Fairs and Festivals of Himachal Pradesh
The Pori festival of the Lahaul valley is remarkable. It is celebrated in the traditional way at the temple of Trilokinath. On this day the statue of the lord is bathed with milk and yogurt and then at about ten o' clock in the morning a crowd of people goes around the temple beating drums and blowing conchshells and bugles. A horse is also taken round the temple. After the procession, the crowd along with the horse goes to the palace of the local ruler where the horse is given a grand welcome. The king then rides the horse and visits the fair ground which is dotted all over with small shops. On this day a butter lamp burns within the temple all day and all night long.
Dussera is celebrated all over Himachal. The Ramlila plays begin a month prior to this and end 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 Karna and sets them on fire. After this, crackers are lit and sweets are distributed.
In the monsoon month of Bhadrapada comes the festival of flower-watching (ukhyang) in the Kinnaur valley. This festival is also known as Fulaich and it 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 and food to 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.
The festival of Holi comes in the full moon day in the month of Falgun. Some women in the village offer special Puja during 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 Puja. This is first offered to an elderly man (Dandochh) and then the Holi is played.
According to the Vikrami calendar the New Year begins in the month of Chaitra. The first day of this month (Chaitra Sankranti) is considered very important and is celebrated all over the state. In some corner of the house which faces east a plant is covered with soil and sown with barley seeds, coconut, symbolising the goddess Bhagwati is also placed near it. The entire ritual is strange and beautiful. All the young unmarried girls gather 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 water and as it is being done the girls cry and weep. On the day of the wedding, people are invited for Bhat (ritual feast) and the girls pray to the goddess to bless them with a husband as good as her own.
Chaitrual is a popular festival of the Sirmaur area. On this day the walls in the house are cleared, painted and decorated with figures of male animals and crops symbolising plenty. It is also known as festival of pictures. The Harijans are fed and the family deities are taken out into the fields where the people cook a special delicacy known as Poltu. Sometime people place the deity in the middle of the fields and cook a special savoury gruel as offering. As they are driven back, the wheels of the chariots of the gods are brushed with thorny twigs. At some places clay pots are broken to chase away evil spirits.
Basoa or Bishu
On the first day of the month of Baisakh the aboriginals and the farming folk celebrate the Basoa festival. Three days before the festival, people make little cakes with Kodra (a coarse grain) flour and wrap them up in leaves. After three days the cakes ferment, then on the morning of the festival day people invite the married daughters and other relatives and break and eat these cakes with honey and sweet water flavoured with jaggery. A ritual song is sung on this occasion.
On this day 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 yearning 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, Rakhadumni festival is celebrated. The married sisters visit their father's house on this day and tie the sacred rakhi 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. Women who do not have a brother tie rakhi unto other fellow villagers and thus make a new brother. 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 grains 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 place.
This festival marks the beginning of the New Year in the areas bordering Tibet. On this day people light lamps in front of the family deity Kimshu and meet all their friends. 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. 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 with kumkum and rice and arranges it in a basket with coconut and flowers. This he carries around the village from door to door. Each house-hold 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 symbolizes the well being and prosperity of the entire community. New brides visit their parents during this festival.
Diwali is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The mud walls of the houses are cleaned and painted over with white clay and cow-dung. In the courtyards a red or black square is painted with coloured clay. This is decorated with pictures of animals and birds. The walls are hung over with flower garlands. People believe that Lakshmi who is the goddess of wealth visit all the houses this day and settles down in the house which is clean and pretty. After sunset, clay lamps are lit on a plank in the memory of the departed ancestors. Afterwards they are placed within the houses. Sweets are distributed and the young one seek the blessings of the elderly. Goats are sacrificed on this day.
In some areas the Dyali festival is celebrated two months after Diwali. At the evening the women light pine twigs and offer Puja to it. They also throw walnuts to little boys who rush around from courtyard to courtyard collecting them. Sweets are also cooked and distributed.
Khogal festival is celebrated in Lahaul in the month of January. The Khogal night is lit up with clay lamps. Normally this festival falls on a full moon day. All the male members of the village collect at someone's house and get drunk on a local brew known as 'Chakti'. Then they visit house after house, drinking all the while and playing drums. This goes on till midnight. This is a signal to begin the Khogal celebrations. As soon as the sound comes, people run with lighted torches towards their houses with screams. It is believed that the noise chases the evil spirit away. In the end all the torches are placed together and as the flames leap up people dance around the bonfire. After they return home, the people offer Puja to their family deities including 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 cleaned and polished in the hope that the gods will throw good things from the heaven upon them. This festival comes in the spring month of Magh or Falgun. On this day the many delicacies are cooked and eaten. This day the spirit of the god may descend on his devotees. This is known as 'Deachar' or 'Deokhel'. In some villages the village deity goes from house to house to sniff incense. The priests who represent the deity is welcomed into each house and presented with food grains and money.
Gotsi or Gochi
This is the most popular festival in the valley which is celebrated in the month of February in the houses of those who have been blessed with a son in the past year. People gather 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 and 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.
This is celebrated on the fourth day of the month of Kartika. Married women eat a festive breakfast consisting of Jalebis, milk and Fenis 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. When the moon rises the women offer Puja to it. They offer water to it sixteen times and pray for a long life for their husband. A little painted clay pot (Auli) is filled with rice and other things and offered to the mother-in-law. Some unmarried girls 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 which is celebrated in 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) are 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 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.
This festival is celebrated at the end of the month of Magha. This signifies the return of the gods to the earth after their brief stay in the heavens. On this day all the villagers gather at their local temple and through the priests the deity tells the devotees what he has brought along from the heaven. People ask the priest a lot of questions about the future and the welfare of their families and crops. People 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 as his companions sing songs. The singing and dancing lasts the whole night. At night a bonfire is built outside the house and fed 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 wear garlands made of dry fruits around their necks.
This is the spring time (Falgun) festival of the tribals. On this day people shoot arrows at a portrait of Ravana drawn on a paper. The houses are cleaned and the monsoon gods are welcomed by name. There are many local stories about this ritual 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. Early in the morning, members of a certain family 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.
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