ALMORA: Come January 14 and the hill state of Uttarakhand will witness one if its most colorful events, the Uttarayani festival in the heart of Bageshwar. Slated to begin on Makar Sankranti, the fest, which will be on for four days till January 18, will be held at the Bhagwath temple complex. Like every year, thousands of people from Kumaon and Garhwal regions are expected to mark their presence by taking a holy dip at the sacred confluence of Gomti and Sarju rivers. The festival will be inaugurated by chief minister Harish Rawat. 

Geeta Rawal, chairperson, Nagar Palika, Bageshwar, said, "We have completed the preparations. Four temporary bridges have already been constructed. Earlier, eight committees were constituted to look into various aspects of preparation work. Around Rs 25 lakh have been spent on the festival and the chief minister has announced an additional Rs 10 lakh." 

The centuries-old Uttarayani festival is considered to be the perfect place to showcase the art and culture of Kumaon division. It is also the biggest cultural mingling of Garhwal and Kumaon regions where folk artists travel from across the state to showcase their talent in the festival. 

The significance of the festival lies in the sacred bath at the confluence of Gomti and Sarju rivers. Interestingly, the practice finds a mention in Puranas as part of offering prayers to Lord Shiva. As per the Puranas, Bageshwar is blessed by Lord Shiva. 

The festival also has a high commercial value since merchants from Kumaon region as well as Nepal and Tibet come to sell their products. Local wooden and bamboo crafts are a popular attraction. Some of the other things that are on sale during this time include blankets, herbs, spices, carpets, mattresses, sheep and ponies, honey and ghee and iron and copper goods. 

Since the event attracts huge crowds from both regions of the state, it has been a platform for social and political workers to express their grievances. In 1921, an agitation was launched against the age-old bonded labour termed as Coolie-Begar led by Kumauni freedom fighters Badri Dutt Pandey and Hargovind Pant. In 1929, Mahatma Gandhi also visited the festival to ask people to unite for the freedom movement against the British Raj. At present, political parties often launch their action plan at this festival. 

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