What is the best way to observe and experience the culture of a place during your visit? There can be several answers to this question but in my opinion; participating in a local festival is probably the best choice. Those are the times of merry making and old traditions; a sight that you will not get to witness at any other time. Spiti too is no exception to this theory. The place, though still remote, has seen much boost in tourism recently. People travel there all year long but if you truly want to experience the local life of the people of the valley; their traditions and beliefs, rarely seen dance moves; colorful attires; amazing masks, interesting rituals; then you must attend any of the festivals in Spiti valley. In this article, I will provide some information on what these festivals are and when are they celebrated.
Spiti is a cold desert, a harsh terrain and life in places like this without any doubt is tough. However, you would hardly realize it after seeing how these people live their lives. Every event out here is a cause for celebration. From births to marriages, all occasions are celebrated by the society as a whole; where they eat, drink, sing and dance together. Festivals in Spiti Valley are a celebration of life. It is a sight to behold which will leave you with memories to cherish and tall tales of your travel to tell.
Festivals of Lahaul Spiti
I will include here festivals that are celebrated both in the valleys of Lahaul & Spiti.
It is probably the biggest festival of Spiti Valley; celebrated in the month of July in Kaza. Earlier it was celebrated in the grounds near Kibber village where traders from Ladakh, Rampur and other places in Lahaul – Spiti would gather to exchange their produce. After the closure of Tibetan traders, the sight of this fair was then moved from Kibber to Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti valley.
After the move, what was once an occasion for people to exchange goods of daily use has now turned into a colorful celebration of different cultures. Thousands of people now from not only Lahaul Spiti but also Ladakh and other parts of country gather here to celebrate Ladarcha.
This festival is celebrated in the town of Udaipur of Lahaul valley; in the third week of August each year. It was once the most prominent festival of Lahaul Valley and even now; people in huge numbers gather to attend this festival each year; not only from Lahaul but also from the valleys of Spiti, Chamba and Kullu. It is a two days affair for which preparations are made at least a week in advance.
The first part of the festival is darshan of Triloknath (Shiva Lord of Three Worlds) or Avolokiteshvara; as it is regarded in Buddhism. Darshan is followed by a three to seven clockwise parikrama between the inner and outside walls of the temple; while reciting “Om Mani Padme Hum”. This Parikrama is done every morning and evening till the pilgrims stay at the temple. Ghee and Mustard Oil lamps are lit continuously at the temple. During this festival, stalls selling several souvenirs and eatables are set up. After sunset; the pilgrims dance in a huge circle to the melody of folks songs.
On the second day, a traditional procession is taken out in the morning; headed by the Thakur of Trilokinath riding on a decorated horse. This part and ritual of the festival is most important. The procession moves to a place where; as per the local lore; seven gods youngest of which was Triokinath had appeared from seven springs. It then return to the fair ground for more festivities.
This festival is celebrated in the town of Keylong, from 14th to 16th August which also coincides with Independence day celebrations. During this festival, artists and cultural troops from several cities like Chandigarh, Dharamshala, Manali, Leh, Chamba, Kullu and Kaza are invites; to make the celebrations even livelier and colorful. It is a state level fair and must be attended by any tourists going towards the valley at this time.
Gothsi / Gochi Festival
This festival is celebrated in the month of February in Bhaga Valley. It is a quite an interesting one; important part of which is that only families where a son was born in preceding year celebrate it.
It begins with a gathering of the villagers early in the morning. A dough made of Sattu is placed in a big plate and carried by four men to the place of village deity.
A young girl, all dressed in her best clothes and jewellery and carrying a pot of chhang (local drink) accompanies them. Two men; of which one carries a burning stick of pencil cedar and other carries cedar leaves tied together with a lamb skin; follow this girl right behind. The woman who gave birth to the first son in previous year is also part of this group. This woman too is of course dressed at her best. They all arrive at the spot to pay homage to the village god post which, “Labdagpa” the village priest perform the rituals with a bow and a arrow.
After this, the dough is broken and thrown away to appease the gods. The lamb skin is hung on a tree near the idol of the village deity and people shoot at it with arrows. The entire ceremony is quite musical with lohars beating on their drums. After the rituals, rest of the people go back to their daily routine while the families celebrating it continue visiting other houses where a male child was born.
Chakhar is celebrated once in every three years in last week of September. At the time of this festival, Lamas worship God Chikchait for 6 days and throw away the Chakhar in the fire on 7th day. After this ritual Chham dance by Lamas is performed.
Gataur is celebrated every year in the last week of September. During this festival, Lamas worship God Chaugayal and the next evening, saur is thrown into the fire while performing the Chham dance.
This festival is celebrated in the month of June at the monasteries of Shashur, Gemur, Kye, Kardang, Tabo and Mane. Prime attraction of this festival is the devil dance performed by Lamas wearing colorful attires and masks of different birds and animals. It is also referred to as Kye Chham festival.
It is another festival celebrated in Kungri Monastery in Pin Valley. Star attraction of this festival too is the Chham dance performed by the Lamas.
This festival marks the celebration of new year and is celebrated in the month of February in all the monasteries of the valley. The prime attraction of the festival is stylized chham dance, with elaborate costumes and masks; performed by the lamas. There are other rituals as well which are definitely worth attending. Lossar is one of the most widely celebrated festivals not even in India but also in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. In India, it is also celebrated in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. It is a 3 days long affair, dates of which are decided by the lamas in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Khogla / Halda
This festival is known as Kholga in Pattan Valley and as Halda in other valleys of Lahaul; but can actually be called as the festival of light. The date of this festival is decided by the Lamas but is really more of a Hindu festival. For the ritual, pencil cedar branches are cut into strips and tied together as a bundle like Torch which is called Halda. After dark, Halda is burnt at each house and brought to a central place in the village. The entire process is repeated four to five times. All the Haldas are prepared and lit in the same manner; and brought to the same spot in the village where they are left to burn down to ashes.
What however makes this festival interesting are the curses. During this festival, people curse the Ranas of clans that are hostile to their own clan; like the people of Keylong curse the Ranas of Goushal and Kardang and vice versa.
Festivals in Spiti Valley
I hope the information above was of help. If you know of any other celebrated festivals in Spiti that I missed listing here, please do mention it in the comments and I will add to the article. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.