During Faguli – a Himachal Pradesh festival for spring – the people of Tirthan Valley wear grass skirts and provoke bad spirits through song, dance and a stream of expletives!
Story by: Neha Mehta
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Every year, in the month of February, as snow envelopes the surrounding mountains, we celebrate Faguli, a mountain Himachal festival, to ward off bad spirits. Faguli is one of the most unique Indian spring festivals.
The people of my village Bihar go into the surrounding forests to collect sharuli grass. This tall, thick, wild grass, similar to haldi, is no ordinary grass. For generations, it has been used to weave special clothes for Faguli – the most important festival in our mountain community, in the Tirthan Valley of Himachal Pradesh.
After collection, the grass is thoroughly washed and dried. Skilled artisans in the neighboring village of Chehni then weave it with their own hands into chola, a long, heavy skirt that reaches all the way to the ankles. This special weaving skill is passed down with every generation, and it can take upto two full days to weave a single skirt.
Faguli, this Tirthan Valley festival, is named after falgun mas, the twelfth month of the Indian calendar. The men of our village gather at a meeting, where six of them are selected to wear the long, heavy chola and dance at the festival. Their names are written on a piece of paper for a random selection.
Close to the festival, no one is allowed to approach the selected men as they build their energy reserves. When Faguli begins, they appear in their skirts, their face covered with a mask, a hat of flowers on their head and a colourful shawl to keep them warm in the cold of winter.
For the next 48 hours, the six men confront the bad spirits, with no sleep in between. As they dance, they first hurl abuses at the bad spirits to provoke them. Then they repetitively sing songs to chase the spirits away. The entire community helps to keep their energy levels up, playing various musical instruments like Dhol, Nagada and Shehnai, as an ode to Lord Vishnu.
We believe that once the bad spirits are gone, the good spirits will come and help us during the farming season with abundant rainfall and a good crop. On the other hand, if the Faguli celebration is not done properly, the bad spirits will cause us misfortune.
At the end of the celebration, some village homes have to offer food to the dancers. The dancers have no choice but to enter the house with their heavy skirts and shoes on. The host family can’t clean the dirt, because it is sacred dirt. So the house remains filled with dirt for the next 2-3 days before it can finally be cleaned!
If there is a newborn child or a new marriage in the village, the dancers go to give their blessings and are given money in return.
When I was younger, Faguli festival of spring meant skipping school, playing with the slimy guar (cluster beans) and eating various delicacies cooked by my mother. For us, Faguli is a celebration of the entire community (while Holi and Diwali are family celebrations), so it was the only time of the year that my father gave money to my sisters and me as a blessing. We would rush to the bazaar to buy toys, balloons and sweets – the smallest things made us so happy!
Now that I’ve grown up, I join my mother in welcoming guests to our village, help her prepare delicacies for the festival and enjoy the women gossip. To bear the cold of February, we wear warm coats and suits as it also snows sometimes.
And even though I’m an adult now, our Faguli festival remains exactly the same. It has been passed down from one generation to another without any written documentation. The world has changed in many ways, but our people still collect sharuli grass in the forest, wear skirts made of grass and chase away the bad spirits.
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