Different Diwali
Celebrations in interior Kullu & Mandi still include buffalo fights & oracle sessions
Kuldeep Chauhan

A series of bonfire and oracle sessions will mark the celebrations of Burhi Diwali, which will be celebrated after a month of the actual Diwali.

In Nirmand in Kullu and Karsog in Mandi, Burhi Diwali is celebrated with fervour. Mansa Devi temples in Malwana, Nawahi Devi in Gopalpur in Mandi are venues for this, where oracles sessions, torch-bearing youths and buffalo fights pull a huge crowd.

In these villages, Diwali, which signifies homecoming of Lord Rama and Goddess Laxmi, bears a rustic touch. In Shantha-Batewari, the land of Panshi Rajputs who consider themselves to be the direct descendants of the Pandavas, the festival of lights is celebrated for four days. It is a show of strength between Rajputs (Bhadhans) and Brahmins (Bhats) over a sacred stick called Khila, held at village Batewari on the sacred spot chosen by Lord Shirgul, the presiding deity of Shantha-Batewari-Dewat villages, about 8 km from Chopal.

Khila-Bharaach is held on the third day after Diwali. Devta Shirgul is invoked by an oracle session at his temple at Batewari in which the temple gathering of kardars, pujaris, gurs and other members of the village take part. During Diwali, all Rajputs visits the village of Brahmins. Vegetarian delicacies are served and the guests and the people of the host village assemble at the temple in front of a bonfire. Pahari nati-dance is performed throughout the night.

The next day is celebrated as Parhei by the Rajputs in which they cook a special Pahari cuisine called Siddoo-Ghee. The third day is the day of the Khila-Bharaach, a competition between the Brahmins and Rajputs over a two-feet-long sacred wood stick, cut from the sacred bush Bhekhal. The khila is fixed at a traditional venue. The devta procession comes from the temple and palanquin of devta sits on the khila. Both the groups approach from two different sides and converge shouting religious slogans.

The devotees try to get hold the sacred stick. The team which pulls the crowd to their side and if one amongst them snatches the stick and tosses it into air and it lands on the ground, is the winner.

In the evening, it is mandatory for one member of a Brahmin family to accompany the devta procession to Shantha. The devta is a special guest of Shatbahi Devi Temple there. At least, one family member has to sit through the night in the temple premises of the devi where puja and oracle sessions are held. The guests dance in front the bonfire till morning that heralds a ‘bright darknessless night’ and symbolises triumph of light over darkness. After blessings by devis and devtas, the procession returns to temple at Batewari.

Burhi Diwali at Nirmand and Karsog is associated with the cult of Parshuram. The villagers assemble at the temple of Parshuram at Nirmand. The devta is invoked in an oracle session. They sit and dance throughout the night. They sacrifice lambs to dispel ghosts and spirits. It also ensures a season of happiness and prosperity.

In Malwana village at Balh valley, Mansa Devi Temple is a venue for the Diwali. The villagers believe the devis and devtas go out during the Sair festival and come back for Diwali. The gurs (the men in trance) hold oracles sessions and bless the devotees.

The youth of the area cut maize sticks, tie dry grasses and light them with fire and go into a procession. The villagers in Gopalpur and Nawahi organise buffalo fights. 



French honour for HP scientist
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

It is a Chak De moment for Himachal — its young research scientist, Dr Sudarshan Kumar Vatsyayan, has won the prestigious first Safran and French Embassy Award 2007. The assistant professor with IIT, Powai’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, has been awarded for his research on flameless combustion of gaseous fuels along with two other IITians, Dr A.M. Pradeep and Dr G. Phanikumar.

French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont and Safran deputy director for research and technology Alain Coutrot jointly presented the awards at a recent function in New Delhi. The award is a joint endeavor of French Embassy and Safran to increase the cooperation in the field of research between Indian and French laboratories and offers fellowships every year, for young doctorates and post-doctorate scientists.

Vatsyayan bagged the first Safran prize of 5,000 euros while Pradeep received the second prize of 3,000 euros. Both researchers will also be touring France for a week and would visit Safran’s research and industrial sites in France along with their research guides. Dr Phanikumar got the special French Embassy prize – a four-month fellowship for post-doctoral research in France.

Vatsyayan, who hails from a non-decrepit village – Khaswin, 6 km from Ghumarwin in Bilaspur district — braved monetary and topographic odds to move forward. He schooled from the Government Senior Secondary School at Ghumarwin and went on to do his B.E. in mechanical engineering from Aurangabad University. Later, he did M.E. and PhD in aerospace engineering from IISC, Bangalore. Before joining IIT, he was a researcher in Tohoku University, Japan, for two years. An elated Vatsyayan hopes that his research benefits the country. “Particularly now when India is progressing at a faster pace, energy is the major requirement for sustaining the pace of development. We need to look at other avenues of energy resources such as ethyl alcohol, non-edible oils, biomass. Conversion of energy from these resources will be cheaper and would require more attention in the near future. Therefore, it would be vital to motivate more students to work in these areas” he says.

Vatsyayan elaborates, “My major contribution was on developing a small burner with high heat release rate with fuel and air mixtures supplied at ambient conditions. The heat released per unit volume was 50 times higher than the previous reported studies. Our group was the first in the world to report this achievement.” He was also awarded the Dr Bernard Lewis fellowship by the Combustion Institute, USA, in 2002, making him the second Asian to be feted.

“Awards like the Safran-French Embassy award will motivate engineering students to pursue higher studies. A smaller country like Japan produces more than 4,000 engineering PhDs every year, whereas the figure is only 600-800 for India,” he says.  



HP votes
Now, SMS Campaigning
As tribals desert Lahaul-Spiti ahead of the harsh winter, campaigning acquires a new meaning in the valley
Kuldeep Chauhan

Winter chills in the cold desert of Lahaul-Spiti has made campaigning a dull and drab affair. The very few of the villagers who are still in the valley are being reached via E-camping. The three main contenders for the three Vidhan Sabha seats in the tribal-belt of Lahaul-Spiti-Bharmour and Kinnaur are canvassing through SMS and Internet, mainly in Lahaul-Spiti where over 90 per cent of residents have mobiles. The elections are to be held on November 14.

Over 22,483 tribal voters including 11,100 women in Lahaul-Spiti will decide the fate of the three candidates — Dr Birsingh Rawal (BSP), Dr Ramlal Markanda (BJP) and Phunchog Rai (Congress). The candidates are also campaigning door-to-door in the 231 villages in the district. But, the political heat prevalent in other parts of the belt is missing in Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Pangi. This is because the tribal people are busy stocking supplies of essentials like fuel-wood and fodder for the next six months. While most of the prosperous tribals residing here head to Kullu-Manali during harsh winters, where they run their resorts, hotels and orchards, the ones who stay back remain busy stockpiling winter rations during this time. The 13,050 ft high Rohtang Pass locks this cold desert from the rest of the country during these months.

Also, this is for the first time that three tribal segments will be going in for polls ahead of the rest of the 65 Vidhan Sabha seats in the state. Pattan valley’s resident Suresh Kumar says, “ We will get an opportunity to elect our MLAs ahead of others for the first time in the state.” The three sitting tribal Congress MLAs have also filed a petition in the high court demanding simultaneous elections in the three tribal segments.

Dr Rawal who has served as a medical officer in the belt enjoys the image of a gentle and accessible doctor, but he does not gel well the commoners. On the other hand, Rai enjoys an image of a simple leader and strikes a natural chord with the villagers. Dr Markanda enjoys an image of a shrewd politician and a hard taskmaster who makes things work as far as employees are concerned.

The rival candidates are trying to win over voters on their claims over the Rohtang tunnel issue. Rai claims the tribal budget was increased from 8 to 9 per cent during the Congress regime and late Indira Gandhi took up the issue. Now UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has allotted budget for the tunnel and the work has started this year. ”CM visited this segment several times, but when Dhumal was the CM, he did not visit it even once”, he said. Markanda dismissing Rai’s claims said it was Vajpayee who actually took up the issue, while the Congress leaders only talked about it. He says, “The tribal budget for Lahaul and Spiti was curtailed by Virbhadra Singh’s government from Rs 25.81 crore to Rs 19 crore and from Rs 22 crore to Rs 19.58 crore, respectively.” As for Rawal, he claims his prime area of concerns would be hydropower generation, adventure tourism and other life support infrastructure.

Housewives Dolman and Savita Devi say that women vote only for those leaders whom they know well. “The leaders contact the Mahila Mandals and Yuvak Mandals to make their presence felt,” adds Vinod, a farmer at Sansha. Earlier, the three tribal constituencies used to vote for their MLAs, after the government was already in place in Shimla. “Now they will choose their MLAs on the basis of merit and not under the influence of the party in power as has been happening in the past”, says Norbu, a farmer. 



Urmil & Narinder Thakur join forces to fight Cong
Dharam Prakash Gupta

With the coming together of two rivals, Urmil Thakur and Narinder Thakur, who were opposing each other to claim the legacy of Thakur Jagdev Chand in BJP politics for quite some time, a new combination has emerged in Hamirpur politics.

It took everybody by surprise when two members Urmil Thakur and Narinder Thakur, of the families held a joint press conference staking the claim for BJP ticket from Hamirpur Assembly constituency and also resolved to work in unison. 

Both had lost during the last election at the hands of Congress candidate Anita Verma while contesting against each other, Urmil as BJP candidate and Narinder as an Independent, which had created a split not only in Thakur’s support base but also in the family.

The rift between Urmil and Narinder had started after the death of Thakur who represented the Hamirpur Assembly constituency for five consecutive terms starting from 1977 till his death in 1993.

The divide became more pronounced when the BJP ticket was given to Narinder Thakur and he lost to Verma in 1994 by a margin of 600 votes. In 1998, the BJP ticket was given to Urmil. This had definitely created a lot of heart burning between Narinder and Urmil and the victory of latter made the things even worst. Meanwhile, while Urmil aligned herself to Dhumal faction, Narinder joined Shanta camp.

In 2003, their relations touched all-time low when Urmil was again fielded as party candidate by the BJP and Narinder also joined the fray as an Independent. Taking a lesson from the 2003 defeat, now both seem to have realised if the spilt in the family continued, it would affect them both.

So, both have appeared on a common platform before the media for the first time in the recent years and both have also applied for a BJP ticket from Hamirpur, their combined force and Jagdev Chand’s legacy would definitely give sleepless nights to the rivals.



Dear god, S.O.S.
Untrained drivers, irregular service by private operators inconvenience commuters and pose a threat to life
Ambika Sharma

Tribune photograph

With virtually no check on the private bus drivers, norms and the allotted timetable are being violated flagrantly. The fact that the private buses have been given time, after pulling away Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation (HRTC) buses, this non-compliance of time puts the commuters in trouble.

In a bid to discipline the private operators the state High Court has strictly directed the government to check the use of pressure horns, playing of high-pitched music and rash driving. Such negligence leads to fatal accidents leaving people crippled or dead. Each time such an accident takes place, an inquiry is ordered and the government tries to discipline the drivers, but the exercise is a mere formality. The police, after such mishaps, on their part initiate some campaigns to check the use of music systems and rash driving, but the drive loses steam once the officer returns back to his chair. One such probe has also been ordered into last week’s accident in which five persons lost their lives.

More than 95 per cent of the accidents occur due to the negligence of private buses making it imperative to impart regular trainings to these drivers. Though the government made it mandatory for the drivers to wear uniform and undergo training the norm has been observed more in the breach. It is not only impossible for the authorities to run after the drivers each day and check them but also difficult to book them regularly.

Still worse, the private buses often indulge in overloading, at times even making school children travel on the roof. Further the monopoly of the private operators has pushed the HRTC buses out of prime routes. Since the private buses opted for plying their buses in the evening on the Dharampur-Kasauli routes, HRTC rolled back some of its routes. Obtaining monopoly the private buses commute at will putting the daily goers in difficulty. Though four private buses are supposed to ply between 6:30 and 8:00 p.m. between Dharampur and Kasauli, merely one or two ply. With the onset of winters most of the buses go off-route at will and despite bringing the matter to the authorities notice the commuters fail to get any respite.

The HRTC buses stopped plying to pave way for the private buses and the latter ply at will making the state of affairs deplorable for the commuters as they are forced to use taxis and shell out hefty amounts. There appears to be tacit understanding between the operators and the authorities, as the irregularity remains unchecked for months altogether.  The RTO Yashpal Sharma however assured that he would personally inspect their timings and take appropriate action if such irregularities were detected.



All eyes on Himalyan run
Pratibha Chauhan

Aimed at promoting sports and tourism in Shimla, the Great Himalayan Run will be held for the third consecutive year on November 15.

Organised by the Department of Youth Services and Sports and the tourism and civil aviation authorities, participants from various parts of the country participate in the marathon event.

For many who have been taking part in the run for the last two years, the charm of running through tranquil environs is an unusual experience. The run starts from the Ridge, passes through Chaura Maidan, Scandal Point, Shimla Club, Oak Over, Indira Gandhi medical College, Lakkar Bazaar and back.

With separate categories like 12 km run for men, 8 km run for women and 6 km run for boys and girls under the age of 20, the turnout at the event is huge, from both within and outside the state.

“We are hoping there are more participants from every part of the country rather than only from north India ,” says Suman Rawat, the bronze winner at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games in the 3000 metre run. An important objective of the marathon is to encourage and spot talent all over the state.

“Brochures have been sent to all schools in Himachal throughout the district sports officers and athletics association so that students can participate in the run,” informed Suman Rawat. Besides the three categories there is a special run for the under 16 years from within the state, she added.

Registrations have come in from Pune, Jaipur, Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh, Haryana and Rajasthan. Being a national level marathon run, various central organisations like the CRPF, BSF, Railways and Regiments will be participating in the run.

Even after 20 years since Suman Rawat won a bronze in the Asian Games with Asian and national record, there has been no athlete from the state who has brought laurels to Himachal. “I am still hopeful that our youth will avail all the facilities and bring honour to the state,” she said.



Coffee, as we like it
by Shriniwas Joshi

Photo by S. Chandan

If pillars and lintel introduced a new culture in construction in this hill station, then Indian Coffee House (ICH) on the Mall introduced coffee culture. Coffee till then was the drink of the elites served by restaurant like Davico’s or those attached to the hotels. The common man’s wallet was too thin to afford these suave eateries. Then in a building with exterior of Moorish architectural touch on the Mall purchased from Harjee Bhai, a Parsi, for Rs 85,000 only, ICH arrived in the winter of 1966-67.

The interiors was given a backseat but coffee was served for just 12 paisa. Thus, ICH weaved itself into the fabric of this modest town. Also, it successfully lured the taste buds of the common man to south Indian dosa, vada or idli. It made a dent in the food culture of this town. With a cup of hot coffee around Rs 10 today, it still is the best joint cost-wise for coffee with snacks. Says coffee lover Colin Todhunter, “I love coffee. I have drunk it all over the world, from England to Austria and from Canada to India…” Things are cheap and simple in the ICH. Unlike the new, trendy coffee bars now in India, there is no long and winding menu. There is no need to confuse your latte with your cappuccino or your macchiato with your mocha. Coffee comes as coffee — no frills, no fancy names. And it’s absolutely delicious.”

The coffee here is made from Chikmagalur (Karnataka) seeds that are roasted and ground in Shimla. A hall and a room of the ICH in Shimla with 44 tables is jam packed any time of the day. There are no menu cards because the regulars know all and the first-timers take help of a menu-board hung on a wall. An important event like 50 years of ICH in India on October 27 should not, therefore, be allowed to sink into the depths of history – unknown and untold. The India Coffee Houses were started by the Coffee Board in early 1940s to be closed in the mid 1950s. The thrown-out workers under the leadership of Communist leader A. K.Gopalan renamed the network as Indian Coffee House and shouldered to run the venture. An Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society was founded in Bangalore in August 1957 under which the first ICH was opened in New Delhi on October 27 that year. Pioneering efforts to form the Delhi cooperative came from one Pillai and Rama Nayar, both from Kerala and Shyam Singh Negi from Uttarakhand. ICH Shimla is under this society.

Debbie Mumford of the Epoch Times writes, “We head off to one of the more superior of all the Mall’s eateries – The Indian Coffee House. Somewhat of an institution, this old-fashioned establishment is serviced by waiters in green felt suits who serve piping hot coffee on small trays. We join the majority of the diners in the popular plat de jour of Idli Sambal – a savoury spongy south Indian semolina cake with accompanying curry sauce.” And Barbara Crossette, an assistant news editor of The Times writes, “Along the Mall is the Indian Coffee House where people like to meet for conversation and relaxation. (It) serves such snacks as cookies and cakes as well as coffee.” No wonder that Union home minister L. K. Advani brushed aside his Z security and conversed with his party men over a cup of coffee here in March 2000. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s prez, as student was a frequent visitor here.

Coffee House culture actually started with Will’s Coffee House at Covent Garden, London. It was a famous resort in the times of Dryden (1631-1700) where Tory men of letters used to meet but from 1714 was rivalled by Button’s Coffee House opened in its vicinity, the home of the Whig literati headed by Addison. Will’s ultimately had to close down. History repeated itself in Shimla too. Competitor to ICH, a Coffee House was started here in 1972 (at today’s State Cooperative Bank on the Mall). It could not stand the pull of ICH and downed shutters in 1987. 


In the 9th Century, a shepherd in Ethiopia, found his goats dancing with increased level of energy after consuming certain wild berries. Those were coffee berries. 



Shimla Diary
Kathak demystified
Rakesh Lohumi

Tribune photograph

Renowned Kathak dancer Mahua Shankar gave two scintillating performances organised especially for the school students. It was a rare opportunity for the girls of St Thomas School and Auckland House School to see the great artiste perform and learn the finer nuances of the art. During the performance she explained in details the various mudras and the pattern of steps that enabled the students to appreciate this fascinating form of performing art.

A disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, Mahua was all praise for the efforts being made by the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music Art and Culture Among Youth (SPICMACAY) to preserve and propagate the classical forms of performing arts and music. She started learning Kathak from her father late Pradeep Shankar and mother Rekha Shankar at the age of five. Later Birju Maharaj trained her. Several of her dances, in India and abroad, have been choreographed by her father and guru Birju Maharaj. She has also done major dance numbers in Bollywood films, Gadar and Devdas, which were choreographed by Birju Maharaj. Mahua has been giving solo performances at many prestigious festivals in Assam, Agartala, Lucknow, Gujarat, Kolkata amongst other places. She also had the honour to perform at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in the presence of former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

The programme coincided with the society’s second Advisory Board Meeting held at Raj Bhawan, under the chairmanship of Governor V. S. Kokje who is a keen patron of art, culture and heritage. She is the fourth major artist who has performed in Shimla in the last one year under the auspices of the society.

“The objective was to instil deep understanding and love for the rich Indian cultural traditions in the youth,” says state coordinator of the society Purnima Chauhan. “While SPICMACAY does not resist westernisation, it seeks to centre stage India’s rich heritage,” she added. The next programme in the series is Manipuri dance performance by husband-wife duo Guru Singhjeet and Charu Mathur to be held at Shimla on December 8 and 10.

Bhalkoo fair begins

The more than one-hundred-year-old Kalka-Shimla rail track is yet to attain the world heritage status but Bhalkoo, the unlettered engineering genius, who played a vital role in the construction of the project has already turned into a legend. The people of his native village Jhajja, near the famous tourist resort of Chail, have over the past couple of years started organising an annual fair in his honour on November 6 and 7. The fascinating and rather mysterious man, who claimed that the trace of the rail track was revealed to him by his devta (deity), has already been bestowed with divinity by the villagers who call him Baba Bhalkoo.

His contribution in the construction of the engineering marvel, which the Shimla-Kalka rail project is, came on the forefront only during the centenary celebrations of the track. The Bhalkoo Smriti and Jan Vikas Samiti formed by the villagers installed his bust at Chail. He will surely get international recognition once the project is accorded the world heritage status. A team of UNESCO visited the state in September for the purpose. Ironically, the state road transport corporation has discontinued the only bus service from the state capital to Bhalkoo’s village.

Elections spoil Diwali

The early assembly polls have spoilt the festival season for politicians. Normally, during this time they are busy celebrating Diwali, receiving greetings and gifts. This year they are lobbying hard for party ticket in Delhi. Others are busy campaigning for party candidates in the inhospitable tribal areas where elections are scheduled from November 14. Industrialists and businessmen are, however, taking it easy, as with the code of conduct in force, the politicians are not in a position to grant them any favours.  



Cultural Bonanza
Dharam Prakash Gupta

Tribune photograph

Hamirpur came alive with the cultural and sports festival, Hamir Utsav. The festival has been a regular feature at the district for the past 25 years now and has created a special niche among the people. Held annually in the month of November it commemorates the day, September 1, 1972, Hamirpur was found. This year the event started on November 1 and was innaugurated by the governor of Himachal V. S. Kokje, the chief guest at the festival.

The first day of the evening saw cultural groups from Mandi and Kullu and artistes from North Zone Cultural Centre-Patiala perform traditional folk dances including Rajasthani and Gharwali. Radio artiste Hari Sandhu also entertained the audience by singing old Mohammad Rafi numbers.

Hema Sardesai enthralled the audience with her popular numbers including Awara bhawaren and Kudi anajani ho.

The youngsters danced to the tunes of Damadam mast kalandar. Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans regaled the audience on the second day of the event with his hits like Dil tote tote ho gaya, Neet khair manga teri and Khali dil nahin jan bhi ae mangda.

Other main features of the events were district level kabbadi and volleyball competitions, wrestling bouts, baby show, dog show and exhibitions put up by government departments and other organisations.



Kulwinder Sandhu

A scintillating performance by lead singer of Silk Route band, Mohit Chauhan, conquered all hearts in the indoor hall of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts at McLeodganj on Saturday night.

As he came on stage, he won over the audience with his song Jadugar. Catering to the young audience’s demand, he came out with Dooba dooba rehta hoon on the melody of guitar before singing an English song The Wind.

“This is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Chauhan as he led the audience to a memorable musical journey laced with hill tunes so characteristic of Silk Route’s.

A young lad, who graduated from the local post-graduate college and learnt vocal skills in his hostel room, has made a place for himself on the Indian pop circuit.

A geologist by profession, he chose music as a career and also writes songs for his band.

He emerged on the music arena with Dooba dooba rehta hoon from his first album Boondein in 1997, which got many music awards including best song, best album, best video and best debutant group. The group’s second album, Pehchaan, released in 2000 and furthered their unique style. Chauhan also made his presence felt in Bollywood with Adharm, Road, and the recent Rang De Basanti and Jab We Met. He has also sung former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s poetry and plans to compile it into an album. 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |