About 90 per cent of the population of the state is Hindu having common culture, religion and traditions. The principal communities are Brahmins, Rajputs, Kannets, Rathis and Kolis. The tribal population of the state can be divided into five main groups: the Gaddis, Kinners, Gujjars, Pangawals and Lahaulis. A hardy and adventurous people, the Gaddis are the traditional shepherds who rear sheep and move down from the alpine pastures to the lower regions during the winter months. Polyandry and polygamy and practiced simultaneously by the Kinners, a pastoral people inhabiting the hilly tracts of Kinnaur. The Gujjars, originally Aryan, are generally nomadic who rear buffalo herds. While the Pangawals, belonging to the Pangi area in the Chamba district, have a composition of both high and low caste Hindus; the Lahaulis, a tribe of the Lahaul-Spiti region, are predominantly Buddhist.
Arts and Crafts
Whatever the caste or creed, the Himachalis in general have a highly developed sense of art which is expressed in their objects of daily use. Their metal ware including attractive utensils, ritualistic vessels, idols and silver jewellery; the unglazed earthenware of Kangra; embroidered shawls and other garments which portray both classical and simple folk styles and designs; and traditional jewellery for almost all conceivable uses, are some of their popular crafts.
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 wool products are made in either the Byangi wool.
Music and Dance
The music and dance of this state, like most of the other parts of the country, is steeped in the religion and rituals of the ancient times when the gods were invoked during the festivals by singing hymns and dances.
The major dances of the state are the Rakshasa (demon) 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 etc.
Musical instruments like Ranasingha, Karna, Turhi, Flute, Ektara, Kindari, Jhanjh, Manjara, Chimta, Ghariyal, and Ghunghru are played to provide music for the dances.
Fairs and festivals are an integral part of the Indian way of life and the land locked hill state of Himachal Pradesh is no exception to this. The celebrations range from religious to tribal to contemporary.
The New Year brings with it the National Snow Statue Competition at Kufri near Shimla. It is also time for ice-skating in the state capital. The bonfires of Lohri light up the night sky on January 13 every year. This festival marks the sowing of the Rabi (winter) crop.
February brings with it skiing competitions held at Solang Nullah in Manali. A fair in the memory of the seer 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. Basant Panchami or the arrival of spring is ushered in by the little kites that dapple the horizon with their color.
Shivratri or the festival to celebrate the marriage of Shiva in March signifies ritual gaiety at the famous Baijnath shrine. The cattle fair at Nalwari, Bilaspur is set amidst carnival atmosphere. Chait Durga Asthami is celebrated in the Shakti shrines at Hathkoti, Chitpurni, Jwalamukhi and Vajreshwari. Color and merrymaking mingle on Holi, the festival of colors at the Gurdwara at Paonta Sahib, Sirmaur.
In April, Chhat celebrations are held in Kullu and Chamba. Paonta Sahib welcomes Hindu and Sikh devotees on Baisakhi and Navratri too begins this month. Fairs are held in Chamba, Bilaspur, Kangra and Rohru village in Shimla district.
Around the old temple of Hidimba at Kullu, Doongri, a colorful celebration takes place in May. Banjar Mela in Kullu starts in the second half of the month. Paragliding season begin in Bir, Kangra.
Shimla, Dharamshala and Dalhousie welcome the summer in June with a variety of cultural events. The Prashar Fair is held in Mandi off the Prashar Lake. The Red Cross fair in Shimla is a big draw with tourists. The Himachal Folk Costumes Programme and the Flower Show in the capital attract active participation of the locals. Lahaul celebrates a unique festival called Cheeshu.
July marks the onset of monsoons when the rains paint everything green. Haryali is celebrated in Kangra and Sirmaur and Shravan Sankranti in Nahan.
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 sees lot of commercial activity on the hold 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 this month. In the scenic Kullu Valley, this is the time for Badranjo.
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.
November is time of Diwali, which is celebrated throughout the state. On the banks of Sutlej, the Lavi fair continues for three days. At Sirmaur, idols of Parasuram are immersed in the gentle waters of Renuka Lake.
Shimla has the tradition of celebrating Christmas since the days of the British Raj. To take part in the festivities, people come from far off places. But before Christmas, in the second week of December, the International Himalayan festival is held in Dharamshala.