There is always a reason to celebrate in Himachal and there is a fair or festival whenever you visit. Festivals are usually family oriented with friends and relatives celebrated inside the house. Fairs are community celebrations held in open air and may go on for days. There are innumerable reasons for celebrations including the harvest time, ancestral worship, honoring and propitiating sages and gods, nature worship or a pilgrimage to the sacred spots or tirthas. Fairs are also just to have a fun time together.
For instance in the Shivaliks there is a social custom of arranging wrestling matches in various villages on fixed dates. These are called Chhinj.
There are also Jatars, the festivals which require travelling from one place to another. In Chamba the Mani Mahesh Jatar is the biggest area and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Phool Jatar or the flower festival in the Pangi area is held in October at Kupha village and goes on for 4 days by which time, the people gather at Chauki village at Malet and perform dances as well as offerings to the Daint Nag deity.
Lohri is celebrated as a festival of fire worship in nearly the whole state. However, in Kangra the festival is associated with the Brajeshwari temple goddess and the songs sung at Lohri tell the tale that is linked to her. (See Tales) Makar Sankranti and Lohri are celebrated in mid Jan and as these are solar festivals they fall on the same day of the Gregorian calendar, unlike most lunar festivals that follow the Indian calendar. During Makar Sankranti, green barley leaves are offered to relatives and friends. On the 13th of April, Baisakhi is celebrated as New Years in Himachal along with many other parts of the country. It is also known as Bishoo. Gugga Naomi festival is celebrated nine days after Raksha bandhan and the songs are based on the ballad of Gugga, and Guru Gorakh Nath.
1) Kullu Dassehra
Kullu Dassehra is of course the most important festival. It lasts for six days in Kullu. On the tenth day of the bright half of Ashwin palkis of over a hundred gods are gathered at the darbar of Lord Raghunath, the presiding deity of the earlier kings of Kullu.
According to traditions, Kullu Dassehra celebrations begin only after the idol of goddess Hidimba from Dunghri temple near Manali arrives. Grandly seated in a carved wooden chariot, the idol is covered in colorful silk and decorated with flowers.
The idol of Raghunathji is carried on a special 6-wheeled chariot, which is pulled by ropes from the Rupi Palace by 200 ordained devotees. As the procession led by Raghunathji, reaches the maidan the royal family and the priests circumambulate it for the pradakshina ritual. After the worship is over festivities begin with music and dance. The high point of the festival is the ritual sacrifice of a buffalo. On the last day, the idol of Raghunathji is carried down to the river and a large bonfire is lit to mark the killing of Ravana. At the end of the festival, the idol of Hadimba is taken ceremoniously back to her abode in Dunghri.
Diwali is of course a major festival as is in the rest of the country. However in Himachal there are two Diwali festivals. One with lighting of lamps to rejoice the come back of victorious Rama. However, in Himachal there is another Boodhi Diwali when bonfires are lit and dramas are performed based on the Mahabharata and Ramayana epic episodes. A song called ‘kab’ is sung by Brahmins of the Kaberi clan.
Dukraini is a festival that is based on ancestral worship. Special food is prepared and offered to propitiate ancestors along with new flags at memorial slabs on mountain tops.