Lahaul & Spiti- The Land of Unique Festivals
Lahaul, The land of Snow
The people of Lahaul & Spiti love dancing, community singing, feasting and drinking on the beats of the drum. They work throughout the summer and celebrate in winter when a thick sheet of snow envelops the entire valley. This is the perfect time when people from every stratum of society come together for joyous ceremonies and fun filled celebrations.
The irrepressible and sprightly nature of the people is revealed in these festivals where the reasons for celebrating are plenty. Against the background of captivating mountains and frozen rivers, the people celebrate the festivals with great enthusiasm, donning traditional dresses or costumes and masks.
Several tribes reside in the valley that speaks their own languages and celebrates different festivals, with booze of locally extracted beer called Chhang. These tribes are Gaddis, Gujjars, Kinnauris, Lahulis, Pangwalas and Tibetans etc. But the majority of the people are of Aryan descent.
In the absence of any source of entertainment, the fanfare and gusto of festivals have become an integral part of the local culture, while the songs relate the stories from folklore and history. They enliven the spirit and provide a break from the monotony of hard life. They herald the sowing or harvesting of crops or the beginning or end of seasons or the New Year celebrations or the procession of the village deity or the birth of a son or the marriage ceremonies or religious activities etc.
Different regions have different festivals, though some of them are common. The consumption of, local liquor extracted from barley called arah, and gambling or challo, are integral parts of festivals. Midst the enthusiasm of festival, the traders sell foodstuffs, grains etc., in the shops set up on the occasion.
People Dancing During Gotsi Festival
The Gotsi or Gochi Festival of Lahaul
During winters, the life comes to a standstill and entire valley wears a thick mantle of snow like the peaks and cliffs of high mountains. At that time a very colorful festival called Gotsi or Gochi is celebrated by the people of Punapa tribe of Chandra and Bhaga valley of Lahaul.
The festival is organized in Gumrang Kothi in Keylong and adjoining areas, in January or February. On the basis of astrological calculations, the date for the celebrations is decided by the Lamas.
This festival is jointly celebrated by all the families, where a son had been born the preceding year. It is an act of thanksgiving to god Yulsa and various Sad and Sadma or the male and female deities. The villagers gather in the blessed house in the morning for the festivities.
The three-day festival consists of Thras, Gotsi, and Prasha. The Thras is primarily a way of merrymaking when invitees gather at the residence of the host for drinks. The guests are served a local beer brewed from barley called Chang.
Before merrymaking, the people go for community worship to La- Khang or the house of God. Both the Chief priest or Lhab- dagpa, and Assistant Priest or Lhau- pa, arrive in their ceremonial costumes and occupy the top seats in the room and the binge begins. The burning of juniper needles called Shrutadini is accompanied with the chanting of hymns.
The people place Sattu, or a kind of doughnut in a big wooden plate. It is then lifted by four men and carried to the village God, which is generally a stone idol or a tree or a bush.
The following day, the priests and the youths dressed in traditional loose gowns and colorful turbans, march towards the rendezvous. The proud mothers who gave birth to the son accompany the procession with male babies on their backs, to pay homage to the village deity. The village priest then offers prayers to the deity.
They carry the Kalchur or the Chang offering, Halda or torch, Mar-ken-tsi or the small loaves and an effigy of a goat made from butter, Khul-tsi or the stuffed lamb with them.
A young girl dressed in her best in traditional ornaments accompanies them. She is called Kalchhorpas or the girl carrying beer. She sprinkles the beer in all directions amidst the cries of Chho-chho- ho which means, “Accept all! Accept all!”. She is followed by two men, one carrying a burning cedar stick and the other bears the cedar leaves tied to lambskin.
Then the dough is broken and thrown away to appease the deities. The skin of lamb is hit by arrows, after being hung on a tree or a bush near the idol of the deity. Labdagpa, the head priest gets ready for the ritual of shooting an arrow at the Khul-tsi. In some villages, the arrows are aimed at birch leaves on which the figure of Yak is drawn. It is believed that the number of arrows that hit the lamb determines the number of male babies to be born next year. Then the offerings are distributed among the villagers.
In the end, the big juniper holders are burnt. The Lohars beat the drums during the ceremony and the people begin a slow dance around the fire. Then the people return home merrily, shouting, Gotsi-ho! Gotsi-ho!
The people drink Chhang before dispersing. They go from house to house where male children are born and drink Chhang and spend the whole night drinking and dancing.
On the last day of the festival the Prasha (the day of farewell), the invitees start leaving for their homes with the fond memories of Gotsi, and the belief that their Gods would bless them and their community with further increase of manpower.
Drinks Being Served in Gotsi
Types of Dances in Lahaul & Spiti
Danced by men on a song in praise of Buddha
Danced be men and women on festive occasions
Dance for couples
Dodra Kawar Dance
Dance revolves around agriculture
Singhi or snow lion Dance
is A Buddhist dance for peace and prosperity.
Halda FestivalClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Halda or Losar Festival
Halda festival heralds a New Year day of Chandra and Bhaga valleys. It is known as Losar in Keylong and Koksar, Khogla or Khol in Pattan valley and Hal or Halda in other valleys of Lahaul.
The time of Halda is fixed by Lama and the day generally falls in the second and third week of January after Makar Sankranti, on Magha Poornima or full moon day in January. The Lama performs formal ‘Pooja’ and paid obeisance to commence this unique and wonderful festival.
It is more popular in the Lahaul valley. The major attraction of Khol or Halda festival could be seen in Madgram village in Triloknath belt of Lahaul.
This festival is similar to Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated all over India in October or November every year. It has the same significance for the people of Lahaul as Diwali has for the Hindus and is also celebrated to drive out the ghosts. A special ceremony is performed and offerings are made to local deities for prosperity and wellbeing of all the villagers.
Indeed, it is a festival of lights, but the homes are not illuminated like Diwali. According to Buddhist traditions, Shiskar Apa or Vasudhara, the goddess of wealth is worshiped during this festival, just as Hindus worship Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth during Diwali. The word, Apa means grandmother.
On this auspicious occasion, twigs and pencil branches of Juniper or cedar tree are cut into strips and are tied together into bundles to be used as a torch, called Hal or Halda.
On the evening of the festival, every household lights Halda and two or three persons from every household come out holding burning sticks of pencil cedar in their hands. They carry the Haldas towards the west and bring it to a central place or a common location in the village at a predetermined time and place fixed by the lamas. This is repeated four to five times, each time to honor a different deity. Once everybody gathers at the location, the Hal are thrown in the collective bonfire that is put up.
The Haldas are prepared and lit in the same manner and collected at one place called Jagar, where they burn it to lashes. The burning sticks are then thrown towards Gushal and Kardang villages, with an invocation to the rulers of two places.
In Gahar valley in Keylong, the people curse the clans and threaten to “bite the hearts" of Ranas of Goushal and Kardang who are hostile to them. Then the goddess of wealth, Shiskar Apa is worshiped at home.
This is followed by feasting and merry making. The following morning the youngsters wish their elders good luck. The festivities last for two or three days, during which nobody visits any other's house as it is considered inauspicious. After the festival, the people emerge and greet the friends and the relatives and wish them a Happy New Year.
A special ceremony is performed and offerings are made to local deities for prosperity and well-being of all the villagers. The drinking, eating, and dancing which follows, continues until morning. The “Nati” or dancing continues for a couple of days in which women also participate. When the ceremony is over, the villagers return to their houses.
On the occasion of Halda, the people engage in various activities of dancing and merry making. Other major attractions are family gatherings and heavy cocktails. It is believed that Halda, keeps away evil forces and drives away the ghosts. It is considered to be a festival of private celebration and spending time with the family. The few branches coming for the bonfire from every family, symbolize good luck, peace, happiness, harmony, hope and unity of the community along with the overall prosperity
The few branches coming for the bonfire from every family, symbolize good luck, peace, happiness, harmony, hope and unity of the community along with the overall prosperity of the society.
The Chham Festival
The mask dances performed by the lamas of various monasteries and the 16th-century Shasher Monastery dedicated to a lama from Zanskar is no exception. It is about 3 Km. from Keylong and is the venue for an annual festival held in June.
This festival is marked by music; mask dance or devil dance known as Chaam. A five-meter-long thangka or Buddhist scroll painting is unveiled in the monastery belonging to the Gelukpa order.
The magic of the brush of local artisans creates the “thankas” that adorn most of the monasteries. After donning the colorful costumes, the lamas dance gracefully to the tunes of bronze plates, flutes, and drums.
Women Wear Traditional Jewelries During FestivalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Bumskhor Festival
It is a religious and an agrarian festival in which prayer ceremonies are held in honor of the mother earth. It is connected with agricultural activities.
It is believed that a good harvest will follow if religious books are taken to the fields. Hence the farmers carry religious books around their fields accompanied by the Lamas, who chant the religious scriptures.
When the ceremonies are over, the group assembles in the village for further prayers. Thereafter the food and Chhang are served.
Pori Festival TrilokinathClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Pori Festival
In Pauri or Pori festival of Lahaul & Spiti, the idol of Lord Trilokinath is worshiped. The Shaivite temple of Trilokinath is equally venerated by the Hindus and the Buddhists. The former regard it as a temple of Lord Shiva, while the latter consider the idol is of Avalokiteshwara. The festival is held every year in the month of August and lasts for three days.
The Pori festival gives an insight into the lives, beliefs, traditions or customs of the people. The celebrations show the devotion of the people and symbolize the historical and sociological heritage.
In the morning, the idol of Lord Trilokinath is bathed in milk and yogurt and conch shells are blown in honor of the deity. The devotees go round the temple beating drums and blowing the bugles. A huge procession follows the horse which is taken round the temple. The people believe that the Lord Himself rides the horse to bless the devotees.
Thereafter the horse is taken to the palace of the local ruler. The horse is then bathed in sweet water and fed with a healthy fodder. The king rides the horse up to the ground where a fair is held. He doles out sweets and clothes to the subject.
A butter lamp is lighted in the temple for three days and the people go on adding butter to the lamp. The light of the lamp is a symbol of divine providence. In the end, the bright colored pieces of cloth are given to the devotees.
The Fagli Festival
It is a New Year festival preceding the beginning of Tibetan or Chinese calendar and is celebrated to mark the end of winter or the beginning of spring. It comes a fortnight after Halda and is celebrated in February in the entire valley, on the moonless night or Amavasya or Khogla.
Locally known as Kus or Kuns, it is the most important festival in Pattan valley. The people of this valley are the late settlers i.e., around 1500 A.D. Likes the people of central Asia, Chamba, Pangi, or Pashtun or Uyghur they have broad highlights and distinct language. It is in this valley where Chandra and Bhaga rivulets meet to form Chenab River.
About two feet tall bamboo stick is fixed on the floor and a white bed sheet or Chadder is draped around it to signify an angel dressed in white. The figure called Baraza is embellished with jewelry and marigold flowers. The delicacies are placed before it, the incense is burnt, oil lamps are lit and the house is fully decorated. The white figure represents the grandmother of the peak or Shikhara Apa or the angel of prosperity.
As per ritual, the head of the family and his wife get up early in the morning and prepare totu or dough of roasted barley flour and buttermilk; and Kwari or animal feed. Totu is offered to the deities on the rooftop and the remaining is distributed among the family members. Then the couple gives Kwari to the cows and pays their annual respects to the cows and sheep. It is like acknowledging their dependence on animals and expressing gratitude.
The youngsters pay respects to elders by bowing to them or touching their feet. The family makes a visit to the nearest and aged person of the village. Then the entire community exchange greetings and visit the house of each other with a gift of fried loaf or Marchu. People also exchange marigold flowers and other gifts as a token of New Year greetings.
The feasts and festivities continue for some days and each day has a special name and significance. As the fields had remained covered under snow during winters, a symbolic ploughing is done on a day called punha. For the purpose two green willows, one representing bullocks and another two for yoke and plough are moved in front of the Baraza, as an act of ploughing.
Lahaul & Spiti Has Three Major Valley
Religion of People
1 Tinan Valley
Both Buddhism and Hindu
2 Pattan Valley
Hinduism and people called Swangals
3 Punan or Todh or Ghar valley
Gyalto, meaning the ringing out of the Old Year is celebrated towards the end of the year in December.
Chhishu or Shishu, is a festival celebrated on the tenth of every month.
Nyainay, is held on the 15th day of the first Bhoti month to celebrate the birthday of Lama Chan Li Zi, The festival is marked by fasting and silence by some while feasting by others.
Da Chang, is a festival celebrated by shooting arrows towards the river to symbolize victory over evil. it is celebrated extensively by the menfolk in February. The festival lasts for 6 days.
Yana festival is celebrated in the second week of June every year. The old men and women assemble to worship the God, Triloknath and pray for forgiveness of their sins. They also observe a fast for a day.
Namgan festival is celebrated at the time of harvest, sometime in September. Horse races are also organized to mark the occasion.
Char Festival at Trilokinath temple this festival is held for a whole week in the month of March. It forms the celebrations of Shivratri fair.
Ghantal Festival. This festival is held in Guru Ghantal monastery of Lahaul, on the full moon night in June.
Devil Burning Festival. At the Kyi Monastery in Spiti valley, the unusual celebration occurs in late June or early July.
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma