Shimla : Almost a month after the rest of India celebrated Diwali, some interior areas of Himachal Pradesh are set to usher in the festival Friday, slaughtering hundreds of animals in celebration, in keeping with the tradition.
The mythical reason for the delayed Diwali, say locals, is that the news of Lord Ram's victorious return to Ayodhya reached late in these parts, Prem Parshad Pandit, member-secretary of the state temples committee, told IANS.
The festival, locally known as Buddhi Diwali (or old Diwali), is mainly celebrated in Ani and Nirmand in Kullu district, Shillai in Sirmaur district, and Chopal in Shimla district.
The celebrations are spread from three days to a week, depending on local traditions and custom. Festivities start on the first 'amavasya', or new moon of the lunar half, after the regular Diwali.
People dance and sing folklore related to the epic Mahabharata through the night in front of bonfires, amid the beating of drums and playing of trumpets to appease the gods. They carry out processions with the flame of the bonfire. It's also associated with the Mahabharata battle which is said to have started on the first day of Buddhi Diwali.
In Kullu district, the festival is celebrated to commemorate the killing of the demons, Dano and Asur, who resided there in the form of snakes. Hundreds of goats, sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed.
As per tradition, villagers take animals to a nearby temple where the sacrificial ceremony is performed on 'amavasya'. The severed heads are offered to the deities and the meat is taken home for cooking. The feast is shared by villagers.Pandit said there are certain local customs that the government cannot prohibit.
"The sacrificing of animals to appease gods has been followed for decades. The government is educating the people to do away with it. In some areas, people have stopped it, but it's more or less a symbolic exercise," he added.
Octogenarian Leela Devi, a villager in Shillai area of Sirmaur, said: "The animal sacrifice ensures protection of our crops and livestock from natural calamities. We rear animals specially for the festival."
She said the feast prepared from the slaughtered animals is served among the entire community. "Even the leftover meat is stored for consumption during winter. Actually, the celebrations mark the onset of a harsh winter."
The festival also has a brighter side. The locals clean their houses, purchase utensils, bangles and clothes and cook special dishes.
However, animal protection groups have demanded that the practice of animal killing be stopped.
A centuries-old Buddhist shrine, the Key monastery in Spiti Valley in Lahaul and Spiti district, last year appealed to people to stop slaughtering animals and be more humane to other species.
The monastery has even warned locals, mostly Buddhists, that if they are caught slaughtering animals, including wild ones, or drinking liquor, a fine of Rs.20,000 would be imposed on them.