Festivals have always played an important role in the history of all human societies. It is the time of the year when everyone puts the daily chores aside and celebrates with all their heart. The rituals associated with festivals may vary across cultures, but the spirit of merry making remains unchanged. Special dances, rituals, music, food, decorations and clothing add to the beauty of festivals. Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of the biggest festivals and has become a popular mainstream festival. Over the years, firecrackers and fancy lights have replaced the true joys contained in the festival. In this Modern age the new generations stand no chance to witness the real beauty of celebrations. Buried under the thick layers of complexities our souls have forgotten the very basic festive sentiments.
Luckily there exists a place where simplicity is given respect. Only a few kilometers away from the queen of hills -Mussoorie- ‘Badi Diwali’ is celebrated in its true spirit. Away from the cold stone Kings and Queens, the entire community prepares for two days of dance, music and celebration. The ‘Dhols’ and ‘Damaus’ are taken out and fill the air with a festive muse as they begin resounding filling your souls with raw music. The sunlight gives way to majestic darkness after the village folk has feasted on ‘poori – subji’ and savoured the taste of delicious ‘Haskya’ (a dish prepared using three flours namely mandwa, jhingora and gehun which iseaten with curd). The folk now gets ready to play ‘Bhyonla or holda’. These are small box- like structures made of dried grass fastened by a small metal wire which is then tied to a long jute rope. The boxes are then lighted and spun around holding one end of the rope. The motion resembles to that of an Olympic hammer thrower. A surreal ring of fire illuminates as the motion of the holda speeds up. One gets a firsthand psychedelic experience witnessing these rings of fire…
The sun now drowns completely and dwellers of Kolti gather themselves slowly at the ‘chaupal’ (village center). Children play ‘Dhols’ and ’Damus’, walking in the entire village signaling the time for the evening celebrations. A fire is lighted in the fireplace at the chaupal. The music and dances intensify as the numbers pour in. The proceedings come to a halt when a diya is ignited in the chaupal temple. Both men in women engage themselves bare feet in a holy dance that is performed to call the deities. Following the rhythm of the instruments the dancers feel a holy spirit entering their bodies. As the performance progresses many dancers feel high amounts of energies passing through their bodies. This is then exhibited with speedy body gestures in the dance where one reaches a whole new level of trance. The music slowly subsides and the effects of the spirits too fade away. With the rituals complete, the whole village now dances in the chaupal. The dhols are beaten more strongly now. Everyone is engrossed in the celebrations. The dancers divide them in two distinct groups of men and women, who dance and sing around the Dhol players standing in the center. The dances are performed late into the night. No one seems tired, even the kids dance with full enthusiasm. The dhols slowly fade away and the first day celebrations come to an end with a final dance before it is time for the cock to announce the beginning of a new day.
A new morning sets in and Kolti dwellers are a little late than usual to get up. Everyone performs their share of daily duties and is ready for continuing with the celebrations as sun descends from its zenith. This starts with a special dance ‘Tandi’ which is performed as everyone sets out from their homes dancing to reach a place called ‘Dhimsya’. It is a common village field where a big pile of wood is burnt. The entire community dances and sings along with the beats of dhols till the fire dies out. After this the folk gradually dances back to their homes. This brings the two day celebration to an end.
Away from the cities, this way of celebrating Diwali is really an eye opening experience. Everyone takes part in the celebration, unlike the so called modern towns where Diwali is reduced to a solitary family celebration. Even family celebrations go for a spin as some family members are always busy with their professional lives.
Let me share with you two incidents that took place around Kolti. On the first night of celebrations, when it was time for us to go back to our tents, we realized that we were short of a matchbox. We simply asked a man standing next to us for a matchbox. He was all ears to our request and took us to his home, gave us a matchbox and even some dry firewood as he knew the wood outside would not light owing to winter frost. He even urged us to have food. Yes, such an event can take place anywhere else too but the feelings with which he helped us, were pure. This help didn’t have any strings attached to it. Rightly said by Mark Twain, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”.
The second incident is of a lost wallet. We had gone for a simple trek to the village and a wallet had somehow fallen out of my friend’s backpack in the forest. She realized it only after completing the trek. Going back into the forest to find the wallet was out of the question as it was dark. We informed the village head and requested him to inform us in case it was found. After a few days the wallet was found and returned with everything intact. We could only thank the village head for this help. A few months later, my friend noticed an inbox message on her Facebook account from an unknown saying “Madam we have found your purse. Please call at this number”. One of the village youths had found my friend on the social network and had only created this account to send her this message.
We the educated people from growing towns cannot even think of taking so many pains to ensure the delivery of a lost wallet to its owner. Travelling helps one to discover such varying shades in our society. The people living in villages may not enjoy so many luxuries as us in cities, but they really have hearts of gold. Thus, in conclusion I do not find it wrong to call these people the real Kings and Queens. Looking at the lives of people in this village I’m reminded of one of the sayings by Leonardo Da Vinci – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”