The Festivals and Food of Kumaon…

The Festivals and Food of Kumaon

Celebration of Nature

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Kumaoni Holi

Kumaoni Holi

Kumaoni Holi

The uniqueness of the Kumaoni Holi lies in its being a musical affair, whichever may be its form, be it the Baithki Holi, the Khari Holi or the Mahila Holi. The Baithki Holi and Khari Holi are unique in that the songs on which they are based have touch of melody, fun and spiritualism.

These songs are essentially based on classical ragas. No wonder then the Baithki Holi is also known as Nirvan Ki Holi. The Baithki Holi begins from the premises of temples, where Holiyars (the professional singers of Holi songs) as also the people gather to sing songs to the accompaniment of classical music.

Kumaoni’s are very particular about the time when the songs based on ragas should be sung. For instance, at noon the songs based on Peelu, Bhimpalasi and Sarang ragas are sung while evening is reserved for the songs based on the ragas like Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman etc.

The Khari Holi is mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by the people, who sporting traditional white churidar payajama and kurta, dance in groups to the tune of ethnic musical instruments.

Kumaoni Holi

Harela and Bhitauli

  • On the first day of the navaratris (nine day holy period) of the month of Chaitra women fill baskets with soil and sow seven types of grains in them.
  • The grains germinate symbolizing the future harvest.
  • These yellow leaves, called Harela, are cut on the tenth day and people put them on their heads and behind their ears.
  • During the month of Chaitra (March-April) brothers send presents to their sisters and parents to their daughters. These presents are called Bhitauli.
  • However, the more popular Harela is the one that is celebrated in the month of Shravan to commemorate the wedding of Lord Shiva and Parvati and to welcome the rainy season and the new harvest.
  • On this day people make Dikaras or clay statues of Gauri, Maheshwar, Ganesh etc. and worship them.
  • Even the overworked bullocks are given a rest on the occasion of Harela. People put the blades of freshly cut Harela on their heads and send them to their relatives and friends as well.

Bat Savitri

  • This festival is celebrated on the Krishna amavasya (last day of the dark half of the month) of Jyestha and on the day married women worship Savitri and the Bat or banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) and pray for the well being of their spouses.
  • Women observe fast in honour of Savitri and Satyavan and remember how Savitri through her intense devotion saved her husband from the claws of death.

  Raksha Bandhan/ Janopunyu

  • The people of Kumaon celebrate Raksha Bandhan and Janopunyu, the day on which Kumaoni Brahmin change their janeu (sacred thread).
  • On this day the famous Bagwal fair is held at Devidhura in district Champawat.

Ganga Dusshera or Dasar

  • Ganga Dusshera is celebrated on the Shukla dasami of the Jyestha (May – June).
  • The sacred Ganga is worshipped on this day and Dusshera posters (dwarpatras or dasars), which have various geometric designs on them, are put up on the doors of houses and temples.
  • These posters, once hand written by brahmins, are now printed. On this day people bathe in the holy rivers.

Basant Panchami

  • The festival of Basant Panchami celebrates the coming of the spring season.
  • This festival, which also signals the end of winter, is generally celebrated during Magh (January – February).
  • During this festival people worship the Goddess Saraswati, use yellow handkerchiefs or even yellow cloths and in a few places people put a yellow tilak on their foreheads.
  • This festival also marks the beginning of holi baithaks.

Typical Kumaoni Cuisine’s

  • Sweets/Deserts
    • Bal Mithai: The most popular Sweet of Kumaon, prepared from Khoya (Condesed Milk) and sugar and Coconut (Optional) – dark colored chocolate like flavor, coated with tiny white sugar-balls.
    • Singodi: Khoya (Condensed Milk) and Coconut and wrapped in a leaf which is pecular to Kumaon called Malu (kind of Barfi covered in a leaf)
    • Jhangora Ki Kheer: A Sweet Dish prepared with Milk, Sugar and Jhangora (a local cereal).
  • Snacks
    • Singal: A local sweet snack made from suji, eaten during festivals.
    • Alu ke Gutke: Typical kumaon Snack prepared from boiled Potatoes, cooked in Hot Spice with roasted Whole Red Chillies and Coriander leaves.
    • Kumaoni Raita: Raita prepared with Cucumber, Curd and Mustard seeds with the pungent taste of Mustard.
    • Bhang ki Khatai: A tasty Sour Chutney prepared with rosted Bhang seeds and Cumin seeds, mixed with lemon juice.
  • Drink/ Appetizer 
    • Sani hui Muli and Nibu: A typical refreshing and tempting mixture of Radish, Lemon, Curd and paste of Bhang seeds, eaten during winter season.
    • Lentil/Dal Balls – Highly nutritive Salad, to be served before meals as appetiser. It is an innovative way to utilise residue after Rus preparation
  • Food
    • Sisunak Sag: A Green leafy Vegtable Dish, prepared like other green vegetables. The leaves are locally known as ‘Bichhu Ghas’/ Scorpion Grass – a  really irritating herb resulting in unimaginable itching if any sensitive part of body is exposed to the raw Sisuna leafs.
    • Rus: A typical Kumaon delicacy prepared with mixed Dal Stock, thickened by rice paste and served with Rice.
    • Kappa: Boiled spinach, finely chopped and cooked with Spice and Curd, and thickened with Rice paste.
    • Gahat Ki Dal: Lentils prepared from Gahat, tempered with Gandherin, Asfoetida and Cumin seeds.
    • Madua Ki Roti: Delicious and nutritious Chappaties (Indian Bread) made from Madua cereal.
    • Lesu: Kumaon Bread prepared by stuffing Madua dough into Wheat Flour dough. Eaten with a lots of Butter/Ghee
A sweet shop in Almorah

A sweet shop in Almorah


8 thoughts on “The Festivals and Food of Kumaon…

  1. Pingback: Everything that you wanted to know about Kumaon « For Whatever It's Worth…

    • I guess you will have to ask someone travelling from the Hills to carry it for you. Now that most of the families are settled in the city and links with hills are weakening, there are less and less opportunity to get things from there.
      Earlier this year we had gone to Pithoragarh for vacation and managed to get some food stuff from the local person working at the Hotel we were staying but unfortunately I lost the bag on the way back home…

    • Thanks. Almost all restaurants and Dhaabas around Dehradoon would serve Punjabi/ UP cuisines only. The Kumaoni/ Garwali cuisines are rustic in nature and would be difficult to find them on the menu of the restaurants. You may have to visit the home of your local friends to taste it. The other option is to get the local ingredients and try the recipes on your own.

    • Its a spice indigenous to the hills of Uttarakhand, I am not sure if it has a name in Hindi or its available in other places. I will try to get more details when I am in the hills next time. The recipe will work without it also 🙂

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