Himachal's Faguli: Mask Dance Festival Welcoming the New Season

Himachal Pradesh is renowned worldwide for its ancient culture and traditions, which include a plethora of fairs and festivals. Each festival is associated with an ancient legend. One such festival is the Faguli or "Masks" festival. 

Faguli Festival

Every year, in February, as snow covers the surrounding mountains, we celebrate Faguli, a mountain festival of Himachal, to ward off bad spirits. Faguli is one of the most unique Indian spring festivals, and it falls between mid-February to mid-March in the month of Falgun. It marks the end of winters and the beginning of spring, and its main theme is the victory of good over evil.

Kinnaur to Kullu's Unique Traditions

Faguli, a vibrant spring festival celebrated in various villages of Himachal Pradesh, unveils a rich tapestry of customs and stories, each unique to the distinct regions of Lahaul Spiti, Kullu, Manali, and Kinnaur. This festival, marked by diverse traditions, is a testament to the cultural richness and diversity of the Himalayan state.

Faguli in Kinnaur

In Kinnaur, Faguli is intricately connected with Basant Panchami, celebrating the arrival of spring (Falgun) among the tribal communities. The festivities begin with thorough cleaning of homes, symbolizing a fresh start for the season. Monsoon gods are welcomed by name in a ceremony that involves shooting arrows at a portrait of Ravana drawn on paper. The success of hitting the target signifies the victory of gods over demons in the heavens.

Interestingly, the blowing of conch shells is forbidden during this festival to ensure the gods remain focused on their battle against demons. A unique tradition involves burning Suskar Horing wood in a cave, with the roof covered in lard (foo) while barley is roasted below. If barley grains jump and cling to the cave's roof, it is considered a sign of good luck.

The festival culminates with a procession led by a man with Huri, followed by the Lankawalla and the Kittewalla carrying the 'Doo.' After three rounds of the temple, villagers attempt to snatch the 'Doo,' feeding it to their animals. In some areas, Faguli extends to a week-long celebration with offerings and rituals dedicated to the Savani deities.

Faguli in Kullu

In the remote villages of Kullu district, Tirthan Valley, and Jibhi, the Faguli festival, also known as the Festival of Masks, unfolds over a month, starting from Sankranti. This festival, unique to the region, involves the use of obscene abuses as a means to drive away witches, evil powers, and ghosts.

The celebration revolves around the triumph of good over evil, virtue over sin, and religion over unrighteousness. While the use of indecent abuses may seem unconventional, it is an integral part of the Faguli festival in Kullu. Women, in some areas, participate by singing vulgar abuses through songs, a tradition from which men abstain due to superstitions about bringing bad omens.

A Festival of Colors and Tradition

This festival is mainly focused on men. Women participate in the ceremony and enjoy the festivities, but only men dress up in traditional attire. They wear a brass skirt, a colorful headgear adorned with yellow garland flowers, and a wooden mask.

Harvesting Sharuli Grass: Crafting Tradition

People venture into the surrounding forests to collect sharuli grass, a tall and thick wild grass that resembles haldi. This grass is not ordinary as it has been used for generations to weave special clothes for Faguli. After collection, the grass is washed and dried before skilled artisans from the neighboring village weave it into chola - a long and heavy skirt that reaches all the way to the ankles. This special weaving skill is passed down from generation to generation, and it can take up to two full days to weave a single skirt.

During a village meeting, six men are randomly selected to wear the long and heavy chola and dance at the festival. Their names are written on a piece of paper for the selection process.

Before the festival, no one is allowed to approach the selected men as they build their energy reserves. When Faguli begins, they appear wearing the skirt, a mask covering their face, a hat made of flowers on their head, and a colorful shawl to keep them warm in the winter cold.

There are many stories associated with the mask. Some believe that people call out names from behind the masks to scare away evil spirits.

Traditional wooden masks

The festival is considered incomplete without the traditional wooden masks, which are worn by men while they dance to psychedelic music. Some dancers hold the masks up to their faces, while others hold them up in the air, sometimes bringing them down to their faces as they dance. Typically, the performances are not organized at most places. Instead, it is more like a carnival where men gather together in tribal attires, wearing masks, to celebrate.

There are two types of masks used in these celebrations. The main mask is called Haduman, while the other big masks are known as Tantrik and Demons.

What Happens at the Festival?

The Mask Festival is a highly anticipated event for the locals, as it serves as an opportunity to reconnect with their history, traditions, and community. People gather in large numbers to attend the ceremony, during which chosen men dress in traditional attire to entertain the crowd.

As the men get ready, the procession begins, and people perform "Nati," one of the folk dances of Himachal. The person wearing the traditional dress dances and twirls to folk music while holding rare masks. The entire community helps keep the energy levels high by playing various musical instruments like Dhol, Nagada, and Shehnai, as an ode to Lord Vishnu. The atmosphere is filled with immense joy and high energy. The festival is all about togetherness, and there's nothing individualistic about it.

However, amidst the dancing and singing, a person suddenly changes their behavior and starts moving erratically. According to belief, the person is possessed and becomes a Shaman who can talk to spirits while in a trance state during a ritual. The Shaman speaks on behalf of the Deity and predicts any calamities that may come in the near future in that particular area. Even those holding or controlling the Shaman may enter a trance state.

After receiving a blessing from the chief of the ceremony, the procession goes to the temple, where they encircle the Deity while dancing and twirling to the drum beats. Finally, the "beeth" (the chariot of Faguli Devta) is thrown, and whoever catches it has to feast on the whole community, which is a matter of pride for an individual. The Beeth is prepared early in the morning of the same day by the local people.

In some parts of Kullu, people light up the fire in wooden sticks at night and continue to dance and sing songs because they believe that fire removes all the negative energies and brings positive energies instead. When new grain grows, it is offered to God, as is the tradition in different parts of India. This is also one of the significances of this festival.

At the end of the celebration, some village homes have to offer food to the dancers. The dancers have no choice but to enter the house with their heavy skirts and shoes on. The host family can't clean the dirt, as it is considered sacred. So the house remains filled with dirt for the next 2-3 days before it can finally be cleaned!

If a newborn child or a new marriage takes place in the village, the dancers go to give their blessings and are given money in return.


The Faguli festival has been passed down orally for generations and has remained unchanged. Despite the many changes in the world, our people continue to follow the timeless practices of collecting sharuli grass from the forest, making grass skirts, and warding off evil spirits. 
The festival's attire, rituals, and traditions are ancient sanctuaries that preserve the essence of our identity. While modern technologies move us forward, we still question the practicality of our ancestors' theories. Their careful preservation of these customs suggests the existence of inexplicable miracles beyond the boundaries of science and logic. 
Immerse yourself in the rich culture and traditions, and, above all, show respect for a heritage that reflects our collective behavior.

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