People of Himachal Pradesh celebrate life in hosting a variety of fairs and festivals to sometimes honour gods and goddesses and on many other occasions to socialize by marking the season, be it with hope when spring is breaking out or by dancing and dining after the harvests bounty is done with.
These social gathering are a grand display of the local culture where trade, religion, sport an celebrations has a visiting tourist happily take part in these festivities.
Age old beliefs manifest in over 2000 village deities has each region and valley hold onto their faiths. Many religious fairs like the Kullu Dussehra, Chamba’s Minjar, Renuka ji Fair and Mandi Shivratri in recent years have gained much prominence.
New Year Celebrations–
To ring in the New Year, thousands of holiday makers throng the popular hill stations of Shimla, Manali, Chail, Dharamshala, and Dalhousie each year to take part in the celebrations held. The local administration and the hospitality service providers often put up shows, events or fun competitions for the festive season to engage the tourists in their merry-making as the old year passes out and the new one is ushered in.
Manali Winter Carnival–
Gaiety and fanfare mark the week-long WinterCarnival festival held in the first week of January at Manali. Before a large number of Indian and foreign tourists, cultural teams from many states put up folk dance performances. Competitions in solo dance, group dance, fashion show, musical performances are organized and even a Winter Queen beauty pageant/contest is held. Nearby in Solang Valley, a skiing competition is also conducted.
Spiti observes this festival in the height of winter, usually in the months of December – January. And, Lahaul reserves its celebrations for April. Even with extreme weather conditions, the tribal folk makes it a point for community celebrations and a moment of getting together. The festival is celebrated with gusto- including community bonfires, folk songs, and dance! Usually, the fanfare is minimal, with local folk in attendance. Of course, if you’re in the region during the time – you must go prepared. It is common for the temperatures to be -20 degrees.
Lohri – Makar Sakranti–
Celebrated on 13th January, Lohri brings the community together for an evening spent dancing to folk songs around bonfires in many parts of Himachal. The Pragpur in Kangra district even holds a fair for the occasion. Held soon after the Winter Solstice on 14th January, Makar Sankranti marks the ending of long cold nights by holding celebrations with an early morning bath followed by religious prayers and a festive, neighbours and other guests. An aromatic ‘Khichadi’ (black gram and rice cooke together) served with ‘ghee’, is the special dish for the occasion. Tattapani hot springs, on the banks of River Satluj, near Shimla draws a lot of devotees to the place for Mass bathing on this day.
In deep winter Halda, held around the new year time, is a festival of the Chandra-Bhaga valleys of Lahaul. Villagers with torches of cedar wood lit up step out in the night to drive away evil forces. After the ceremony, singing and dancing around bonfire follows that can go on for a couple of days. Shiskar Apa, a goddess of wealth, is also worshipped on the occasion.
Fagli or Phagli—
Phagli, celebrated mainly to enter in spring from mid January onwards, in Lahaul’s Pattan valley is held by worshipping Shiva, Naga and the goddess Hadimba. Ritual dishes are also cooked and eaten at Kinnaur’s Sazi (or Sazo), which comes around this time too. In Parvati-Tirthan valley of Kullu masked dancers move from village to village singing folk songs and performing skits.
Basant Panchmi usually celebrated in February marks the arrival of spring. Every town in the lower hills appears to keep a reserve of color for the occasion, for the skies are filled with a medle of spectrum kites on the occasion.
GOTHSI ( GOCHI)–
There is a festival of the Bhaga valley which is celebrated in February in the houses where a son was born during the preceding year. The villagers gather in the morning. A dough is made of Sattu ( roasted barley ) and is placed in a big plate. It is lifted by four men to the place of the village deity which is generally an idol of stone, a tree or a bush. A young girl dressed in her best clothes and decked with ornaments accompanies them. The girl carries a pot of chhang ( Local drink). She is followed by two men, one carrying a burning stick of pencil cedar and the other pencil their cedar leaves tied together in a lamb skin. The woman giving birth to the first son in the year, dressed in her best clothes accompanies them to pay homage to the village god. Labdagpa the village priest worships the God with a bow and an arrow. The dough is then broken and thrown away to appease the gods. The lamb skin is placed on a tree or a bush near the idol of the village deity and is shot at by arrows. Lohars beat drums during the ceremony. After the worship of the village deity is over, the people disperse but the relatives and friends move in to group and visit all their houses where male children are born. Drinking and dancing go together, sometimes all through the nights.
This is a festival celebrated by Buddhists monasteries in Lahaul – Spiti and other parts of the state. Ritual dances with an unbelievably rich imagery are held to some of the most spectacular performances. The stylized chhaam dance with elaborate costumes and masks, commemorates the assassination of a cruel Tibetan King. Wrongly called “the devil dance’, it actually symbolises the triumph of good over evil.
This is also called as Suskar and is marked to honor the reverend Goddess kali. It is celebrated in the Hindu month of Phalgun as a mark of respect for the Goddess who is said to reside among the mighty Himalayas. The Deity is worshipped on the last day of the festival in a very special manner. The goddess is worshipped from the roof of the house. A community feast ensues later where everyone eats together and bonds.
Celebrated with great fervour in many parts of Himachal Pradesh, Shivratri is a grand drawn out affair in Mandi, also known as Chhoti Kashi, where the festivities go on for a week, where the festival commemorates Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of Mandi. It is on the arrival of Kamru Nag, the deity of Gohar, as the special guest for the occasion that gets the festival underway. On palanquins more than two hundred local deities, accompanied with folk bands, ride into town to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at the Bhootnath Temple and to participate in the celebrations. With deep religious devotion Shivratri is also celebrated with equal enthusiasm in rural areas of Kullu, Mandi, Shimla, Sirmaur, Chamba and Kangra. The aesthetically built Lord Shiva stone temple at Baijnath is decorated with flowers where devotees throng to offer milk and worship
Tshechu/ Chhechu Fair–
The three-day state-level Tshechu fair is celebrated with traditional fervour at Rewalsar in Mandi district.
Originally a cattle fair held in March, the Nalwari fair at Bilaspur is a time for fun, sport and festivities. Cattle are still traded but the wrestling bouts at the fair draw large attendances.
Like elsewhere in the country, Holi is celebrate with great fervour. At Palampur (Kangra) and Sujanpur (Hamirpur) fairs are held. At Paonta Sahib, on the banks of river Yamuna in Sirmour Hindu and Sikh pilgrims come together at the famous Gurudwara associated with Guru Gobind Singh to celebrate the popular festival.
The springtime of March-April is a religious and festive time when a large number of pilgrims do visit some very revered temples in Himachal Pradesh. The religious fervour along the Shaktipeeth circuit of Naina Devi ji temple in Bilaspur, Chintpurni Devi temple in Una, Bajreshwari Devi temple in Kangra, Jwalamukhi temple at Jwalamukhi and Chamunda Devi temple at Chamunda take on a festive look with the entire townships participating in the celebrations. Elsewhere, in Sirmour, the Balasundari fair around this time is held at Trilokpur near Nahan. Devotees in large numbers visit the Baglamukhi temple at Bankhandi in Kangra to seek the goddesses blessings. Community feasts are part of the Navratri celebrations that are spread over 9 days.
At the hilltop cave shrine of Deotsidh (Seo), on the district border of Hamirpur with Bilaspur, a month long religious fair is held in March and April.
Held on the threshold of summer, Baisakhi abide by the solar calendar and falls on 13th April. Many village fairs are held where wrestling, dancing and archery competitions are conducted on this day.
It is also called as Dholru or Chaitrali and celebrated in many interior regions of Himachal including Kinnaur. This festival marks the start of the year and hence considered very important. It is called as the gateway of Happiness and hence very sacred symbolically. The locals celebrate it with a lot of joy and fervor and you can see them shine with happiness.
In April, Rali is celebrated in Kangra. The festival commemorates a beautiful maiden Rali, who leapt into a stream after she was married against her wishes. The groom and her brothers jumped after but none survived. For the festival clay models of all three are made to which maidens pray for grooms of their choice and the newly-wedded pray seeking happiness and prosperity.
Pipal Jatra/ Vasantotsava‐-
The traditional name of Vasantotasava is Pipal Jatra or it is also called Rai-ri-Jach. It takes place at Dhalpur, Kullu on 16th Baisakh every year. The Raja of Kullu was used to sit in front of the ’Kala Kendra’ on a raised platform of Pipal Tree alongwith his courtiers and the traditional dance was held in front of him.
Celebrated in Lahaul, Bhumskor is a religious Agrigarian festival where the fields are blessed by the lama, and the ceremonies are held in honor of mother nature and respecting our dependency on the lands.
Sui Mela, Chamba–
Overlooking Chamba at the Sui Mata Temple a festival is held commemorating a queen who ended the towns water scarcity in 10th century. Only celebrated by women and children, they take a day out to pay obeisance at this temple. Stall displaying local merchandise make brisk sale during the festival.
Mahu Nag Fair Karsog, Mandi–
In April, the Mahu Nag fair at Taraur village of Karsog is a big draw. The local deity in a planquin carried by devotees arrives in a procession dancing to the lively drum beats of local bands. The social gathering is well attended by women and children from neighbouring villages and is a good occasion to glimpse the vibrant culture.
Other fairs and Activities in May-
Several spring and summer fairs are held in May At Markandeya Temple near Bilaspur a religious fair is held and in Rohru, a Jatar fair is held commemorating the local deity Shikhru. Kullu holds the Spring Festival and Manali celebrates the Dhoongri fair in honour of Goddes Hadimba Devi, the presiding deity of the popular tourist township. In Parvati-Tirthan valley of Kullu, the Banjar and Sainj fairs are held and at the Sipur glade below Mashobra, near Shimla, the Sipi Fair is held during the month.
Shimla Summer Festival–
At the height of summer, in early June, the Shimla hold a Summer Festival with a variety of programs which include flower shows, exhibitions of paintings, photographic competitions, book festivals and power packed cultural evenings. Star entertaining actors share the stage with budding local talent and local schools also put up performances during the festival.
In Solan, on the third Sunday of June, the Shoolini Fair is a grand spectacle. The festival is held in honour of goddess Shoolini, the presiding deity of the region, who also graces the function. Besides cultural programs, wrestling bouts, the archery game of Thoda and other sporting events are also played at this festival.
Ghantal Festival, Lahaul–
After a long cold winter, summer is a season to celebrate and revere the gods. In June, on a full moon night, the Ghantal festival is held at Lahaul’s oldest Guru Ghantal Buddhist monastery. It is a time for prayers and festivities. Tourists passing through, camping or trekking nearby join the festivities at Guru Ghantal Monastery, where they get a rare glimpse of an age-old culture. Keylong, the administrative headquarters of Lahaul, also holds the Lahaul Festival during the summer months. Stalls put for the festival are good time to shop for local merchandise.
Tsheshu fair is celebrated in Shashur, Gemur, Kyi, Kardang Tabo and Mane Monasteries in the months of June. A large number of devotees/ people gather on these occasions.Devil dance is performed by the Lamas bedecked in colourful dresses and wearing masks of different birds and animals.
Ladarcha Fair, Kaza – Spiti–
Summer is a brief season in the highlands of Spiti valley. In July August, Kaza the headquarter of Spiti Valley holds the Ladarcha fair. Originally Ladaracha was a trade fair and where a variety of goods, local produce and curios are still bought
and sold; games, song, dances and cultural festivities add more attraction to this festival. It is also a good time to glimpse the culture of this spectacular land.
Minjar Fair, Chamba–
At the time of sprouting of silk strands (locally called Minjar) from fruiting maize corns in July/August that Mionjar fair is held in Chamba. Celebrating nature’s bounty, the farming community prays for a good harvest by offering the first ‘Minjar’ to the waters of River Ravi. For whole week, the entire town wears a festive look. Many stalls selling local crafts and produce are set up and for the evenings, cultural performances are held.
This fair is celebrated during summer in the 3rd week of August every year. In earlier times this was the most prominent fair of Lahaul. People of all casts and creed gather there, not only from Lahaul but from Chamba and Kullu too. The fair is combination of pilgrimage and festive activities. Preparations are made at least a week in advance and most of the people leave their homes a day before the celebrations, where they have faced darshan of the statue of Triloknath (Shiva Lord of Three Worlds) or Avolokiteshvara as it is regarded by Buddhist. After paying their obeisance, people go to the parikrama gallery between the inner and outside walls of temple. Pilgrims/ devotees usually complete three or seven clockwise circumambulations of the gallery/ rotating the prayer wheels and murmuring Mantras ( OM MANI PADME HUM) every morning and evening till they stay there. Ghee and Mustard oil lamps are lighted continuously inside. People donate money and Ghee/ Oil to maintain the lamps, one of which is so big as to accommodate 16 Kgs. of Ghee/ oil. After the prayer and rituals, the fair begins. Temporary shops, tea stalls and hotels are established at the fair ground. As soon as darkness overtakes, the pilgrims dance in a huge circle to the melody of folk songs devotional or otherwise. On the second morning, a traditional procession is taken out, which is headed by the Thakur of Triloknath riding on a decorated horse. Their destination is the place where as per traditional lores, seven gods, the youngest of whom was Trilokinath had appeared from seven springs in the past. This is the most important ritual of the fair. The precession then returns to the fair ground for more festivities. Some people for their native places leave as soon as the procession disperses, while others stay until the third day when the fair is over.
Kahika Fair– Kahika Fair is one of those weird events in the state, which makes a ‘dead’ man alive. Celebrated in Kullu and Mandi districts, it is believed that local deity bestows a ‘dead’ man with life. In Mandi Kahika Fair is held at Sudhar and Surahan village of Padhar in Mandi district after five years. The event attracted many people because of their religious beliefs. It started with a traditional khel called Dev Khelth performed by chief gurs of the deity. People confessed their sins and regretted. The chariot of Dev Hurang Narayan was taken to the entire village after which temple priests welcomed them with their traditional musical instruments. Then chhidra process was performed by the Nad and other people who were present there to get rid off their sins.
Manimahesh Yatra, Bharmaur (Chamba)-
The simplicity, grandeur and intense belief system of Bharmaur valley can be witnessed during the holding of the Manimahesh Yatra in August/September. This festival is held after Janmashtami. The Yatra is an arduous and difficult trek to the scenic mountain lake (altitude 4190 meters) lying at the foot of the commanding Mount Kailash at Manimahesh. At Bharmaur, 35 km short of the lake, the nomadic Gaddi tribesman hold a fair that goes on for six days.
At its prime in August / September the scenic Dal Lake, in Upper Dharamshala, hosts a fair that has a lot of natives, Tibetans from McLeodganj domestic and foreign tourists participate in the merry making.
The popular hilltop temple of Naina Devi in Bilaspur holds the religious Shravan Fair in August. Many pilgrims visit the temple during this time. Stalls set up sell many types of merchandise and community feasts are also held on the occasion.
Ukhying or Phulaich Festival, Kinnaur-
As the monsoon rains withdraw, the meadows in Kinnaur mountains for September come alive with a rare crop of wild flowers “Fullaich’ (Phulaich). A
festival of flowers is celebrated with villagers walking distances to gather this wild bounty and offer it to the deities, then comes a spate of revelry – singing, dancing and feasting. Kalpa has some of the most vibrant celebrations and every twelve years a special festival is held.
Every year, in the 4th week of September, Gator is celebrated. The Lamas conduct the worship of God Chaugayal succeeded by throwing saur into the fire while performing the Chham dance.
Celebrated once every three years, Chakhar is witnessed at the same time as Gataur Mela in the last week of September. You can see Lamas worshiping Lord Chikchait for six days and throwing away the Chakhar in the fire on the 7th day. After this ritual Chham, a dance performance by Lamas happens.
Shakti Devi Fair, Chhatradi (Chamba)-
At Chhatradi in a lesser known corner of Chamba countryside, fair centered around the aesthetically built temple of Shakti Devi is celebrated with much fanfare. The dance performance at the festival leaves the audience spellbound.
Bonang is one of the lesser-known but very beautiful festivals in India. It is celebrated with a lot of pomp and splendor in Kinnaur by the local population. It is a very huge and unique event and is celebrated once in 12 long years. This is one of the biggest specialty of the festival and marks its huge importance. It is mainly celebrated in the villages of Nesang and Moorang.
Much different from the Dussehra celebrated elsewhere in the county, the Kullu Dussehra has a tradition that goes back to many the small idol of Lord Raghunath was brought from Ayodhya and established in the valley. Revered as the presiding deity of Kullu and is erstwhile royal family, on Dussehra, the idol, a
decorated up, is brought out riding in magnificent wood chariot that is pulled
devotees into Dhalpur ground to get the week long celebration started. In attendance are over 200 village deities and their followers who come to participate in the festivities. Numerous stalls offer a variety of local wares. Cultural evenings are held at an open air theatre which even have foreign troupes participating.
Shirkin or Sherkant festival is celebrated during the months of October – November. This is usually the time when the Sheep and the flocks are moved to the sub-mountain plateaus by the nomads and herders.
Held after the harvest is done in the valleys, Lavi fair is the outcome of a trade treaty signed in 1681 between an erstwhile princely state of Rampur and Tibet. Even though there is no trade with Tibet anymore but the fair is still celebrate with much fanfare for three days. Starting from 11th November many stalls come up at open places at Rampur Bushair, the gateway town of Kinnaur. Traders from far and near join in to trade in Kinnauri woolens garments, wool, pashmina,
shawls, handwoven tweeds, metalware, pottery, jewellry, crunchy apples, Kinnauri horses, the dry fruits of chilgoza, walnuts, almonds and dried apricots. The evenings are given to cultural performances where the crowds is entertained to some lively music, plays and pop star shows.
Celebrated in Kungri Monastery in Pin Valley, Kungri Festival is quite interesting. Star attraction of this festival too is the Chham dance performed by the Lamas followed by a sword dance by the Buzhens of Mud Village on the banks of Pin River.
Kalachakra Festival at Key Monastery–
Celebrated on a large scale when HH Dalai Lama gives a session on his teachings to the public, wherein HH Dalai Lama leads the path towards positive energies to help one experience life the Buddhist way.
Ki chaam festival–
Ki Monastery is whirling with dances to pray to the gods to provide good fortune for the upcoming year during this festival. The days are filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance, and of course, Chhaam Dance is performed to pay homage.
More than a religious festival, Renuka fair, held in the scenic environs of Renuka Lake near Nahan in Sirmaur. This is a time after harvest that gives neighbours time to socialise, trade surpluses an instill civic pride. The week long festival in November commemorates the reunion of Lord Parshurarm with his mother Mata Renuka. For the festival Lord Parshuram is brought in a palanquin from the temple at Jamu Koti village and it departs after taking a holy dip in the lake. Dressed in colourful traditional attire, the devotees dancing to age old folk songs put to music with some lively drum beats livens up the festivities.