Role Of Kumaoni Holi In Indian Independence

By Nitin Chandola

Gatherings like Holi in Kumaon played an important role in boosting the Independence movement among the natives of Kumaon and Garhwal. Imprints of Holi in Kumaon is found since Chandravansh and Katyurvansh, the phrases like ‘तुम राजा प्रद्युमन  शाह, मेरी करो प्रतिपाल, लाल होली खेल रहे हैं ” shows that Holi was an integral part of the king’s court in both Kumaon and the Garhwal. These gatherings continued year after year to become a cult and later became an integral part of the Kumaoni and Garhwali culture, which later led us to the Indian Independence from the colonial Britishers. The course of Holi, to survive the invasion of Gurkhas, Mughals and Britishers made a deep impact on the verses of Holi.

“केशरबाग लगाया,मज़ा बादशाह ने पाया |

इतने में आ गयी  पल्टन, बिगुल बजाय “

This verse in Kumaoni Baithi Holi shows how the invasions affected the Kumaoni Culture. Kumaoni Holi also reflects the illustrious personality that Akbar’s navratna had on Kumaon ‘मियां तानसेन आज खेले होली तुम्हारे दरबार | सप्त सुरन को रंग बनो है और आलाप  तान की फुहार ‘ is among the verse that depicts that Tansen was a well known personality in the remotest of the Himalayas. Initially these Holi were part of the king’s court only but after Mughal invasion and British Colonisation, the Holi of Kumaon transcends to the local villages of Uttarakahnd, chiefly in Kumaon. In the early nineteenth century, the Holi of Kumaon used to take place in Lala Bazaar of Almora in the Raghunath Mandir and Hanuman Mandir.

Personalities like Mohan Lal Saha, Chandra Lal Saha and Rampyari were the ones who stood to save this beautiful culture and made this an accessible entitiy to the locals of Almora. Due to these small clubs in Almora, the Holi expanded its arena to the Pithoragarh, Nainital and Bageshwar. These advancements in the pre-Independence era were the founding stones of the boost in the Independence movement in Uttarakahnd.

Photo Courtesy – Deepak Bafila

Hooka Club in Almora is adamant witness of the course by which Kumaoni Holi played an important role in the Quit India Movement.  The Quit India Movement in Kumaon and Garhwal was led by the eminent poets and literature enthusiast like Girish Tewari “Girda”, Gauridutt Pandey “Gorda”, Charuchand Pandey, Vishwambhar Dutt Chandola, Badri Prasad Pandey.

When the Congress was divided into two idealism of Radicals and Moderates, Uttarakhand chose to remain moderate in the method of attaining the Indian Independence. This is clearly reflected in the one of the Holi by “Gorda”

दे हो स्वराज बिहारी

श्री कृष्णा मुरारी

रंग हमारो बिदेश सिधारो,

लीगे ससमुन्दर पारी

भांग पीना सुं रैगेछ खाली और दीना सूं गारी

These holis were sung in the gatherings of  a large number of people so that it could have a collective effect on the natives of Kumaon for attaining Swaraj. Kumaon was largely influenced by the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, which is again reflected in a Holi by Gauridutt Pandey (Gorda)

‘तू खेल गाँधी   लाल होली

होली है गोद लीह भारत मात पुकारे

लाल भयो क्या हाल ?  त्वेकणि दिन रात संतुछ को महा चंडाल

आँखन तेरी आंसू तहाड़ा मुख धार छान राल। … ‘

Charuhandra Pandey in his book “Chodo Ghulami” wrote

‘ होली अजब खेलाई मोहन अवतार कन्हाई

सूत कातकर चरखे से मोहन खद्दर चीर पहनाई

विदेशी माल गुलाल उड़ायो

स्वदेसी रंग बनाई

गोरे सब नाच नचायी

रंग बिरंगी पिचकारी मारी

नौकरशाही भगाई, स्वतंत्रता की गारी सुनाई

स्वराज्य पताका उड़ाई

जी हुजूरो को भांग पिलाई’

Most of these holis were sung in private Baithi Holi as the British India made restrictions on gathering of people for protests and influencing speeches. Hence, these private Holi Baithaks became a catalyst for Independence Movement in Uttarakhand. The holi sung in Baithaks were mainly classical in forms and were based on the basic ragas like Khamaj, Bharavi and Bhairav. Some also influenced the Baithi Holis by introducing new ragas like Raga Yaman and JayJaywanti later but most common were Bhairav and Bhairavi. As far as the tabla recital is concerened, a particular course and methodology is not followed in playing the instrument. A sixteen matra taal is usualy played as seventeen matra taal or eighteen matra  taal. But the major and sophisticated holi clubs like the Hooka Club made its benchmark to play holi in the classical music terms and regulation. 


Photo Courtesy – Deepak Bafila

It would not have been possible to use holi like a weapon of awareness as it was a century before. Not only did holi play an important part in Indian Independence but also in attaing the success in Uttarakhand Andolan. Girda played an important role in reviving Kumaoni Holi by writing and performing in Kumaon Parishads and Nainital Samachar Patrika. Almora and Nainital remained key centers for years after the Uttarakhand Andolan.  But now in the millinal era, the youth of Kumaon and remote Garhwal are influenced by the alcoholism during holi, which has made kumaoni holi as the desperate fest for hooligans. Girish Tewari’s revived holi’s consist of the verses like

अरे हां हां रे शम्बू

आपूं बिराजे झाडिन में

नाम लियो रघुनाथ शम्भू

आपूं बिराजे झाडिन में

Girish Tewari’s enthusiasm towards holi took Nainital and Almora to a new heights of publicity that people attended the Khadi Holi of Kumaon only due to Hudka played by Girda in Nainital and Almora’s mains. Playing role  of holiyar, the Uttarakahnd Andolan rose with extinct holis like

रंग दारी दियो हो अलबेलिन में

रंग दारी दियो हो अलबेलिन में

The bizzare facts of holi of Kumaon is that it is celebrated for about a quarter of a year. The main holi starts from Makar Sakranti or “Uttarayani” in Baghnath temple of Bageshwar. In Raghunath mandir these holi are sung in paush sakranti to shivratri hence called “nirvana holi” after shivratri and bassant panchmi holi changes its pace with verses like

आयो नवल बसंत

सखी ऋतुराज कहाये

The baithi holis then transcends to khadi holi (mostly done in Phalguna) around a bonfire at nights. The baithi holis are the best time when each day and each hour of a Kuamoni and Garhwali native is spent in singing holis describing the expectations and rejunivation of youth in the  weather

झुकी आयो  शहर में व्यापारी

इस व्यापारी को प्यास लगी है

पनिअ पीला दे मतवाली, झुकी आयो शहर में व्योपारी |

The same verse became revolutionary when “girda” writes it for the water mafias in Uttarakhand to aware the natives that their water is being sold in packed water bottels. The water that was free entity of the Uttarakhandis are not the part of the brutal corporations driven by the political propaganda

एक तरफ बर्बाद बस्तियाँ-एक तरफ हो तुम।

एक तरफ डूबती कश्तियाँ-एक तरफ हो तुम।

एक तरफ है सूखी नदियाँ-एक तरफ हो तुम।

एक तरफ है प्यासी दुनिया- एक तरफ हो तुम।

अजी वाह! क्या बात तुम्हारी

तुम तो पानी के व्यापारी

खेल तुम्हारा, तुम्हीं खिलाड़ी,

बिछी हुई ये बिसात तुम्हारी

सारा पानी चूस रहे हो,

नदी-समन्दर लूट रहे हो

गंगा-यमुना की छाती पर

कंकड़-पत्थर कूट रहे हो

उफ!! तुम्हारी ये खुदगर्जी

चलेगी कब तक ये मनमर्जी

जिस दिन डोलेगी ये धरती

सर से निकलेगी सब मस्ती

महल-चौबारे बह जायेंगे

खाली रौखड़ रह जायेंगे

बूंद-बूंद को तरसोगे जब

बोल व्यापारी-तब क्या होगा?

नगद-उधारी-तब क्या होगा??

आज भले ही मौज उड़ा लो

नदियों को प्यासा तड़पा लो

गंगा को कीचड़ कर डालो

लेकिन डोलेगी जब धरती-बोल व्यापारी-तब क्या होगा?

विश्व बैंक के टोकन धारी-तब क्या होगा?

योजनाकारी-तब क्या होगा?

नगद-उधारी तब क्या होगा?

एक तरफ हैं सूखी नदियाँ-एक तरफ हो तुम।

एक तरफ है प्यासी दुनिया-एक तरफ हो तुम।

Holi always became the way to convey a message and to guide the soul of the masses of Uttarakahnd. Hence, it was the best ever tool available in the pre independence era to make sure that the people participate in the movement to attain swaraj.

Well, on the day of main holi (Charadi), the tolis of holiyars go from one village to another singing  and dancing eating the Aalu Guthkas with Bhang Chutney. The people pay homage to the people who lost their lives previous years. With a note of Sadness, holi leaves Kumaon for another year in which many will not be able to see the celebration due to their ill fates , Kumaon sings holi for them

आज कन्हैया रंग बहरे

होरी कन्हैय्या संग चले |

गयी, खेली मथुरा जाई,

होरी कन्हैय्या संग चले |

But, this is not the end of the celebrations, In Kumaon, holi singing continue till the Ram Navami in the same form of “Nirvana” as in Pausha month. The most of holis sung in “nirvana” is about Rama- Sita exile of fourteen years and Sita’s Abduction by Ravana. This is clearly reflected in the verses sung in remote Pithoragarh

अरे हां  हाँ रे सीता

वन में अकेली कैसे रही

कइसेस रही दिन रात सीता

वन में अकेली कैसे रही | 

Now, with such descriptive gatherings around the region of Kumaon and parts of Garhwal, it is easily comprehensible how much the natives of Uttarakahd prioritize the gatherings in pre-Independence era. In the era of acute political emergencies in the region, holi plays an important role of connecting the state representatives with their electors.


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