The Indian state of Uttarakhand is home to stunning natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage characterized by unique festivals and celebrations. One such festival is Harela, celebrated with great fervor and gaiety by the people of the Kumaon region.
An Overview of Harela – The “Day of Green Shoots”
Harela (or Harela) literally translates to the “Day of Green” in the local Kumaoni language. It marks the arrival of monsoons in Uttarakhand, which kickstarts the crucial sowing season for farmers and signifies the promise of a bountiful harvest.
Celebrated on the auspicious wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, Harela is both an agricultural and religious festival. It heralds the beginning of the New Year as per the Hindu calendar followed in Kumaon. For locals, it symbolizes the cyclical nature of seasons and regeneration of life on Earth.
The festivities revolve around the sowing of “Harela” – young, green shoots of plants like wheat, paddy, pulses, etc. Donning these shoots as decorations is an integral part of Harela celebrations in Kumaon.
When is Harela Celebrated?
Harela is celebrated on the Shravan Purnima (full moon day) in the month of Shravan as per the Hindu lunar calendar.
In the Gregorian calendar, it typically falls between July-August, coinciding with the arrival of monsoons. The exact date may vary based on the cycles of the moon.
In 2023, Harela was celebrated on August 12th. The festivities last up to a month with the main agricultural activities like sowing being concentrated around the Shravan Purnima day.
Religious and Mythological Significance
Harela holds deep religious, spiritual, and mythological significance for communities in Kumaon. Some prominent associations are:
- The festival marks the auspicious marriage anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Their divine union brought happiness and prosperity to the world, which locals seek to invoke through Harela celebrations.
- It signifies Lord Shiva’s blessing for a good harvest. Worshipping Shiva and Parvati is an integral Harela ritual.
- Myths state that Goddess Parvati had gifted green shoots to the Kumaon region so locals could predict and prepare for monsoon rains for farming.
- Locals also worship Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi on Harela. Prayers are offered for prosperity as Lakshmi is regarded as the goddess of wealth and fortune.
- Harela celebrations revolve around themes of fertility, prosperity, regeneration, and harmony with nature – concepts that dominate Kumaoni culture and mythology.
Unique Harela Rituals and Traditions
Harela celebrations bring the festive side of the Kumaoni culture and community to the forefront. Some unique rituals and traditions include:
Sowing of Special Crops
On Harela, people plant nine types of grains that will first sprout during monsoons. These “Navadhanyas” consist of maize, paddy, jowar, bajra, urad, moong, sesame, kuttu, and jhangora.
Sowing them together symbilizes communal harmony and solidarity. The first shoots are considered highly auspicious.
Wearing of Green Shoots
Locals wake up before dawn and sow barley seeds in earthen pots on Harela. The young shoots – called “Harela” – sprout within hours due to monsoon moisture.
These shoots hold immense symbolic meaning in Kumaoni culture as they represent new life, happiness, and prosperity.
Locals wear the shoots behind their ears while celebrating with community members. It is also customary to exchange Harela as gifts across families and friends.
Locals wear green shoots called “Harela” behind their ears during the festival
Traditional Song and Dance Performances
Folk songs and dances are integral to Harela festivities in Kumaon villages. Groups of young girls and boys go from house to house singing “Jagars” – traditional celebratory songs.
The songs have lyrics related to the agricultural cycle, praying for rain and a good harvest. Locals also perform beautiful Harela dances called “Chanchari“.
Delicious feasts mark the Harela celebrations in Kumaon as families, friends and neighbors get together. Traditional delicacies offered as prasad include kheer, pua/mandua ki roti, and bhatt ki churkani (black soybean paste).
Visiting relatives brings gifts like phafwah/phaphrah (popcorn) and chhole (spiced chickpeas) for the community feast. Such social gatherings strengthen community bonds.
Community feasts are an integral part of Harela festivities
Tree Planting Rituals
On Harela, locals plant trees like bheemal, bael, peepal, mango etc. Planting trees is symbolic of values like environmental conservation, sustainability, and communal service.
In Kumaoni culture, planting trees also signifies welcoming new life. Fruits from these trees are first offered to gods before any household consumption.
Celebrating Harela Festival in Different Parts of Kumaon
While festivals like Diwali and Holi are celebrated uniformly across India, Harela festivities can vary across Kumaon depending on factors like climate, crops grown, food habits and accessibility.
In the hill regions of Almora and Nainital districts, preparation for sowing beans begins 15 days prior to Harela. Locals worship Lord Vishnu while the younger members decorate houses with lamps on Harela eve.
In Bhimtal and Farsali villages, locals flock to periodic markets or “Hatt Kalika Mela” on Harela where household items, woolens, and winter wear are sold. It provides opportunities for social and economic exchange.
In the Terai region (US Nagar), the agricultural activities dominate the festivities as sowing of rice, paddy, pulses, oil seeds etc. begins with the first monsoon showers.
In Champawat district, Harela celebrations can last for almost a month with singing, dancing, and feasting continuing through the sowing season.
Festivities during Harela may vary across Kumaon depending on local culture, crops grown etc.
These regional variations highlight the vibrancy of traditions during Harela across Kumaon divisions. Yet the underlying theme of celebrating nature’s bounty and social bonding endures.
Wider Significance of Harela Festival
For the agrarian Kumaoni community, Harela forms the beginning of the annual cycle of hard work and hope. But the festival also holds relevance beyond farming and religion:
Preserving Cultural Identity
In the face of rapid modernization and migration, festivals like Harela help preserve the cultural fabric and strengthen Kumaoni identity. The age-old rituals bind together the community.
Strengthening Social Bonds
Harela is marked by intimacy and hospitality – with celebrations focused around family, friends and community. The exchange of gifts and food reinforces social unity.
Promoting Environmental Consciousness
Harela rituals like tree planting promote gratitude and duty towards nature. With climate change impacts growing, this message of sustainable living holds immense value.
Supporting Local Economy
From farmers and artisans to workers and traders – Harela creates livelihood opportunities for many locally. Festive spending further boosts the regional economy.
Bringing Generations Together
Elders pass down their indigenous knowledge around farming and nature to younger generations during Harela. It enables cultural transmission and values.
In essence, Harela is a symbol of the Kumaoni community’s symbiotic relationship with nature. It reinforces that social, ecological and economic prosperity are interlinked.
Through celebrating Harela, the indigenous communities have sustained their unique culture, identity and way of life amid rapid modernization. Its relevance thus goes far beyond agriculture and religion.
Trends Transforming Harela Celebrations
While the indigenous spirit endures, some visible shifts are transforming Harela celebrations today:
With climate anxieties growing, Harela is being leveraged to spread awareness on sustainability and green living. Initiatives include waste management drives, promoting local food etc.
Move to Organic Farming
Many farmers are adopting natural farming practices aligned with the festival’s ecological ethos. This reflects in Kumaon’s rising demand for organic produce.
Revival of Lost Traditions
Aspects like traditional Kumaoni cuisines and musical instruments that were losing relevance are being revived during festivities.
Promoting Cultural Tourism
To boost cultural tourism, the Uttarakhand state hosts Harela Mahotsavs celebrating local art forms, cuisine and heritage. Similar district-level events are growing.
With migration and urbanization, online Harela celebrations help connect dispersed Kumaoni communities through social media and live streaming.
Informational campaigns around Harela’s historical and ecological importance are raising its awareness, especially amongst children.
These efforts signal the community’s willingness to adapt their celebrations along with safeguarding cultural essence. It highlights the dynamism and resilience of this age-old festival even today.
The Enduring Charm of Harela Celebrations
The vibrancy of Harela celebrations reflects the life-affirming spirit of Kumaoni culture. Through songs, dances and feasts, the festival evokes a profound sense of joy, harmony, abundance and gratitude amongst communities.
Donning green “Harela” shoots is symbolic of the optimism in starting life anew. The agricultural and spiritual activities represent the essence of their being and beliefs.
By celebrating nature’s regeneration, Harela allows people to temporarily detach from struggles to revel in the decisive arrival of monsoons crucial for their lives and livelihoods.
The resonance of beating dhol-damau, aroma of festive foods, hue of green shoots, sparkle of smiles – comes together to encapsulate the “pure delight” that characterizes Harela in Kumaon.
Beyond everything, Harela celebrations epitomize the resilience of indigenous communities and culture amid unrelenting change. Even while embracing modernity, these traditions empower locals to stay rooted to their ecosystem and identity.
Through such vibrant festivals, Kumaonis continue to harmoniously sustain their distinct way of life nurtured over generations. Harela thus represents a unique and hopeful model of how humans can culturally adapt while preserving their essence.
- Harela (Day of Green Shoots) is celebrated in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region to mark the arrival of monsoons.
- It holds deep ecological, agricultural and spiritual significance in the local hilly agrarian communities.
- The festivities revolve around sowing of special seeds, wearing green shoots as decorations and community feasting.
- Harela celebrations bring alive the rich cultural heritage of the Kumaoni communities through folk songs, dances and traditions.
- Unique regional variations shape the Harela festivities across Kumaon highlighting cultural diversity.
- For locals, Harela signifies optimism, abundance, regeneration and the symbiotic relationship between nature and people.
- Initiatives to balance modernization and cultural essence show the dynamism of the enduring festival.
- By sustainably celebrating Harela for ages, indigenous communities manifest a resilient socio-cultural model worth emulating.