By Kushagra Mittal
Holi, the festival of colours, falls on the last day of the last month of the Hindi calendar. The month – ‘Phalgun’ is celebrated as the onset of the Spring season in North India. Holi is celebrated in different forms across India. Mathura’s Latthmaar Holi, Phulo ki Holi is well known across the globe. In the shadow of the world famous and highly advertised forms of Holi from different parts of the country, the traditions and forms of Holi unique to Uttarakhand remain mysterious and hidden.
The Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, rich in its heritage and culture, celebrates different forms of Holi. The Holi that the Kumaoni people celebrate is exlusive to the hill state. The festival of colours isn’t just the celebration of victory of good over evil, rather it is the celebration of the agriculture and the spring season. Similar to what Punjab celebrates Baisakhi for, Holi is marked as the harvest festival in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.
Despite being ruled by the Chandra Dynasty at least 600 years ago, the way the Kumaonis have preserved their culture till date is really commendable. The festival of Holi starts on the day of Basant and not just one, but the hill state celebrates Holi in three different forms. The Baithaki Holi, Khadki Holi and Mahila Holi are the three major forms of the festival celebrated in the region.
Holi isn’t just a day festival for the pahadis, they begin the celebration much before the actual Holi day and lasts until late Spring.
Amid the Holi month of spring falls another important festival called ‘Phooldeyi’. This festival also relates to Holi. Originally celebrated at Sankrant, this festival is also called ‘Phool Sankrant’ in the hill state also marking the celebration of the onset of Spring. Women and children wake up early morning and march to the nearby forests to collect the best of the wild flowers of buras, basing and Phulyni that bloom right after the winter when the snow begins to melt.
Children put the flowers at their doorsteps considering it to bring good luck to the family. The festival is celebrated by the exchange of jaggery sweets and ‘Sei’- a traditional pudding unique to the hill state followed by the gathering of people singing Garhwali and Kumaoni songs. This is Uttarakhand’s own form of ‘Phoolon ki Holi’.
What most amazes people is that despite being hit by the migration and cultural attack, pahadis have proved themselves in saving their cultural heritage. No matter where they go and what they do, most of them never miss a change to celebrate ‘Phuldeyi’.
The Baithki Holi literally translates to sitting Holi. Baithki Holi is celebrated from the day of Basant Pachmi in the month of Paush and lasts until the day of Dhulendi- the last full moon day of the month Phalguna. Small to large religious groups sit along and recite Classical Music with Kumaoni influence. Since the festival marks the return of Lord Krishna to Mathura, the Baithki Holi is celebrated by the chants of Ragas dedicated to lord Krishna. Since, there is a great significance of ‘Shastriya Sangeet’ in the region, therefore, this Holi is also termed has Shastriya Holi. For many different forms of Shastriya folk songs are sung during this period.
Phuldeyi festival falls between the Kumaoni Holi season where they celebrate Holi in different forms.
Sometimes starting with Khadi holi even before the Christmas, the Holi season in the area is the longest in India.
The Khadi Holi festival starts later than Baithki Holi and is mostly celebrated by groups of men called tolis. Men wear Kumaoni white topi and white Kurta Payjama or dhoti and with full excitement sing and dance their heart out in contrast to the much decent Baithki Holi which is restricted to singing Bhajans. The festival lasts for days and is celebrated by singing Khadi holi songs. People also perform traditional Kumaoni dance. Dedicating to Lord Krishna, the folks song at this Holi depicts the period of Krishna in Vrindavan and Mathura and also celebrates the love between Krishna and Radha.
तुम हो बृज की सुन्दर गोरी, मैं मथुरा को मतवारो
चुंदरि चादर सभी रंगे हैं, फागुन ऐसे रखवारो।
सब सखिया मिल खेल रहे हैं, दिलवर को दिल है न्यारो
अब के फागुन अर्ज करत हूँ, दिल कर दे मतवारो
भृज मण्डल सब धूम मची है, खेलत सखिया सब मारो
लपटी झपटी वो बैंया मरोरे, मारे मोहन पिचकारी
The most amazing thing about Kumaoni Holi is a form exclusive for woman. Mahila Holi is much similar to Baithki Holi. The main difference between the two is that only women participate in Mahila Holi.
Small to large gatherings of Kumaoni women gather and sing Mahila Holi songs and chant mantras dedicated to Lord Krishna.
It could be related to equal status for women in Kumaon, not given recently, but has been in practice for centuries.
On the Holi, what is known as Holika in the rest of the parts of the country is known as Cheerabandhan in Kumaon and Holika Dahen is termed as Cheer Dahen. Cheerdahen is symbolic of the victory of the pious Prahlad over his evil father’s plans. People pray to the holy Holika for best of luck and wishes and take parikrama in order to pray to the holy deity.
Kumaoni Holi may not be very famous and well known, but its rich traditions and practices are encouraging more and more people from all parts of the world to visit the region during the festive season. What is difficult is to protect the traditions and culture and it’s really commendable that the hill state is not only protecting but also opening up the doors to others and spreading it to other parts of the country.