UTTARAKHAND (Uttaranchal) also known as the ‘Land of gods’ or ‘Dev Bhoomi’ has a vast diversity of culture. The people of Kumaon and Garhwal region survive with audacity and sing the wonderful song called life. The cultural heritage of Uttarakhand comes from the elements and tales woven over a period of years and is a proof of their faith and religion.

Major Tribes of Uttarakhand are:

  • Bhotias (Shaukas)
  • Tharus
  • Buxas
  • Jaunsaris
  • Rajis


The Bhotias (Shaukas) inhabit the Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi areas. They are again divided into Shaukas of Munsiari who are migratory by nature and are a pastoral community. The Tolchas and Marchhas are found mostly in and around Niti and Manas Valley. The Jaads (Shaukas) of Harsil reside in Uttarkashi. They speak Kumaoni and the others have their own dialect. They have different gods and believe in kinship. They are mostly traders.

The Tharus are the largest Scheduled Tribe in Uttarakhand, they have concentrated around Sitarganj and Khatima tehsil of Uddham Singh Nagar. Their language is influenced by Hindi and Nepali. They have a Biradari Panchayat. They are an Agriculturalist Tribal Community and are said to be good Fishermen. They believe in 36 deities. They celebrate ‘Bajhar’ which is an outdoor picnic during the monsoons.

The Buxas are supposed to be Rajputs and original Inhabitants of the Terai belt. Found in Uddham Singh Nagar, Dehradun and Pauri Garhwal. They believe in Rama and Krishna and speak Hindi.

The Jaunsaris are divided into the Khasas, Koltas, Bajgis who inhabit the Jaunsar area of Dehradun. They earn their livelihood from agriculture and craft. They worship the Mehsu Devta. An interesting fact about them is that they follow the Pandavas i.e if a brother gets married then automatically the bride becomes the wife of the other brothers.

The Rajis/Banrawats are the residents of Pithoragarh especially Dharchula and Didihat. They speak Munda and Kumaoni. They live in the forests and worship Bagnath. There have been some community initiatives by the government and they seem to have benefitted from these programmes. Here the boy pays the girls family a bridal price in order to marry her. He has to separate from his family after marriage.

The Mahigeer. Another tribe of Uttarakhand. Found in Kiratpur, Maner, Mandwar, Dharanagar . They are Primarily Fishermen. The speak Khari Boli and have adopted Islam but their ancestry has been traced till Mahabharata.

The Vangujjars. Again a Pastoral Community found near Rajaji National Park. Nomadic in nature and have adopted Islam.

A land of folk tales and myths cannot be complete without folk dances. Some of the most prominent folk dances in Uttarakhand are:


  • Chholia – It’s a war dance which has existed for more than 2000 yrs, it started with the victor marrying the daughter of the loser. Dueling for the girl has lost its importance over the years. Now it’s just an art form. Interestingly no woman participates in this dance form. It begins with the blowing of the ‘Turturi’ or ‘a resemblance of trumpet like instrument’ signifying the start of a war.


  • Thadya – A free movement dance form quite predominant in Garhwal. Performed in an open courtyard. Both men and women participate in this ritual. Similar to ‘Bihu’ dance in Assam and ‘Rauf’ in Kashmir.


  • Chauphula – It is the most sensuous dance form. It is believed that the goddess Parvati had performed this dance in order to woo Lord Shiva. The dance steps and acting especially the movements of the hand can mesmerize the audience.


  • Jhora – A group dance where hundreds of men and women participate especially in the Nanda Devi Fair which has the grand Jhora and is one of the main attractions. They dance to the beat of the ‘Hurka’.


  • Chanchari – A playful competition amongst men and women. It has been derived from the Jhora. Love forms the main theme and is quite popular both in Kumaon and Garhwal.


  • Chhapeli – It means a beautiful frolicking women. Quite an interesting dance, performed only by men. One becomes a female and the other man tries to woo his beloved. It’s a kind of theatrical performance where they act, sing and dance.


  • Jaagar – It’s a ceremony to invoke the deity. Every clan or village has its own deity. They believe that this deity is protecting them from any harm. It’s a ceremony which starts at night and goes on till early morning. It seems that the deity enters the body of a designated medium and answers questions to the ones suffering. The person who invokes the deity plays a drum and is accompanied by the people playing the hurka or using the brass plate.


Traditional Musical Instruments of Garhwal and Kumaon are:

  • Dhol – A drum with a wooden or brass hollow covered with leather at both ends, one end is beaten with a stick made of bhimal/bamboo and the other with the palm.


  • Damama – Two leathered brass cones one bigger called Daindama the other smaller called Baundamu sound different when beaten with a stick called Lakur.


  • Hurka – A common instrument, giving out staccato beats, also believed to be mentioned in the Natya Shashtra. It can be played solo or with other instruments.


  • Turturi/Turhi – A trumpet like organ, one is long and curled in shape and the other looks like a snake in its coiled form. Made of copper/brass. Generally accompanied by the Damama. A special type of the same instrument is called ‘Ranasingha’ which looks like a hooded cobra or a curved animal horn.


  • Binaee – A small instrument made of iron, played by pressing in between the teeth ad tapping one of its arms to produce a hum.


  • Mushak Been/Bagpipe – Introduced by the British during the Anglo – Gorkha war of 1814 – 1815 has now become an inseparable part of folk music and dance.


  • Muruli/Flute – An important part of the life of a shepherd/cattle grazer who apparently used to play the flute when grazing the cattle.


  • Damru – An instrument used by Lord Shiva is also used  by the Kumaoni and Garhwali people during a performance.


  • Muryo/Muraj, Jhat, Brass Plates are other instruments used by the people of Uttarakhand.


Folk Songs of Uttarakhand are based on Heroes, Ghosts, Love, Moral and Season’s. Some of them are:

  • Nyoli: Meaning a young girl. It’s a passionate song, used to woo or tease one’s beloved, it also includes moods like anxiety, waiting, taunting, closeness et al. Said to be named after a Local Cuckoo which is a symbol of love for love – lorn people.


  • Khuder and Jhumeila: Sang by the newlywed. Jhumeila is sung by women and Khuder by men.


  • Phag/Shakunakhar: Are auspicious songs sung during a marriage, birth. Mostly in Brij Bhasha or Avadhi. Only women sing these songs. It’s also sung for jubilance (boy’s side) and for vidaee when a girl leaves her home to become a part of the grooms’ family.


  • Bair: A teaser between two groups. Mostly riddles are sung and the other team has to solve it. If not then the winner takes it all. It’s a dual quite similar to kavalli.


  • Barahmasa: Means twelve months. Its’ a seasonal song and can be sung at anytime, any occasion, even during ploughing or waiting for the harvest et al


  • Saiddhali: Similar to Jaagars but for Muslim/Islamic ghosts


  • Pawada: These are songs of battle and of bravery. The most heroic songs belong to the era of 13th – 18th century A.D.


  • Hurakiya Bol: An enchanting dance music form of Uttarakhand, it’s a field song, the women dance to the song sung by men in order to reduce the stress of work while working on the field.


  • Pandava Songs: Garhwal is deeply associated to the Hindu Epic; The Mahabharata, composed by Ved Vyasa near Badrika Ashram. It is said that the Pandavas have been born near Badrinath in Pandukeshwar and their ascending to heaven took place from Kedarnath. A lot of stories and places have been related to them a medium to tell the stories of the Pandava.


Art and Craft
Garhwali art and craft has originated from a painter, poet and historian called Molaram. The first signs where during the Mughal Era, during the reign of King Sulaiman Shikoh. The second phase began by the artists of Shrinagar. There is supposed to be an influence of Guler.


  • Aipan/Alpana: A technique of floor painting using rice paste to etch symbols on a back ground of red oxide. The Kumaoni people use their fingers instead of a brush/tool. Different symbols have different significance like a wedding, good harvest, a boy’s initiation to manhood.


  • Himanchal: Symbolizing the mighty Himalaya and incorporated in art. When hung individually instead of collectively it symbolizes thread ceremony or any other special occasion.


  • Bar Boond: It a play of dots and dashes. The entire painting is made with a dot and dash but with different colours like yellow and blue, red and yellow, yellow, red, violet and green.


  • Patta: Drawn on wooden boards/paper also drawn on walls. It celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, the arrival of Rama from the forest, the death of Ravana, the goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati.


  • Rangwali: On auspicious occasion women wear a handmade garment to cover their head. It has bright red spots on a yellow background with ornate lacework.


  • Rock Arts: Some areas in and around the Ramganga valley of Almora, the Khutani stream in Nainital, Lakhudiyar near Pithoragarh and Dungri in Garhwal, Kasaradevi near Almora show signs of ancient rock art. The engravings are still there but the colours seem to have faded. The drawings symbolize their life during the pre – Paleolithic man.


  • Wood Carving: In different forms like utensils, temples, houses, it’s found in abundance especially in Garbyang which is said to be 450 – 500 yrs old.


Fairs and Festivals

  • Nanda Devi, Raj Jat Yatra and the Raj Jat in Homkund, it celebrates the bidai of the goddess from her mother’s home to her husband’s home in Kailash.


  • Bagwal – It’s a stone scuffle on the day Rakshabandhan, organized in Barahidevi temple of Devidhura, where the people pelt each other with stones. It is believed that first they used to sacrifice human in order to please the deity but over the years it changed to shedding blood till it sums up to the sacrifice of a human.


  • Magh Melas/Fairs on Makar Sankrantri (14th of January) Uttarayaini at Bageshwar and Mag Mela at Uttarkashi


  • Hiljatra – It means travelling in the rainy season. Celebrated only in the Sor Valley of Kumaon. It is said to have been brought from Nepal. Here the participants wear masks of animals, men disguise as women and it ends with the appearance of a character called Lakhiya an incarnation of Shiva a symbol of Rudra.


  • Deolang Fair – In Ranwai. It’s held on the full moon night in the month of Maghshirish. They worship the Green Deodar. Men and Women dance.


Gods and Temples: There are a few famous temples where a few pilgrim trips are held. Like the Badrinath  for Lord Shiva, Yoga Badri, Vridha Badri, Dhyan Badri, Adibadri, Bhavishya Badri for Lord Vishnu. Then the Kalimath, Surkanda Devi, Rajrajeshwari, Jwalpa, Hariyali Devi, Haat Kalika, Punyagiri, Kaot Mai for the Shakti or the Goddess. The Sun Temple in Katarmal is a marvelous architectural insight. The Agastyamuni, Kanvasrama and Karna Temples.


Another interesting feature is the Naulas – They are places of architecture in and around a water body eg. Kanikot, Syunrakot, Ek Hathiya. People here believed in the importance of water and its conservation. It symbolizes its sacredness and associates it with local deities and ornate sculpture.