Legends of Kumaoni Holi

By Pranav Dhasmana

Every time a culture dies, we lose a part of our heritage, history and identity. The ‘pahadi culture’ in Uttarakhand has been dying a slow death ever since exodus from hills became a huge trend. Kumaoni Holi has always been a defining attribute of Uttarakhand’s culture; it is the essence of Kumaon. Marked with music and celebration, the Kumaoni Holi is nothing short of an extravaganza. But with the passage of time and the declining population the colours seem to be fading away. Usually, a culture survives through the youth and the youth of Uttarakhand seems to have rebuffed the beautiful tradition, and not entirely due to their own fault.

Displacement from one’s home doesn’t always mean abandonment of one’s roots. Although Kumaoni Holi might not be as popular as the plethora of ‘Bollywood Nights’ or college fests but the tradition still lives on in the hearts of people that still remain entranced by their childhood memories and still strive to bring them back to life.

The Jankavi of Uttarakhand – Girish Chandra Tiwari (Girda) was the pioneer of Kumaoni Holi until his demise in 2010, penning down many songs and poems like Basanti Phool and Jogi Aaya. Apart from generally enriching it, he played a very crucial role in bringing Kumaoni Holi to the mainstream population. So great was the influence of his words and music on the local culture and such was his legacy that his name became synonymous with Kumaoni Holi which many people referred to as Girda Holi. Kumaoni holi still remains incomplete without the rhythms of Girda.

Alok Prabhakar, a litterateur and poet from Tehri who has been published in many magazines and articles writes beautifully about Gharwal and its Holi. He brings to light the glorious past of the royal holi in the old Tehri which our newer generation would have never known otherwise. He is an adamant advocate for the dying Uttarakhandi culture and works along with the Uttarakhand Jan Jagriti Samiti. This Samiti works for the several social causes of Uttarakhand and one of them is cultural activism. It brings together many folk artists during holi for traditional celebrations which are organized on various levels in the state. Such events like ‘holi milan’ are an attempt to revive the culture of Kumaoni Holi. Basanti Devi Bisht is legendary in her own right – a folk singer who broke all norms when she took on the task of singing Jagars which previously had always been done by men. Her renowned jagars are a must for the commencement of every holi event in Uttarakhand. Such is her prowess and legacy in the folk culture of Uttarakhand that she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2017. Charu Chandra pandey was a veteran composer who had composed many beautiful melodies which are now staple for any holi gathering. ‘Yeh Kaisi Nadaani’ remains his most loved composition. The charm of his words came from his seamless infusion of the Braj Bhasha into Kumaoni. This is a major reason for Kumaoni Holi’s popularity even away from Kumaon; in regions like Lucknow. Naveen Joshi, an editor and journalist who lived all his adult life in Lucknow has spoken about how the Pahadi folks in the servant quarters of the Canal Colony made Brij Holi into their own – a beautiful amalgamation of pahadi and desi culture. While the enthusiasm for Khadi and Baithaki Holi has died down over the years there but the Mahila Holi still thrives due to the various ‘kirtan madalis’ that the women folks have formed over there. It is such anecdotes that inspire hope; that tell us that ‘palayan’ doesn’t have to be the end of our culture. Great singers like Neeraj and Navin Pant have created their own legacies in Lucknow as well as Uttarakhand with  nostalgic songs of the yesteryears like ‘Lapat Zhapat Mori’ and ‘Holi Yeh Kaisi Nadaani’.

With time Uttarakhand saw the rise of many authentic voices like Gajendra Adhikari, Purushottam Joshi, Shiv Charan Pandey, Dinesh Pandey and Sanjay Joshi who enamoured people with their vocal talent. Shiv Charan Pandey works with the Hukka Club of Almora in an attempt to revive the traditions of Kumaon especially the Holi. Sanjay Joshi on the other hand is a prominent figure in the legacy of Champawat Holi which originated in the Banku village. The people of Banku have preserved their traditions, even in the younger generations and still come from far and wide under the guidance of Manohar Joshi, to participate in the Holi there. The great Uttarakhandi poet Maheshanand Gaur who penned poems like ‘Chal Roopa Jhoomali’ has also become a significant part of the holi culture with time. Even the newer singers and musicians like Vyapak Joshi and Hemant Pant have created their own niche in the Kumaoni Holi culture with their own renditions of fan-favourite songs like ‘More Kanha Jo Aaye Palat Ke’.

Legend Basanti Bisht awarded Padma award

While the fervor over Khadi and Baithi Holi might be fading; the women of Kumaon are persistent. The Mahila Holi which is usually considered more flippant than the rest seems to be holding on quite strong. Distance, surroundings or languages are no obstacle for these women and this tradition has spread over even outside Kumaon.

What makes a legend? Legend has it – fame does. Though all our artists have enjoyed varying degrees of fame, it is not for the sake of their popularity that they are counted among the legends. All these people be it poets, singers, performers, organizers or just the playful audience, in one way or another have created not only a legacy for themselves but footprints through which the younger and unknowing generation will get back to its roots; to the awesome spectacle of the Kumaoni Holi. That is truly – LEGENDARY.


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