Uttarakhand- Unique Traditions and Rich Cultural heritage

-Dr. Nagendra Rawat and Prof. DR Purohit

Uttarakhand having a strategic location has a unique landscape. High ecological, cultural, religious, spiritual values, rich biodiversity, myths, folklores, unique socio-religious practices, temples, holy shrines, scenic places, snow-clad mountains, thick forest cover, plant species make it a favorite destination for tourists, travelers, bird watchers, adventurers, mountaineers and pilgrims. Mostly, Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti (Mother Goddess) are worshipped in this region hence; almost all the temples and shrines are dedicated to one of these deities.


The holly portals of Badrinath will be closed for winter on November 20, 2021. Photo collection Jay Singh Rawat

The pilgrimage/Tirth yatras have not only helped to build up historical, biophysical, socio-cultural, and economic perspectives but also contributed significantly to a comprehensive understanding of Himalayan landscapes. In a landscape livelihood, socio-cultural practices (i.e., spiritual experiences, music, dance, folklore, customs, etc.), and natural resource management practices (i.e., biodiversity conservation, agriculture, watershed management, etc.) evolve.

The beauty of this region has also been eulogized in the Skanda Puran and the scriptures describe the presence of Gods in the serene surroundings of the Char dhams.  Haridwar has been the entry point for Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath and since ages the pilgrims visited these shrines by trekking. The Adi guru Shankaracharya trekked all the way to Garhwal from Kerala in the 8th century AD. The foreigners like Lord Curzon, Atkinson, Tilman also trekked and identified new trekking routes in this region.

The tableau of Uttarakhand passes through the Rajpath during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day Parade. Photo collection Jay Singh Rawat.

Garhwal Himalaya is well known not only for its natural beauty but also for its cultural splendor and flavor. The name ‘Garhwal’ is also associated due to its forts and fort licks which came into existence in late medieval period. In Skandpuranait was known as ‘Kedarkhand’ and ‘Himvant’.  There are sufficient references in the great Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata which highlight not only the physiographical importance of Garhwal Himalaya but its religious and ritualistic traditions. The literary sources clearly indicate the association of many Rishis and other pioneering personalities with Garhwal Himalaya such as Rishi Kanva is associated with modern Kotdwara (kanwashram), Rishi Agastya with Agastyamuni and Rishi Jamdagni with Than village. The significance of the Garhwal Himalaya can also be judged through its world-famous Char Dhams’ which are dedicated to the Brahminical deities of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Goddess Ganges and Yamuna respectively. Apart from this there are many folk deities, worshiped in different valleys which gives the identity of ‘Dev Bhumi’ to Garhwal Himalaya

Folk dance of women of Rawain on the occasion of a festival. Photo social media.

Garhwal is inhabited by people belonging to a number of ethnic groups and castes which have their indigenous culture and traditions, language, dialect, fairs, festivals, customs, beliefs, rituals, values, food habits, dresses, ornaments, Arts.  The regional dialects like-Jaunsari, Srinagariya, Salani, Rathi, Bangani, Ranwalti, Gangadi and others are spoken and the dance forms include Bhotia, Cholia, Jhora,  Mukhota (Mask Dance), Chanchri, Jhumelo, Chhapeli, Naati, Taandi. The popular traditional folk Songs include Mangal, Chaiti, Chapati, Bajuband, Khuded, Jaagar, Panwada, Chhoda, Harul, Jagar etc. GindiMela, MaghMela, Bagwal, Harela, Phooldei, BissuMela, Igaaspresent very interesting ritual. Nanda devi Raj Jat, Ramman, Paandavlila, Chakravyuha,  PanchkoshiYatra, Jakhnritya exhibit rich yatra traditions. Though tough and rugged physiographical setting allows a communication gap between remotely inhabited communities and rest of India but these processions, customs, traditions and beliefs provide opportunities of integration. Apart from worshipping the natural elements people also worship the supernatural powers including the dead of their own family members. It is believed that various forms of the folk deities appear in the human body and this whole process is called ‘Dev Avataran (incarnation)’ in which the humans dance as deities and bless the devotees which is known as JagarNritya. The Pandava dance is held in more than 2000 villages of andRamlila is the most popular and the largest theatre performed almost in every village. Rammaan (Mask dance of upper Alaknanda valley) is now listed as the intangible world Heritage by UNESCO which itself defines the uniqueness and value of such folk traditions of Garhwal region.

Bhotiya Traditional dance in a remote Indo-Tibet border area. Photo social media.

The geographical phenomena minutely differentiate cultural patterns on the basis of river valleys. Thus the cultural patterns vary in Tons, Yamuna, Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Nandakini,  Dhauli, Birahi , Nayyaar, Saryu, Ramganga , Pindar,  Kosi, and Kali river valleys . Rituals of Mahabharat-related narratives take place only in the river valleys situated in the Ganga and Yamuna valleys. The faith patterns also determine the ecology of cultural practices. The predominant faith systems initially were Shaiva and Shaakta cults. With the passage of time Krishna cult also entered in the form of Naagarjaa and Ramol. It was followed by the Vaishnava cult with the entry of Adi Shankaracharya and restoration and re-consecration of the image of Vishnu in Badrinath. Parallel to the classical cults run the worship of indigenous deities numbering in thousands like Mahasu, Nandadevi, Bhairava, GolluDevata, Bagdwaal, Maniknath, Bagnath, Malainaath, Gangnath,  Aachhari Maataris  and others. The deities are also associated with the four elements of nature, i.e., earth, fire, water, sky, and air. The deities of fire and rain are the Yaksas, Nandadevi, the deity of the earth is Bhoomyaal, the deity of earth and water is Naag, the sky is represented by the sounds of Dhol.


A 130 years old file photo of Lord Kedarnath. Photo- Social media

NandadeviRajjat, a 12 yearly processional performance, invites the participation of more than 35,00000 devotees, covers a distance of 280 kms in the higher Himalaya, taking a trekking time period of 22 days. Festivals like Maun, mass fishing festival, draws a crowd of 30000 village folks. The tradition of a procession of deity is not merely religious but has a certain political value which can be noticed through the specific routes marked for the movement of deity which cannot be taken by other deity. There are hundreds of moving deities in Garhwal Himalaya like- Mahasu, Chandika Devi, Uma Devi, Jakh etc.  the Procession of deity has another flavor when it is shifted from its shrine to seasonal shelter and again when it goes to its main shrine from the seasonal shelter. The dolis of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri are always shifted to their seasonal shelter from their main shrines after a period of six months. Lord Badrinath resides at Joshimath, Kedarnath at Ukhimath, Ganga at Mukhba Village, and the Yamuna at Kharsali village during winters.

The earthquake-resistant houses peculiar to the architectural identity of Yamuna valley are said to be 5000-year-old by the Archaeology department of our University. Briefly speaking the substratum of the culture is predominantly agro-pastoral which has achieved a perfect synthesis with the classical culture of the subcontinent

(Dr. Nagendra Rawat and Prof. DR Purohit)

Department of History and Archaeology

Department of Folk and Culture

Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University



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