Have a look at the list and time of the year of all the festivals celebrated in Spiti valley with exuberant pomp and show.
Halda Festival January
Lossar 3rd week of February
Gochi festival 3rd week of February
Dechhang Festival December (Spiti); January (Lahaul)
Fagli Moonless night of February
Buddha Purnima 2nd week of May
Tsheshu Fair or Key Chham Festival End of June
Ladarcha Festival 17,18 &19 August
Pauri Fair 3rd Week of August
Chakhar Mela Last week of September
Festivals are a time when people celebrate and share the joy with everyone. These are great means to connect with the community and close ones with recreational and ritualistic activities such as performing dances and offering prayers to the ever-incumbent god and goddesses, of course with a feast.
Every culture and state has its own festivals which are observed and celebrated since many years as directed by their ancestors verbally or through books having a compilation of religious tenets. The harsh cold climate of Spiti doesn’t deter the inhabitant populace from celebrating the festivities with any less vigor. In fact, these act as boosters that invigorate them from the hibernation of the cold weather. Let us have a detailed look at how various festivals are celebrated in the glens and gorges of the Spiti region.
The freezing temperature in Spiti drops below -20 degrees Celsius during winters, which paralyses access to even basic needs, let alone the luxury. Even in such daunting climatic conditions, people celebrate Halda festival with great enthusiasm. Dates of the fiesta are decided by the congregation of Lamas according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Sticking to ritualistic guidelines, twigs of cedar trees are collected and tied into a bundle that is lit in every house of the village. The lit bundle is akin to primitive torches (mashals in Hindi) known as Halda in the valley. In the evening or at night, villagers gather at a designated place in the village, usually near a river or any other water body, where the lit bundles are stockpiled to make a bonfire and left to burn to ashes, which is later immersed into the water body.
Moreover, village community gather and enjoy in the night with dance performances, and exclusive dinner and drink party.
It is the New Year for the Tibetan clan, and dates are decided by lamas after reckoning from the lunar calendar. Lamas wear immaculate ethnic costumes and don quirky masks over their faces whilst performing a traditional dance, well-known as Chham Dance. This dance is believed to ward off the devil spirits and brings serenity to the atmosphere.
Having the Buddhist and Tibetan influence in other parts of India such as Leh, Ladak, and event north-east states, Sikkim, Manipur, et al, the festival is celebrated alike.
Male children have always been given preference, and this proclivity has been extended with this festival in the Lahaul region. The celebration is done by the families who had procreation as a son in the penultimate year. To laud that, families get up early in the morning and the woman of the house prepares a Sattu (barley flour) dough that is placed on a huge plate, ought to be carried by 4 men to the Kuldevta or Kuldevi (holy god or goddess of the clan) in the village.
A damsel carrying the local drink of the region, Chhang, in a pot walks ahead of another two men, along with four carrying the big plate, accompanies the familial procession. One of the two men walking behind the girl holds a lit cedar stick, while the other carries a bundle of cedar leaves enwrapped in lambskin. The whole procession is accompanied by Lohars beating drums, and people dancing on the beats.
Once they reach the sacred place, the Labdagpa (village priest) perform few rituals using a bow and arrow, plus crack the dough and throw it away. The lambskin is then hung on a tree, shot by people with arrows.
Then the festivity extends into the night with a feast, dance and drinks.
This festival has familiarity with two of North India’s festivals, Baisakhi and Diwali. How? As Baisakhi, Fagli notifies the end of the winters and a start of the spring season. And just like Diwali, it is celebrated on Amavasya (No moon night), plus people light up oil lamps in the night along with decorating their house.
Festivity begins on Amavasya and lasts for few days. On the first day, a while angel, called Bazara, is made out of stacked bamboo sticks swathed in a white cloth. The angel is then beautified with Tibetan jewelry and flowers.
An important ritual of this festival is paying reverence and gratitude to their livestock (cattle, sheep and dzo). The act of personification signifies the importance of tamed animals in providing food and cloth to the people.
People also exchange gifts with their close ones and celebrate the fiesta for few days with day-long feasts and parties.
Buddha is the essence of the religious beliefs in the Spiti and Lahaul region. The beatified saint’s birthday is celebrated on a full-moon day in May.
All the monasteries, Key monastery, Dhankar monastery, Tabo monastery, et al celebrate the day with great fervor and devotedness. Chants, Chhang dance, music and feast are the cordial partners of the festivity.
This festival is not just limited to the Spiti region only, but, apparently, is celebrated with great respect by whole of the India.
Tsheshu Fair / Key Chham Festival
It signifies the end of summer in the valley and a call to prosperity. The fair is celebrated majorly in monasteries of the valley -- Key, Shashur, Gemur, Kardang, Tabo, and Mane. Lamas in the monasteries present a dance of death, Chham Dance, attired in colorful outfits and masks of birds and animals.
In the month of August, the cliques of traders used to gather at the Kibber Village to display and exchange their merchandise with each other. This festival was primarily organized to fortify the bonds among Tibetan and Indian traders. But, in 1962 the fair was temporarily adjourned due to the Indo-China war. Nonetheless, it re-began in 1980, but its location changed from Kibber to Kaza.
Now, every year this is the most awaited fair on Spiti, where merchants and traders from Ladak, Kinnaur, Rampur and other places of India gather to exchange their production as well to learn new techniques from each other.
Pilgrims perform the parikrama (circled walking) of the Triloknath temple while chanting the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. This circled walking around the temple is done every morning and in the evening by the pilgrims till they stay at the temple. After dusk, the fraternity of pilgrims gathers at the fairground to dance in huge circles on folk Pahari songs.
To appease and feed the herd of pilgrims, arrangements are pre-done a week before the start of the fair. Hence, many eatery kiosks and souvenir stalls are set up in the vicinity of the temple. Hundreds of ghee and oil lamp are lightened day and night, continuously, at the temple to pay homage to the almighty.
Second day of the festival is reckoned an important one as a procession is carried out with Thakur of Triloknath heading the demonstration. The procession goes to a spring, where, as per the folklore, one of the seven gods of Triloknath had appeared. Once, the ritual and homage to the mighty god complete at the spring, the crowd come back to the ground to continue the festivity further.
In the last week of September, a day is decided by lamas, in accordance with the Chinese calendar, when they start worshipping Lord Chikchait. The sanctified act continues for 6 more days and on the 7th day, the Lama throws a Chakra in fire, declaring the success of the 7 day long prayers. After that Lamas perform Chham dance to stave off the diabolical spirits and welcome prosperity in the lives of the community.