Fairs in Himachal Pradesh

People of the hills are generally carefree and happy-go-lucky gay type. The hardships of the region have considerably influenced the social life of hill people. There is only one ray of hope in their hard life— the prospects of fun whole-heartedly, as and when a fair is held or a festival is observed. The only charm in their life is of attending a fair, participating in songs and dances in hope of finding good recreation there and recharging themselves by it. There are a number of fairs held throughout the year and one can watch the colorful hill people at their joyous best. Most of these fairs in Himachal Pradesh are held in commemoration of some event, the origin of which is lost in the legends. Some main fairs and festivals of the Himachal Pradesh are being given here.

Minjars: This fair starts on the second Sunday of Sawan (Bikrami). The minjar falls during monsoon and provides leisure and pleasure to thousands of people of Chamba and Kangra before they get busy with the harvesting season. Besides local residents, the Gaddis of Brahmaur and neighbouring areas gather in a large number on this occasion. On the last day of the fair, the banks of the river Ravi, below Chamba, present a riot of colour as thousands of devotees make offerings to god Varun by floating Minjars and coconut in the river. Earlier, a gay procession, redolent of the bygone princely days, starts from the Palace and winding through the richly decorated streets of the town and terminates at the river bank. After the Minjars are floated, people distribute sweets and scents. During the celebrations, feasts and musical concerts are organized at various places in the city.

Sui Fair: This fair is held at Chamba proper where at the temple of Naina Devi women gather and worship the Devi. The tai\r takes place on the 1st of Baisakh of the Vikrami Calender. The Gaddi women from Brahmaur and other villages while returning home from the foothills necessarily participate in this fair. They sing in praise of Naina Devi, and dance in the temple. Men folk are not allowed there to enjoy their dances and songs. A local legend says the devi was the wife of Raja Sahil Varma, the king of Chamba. Once he was very perplexed for ensuring water supply to the capital. Water could not flow into a nala dug by the Raja. The Rani having dreamt that a human sacrifice was necessary for this, narrated the dream to the Raja and offered herself for the sacrifice. Having failed to dissuade her, the Raja reluctantly accepted her request. On a cloudy morning, she was hurried alive at the mouth of the newly dug channel and soon after water started to flow in it. In honour of the Rani a temple has been built over a steep flight of steps on the Shahmadar hill at the back of Chamba town.

Lavi Fair: The trade fair of Lavi is held at Rampur Bushar, 85 miles from Shimla , in early November every year. Raw and semi-finished wool, woollen-pattis, pattus, namdas, pashmina, chilgoza, colts, horses, mules and yaks worth over rupees twenty lacs change hands during this fair. It is in fact, the biggest trade fair of the hills in the country. Buyers from all over the country flock to Rampur and purchase wool and pashmina which have a ready market even in foreign countries. On the other hand, tribal people from the Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahul and Kullu districts bring mules, yak and sheep laden with articles. The fair is held on an organized basis for the last 200 years. Its origin is stated to be much older. In the past, local villagers held bonfires on the return of shepherds and grazers from high pastures. This feature has persisted till date. During day time hectic trade activity is witnessed all over the town. At night folk dances and music around small bonfires are organized attracting a large number of people participating and rejoicing whole night.

Brahmaur-Jatra: This is a six-day long fair, celebrated at Brahmaur village. It begins on the next day following Janmashtmi, in Chaurasi Area. One day each is dedicated to Hari Har (Shivji), Narsingii, Ganesh, Lakshna, Keling and Sheetla respectively. A large number of pilgrims and businessmen from outside come to participate in this fair. Stalls selling sweets, chat, tea and sundry articles are also set up. People in their attractive dresses gather there, and in the forenoon some musicians gather at the Kedar Kothi with musical instruments. At the beginning of the fair, they play on their instruments and along with the priest move in a procession with a crowd following them. People perform Puja, do a Parikrama of the temples and in the evening buy sweets and other necessary articles from the shops. The young enjoy the merry-go-rounds in the ‘mela’ ground. Some get themselves photographed, in the photographic booths. Flute sellers also do a good business there. Liquor shops are not allowed in the Chaurasi area. Nevertheless, the people drink ‘sura’ and wine and enjoy the fair in a merry mood. Sometimes, a tipsy person may create a nuisance, but show of violence is always avoided. Folk dances are conducted in the evening which carry on till late in the night. Every day the men and women dance in separate groups to the accompaniment of Shehnai and Dholak. This creates an atmosphere full of fun and gaiety. Ordinarily the ‘mela’ lasts by 10 P.M. every night but on the last day, dancing goes on up to midnight and dancing groups from the adjoining villages leave it only early in the next morning. When Chamba was a princely state, three sacrifices were offered, one each to Lakshna, Keling and Hari Har, but now no animal sacrifice is allowed in the Chaurasi area. Animal sacrifices are done outside the Chaurasi area.

Renuka Fair: One of the most important religious fairs of the Himachal Pradesh is the colourful Renuka Fair held every year in October-November. The keynotes of the fair are festivity and devotional exuberance. It is held in the lush surroundings of the famous Renuka Lake, 26 miles from Nahan. As per the legend, thousands of years ago, the goddess Renuka lived with her husband, Rishi Jamdagani, near the present Renuka Lake. Their youngest son, Parashuram, who held his Samadhi somewhere in the Garhwal hills, used to visit his mother every year. The fair commemorates the annual meeting of Renuka and Parashuram, who is believed to be a part-incarnation (अंशावतार) of Lord Vishnu. Several idols of Parashuram placed in three decorated palanquins are carried in a pompous procession to the Parashuram Temple situated on the hill top. Before the idols are installed in the temple, they are given a bath in the holy lake, which is believed to symbolize the body of the Mother Renuka.

Kullu Dussehra: Dussehra at Kullu commences on the tenth day of the rising moon i.e., on Vijay and continues for seven days. There is no recital of Ramayana. Though the Dussehra is celebrated all over India but in Kullu it has got a special significance of its own. Dussehra is incidentally celebrated in the last brightest days of the weather after which the bleak winter start, closing all the high passes and restricting movements. It generally commences from the last day of Dussehra in the plains, and thus affords time for the plain's men to be here for trade. The celebration of Dussehra in Kullu on the conclusion of festival in plains, is, in fact, a mystery for which no historical background is available.

The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in the royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, due to the inborn love of the hill-men for fun and frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. On the first day the idol of Raghunathji saddled in a brightly attired chariot and attended to by village gods mounted in colourful palanquins, is pulled from its fixed place in Dhalpur Maidan to another spot across the Maidan by big ropes. The pulling of ropes is regarded sacred by the local people. This forms a huge procession. All the gods of the valley have to visit Kullu on Dussehra to pay their respect to Shri Raghunathji. The gods are invoked and paraded, every morning and in the evening. The people remain busy buying, selling, singing and dancing during all the seven days. The festival ends with the burning of Lanka. The chariot of Raghunathji is taken near the bank of river Beas on the last day of the festival where a pile of wood and grass is set on fire which symbolizes the burning of Lanka and is followed by the sacrifice of chosen animals. The chariot is brought back to its original place and the idol of Raghunathji is taken to its temple in Sultanpur. The attendant gods also disperse for their respective destinations.

As the legend goes, the famous idol of Raghunathji was stolen from Ayodhya in July, 1651 by one Damodar Das and installed at Kullu. The then ruler Jagat Singh invested the kingdom in the idol and himself became its "Kardar”. The installation of Raghunathji’s idol resulted in periodic celebrations. In the hills, each village has a god. It, no doubt, is the village god that forms the nucleus of social and community life. Raja Jagat Singh, under the influence of Bairagi Krishnan Dass, who introduced Vaishnavism into the valley, wanted the local faiths to be subordinated to this creed, and initiated the practice of hill gods gathering together to pay respect to Raghunathji once a year, around Dussehra. Church had been subordinate to the State. Theology was further harnessed to serve regale ends. The temples housing the gods received various assignments of rent through land and collected grains. The produce was enjoyed by villagers of the gods.

Kullu is on the trade routes connecting Yarkand, Ladakh, Tibet and Lahut and Spiti on one end and with the plains of Punjab on the other.

Kangra Fairs: Solan Fair is held at Solan in the month of June. Goddess Durga's procession, games, wrestling, sports and cultural program are the main highlights. Rohru Fair is held at Rohru in the third week of April and is known for colorful dances and music. At Narkanda is held another fair towards the end of May which continues till first week of June. Sippi Fair, held at Shiv Pur near Mashobra in May, is famous for dances, music and rural sports. Fairs during Dussehra are held at Suni near Tattapani, Kotgarh and Sarahan near Rampur in a very colourful way and thousands of rural people join the festivals. The Seri Fairs of Arki, Kuniha & Mashobra, held after the monsoon are famous for bull fights.

Koti Fair: One of the largest fairs of Sippis, is held in Koti territory about the middle of May every year, on a spur below Mashobra. A cluster of magnificent deodars surround the goddess temple. Shops are allotted for selling sweets and trinkets. Hundreds of people attend the fair in a gay mood.

Nahan Fair: A fair that is celebrated at Nahan with great gusto is Bawan Dwadshi. It is celebrated towards the end of the monsoon season. Fifty two idols are taken out in a colorful cavalcade and brought to the Jagannath Temple. In the afternoon the idols are taken to the ‘pucca tank’ and floated there ceremoniously. In the midnight the idols are restored to their respective abodes with the properly rituals performed.

Shivratri Fair: Shivratri Fair of Mandi is a famous fair. This is a week-long religious fair which is renowned for the worship of Lord Shiva. It is held in Mandi town along the banks of the Beas river. The main functions held in this fair are…

a. Gods and goddesses from the surrounding hills are brought on rathas on the shoulders of their devotees to Mandi on Shivratri day. The town is tastefully decorated for receiving these revered deities.

b. They first go to the Madho Rai Temple and then proceed to pay their celestial homage to Lord Shiva at the Bhutnath temple.

c. A week-long fair of folk dances, dances, skits and other forms of amusements begins.

d. At the conclusion of the festivities a night vigil is kept by the gods and their devotees. The main events in the coming year are forecast.

e. A puja is held on the last day and the gods depart after paying homage once again to Lord Shiva. Offerings of chadars are made to them.

Nalwari Fair: This fair is held in Bilaspur town every year. It is primarily a trade fair in which cattle are traded on a large scale. On the occasion of this fair, races, wrestling bouts and other forms of rural entertainment are also held.

Jawalamukhi Fair: This is a religious fair held during the ‘navaratras’ at the Jawalamukhi Temple. Similar fairs are held during this period at the temples of Chamunda, Kangra, Chintpurni and Bajreshwari Devies.

Natwar Fair: This is a cattle trade fair held near Sundernagar in March every year.

Phul Yatra Fair: This fair is held at Kilar in the Pangi valley every year in October.

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