Fairs and festivals are an integral part of the Indian way of life. A number of fairs and festivals are held every in the land locked hill state of Himachal Pradesh. The celebrations range from religious to tribal to contemporary.
There is a sobriety, but no less joy, when Lohri or Maghi comes along in mid-January. This is the traditionary mid-winter day and also commemorates the last sowing of the Rabi crops. Community bonfires, folk songs and dancing mark the festival. In tribal Spiti, Dechhang is celebrated at he height of winter, while the Lahaul area reserves it for early April. Paonta Sahib is a major focus on Guru Gobind Singh's birthday. The town and other gurudwaras close to it, are closely linked with the Guru's life.
On a mid-night towards the end of Paush, Phagli begins in Lahaul's pattan valley with snow being packed in a conical basket - kilta. This is upturned on a roof and resembles a Shivalinga. Shiva, Naga and the goddess Hadimba are worshipped, and the younger generation also mark it by venerating the village elders. Chhang and Lugari, locally brewed liquors flow freely and ritual dishes are eaten. Kinnaur's Sazi, also comes at around this time. The New Year brings with it the National Snow Statue Competition at Kufri near Shimla. It is also time for ice-skating in the state capital.
Snow continues to play a major part in February's festivals and Himachal's Winter Carnival is also held this month. Gochi in the Bhaga valley is an unusual festival when the villagers celebrate the birth of male children. Taken marriages of children below the age of six are also performed - and a lighter side comes with the snow balling every child participates in. February brings with it skiing competitions held at Solang Nullah in Manali. A fair in the memory of the seer Baba Barbhag Singh is held at around the same time at Una. It is believed that the Baba had magical powers, which were used towards altruistic ends. Basant Panchami or the arrival of spring is ushered in by the little kites that dapple the horizon with their color.
Shivratri or the festival to celebrate the marriage of Shiva in March signifies ritual gaiety at the famous Baijnath shrine. The cattle fair at Nalwari, Bilaspur is set amidst carnival atmosphere. Cattle is traded, there are wrestling bouts and aero and water sports shows are recent additions. Chait Durga Asthami is celebrated in the Shakti shrines at Hathkoti, Chitpurni, Jwalamukhi and Vajreshwari. Color and merrymaking mingle on Holi, the festival of colors at the Gurdwara at Paonta Sahib, Sirmaur.
Baisakhi is one of Himachal's most important festivals. Rooted in the rural agrarian tradition, it bids a final farewell to winter. At Tattapani near Shimla, at the Rewalsar and Prashar lakes near Mandi, people take purifying dips in the water. Numerous village fairs complete with wrestling, dancing and archery are also held on this day. Also in April, Rali with its clay models is marked in Kangra. Clay models are made in every house to mark that day, while unmarried girls pray for grooms of their choice and the newly-wedded ask for happiness and prosperity. At Chamba, the Sui Mela is thronged by women and children and at the village of Taraur in district Mandi, the Mahu Nag fair is held. The holy Markandaya fair is held near Bilaspur and the Rohru Jatar is held in honour of the deity, Shikhru.. Fairs are held in Chamba, Bilaspur, Kangra and Rohru village in Shimla district.
May gushes in with a whole series of river rafting festivals and water sports Regattas, throughout the state. Focused around the goddess Hadimba Devi, Kullu celebrates the Dhoongri fair. In the same district, the Banjar fair and the Sarhi Jatar are held in May. Near Shimla at the exquisite glade of Sipur below Mashobra, the charming Sipi fair is held. Paragliding season begin in Bir, Kangra.
Shimla, Dharamshala and Dalhousie welcome the summer in June with a variety of cultural events. The Prashar Fair is held in Mandi off the Prashar Lake. A wide spectrum of national talent, a variety of programmes and a splendid setting make Shimla's Summer festival a memorable event. Shimla also hosts the Red Cross Fair, sport tournaments, flower shows, a photographs and posters exhibition and a fashion show based on folk costumes. The Kangra festival is also held in June at Kangra. At Solan, on the third sunday of the month, the Solan fair honours the goddess Shilooni, the presiding deity of the region. On June's full moon night, the Ghantal festival is held at Lahaul's guru Ghantal monastery. Lahaul celebrates a unique festival called Cheeshu.
July marks the onset of monsoons when the rains paint everything green and it brings with it a number of celebrations. In the arid trans-Himalaya, at Kaza's Ladarcha fair, the old trade routes come alive as traders barter and sell a variety of goods and produce. At Keylong, the Lahaul festival is also held this month. Shravana Sankranti is celebrated at Nahan; at Arki, buffalo fights mark the Sair fair and conducted in honour of Banar devta of Shari, the Rampur Jatar is held near Jubbal in district Shimla.
Chamba's famous Minjar fair which celebrates the bounty of nature and prays for a good harvest is normally held in August. Also in Chamba, the Manimahesh Yatra to the sacred tarn of Manimahesh is held immediately after the festival of Janamashtmi. Celebrated in Chamba, Kullu and elsewhere, Chrewal, Badronjo or Patroru is a festival of fire and flowers - and a time for purification of the fields. In August, several places in Chamba, Bilaspur and Sirmour have the Gugga fair which is connected with the worship of Gugga, the Nag devta. The same month witnesses the Dal fair in upper Dharmsala, the Ashapuri fair in Kangra and the fair of Naina Devi in Bilaspur.
In the first week of September, Fullaich (Phulech) take place in Kinnaur while Kangra plays host to Sair. Chamba is the location for the colorful fair of Rath-Rathni. At Nurpur in Kangra, under the watchful walls of its old fort, the Nagini fair bids the summer farewell. Kalpa has some of the most vibrant celebrations and every twelve years, there is the special festival.
More traditionally, over two hundred deities coverage on Kullu for its unusual Dussehra celebrations. They pay homage to lord Raghunath while music and colour fill the Silver valley. Numerous stalls offer a variety of local wares. This is also the time when the International Folk festival celebrated. The Jwalamukhi temple in Kangra becomes the venue for a major fair. At Killar and Panai, the Phool Yatra witnesses a remarkable display of neighbourly affection and the Dehant Nag is worshipped. The Pong Dam is the site of water sports championship held in the same month.
November is time of Diwali, which is celebrated throughout the state. On the banks of Sutlej, the Lavi fair continues for three days. At Sirmaur, idols of Parasuram are immersed in the gentle waters of Renuka Lake.
Christmas celebrations overtake Shimla and Dalhousie and as the church bells chime, they carry away another event-packed year. Shimla has the tradition of celebrating Christmas since the days of the British Raj. To take part in the festivities, people come from far off places. But before Christmas, in the second week of December, the International Himalayan festival is held in Dharmshala. The extravaganza of the Ice Skating Carnival is normally reserved for December.