This Drinking Festival (And Three Others) Are Gujarat's Biggest Untold Secrets

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Photo of This Drinking Festival (And Three Others) Are Gujarat's Biggest Untold Secrets by Varun Suchday

Asiatic lions, the Great White Rann of Kutch, the Harappan site of Dholavira, and a diverse cuisine come to mind when one thinks of Gujarat. But have you heard of the tribal fair in Gujarat where the Adivasis make a mockery of prohibition and drink in broad daylight for four straight days? Here are the four tribal fairs that will make you rethink Gujarat.

NOTE: Kindly confirm the dates with Gujarat Tourism before heading for these festivals.

Bhavnath Fair

Girnar, the mountain that is older than the Himalayas, turns into a gathering place of naga bavas (naked sages) on Mahashivratri. It is believed that Lord Shiva performs tandava, the cosmic dance of destruction on Mt. Girnar during the moonless night of Mahashivratri.

A great mahapuja takes place on this night. Naga bavas seated on elephants wearing unearthly ornaments blow conch shells, tungis and turis at midnight. The sound echoes through the mountains and the moonless night sends a shiver down the spine. After the mahapuja commences, the surroundings turn into an open-air stage with music, dance and traditional Bhavai theatre performances.

When

It takes place for five days around Mahashivaratri. This year it will be held on February 13.

What else you can do

– Join the pilgrims in the 7km Girnar parikrama

Climb Mt. Girnar (1,031m/3,382ft), the highest peak of Gujarat

– Enter the domain of the Asiatic lion in Gir National Park

– Visit Porbandar, Mahatma Gandhi's hometown

– Visit the Portuguese colonial town of Diu

Dang Darbar Fair

Gone are the kings and their kingdoms, or so you think. In remote jungles of Gujarat, former kings regain their royalty for a few days. Dang Darbar was originally organised by the British as a tribute to the Bhil rulers of Dang. The festival is one of the few remaining rituals of the British Raj.

Kings, princes and village heads hold darbars (court) around Holi. The darbar witnesses various tribal dances to the beat of percussion and wind instruments and folk music performances. As many as 13 tribes from 311 villages attend this colourful fair.

When

It takes place around Holi. This year it will take place from March 9 to 11.

What else you can do

– Visit Saputara, Gujarat's only hill-station

– Visit adivasi villages of Dang district

– Explore the jungles of Dang

Kavant Fair

What happens when the largest tribal group of Gujarat decides to celebrate the harvest, find suitors for their children, enact mythology, and come together from the far reaches? Kavant Fair is a Rathva community festival that has been taking place since time immemorial. Rathva tribesmen from nearby Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh also gather in Kavant for this multi-day affair.

Rathva people still live in relative isolation on hilltops and in the forests. Naturally, they don't have the tendency to follow the laws. This anarchic festival sees five days of endless drinking, making a mockery of Gujarat's prohibition law. Once drunk, they enact episodes from tribal mythology and forest folklore. The alcohol-infused dancing and music is also a sight to behold.

When

It usually begins on the third day after Holi. This year it will take place on March 15.

What else you can do

– Visit Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary to see sloth bear and flying foxes

– Visit Baroda, former princely state capital

Chitra Vichitra Fair

On the new moon night after Holi, women of nearby villages gather on the banks of the river to mourn their dead. The eerie mourning lasts till daybreak. As the sun slowly ascends its authority, the mourning of the dead turns into a frantic celebration of the living. Men wear a traditional blue shirt, red dhoti and saffron turban, while women put on elaborate silver jewellery and colourful ghagras.

The drums, flutes and other musical instruments come to the fore as numerous feet make the earth tremble. It is believed that the dead possess the dancers. Belief or no belief, you can definitely feel that the dancers are in their element. The fair is also a good place to buy tribal handicrafts, jewellery and taste some local delicacies.

When

Kavant Fair takes place a fortnight after Holi. This year it will take place on April 11.

What else you can do

– Visit Mt. Abu, Rajasthan's only hill station

– Visit Udaipur, the tranquil City of Lakes

Have you been to any of the fairs? Which one sounds most tantalising? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comment section below, or write your own travelogue to share with the world.

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