FUNCTIONS & FESTIVALS
The functions and festivals of Kumaun are not only an expression of the religious social and the cultural urges of the people but have also sustained the folk culture and have been central to the economic activities of the people. Also at remotely located places of hilly terrain, especially where communication is difficult and the land is cut up by mountain or water, the need is felt for periodical meetings at convenient centers, where exchange and sale of commodities may take place. A district like Bageshwar holds many valleys which are absolutely dependent on such meetings for their supply of common necessaries, and consequently fairs or periodical markets are numerous. There are two kind of these. The weekly assemblages, corresponding to "market-day" in an English provincial town, are called "Penth". They are of an ordinary kind, and have no religious associations. The great annual fairs are known by the name of "Mela", and are always connected with religious ideas and customs. They very often center round some famous local shrine, which reaps an extensive harvest at the annual festival. Business, pleasure and religion are cheerfully combined in these junketing, which are doubtless the chief oases in the monotonous lives.. The following main festivals and functions are observed in Kumaun :-
VISHUVATI alias BIKHAUTI
Among the twice born citizens this festival is observed as the day of solstice. This solstice is called Mesh (ram in form) also; but the brahmins, Kshatriyas and Shilpkars observe a grand festival on this day with victuals fried in clarified butter, sweetmeats, betel-leaves etc. In many places fairs are also held. Pahari (hill dialet) songs are sung to accompaniment playing of Hurka (small drum like musical instrument) and people dance. This is an old festival of aboriginals of this place. On this day fishing is also done and small round cakes of ground pulse (baras) are also eaten. It has been the practice to smoulder the skin as many times as the number of 'baras' are eaten. But this practice has been considerably reduced now. (The smoldering of the stomach with a red hot iron is called 'tala dalna'). On this day fairs are held in Dwarahat, Syalde, Chaugar and Lohakhai.
VAT SAVITRI AMAVASYA
Women fast on this day. The story of chaste Savitri and Satyavan is heard on this day. The figures of the dead Satyavan, Yamraj (the God of death) and eminent jewel among chaste women Savitri are drwan under a banyan tree and they are worshipped Consecrating the thread of twelve knots (door), women tie it around their necks.
Hariyala or the solstice of Karka, 10-11 days before the solstice of Shravan (July-August), putting soil in bamboo pots etc. preparing a bed, paddy, maize, horse bean and other grains produced in the rainy season are sown and this is called Hariyala. It is not put in the Sun. By doing so the colour of the plants becomes yellow.
This is a famous fast. The women hold the rule of Chatursmasya (the bathing and fasting for months beginning on the eve of the rainy season) from this day. The fast ends on Haribodhini (awakening of gods).
SIMHA OR GHRI SANKRANTI
The solstice of Simha is also called olagia. Earlier, during the Chand rule, craftsman received reward on this day by showing or exhibiting articles of their crafts and handiwork, and the other people too carried flowers, fruits, vegetables. Curd, milk, sweets and several kinds of best things to the royal court or as present for the venerable people. This was known as the rite of 'olag'. This custom resembled the presentation of gifts to the britishers on Christmas day. Even now this festival is celebrated in some majors. So this solistice is called 'olagia' also. This is called ''Ghrit' or 'Ghee' (clarified butter) Sankranti. On this day there is a wide-spread custom to consume much Ghee with breads prepared from pounded horse-bean.
This is the fast and worship of Ganesh on the fourth day of the dark half of Bhadra (Aug-Sep). Food is taken on the visibility of the moon after giving chairity by libation in honour of the deity, moon. This fast is generally undertaken by the women.
This fast is kept on the third day of the dark half of Aug-Sep. The women folk observe this fast for prosperity, that is the longevity of their husbands. The Samvedis have their 'Upakarma' in the Hast asterism.
This fast is held on the eighth of the bright half of Aug-Sep. making Doorva (agrootislinearis) of gold, silver, silk etc., consecrating and worshipping it, the women wear it themselves. Prayer to Doorva Devi is made for gaining prosperity and progency. Food cooked in fire is prohibited on this day.
Beginning from the eighth day of the bright half of Aug-Sep to the eighth day of the dark half of Sep-Oct, many devotees do the worship of Laxmi and observe fast. The worship of Nanda Devi had been continuing in the court of the Chanda kings traditionally with great pump and show. This is one among the tribal festival of Kumaun. Nanda is the Ranchandi (Chandi of battle) of Kumaun. The elementary battle incantation here is 'Jay to Nanda Devi' , 'victory to her'. The sacrifice of the buffaloes and goats is made in her worship. The worship in Almora is even now made with great splendour and huge fair is held. The descendants of Chands do this worship. In Nainital late Lala Moti Ram had invited this fair. Fairs are held in Katyur, Ranikhet and Bhowali also. She is reported to be family deity of the kings of Kumaun.
Minor Diwali is observed on the full moon day of Sep - Oct. The women keep fast. The worship of Laxmi is made in the night. Diwali lamps are lit. The oblation of 'Pakwan' (pudding) and sweetmeats is made and then taken by people themselves. The beginning of vice of gambling too starts from this day.
On this day the sun enters into the tropic of Capricona. A great fair called Uttaraini is held at Bageshwar. A holy dip is taken by the masses in rivers at Bageshwar, Rameshwer, Chitrashila and other places. This festival is also called 'Kale Kauwa' in Kumaun. Flour is kneaded with 'Gud', then forming a figure of a particular word, Ghuguta, puding is made and strung into a rosary. Orange and other fruits are also strung in it. These rosaries are put round the necks of the children. The children, who get up early in the morning on this very day, call the crows by uttering 'Kale Kauwa Aa Le, Ghughuti Mala Kha Le'. They take off some pudding from the rosary and give it to crow to eat. This usage is not seen anywhere else except in Kumaun. It appears to be an old festival of this region.
One of the largest fair of Kumaun region, the Uttraini festival of Bageshwar, is organized in the month of January for a period of one week and is frequented by Almora traders, on barter or money lending intent, and by the Bhotiyas from the snows, as well as by a great multitude of people from the surrounding villages. The chief articles of merchandise are : ponies, goats, sheep, furs, yak tails, musk pods, borax, salt horns, books, shoes, fruit dried and fresh. The Bhotiyas bring down excellent ponies, which breed in a wild or semi-wild state over the Tibetan border.