Garhwal and Kumaun are the two main regions of Uttarakhand. Garhwal is a trekker’s paradise and home to famous Hindu shrines Badrinath and Kedarnath, awe-inspiring Himalayan peaks (including Nanda Devi and Trishul), and the Ganges. Kumaun is a bird watcher’s retreat. A stay in its remote Forest Rest Houses reminds of British Raj era. And, a drive/walk through its lush hills is an experience of its own kind.
Note: Photograph taken from near Garhwal-Kumaun boundary. In the background is the massive Trishul peak
Culturally, Garhwal and Kumaun have numerous similarities, yet some traditions are unique to each region. Celebration of the Holi festival in Kumaun is one of them. Holi has a special place in the Kumauni calendar, and perhaps has greater importance than Diwali. It signifies the end of demanding winters and the arrival of sowing season, so crucial for an agrarian community. Ideally, Holi celebrations start from Basant-Panchami, which typically falls in early February. Central to these pre-Holi festivities are the musical sessions, namely Khari-Holi (standing Holi) and Baithaki-Holi (sitting Holi). According to the historians, this tradition started in 15th century in North-eastern parts of Kumaun during Chand rulers, and spread across the entire region eventually.
Khari-Holi has a rustic touch and involves folk dances accompanied with traditional folk instruments. Baithaki-Holi, organized in temple courtyards, is strictly a classical-music affair with a mix of Kumauni folk tradition. Songs, revolving around the life of God Krishna, are based on classical ragas and sung in accordance with the time of the day e.g. Raga Bhimpalasi at noon and Raga Yaman-based songs during the evenings etc. These baithaks (sittings) are also held at homes in the neighborhoods/localities across Kumauni towns, with each home taking turn to host such musical evenings. Such baithaks can last till late night, interspersed with the serving of snacks and drinks. ‘Aaloo ke Gutke’ along with “Bhang ki Chutney” is the most common and quick-to-make potato dish served on these occasions.
Blessed with some wide open fertile valleys known as ‘Seras’ in local dialect, Uttrakhand’s Kumaun region produces some of the best potatoes in India. Perhaps, this fact also explains the prevalence of potato-based dishes during the festivities.
Note: Wide Open Fertile Valleys of Kumaun
Aaloo ke Gutke
Potato – 1 kg
Cumin powder – 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon
Red chili powder – 1 teaspoon
Whole red chilies- 5 pieces
Oil – 50 gms
Coriander powder- 2 teaspoon
Salt- To taste
Boil the potatoes in water, peel them, and cut into small pieces. In a pan, fry the whole red chilies in oil and keep it aside. Use the same oil to fry cumin seeds till it crackle then add turmeric powder. Add boiled potato pieces, coriander powder, chilly powder, and salt. Cook on slow fire till done and garnish with chopped coriander leaves and fried red chilies. The dish can also be seasoned with Jamboo (a Himalayan spice) if available. This spice provides a distinct aroma to the dishes and is used in most of the Uttarakhandi cuisines. Those who plan to visit Sri Badrinath this season and want to sample Jamboo can buy it from Mana village.
Bhang ki Chutney
Bhang Seeds (Hemp Seeds) – 50 gms
Cumin Seeds – 2 teaspoon
Lemon (Big) – One
Salt – to taste
Whole Red Chillies – 3 Pieces
Roast bhang seeds and cumin seeds separately. Grind bhang seeds, red chillies, and cumin seeds into fine paste adding little water. Wild pomegranate seeds (Anardana) can also be used instead of bhang seeds. Squeeze lemon juice into the paste, add salt, and serve.
Quite a few people also like to have “Pahadi Raita” along with “Aaloo Gutka”
Cucumber (grated) – 1/2 cup
Turmeric powder- 1/2 tbsp
Powdered Mustard seeds (yellow) – 1 tbsp
Yoghurt – 1 cup
Green Chilies (chopped) – 1 piece
Grated ginger – 1/2 piece
Salt – to taste
Sugar – to taste
Easy!…Mix well all the ingredients and keep aside for at least 15 min. This raita is known for its pungent flavor so more it is kept before serving, more pungent it tastes.
Based on my personal observation, I feel this cultural tradition is slowly receding into history. Although a majority of Uttrakhandis have always sought employment outside the home state, they remained connected with their roots because the elders stayed back. I remember many people, from the current elder generation, who used to save holidays just to be part of the Holi festivities in their home towns.
However, the trend suggests that more and more people from the current generation are settling (and perhaps rightly so) in metro cities. I meet several people who haven’t visited their hometowns since last 9-10 years. In rural Kumaun, the Holi festival serves as a kind of get-together for the extended families. Now, abandoned homes are becoming a relatively common sight in villages, as compared with the situation 10 years back. Still, the Holi celebrations have maintained their fervor in rural areas vis-à-vis towns where they are fast becoming a one-day affair.
Cultural traditions need continuity for sustenance, and are bound to die like a musical gharana, if the linkage is broken. I just hope that this unique tradition continues.