BY ANJALI AGRAHARI
Almora has its own journey for
Reading is not enough if one wants to know why Almora is the ‘Cultural Capital’ of Uttarakhand. One must need to go there to feel the essence of its diversity. There are a lot of cultural activities happening from time to time in which the people of Almora coming from different backgrounds showcase their knowledge, folklore, rituals, lifestyles, languages, beliefs, and customs. Also, tiled roofed houses and paved streets are evidence that the
One more reason for this cultural diversity is the existence of different tribes and temporary settlement of dynasties over the centuries. According to earlier tradition, Tiwaris were the inhabitants of Almora who supplied Sorrel daily for cleansing the vessels of the Sun Temple at Katarmal. Since Vishnu Purana and Mahabharat talks about this town, it is obvious that somewhere the heritage around that age can be seen here. Ancient tribes like the Sakas, the Nagas, the Kiratas, the Khasas and the Hunas had their existence here. Not only this, local chiefs like Kulindas were the actual rulers. Belonging to the Aryan stock, the Khasas had also lived there in the town. Copper and stone engravings were dominated by the Katyuris clan. Dynasties like Chand and Gorkhas ruled for decades. Old monuments, forts & royal courts are still found there. All these diversities imprinted their culture and tradition and lent this place it’s variety.
Other than the established culture and hertitage, impression of Kumaon culture can be seen in the town. Every year thousands of people from every corner of the globe come here to see the way of celebrating festivals which cannot be seen in the other parts of Uttrakhand. Usually we celebrate Holi, Diwali, Makar Sankranti with the same zest and for the same reason. But in Almora, celebration of such festivals have their different stories, rituals and practices – one as enthralling and magnificent as the next. ‘Holi’ in Almora is not a one day celebration but it is associated with three types of segment that is the ‘Baithaki Holi’ which is based on ‘Shastriya Sangeet’ with a mix of ‘Kumaoni Sangeet’ as well. “Khadi Holi” in which ‘sangeet’ happens while roaming around everywhere in groups that anyone can join for having fun and spreading the joy of Holi. “Mahila Holi” that is essentially women’s Holi is marked with songs of femininity that are sang in relevance to Holi. Girda has depicted Holi of Almora in the most beautiful way. In fact, it was his most famous and prominent piece of literature.
Temples like Chitai has unique collections of brass bells of different sizes – and the Divine Kasar Devi has, as believed by the locals, sheltered many people who fell in love with the place including Europeans. Nanda Devi Temple is said to be the cultural and religious centre of Almora. Here is celebrated a very famous festival known as Nanda Devi Mela. This Mahotsav is celebrated for a period of five to seven days in the month of September from the time of the Chand kingdom. These five to seven days of celebration is prominent because it is said that Nanda Devi was the family goddess of the Chand Kings and to bring economic and cultural prosperity in the region they worshipped her. Devotees from different regions of Uttrakhand come to participate in the procession which carries the ‘dola’ (palanquin) of Nanda Devi and her sister, Sunanda to submerge in the water. It is the time when local craftworkers get huge customers to sell their handmade products while enjoying traditional folk dances like ‘Jhora’ and ‘Chanchri’ and songs. Something that again supports why Almora is the cultural capital of not only Kumaon but also of Uttrakhand is that, this is a festival in which not only the Kumaoni people come and worship but also the Garhwali people come from the different districts of Garhwal. People of Garhwal also worship goddess Nanda Devi in Chamoli district.
In the 15th B.C. when humans started making metal weapon instead of stone and wood, culture was observed to have developed in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. As evidences, experts found human shaped copper apparatus in many places of Kumaon. Till the time of Chand and Gorkhas, copper became a well established business. But soon industrial revolution flooded all metal artist and machines took their places. Yet, Almora has sustained with the business of copper utensils and equipments for many further years. In the recent few years, Almora seems to be declining in copper art because of economic and industrial factors. Since this culture is running from 400 years ago in Almora, this town is also known as ‘Copper Town’ for its famous ‘karigari’ in copper.
Lal Bazaar is a place where one can find unique handicraft, bronze-brass wares, fine rabbit wool clothes, sumptuous cuisine and tasty sweets. Not only this, travelled by many people, it has been found that many buildings and their windows in the bazaar somewhere resemble to those that in Jaipur from 300 years ago.
Since people are the reason for existence of culture, Almora is extraordinary with its people as well. For nurturing the heritage, people like Sumitra Nandan Pant and Brewster have contributed in art and literature in their own ways.
Encircled by two rivers- Kaushiki (Koshi) and Shalmali (Suyal), the town has music and dance influenced by spirituality, religion and daily life of people. Along with dance and music, ‘Kaapa’or ‘Gaahat ki Dal’ is the traditional cuisine. Sweets like ‘Khoya Singori’ and ‘Bal Mithai’ would not be found so delightful anywhere else in India other than Almora. In marriages, traditions of Kumaon and Pahar can be seen with the multiple colours and cuisines. Traditional attire of the bride is ‘Ghaghara-Pichhora’ beautifully designed with pieces of glasses enduing with gold and silver tatting. Here, Ghagahara refers to long skirts and Pichhora refers to kumaoni veil. Rangeeli Pichhora, nath, pahunchi are the attractions for tourists coming here, specially the women. Men wear ‘Dhoti’ or ‘Pajyama’ and ‘kurta’. Many other attrires can be seen in Almora because of the presence of a diversity brought about from different places by the tourists. There are many socio-geo-tourism factors which influence the culture of Almora as well as Uttarakhand. Almora is painted in so many colours in itself that it is difficult to identify any aspect where culture has not left its impact upon. Situated in the Kumaon mountains of the Himalayas in eastern Uttarakhand, geographically, Almora represents both the culture of Kumaon and Garhwal due to its attachment to Garhwal and Chamoli districts. History is proof of its cultural diversity and people living here, their lifestyle in itself is something to be beheld. But somewhere we need to be prepared for the current and upcoming situations where preserving the heritage will be a task in Almora because of climate change, population, industrialization and other factors which cannot be underestimated. Almora is much like an attractive gem of different colours which needs delicate handling.