Among the various festivals celebrated, the Khatarua in Uttarakhand is the one to look forward to. The festival is marked with exuberance and celebrated in truly traditional style. Elaborate arrangements and preparations are made to celebrate it in style.
Legends of Khatarua
There is 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 2 years of fierce battle among heirs of King Rudra Chand, King Baz Bahadur Chand assumed the throne of the King of Kumaon. In the prevailing period of revolution, the King of Garhwal took advantage and invaded the region, attacked and killed the Kumaonis. The hapless villagers pleaded with Bahadur Chand for protection. He 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 Garhwal 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 celebrate 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.
Celebration of Khatarua
According to some people, this festival is celebrated to memorize the victory of King of Kumaon Region. It is a festival which also marks the starting of the autumn season. On the day of the celebration, villagers get together and celebrate the joyous time of the new harvest. Large quantities of fire-wood and grass are stacked at prominent places and dummy of Khatarua is erected. With the thickening of the dark, these heaps are set ablaze and are called the 'fire of Khatarua'. Large groups of jubilant people gather around the fire and children hold colourful flags. Cucumbers are offered to the fire with a belief that it will destroy all the evils and negativity and bring joy and prosperity, thereby establishing goodness and virtue on earth. During this festival, animals are taken special care of and are fed with fresh grass during the festival. The entire atmosphere is filled with an aura of happiness and merriment.
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.
After the bonfire is lit and the celebration is in full flow, small children sing and dance around the fire and people join in festival of merry making. People uphold flags to celebrate the beginning of the autumn season. This creates a beautiful environment where everyone enjoys and has a lovely time.
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.
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