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Festival of Stones

by Neha Pande

July 27, 2020

Bagwal also known as DevidhuraFair is celebrated at Maa Varahi Devi Temple in Devidhura located at a distance of 45km from Lohaghat in the Champawat district of Uttarakhand. Devidhura also marks the tri-junction of Almora, Pithoragarh and Nainital districts and is famous for its rich cultural fair that is celebrated with devotion and enthusiasm. This fair is celebrated every year during Rakshabandhan that falls on the full moon day of the month of Shravan. Thousands of people from Uttarakhand and Nepal come to visit this grand fair.

Bagwal is celebrated by dividing four different groups, collectively known as ‘Khams’. The four groups are four different tribes – Gharwal Kham, Chamyal Kham, Lamgriha Kham and Valig Kham.

The fair starts out with the worship of Goddess Varahi, after the worship Prasad is distributed and this is when everything gets a bit tricky. The members of each Kham position themselves on the four corners of the field of the temple and the priest commences the festival with the sound of the ‘shankh’/shell.

Bagwal is no normal festival with just worship and joy but here the Khams are fighters who carry sticks, stones and a farra/shield for the fight. These fighters throw stones at one another while at the same time protecting themselves with the shield. It does not matter how wounded or injured they get, the fight does not stop till the priest concludes the fight with the sound of the ‘shankh’. While the fight is going on the rest of the attendees cheer their teams with fight drums, folk songs and folk dances. After the fight all the injured are treated with ‘bichchu grass’ ie. Urtica Dioca.

The Myth behind the Bagwal festival:-

According to the myth, there once was a tradition of sacrificing a man (Narbali) from the Kham each year to Goddess Varahi. On one such year, it was the turn of this old woman to sacrifice her grandson, with a heavy heart and mind full of devotion she prepared her grandson for the sacrifice. This touched the Goddess’s heart and she spared his life under the condition that an equal amount of blood should be offered to her. Since that day, Bagwal fair is celebrated by the people where the members of each Kham throw stones at each other in order to draw sacrificial blood for Goddess Varahi.

Reason for taking this Cultural Fair :-

The main reason I choose to write upon Bagwal cultural fair is because my hometown is in Uttarakhand and I also wanted to address the issue of ‘Bali’/Sacrifice. Sacrificing animals as well as people have been going on in our religion as well as many other religions since the dawn of time; from Mayan, Pagan, Hinduism, Muslim etc.

Sacrifice or ‘Bali’ in Hindu religion has its own significance, it is symbolic of getting rid of 6 evil forces/enemies ie.

  1. Kama– Lust

  2. Krodha – Anger

  3. Lobha–Greed

  4. Mada– Pride

  5. Moha – Attachments

  6. Matsarya – Jealousy

By the sacrificial festival of Bagwal the basic idea of sacrificing men or animals was stopped yet the sacrificial blood was spilled by the act of fighting and throwing stones at each other.

Our culture and heritage is one of the oldest; yet, I wanted to showcase some of the flaws in it which have changed and evolved but are still there.

In August 2019, 100 men got injured under 10 minutes while celebrating Bagwal in Champwant district, Uttarakhand on Thursday. Even though the human sacrifice was stopped yet, hundreds of people got injured which is not a small thing. This is just one small case, there are many more cases tied up to this festival.

Even though there is a high court ban on the use of stones during the festival yet the locals seem to sneak in with stones while outsmarting the authorities.Even a lot of local authorities encourage this practice instead of putting a stop on it.

I personally believe that the concept behind ‘Bali’ is not bad because every Dussehra we burn Ravan as a sign of victory of good over evil, just like that ‘Bali’ is the concept of sacrificing 6 evils to the goddess yet the literal concept of ‘Bali’ ie. To sacrifice a living breathing creature or to injure one another is completely wrong. God didn’t make us to harm each other therefore the literal concept of ‘Bali’ should be condemned just like the literal practice of Bagwal should be put to an end. The ideology, unlike the festival, should carry on and pass on from generation to generation.

Bagwal is a beautiful festival from Kumaon, Uttarakhand which should be celebrated with joy and enthusiasm, without harming each other as the concept of Bagwal is beautiful just like the myth. Bagwal is the story of love and sacrifice therefore it should be practiced with love and sacrifice of our inner demons instead of throwing stones towards each other to draw out blood as a symbol. The festival is a perfect blend of folk songs, folk dances and folklores. And just like Bagwal our country has hundreds of festivals and practices with a beautiful story but an unlikely tragic execution.

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