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Himachal Custom and dance

Marriage Customs

  • Roovary, Dhamu or Mazomi or Rivara: is a middle man.
  • In Himachal, the boy’s father pays to the girl’s father for defraying expenses of their marriage, which is a nominal payment and called “Dheir” but reverse is the case in the plains where girl’s family must give a gift (dowry) to the family of the boy.
  • When match is settled, the ritual gift called ‘Tikka’ is sent, which is observed by upper classes.
  • ‘Sagai’ or ‘Sotha’: is adopted by the folks of the middle class and low class. On behalf of the boy’s father, a priest or a relative takes a few ornaments and rupees to the girl’s parents. This offering is called ‘Sotha’, in Chamba it is called ‘Bandha Dena’ and in remote parts of Mandi it is called Barina.
  • Batta-Satta (exchange): a man getting wife in return of a sister or cousin.
  • In some areas during the various festivals, gifts of jewellery and cloths are sent the betrothed known as ‘Chharmi Nata’ in Kinnaur and Tihar
  • Batta satta /Atta Satta ka Nata(marriage by inter exchange) : By this system, a father promise his daughter’s hand to a boy whose father under obligation is to marry his daughter to a boy of some third man in whom the former is interested.

Types of marriages

  • Polyandry
  • Prevalent in Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti and interior parts of chamba.
  • In this, if girl is married with eldest brother, she becomes wife of all brothers.
  • It is legacy of original tribal culture of the area.
  • Polygamy: Man marrying more than one woman.
  • Reet Marriage: when a married woman wants to leave her husband and marry another man, the first husband charges ‘Reet Money’ from the husband to be.
  • Jhanjrara, Gaddar or Paraina:
  • Marriage without Saptpadi (taking seven steps by the bride and groom around the fire)
  • Jhindphuk or Brar Phuk (bush burning )
  • Popular among the tribes of chamba and kangra.
  • Darosh, Dab Dhab
  • It is a tribal marriage, prevalent in Kinnaur. A girl is forcibly dragged away from a fair ground of a festival meeting. Immediately the boy’s father deputes two men to see the girl’s father. To seek their apology for the outrage committed by his son. He then ask them to make amends in terms of money known as ‘Izzat’, it varies from Rs 100 to Rs. 500.
  • Dam Chalshish: lovers elope together. But after settlement, a normal marriage follows. When girl departs from home, son-in-law presents the mother of the bride with a sum of five hundred rupees as ‘Masore’ or price of her milk.
  • Hari or Har :In this, when a boy kidnaps a girl or a girl elopes with her fiancé. It is called Har. When a woman, who is dissatisfied with her husband, goes and begins to live with another man is also called Har/Jhanjrara.
  • Rituals are performed, when woman settle down with new husband. The special ‘Pooja’ offered on this occasion is known as Nuala to lord shiva.

Divorce System

  • The Hindu Shastras regarded marriage as a bond never indissoluble in life. The custom of divorce however existed among the lower castes. The Hindu marriage act, 1955 has recognized the right of a Hindu woman to divorce her husband. Divorce law known as Dehri, Hari or Har among some tribal communities .In this people seeking divorce takes a twig of Shur wood and snap it in front of witnesses and throw it behind them.
  • In Lahaul area, the pair prepares a thin thread of wood and holds it by the little finger and pulls it apart.
  • In some villages couple must break a sal leaf into two pieces in order to divorce each other.
  • The Dehri (monuments) outside most villages are reminders of the system of sati in which the widow burnt herself on the funeral pyre of her husband.

Funeral customs

  • As death approaches, the sick man’s body is lowered on the ground. His head must point to the north as soon as death occurs and conch shells are blown, which signals for the relatives to burst out crying & reach the house of the deceased.
  • While carrying body to cremation ground, after reaching the halfway a ceremony known as Ardhmargi is performed. There the body is laid down for few minutes.
  • Close relatives observe Patak during this period the use of things like meat, Fish, Garlic, Onions is
  • Before consigning the body to the flames a Pind Dan (ritual feeding of balls made of Cooked Rice, Sesame Seeds and curds to the birds).
  • It is considered favorable to add fuel wood (Lakri Pana) to the pyre.
  • On 10th day clothes are washed (kapad-Dhulai) & Holy Garud Purana is recited by a Purohit.
  • If one dies an untimely death, a special ritual called Sapindi is performed.
  • It is only in Kinnaur where three forms of customs were performed regarding death of a person.
  1. Dubant : Drowning the dead body in a river.
  2. Bhakhant: Throwing the dead body in open field and let it be eaten by vultures and birds.
  3. Phukant: Burning the dead body.
  • In Kinnaur, when someone dies, all villagers get together at his house at night this custom is known at “Drum Rating”. The dead body is then bathed in a large vessel called “Lam kunyal”. Gautam sharma Vyathit has made elaborate discussion on these ceremonies in his book ‘Folklore of himachal pradesh’.
  • While carrying body to cremation ground, the legs of the body are turned behind at the knees with the help of wooden pegs. It is believed that if the legs are straight, an evil spirit might enter the body.
  • In the cremation ground, lama holds the head of the body by the hair and recites prayer (Foa) in his ears.
  • On 3rd day after death, the Chholya ceremony and on 13th day Dam kochang ceremony like kriya ceremony is performed.
  • A year after the death, lama performs the Fulayach (or the Dalhyang) ceremony.
  • In Lahaul valley if an old man dies, no one touches the body till lama arrives. The lama whispers an invocation into the dead man’s soul in his ear and asks it to leave the body this is called ‘Fuhan’.
  • In the Spiti valley : when someone dies, the ‘Jhanvar’ (witch doctor) is called to find out whether the body should be burnt, buried or cut into pieces and thrown upon hill tips for the wild animals to consume.

Birth Customs

At the item of child both, the mother is housed in a separate room, in tribal area. She is often lodged in a cattle manor (Gohad).

  • The first twenty days (in some cases 10) are called
  • It is believed that the child imbibes the temperament of the person who gives him/her first dose of Ghutti (first feeding of tonic).
  • After pollution is over a mixture of curd, sugar, cow’s urine and Gangajal is sprinkled over all the clothes in the house and is tasted by all the young and old members. This ceremony is called ‘Goontar’ and ‘Sund’ (sweet cookies) is made from dry fruits, which is distributed among the close relatives and villagers.
  • In Himachal a husband refrains from killing an animal with his own hands during his wife’s pregnancy, pregnant women should not go near fire, or to a stream and forest.
  • The birth of a male child is announced by distributing ‘Mura’ made of sugar lumps or parched grains. In Kinnaur area, well to do families feast the villagers on rich food and liquor. This custom is known as Shukud.
  • Among the brahmins the Namkaran (naming), Chudakaran (first snipping off his locks), Annaprashan (first feeding of cereals) are performed.
  • Often people hang little silver or copper jantar (amulet) around the child’s neck to ward off the bad effects of evil stars.
  • Children born in the Gandmool hour are considered unlucky and are often gifted away as soon they are born.
  • The first hair cutting ceremony (Jatloo) takes place in the 3rd, 5th or 7th After the birth.


  • We find historical evidences of the type of dress that was prevalent in this region through paintings, wood-crafts, stone images, folk songs, icons etc.
  • The Barasailla stone slabs are of particular interest as memorial of dead raja and their concubines constructed in Mandi.
  • In areas of Mandi and Bilaspur Chhori and endearing name given to a girl is another song where heroine sets out with a pitcher to fetch water with a  colorful (Dupatta)
  • Himachal’s kullu valley is renowned for its shawls initially the designs of kullu and kangra were in ‘checks’. Later when the kullu weavers liberated themselves from the shadow of Kinnaur they adopted design of strips, leaves and flowers.
  • Very few are aware that the regular Kinnauri shawls are originated as the result of an experiment in 1974, when Himachal Pradesh state handloom corporation designed shawls with pattern borrowed from traditional kinnauri pattoos and dohrus.
  • Kinnaui & kullu Shawls, Pasham, Dohrus and Pattoos were once sent to Tibet and were also bartered and now sold at the famed Lavi Mela.
  • Pullans (Grass shoes) : Made from grass, the top is of Twisted hemp with wonderful geometric designs called ‘Zomba’ in Kinnaur , these have thick soles to enable one to walk on dry ice perhaps the most artistic ones are from Pangi , with soles made of goat or sheep skin.
  • Jurkhi resembling achkan, waist coat, kurta or Dohru ,which is wrapped round the body like a sari is used in Kinnaur and chamba.
  • Chola gathered around the waist by a black rope is worn is made of wool.In this waist band are tucked a Kulhari (axe), a Bansuri (flute) and Drat (sickle).
  • A kinner can be recognized by a special type of cap called Pang, outside Kinnaur it is known as ‘Bushari Cap’. It is head dress of man and women. On special occasions people tuck ‘Tikema’ flower in their cap which adds to their beauty.
  • Luanchari: A cotton gown of special pattern is common in kangra and chamba.
  • Dhatu :A piece of cloth square in size and used as head wear by women.
  • Chapkan :It is type of frock used by men in Rohru and Pabbar valley.
  • Chopta or Chhupta :It is a gown touching the knees with v-shaped neck cut, is used by both men and women in Rampur, kotkhai, kotgarh and kumarsain and in Shimla.
  • Pishwaz: Is a type of colored gown made of very fine muslin. it is common in both Mandi and Chamba. It is another name of Ghagra or Cholu.
  • Cholu: An ordinary dress of male in kangra valley. It is a long garment reaching to the knees.
  • Chuba (male dress in upper areas of Shimla and kinnar).
  • Reshta :A long gown touching the anklets for woman in Rohru, Shimla.
  • Pattu (blanket): Is a uniform and multipurpose garment all over the It is a woolen sheet of homespun texture woven in chessboard style. The check pattern on pattu is locally called ‘lungi Dhari’. The border pattern appears in a combination of dharis is called ‘Mothra’ .Small check Pattus are known as ‘Mahin Chitru’ other  is Ulta–Sulta implying right and reverse . A Pattu black in colour and thick in sniff is known as ‘Dhumkuru‘. A pattu named after its comb like pattern is called as ‘Kanghu’.
  • Rumal (Handkeerchifs) :The art work on chamba Rumal have been marked for their craftsmanship in embroidery and miniature paintings. Chamba Rumal has been favored in Mughal darbar and also preserved in museums in Inida and abroad.
  • Sadri : it Is a jacket used by both male and female in kotgarh and Kumarsain areas of Shimla.
  • Gachi :Is a Simple white sheet of cloth used by females over Chapta or Chhupta around their waists.
  • Namda: is prepared from wool by beating it and not by weaving on loom, Namda is a good substitute for durry.
  • Loia: (used by men folk of Sirmoaur) is a woolen gown supported on the shoulders and hands down over the back. The sleeves of the Loia are seldom worn though no loia is ever without them. Loia is derived from Lio meaning a woolen or Pashmina blanket or sheet. Himachal University has adopted, loia and Pahari cap and it’s academic robes which are used by degree holders at the time of convocation.
  • Pollan: It is used in kullu , Mandi , Shimla , Sirmaur, Chamba, Kinnaur and lahaul Spiti.
  • Shawls: in Himachal are of two types plained and designed.
  • They are made of home spun yarn and imported yarn called “Ruffle”. Plain shawls of Pashmina are termed as loi in kullu.
  • In Kinnaur shaws is called ‘dhoru’ and is tied at the waist with a Gachi.

Ornament and Jewellery

The term ornament means an object which is worn with a view to adorn oneself.

  • Chaunk or Chak (silver or gold): fastened on the head by a married woman.
  • Chiri: A silver ornament fastened to the hair by a chain. In some parts it is called ‘Dora’ elsewhere in India, shringar Patti, mong or mang tikka.
  • Chip: a silver ornament clipped in the hair.
  • Phers:These are four to five small earrings worn in each ear. The ornaments carry intricate decorative work on it.
  • Jhumkas : Also known as When the ornament is without a bell, it is known as Dhodhu or Dedi Jumka or Pharloc or Gokharu kanta / kanti.
  • Braga: It is bigger than Bala has two round pearls and a conical turquoise in between.
  • Dandi: Is a simple ear ring with half of its portion covered with coiled thin wire. When the drops are put on the ring in place of the coiled wire, it is called as Dandi Boronwali.
  • Bundes : Are tops of smaller size available in many designs.
  • Litkani : Is sort of Bundes with the main body triangular.
  • Gol: is an earring favorite among Gujjars Belle. It is fairly large in size and had tinsels and hollow beads attached to it along with a wire knit chain.
  • Chalik or Kante: Are ear ornaments of silver.
  • Laung : Is a gold studded nose top. The ornament takes this name from clove. It is quite popular in Mandi, Bilaspur districts.
  • Jo-mala, Champa-kali, Chauki, kapoori Mala, Chandan Har, Kantha, Ralu, Manj, Dodmala, Nodi etc are necklaces.
  • Kantha / kanthi: Is an ornament with silver Beads tied to a thread, worn round the neck. It is known a Mala, Kandhari or Upalka. When the beads are threaded into several strings and triangular plaques and added at each end, the necklace is known a kach, Patkachong or
  • Chandrahar: It has several chains made of star shaped units and has at their ends triangular plaques with fine enamel work.
  • Locket or Ranihar: A neck ornament made of solid metal.
  • Singi: worn mainly with an objective to bring in good luck and keep the malignant spirits away. It is a pipe shaped ornament.
  • Dhol: it is a neck ornament, with a cylindrical shape. It has at its ends oval hooks meant for the thread by which it hangs down.
  • Popular and widely used bracelets are: Nalians, toke, Bangas, Kangrus, Gajru, Maridoo.
  • Band: It is wider thicker and heavier than ordinary bangle. Usually it is made in silver metal. When the band appears with customers of drops attached to it near the edge, it is known as Pariband, Chhankangani or Ghun Grooal.
  • Mundris : A gold ring. In Kinnaur it is called Laksphap.
  • Jhanjar: It is a pair of large hollow rings which are thick in the centre but are narrowed down towards ends.
  • Tora is also an anklet. It is chain like Pajeb but had no drops attached to it.
  • Pajeb: are silver anklets also known as shakuntala chain, gulshan patti , phulu.
  • Anguthari : is a silver ring for toe.
  • Anguthare: is silver ring for big toe. Other ornaments for toes are Chhalla, Bichhu, Phullu, Guthanra etc.

Folk Dances and Dramas:

Dances in Kinnaur

  • Mala(Garland dance): In this dance dancers form criss-cross pattern by holding arms of one another, they appear like beads in an intricately woven garland.
  • Namagen: Performed to celebrate the autumn hue in the month of September.
  • Losar Shona Chuksam: New year of Tibetan people.
  • The Demon (Rakshasa) Dance or Chhamb:
  • In Kinnaur it is also known as Lama Devi Dance or Devil Dance.
  • It is performed only by the lamas in the monasteries. The masks are made after many imaginative figures of monsters, Beasts, Dragons, Devil spirits and Skeletons.
  • The Kayang
  • In this dance men and women form a semicircle with a musician in the centre the dance goes for hours.
  • There are 3 types of this dance:
  1. The Naga Kayang: which copies the movement of a snake?
  2. The Heri Kayang: faster in tempo and danced to romantic songs.
  3. The shuna Kayang: combined with slow and fast movements.
  • The Bakayang:
  • In this dance, there are two or three rows of dancer facing each other and in  there are forward and backwards steps.
  • This is mostly performed by women.
  • The Bayangchu (kinnaur) :It is a male dance. Woman sometimes provides vocal music from outside.
  • The Jataru Kayang (kinnaur): This is a group dance performed at festivals.
  • The Japro Dance(Hangrang valley of kinnaur): Performed at all important festivals.

Other important dances performed in Kinnaur region Shon,Gyukshon, Katakapa, Shabra, Shumgyak, YandoMando, Rekshung, Yulba, Lushen, Tali-Lamo, Tinger, Laka-kurchi-Cheja and Monshu.

Dances of Lahaul and Spiti:

  • The Shand and Shabu dances (Lahaul area).
  • These are two dances of budhists, performed in the memory of Budha.
  • Shand means song or prayer of Buddha.
  • Shabu dance depicts the feelings of the people.
  • On the eve of ‘New year’ a dance is acted by the lamas in the courtyard of a monastery belonging to sect of ‘yellow hats’, Which was founded by Tasong-Kha-Pa (1357-1419).Who is held by the Gelugpas(Yellow Hats) as an emanation of Manjushri and Bhairava called Dorje-Jik-Che in Tibetan.
  • Lang-Dar-Ma (an evil king dance): This is well known masked dance lasting several hours. Featuring the murder of the evil king lang-dar-ma.
  • The history of Tibet records that Ral-pa-cen who ruled from 815-835AD was a Buddist. He built many monasteries, followed and preached Indian Buddhism. Buddhism was severely attacked by the Lang-dar-ma, the elder brother of Ral-pa-cen. The king Ral-pa-cen was murdered by his opponents and power was seized by the evil king, in 836 AD. Later Lang-Dar-ma was killed by one Buddhist.
  • This is a dance drama.
  • Black hat’ dance ‘Red tiger’ dance are of pre Budhist origin.
  • Shunto: is danced by men to a song in praise of Budha.
  • Chhanak chhaam :
  • Performed every three years on festival known as Chakhar as a tribute to lord budha.
  • Chhanak is a headgear worn by the dancers. Dancers covers half of their face with black cloth and carry swords or knives in their hands. The musicians wear traditional dress of the lamas, with caps decked with yellow feathers and play a long pipe known as ‘Tangchim’ and drums known as Ghhan.
  • Lahauli dance: Is performed on the tunes of the musical instruments of Ladakh, known as Surna and

Dances of Sirmaur:

  • The Jhoori, Rasa Dance, Nari, Draudi, Padua are dances of Sirmaur.
  • Gi: Questions and answers in musical tone.
  • Thadair/dhadair: In this dancer hold aloft weapon like bows, arrows, knives or sticks and yell as they move towards their imaginary adversaries.
  • Swang Tegi: Danced during the Diwali festival .This is a free dance and dancers use tiger masks carved out of wood.
  • Dharvedi and Drondi are religious dances.
  • Burah Dance: The dance is performed by a group of 10 to 15 persons.

The ballads sung are dedicated to some heroic deeds in a battle won in bygone age and to the dear ones lost in the battle.

Dances of Chamba

  • The Jhanjar dance(Chamba Valley): Both male and female participate, the beginning is very slow, but generally rises to an exciting climax.
  • Jhanki and Hanter are Dramas of chamba.
  • Dangi : It is a woman’s dance of the Chhatrari village in chamba.This is accompanied by the singing of the love ballads of Sunni and Bhukhu.
  • Sikri Dance:Performed during Suhi fair, the accompanying song tells of the beauty of flowers and the season especially the flowering of the Marua
  • Nuala Dance:In this a garland is placed upon a pedestal as Shiva’s garland and around it many dance dramas depicting scenes from the life of lord Shiva are enacted.
  • Dandras Dance :
  • Is a traditional dance performed by the men of Gaddi
  • As they dance in a circle uttering sounds like Jey-Jey and Shee- Shee.

Dances of kullu

  • Dhili Pheti and Bashari: Perfomed in village melas(fairs).
  • Karthi: Post harvest dance performed in the open, in the light of an autumn by both men and women.
  • Kharait , Philli, Ludi, Banthda, Basahri, Lahauli, Ujagjama and Chandhgebrikar. All these dances are collectively known as ‘Nati’.


  • The bura and sih (Jubal, Rohru, shimla) :This is the name of ‘ballet and opera’ in language.
  • The Chohara (Kinnaur and Mahasu area): Performed at all important festivals.
  • The Dodra Kawar dance (Mahasu/ shimla)
  • Keekali (Kangra, Hamirpur,Una):
  • Performed by young girls.
  • The girl’s hold hands crosses wise and rotate fast on their toes, singing songs.
  • Nati: Kullu, Sirmaur, Mandi, Shimla and chamba. It is like the classical kathak dances and embraces a number of dances like Dheeli, feh Bakoli, kahika, lahauli, dahari, chambyali, Banthada, and loodi.

Folk Dramas

  • Banthara :Mandi
  • Kariyala and swang :Bilaspur, solan and Shimla.

The Musical Instruments

Wind Instruments

  • Bansuri/Flute
  • The Hindu God lord Krishna is traditionally considered a master of the bamboo flute.
  • Two main varities of Indian flutes are currently used the first has six finger holes and one embouchure hole and is used predominantly in the Hindustani music of northern India.
  • The second, the Venu or Pullan Guzhal, has eight finger holes and is played predominantly in the carnatic music of Southern India prior to this the south Indian flute had only seven finger holes, with the fingering standard develop by Sharaba Shastri. This instrument is quite popular among Gaddi tribes.
  • Shehnai
  • Shehnai or Mangal Vadya, common in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran made out of wood with a metal flare bell at the end.
  • It is similar to south India’s ‘Nadaswaram’.
  • It usually has between six and nine holes.
  • Been: It is played at wedding and on auspicious occasions.
  • Kindari: It is played in Mahasu area.
  • Granyang and jamang: These can be heard in Lahaul Spiti.
  • Kangdum:
  • It is also known as kangling. It is made of thigh bone of human being extracted of the corpse.
  • Thigh bone is decorated with silver and bronze work.
  • Thigh bone of woman, who dies in pregnancy, is more valued as the instrument made of it is believed to produce a sound that is more effective for conjuring the benevolent spirits.

Other wind instrument: Ranasingha, Karnal , Turhi (Bugle), Algoza (twin flutes) etc.

Stringed Instrument

  • Sarangi: It is a bowed, short necked string instrument from south Asia which is used in Hindustani classical music. It is said to resemble the sound of human voice and is the most able to imitate vocal ornaments such as Gamaks (shakes) and Meends (sliding movement) carved from single block of tun (red cedar) , the sarangi has a box like shape with three hollow chambers :Pet(stomach), Chhati(chest) and Magaj (brain).

Other are: Ektara, Kindari Devatara, Gramyang, Robab, Jumang, Ruman and Rumals.

Percussion Instruments

Jhanjh (large cymbals), Manjira (small Cymbals), Chimta (tongs), Ghanta (gongs), Ghariyal (large gongs), Thali (platters).

  • Manjira: it as a traditional percussion instrument of Bharata. Also known as Taal, Jalra, Khartal, Gini made of bronze, Brass, copper,zinc or bell
  • Bells: Ghunghru, Kikatha Murchang, Wooden cashtanets (Kahdtal).

 Variety of Drums

  • Dhol, Dholku, Nagara, Dammama, Damanghat Nagrath, Gajju, Doru, Hudak and Dhaunsa. In the plains large drums are known as ‘Tamak’. Bharai community performs the ritual playing of drums at the fair.