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Socio-economic condition of the people in the Himalayas

Religions and  Festivals

Clothes of the Himalayas

Title:Religions and  Festivals
Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya
The inhabitants of the Himalayas are a diverse amalgam of people from various ethnic backgrounds (Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Mongoloid and Austro-Asian), leading to a multicultural diversity. This diversity finds vibrant expression in the differing belief systems and forms of religions practiced across the Himalayan region, each with their own set of festivals and customs.
  • Religions:
    The people of the Himalayas follow several religions and in many instances, interaction among ethnic groups has lead to considerable influences of one religion on another. It is interesting to note that the various religions have never been a cause for friction among communities and have traversed social barriers to coalesce into the culture of the region.

    • Hinduism is the most widely followed religion with several holy shrines (Amarnath caves in Kashmir, Kedarnath and Badrinath in Uttarakhand, Gangotri and Yamnotri glaciers – the origin of the holy rivers of Ganga and Yamuna and Pasupati temple in Nepal) located in the Himalayas. Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction whose abode is Mount Kailash and various forms of Durga or goddess are revered by the people.
    • Buddhism is the religion followed by the people inhabiting Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), Lahaul and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), Sikkim, Bhutan, parts of Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh. Home to some magnificent monasteries (like the 400 year old Tawang monastery, Lamayuru monastery in Ladakh or Key monastery in Spiti), this land is also famous for being the residence of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
    • The inhabitants of Kashmir mainly follow Islam, which was introduced by traders from Central Asia as well as Muslim invaders.
    • Different tribes also follow forms of animist beliefs and religions like Donyi-Polo (the religion venerating the Sun and the Moon). There are small pockets of people following Christianity in some areas.
  • Festivals:
    As a direct impact of the religious diversity of the region, varied festivals are celebrated, replete with vibrant dances and customs that often fascinate an outsider. Festivals not only mark important dates in the religious calendar but also play an economic role in the form of trade fairs where food and other goods are bartered.
    • Losar is an important Buddhist festival celebrated in the last week of February. The festival is famous because of the vibrant chham dance, which commemorates the assassination of Langdarma, a cruel Tibetan king of the 9th century, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. The dance is an elaborate display of colourful costumes and masks. The Dosmoche and Hemis festivals are other important Buddhist celebrations. The Namsoong Festival is celebrated by the Lepcha community in Sikkim on the first day of "Kurneet Lovo" (December/January) and continues for a week. It also coincides with the Sonam Lossong festival of the Bhutias.
    • Several Hindu festivals are celebrated in the region. Basant Panchmi marks the fifth day of spring, and is celebrated to welcome the spring season. People wear shades of yellow to signify the glory of nature and the end of winter. Baisakhi is celebrated to commemorate the harvest in April. Another festival to celebrate the year’s harvest is Makar Sankranti (Maghey Sankranti in Nepali) in the month of “Magh” (January). Dussehra or Dassai as it is called in Nepali, commemorates the victory of good over evil. Diwali is known as the festival of lights and commemorates the victory of the Hindu king Rama over Ravana. It is celebrated in October-November with great enthusiasm especially in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The Chhari or Manimahesh Yatra is celebrated in August in Manimahesh, located on the Kailash Mount, at the foot of which lies a lake (altitude of 4,115 m). The annual religious procession starts in August and devotees of Lord Shiva cover a challenging 14 km trek from Hadsar to Manimahesh barefoot, chanting prayers. At Bharmour the nomadic Gaddis hold a fair for six days.
    • There are several fairs held like the famous La Darcha Fair in Lahaul and Spiti district where woolen and wooden products, food items (Tibetan tea, salt, rice) and metals (copper, gold) are sold. Yaks and Chumurthi horses are bartered in the fair and the evenings are full of dancing, drinking, horseracing and feasting. The Tapkeshwar fair, held on Shivratri (a festival to worship the Hindu god of destruction, Shiva) attracts thousands of devotees to offer their prayers at the banks of the Tons river in Uttarakhand.
In recent times, several fairs and festivals are being organized that showcase the cultural variety and exuberance of the Himalayas. This display of the traditional customs and religious practices of the region not only earn revenue for the indigenous people of the area but also allow us to understand its magnificent cultural heritage.