Himachal Pradesh is a land of cultural diaspora! Words fail to define the mixture of different cultures one can see here. For the people of Himachal Pradesh, every day is nothing less than a celebration or jubilation. The festivals vary in terms of scale but most of them are attended by huge crowds who want to carry forward the rich legacy and rituals of their ancestors.
Every monastery, temple, church, gurudwara stages its own celebration, featuring parades of deities in gleaming golden silver canopies, performance of traditional dances like mask dance, thrilling adventure activities and ritual dramas. In Himachal Pradesh, every festival is celebrated in peace or by dancing the hours away in carefree abandonment. There are so many cultural festivals in Himachal Pradesh that it is really hard to pick some.
Halda festival – Welcome the New Year Dedicated to the goddess of wealth, Shashikar Apa, Halda festival is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm in order to celebrate the new year. The actual date of the celebration is decided by the Lamas. People of Lahaul districts come together and enjoy their new year by performing music.
Lamas also choose a different site to execute an old ritual as per which, every household carries few branches of a cedar tree to perform a bonfire. The bonfire signifies the unity of the community. It is more popular in the valleys of Keylong, River Chandra and River Bhaga.
Sazo The most awaited festival of Himachal Pradesh, Sazo is celebrated to bid adieu to the village deities. During the festival, the doors of the temples remain closed, but the wagons of god and goddesses remain open. It is believed that on this day, various deities abode to heaven for a short nap. The ritual signifies that God showers good things from heaven on its devotees. Therefore, the village people clean and polish the floors of the temples to receive God's blessings. Throughout the festival, villagers are filled with joy and ecstasy.
On this day, priests of the temples are deeply revered as they are considered as the representative of the deity. In some villages, priests of the temple go from one house to another just to sniff the incense. Villages give the priest a cordial reception; as a regard they also gift them food grains and gifts, a small ritual known as the Deacher and Deokhel. Poltus, Rice, Pulses, Vegetables, Meat, Halva, Chilta are some of the dishes prepared by the villagers on this occasion.
Lohri /Maghi Lohri is a feisty festival celebrated by the people of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. In the villages of Punjab, Lohri is celebrated as a ceremonial ritual to jumpstart the harvesting of Rabi crop. Lohri festival is famous by the name of Maghu as well because it coincides with the onset of 'Magh' month which commences just a day before.
On this festival, people dress in vibrant clothes and prepare dance performances. Children sing folk songs and go door to door, especially to the newly married couples consciously to collect funds for community bonfire. Around dusk, people from different households come together and lit a bonfire. People throw pop cans and puffed rice in the flames as a way of offering sacrifice to God so that they get blessed with a rich harvest. People from different communities come together for the grand holy celebration. On the whole, Lohri celebrates oneness and encourages people to rise above personal differences.
Himachal Winter Carnival To promote the culture of Himachal Pradesh, a winter carnival is organized every year in Manali. Himachal Pradesh started the trend of Winter Carnival back in 1977 and now after almost three decades the festival has become bigger and better! During this festival, the ski slopes of Manali are invaded by adventure enthusiasts. Another major highlight of the festival is the beauty contest known as the "Winter Queen" and "Mr. Manali"
A procession is also organized from the Hadimba Devi temple. The complete stretch of Manali mall road looks like a carnival. Right from folk dance to entertaining skits, a lot of things can be explored in this festival. People on a tour to Himachal Pradesh can't afford to miss the Himachal Winter Carnival. Other than enjoying the Himachal Winter Carnival in Manali, tourists have an opportunity to visit The Manacle Gompa, Vashisht Springs, Jagatsukh, Manu Temple and Hadimba Temple.
Losar Festival The New Year celebration of Tibetans, Losar festivals takes place in the first week of the first lunar month (February), with performances of Tibetan opera and prayer ceremonies being held at various monasteries. A day prior to the New Year, Nyi Shu GU is celebrated which is a ritualistic tradition. Special noodles called Thukpa Bhatuk are consumed on this day (Nyi Shu GU). During this festival, the local deity is worshipped. It is also believed that the Losar festival originated during the Pre-Buddhist period in Tibet when Bon was the religion followed in the country.
The First day of the festival is known as the 'Lama Losar' or the festival of the Guru and His Holiness The Dalai Lama', the spiritual head of the Tibetans is worshiped on this day. During the festival, Chaam dance is performed which features elaborated mask and costumes. The dance presents the story of how the cruel Tibetan king, known by the name of Langdarma, was killed in the 9th century, leading to the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The weird masks used in the dance have also earned it the name the 'Devil Dance'.
Doongri Festival, Kullu Doongri festival or Hadimba Devi fair is celebrated in Kullu in honor of and to celebrate Hadimba Devi’s (wife of Bhima) birthday. A huge fair is organized on this day; during the festival one can catch glimpses of dance and musical performances by local artists. Since the festival is celebrated on ‘Basant Panchami’, one can see colourful flowers blooming on Kullu valley. Moreover, little colorful kites also cover the skies to mark the spring festival, termed as “Basant Panchami.” Freshness, aroma, and vibrancy of flowers all around the valley gives the tourist the most blissful time of their lives.
Maha Shivaratri Maha Shivratri is celebrated in the month of February with great zeal and enthusiasm. Shivratri was the day when Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. Maha Shivaratri literally means ‘The Night of Shiva.' All the religious ceremonies and celebrations take place during the night. During the daytime, people make sculptures of the main deity Shiva and Parvati with the help of cow dung or earthen soil. A 3 day fair called Mandi International Maha Shivratri Festival is organized in Mandi, a small town of Himachal Pradesh.
Mandi Shivaratri Fair A grand celebration called International Maha Shivratri Festival is organized by Mandi. Since the temple is home to 81 temples of Lord Shiv, Mandi sees footfall of more than 200 devotees on the day of Shivratri. The festival is also known as a Mandi Shivratri festival. During the festival, a colorful procession called Shobha Yatra is organized as per which various deities are carried in their chariots to Mandi to pay homage to Madho Rai and the Raja. As per the old ritual, it is mandatory that every deity who visits Mandi should visit Madho Rai temple first in order to pay respect to Lord Vishnu and then honor the ruler. Consequently, the deity pays obeisance to Lord Shiv at Bhootnath temple where the main festival is organized. The entire procession is swayed by drums and folk music to indicate happiness.
Shivratri is the time when local businessman indulge in trading activities of products like walnut, ghee (butter oil), honey opium and general merchandise. On the second day, Jagaran is organized. On this occasion, a guru and his disciple make prophesies for the following year. On the last day, prayers are chanted and ‘chadars’ are offered in the temple.
Nalwari Fair Celebrated with great pomp and show since colonial times, Nalwari fair is a great platform for all the cattle traders to meet and do business. The festival was started by W. Goldstein, who was the superintendent of Shimla in 1889. He was so impressed with the breed of cattle produced in Himchal Pradesh that he decided to organize a fair where cattle could be bought and sold here.
The prime attraction of the Nalwari Festival is the Bullock trade. This week long festival attracts traders, business men and tourist from all across India. Nalwari Festival is the time when shopaholics can grab some interesting local artifacts like jewelry, paintings and local folk art. A wrestling match is also organized during the festival.
Baisakh or Vaisakhi is marked as the end of the winter season as per the agrarian tradition. The festival is celebrated with great pomp and show in Rewalsar, Prashar Lake near Mandi and Tattapanii near Shimla. Fairs are organized in every nook and corner of Himachal Pradesh. Wrestling, dancing and archery competitions are the main attractions of the festival.
In Kangra, a small clay model of Rali is made in every house to mark the day. Fairs by different names are organized in various places of Himachal Pradesh- Sui Mela in Chamba, Maha Naug Festival in Mandi, Markandaya fair in Bilaspur, and Rohru Jatra in Shikhru.
Spring festival, which is also called Pipal Jatra or Basantotsav, takes place in Kullu from 28th to 30th April. The tradition of celebrating the festival began long back when kings used to rule Himachal Pradesh. The festival marks the beginning of the spring season in the valley. It is said that during the bygone era, rulers used to sit under the papal tree to enjoy the traditional dances. As the time rolled by, the festival has lost much of its glory and glitters. During the festival, cultural performances are organized by Kala Kendra in amphitheatres. Cultural groups and reputed artists come from all over India to perform in the festival.
Rakhidumni (Rakhi) Festival Rakhidumni or Rakhi is celebrated on the full moon day in the monsoon month of Bhadrapad. The festival is celebrated to acknowledge the emotional bond of brother and sister. On this day, every sister ties a thread on her brother’s writs, which acts as a bond of protection. Rakhi signifies that a brother will protect his sister from all the evil of the world. The sacred thread remains on the wrist of the brothers for the entire month and when the Sairi festival comes, threads are removed and offered to Mother Sairi.
On this day, sisters pray for the long life of their brothers. In many parts of Himachal Pradesh, Rakhi is known by the name Kajri Navami or Kajri Purnima. This is the time when Goddess Bhagwati is worshipped. The festival is also known by different names-Vish Tarak (destroyer of Venom), Punya Pradayak (bestower of boons) and Pap Nashak (the destroyer of sins). This is the time when all the people of the family come together and share a good time with each other.
Phulaich Festival Phulaich means ‘the festival of flowers’ and as per Hindu calendar it is organized in the month of Bhadrapada. The festival is associated with the blooming of flowers in the Kinnaur valley. On this day, local villagers go to the mountains to collect Ladra flowers swayed by playing drums. The festival is organized as an act of remembering the ones passed away. Relatives offer rice, wine and food to the deceased ones, which later are distributed amongst the poor. Later, villagers go to visit the Dhangaspa family house and show their respect by garlanding the members of the family. A true reflection of Hilly culture can be seen in the colourful celebration process.
Ladarcha Festival / La Darcha Fair If tourists want to catch the glimpses of vibrant hilly culture of Himachal Pradesh then they should attend the La Darch festival. The festival is organized to strengthen the commercial bond between India and Tibet. The fair attracts many regional traders, local inhabitants, and tourist from across the world. The festival was abandoned in the year 1962 because of China war, but it was started again in the year 1980. The main attraction of the festival are folk song and dance performances by artists from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Art, Bhutan, Ladakh, Sikkim, Kinnaur and Nepal.
Traders from Kullu, Lahaul and Kinnaur districts gather here during this festival. Many items are traded like accessories, utensils, apparel, jewelry, metalwork, plastic goods, craft, dry fruits, grains and even livestock- yaks and pure blood horses. The festival is organized with a purpose to promote friendship and cultural understanding amongst the people living in Himalayan region.
Special attractions of the festival are Chaam and Buchan dance, special Buddhist sermons and archery competition. The calm and serene valley of Kaza is transformed into a bustling carnival during the festival.
Kullu Dussehra Dussehra celebration in Kullu is not at all similar to celebration in other parts of the country as no figurine of Ravan or Kumbhkarna is burned. The traditional Kullu Dussehra is organized in the month of October and gets off a spectacular start with the traditional procession of Lord Raghunathji. The Rath Yatra of the idol of Lord Ragunath is led by the Kullu Raja and village deities, and is known as the running of the Gods. Lord Raghunathji saddled on a gaily attired chariot is pulled from its fixed place in Dhalpur Maidan to another spot across the Maidan by big ropes. The pulling of ropes is regarded sacred by the local people. All the deities from various temples are brought from the temple to the foreground in order to pay homage to Raghnathji. Here one can see one of the most spectacular processions in the country as well as the state; it attracts a huge number of tourists.
Celebration commences on ‘Vijaya Dashmi’ day; over 250 people gather here and camp at Dhalpur Maidan for a week in order to pay obeisance to Lord Raghunathji, the presiding deity. The festival is celebrated with complete fevours for a week. This Hindu festival is celebrated all over India to mark the triumph of good over evil (Lord Ram over Ravan). On the last day of the festival, the chariot of Raghunath ji is taken to the bank of the river Beas. Then a heap of wood along with grass is set on fire, symbolizing the burning of effigies of Ravana, the demon of Lanka, and is followed by the sacrifice of chosen animals.
International Himalayan Festival The international Himalayan festival is celebrated in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh to commemorate the occasion when His Holiness The Dalai Lama was awarded Nobel Peace prize in the year 1985. The festival holds a special significance as it symbolizes the peace initiative. Indo-Tibetan Friendship Society along with the Central Tibetan Administration and Himachal Pradesh Tourism sponsors the Global Himalayan Festival.
International Himalayan Festival lasts for three days in McLeodganj. Different stalls in the festival showcase the culture, handicrafts, traditional medicines, and cuisines of the Himalayan region. The festival acts as an initiative to strengthen harmony between the inhabitants of Himachal Pradesh and Tibetans.
Ice Skating Carnival To one's astonishment, Shimla is home to the biggest natural ice skating rink in Asia. That is why it is just the right place to host Ice Skating Carnival. Being in close proximity to Pierre Panjar, Dhauladar, Shivalik and Himalayas, the city is blessed with the perfect weather to conduct full-fledged winter sports for visiting tourists. Ice Skating Carnival is a managed by the Skating club of Shimla, which has been successfully running the program for over 60 years. The carnival is celebrated with a lot of pomp and splendour in Himachal Pradesh and has a huge influx of visitors each year.
Ice-skating, skiing, figure skating, chain tags, speed hockey and ice hockey are some of the prominent sports which can be played here. Other than sports, various recreational activities like fancy dress and dance competition are organized side by side.
This is the home of God, a place where the snow sets and the oldest democracy in the world rests!
There’s no other place in India which celebrate festivals as enthusiastically as Himachal Pradesh. Enjoy the colour and drama of Himachal Pradesh’s festive pageantry.