As the road gains elevation, temperature starts to fall. Concrete jungle turns into green. You sure know you have entered Himachal when you see happy faces greeting you with a pleasant and warm smile as you go deeper into this magical world of mountains where the culture and traditions are as diverse as its terrain.
If you are looking for an enriching experience of traditions and rituals of Himachal, then one must-see place would be Mandi. Also called Chhota Kashi, it is the oldest city in India to see human settlement after Benaras. Himachal’s sub-montane dwellers practice settled cultivation and thus, most of their festivals are agricultural and religious celebrations.
Folk songs sung in Himachali language is similar to Punjabi when it comes to accent and vocabulary. Women and girls form circles and dance around, swirling and clapping while tapping to the beats of folk songs to perform dance form Mandyali luddi. It is more of like storytelling; this dance form is entertaining and energetic at the same time.
A myriad of musical instruments like Ranasingha, Karna, Turhi, Flute, Ektara, Kindari, Jhanih, Maniara, Chimta, Ghariyal and Ghunghru are played to provide music for the songs and the dances.
Shiv Badar Nati is a dance form specially performed in the upper hills of Mandi to reverberate with the sound of traditional music when men and women celebrate Maha shivratri. The dancers look in sync with each other and dance gracefully to the tunes.
One of the major festivals where villagers march the idols of Lord Shiva along the river Beas to local temples, some conclude the march at Baijnath (major temple of Lord Shiva since 13th century, 100 km away from Mandi). The magnificence of this festival has reached an international level. There is a seven-day long international Shivratri fair where the whole town shines bright with lights and festive decorations. The fair includes star nights where singers and dancers from all across the world perform with local bands to celebrate Maha shivratri around February or March every year.
Another festival worth witnessing is Prashar fair; a three-day festival starts a day before Sankranti day during Ashada (June month). Also known as Prashar Mela is a noteworthy religious event that draws pilgrims from all over the country. The fair is hosted on the lush meadows of Prashar. During festival time devotees carry Shuka Dev deity from Thatta village to Prashar Lake. Various villagers also carry deities and Ratha Yatra from their individual villages. Prashar Mela’s cultural extravaganza highlights the cultural legacy of the beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh.
Food stalls, souvenirs shops, trinkets and toys and rides like the Ferris wheel are setup by the locals during this Mela. Apart from the fair, the stunning scenery of Mandi valley and its nearby attractions captivates tourists.
Festive mode of this place continues throughout the year as there are a large number of old temples with innumerable religious and agrarian festivals to be celebrated. With high spirits and strong faith in deities, the locals believe in celebrating every festival with the same enthusiasm.
Nabahi devi, Kamaksha, Kamrunag, Kutah and Magru Mahadev fair are other major festivals in and around Mandi, which are worth celebrating with the natives and fall in love with this lush green valley even more.