By Priyanjali Bhalla

The chilly mountain air carried the classical melody of Raga Yaman sung by the temple Holiyar far across the mountains. It had been a few hours since the sun had set. The dinner had been served some time ago. But this cold and long winter night would continue long. The Holi Baithhaks had just begun and the “machwani” drinks had been served with ginger and black pepper to everyone in the Baithhak. Soon every distant village across the high hills and mountains would be connected in the celebrations of the Baithki Holi with the traditional music reflecting the legends from the fifteenth century. This would continue till the break of dawn.

Rangeelo Kumaon chabeelo Kumaon

   In Kumaon, it starts from the month of December, even before the Christmas celebration begins to take shape in the town. Kumaon has its own way of celebrating the festival of Holi in three different forms. Nirvan ki Holi or Baithki Holi is the first to be celebrated amongst the three forms of Holi. The origin of Baithki Holi dates back to the fifteenth century in the courts of the Chand kings. The stories of Lord Krishna are sung in the form of ragas with the accompaniment of classical instruments. The family who hosts the Baithhak and takes care of all the arrangements for the professional singers or Holiyars this year will continue to do it the next year too. All through the winters of December, January and February, the mountains of Uttarakhand will echo with spiritual music and ragas which present a beautiful blend of Braj and Kumaoni musical traditions.

   It is the end of the month of February now and the snow has been thawing. The last icicle melted into water and slipped from the rough mountain edge. The sun beam travelling miles from its source pierced the droplet and cast several colors in the atmosphere, before it could fall on the ground. The entire surrounding is filled with vibrant colours. The white sheet of snow has thawed away to reveal the thousand colours of Spring which are now spread far and wide till the eyes can behold. There is an air of celebration all around and vibes of happiness ring through the mountains. It is the month of Phalguna and the end of winters is near. Time for the sowing season is approaching and it would be celebrated with great joy and cheer by everyone throughout the country. But the villages of Kumaon start their preperations quite soon compared to other parts of the country.

choliya dance of almora

The rural villages of Kumaon are busy with the celebrations of “Khadi Holi”. Classical songs could be heard hummed by one or the other in the Garhwali villages while Kumaonis could be seen dancing and rejoicing to the beats of the dhol. The urban areas are not yet touched by this chord of celebration music. It seems that they are too busy living their urbane lives. Even the Garhwal region awaits the coming of Phalguna Purnima before they completely immerse themselves in revelry. But the Kumaon villages come alive with the approaching festival long before the month of Phalguna even begins. People are seen spotting white conical caps and kurta-pyajamas. Khadi Holi is full of rigour and fun. It is dominated by the Kumaoni traditions and music. The “Tolis” of men can be seen visiting each other’s houses to exchange greetings and chant prayers for the welfare and well-being of all. Even the women are not behind. You can see around and not be tired of the beauty portrayed by these rural women in their ethnic attire. Women gather together to celebrate “Mahila Holi”. They gather and rejoice the coming of Spring by singing songs and dancing their hearts out.

  Finally the festival of Holi approaches and people all over the land of Bharat can be seen welcoming it with exuberance and glee.

  In one of the hilly villages, it’s not morning yet. The sun has yet not peeked over the mountains. But there is already some mischievous activity going around. Shambhu can be seen hiding behind the parapet of his house. What on Earth is he upto at this early hour of faint luminescence of the dawn?

Oh! Now I realize it.

  Follow his gaze and you would reach to a green paiya tree in the middle of the woods arranged in a sort of a bonfire. This is termed as “Cheer”. The Kumaoni villages have a ceremony known as Cheer Bandhan. The Cheer is made ready fifteen days before the Dulhendi or Chharadi. As the tradition follows, there is a playful game of stealing the Cheer of the other village and taking it to their own. Thus every village and locality guards its own Cheer very carefully. Shambhu and his friends are in pursuit of stealing the Cheer of the other villages. This activity creates a sense of bonding and team spirit among  the villagers or localities and bring them closer to mark the end of Hindu year with love and friendship.

  A few miles away, in one of the Garhwal villages, the start of the day brought with itself the sense of traditional lifestyle. The people started their day by thanking the God Almighty and beginning their hardworking day comprising of physical labour. It was not that they were not in a festive mood about the season, but their homes in these distant lands had brought them closer to the nature. They celebrated the festivals by thanking Nature and being in conformity with the natural laws.

  But if one travelled to the more urban and busier hill stations of Garhwal, you would find a more amalgamation of the people and cultures. The location of many pilgrimage in various cities of Garhwal have made people more social and open in their behavior . This has lead the traditional approach to transform into a more contemporary and mingled cultural style. But this dosen’t mean that these people do not celebrate their festivals in accordance to their traditional practices. Their beauty and style of celebrating the festivals lies in the fact that it reflects multiple influences of various dynasties and rulers.   The day of Phalguna Purnima or Dulhendi has approached. The entire country can be seen celebrating the victory of the good over evil and seems to be welcoming the season of sowing with great laughter and excitement. The atmosphere is filled with the colour Red, the color of prosperity and love.

As one awaits to witness the day of Dulhendi, they would be amazed to see the varied colors of happiness, joy, enthusiasm, love and friendship being expressed on the hundreds of colour smeared faces around. It is impossible for one to escape without their own faces being smeared in Gulal, be it the cultural lands of Kumaon or the nature loving, shy prople of distant Garhwal regions or the ever populated pilgrimage towns of Garhwal. Elders can be seen applying tilak on each other’s foreheads while children and youngsters can be seen coated and smudging each other in varied sorts of colors. The festive color is followed by varieties of sweets and etables. Their way of celebrating might be different considering a few traditional practices and cultural norms, but keeping together, the festival of Holi is one bright and unique cluster of rich heritage and tradition which is extravagantly celebrated in this Land of Gods to welcome the new Hindu year with happiness and cheer


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