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Fair and Festivals of Uttranchal

The fairs and folk festivals of Uttaranchal are very colourful and distinctive, and are the blend of various natural, social and cultural factors. The people of Uttaranchal also celebrate all the major Indian festivals. Basant Panchami, Bhitauli, Harela, Phooldei, Batsavitri, Ganga Dusshera, Dikar Puja, Olgi or Ghee Sankranti, Khatarua, Ghuian Ekadashi and Ghughutia are some of the major festivals of Uttaranchal.

The daily lives of Uttaranchali women are crowded with a never-ending succession of festivals, most of them involving fasts and the preparation of special foods

Explore more about the folk festivals of Uttaranchal-


Makar Sankranti (Ghughutia)
According to the Hindu religious texts, on the day of Uttarayani, the sun enters the Zodiacal sign of 'Makar' (Capricon) from the Zodiacal sign of the Kark (Cancer), i.e. from this day onwards the sun becomes 'Uttarayan' or it starts moving to the north. It is said that from this day, which signals a change of season, the migratory birds start returning to the hills. On Makar Sankranti people give Khichadi (a mixture of pulses and rice) in charity, take ceremonial dips in holy rivers, participate in the Uttarayani fairs and celebrate the festival of Ghughutia or Kale Kauva. During the festival of Kale Kauva (literal translation 'black crow') people make sweetmeats out of sweetened flour (flour and gur) deep fried in ghee, shape them like drums, pomegranates, knives, swords etc. They are strung togather and worn as necklace-in the middle of which an oragne in fixed. Early in the morning children wear these necklaces and sing "Kale Kauva.." to attract crows and other birds and offer them portions of these necklaces, as a token of welcome for all the migratory birds, who are now coming back after their winter sojourn in the plains.

Wearing garlands of the above eatables the children come out calling the crows with following song on their lips:

Kale Kale, bhol bate aile
bor puwa Khale
Ie Kauva bara, mai ke de sunu gharo
Ie Kauva dhal, mai ke de sunu thai.

(come dear crow, come daily
you will enjoy eating bara and puwa.
Take the bara and give me a pitcher full of gold Take the shield and give me a golden plate).

Basant Panchami
The festival of Basant Panchami celebrates the coming of the spring season. This festival, which also signals the end of winter, is generally celebrated during Magh (January - February). During this festival people worship the Goddess Saraswati, use yellow handkerchiefs or even yellow cloths and in a few places people put a yellow tilak on their foreheads. This festival also marks the beginning of holi baithaks.
Phool Dei
Phool Dei is celebrated on the first day of the month of Chaitra in mid March and on this day young girls conduct most of the ceremonies. In some places this festival is celebrated throughout the month with the advent of spring. During this festival young girls go to all the houses in the muhalla or the village with plates full of rice, jaggery, coconut, green leaves and flowers. They offer their good wishes for the prosperity of the household and are given blessings and presents (sweets, gur, money etc) in return. In a few places even today they sprinkle flowers and rice on the doorsteps and sing:

phool dei, chamma dei
deno dwar, bhur bhakar
yo dei sei namashkar, puje dwar

Sei (a pudding made with floor, curd and jaggery) is prepared specially for this occasion. Folk singers sing the Riturain, Chaiti and other songs welcoming spring and are given presents, money and foodgrains.
Harela and Bhitauli
On the first day of the navaratris (nine day holy period) of the month of Chaitra women fill baskets with soil and sow seven types of grains in them. The grains germinate symbolizing the future harvest. These yellow leaves, called Harela, are cut on the tenth day and people put them on their heads and behind their ears. During the month of Chaitra (March-April) brothers send presents to their sisters. These presents are called Bhitauli.

Harela is peculiarly a Kumaoni festival to mark the advent of the rainy season. The celebration falls on the first day of Shravan. Ten days before the due date, seeds of either five or seven kinds of grains are mixed together and sown in pots inside the room, using small baskets filled with earth. The sowing is done either by the head of the family or the family priest. It is done ceremoniously. Water is sprinkled after worship. On the last day of the month of Aasarh, one day before the actual celebration of the festival, a kind of mock weeding is done with small wooden hoes. Gaily painted images of Shiva and Parvati and their off springs are prepared and worshipped on the Shankranti day. Green shoots Harela are placed on the head gear.

The significance of Harela lies in the fact that it provides an opportunity to the cultivator to test the qualities or defects of the seeds he has in his store. Another significance is that the festival is the occasion to give taken monetary allowances - pocket money to the young girls of the family.

However, the more popular Harela is the one that is celebrated in the month of Shravan to commemorate the wedding of Lord Shiva and Parvati and to welcome the rainy season and the new harvest. On this day people make Dikaras* or clay statues of Gauri, Maheshwar, Ganesh etc. and worship them. Even the overworked bullocks are given a rest on the occasion of Harela. People put the blades of freshly cut Harela on their heads and send them to their relatives and friends as well.

*Dikars - Small idols of gods and godesses are made out of clay/red-soil. These idols are decorated with different colours. They are called Dikars.

Olgia or Ghee Sankranti
Olgia is celebrated on the first day of Bhado (middle of August), when the harvest is lush and green, vegetables are in abundance and the milch animals very productive. In ancient times sons-in-law and nephews would give presents to fathers-in-law and maternal uncles, respectively, in order to celebrate Olgia. Today agriculturists and artisans give presents to the owners of their land and purchasers of their tools and receive gifts and money in return. Binai (oral harp), datkhocha (metallic tooth pick), metal calipers, axes, ghee, vegetables and firewood are some of the presents exchanged on this day. People put ghee on their foreheads and eat ghee and chapatis stuffed with 'urad' dal. It is believed that walnuts sweeten after this festival. This festival, which is a celebration of the produce of the land, is now seldom celebrated.
NandaDevi Rajjaat Yatra
The three week long Nandadevi Rajjaat is one of the world famous festival of Uttaranchal. People from entire Garhwal-Kumaon as well as other parts of India and the world participate in Nandadevi Rajjaat Yatra.

Goddess Nanda Devi is worshipped at dozens of places in Kumaon, but the region around Mt. Nanda Devi and its sanctuary, which falls in the districts of Pithoragarh, Almora and Chamoli, is the prime area related to Nanda Devi. In Chamoli Nanda Devi Rajjaat is organized once in 12 years. The jaat starts from Nauti village near Karnprayag and goes upto the heights of Roopkund and Haemkund with a four horned sheep. After the havan-yagna is over, the sheep is freed with decorated ornaments, food and clothings and the other offerings are dischared. People also celebrate the annual Nanda jaat.

Though in the Johar region there is no tradition of Nanda Rajjaat but the worship, dance and the ritual of collecting Brahmkamals (it is called Kaul Kamphu) is part of Nanda festivals.

The Hilljatra, which is being celebrated in some parts of Pithoragarh district, is essentially the festival of pastoralists and agriculturalists. In the developmental process, the aathon (eighth day of bhado) and Gawra Visarjan also became the part of Hilljatra. The festival, which basically came to the Sor valley from the Sorar (Mahakali) region of West Nepal, was first introduced in Kumaour village. The Jatra was also accepted by the people of Bajethi, another village near Pithoragarh town and with some modifications it was introduced in Kanalichhina and Askot regions as Hiran chital.
The Hilljatra is related to ropai (the plantation of paddy) and other agricultural and pastoral labours of the rainy season (Hill = mud, Jatra = Jaat). It has also been connected with the victory of the Champawat ruler. There is another story that Kuru, the representative of a Chand King, who went to Sorar (Nepal) to participate in the hilljatra, was able to sacrifice a buffalo with horns covering the neck. The people became happy and wanted to present Kuru a gift.

Kuru thought of introducing this festival in Sor valley and asked for four masks, Lakhiabhoot, Halwaha, two bullocks, and one implement - the Nepali plough. In this way, the hilljatra was introduced in Sor.

In the first part of jatra, worship and the ritual sacrifice of goats is performed, and in the second part, different pastoral and agricultural activities are presented in a dramatic way. The masks are very expressive and this is the most entertaining part of the festival.

In the third and last part, the songs are recited with the performance of circle dance (Chanchari). It continues late into the night. The songs are traditional as well as new and popular. The hilljatra is a living tradition and all care should be taken to preserve its style in a rapidly changing society.
In the Chaudans region of Pithoragarh district, a flower - Kandali (Strobilenthes wallichii) - blooms once every 12 years (last in 1999) and the people celebrate Kandali festival between the months of August and October. The Chaundas Valley is remote in the Dharchula tehsil of Pithoragarh. It lies between the Kali and the Dhauli rivers. In the week long festival the local people - Shaukas or the Rangs participate with gaiety and enthusiasm in different villages of the region. Some stories are associate with this festival, which express the martial tradition of the Shaukas. In the first story, it is said that by tasting the poisonous flower of the Kandali the only son of a widow died. In the second story, this flower the symbol of famine and poverty. According to the third and most popul< story, the region was once attacked while the menfolk were away for trade. Th brave women repelled the enemy, who hid in the Kandali bushes, and the attacked the bushes and destroyed the enemy. The festival commemorates thei bravery and the women therefore destroy the plant ceremonially to remind th local people of the incident and to prevent further mishaps.

The festival begins with the worship of a Shiva Linga made of barley and buck wheat flour mixture. Local liquor is traditionally used during this festival. Every household performs it in a decorated comer of the courtyard. People pray for prosperity. The individual pujas are followed by a community feast. Then, the women and men, in their traditional dresses and laden with gold and silver ornaments, assemble around a tree on the sacred ground of the village. Strips of white cloth are tied to the tree and a flag is raised.

A procession is formed behind the flag. The women lead the procession, each armed with a ril (an implement used in compacting carpet on the loom) followed by children and men armed with swords and shields. As they sing and dance their music echoes in the valley. On approaching the blooms, war like tunes are played and war cries uttered and the women attack the bushes with their rils. The menfolk then come to their aid, and the bushes are hacked with swords. They uproot the bushes and take them back as the spoils of the war. Victory cries are raised and rice grains are again cast towards the sky to honour the deities with the prayer that the people of Chaundas Valley may be ever victorious over enemies. Festivity, dancing and music continue throughout the night.

The enthusiasm and emotion have to be seen to be believed. All the members of the community, even those living elsewhere, return to their village for the event, on the return of the procession to the village an assembly known as the 'Savdhoomo-sabha' is held at which sweetmeats, liquor and fruits are consumed, the deities are again worshipped with flowers. Festivity, dancing and music continue throughout the night.

Khari Holi and Baithaki Holi
The uniqueness of the Kumaoni Holi lies in its being a musical affair, whichever may be its form, be it the Baithki Holi, the Khari Holi or the Mahila Holi. The Baithki Holi and Khari Holi are unique in that the songs on which they are based have touch of melody, fun and spiritualism. These songs are essentially based on classical ragas. No wonder then the Baithki Holi is also known as Nirvan Ki Holi. The Baithki Holi begins from the premises of temples, where Holiyars (the professional singers of Holi songs) as also the people gather to sing songs to the accompaniment of classical music.

Kumaonis are very particular about the time when the songs based on ragas should be sung. For instance, at noon the songs based on Peelu, Bhimpalasi and Sarang ragas are sung while evening is reserved for the songs based on the ragas like Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman etc.

The Khari Holi is mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by the people, who sporting traditional white churidar payajama and kurta, dance in groups to the tune of ethnic musical instruments.

Khatarua is essentially the special festival of pastoral- agricultural society and celebrated on the first day of the month of Ashwin in mid September, and signifies the beginning of the autumn. On this day people light bonfires, around which children dance, holding aloft colourful flags. People take special care of their animals and feed them fresh grass. Cucumbers are offered to the fire of Khatarua, which is said to destroy all evil influences. The victory of the king of Kumaon is also said to be one of the reasons for the celebration of Khatarua.
Bat Savitri
This festival is celebrated on the Krishna amavasya (last day of the dark half of the month) of Jyestha and on the day married women worship Savitri and the Bat or banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) and pray for the well being of their spouses. Women observe fast in honour of Savitri and Satyavan and remember how Savitri through her intense devotion saved her husband from the claws of death.
Ganga Dusshera or Dasar
Ganga Dusshera is celebrated on the Shukla dasami of the Jyestha (May - June). The sacred Ganga is worshipped on this day and Dusshera posters (dwarpatras or dasars), which have various geometric designs on them, are put up on the doors of houses and temples. These posters, once hand written by brahmins, are now printed. On this day people bathe in the holy rivers.
The people of Kumaon celebrate Raksha Bandhan and J anopunyu, the day on which people change their janeu (sacred thread). On this day the famous Bagwal fair is held at Devidhura in district Pithoragarh.
Other festivals
Ghuiya Ekadashi, Krishna Janmasthami, Shivratri, Nandastami, Saton Aathon, Ramnavmi, Nagpanchami (Birur panchami) are also celebrated in different parts of Kumaon. On Nagpanchami the whole Nag region (Berinag, Pingalnag, Basukinag, Kalinag, Feninag, Harinag, Dhaulinag and Nag) worship Nag Devta in Pithoragarh district. The Shaukas worship Nanda Devi in the Johar and Gabla Dev in the Darma, Chaudans and Byans region. Syangthangapujan, Syeemithhumo (atma pujan), Maati (Soil) pooja and Nabu Samo and the KandaU utsav (held once in twelve years) are some of the other festivals of the Shaukas of the Kumaon.

Uttaranchal also celebrate all the major Indian festivals like Holi, Navratri, Diwali, Muharram, Barawafat, Sha-be-raat, Id-ul fitar, Id-ul Zuha, Easter, Christmas, Baisakhi, Guru Nanak Jayanti etc. People from all the communities celebrate these festivals with gaiety and enthusiasm.

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