A month after the festival of lights, the Buddhi Diwali or dark Diwali that involves dancing around bonfires and animal sacrifices will be celebrated in parts of interior Himachal Pradesh from Dec 13.
Ani and Nirmand in Kullu district and Shillai in Sirmaur district, as also Chopal in Shimla district, have been associated with the unique festival for centuries.
The celebrations start on 'amavasya' - the darkest night of a lunar month - and last for up to a week, depending upon the local mythology.
The Buddhi Diwali celebrations start in some areas one month after the actual festival as locals believe the news of Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya - which Diwali commemorates - reached them late, Prem Parshad Pandit, member-secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Temples' Committee, told IANS.
During Buddhi Diwali, which depends more on local traditions and customs, the people dance and sing folklore related to the Mahabharata epic through the night in front of bonfires, amid the beating of drums and playing of trumpets, and consign the devil to the flames.
Processions are also taken out with flames lit from the bonfire in the village.
Hundreds of goats and sheep are sacrificed to appease the gods.
As per the tradition, villagers take the animals to a nearby temple where the sacrificial ceremony is performed on the first day of the festival. The severed heads are offered to the gods and deities and each animal's body is taken home for the meat to be cooked. The repast is shared by the villagers and relatives.
In Kullu district, the festival is celebrated to commemorate the killing of demons Dano and Asur who resided there in the form of snakes.
The practice of animal sacrifice is more prevalent in the Shillai and Renuka areas of Sirmaur district. The locals especially rear the livestock throughout the year for the sacrifice to ensure round-the-year prosperity and protection to themselves and their crops and livestock from natural calamities.
"The tradition of celebrating Buddhi Diwali is also linked to the onset of the harsh winter and end of the agriculture season," Baldev Chauhan, president of the Sirmaur Kalyan Manch, told IANS.
There is a brighter side of the festival too.
"During the festival, everybody is in the mood of merrymaking. The locals decorate their houses, buy new clothes and exchange sweets. Parents also visit the homes of their married daughters," said Chanda Devi, an octogenarian residing in the Renuka area.
She said the meat stored during the festival is consumed during the harsh winter months when outdoor activities stop.
The sacrifice of livestock has also caught the attention of the Himachal Pradesh High Court.
In October, the court, acting on a petition, has sought the public's opinion on the practice.
"We are of the opinion that before any orders are passed, an opportunity must be given to all the persons who want to oppose or support the petition," the court said, listing the matter for Dec 14.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)