The highlands of Lahaul transform into an entirely different world in winters and by the time Rohtang closes; every inch of Lahaul becomes extraordinarily white.
Chandra and Bhaga, lifeline(s) of the valley freeze up completely, turning the muddy waters into pristine blue, which I guarantee you wouldn’t see anywhere else. Mercury dips as low as -30C and the mighty mountains are adorned with a thick layer of creamy white snow.
Snow walls appear in place of roads. Telephone lines do not work. Electricity wires surrender to the heavy lumps of incessant snow. At times in the evening, which is most of the times, it is entirely dark and gloomy.
There are only two things that give Lahaulis’ courage to live through the harsh winters.
Their traditional chulhas. And their festivals.
What is the difference between your regular festival of the plains and a Lahaul festival?
You may ignore your festival in the plains, and it would not be an exaggeration if I say, you may as well ridicule your festivals in the plains. However, in these remotely located, snow covered settlements; you would die of boredom if you try to ignore your festivals. Ridiculing them is out of the question.
Primarily, Lahaul is divided into four main valleys namely Tinan Valley (Chandra Valley), Pattan Valley (Chandra-Bhaga Valley), Gahar Valley (Tandi to Keylong), and Tod Valley (Bhaga Valley). Other than these, valley along the Miyar stream is another basin but that can be broadly termed as an offshoot of the Pattan Valley.
Each of these valleys celebrates its unique festivals in winters. Some of the festivals are common for all these valleys, for instance the Pauri Festival of Trilokinath-Udaipur. But here we are talking about the winter festivals of Lahaul, so we will save the Pauri Festival for another blog post, probably for August when the festival is actually celebrated.
Halda – the Festival of Lights
Celebrated in the month of January, the chief abbot of Shashur Gompa declares the exact dates of this festival. The word halda literally means a torch in local dialect. Halda – a torch made of dried willow and cedar. Although a Buddhist monk decides calculates the date of the festival, it is not a Buddhist but a Hindu festival, which almost resembles Diwali.
“Haldas are prepared for each adult male in the family. These are put against the wall in the oldest room of the house. On the wall above these, a new coat of dung and mud is spread. A circle is drawn on the floor and divided into seven or nine parts. In Kolong village to the north of Kyelang, the people generally write two mottos below the circle—”Losoma Tashi Shog, which means ‘New year greetings’, and ‘Lakhim Karpo Dzaldo‘, which means ‘The food of God, be in our mouths’. One can also catch glimpses of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in the figure of Shiskar-Apa.” Himalayan Wonderland, MS Gill
Chhaang is grandly drunk throughout the festival. Halda torches are burnt in the evening, far away from the residential area because it is believed that a burning torch takes away the evils and sorrows of old year with it.
Fagli – the Yellow Festival
The festival of Fagli (locally Kuns or Kus) is celebrated in the month of February when the harsh winters start subsiding gradually. Celebrated mainly in the Pattan Valley, Fagli arrives a fortnight after the festival of Halda. Houses are decorated with marigold flowers. The festival lasts many days, sometimes even weeks depending upon the population of the village.
Each day of the festival has a special name and every day represents a special event. For instance, the first day is called Ghuntreyin when a goat is sacrificed. The following day is called Ghunnu when Maarchu (local puri) is prepared and offered as prasad to birds, animals, and human beings. The next day, Kuyhag (Ku-nine, Yhag-dinner) is an occasion of feasting and nine types of dishes are prepared on this day.
The final day is the main event day when Fagli is celebrated, which happens on the next day after the moonless night. On this day yourah, a special kind of locally available wheat is exchanged with family members and neighbors.
And did I mention that yourah looks like a sprouted grain, sometimes sprouts as tall as 2 feet. Sparklingly yellow in appearance.
Then there is another Kuns, locally known as Ledstog Kuns, which lasts for three days, around the festival of Shivratri. It is believed that joginis (women with supernatural powers) hold their annual get-together in the Karga ground above Tandi confluence.
Yor – Dancing with the Masked Men
In continuation with the line of festivals discussed above, Yor is celebrated a fortnight after Fagli. Yor is mainly celebrated in the Madgram Village and the masked dance is the USP of this festival. These masks or mohras are made of wood. This dance is actually a prayer for the well-being of the people, for good crop and healthy children.
The festival of Yor marks the start of the traditional new year and people dress up as spirits and dance all day long. This festival is usually celebrated in the month of March, when the winters start receding.
Gotsi – Celebrating Birth
Another festival for February in the Bhaga Valley. This festival celebrates birth of a son, and I wonder why there is not a festival for celebrating births of daughters in Lahaul because my experience says that womenfolk work harder than their male counterparts not only in Lahaul but across the length of the Himalayas. At least in Himachal, this is a fact.
After paying tributes to the village deity, singing and dancing go together, sometimes all through the nights.
Much more than just serving the purpose of entertainment, these festivals are a reflection of the culture, society, traditions, and the environment. They consist of simple stories, but every element has a strong relation with the indigenous culture.
Celebrate Winters in 2015. I am going, will you come? 🙂