In the Chaudans region of Pithoragarh district, a flower – Kandali (Strobilenthes wallichii) – blooms once every 12 years (last in 1999) and the people celebrate Kandali festival between the months of August and October. The Chaundas Valley is remote in the Dharchula tehsil of Pithoragarh. It lies between the Kali and the Dhauli rivers. In the week long festival the local people – Shaukas or the Rangs participate with gaiety and enthusiasm in different villages of the region. Some stories are associate with this festival, which express the martial tradition of the Shaukas. In the first story, it is said that by tasting the poisonous flower of the Kandali the only son of a widow died. In the second story, this flower the symbol of famine and poverty. According to the third and most popul< story, the region was once attacked while the menfolk were away for trade. Th brave women repelled the enemy, who hid in the Kandali bushes, and the attacked the bushes and destroyed the enemy. The festival commemorates thei bravery and the women therefore destroy the plant ceremonially to remind th local people of the incident and to prevent further mishaps.
The festival begins with the worship of a Shiva Linga made of barley and buck wheat flour mixture. Local liquor is traditionally used during this festival. Every household performs it in a decorated comer of the courtyard. People pray for prosperity. The individual pujas are followed by a community feast. Then, the women and men, in their traditional dresses and laden with gold and silver ornaments, assemble around a tree on the sacred ground of the village. Strips of white cloth are tied to the tree and a flag is raised.
A procession is formed behind the flag. The women lead the procession, each armed with a ril (an implement used in compacting carpet on the loom) followed by children and men armed with swords and shields. As they sing and dance their music echoes in the valley. On approaching the blooms, war like tunes are played and war cries uttered and the women attack the bushes with their rils. The menfolk then come to their aid, and the bushes are hacked with swords. They uproot the bushes and take them back as the spoils of the war. Victory cries are raised and rice grains are again cast towards the sky to honour the deities with the prayer that the people of Chaundas Valley may be ever victorious over enemies. Festivity, dancing and music continue throughout the night.
The enthusiasm and emotion have to be seen to be believed. All the members of the community, even those living elsewhere, return to their village for the event, on the return of the procession to the village an assembly known as the ‘Savdhoomo-sabha’ is held at which sweetmeats, liquor and fruits are consumed, the deities are again worshipped with flowers. Festivity, dancing and music continue throughout the night.