By March, the hills in the North finish celebrating the oncoming of spring with the festival of colors (Holi), life, love and brotherhood. And then it’s time for war.
Preparations begin as soon as brains begin to recover from the fevers and hangovers from all that Bhaang. The communities begin to polish their musical instruments. It is time don their ancient war colors. The air flutters flags which bears the insignia of the tribes.
The logistics are huge. Thousands and thousands of people will be walking down the jungles in the hills holding flaming torches. They will gather in the compound of the ancient Vidambeshwar temple in Dwarahat, Uttarakhand.
Community Corespondent Vipin Joshi describes the sound of the drums as ‘deafening’. “It is a war of noise, color and celebration,” he says. “With every community trying to outdo and drown out the others. If it wasn’t so well organized, it would have been pure commotion.”
It’s the Syalde-Bikhauti fair and the hills are going heady to the sound of music. The annual fair marks the anniversary of an intense tribal feud in the 14th century which ended unfortunately with one group of tribals beheading the headman of the other. The legendary spot where the head rolled is marked with a stone. During the fair, the descendants of victorious tribes gather to pelt this ceremonious stone with ceremonious sticks and ceremoniously celebrate victory.
“That’s just legend,” says Vipin , “People gather to celebrate dance and listen to folk songs. Down the years, it has become the major cultural event in the region.”
What about the community who lost their headman?
“They too join in the celebrations,” says Vinay. “But to mark their mourning, they eat only out of brass plates.”
“The Syalde-Bikhauti fair is no longer about the feud. It’s about community and fraternity It’s about our language, our culture and our history. You won’t find it in any books.”
Lastly, he offers words of advise to the curious. “If you want to know what it’s about, you should pack your bags and be here next summer. I guarantee that it will be an experience you will never forget.”