India is not known as the land of festivals for no reason whatsoever. Host to a wide number of festivities of vibrancy and zesty euphoria, of art and culture, of fun and food, of nature and environment, the all encompassing secularity of the land also translates in its many frenzied observations. From music festivals to film festivals, flower fests to even fish festivals, you would be amazed at the variety on offer. Being a country where agrarian activities and its allies dominate, India also witnesses a number of unique and lesser known fish festivals. Here are 10 such fish festivals from around the country that celebrates all things fishy!
Dharmarasu Sri Ullaya Temple festival, Karnataka
In the coastal state of Karnataka, fishing festivals aren’t just a common affair- they are grand as well. The people of the the state celebrate one such fishy occasion during the Dharmarasu Sri Ullaya Temple festival (or Kandevu Temple festival) every year in May. Held on the auspicious day of “Vrishabha Sankramana”, the celebration encompasses also a fishing spree in the Nandini river, known also as the Pavanje River.
The festival begins with prayers offered to the presiding deity of the historic Khandige Shree Dahrmarasu in Chelayaru village after which the prasad is offered to the river and thereafter the locals embark to fish in the waters. This particular fishing session becomes more notably a celebratory occasion because it is after a long ban from Mesha Sankramana to Vrishabha Sankramana that fishing activities are resumed. Vrishabha Sankramana is also the day when the fair starts and fishing is allowed. However the fish caught on the auspicious day is prepared as a dish and served to the ‘daiva’ (deity), along with performance of ‘daivaradhane’ rituals. The prepared fish dish is also offered by the locals to the ancestors and therefore fishing on that particular day holds religious as well as cultural significance for the people here.
Payyanur Meenamrutu Festival, Kerala
The Payyanur Meenamrutu Festival is another fishing festival of southern India. Held at the Ashtamachal Bhagavathi Temple in the Payyanur region of Kerala every year in the month of April, fishing takes centrestage during Meenamrutu as it is believed that fishes need to be offered to the Goddess. The Kavvayi Puzha river becomes the hotspot of fishing for the day where nongal, maalan, and irumeen varieties are fished out and offered to the deity as well as to the people.
Khairi Kashao festival, Manipur
Manipur plays host to quite a number of fishing festivals and one such traditional celebration takes place during the Khairi Kashao festival of the state. Known also as Yaithab, the festival is a customary celebration by the Tangkhul people that is however more than just a mass fishing occasion. Some time after the end of the sowing season, Khairi Kashao was devised as a means to invoke the rain gods but is also parallely a fishing extravaganza. Promoting the age old fishing methodology of the Tangkhuls, Khairi Kashao is celebrated every year during the dry months of April or May as a traditional mass fishing festival.
Kallandhiri Muthan Swamy Thirukovil temple festival, Tamil Nadu
A centuries old fishing festival that also is a part of a temple festival plays out annually in Tamil Nadu as well. The final day of the week long Kallandhiri Muthan Swamy Thirukovil temple festival at Kallandhiri near Madurai is locally known also as kanmoi azhithal or destruction of the tank because it is local tradition to encourage people to literally clean up all the fishes of the Periyanagini Kanmoi, where the fishing ‘expedition’ takes place.
Held every year in the in the first month of ‘Chittarai’ in the Tamil calendar, the festival falls during summer when the water level plummets and the tank is abounding with fishes that got their way along with water from the Periyar feeding channel. Traditional fishing equipment like the ootha, kaccha, arivalai are also revived with their use for fishing even as some resort to ‘freehand fishing’ as well. Interestingly, the fanfare associated with the yearly festival is so immense that villagers gather from the night before in anticipation of the mass fishing. The catch so obtained is considered sacred and is taken to homes instead of being offered for sale.
Maund fishing festival, Uttarakhand
The traditional fishing festival of the Jaunpuri community of Tehri Garhwal, Maund Matysa Mela is what the Uttarkhandi fishing saga is known as. Maund though is a fishing festival with a difference. The Agral river serves as the site of the community fishing once a year where a certain Timru plant powder is used to first desensitize the fish only after which the people began fishing in the waters. A one day event that begins with beating of traditional drums and cries of “Macha, Macha” (Fish, fish), the festival was devised as a means to restrict exploitative all year fishing in the river fed generously by the small streams draining the northern slopes of the Mussoorie ridge.
Good Friday Fishing, Manipur
The Shangkai Kuki village of Manipur has also their own traditional fishing festival known as Good Friday Fishing. Also popular as Holy Week Fishing Festival, the Christian natives of the region go for group hunting in the forest or fishing during the Holy week to organise a joint feast on Good Friday. This festival also sees the employment of traditional practices to paralyse the fishes before they are caught in preparation of the feast. The underground stem of a particular plant called the Guson or Tolgu is collected from forests and the same are beaten up in a stout stump made from tree trunks upon a huge log inside the river till dawn. This desensitizes the fishes after which they are collected by the community in what seemingly makes for an easy catch.
Meenu Habba, Haveri (Karnataka)
The Kysanur village of Karnataka’s Haveri district annually celebrates their traditional fishing festival that is known as the Meenu Habba. Also known as fish hunting, Meenu Habba is traditionally held after the Ugadi festival and before monsoon sets in. People go all equipped with traditional equipment to gather as large a fishy bounty as possible as the festival is the only occasion during the year that fishing is permitted. The wide variety of catch is allowed to be sold to people who gather around the spot. Interestingly, the locals begin preparations for the fish festival of the following year as soon as the current festivities wind up.
Meenu Habba, Karwar (Karnataka)
Another meenu habba or fish festival of Karnataka is celebrated by the people of the Kinnar village of the Karwar district of Karnataka. Every year in May, the Kali river becomes the hub of unabated fishing exploits for a day in continuation of a supposedly 200 years old tradition. A portion of the catch needs to be offered to the temple and the money earned out of it is utilised for temple development works.
Celebrated by the Chang people of Nagaland, Khilinyie is a kind of week long harvesting festival that also doubles as a new year festival. On the 21st day of the Lunar month which is the first day of the festival called Khikro, hand picked paddy grains are dropped into barns after which the people go on a mass fishing spree. The catch however is not taken into the village on that very day, rather it is left on the outskirts only to be collected the day after. Known as the Khillii Liide meaning the first observation day, the second day begins with a meal of the caught fish and the newly harvested paddy.
A fishing festival that takes place in Manipur sometime in March or April, Karjoi is an annual celebration by the Maram tribe of the state. With age old fishing techniques, the locals embark to catch fishes after which they start drinking and bring out the types of fishes, declaring that all fish has been caught. While the fish is taken home and offered to people who were unable to make it by themselves, a portion is also dried and stored to be put into use till it’s for the next fishing festival. The Maram people are very particular about the Karjoi and hold it religiously since they believe that they would fall prey to misfortune otherwise.