21 Festivals of Uttarakhand - India's Devbhoomi

Uttarakhand is a religious state with immense beauty. The people of Uttarakhand celebrate all festivals while there are numerous fairs organised here. The traditional rituals and folks songs of Uttarakhand have been kept alive by these fairs in festivals.

Here is a list of Festivals of Uttarakhand which the people in full zeal celebrate:

1. Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Kumbh Mela is one of the biggest and the most popular festival of Uttarakhand. It is the largest congregation of pilgrims globally, which involves taking a dip in the river Ganga to rid of one's sins. This mela is a 3-month long festival and takes place once in every four years rotating between Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik, i.e., only once in 12 years in any one place. The exact date is picked by the Vikrant calendar after elaborate rituals.
Kumbh Mela Date: April 2021 in Haridwar

2. Basant Panchami

Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Basant Panchami is the festival that celebrates the coming of Basant or Spring season. It is a significant festival in Uttarakhand. It marks the end of winter, a season of death and decay, and is celebrated in the month of Magh or January/ February. The locals dress themselves up in yellow clothing, perform Chounphula and Jhumelia dances and fly kites. They worship Saraswati, goddess of knowledge and prosperity and the land. Sweet rice is made in almost every home.

Basant Panchami Date: 5 February 2022

3. Bhitauli and Harela

Among the people of Uttarakhand, every season has some festivals, and each festival is celebrated appropriately. Harela is a festival that marks the beginning of the rainy season or monsoon. The people belonging to the Kumaon community celebrate this festival during the month of Shravana, i.e., July-August. Mythologically, this festival commemorates the wedding of Lord Shiva and Parvati. People make small idols or dikars of gods like Maheshwar, Ganesh.

This festival is followed by Bhitauli, which is celebrated in the month of Chaitra, i.e., March - April. It revolves around agriculture where women sow seeds in the soil and by the end of the festival they reap the harvest which is called harela. This allows them to test the quality of their seeds. During this festival, brothers also provide gifts for their sisters.

Harela Date: 16 July 2021

4. Holi

Holi is celebrated in Uttarakhand

Holi is another popular festival in Uttarakhand celebrated with a lot more fervour in the Kumaon region. The celebrations start as early as Basant Panchami. As per the mythology, Holi marks the triumph of good over evil. Unlike the plains where Holika Dahan (burning of a pyre) is an integral part of Holi, in Uttarakhand, as the crop is not harvested yet, ears of grains are not offered to the holy fire. 

Folk music is another essential part of Holi celebrations in Uttarakhand. Mahila Holi involves women singing to their heart's content; Khadi Holi involves the locals donning their traditional clothes, usually observed in rural areas and Baithiki Holi requires singing of different classical ragas. People also make the traditional gujiya, and fried potatoes called aloo gutuk which are served with a Himalayan spice called jamboo.

Holi Date: 19 March 2022

5. Makar Sankranti

Till ke Laddoo, Makar Sankranti, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Makar Sankranti is a famous festival celebrated in many states of India. For the people of Uttarakhand, this festival marks the change of season. As per the Hindu religious texts, Makar Sankranti marks the day of Uttarayani, i.e., the sun has entered the zodiacal sign of 'makar' (Capricorn) from 'kark' (cancer) and has thus started moving towards the north. On this day, people worship the sun at sunrise and bathe in the river waters. The locals prepare Khichdi and til ke laddoo. The popular fair of Uttarayani also takes place during this time.

Makar Sankranti Date: 14 January each year

6. Kale Kauva or Ghughutiya

Ghughutiya prepared during Ghughutiya festival of Uttarakhand
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During the time of Makar Sankranti, Ghughutiya or Kale Kauva is also celebrated in Uttarakhand. The locals prepare sweets made from deep-fried flour in different shapes like knives, swords, etc. The locals welcome them by feeding the crows and migratory birds and hope that they come back next year. The children also sing songs to attract these migratory birds.

Ghughutiya Date: 14 January each year

7. Phool Dei

Phool Dei is a festival of Uttarakhand that celebrates the year's harvest and the coming of the spring season. It takes place on the first day of the Chaitra season (March-April) as per the Hindu calendar and is also known as the harvest festival. It is the time when flowers blossom and this is accompanied by the ceremonial pudding called dei which is made by the locals using jaggery or gud, curd and flour. This dish is an integral part of the festival.

Young girls are an integral part of this festival of Uttarakhand. They go from house to house, singing the folk song of 'Phool Dei' with jaggery, rice, and coconut offering. It is believed that they bless the homes by placing flowers and rice on the doorsteps. In return, the young girls are offered sweets and blessings for their act. 

Phool Dei Date: 15 March 2022

8. Ganga Dusshera

Ganga Dusshera, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Ganga Dusshera or Dasar is a festival that celebrates the advent of the holy river Ganga from the heaven above. This festival falls on Dashami (tenth day) of the month of Jyeshtha and is a ten-day-long festival. It is observed on the ghats of Ganga in Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Allahabad, where devotees take a dip in the river water, hoping to rid themselves of their sins for ten consecutive days. This is considered a purification act. Darshans are held, and watermelons and kakdi are offered to the deity. Ganga Dusshera is a big festival that attracts a lot of devotees.

Ganga Dussehra Date: 20 June 2021

9. Kandali

Rung community women, Kandali, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Kandali festival is celebrated by the Rung tribe in the Chaundans valley of Pithoragarh district in the Kumaon division. This festival marks the flowering of the Kandali flower, which blooms only once in 12 years. This festival also celebrates the defeat of Zorawar Singh's army, a general of the Sikh Empire who tried to invade this region in 1841. As per the local stories, the women defended this region against the soldiers who tried to loot the villages and hid in the Kandali shrub. In this process, the shrub was also destroyed. 

It is a week-long festival in which the people of the valley worship the idol of Lord Shiva made from barley and buckwheat and pray for victories over their enemies. This is followed by puja, a ceremonial feast and then the raising of the flag. Victorious cries are uttered, and the scene of resistance is also recreated. The locals even proceed to attack the shrub of Kandali. Local liquor is also an integral part of this festival. Festivities and celebration take place all night.

Kandali Date: August-September, once in 12 years

10. Vat Savitri

Bat Savitri, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Vat Savitri is another famous festival in Uttarakhand. During this, married women fast for an entire day for the welfare and prosperity of their husbands and offer prayers to the deity Savitri and a banyan tree or bat. In the Hindu religion, the Banyan tree is considered holy. The origin of this festival can be traced to the Mahabharata in which Savitri, whose husband Satyavan died within a year of their marriage, fasts and prays and finally her devotion pays off as her husband returns from the dead. It is under the banyan tree that this act takes place. This festival takes place on Amavasya (day of the full moon) in the month of Jyestha, i.e., June.

Vat Savitri Date: 14 June 2022

11. Purnagiri Mela

Purnagiri Devi, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Bearing the name of the temple in which it is held, the Purnagiri Mela is a sacred festival that is celebrated to commemorate Goddess Sati.  In terms of its religious significance, the area in which the Purnagiri Temple is now situated is believed to be the place where the navel of Sati and Savant Prajapati was cut down by the Vishnu Chakra and is also one of the 108 'Siddha Peethas' (sacred) which is visited by pilgrims throughout the year. This Mela takes place annually during the period of Chaitra Navratri and spans for over a period of two months.

Purnagiri Mela Date: 29 March 2021 onwards

12. Syalde Bikhauti Mela

Jalebis, Syalde Bikhauti, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Syalde Bikhauti Mela is an annual fair held in April-May in the town of Dwarahat (Almora). The Syalde Bikhauti Mela is held in two phases; the first in the Vimandeshwar Temple and the other in the Dwarahat marketplace. During the mela, one can witness folk dances and songs with traditional foliage being adorned by the gathered people. An important ritual, 'Oda Bhetna' refers to the striking of the stone (Oda).

As per legend, the ancient times saw people worship their deity in a temple nearby and due to some friction between the followers of the two groups, a brawl broke out that lead to bloodshed. The leader of the group that lost the fight was beheaded and a stone (Oda) was placed near it to commemorate the fallen leader. The numerous traditions on display and the lip-smacking Indian delicacy of 'Jalebi' being an integral part of the fair, the Syalde Bikhauti Mela is one of cultural convergence.

Syalde Bikhauti Mela Date: April each year

13. Ghee Sankranti

Ghee Sankranti is a festival that portrays the gratitude of the locals who earn a living via the occupation of farming by marking the onset of the harvesting season. It is also known as the 'Olgia' festival and is celebrated on the first day of August (Bhado), a time wherein the crops are thriving, and the milk-laden cattle are ready to be milked. In terms of how the celebration has gradually evolved from over the years, the ancient tradition saw nephews and sons-in-laws give presents to their maternal uncles and fathers-in-laws respectively. However, today's context is summarised by the fact that agriculturists and artisans give presents to their landowners. Common presents that are exchanged include axes, ghee, datkhocha (metallic toothpick) and firewood. An important ritual of this festival includes that of eating ghee and chapatis stuffed with urad dal!

14. Hill Jatra

Ropai, Hill Jatra, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Marked as the festival of pastoralists and agriculturalists, the Hill Jatra festival was first observed in India in the Kumaour village. The ceremony is related to the 'ropai' (the plantation of paddy), for which one must sacrifice a buffalo to please the Gods who will ensure a good yield for the ongoing farming season. During the festival, songs are recited and people are seen to be wearing marks that express the rich cultural heritage of Uttarakhand. Traditional dances like that of the 'Chanchari' are performed, making the entire festival a wholesome and immersive experience.

15. Kanwar Yatra

Kanwar Yatra, Haridwar, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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The onset of the Hindu month of Shravan (July) marks the commencement of the 'Kanwar Yatra' sacred pilgrimage journey. During the month-long yatra, millions of devotees of Lord Shiva from all over the country make a journey to the banks of the River Ganga (cities like Haridwar, Gangotri, Gaumukh, etc) and carry back sacred water from the river to a Shiva temple. The dedication of the devotees is such that they even carry their deity on a 'Kanwar' and travel to the holy river bare feet. Large camps and gatherings can be seen in Haridwar and Gangotri during the yatra with numerous makeshift accommodations that are constructed across the journey for the Kanwarias to rest. The magnanimity of the event can be fathomed when considered that the gathering on the ghats of the River Ganga in Haridwar has been recorded as one the biggest human gatherings in India.

Kanwar Yatra Date: 24 July 2021

16. Bissu Mela

Organized in the Chakrata Block of Dehradun, the Bissu Mela is an expansive fair that is celebrated by the Jaunsari tribe, whose origins can be traced back to that of the Pandavas. Celebrated for over the period of a week in virtue of a good harvest season in Uttarakhand, a major attraction of the fair sees villagers from all over gather together to shower their love and affection to 'Santoora Devi', an incarnation of Goddess Durga. One can indulge in the cultural diversity by grooving to the folk music wherein men and women sport vivid and flamboyant traditional clothes while bringing to life lost traditions for the younger generations to feast upon.

Bissu Mela Date: 8 April 2022

17. Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra

Nanda Devi Jat Yatra, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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Also known as the 'Himalayan Mahakumbh', this festival of Uttarakhand marks commemoration to Goddess Nanda Devi wherein devotees from both the Garhwal and Kumaon regions come together to be a part of the sacred yatra. Held for three weeks and being organized once every twelve years, the Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra which spans over 280 km takes almost 22 days to complete. During this yatra, all sections of the society take part- dalits play drums, thakurs blow bhankauras, and brahmins take care of ceremonial parasols.

Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra Date: Organised once in 12 years

18. Magh Mela

Magh Mela, Festival of Uttarakhand
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Known to be one of the most popular fairs in the Uttarkashi district in Uttarakhand, the Magh Mela is a religious fair that has gradually become an important source of income via tourism. Held during the month of January, (14th-21st January) dolis or palanquins carrying the deity, are seen flocking to the Ramlila Ground where devotees immerse themselves in the river Ganga. A fair which exhibits local produce and handicrafts of local artisans from all over Uttarakhand, in the modern time is not restricted to Uttarkashi district- a skiing ground being prepared in Dayara Bugyal, a premier meadow in India.

Magh Mela Date: 14 January onwards, each year

19. Uttarayani Mela

Bagnath temple, Uttarayani Mela, Festivals of Uttarakhand
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The second week of January, the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti marks the onset of the Uttarayani Mela which is held in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand (Bageshwar, Ranibagh, Hanseswari and so forth). The Bagnath Temple in Bageshwar serves as the ground for the fair which usually spans for a week. Festivities and cultural heritage of the area is illustrated by a plethora of local artists singing Jhoras, Chancharis and Bairas (folklore). Local produce such as iron and copper vessels, baskets, casks, mattresses and many more items can be purchased while at the fair. According to the local people of the area, when the sun moves from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, a dip in the river's water is reckoned to be auspicious and claims to cleanse the spirit.

Uttarayani Mela Date: 14 January onwards, each year

20. Egaas

People of Uttarakhand believe that Lord Rama returned from his exile 11 days late to the upper hilly regions, which is why they celebrate Egaas, 11 days after Diwali, by cooking various delicacies, performing folk dances and lighting up their homes. People even celebrate by spinning a rope called "Bhailo" with a fire lit at one end.

21. Bagwal Fair

Bagwal Fair in Uttarakhand is celebrated along with Raksha Bandhan every year. Prayers are offered to Goddess Varahi, and prasad is distributed. A very famous ritual that takes place is that people throw stones at each other and the ritual ends when the head priest signals to stop. Devotees from all the neighbouring regions come to witness this fair. 

Bagwal Fair Date: 22 August 2021

Uttarakhand is home to people of varied culture, but many of the festivals in Uttarakhand revolve around harvest and agriculture, which is an integral source of their livelihood.

This post was published by Akshita Rawat

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