasons. These fairs offer a clear glimpse into the lives, the beliefs, and the popular customs of the rural life in Himachal. The fairgrounds are dotted with tiny shops crowed with the rural folk in all their ceremonial finery and the women bedecked with jewellery. The folk art forms are much in evidence here. Each district has its own sequence of animal fairs which are intimately connected with the historical and sociological background of that area.
The people of Himachal follow the Vikrami era which begins in the month of Chaitra. With the start of the new year, the Navratri fairs begin in temples of Kangra, Jwalamukhi, Nainadevi and Chamunda Nandikeshwar. Jatroos (pilgrims) throng in large numbers to each of these and till Dashami (the tenth day of month) the fair grounds are crowed. At these brisk sales there are woolen shawls and sheets, bamboo and other handicraft goods. The pilgrims chant prayers and songs in praise of the goddess, come to the temples, bow at the feet of the deity wit their gifts, and accept the Prasad Faithfully each season. Very often sacred rituals connected with infants and children, like the first shaving of the head, the sacred thread ceremony etc. are also performed within the temple premises during this season. Some devotees go to the extent of chopping of their tongues as an offering to the goddess. There are references to human sacrifices having been made at the jwalamukhi temple like that of the famous devotee Dhyanoo Bhagat. Similar fairs are held in three temples in the monsoon months of Sravan and Bhadon . smaller local fairs in honour of local deities are known as chhinje. The chief attraction of these are the wrestling matches.
The fairs present a riot of color and rural entertainment from little shops selling glass bangles, ribbons, costume jewellery and articles of feminine toilette to ferris wheels and magic shows. All this with the pretty gaddi women in their traditional finery giggling and fluttering around the little shops, buying bangles and getting themselves tattoed, presents a picture of breath taking loveliness
In Baishakhi the sooi Jataras take place at the temple of Naina Devi. These last for five days and people, especially the Gaddis, returning to their hill home, participate in these in large numbers. The ‘Dangi’ dance is the one of the major attractions of this fair. The women at the fair sing songs about the exemplary life and sacrifices of the Naina Devi and offer ritual pooja with beautifully arranged platters at the spot where the goddess had sacrificed her life so gallantly.
Another beautiful fair takes place on the bank of the Rivalsar lake on the Baisakhi day. According to a traditional tale, the rishi Lomesh had offered his prayer at this spot to lord Shiva, the fair is held in memory of the rishi. The village folk who come to the fair take a dip in the lake which is considered as holy as the river Ganges. One of the chief features of the fair is the swimming match organized on the occasion. As they return, the devotees unfailingly carry home the roots and leaves of the medicinal herb called ‘Barain’. In Rivalsar, on the first day of the monsoon months of Ashadh a fair, known as ‘Nahauli’ takes place. This is a fair for merchants, folk dances and gods and goddess. Mandi also has an old tradition of fairs. Similarly throughout the whole of Kinnaur fairs (known as Rasa Kayang) take place on the Baisakhi day
Chhetsu is yet another popular fair in the valley. The tale about the fair is often told which links it to a ruler of ancient Tibet by the name of Lang Darma. This king was staunchly opposed to Budhism, and the people in his kingdom finally got rid of his oppressive reign by organizing a ritual dance of the demons during the course of which the cruel king was murdered. Many dances are performed this this day to re-invoke the original one in which people dance in loose robes and masks on their faces. This is known as the Assur dance (the dance of the Devil). The other annual tibeatan fair takes place in the month of july in a village called Kibbar. In this, merchants from Ladakh, Bushahan and Lahaul-Spiti come with their merchandise and the local produce is exchanged following an old system.
In the monsoon months when the sky is over cast with dark clouds, and the trees and hillsides are green, the fairs of Haryali (greenery) take place at Nag Nagpi, Shibbon Da Than and Piron-Vironka Than. Usually these small fairs take place on Saturdays and commemorate the sacrifices of local heros Sukrat and Binchi. On the third Sunday in the month of Shravan, the MInjar fair, begins in Chamba, on the banks of the river Ravi. Many folk tales are told about the inception of this fair. It is said that it was first stated by king Shail Varma. People from Pangi, Chamba, Churah and Bharmaur areas go to this fair dressed in all their traditional finery, where they enjoy the folk dances and the sacred processions of the chariots of gods and goddess. On the last day of fair, people offer coconuts, fruits, money and gold Minjars (ears of corn) to the deites of the river, and a buffalo is pushed into the river as a sacrifice to Varuna, the God of waters. It is believed that if the buffalo survives, it means that the god has refused the gift, and his wrath will bring bad luck. To prevent this, therefore, the people used to keep-pushing the buffalo into deeper waters with long poles till he is drowned. This custom is obsolete now
In the September, in the Bhadravah valley, the sacred fair of ‘Pata’ takes place. It is celebrated for three dayson the lavish scale. It is a fair of young girls and is connected with king Nagpal who ruled in the area during the reign of the Moghul emperor Akbar. The chief attractions of this fair are the various pageants of Kudda dancers. During the same period the Jataras of Chhatrahadi Mata and mani Mahesh (Bharmour) also take place. During these, people from various parts of the state go on foot on long pilgrimages to the temples of various gods and conclude with a dip in the holy lakes at Bharmour or Mani Mahesh. In local language they are known as Dalli Da Nhaun (the bath of the Dal). Another fair for women takes place on the banks of the Dal lake where women come singing folksongs. Among the trade fairs in Himachal, the ‘Lavi’ fair is important. This takes place in Rampur between the 11th to the 13th of November. It has a long tradition. The word lavi means wool. Traditionally woolen garments and articles of daily use are sold in this. This encourages the cottage industries in the area. Dry fruits such as pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and spices are also sold here along with horses and mules. Tibetan tradres also participate in this. Costumes of Mahasu and folk dances, including the ‘Mal; dance can be seen in all their glory in this fair.
The Nalbari fair at Bilaspur, and the Bhakhashah fair at Kangra are another major trade fairs. These are largely cattle fairs where the Punjabis and the hill-folk buy domestic cattle.
Among the semi-historical pauranic fairs, at Renuka fair at Sarmaur is famous. It is said to be in the memory of Renuka, the mother of the Brahmin warrior Parashuram. This fair takes place on the banks of the Renuka lake which is the largest lake in Himachal and has a circumference of some two to four kilometers. It is surrounded on all sides with thick forest which add to its beauty. This fair takes place on the eleventh day after Diwali. A large procession sets the fair going. People carry a silver statue of Parashurama upon their shoulders, in a palanquin, and loudly call out Jai (victory) for Parashurama and his mother Renuka. Sometimes the state government also puts special stalls here. The fair lasts for fifteen days and it is believed that Parashurama comes to meet his mother during this period
Himachal is a land of the Shaivites (devotee of Shiva) and Shaktas (devotees of goddess Shakti). On the Shivaratri day many fairs take place. Among these the Shiva fair at Mandi is well known. It is connected with an old ruler Abarsen who dreamt of an Linagam lying buried under the earth, and upon waking up found it to be so. He took it out and built the Bhoot Nath temple around it, and started the tradition of Shivaratri fair. In this fair one hundred and ten gods from Mandi visit the city, and each one of them is greeted according to his rank and status. The Karu Nag is prominent among these. He is represented only by his stick where as the other gods are present as statues. These gods two goddess enter the city a day before Shivaratri with a band of people playing on various musical instruments. The terms of folk dances in tight fitting Pyjamas, white voluminous top coats (jhaggi), black upturned hats with the Malana Kalagi-holding a handkerchief in their hands, persent a beautiful sight. The Shiva temples on this day are packed with devotees.
Fairs in the kullu valley follow their own patterns, some of which point at local customs and influences. All these fairs begin at a place called peepal yatra which at one time may have had a sacred Peepal tree and now has a little brick mound. This fair is also known as Raja Ka Mela, and is largely an industrial fair also frequented by people across the Rohtang pass.
Among the fairs connected with local deities, the Kahika fair of the kullu valley is an important one. This is celebrated for three days and there are a lot of interesting folk tales in the area connected with it. It is said, that there was a character known as ‘Nada’ who defied the Brahmanical priests and gods and evolved along with his wife their own sacrificial Yagnas to placate the local deities. People, in the area hold the ‘Nada’ couple in high esteem and perform a ritual enactment of the death and resurrection of the husband.
The Dussera festival in the kullu valley is internationally famous now. A host of local deities from surrounding areas are brought here during this fair to participate in the ritual procession of Shri Raghunath (Sri Ram). Thousands of devotees come to the fair and there are brisk sales of local produce, consisting of the woolen shawls, caps and several other articles. The Himachal government has declared it to be a state festival, and it helps organize the fair and co-ordinate the various events, the most famous among them being an international dance festival.
In the monsoon month of Bhadrapada comes the festival of flower-watching (Ukhyang) in the Kinnaur valley. Also known as Fulaich, it is a festival that commemorates the dead. But it is not an occasion to weep and wail. The fair opens with animal sacrifices and soon the entire village collects on a hill top and looks for the ‘Ladra’ flower. People serve rice wine (Chhang) and food to the shepherds and lay out the favorite articles of the dear departed ones, on a mound of bricks. These are later distributed to the poor, and the Harijans in the village. Afterwards the people of the village reassemble at the house of the ‘Dhangaspa’ family and garland all the family members of the clan. The villagers also welcome the team that had gone up the hills to look for flowers. Sacrifices are made into wood nymphs and at many places dancers perform ritual dances with ancient weapons. Often the people get drunk and abuse deliberately. It is believed that bad words will chase away the evil nymphs.
On the fourth day of the bright fortnight in the same month, comes the fair of Mela-Jagra-to celebrate the birthday of lord Mahasu-the popular deity of Shimls, Sirmaur and Jaunsar areas. This fairs takes place at night and the next day a man chosen by the deity, sleeps at the temple and acts as the caretaker who observes a fast the whole day and eats only after he has performed the ‘Puja’ unto the deity. Some symbolic object from the temple is taken to a water tank and bathed their and people who accompany it, are sprinkled with the water from the ritual wash. When the party returns to the forest, a community feast is prepared with articles procured from each house in the village. In the evening a huge bonfire it lit, known as ‘cheeda’- the Cheeda is the symbol of the birthday celebrations. The priest from the temple comes and performs Puja to it and people line the path with burning torches.
In the month of September the Minghal fair takes place in the Pangi valley. Thousands of devotees from far off villagers traverse along mountain ridges and rivers and mountain passes to come to this. Tales connected with the valiant deeds of the goddess Bhagwati are recited on the occasion and the temple of the goddess is specially decorated this day. It is believed that on this day the powers of the goddess enter the body of one of her devotees, who runs into the forest, chops down a huge tree and brings back the enormous tree trunk on his back. When the Arti is performed in the temple, several goats are sacrificed. People stay up the whole night and dance their folk dances within the temple primise. As prophesied by the goddess Minghal Devi ages ago, people plough the soil in the valley with a single bullock and young and old in each family in the village still sleep on the ground. No beds are used anywhere in the village.
An annual fair of the Sikhs at Panvata sahib takes place each year on the 27th of march. It is a historical fair to which people come from all parts of the state. A grand procession of the holy book Guru Granth Sahib is taken out on this occasion. The changing of the flag (Nishan Sahib) and the colorful bazaar that crops up at the site, are the other chief attractions of this fair.
The Holi melas at palampur Ghughar, paprola, Baijnath, Jaisinghpur and Sujanpur also have an attraction of their own. The Holi festival of Sujanpur traces its colorful history back to the glorious days of King Sansar Chand. It is said that the king and his family used to come out at the Chaugan on this occasion, to play holi with the subjects. This fair has also been declared as a state festival by the Himachal government. The fair lasts for five days, during which various processions of deities are taken out, folk dances and traditional folk threatre forms are also presented. Clay pots are also sold and the entire valley seems to reverberate with the joyous sounds of the traditional Holi songs.
Some of national festivals celebrated in the state are the Himachal Day, the Republic day, the Independence Day and the Himachal Re-unification day, when in addition to the processions and tableaux, poetry readings and drama festivals are also organized by the state government
Festivals have an important place in the lives of the people in Himachal. On a festival day the farmers do not work in the fields and rich and poor alike celebrate these to the best fo their financial abilities. It there has been a death in the family on the day of the festivals, the festival is not celebrated by the other members, till a birth occurs around about the same time. The Sikh festivals are celebrated largely in the cities and the festivals in areas bordering Haryana and Punjab show the cultural influence of the neighbouring states. The tribal festivals have their own identity which is totally different from the festival celebrated elsewhere. Some of these festivals are:
According to the Vikrami calendar, the new year begins in the month of Chaitra. The first day of this month (Chaitra Sankranti) is therefore considered very important and is celebrated all over the state. Barring the tribal areas the people belonging to the Harijan caste (Dom) go from door to door in the village and sing the names of the month and other songs known as Dhoru. It is considered auspicious to hear them utter the names of the months in the year. Two colourful festivals are celebrated during this month. One is Navratri and the other is Ralli Pooja. In some corner of the house which faces east a plant is covered with soil and sown with barley seeds, coconut, symbolizing the goddess Bhagwati is also placed near it. For nine days the ritual ‘pooja’ is performed there and on the tenth day (Dashami) the barley shoots are distributed all over the village. These shoots are known as Riholi and they are said to symbolic the goddess Durga Bhagwati. Durga is the chief deity in the area, and is supposed to protect the people from illness and mental sorrows. People go on pilgrimage to temples of the goddess and cook special delicacies. Among the higher castes special prayers to the goddess (Durga-Path) are recited.
Ralli Pooja is another colourful festival. In this, the young unmarried girls in the village make little statues of the lord Shiva and his wife Parvati and place these on a plank and offer prayers to it throughout the month of Chaitra. The entire ritual is strange and beautiful. All the young unmarried girls first collect early in the morning in the house where Ralli is going to be worshipped and afterwards they go to the local lake singing songs. There they bathe and fill small metal pots with water and come home and bathe the deities with this and offer them flowers. At the end of the month a ritual wedding between Ralli and Lord Shiva is enacted. On the Baisakhi day Ralli is brought out ceremoniously in a palanquin and taken to a river bank. There she is immersed in the eaters and as it is being done the girls cry and weep as though one of them is leaving for the husband’s house. On the day of the wedding, people are invited for Bhat as is done in weddings, and the girls pray to the goddess to bless them with a husband as good as her won.
Chaitraul is a popular festival of the Sirmaur area. It is celebrated in the month of Chaitra on a certain day in the bright fortnight of the moon. On this day the walls in the house are cleared, painted and decorated with figures of male animals and crops symbolizing plenty. It is also known as the festivals of pictures. The Harijan are fed and the family deities are taken out into the fields where the people cook a special delicacy known as Poltu. Sometimes people place the deity in the middle of the fields and cook a special savoury gruel as offering. As they are driven back, the wheel of the chariots of the gods are brushed with throny twigs. At some places clay pots are broken to chase away evil spirits.
Some other features of this festival are indicative of primitive customs. One such custom is ‘Khore’ which is said to symbolize the compromise between the gods and the demons (like Aryans and the non-Aryans). In this a man from a specific family dresses up in special robes and puts on a demon mask, cloth phallus is hung near his neck and a cloth vagina below his waist. The young men in the village bring a phallus-shaped stick from their homes, known as Chaitral – Shid, and tickle the ‘khone’ uttering obscene remarks. This continues throughout the night. Obscene jokes are also cracked with women, but no one minds it. At the end of the night the Khore returns to the temple, having first gone around the village with drummers.
Basoa or Bishu:
On the first day of the month of Baisakh of the aboriginals and the farming folk celebrate the Basoa festival. Three day before the festival, people make little cakes with Kodra flour and wrap them up in leaves. After three days the cakes ferment, then on the morning of the festival people invite the married daughters and other relatives and break and eat theses cakes with honey and sweet water flavoured with jaggery. There is a ritual song sung on this occasion which runs somewhat like this – “Mother, the Basoa festival has come with great difficulty. Send a message through my brother. Darling daughter, your brother is a minor still. You must come, and leave on your own.
In Chamba some Jataras take place in memory of queen ‘Sui’. People to Chmba, Pangi, Bharmaur, Churah and Bhatiyat areas, dress up in their traditional costumes and participate in these Jataras. Chamba city is filled on the occasion with the sounds of music and dancing. The sad songs about the queen ‘Sui’ revive old memories in the hearts of the people.
In Kinnaur this festival is known as Bishu. Each village there celebrates it with minor local variations people cook a savoury gruel known as Doon, on this day and eat it together. In villages which do not celebrate Chaitraual, Bishu marks the beginning of the New Year. On this day the gods are dressed up in special finery. It also marks the end of work-span of the old Kardar (the devotee in-change of the rituals), and the appointment of new one, for the coming year. The brass masks of the gods are cleaned and polished. Every fourth year a festival called Bala is celebrated. On this day old weapons belonging to the deities are brought out and cleaned. The villagers divide themselves into two teams and play act a mock battle. The winning team return to the village singing and rejoicing all the way. In the village the deities are taken around in their Palanquins. Often, it is believed, evil spirits and ghosts get into the Palanquin and increase the weight suddenly. Many dances are also performed with ancient historical weapons.
Among the monsoon festivals one of the most colorfull ones is Minjar. On this day, the people cook special sweet and savoury delicacies and distribute them among friends and relatives. The women-folk all decked up in their finery, place these in platters with Minjar (the ears of corn or flowers) and go singing to the banks of the river and immerse them there. Most songs sung on this occasion express the yearing of the married woman to go visit her father’s house, and her sense of loss.
On the full moon day in the monsoon month of Bhadrapad (Bhadon) comes the festival of Rakhadumni (Rakhi). On this day the married sisters visit their father’s house and tie the sacred rakhi thread around their brother’s wrists. They are received warmly and presented with gifts of money and clothes. The family priests also go to the houses of their patrons (Yajman) and tie rakhi on their wrists, thus blessing them. The priest is also given gifts of money and food grains. The rakhi threads are spun out of cotton and dyed in red. Sometimes a piece of the bark of the bhoja tree is also attached to it as a symbol of good luck. Women who do not have a brother, tie rakhi unto other fellow villagers and thus, make new brothers. The rakhi threads remain on the wrist for a whole month and when the sairi festival comes at the end of the month, they are removed and offered to Mother Sairi.
It is a festival in honour of Googa, the lord of snakes. On this day large feasts (Bhandara) are organized at all the temples of Googa (Googmadhi), in which the food gains collected by the Guru (head priest) are used. The farmers also come with offerings of food and pray for their well being. Pictures of snakes are drawn on the walls with turmeric and people feed snakes with milk and butter. Mentally sick women dance at the temples on this day, in order to get rid of their sickness. It is said that the spirit of Googa descends upon them and suggests ways of curing the ailment. Googa Saloh and Shibo-Da-Than are two major temples where fairs take palce.
The areas bordering Tibet await the coming of this festival eagerly which marks the beginning of their new year there. On this day people light lamps in front of the family deity Kismshu, and meet all their friends. However, no one may come out before midday. Early, in the morning people sing Darshid songs. A square lump known as Brang-Gyas is made out of mixed flour and placed in a platter. The statues of deities and sweets are grouped around this, along with figures of domestic animals. These must be in odd numbers. It is considered auspicious to see this platter full of statues and figures early in the morning.
The first day of the month of Ashwin is celebrated as the festival of Sairi. This is a winter festival, which comes when the maize crop is ready for harvesting. The nomadic Goddis of Bharmor (Gadderan) celebrate this prior to migrating downwards into the valleys of Chamba, Bhatiyat, Kangra and Miadi for the winters. They treat it as a festival of farewells. At night they get drunk and dance and sing. One of the songs sung on this day runs thus:
“Take out the pot of wine,
Today, we must talk of our joys and sorrows.”
Sweet Bhaterus are cooked in each house, and Pakodus (dumplings made out of ground Urd Dhal) are also cooked and served. The young men and women put Henna (Seur) on their palms and the soles of their feet. At night the village barber decorates a large yellow lemon (the symbol of the mother goddess Seri Mata) with kumkum and rice and arranges it in a basket with coconuts and flowers. This he carries around the village from door to door. Each household awaits the arrival of this basket, and when it comes, the carrier along with the basket are received warmly and flowers, sweets and money are placed in the basket as offering. This festival symbolises the well being and prosperity of the entire community. The poorer communities celebrate it with great gusto. New brides visit their parents during this, and those who cannot come for some reason, are sent gifts (Tyohar). People also exchange gifts of delicacies with each other within the village.
Diwali, one of the major Indian festivals, is celebrated here with great enthusiasm. The mud walls of the houses, that had become cracked and broken during the long monsoon months, are cleaned and painted over with white clay and cow-dung. The whole village now looks bright and clean. In the courtyards a red or black square is painted with colored clay. This is decorated with pictures of animals, birds, and flowering trees and creepers, by the women folk. The walls are hung over with flower garlands. People believe that Laxmi, the goddess of wealth visits all the houses this day and settles down in the house that is the cleanest and prettiest. After sunset, clay lamps are first lit on a plank in the memory of the departed ancestors. Afterwards they are placed within the house. Sweets are distributed and the young ones seek the blessings of the elderly. Both the children and the aged ones enjoy this festival, lighting lamps and crackers. Farmers’ children carry stems of maize in their hands and wave them about shouting ‘Dyodyaliye Dyo’! People also gamble on this day with cards or with cowrie shells. Goats are sacrificed and plenty of liquor is drunk. Women paint little vessels (Auloo) with clay and decorate it with drawings in red paint. They pray to these and exchange these with their best friends.
In some areas the Dyali festival is celebrated some two months after Diwali. At evening time the women light pine twigs and offer pooja to it. They also throw walnuts to little boys who rush around from courtyard to courtyard collecting them. Sweets are also cooked and distributed.
The Khogal festival of Lahaul is also like Diwali. The Khogal night is also all lit up with clay lamps like the Diwali night. It is celebrated in Lahaul in the month of January, due to the fact that the months of October and November are harverung time, and hence a very busy period for the farmers. Normally the festival falls on a full moon day. People sit and discuss the time for the moon to rise. AH the male members of the village collect at someone’s house and get drunk on a local brew known as oChakti’. Then they visit house after house, drinking all the while. This goes on till midnight. At midnight the ‘Chan’ (the drummers) sit on someone’s rooftop and begin to p!ay their drums and flutes. This is a signal to begin the Khogal celebrations. As soon as the sound comes, people run with lighted torches towards their houses screaming Ah! Hee! It is believed that the noise chases the evil spirit away. In the enc all the torches are piled together and as the flames leap up, people dance around the bonfire. After they return home, the people offer pooja to their family deities includiug the local deity Baraja.
This is a festival in which the people bid farewell to the village deities. In the villages, the palanquins of the gods are laid open and the doors of temples are closed. It is believed that this is the period when the gods depart for the heavens, for a short spell of rest. Floors of the temples are cleansed and polished in the hope that the gods will throw good things from the heavens, upon them. This festival comes in the spring month of Magh or Falgun. At some places, it signifies the beginning of the new year. On this day many delicacies are cooked and eaten. It is believed that one would eat meals similar to the one, ate today, all through the year. This day the spirit of the god may also descend on his devotees. This is known as ‘Deochar’ or ‘Deokhel’, and it is believed that while possessed of the ovine spirit, the person can foretell the future. In some villages, the village deity goes from house to house to sniff incense. The priest, representing the deity, is welcomed into each house and presented with food grains and money and special incense is lit.
It is also said that earlier when the gods went away on this brief holiday, the demons used to come and bother the villagers. So they appointed two chelas, Mahasu and Rangnu to protect the village in their absence. These two roles are still acted out by two devotees who dress up in animal’s skins and smear ashes upon their faces and go around the village. They have to be given whatever they demand. At the end, a goat is sacrificed to please the demons.
Gotsi or Gochi:
This is the most popular festival in the Valley, celebrated in the month of February in the houses of those who have been blessed with a son in the past year. People collect in those houses and drink ‘Chhang’ wine. On a large platter, some cakes made of mixed flour are placed, and carried to the deity by four men. This place is marked by a tree or a shrub or a little mound. A young unmarried girl, dressed up in ceremonial robes, accompanies the platter; she carries a vessel of Chhang wine in her hands. She is followed by two men, one carrying a ‘ lighted torch and the other, a bunch of pine branches bundled in sheepskin. ‘The woman who has borne her first son leads the procession of devotees which consists of other mothers of sons. The sheepskin is suspended from the branches of a tree and shot at with arrows. People drink Chhang and beat drums and dance. On their way home, men and women throw snowballs at each other.
Dussera is also celebrated all over Himachal. The Ramlila plays begin a month prior to this, and finish on the day of the festival. In the evening an actor dressed as.Lord Rama shoots arrows at effigies of Ravana, his son Meghnad and his brother Kumbh Kama, and sets them on fire. After this, crackers are lit and sweets are distributed.
This is celebrated on the fourth day of the month of Kartik,. Married women eat a festive breakfast consisting of Jalebis, milk and Fenis etc. etc., This is known as Sargi. After this they observe a fast till the fourth day’s moon becomes visible in the skies. During the fast they do not drink water either. When the moon rises the women offer Pooja to it together, offering water (Arghya) to it sixteen times, and pray for a long life for their husbands. A little painted clay pot (Auli) is filled with rice and other things and offered to the mother-in-law. Some unmarried girls also observe a fast on this day so that they may get a good husband.
The word Khepa means the Siddha (Tantrik Guru) made of flour. It is a festival of chasing the demons, an important festival of the Kinnaur region. On the day of the festival people bathe early in the morning and then make a ‘Laffi’ with turnips. Some other delicacies are also made with turnips and flour. On the roof tops a thorny shrub (Cho or Brek ling) is placed. The other festival is known as Pulkhepa and is another form of Khepa celebration. The head of a goat and special fried bread (Poltu) is cooked and the ears of the goat are hung on the thorny shrub (Brekling) along with Poltu and Sigre (a turnip preparation, stuck with thorns all over). For two days these are placed at cross roads and sometimes also put indoors. Various traditional delicacies are cooked and eaten and distributed among neighbours and friends. At some places the horns of a goat are burnt to chase away the evil spirits.
At the end of the month of Magha comes the festival of Magh-naun. This signifies the return of the gods to the earth after their brief stay in the heavens. On this day all the villagers collect at their local temple and through the priest the deity tells the devotees what he has brought along from the heavens. People ask the priest a lot of question about the future and the welfare of their families and crops. People also rub butter upon the Lingam in the Shiva temples and if the mice do not eat it up at night, it is taken to be a good omen and supposed to herald a good harvest, year.
At the end of the month of Pausha, the Lohadi festival is celebrated in every house. A month before this, the field workers go round from house to house singing, Lohadi song known as ‘Lohkadiyan’. The people welcome the singers, and give them gifts of food grains. On Lohadi night the boys sing Harin (the deer) songs. A boy dresses up as a deer and prances about, as his companions sing songs. The singing and dancing lasts the whole night. At night a bonfire is built outside the house and feed with jaggery, sesame, rice and radishes. Sweet and savoury delicacies known as Babru are cooked. The next day (Makar Sankranti day) the girls sing songs of blessings known as ‘Rajde’. People bathe and eat a meal of Khichadi (rice and pulses cooked together). The married daughters are also invited for this ritual meal of Khichadi, and some of it is kept aside in the name of the forefathers. In some areas young girls also wear garlands made of dry fruits around their necks.
The festival of Holi comes in the full moon day in the month of Falgun. Some women in the village offer special pooja to Holi. Small twigs of the ‘Kamal’ tree are painted in red and yellow and then laid out in little bamboo baskets (khartoo) along with thread, kumkum, jaggery and roasted grams. The women carry this basket and little pots of coloured water in their hands, and go for the Pooja. This is first offered to an elderly man (Dandochh) and then the Holi is played. The next day the entire village plays Holi. The day prior to Holi, when the moon comes out, the Holi bonfire is built and set to fire. There is a scramble during this among the younger men to touch the Holi flag first. He who touches it first, is considered lucky. Special Kadah Prasad (sweet gruel) is also cooked and distributed.
This is the spring time (Falgun) festival of the tribals. In Kinnaur this is connected with Basant Panchami. On this day people shoot arrows at a portrait of Ravana drawn on a paper. It is a difficult exercise, and is known as killing Ravana. Dr. Vanshi Ram in his research theses on the folk literature of Kinnaur, says that many variations of this custom can be seen in the Kinnaur area. This is also known as ‘burning the Lanka’ (Lanka Dahan) and is celebrated for five days. The houses are cleaned and the monsoon gods are welcomed by name. There are many local stories about these rituals shooting of arrows at Ravana’s portrait. If an arrow hits home,’it is taken to be a sign of the victory of gods over demons in the heaven. During this period, the villages turn very quiet. Even the blowing of conch-shells is forbidden because it might divert the attention of the gods engaged in a brave battle against the demons up in the heavens. Early in the morning, members of a certain family (they are to be chosen afresh each year) bring wood called ‘Suskar Horing’. This is burnt in the evening in a cave. The roof of the cave is covered with lard (Foo) and barley is roasted below on the fire. If grains of barley jump up and cling to the roof of the cave, it is taken as a sign of good luck. At the end of this, the group of villages goes back to their viallage led by a man with Huri, followed by the Lankawalla who is followed by the Kittewalla, carrying the ‘Doo’. After three rounds of the temple people try to snatch the ‘Doo’ which they feed to their animals. In some areas it is a festival of the Savanis and food is served to them for seven days.
It is hard to note down details about all the feasts and festivals in the area. Almost each day finds women observing fasts, chief among which are Poomima, Nirjala Ekadashi, Pooja Chhat, Chandan Shashthi, Bhaiya Dooj, Govatsa Pooja, Santoshi Mata and Navratra. Fasting to please the Hoi Mata is supposed to bring great good luck. Almost each ‘season and each form of, nature is celebrated, and this inculcates not only a sense of tradition, but also of community living, among the people.