Kandali Festival, also known as Kirji Festival is celebrated every 12 years by the Joutiya or Jainila people during August-September in the Chaudans region of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. The festival celebrates the defeat of Zorowar Singh’s army from Ladakh which attacked the region in 1841. The victory is celebrated by singing and dancing in folk songs and uprooting the Kandali plant. The festival is celebrated every 12 years as Kandali flower blooms after every 12 years.
History of Kandali Festival
There are many legends and beliefs regarding Kandali Festival.
One story suggests that once a widowed women ate a flower of Kandali plant and consequently her only son died.The women of the village then started the quest to destroy every Kandali plant of the region by beating it down so as no other children would eat the flowers by mistake. But the plants couldn’t be fully destroyed and hence every 12 years after the plant grows into maturity, the women of the village get together and engage in destroying it.
Kandali flower is also believed to be the bearer of misfortune and bad news and hence destroyed by the villagers.
Another story behind the fair suggests that the origin of Kandali Festival is related to a historic event wherein enemies attacked the village in absence of the men. The enemies hid themselves behind the lush bush of Kandali plant. The women of the village attacked and defeated the enemies with their weapons like ril, spears, and swords. In order to kill the enemy, it was essential to destroy Kandali plant as it was their hiding spot. Kandali Festival is celebrated till this day to commemorate the victory of the women against the enemies.
The most prevalent story states that the region used to be a kingdom ruled by women and was once attacked by Ladakhi soldiers. The soldiers would attack and steal commodities from the kingdom in the day and hide behind the bushes of Kandoli plant in the night. The women soldiers fought against most of the Ladakhi soldiers but some soldiers managed to hide behind the Kandoli plants for 12 long years. They attacked the region again after 12 years when Kandoli plant started bearing flowers. After the attack when they hid themselves amidst the Kandoli plants, the women of the region tracked their location and attacked them with their weapons. They destroyed the soldiers and all the Kandoli plants of the region that was used as their hideout for so long.
Since that day onwards, Kandali festival is celebrated every 12 years to honour the bravery and victory of the women of the region.
Another story asserts that the queen of the region was blessed with a baby boy after years of prayers. The entire kingdom celebrated with joy. The astrologers predicted that he would be very successful but his lifespan was linked with Kandali flower. With every bloom of Kandali flower, his lifespan would decrease. Hence, the women soldiers destroyed Kandoli plant every 12 years before the blooming of flowers. After destroying the plants, the whole kingdom would rejoice and celebrate in the name of their king.
How is Kandali Festival celebrated?
On the day of the festival, the members of the family get up early in the morning and offer their prayers to the Shiva Linga made out of barkey and buckwheat flour mixture. They decorate their courtyard and start their celebration.
After the puja, people gather together in their traditional attire for a community feast. They pray and encircle a holy tree by tying strips of white cloth around it. They then offer holy water, grains and other religious items.
After the religious ceremonies, a procession is formed. Women lead the procession armed with ril and are followed by men and children. Men are armed with swords and shields. The procession moves forward with music, songs, and dances.
When the procession approaches the place of Kandali plant, the music is changed to war music and played loudly. The women lead and uproot the bushes with their rils and the men help them. Women are the main participants of the festival while the men support them.
After the successful completion of uprooting, victory cries are made, and rice grains are cast towards the sky for appeasing the deities.
The whole village celebrates the victory with feasts, music, and dances.