Monday, 8 December 2014

The Lavi Fair- Celebrating a Tradition

The Lavi Fair 
On the left bank of Satluj river at the foot of a towering mountain, lies a town of Rampur. Situated about 140 Km from Shimla, Ramput was the capital of the erstwhile state of Bushahr, which was merged with other princely states in 1948 to form the modern state of Himachal Pradesh. It was once a flourishing town bustling with business activity. It was a major trading center visited by the merchants from Tibet, Kashmir, Ladakh, Bhutan, Keshar and Yarkand.

The first European to visit the town in 1815 was James B Frazer, who found the place in miserable condition which bespoke of wretchedness and poverty caused by the Gurkhas. However he found the Dewan- e- Khas or the Hall of private audience situated on the highest terrace in good condition with its interior woodwork carves in intricate designs and patterns.

He also praised the wood carving in the royal palace. The windows and openings were covered with wooden screens which had flowers and human figures carved in such a manner so as to partially admit the light without exposing those inside.

 The roof in particular attracted his attention from the tasteful way in which it was done. The slates were placed with utmost precision, each a perfect square with the joint covered with a long piece like an isosceles triangle with its base upwards and the apex cut off below. The pillars screen and cornice still have the quality to amaze the viewer.

Frazer nevertheless regretted that the archives and the records of the state as well as of the royal family were entirely destroyed by the Gurkhas. There was however no doubt that the king descended from the ancient and the noble Rajput family. The Bushahr ruling family claims its descent from Lord Krishna. It is said that Praduman, the grandson of Lord Krishna had journeyed from Brindaban to Rampur and married the daughter of the ruler Bavasadeo or Banasur, whom he he later killed and usurped the kingdom for himself.
View of Rampur

During the Mughal rule in India, the Bushahr was ruled by Kehri Singh (1619-1696), the most powerful among the hill chieftains.  He was also the contemporary of Dalai Lama Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682), the spiritual and the political head of Tibet. Kehri Singh has helped Dalai Lama in recovering the territory from the Rajah, who had annexed it. The horses from Tibet and the swords from Bushahr were exchanged as a token of their friendship.
It was mentioned in the treaty that their friendly relations would continue till the times Satluj goes dry, the crows become white, horses grow horns and the stones ( which are stated to be at the borders of both the states and on which the treaty was signed) produce hair or wool. Since then it is presumed that the trade relations increased and eventually the Lavi fair was held.

There is another version regarding the origin of the festival or Lavi fair according to which the word Loi, which in the local dialect means shearing of sheep gradually changed to Lavi.

Himachal Pradesh is a veritable cornucopia of nature. It is also a land of colorful fairs and festivals which are unique in style and attractive in display. The carnival nature and social life of the people find manifestation in them. In the finest of the natural settings of the region the people have developed a height of artistic sense which expresses itself in the crafts of daily use.

The Lavi fair, as the past accounts run, took place twice in the month of Jyestha or June and Kartika or November, which are suited to the shearing of sheep. With the changing times the Lavi fair has come to be celebrated only once a year, that is in the second week of November.

In comparison to most of the religious fairs in the hills, the Lavi fair is purely a trade fair, but imbued with rich traditions and cultural heritage.

During the fair the entire Rampur town gets turned into a mela or fair venue, where everyone participates in merry making. The people at this time are finished with harvesting and the Lavi fair gives them an opportunity to go for the things of their need and choice. The traders from far and wide join the festivities and a big market is held to sell the items like clothes and garments, wool and pashmina, leather and furs, hides and skins, metal-ware and pottery, ornaments and jewelry, fruits and vegetables and mant more.

The fair offers a fascinating spectacle as the traders encamp on the either side of the river Satluj. During the week long festivities, thousands of people dressed in their traditional best can be seen making merry. Most of them sleep out in the open. Some people stay awake while singing and dancing all through the night. As the darkness falls, the lights and sounds of merry making create a mystic atmosphere.

The tourists after braving the hazards of the long and tiring journey through the hills forget all their fatigue as they watch the celebrations and what they carry back are not simple souvenirs but the real trophies of the memories of the rich culture of Himachal Pradesh.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Shoolini Fair of Solan

Thodo Ground during the Shoolini Fair
A myriad of festivals celebrated in different parts of Himachal Pradesh are the outward manifestation of the deep rooted culture of the people. The festivals have their origin in the age old traditions. Every summer season in Solan remain full of festivals and excitement.

A fair is held in the name of goddess Shoolini; the local deity after whom the town has been named. It is not a carnival time but evokes a deep rooted sentiment of tradition. It is an occasion to pray for the well being of everyone.

According to local belief, the goddess Shoolini is the youngest sister of goddess Durga. On the first day of the fair the idol of goddess Shoolini is carried in a palanquin at the head of a long procession from the Shoolini temple at the outskirts of the town to the Durga temple situated in the main bazaar. The purpose is the courteous visit of the goddess to the house of her sister. The goddess symbolized as an idol stays as a guest at the Durga temple for three days. The religious feelings get whipped to a feverish pitch and the air is electrified with a surge of emotional energy emanating from the singing of bhajans or devotional songs accompanied by dancing.

The Deities inside the Shoolini Temple at Solan

In the earlier days the fair proceedings were initiated by the Raja himself. Now the task is performed by some eminent local personality. Though the size of multitude accompanying the procession or Shoba Yatra has diminished over the years, but the unity of participation still prevails. The people living along the route of Sobha Yatra stand in the balconies with folded hands.

The fair is held at the Thodo ground, providing a spectacle of life that is pure and vigorous. The townsfolk, villagers, people from adjoining districts and a large number of tourists blend into the mela or fair crowd.

A rustic charm permeates the festivity. The rural folk come down to take a break from hard routine while the shy village damsels enjoy their simple pleasure by buying sindhoor or vermilion, bangles,  hairpins and other adornments by darting from one stall to another or jostling each other for a ride on sea- saw. The children wearing the caps of gold foils brandish the wooden swords with pride. A village couple could be seen posing excitedly for a photograph.

The chief attraction is the local dangal or the wrestling bout held on the afternoon of the last day. Many wrestlers and the Ustads or the wrestling masters from the Akharas or the amphitheaters of wrestling take part in the competition. The wrestlers are paired as per their appearance and one pitted against the other. The most important bout is the Pagari Ka Jarad, or the fight for the coveted turban in which two wrestlers of the largest size take part.  The chief guest ties the turban to the winner. The wrestling though crude generates far more excitement in the crowd.

One can witness the traditional folk spectacle like Thoda dance in which the arrows are shot by the dancers aimed to hit the padded shins of their dancing partners. The rural women sing folk songs in Chandols or jhoolas or sea-saw and the Karyala or the traditional folk theater during the nights of the festival is also performed. The singing and dancing are an integral part of the fair.

Recently due to the inflow of tourists, the summer festival has been fused into the fair. The folk troupes and the School and College teams from all over the Himachal and some other states come to perform on this occasion. All these activities make the Shulini fair a showpiece of the folk culture and tradition of Himachal Pradesh.

However, it is a sad aspect that the tradition is fast evolving into a dry and commercial entertainment routine, owing to inadequate patronage to preserve its original character. 

Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons by Bhanu Sharma Solan
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