At Jaunsar-Bawar in Uttarakhand Himalayas, people go about their work in the fields when the entire country celebrates Diwali, the festival of lights. They are also busy with the preparations to celebrate a festival exactly one month after the festivities going on elsewhere. It sounds strange because that this area falls under the Dehradun district itself, just 85km from Mussoorie.
Jaunsar-Bawar was included in the Chakrata Tehsil in 1829. Earlier, it was a part of the Sirmur/Sirmoor state until the British invaded it in the war with the Gurkhas, in 1814. This high hill region is covered with reserve forests, which comprise of deodar, pine and spruce trees. This made it an important area for timber during the British era.
Some neighbouring hill areas of Himachal Pradesh also follow this tradition of celebrating "Boodhi Diwali" (Old Diwali). It has been an age-old tradition which shows no signs of changing. However, with many youngsters having migrated from Jaunsar-Bawar to the cities to build careers, some things surely are changing.
People of Jaunsar, who live and work elsewhere, find it tough these days to take leave to make it to the region for the celebrations of Boodhi Diwali. They get leaves for Diwali celebrated across north India and remain in the cities where they work. Moreover, they also seem to be losing interest in the ancient rituals associated with the celebrations of Boodhi Diwali.
During festivals both men and women dance to the rhythm of the melodious folk music.
When the rest of the world is engaged in celebrating Diwali, the Jaunsaris toil to ensure a good yield of crops such as rice, cholai and mandua. The women get busy beating rice in the traditional urkhalu/okhal to get chiwda (flattened rice) that is distributed among guests during the festivities. After a month, when people have made a profit from the harvest, the almost week-long Diwali festivities in the region begin.
Houses are, however, not decorated here. The fields are illuminated with burning logs placed by the residents. People dance around the bonfire as part of a popular custom on Boodhi Diwali. The coming together of the entire village is a special feature of the celebrations.
On the day, also known as "Buri Dewai", a wooden elephant made by the villagers is carried on the back around the area. The gram pradhan (usually an upper caste person) or a sayana (head of 10-12 gram pradhans) is part of the march. The traditions are still carrying on but the younger generation is perhaps not as attached to them as the older ones.
It is believed that as Shri Ram, returned to Ayodhya after winning over Ravana, the news spread in his kingdom, people began celebrating by lighting lamps and distributing sweets. The news spread to other areas too. But this mountainous northern region was far away and it took a month for the news to reach there. People of Jaunsar started the celebrations as soon as they got the news.
The aroma of the wood from pine trees and taste of sweet puris is what people of Jaunsar remember the most about the Diwali there.
Everything about Jaunsar-Bawar is unique. It has its own distinct culture and cuisine. The origins of the inhabitants of the village can be traced back to the Pandavas. The dialect of Jaunsari community is also known as Jaunsari and their culture is quite different from the Garhwali and Kumaoni communities of Uttarakhand. The area of Jaunsar-Bawar comes under Chakrata tehsil of Dehradun which has splendid natural beauty.
Both polygamy and polyandry are practised in Jaunsar-Bawar. Jaunsaris claim to be descendants of the Pandavas while the Bawaris are from the Kaurava's or Duryodhana's clan. The Jaunsari community reveres Mahasu Devta, who is one of the principal deities of Jaunsari tribes.
The dancers don colourful traditional clothes; representing the rich culture of Jaunsar.
The deity of Mahasu is worshipped in the village of Hanol,188km from Dehradun, on the eastern bank of Tons river at an altitude of 1,492 metres. Legend has it that a demon lived here and devoured one man from nearby areas every day. Once a man decided to challenge the demon and worshipped Lord Shiva, who directed Deolari Devi, one of his devotees to help the man. She sent her four sons to kill the demon and they succeeded. The villagers rejoiced and Shiva was worshipped by the name of "Mahasu", one of the sons of the woman, since then.
Dance and music are an integral part of the culture of the Jaunsari community. During festivals both men and women dance to the rhythm of the melodious folk music. The dancers don colourful traditional clothes; representing the rich culture of Jaunsar while the local people wear "Thalka" or "Lohiya", which is a long coat. The local people perform folk dances such as Barada Nati, Harul and Raso on festive occasions such as
Diwali, "Magh Mela" and "Bissu", a type of fair which marks the harvesting period. During Magh Mela villagers sacrifice "Maroj", an ogre, to their deity as according to a local legend it is believed that Maroj haunted the valley for years.
Modern life is slowly taking over these age-old tribal traditions. They will either get modified or begin to fade away soon. Before that happens, they need to be properly documented and recorded.