Village Festivals in Uttarakhand: Initiating Development

Devendra Budakoti

In the recent past many personalities from Uttarakhand have made their name in various fields at the national level. But if one looks at the villages of their ancestors, one realises that their region is still underdeveloped in all aspects of economy, migration being the direct cause of this consequence. Villages in Uttarakhand are getting abandoned and turning into ghost villages due to permanent migration; they will finally turn into ruins.  It is therefore imperative that some of them start writing the social history of their villages – for posterity!  

Since the formation of the new state of Uttarakhand in 2001, and despite many social organisation working in the hills for many years, the trend of out migration has not stopped. The development indicators do not seem to have improved down the years to check migration. However the new generation of people are now showing some concern about the state of development and feel the need to do something about the issue of migration and development.

Doing something for their own village, started in a way in the village Chai, which is a small Village in Jaharikhal Block in Lansdowne Sub-Division of Garhwal District in Uttarakhand state. It all started with a three-day village festival in the year 2010 on the occasion of Ganga Dashera. Most of the Chai village families do not live in the village now, but were regular visitors to their village on various occasions though not collectively.   For a long time, the villagers felt the need to upgrade their small Durga Maa temple in the village and after much debate and discussion, the necessary funds were collected and the new renovated temple was opened on May 2010. The occasion for the opening ceremony was decided to be on Ganga Dashera and all the families living outside including the females of the village married outside were cordially invited for the occasion. The author along with other village decision makers decided that besides the rituals and Pujas, the three day long programme must also include discussion on issues related to history, development and culture. For the discussions many local and other experts were invited to the village festival. On request, the state cultural department sent a cultural troupe for the occasion.

All kinds of communication systems were used to inform people about the event and invitations were extended to one and all including the neighbouring villages. The families who were planning to come after many years were rightly anxious about the logistics (arrangements for the lodging and boarding) as their village houses were not in proper condition to put up in, particularly bathroom/toilet facilities for ladies and children who were not used to open defecation. The organising committee predicted these problems and made adequate arrangement for bedding through the local ‘tentwala’, which included a community kitchen for all the three days. The people staying in the village made their extra rooms habitable to accommodate their immediate family members. The panchayat ghar was cleared to house many others.

Now, due to the gramutsav, the village water and sanitation situation has improved and today all families have bathrooms and toilets. The funding for the gramutsav came through contribution ranging from Rupees 1000 to 25,000 and in some cases many times more. The contributions for the occasion actually came only after the families landed in the village. On those three days, many families came forward on their own to sponsor the lunches and dinners of the community kitchen for the entire junta.  Finally, there is more revenue collected through people’s contribution than the actual expenses incurred. Now the village festival has regular Health camps assisted by the state health department, literature and talk on disaster management by the state government, puppetry, drama and theatre workshop and lively debates on development issues by various subject experts, development-NGOs and others. Today, every family waits for the next gramutsav and the working people actually plan their official leave in this period.

The Village festival-gramutsav has been successfully conducted since 2010 and is fully sustainable. Though we have been inviting and calling our neighbouring villages all these years for our gramutsav, we are now thinking that this village festival must be held by other villages all over the state and also by people in other states who have lost touch with their village and who wish to participate in its development by contributing in whatever small way they can.

In these years, despite tragedies faced by families, the gramutsav continued uninterrupted, as it was amply clear that the gramutsav was not a family or group function but a collective village function to promote tradition, social, cultural history and to expose and enlighten the new generation on various social and economic issues facing the village, area, region, state and ultimately the country. The point was also to see in what way one can contribute to the comprehensive village development in a small way, thereby contributing to nation building at large.

The initiative to have Gramutsav- village festival can be taken by various social and cultural groups including the NGOs. The gramutsav should not be just for a nostalgic trip, but to understand and feel the ground reality and to partake in the development as well as to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the country. The village festival-Gramutsav should be supported and encouraged by the state government through the Panchyat Raj Department and can lay the foundation of development in the state.

We hope the village festivals become a tradition which will lead the younger generation in our country to have an affinity for their villages thus creating empathy for and involvement in village community issues.

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