INDIA. Uttarakhand. Nanda Devi fair is one of the most popular liturgical carnivals observed in the Uttarakhand state of India. People commemorate the fair in tribute to the goddesses Nanda and Sunanda. Held in the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (late August or early September), this five to seven days long ceremony attracts thousands of devotees every year. However this year, due to COVID-19, the adherents are not allowed to attend the Mahotsav (festival) in person.
The fair was initiated by the Chand kings, the rulers of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand in 16th Century. Nanda Devi was the family goddess of the Chand familiy. They are deemed to be the daughters of the Himalayas. The term Nanda means prosperity and well being while Devi means goddess. Nanda Devi festival was started to signify and showcase the economic and cultural prosperity of different regions. A lot of goods made by a rural community were bought in the yearly exhibition.
Local celebration of the festival
Nanda Devi festival is held in many places in Uttarakhand, Almora, Nainital, Munsiyari, Ranikhet, Bhowali, and Nauti amoung them. The fair at Almora draws the largest number of people. This five to seven day long festival is celebrated with great pompous and enthusiasm. Numerous sacred processions are held with ethnic harmonies being recited by local artists, dancing, and narration of folk stories. Banana tree trunks are use to make idols of goddesses Nanda and Sunanda and people pray them with great reverence. On the final day of the celebration, the ‘dola’ (palanquin) of Nanda and Sunanda Devi is carried out to be immersed in water by devotees, indicating the end of the festivities.
Restrictions imposed due to COVID-19
This year the festival is being observed in the last week of August. However, due to the global pandemic situation, the way people are celebrating the fair is quite different. Ceremonies are organized by taking all necessary precautions and unquestionably with less fervency. Though all the ceremonies are being conducted religiously, constraints are imposed on the presence of more than five people inside the temple at a time. In many regions, such as Nainital, the organizers have decided to live stream the rituals on social media to stop people from coming to the temple and paying reverence to the goddess in person.