Exploring the Gaddi Festivals of Chamba
As a farmer orientation meeting is called off due to a rainy evening in September, Lovnish Thakur, a development entrepreneur spends an evening savouring the fresh taste of babrus in Bhanjraru, only to realize he had arrived in this pristine land on the auspicious occasion of Patroru Sangrad, a special festival of the gaddis. What followed was a mesmerizing tale of gaddi festivals which left me awestruck and bewildered at the same time.
The fresh aroma of babrus made me leave my bed early on a rainy September morning. I was in Bhanjraru in Chamba for a farmer orientation meeting and had asked Tek Chand, the caretaker of the rest house to arrange a meeting with the local famers. Before I could utter a word, Tek Chand entered from the kitchen with a cup of tea and a plate full of steaming b babrus. It was the first day of Bhadon (September) – the day Patroru Sagrand, one of the key gaddi festivals, is celebrated with traditional enthusiasm in the region.
As the rain got denser, I decided to call the meeting off for the day. Over the long times I had spent with him, I had come to know Tek Chand as a house of knowledge. There was no way I would let go of this opportunity without insisting on his telling me about the various gaddi festivals the community celebrates throughout the year.
It amazed me to know that Baisakhi is celebrated with great vigour by the gaddi people of Chamba. This is in spite of the fact that most of the community is not directly associated with agriculture. Tek Chand explained that Baishakhi or Bisu, as it is known in the region, is one of the important gaddi festivals. This is celebrated on the first of Baishakh, which usually falls in the mid of April. Gaddis prepare cakes made out of Bhares and wheat flour on this day.
Dipping my babrus in tea and savouring the aroma of fresh ghee, I realized I had arrived in Bhanjraru on the occasion of Patroru Sangrand. It was the first day of Bhadon (September), and Tek Chand made my day by saying that he was preparing ‘Kachalu leaves rolled in besan” for lunch. This was a special dish which is relished by the gaddi community on Patroru Sangrand. With Tek Chand himself being a gaddi, I definitely was expecting a traditional feast for lunch. As I sat enjoying the babrus, I couldn’t help drooling thinking of another traditional delicacy coming up later in the day.
As Tek Chand explained, Lohri is perhaps the only gaddi festival which is celebrated in the traditional way – just the way it is in Punjab and other parts of northern India. The local community prepares khichri from rice and mashed dal. Desi ghee and curd is also added to give it a unique flavor. The striking difference is however the recital of gaddi love songs instead of Punjabi bhangra, around the bonfire – with the famed Kunju-Chanchlo being one of them.
This is perhaps one of the most important gaddi festivals in the region. As the entire tribal belt of Chamba is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva, Shivratri is celebrated with much fanfare and enthusiasm in the area. It is customary for the gaddi people to fast on this day. The traditional festival of Nauala is also celebrated on Shivratri, as a part of which religious songs dedicated to Shiva are sung with enthusiasm. Nauala is celebrated at one of the villager’s home where the entire village gathers for traditional feasting and celebrations.
Gaddis are keen followers of fairs and festivals in the region. This applied to Tek Chand as well – to my amusement, I found that he had utilized the maximum of his official leaves in visiting fairs and festivals in the region. As he mentioned, gaddis visited every fair in the region, be it the Minjar fair in Chamba, the Dal, Ghanyara or the Dari fair in the Kangra district or the ‘Suhi’ fair in Chamba town.
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