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FAIRS AND FESTIVALS

Further south, in the same month, the Renuka Lake fair takes place in the district of Sirmaur. People gather on the shores of the lake -- which is shaped like a sleeping woman -- to celebrate the immortality of Renuka and her son. It is a major attraction for people of the surrounding villages. Purifying dips are taken in the lake as a part of worship, and there is also much singing and dancing and buying and selling.

In July/August Chamba conmes alive with Minjar, a week-long festival celebrated to appease the god of rain. People step out in their beautiful traditional dress and revel in music and dance.

In the following month, September, the festival of Fulech takes place in Kinnaur. It is celebrated in village after village, starting in late August from Rupi in lower Kinnaur, and ending in the third week of September at Nesang in the arid region of upper Kinnaur. Fulech symbolises the end of summer, and the last flowers of the season are collected from pastures. It also marks the migration of the flocks to the plains. Fulech is a joyous festival of dancing and drinking, and an ideal time to see the people and their land, both at their best.

It is natural for people who are in such close communion with the beauty of nature to have a deep sense of joy and reverence. There are some 2000 gods worshipped in Himachal. Numerous fairs and festivals, held to honour particular deities, coincide with the cycle of seasons to become occasions for celebration, trade and even match-making. They attract people from all over the state, and at the larger fairs one can see Himachalis at their colourful best.

The most well attended fair is the Kullu Dussehra, in October. It marks the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana. Devotees, carrying gold and silver images of gods and goddesses on palanquins, come from all parts of Himachal to Kullu. On the first day, homage is paid to Lord Raghunath, the presiding deity. Thereafter follow nine days of rituals and much merry-making which includes dancing, singing and performances.

In February/March, Shivratri is celebrated with special fervour at Mandi and at the 9th-century temple of Baijnath in Kangra. At both places, devotees come from all parts of Himachal and outside for a week of prayer and festivity.

In the month of November, two important fairs take place in Himachal. Rampur, 140 km from Shimla becomes the venue for the Lavi fair, one of the biggest trade fairs in northern India. People from the remote mountain reaches of Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur congregate on the banks of the Satluj to trade in local produce which include homespun blankets and shawls, dry fruit and wool.