About 90% of the population of Himachal Pradesh is Hindus. There main communities are Brahmins, Rajputs, Kannets, Rathis and Kolis. The tribal population of the state comprise of the Gaddis, Kinnars, Gujjars, Pangawals and Lahaulis. The Gaddis are the traditional shepherds who migrate from the alpine pastures to the lower regions during the winters. The Kinnars are the inhabitants of the Kinnaur region and practiced polyandry and polygamy. The Gujjars are nomads who rear buffalo herds. The Pangawals of the Pangi region of the Chamba district are both low and high caste Hindus. The Lahaulis of Lahaul and Spiti region are mainly Buddhists.
Arts and Craft
Thapada is a large embroidered shawl, which is a specialty of the handicraft of Himachal Pradesh. Other items of craft include the Kohana, a kind of a wall hanging, pillow covers, blouses and caps adorned with fine embroidery. The embroidered caps of the Kulu, Sirmair, Kinnaur and Lahaul regions are also very famous. The shawls from Kulu, woolen rugs and carpets from Lahaul, depicting the traditional Pahadi designs.
Beautiful patchwork quilts, rag dolls and elephants are also made in the area and comprise a necessary parts of bride's trousseau. The wool products are made in either the Byangi wool. Dyeing and printing of fabrics has been a traditional craft in the area. The Farahada and the Chhiba people do this work traditionally. Weaving of wool is a major cottage industry in itself. The highlanders of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur weave dresses from it for special occasions such as festivals and weddings.
The Dom tribe is well known for producing fine household articles made of bamboo. They are later painted in bright colors. They manufacture boxes, sofas, chairs, baskets, racks and several articles used in daily life. Leather craft is extremely developed and the slippers and shoes made in Chamba are in large demand.
The Himachalis are adept at the art of making pots and statuettes with clay in many shapes and sizes. These include pitchers, bowls, platters, cups, lamps and small and large pots. These are decorated with white patterns drawn with Golu clay. Toys and figures of gods and goddesses are made during festivals.
The metal ware of Himachal Pradesh includes attractive utensils, ritualistic vessels, idols and silver jewellery. The local goldsmiths also craft fine gold ornaments. The jewellery by the woman of Kulu, Sirmaur, Kinnaur, Pangwati and Bharmor region is very attractive.
Dance and Music
The dance and music of the state is mainly religion-oriented where gods are invoked during the festivals by singing and dancing. This practice has continued since ancient times. The major dance of the state are the Rakshasa (dem0on) dance, the Kayang Dance, the Bakayang dance, the Bnayangchu dance, the Jataru Kayang dance, Chohara dance, Shand and Shabu dances, Lang-dar-ma dance, Nati dance, Jhanjhar dance, Jhoor dance, Gi dance and Rasa dance.
Musical instruments like Ranasingha, Karna, Turhi, Flute, Ektara, Kindari, Jhanjh, Manjara, Chimta, Ghariyal, and Ghunghru are played to provide music for the songs and the dances.
Fairs and Festivals
Fairs and festivals are an integral part of the Indian way of life. The colorful state of Himachal Pradesh has many fairs and festivals to celebrate throughout the year. The National Snow Statue Competition at Kufri near Shimla begins in the New Year. The ice-skating in Shimla begins around this time. The bonfires of Lohri, a festival to mark the sowing of the Rabi crop light up the night sky on January 13 every year. The skiing competitions are held at Solang Nullah in Manali in the month of February. A fair in the memory of the sage Baba Barbhag Singh is held at around the same time at Una. It is believed that the Baba had magical powers, which were used towards altruistic ends. The little kites dapple the horizon with their color during the Basant Panchami, the arrival of the spring.
Shivratri or the festival to celebrate the marriage of Shiva in March signifies ritual gaiety at the famous Baijnath shrine. The cattle fair is held at Nalwari in Bilaspur. Chait Durga Asthami is celebrated in the Shakti shrines at Hathkoti, Chitpurni, Jwalamukhi and Vajreshwari. Color and fun mix on Holi, the festival of colors at the Gurudwara at Paonta Sahib in Sirmaur. In April, Chhat celebrations are held in Kullu and Chamba. Paonta Sahib welcomes Hindu and Sikh devotees on Baisakhi. The Navratri begins this month. Fairs are held in Chamba, Bilaspur, Kangra and Rohru village in Shimla district.
A colorful celebration takes place around the old temple of Hidimba at Kullu, Doongri in May. Banjar Mela in Kullu also starts in the second half of the month. Paragliding season begin in Bir in Kangra. A variety of cultural events are held at Shimla, Dharamshala and Dalhousie during the month of June. The Prashar Fair is held in Mandi off the Prashar Lake. The Red Cross Fair in Shimla is a big draw with the tourists. The Himachal Folk Costumes Programme and the Flower Show in Shimla attracts active participation of the locals. Lahaul celebrates a unique festival called Cheeshu.
Haryali is celebrated in Kangra and Sirmaur and Shravan Sankranti in Nahan in the month of July. Buffalo fights are the highlight of the Sari fair held at Arki in the month of August. The Lahaul Festival is held near Keylong. Kaza's Ladarcha Fair is a commercial fair held on the old trade routes to Tibet and Afghanistan. The Manimahesh Yatra starts in the district of Chamba. The famous fair of Naina Devi in Bilaspur also takes place during August.
In the first week of September, Fullaich (Phulech) take place in Kinnaur while Kangra plays host to Sair. Chamba is the location for the colorful fair of Rath-Rathni. Dussehra is one of the most sacred festivals of the Hindu religion and is celebrated in October. The much talked about Dussehra celebrations start in Kullu with Navratri. The Pong Dam is the site of water sports championship held in the same month.
Diwali is celebrated throughout the state. On the banks of Sutlej, the Lavi fair is celebrated for three days. At Sirmaur, idols of Parasuram are immersed in the waters of Renuka Lake. Shimla has the tradition of celebrating Christmas since the days of the British Rule. To take part in the festivities, people come from far off places. The International Himalayan festival is held in Dharamshala in the second week of December.
Sari is the most common garment that Himachali women wear nowadays. Traditional dresses comprises of Kameez, Kurta and Salwar in distinctive Himachali style. The Gaddi women wear the long knee length gown known as Juan chadiyan and their Chola, a white woolen garment. They wear a coat or waistcoat during winters. One can also see flap caps made of wool during winters. Woolen shirts with long coats and sleeveless woolen jackets on the top of the coat are the most preferred dress for men. These days men can be seen in shirts and trousers along with denims.
There is no specific cuisine of Himachal Pradesh. The influence of a long and close association with Punjab and large-scale migration of Tibetans can be on the cuisine of the state. Some of the unique Himachali recipes include Nasasta, a sweetmeat of the Kangra region; Indra, dish made of Urad dal; Baadi / Ghaunda, and Bada/Poldu of the Shimla region. The popular dishes of the state are Pateer, Chouck, Bhagjery and chutney of Til. Non-vegetarian food is quite popular and preferred in Himachal Pradesh.