A remote valley in Himachal Pradesh, Lahaul and Spiti, a tribal district in the state of Himachal Pradesh has now made it to the tourist circuit of India. Previously only foreign nationals used to venture into Lahaul and Spiti after the area was thrown open to tourists. However, lately Indians too are venturing into this pristine land and exploring its different aspects including the festive spirit of the region.
Before you make your next advent into this beautiful land, let us explore some of the festivals of Lahaul and Spiti so that when you are in the region, you get a better chance of experiencing the magical essence, we all know as Spiti.
Let us begin by exploring details of Halda, a festival that is more often celebrated in Lahaul Valley than Spiti. Generally, this festival is celebrated in peak winter month of January and the festivities continue for two to three days.
The branches of cedar or deodar are cut for this festival and are tied together in a manner that it gives shape of a torch which is also known by name of Halda. This torch is burned in every household in the valley and the villagers usually assemble at one common meeting point. The Halda is usually burnt four to five times and its ashes are left at the common meeting point in the village.
While family gatherings and singing and dance sessions continue during the festival, the people of one village also curse people from other villages during Halda. All this is done in a lighter spirit though as it is the part of a ritual which is performed to ward away evil spirits.
Timing: (Late February to Early March)
This is perhaps one festival celebrated among festivals of Spiti in which you would be able to see mask dance if you are able to venture into the region in February. Dancers who are usually locals dress up in their best traditional dresses for Dechhang and indulge in sword dance.
Archery events are also organized in Dechhang and the festivities go on for a period of seven days.
All the monasteries of Spiti are decked up for Losar, a festival that is usually celebrated to mark advent of New Year. Cham dance performed by the Lamas in their unique costume and masks is a speciality of Losar. This festival is also celebrated by the Tibetan community in the region and other states which have Buddhist influence.
Gothsi is celebrated in Lahual valley and not in Spiti. This festival is celebrated only in families where a baby boy had been born in the previous year. The villagers gather early in the morning for Gothsi and prepare a plateful of Sattu which is carried by men to the village deity.
Accompanying them is a young girl who is dressed well in her local dress all decked up with traditional jewellery. She carries along a pot full of Chaang which is the traditional beer brewed out of rice. Two men also follow her with one carrying burning stick of cedar leaves while other carries a cedar leaves tha have been bound by skin of lamb.
The mother of the baby also accompanies this group and together they pay their regards to the village deity. The sattu is then offered to the Gods and lamb skin is tied to the tree and villagers aim at the skin with their arrows. Traditional music is played alongside and the entire ambiance is quite festive which gives a unique appearance to the whole gathering.
This is another special festival s of Lahaul and Spiti which is celebrated in Lahaul region only. It is usually celebrated on the moonless night in February. A white bed sheet is wrapped on a two feet bamboo stick which is tugged into the ground. This signifies an angel figure which is locally known as Barazza. Jewellery and Marigold flowers are offered to this divine figure.
Households in the valley are decorated and oil lamps lit which give a festive appearance all together. Dough of buttermilk are also prepared and offered to the deities and the villagers present on the occasion.
Livestock is also worshipped on this occasion and ample respect is offered to all elders in the family with the intention of seeking their blessings.
With Lahaul and Spiti primarily being a Buddhist dominated district of Himachal Pradesh, it is but natural that Buddha Purnima is celebrated with religious fervour in the region. On this occasion, prayer meetings are held in all the monasteries in the region and Chaam dance is also performed, especially at Key Monastery in Spiti.
Kungri monastery in the remote Pin valley celebrates this festival. Chaam dance is a specialty of this festival and a sword dance by villagers of Mud is also performed on the occasion. This is done usually on banks of Pin River which makes the occasion more festive indeed.
This festival is performed in monasteries spread across Lahaul and Spiti especially at Shashur, Gemur, Kye, Kardang, Mane and Tabo. This festival usually marks the end of summer in the region. The devil dance done by the lamas who are attired in their colorful dresses and masks adds a unique touch to the entire occasion.
At Kye monastery, this festival is known by the name of Kye Chaam festival and is one of the biggest events of the year.
This festival is celebrated in Kaza and is one of the biggest one in the region. It is usually a trade fair and people from as far as Ladakh come here during this time to make some purchases and explore the culture of Spiti valley. Earlier this was held in Kibber but now has been shifted to Kaza.
Usually this festival is celebrated in Kinnaur, another tribal district of Himachal Pradesh but this pre-harvest festival is also celebrated in the villages of Langza, Komic and Demul. In this daylong event, the villagers ride on horsebacks around the village.
Horse races are also held and the occasion is quite festive. Villagers also make a trip to each other’s homes and the festivities continue throughout the day.
Keylong Tribal Fair
This is one fair which many people including me have attended in Keylong in Lahaul and it coincides with the Independence Day in August which makes the occasion more festive. It is a state level fair and is held at the Police Ground in Keylong every year.
This festival is held in the third week of August in Udaipur in Lahaul and is a prominent one. A visit to Trilokinath temple is mandatory on this occasion and ghee and mustard lamps are lit in the temple premises.
A procession is also taken on the second day of the fair in which Thakur of Trilokinath makes a trip of the area on a horse.
This festival is celebrated once in a three year period and mostly in September. In this festival, the lamas offer their prayers to Lord Chikchait for a period of six days. The Chakhar is thrown into fire, the next day. Chaam Dance is also a specialty of Chakhar.
Prayers are made to Lord Chaugayal by the lamas on this occasion and the saur is thrown in the fire, the next evening as the lamas perform the Chham dance.
Traditional music, dance and cultural assemblage are a part of Spiti Festival which is held every year. Even if you are not able to attend other festivals in Spiti, do make a point to be in this region during Spiti festival as you will get a glimpse of the cultural richness of the region during this festive occasion.
Lahaul and Spiti is a unique attraction tha cannot be defined in words. Visit this land and you will know about the magical essence that the air here has.
More on this region and its uniqueness in the coming blogs!