“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Every twelfth year Uttrakhand hosts the biggest religious gathering in the world-KhumbhMela, in the pilgrimage town of Haridwar. Besides this, some other important festivals celebrated in the hill state are- BaithakiHoli, Khari Holi, MahilaHoli, Ganga Dussehra, MakarSakranti, Ghee Sakranti, Katarua, Vat Savitri, Phul Dei etc. In addition, fairs also hold great significance.

Holi in Kumaon is an enormously extravagant affair. Its uniqueness lies in its being a musical affair, be it the BaithakiHoli, the Khari Holi or the MahilaHoli. Also, the festivities of Holi last for almost two months starting with the festival of BasantPachami, which traditionally signifies the end of the winter season.

The Baithaki Holi and Khari Holi are unique in that the songs on which they are based have a touch of melody, fun and spiritualism. These songs are essentially based on classical ragas but have heavy influences of Kumaoni folk music traditions. Baithaki Holi begins on the premises of temples, where Holiyars (the singers of Holi songs) and other people gather to sing songs to the accompaniment of classical music instruments like harmonium and tablas. Khari Holi usually starts a little later than Baithaki Holi and is mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by people wearing traditional white nokdaartopi, churidaarpayajama and kurta. Khari Holi is filled with excitement and frolic as opposed to the more sombre nature of the Baithaki Holi.

The Purnagiri Fair, situated on the hill top, 20 kilometers from Tanakpur in the district of Champawat. The temple of Purnagiri attracts thousands of devotees throughout the year. Also known as ‘Purnangiri temple’ which means temple of good deeds, it organises the famous Purnagiri between the months of poush and chaitra, when the entre valley reverberates with the enchanting sounds of hymns and devotional songs. The annual fair starts from VishuwatSankranti and continues for forty days.

Devidhura is situated in the Champawat district, at the junction of Almora, Pithoragarh and Nainital districts. The unusual Devidhura fair held every year in the Varahi Devi temple, on the day of Rakshabandhan attracts visitors from far and wide. The fair is famous for its enchanting folk songs and dances besides being known for its thrilling tradition of Bagwal, where two groups of dancing and singing people throw stones at each other, while they try to protect themselves with the help of large wooden shields.

KandaliMahotsav, one of the most unique festivals of Uttarakhand is celebrated in the Chaudans region of Pithoragarh district. Named after the Kandali flower, which blooms in the region once every 12 years, the festival is celebrated for a week with gaiety and enthusiasm, in the months between August and October.

KandaliMahotsav is an important festival for the womenfolk as they lead the possession armed with a rill, followed by children and men armed with swords and shields. Dressed in their traditional best, the locals gather around a tree on the sacred ground of the village, where they perform the rituals. The festival commences with an auspicious ceremony where the courtyard of every house is beautifully decorated. Shiva linga made of barley and buck wheat flour mixture is worshipped and the locals pray for the prosperity and well-being of the community. The individual pujas are followed by a community feast and the celebrations continue throughout the night.