Festivals in Himachal Pradesh

Various colorful festivals are an important part of the cultural life of the people of Himachal Pradesh. They have a distinct cultural, religious, social and educational identity. Many of these festivals in Himachal Pradesh are derived from the various sects of Hinduism of the period after the migration of the Rajput people from the plains to these hills (7th to 15th century). This led to the introduction of festivals like Holi, Dussehra and Diwali. These festivals are connected with the worship of Shiva and Shakti while others are associated with places of pilgrimage sacred to a deity or a religious person. Change of seasons has also played an important part in shaping and timing of the festivals of the state. Each season is marked by an appropriate festival in which the ceremonies and celebrations are influenced by the climatic needs or other characteristics of the season. Festivals play an important role in the lives of the people of Himachal Pradesh.

This has been outlined in the following points…
a. Festivals form their main holidays.
b. On the occasion of festivals, men, women and children put on their best clothes and converge on a common place usually the village square.
c. Festivals are also an occasion for worshipping gods and deities, usually collectively.
d. It is also an occasion for mass feasting, drinking and dancing.
Get to know the festivals in Himachal Pradesh. Important festivals celebrated in different parts of the state are being discussed in the following text.

Chait:The first month of the lunar year is Chaitra or Chait. The first day of the month of Chait is celebrated in the following way with below-mentioned festivities involved…
a. The people of Ohaki or Turi caste go from village to village and sing and dance in the courtyard of the village temple.
b. This is also known as Chatrali or Chatra.
c. In Kullu area, women gather and dance on the night of the festival in the village courtyard.
This festival is known as Dholru in Bharmaur. The entire village rejoices on the occasion.

Navratras: Navratras are observed in most parts of the state. The eighth day of the Navratras is called Durga Ashtami. The people fast on this day and the entire family visits the Durga temple. Some people eat once in a day on all days of the Navratras.

Baisakhi: Baisakhi is generally celebrated on the first day of the Baisakh month (13th April) or one or two days earlier. It is known as Bissu or Bisha in the Shimla hills; Beesh or Bisowa in Kinnaur and Bishoo in Pangi. The Baisakhi festivities involve the following stages…
a. Preparations for this festival start many days in advance. The houses are white-washed and the women clean the house much before the start of the festival. New clothes and articles of daily use are purchased.
b. On the Baisakhi day, all members of the family take holy dips in rivers, streams or lakes. Some people even go to Hardwar for this purpose.
c. Thereafter men, women and children put on new clothes. Women are bedecked in their ancestral jewelry.
d. Special sweets and meals are cooked on Baisakhi day. The socially higher classes offer food to those of the lower castes.
e. During the day time special prayers arc held in the homes or at the temple. In some areas the villagers worship their deity on a high summit where a flag is placed. This is followed by dancing, singing, playing and feasting which may continue till the late hours of the night as it is followed on other occasions.

Haryali: Haryali is a festival of the rainy season celebrated on the first day of the month of Shravan or Sawan (usually on 16th July). It marks the onset of the rainy season each year. This festival is known as Haryali in Kangra and Sirmur; Rhyali in the upper hills of Shimla district; Dakhram in Kinnaur and Jubbal and Shegtsum in the Lahaul valley. The Haryali festivities involve the following stages…
a. Preparations for this festival begin about a fortnight before the first day of the month of Sawan. Seeds of several (5 or 7) kinds of cereals/grains are mixed together and ceremoniously sown by the head of the family or family priest in small beds of baskets of earth usually near the place where the household deities are kept. These are watered twice a day in order to help the seeds to germinate. The head of the family uproots the green seedling from the seed bed on the Haryali day and offers them to the deity. Some stems are also placed on the upper frame of the doors.
b. On the Haryali day the cattle are rested and they are not yoked. The farmers clean their animals and pick lice, bugs, flees and other insects from them. These pests are rolled into cow dung balls which are taken outside the village and burnt with the help of dry twigs and grasses.
c. In Kinnaur area the people go to the alpine meadows in the higher hills from where they bring wild flowers. These are offered to the village deity. Thereafter these are distributed amongst the villagers. The god or goddess is taken out of the temple in a procession by the priest and village elders to the common square where people gather to offer prayers There is feasting and dancing on this occasion. Drum beats reverberate through the hills and the rhythm increases as the tempo rises up.
d. In Lahaul valley, the ceremony begins early in the morning when a ball of sattu flour with butter on its mounds and an incense of marigold flowers are taken to the roof of each house by its occupant and offered to Gophen or Guru Ghantal.

Rakhpunya / Rakhi:It is the festival of the first full moon in the month of Sawan. It is also known as Rakhri or Salonoo or Salunu. A sacred thread is tied to the brother’s wrist by his sister or by the Brahmin around the wrist of different people in the village. The former system is more prevalent in the urban and semi-urban centers. The tying of a sacred thread around the brother's wrist signifies the affection between brother and sister.

Chrewal: Chrewal is a festival of fire which is celebrated on the first day of the month Bhadra or Bhadon (middle of August). It continues for about a month. The main festivities of Chrewal are as follows…
a. On the first day of the month of Bhadon, the villagers dig out a small circular mound of earth from their fields and place it on a slab or a piece of wood. On this another such slab is placed on which turf and flowers are tied. This is known as Chira. The Chira is kept on the outer edge of the verandah. In the evening, the Chira is worshipped and the participants sing Chira couplets.
b. In some places the clay images of Shiva are made and worshipped by lighting an oil lamp every evening before the image all through the month.
c. In many villages, the farmers do not yoke their beasts of burden during this month. The cattle are taken to the high attitude pastures and allowed to graze. This helps to refresh their energy.
d. The festival is called Badranjo (meaning the festival held in Bhadon) in Kullu. The cattle are decked with flowers and not yoked.
e. This festival is known as Pathroru in Chamba area. It is celebrated as a festival of flowers. There is general feasting and dancing. A special dish ‘pathroru’ is cooked on this occasion specially.

Jagra: Jagra is a rite held towards the close of the month of Bhadon (first half of September), offered to a village deity. Either the deity is invited to one’s house or the prayers are performed at his temple on a fixed day. The fourth day of the bright phase of the moon is set aside for this purpose. Fast is kept by one member of each household. After this the procession goes back to the temple with the deity. After dark, worshippers carry splints of burning wood in their hands and dance and sing and rejoice.

Phulech: This festival of flowers is celebrated only in Kinnaur. It is also known as U-Khyang. In September, the villagers go to the high hills and collect flowers. On the day of the festival the whole village gathers and offers garlands of beautiful flowers to the pagan gods.

Sair: This festival is primarily celebrated in the Kangra valley usually on the first day of the month of Ashadh (middle of September). Sair is an important day for these people. This day marks the departure of the rainy season and the people thank God because the rains have gone, leaving their homes and crops untouched. This festival of Sair is celebrated in the parts of the Shimla hills also.

Dussehra & Diwali: These two festivals are celebrated with great pomp and gaiety. They are in no way different from that of the plains. In Kullu, Dussehra is an occasion for the gathering of gods and goddesses from neighbouring countryside. Lakhs of people collect on this occasion. Ramlila is staged in many parts of the state on the days preceding Dussehra. The goddess Durga is widely worshipped for ten days before Dussehra. These days are known as Navratras.

Diwali or the festival of lights is celebrated on Kartika Amavasya. The local deity is worshipped and people light their homes with small earthen lamps and candles. They burst crackers in the evening, specially the children.

Lohri: This festival is widely celebrated with gaiety by the people of the lower hills. It falls on the first day of the month of Magh (or middle of January). The people greet and call on each other. In the evening a bonfire is lit in the village courtyard and there is dancing and feasting.

Shivratri: This is an important religious festival celebrated in most parts of the state. It falls in the month of Phagun (February). The God Shiva is widely worshipped on this day. There is great reverence for Shiva in these hills. The festival is celebrated individually and collectively. Many people fast on this day. Food is taken in the evening after the daylong prayers are over.

Nawala: Gaddi tribes living in Kangra, Chamba and Mandi districts celebrate this festival. There is no particular day on which Nawala is celebrated though each family must celebrate it once in a year. Lord Shiva is worshipped and thanked for his blessings in the year that has gone by.

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