Himachal Pradesh, nestling in the northwestern lap of the Himalayan range, abounds in exotic valleys, glorious green hill-slopes, snow-capped mountains and gushing streams. Himachal Pradesh straddles the Himalayan from the foothills, over peaks, to the valleys of Lahul and Spiti beyond.
Its capital, Shimla had the distinction of serving as the summer capital of India in the days of the British viceroys.
A large majority of Himachalis are Hindus, but Buddhism is also a major influence and is the religion of the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys.
The folk songs of Himachal Pradesh are very melodious and rhythmic. People sing various occasions and also while doing their daily work.
Himachal Pradesh has rightly been called the Pilgrim country for its over 6,000 temples dotting the rugged terrain, reflect the deep devotion and abiding faith of the simple hill-folk. The ancient forts perched on rocks here and there are an added attraction for fort enthusiasts. The lovely orchards, the rich trekking and fishing possibilities, winter and summer sports, make the state favorably vie with the vale of Kashmir, the Terrestrial Paradise.
55,673 sq km
Hindi and Pahari
People Per Sq. km: 109
This festival is held on first 'Baisakh'- the 13th April - Baisakhi is one of Himachal's most important festivals. Rooted in the rural agrarian tradition, it bids a final farewell to winter.
Thousands of revelers head to celebrate the New Year at Shimla, Chail, Manali and Dalhousie.
Around the common calendar's New Year comes Halda in Lahul, which is a more private celebration of the event. Halda is a popular festival of Lahul and serves as an inclination of the New Year. It is celebrated sometime in the month of January, the exact date being decided by the Lamas. A private celebration among the Lahauli people, the festivities are dedicated to "Shiskar Apa", the Goddess of wealth in the lamaistic pantheon.
International Himalayan Festival
As winter arrives, anglers shift to the Pong Dam. With the blessings of Nobel Laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the International Himalayan Festival is held in Kangra district.
Dussehra at Kullu commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on 'Vijay Dashmi' day itself and continues in seven days. Over two hundred deities converge on Kullu for its unusual Dussehra Celebrations. They pay homage to Lord Raghunathji while Music and color fill the "Silver Valley".
The birth of Dussehra in lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill-men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Numerous stalls offer a verity of local wares. This is also the time when the International Folk Festival is celebrated.
Winter chill outdoors contrasts well with the warmth of the fireplace indoors. Festivities take a head start with Lohri celebrations when people, young and old, volunteer to sing folk songs by the side of bonfire at night. Rest of them join dance sequences to the tunes of occasional crackling sound of blazing fire.
There is greater sobriety, but no less joy, when Lohri or Maghi comes along in mid-January. This festival is traditionally celebrated on a mid-winter day and also commemorates the last sowing of the 'Rabi' crops.
This festival is celebrated for the welcome of the winter season. The local deity is worshipped with the hope that the winter would be happy and prosperous for the local people.
Ritual dances and an unbelievably rich imagery mark Lossar. This is celebrated in Buddhist areas throughout the state-while Lahaul's monasteries have some of the most spectacular performances.
On its eve, the stylized 'Chhaam' dance and elaborate costumes and masks, commemorate the assassination of the cruel Tibetan king, 'Langdarma' in the 9th century. Often-though wrongly-called the devil dance, it symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
It is celebrated on 25th of eleventh month of local calendar, which is from mid November to first week of December.
Locally called "Ookayand" of 'Ukyam", a combination of two words 'Oo' and 'Kayang'. 'U'-stands for flowers and 'Kayang' for festival - festival of flowers - to see flowers. This festival is celebrated throughout district.
Some of the flowers are so scented that the outsiders sometimes feel giddiness with its fragrance. Perhaps upper reach of Kinnaur Region is rich in wild flowers and September month is the best month for flowering.
Fragrance of some of the flowers are intoxicated and local people are used to it and under the influence of giddiness they stay 2 nights in the upper reaches and collect different variety of flowers and on returning the third day to the village - the occasion is celebrated as Phulaich.
Art and Handicraft
Rugs & Carpets
Carpets and blankets are almost synonymous with Himachali furnishing. Fleecy soft blankets called gudmas are also very popular. They are made from the wool of the Giangi sheep. They come in natural wool colors and are finished with a red or black edging. You'll have a lot of furnishings to choose from: thobis (floor coverings), karcha (mattresses), which are made from goat hair, pattoo cloth (like shawls), carpets and yarn made from soft wool.
In the higher reaches of the state, hill folk rear sheep and goats and weave the wool and hair into traditional blankets, rugs and nomads (heavy rugs). Nomads are made with beaten wool. In fact men spinning wool by hand as they watch their flocks is a common sight in Himachal.
The jewelers of the once-Rajput kingdoms of Kangra, Chamba, Mandi and Kullu were famous for their enameling skills. They mainly worked with silver and were partial to deep blue and green enameling. They created exquisite pieces like elliptical anklets, solid iron-headed bangles, hair ornaments, peepal-leaf-shaped forehead ornaments, necklaces known as chandanhaars (a bunch of long silver chains linked by engraved or enameled silver plaques) and pendants with motifs of the mother goddess of the jewelry that's made now, coin necklaces are extremely popular with pahari women. So much so that every pahari woman dreams of owning one.
Temples are replete with pretty objects needed for worship, all fine specimens of metalwork. The metals used mainly are brass, copper, iron, tin and bell metal. Apart from the exquisite statuettes enshrined, there are several metal objects like bells with artistically designed handles, lamps, incense burners, low settees of silver or brass, vessels and ornate musical instruments in these temples. Similar things may be used as everyday items at home. Some of the more affluent homes possess beautifully fashioned teapots, smoking pipes, carved panels, doorknobs and various other artifacts. Metal workers haven't lost their magic touch; this centuries old craft is still one of the most vital traditions of the state.
Another metal craft unique to Himachal is the mohra. Mohras or metal plaques representing a deity are common in Kullu and Chamba. Most of them represent Shiva, but masks of the mother goddess Devi and other deities are not uncommon.
Wood has been used to great effect in temples and lavishly built palaces. The steep-roofed pine temples of northern HP often bear relief figures carved on their outer walls. Intricately carved seats, doors, windows and panels speak volumes of the crafts persons' skill.
Woodcarving is still a living tradition in HP. Pahari artisans use wood to make intricate jalis, trelliswork or perforated relief’s that filter light, transforming the interiors of a building with the play of light and shade and balancing mass with delicacy.
Stone carving has been explored to the fullest in Himachal. Numerous shikhara (spired) stone temples dot the landscape. The Lakshminarayan temples of Chamba and the temples of Baijnath and Masrur in the Kangra Valley are some splendid specimens of the kind. Beautifully carved memorial stone slabs called panihars are also found in several places, especially near temples and fountains.
Stone carvers in HP are hammering away at their blocks even today, producing several artifacts of domestic use widely available in the markets. These include traditional stoves (angithi), circular pots for storing (kundi), pestle and mortar (dauri danda), mill stones (chakki) and other things.
Leather Craft & Embroidered Rumals
Chamba district is famous for its leather-craft and 'embroidered Rumals'. The slippers made in Chamba are exceptionally comfortable and light. They are made of leather and are ideal for walking or hiking in the mountains. One can get them as plain or decorated in embroidered Lantana flowers, leaves and designs. New and different kinds of designs are used today to make decorative leather shoes, slippers, socks, belts, etc.
Thankas Of The Himalayas
The monasteries of Kinnaur, Lahul and Spiti and other areas have an amazing collection of religious manuscripts, scriptures and paintings known as "thankas". "Thankas" is the name given to the paintings on cloth and are believed to ward off the "evil eye", maleficent influences and prevent diseases and mental depression.
The Themes And Inspirations Thankas are traditional scroll paintings drawn on cloth with wonderful compositions of geometrical arrangements known as "Mandalas" and are steeped in oriental tradition. "Mandalas" are cosmic symbols whose strict geometrical structure displays the order of the cosmos.
These Buddhist religious "thankas" generally depict "Jataka" tales, which recount the events of the past lives of Buddha. In these paintings Buddha, 'Bodhisattavas' and other divinties are portrayed with impressive retinues or acolytes.
The material used for painting a "thankas" is usually coarse woolen cotton. Silk, however, is preferred for important subjects. The process of doing this painting is quite lengthy and time consuming.
Handicraft produced in Kullu Valley
Another allied craft is the weaving of tweed cloth called coats (cholas) etc. The fine wool obtained from the first shearing of the lamb is used for making 'cholas'.
Also known as "felted wool" is made by beating rather than weaving the wool Nomads were once very popular but they are now almost vanishing as craft.
Blankets and bags are made from the wool of the 'Giangi' sheep and usually come in natural colors with borders made in red and black. The blankets are called 'Gudma' and are woven especially in the Kullu Valley as this place has a special kind of clay that is used to clean and finish a 'Gudma'. Gudma is a very warm blanket and can be used in lace of quilt.
'Pullans', foot-wears like the bed-room slippers, made out of the fibers of 'bhang' are handicraft in the upper reaches of Inner and Outer-Seraj in the Jalori and Bashleo pass regions. The bottom of the footwear is made of the 'bhang' fiber whereas the upper is made of goat hair called 'shell' and bhang fiber. It is warm footwear and is used inside the room also.
Baskets in Himachal are made of a high altitude species of bamboo called 'nargal'. In main Kullu Valley baskets (pataris) are made in a few Harijan villages near Mohal, about five miles from Kullu. These people had their full trade in the past when fruits were transported in the baskets by the orchardists.
It would be both apt and hot to say that Himachal's cap has done a commendable job of keeping a headcount of the tradition of Himachal and its people. An oasis of color a symphony in design, an embroidered dream. Kullu cap is an extremely colorful headgear, made of a woolen cloth with variety of colorful band of Shaneel around it.
Kullu Shawls occupy a place of pride in the handicrafts of the district. Like the juicy red delicious and golden apples, these exquisite specimens of art adoring the fair damsels of this fairyland, are becoming increasingly popular as precious souvenirs for the tourists.