Khatarua is the special festival of pastoral- agricultural Kumaon society in Uttarakhand and is observed annually on the first day of Ashvin, the seventh month of the lunisolar Hindu calendar. The festival honours farm animals and is believed to protect rural livestock from all evil. It heralds the arrival of autumn, the important harvest season for the agriculture dependent community. Also associated with the occasion is an old folk tale that reflects the long drawn animosity between Kumaon and Garhwal that lingered on until the Chand dynasty fell in Kumaon and Garhwal lost its independent status on the Gurkha invasionJhumeila attracts people from all communities during all the major fairs and festivals - be it Baisakhi, Guru Poornima, Makar Sakranti or any other festival related to the nature. Children in their colorful garments also come and enjoy the fervor of Jhumeila.

A festival of bonfires, the occasion is marked by throwing cucumbers into the 'fire of Khatarua', bountiful feeding of cattle and exalted merrymaking by flag waving children. As narrated by regional folk writer D N Barola, "On the day of the celebration, large quantities of fire- wood and grass are stacked at cross-roads or prominent places and effigies of Khatarua are erected. To the heaps are also added broken furniture, pieces of paper and all that lie waste in homes. With the thickening of the dark, these heaps are set ablaze and large groups of jubilant people gather around the fire. As the effigies get engulfed by flames, zealous children beat the fire with sticks adorned with flowers and cucumber pieces. Khatarua marks the onset of winter in the cold mountain villages of Kumaon. It reminds them of the necessity of gathering firewood and fodder which would be required to brave the severe cold of the winter months. Animals are taken special care of on this day. According to native elders, the heap of grass should be up as high as the head of the cow, a metaphor meaning that cows must be fed to the maximum.”

After sunset, each family prepares its torchlight that is brandished over cattle sheds, recedes of the house and young children. These torches are then carried to light the effigies in community bonfires.

The children dance around the bonfire waving colourful flags in their hands. The adults join in and throw cucumbers into the allegorical fire, the ashes signifying the destruction of all that is nefarious. Thereafter, villagers take partially burnt pieces of wood etc to keep in their animal sheds, to drive away spirits of the devil and disease. Characterising the ceremonies is a pervading spirit of merriment espoused by loud folk singing and dancing.

There is also an age-old legend associated with Khatarua; that salutes the victory of an ancient King of the Chand dynasty in Kumaon against Garhwal. This was the time when after two years of fierce battle among heirs of King Rudra Chand, King Baz Bahadur Chand assumed the throne of the King of Kumaon. In the intervening period of anarchy, the King of Garhwal took advantage and invaded the region, the army led by Senapati (Commander) Khatar Singh. Attacking from Chaukhutia and Gwaldam, the ruthless men reached up to Dwaraghat and Garur; looting and killing Kumaonis as they advanced. The hapless villagers pleaded with Bahadur Chand for protection, who dispatched a battalion of some of his bravest men to the fort of Chandpur Garhi, near Abidari. However, the fort being situated on top of a hill, the Garhwal army had an upper hand, killing Bahadur's soldiers as they climbed up. Tactfully, the King invented a clever ploy- he sent a horde of cows with his soldiers. These cavalrymen also waved flags with pictures of cows as they stormed into Garhi. Cows being extremely sacred to the Garhwali population as well, Khatar Singh and his men could not launch an effective offensive, fearing deaths of the accompanying cows. Thus, the King of Kumaon defeated the aggressive army of Garhwal.

This relates to the importance of cows in celebrating Khatarua. In the paucity of other food in the war-torn region, the victorious Kumaoni soldiers celebrated by sharing cucumbers. As for the bonfires, they were used as a communication symbol to send the message of victory to Kumaon's capital, Almora.

Despite recent moderation in some parts of the region due to the provocative underpinnings of the Garhwal-Kumaon battle tale, the special festival of Khatarua continues to fascinate the innocent mountain people as they hop around singing, "Chal Khatarua dhaare dhaar; gau ki jeet, khature ke haar" (Let Khatarua (animal disease) travel from one hill top to another; the cow has won and Khatarua has lost).


blog comments powered by Disqus
Muslin Fabric

This gossamer light muslin fabric has found mention in the writings of many visitors to India, even as far back as the 3rd century B.C. A great deal of muslin was produced in and exported from Bengal. Dacca was the main region where cotton was cultivated due to the high humidity of the region, which prevented the delicate thread from breaking on contact with the air. The cotton spun was very white since the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers have bleaching properties. The chikan workers in Bengal used this fine muslin for embroidery.

Stitches in Chikankari

Double-Star Earring, Peacock Feather's Eye, Sidhual, Makra, Mandarzi, Bulbulchashm, Tajmahal, Phooljali, Phanda, Dhoom, Gol, murri, Janjeera, Keel, Kangan, Bakhia, Dhania Patti, lambi Murri, Kapkapi, Karan Phool, Bijli, Ghaspatti, Rozan, Meharki, Kaj, Chameli, Chane ki Patti, Balda, Jora, Pachni, Tapchim Kauri, Hathkati and Daraj of various types.