Glimpse of Himalayan Inhabitants

Not all those who wander are lost-  J.R.R Tolkein

The Himalayas are just not the geographical feature, a range of mountains ; which epitomize a people ‘s civilizational identity that goes back to the dawn of history. If these majestic  mountains were not there, the rain clouds sweeping up from the Indian Ocean would have passed over the Indian subcontinent leaving it into a burning desert . 

This gigantic and spectacular land mass has multiple civilization and inhabitants  in its treacherous terrain .  

History tells us that the original inhabitants of the Himalayas were the Kinnars, Kilinds, and Kiratas. Our Hindu epics and Puranas give reference of their existence in the Himalayan regions. History also mentions the names of Khasas and the Darads. But today there only three major different ethnic groups form the Himalayan population. They are the Negroids, Mongoloids and the Aryans. The population, settlement in the Himalayan region is greatly influenced by the topography, economic pattern and the climatic condition. The climate condition is one of the main factors for the population settlements since extreme climatic condition imposes a restriction on the living conditions and tends to restrict movement and communication. But the ethnic groups living in remote valleys of the Himalayan region have generally conserved their traditional cultural identities.

Continuous improvements in communication and transportation system have improved the lifestyle of the people living in those regions. The modernization is affecting the traditional cultural and social system of the these Himalayas areas as well . The population in the Himalayan region is nearly about 40 million. The Hindus of the Indian origin mainly dominate the Sub Himalayan and the Middle Himalayan valleys. In places like eastern Kashmir to Nepal it is mostly Hindu population. While in the Great Himalayan region in the north it is mainly the Tibetan Buddhists who are seen from Ladakh to northeast India. In central Nepal, both Indian and Tibetan cultures have blend together, producing a mixed culture of Indian and Tibetan traits. While in the eastern Himalayas in India and nearby areas of eastern Bhutan people practice religion and culture similar to those living in northern Myanmar and Yunnan province in China. Muslims are mostly seen in western Kashmir and their culture is similar to the population of Iran and Afghanistan. The people of Sikkim mainly belong to three ethnic groups. They are the Nepalis, the Bhutiyas and the Lepchas. The Lepchas are now a minority class but they are the original inhabitants. The main occupation of the people in the Himalayan region is agriculture and animal husbandry. But recently trade and commerce had played a vital role in the lives of the people living in the frontier villages in Himachal, Ladakh, Kumaon and Garhwal.

While exploring Himalayan diversities over the years, have come across many ethnic communities who have rich cultural history  .One of such heritage community is  Jaunsar & Bawar .

85 KM from Mussoorie  in Chakrata tehsil in Dehradun is inhabited b the Jaunsari tribe, which traces its origin from the Pandavas ofMahabharata.

Ethnically, Jaunsar-Bawar comprises two regions, inhabited by the two predominant tribes: Jaunsar, the lower half, while the snow-clad upper region is called Bawar, which includes, the ‘Kharamba peak’ (3,084 metres (10,118 ft)).[3] Geographically adjacent, they are not very different from each other. The Bawar lies in the upper regions of the area.  Popular Bawar areas are Har ki dun valley which lies at congruence of Rupin and Supin river.

  Jaunsaris  are an unique tribal community because they have remained cut off from the external world for centuries, leading to the retention of their unique culture and traditions, which have attracted historians, anthropologist and studies in ethno pharmacology to this region for over a century. 

The Jaunsar-Bawar region, is a tribal valley, spread over 1002 km² and 400 villages,[between 77.45′ and 78.7’20” East to 30.31′ and 31.3’3″ North. It is defined in the east, by the river Yamuna and by river Tons in the west, the northern part comprises Uttarkashi district, and some parts of Himachal Pradesh, the Dehradun tehsil forms its southern periphery.

Modes of livelihood in this region are agriculture and animal husbandry, which in the upper region is mostly for self-sustenance, as merely 10 percent of cultivated area is irrigated. Milk, wool and meat are an integral part of the local econom

Another name of Uttaranchal was Panchaldesh so named after the Pandavas. According to local village lore, the Pandavas and Kauravas figure in the anthropology of the Tons valley and some families claim to be direct descendants of the two clans. The Jaunsaris claim to be descendants of the Pandavas, while the Bawaris are from the Kauravas or Duryodhana’s clan. The two cultures usually do not mix, and it is a rare occurrence to see the two cultures mix in terms of marriage or social custom.

I have visited Chakrata  several times because of it’s natural beauty and many other heart felt reasons but somehow had missed the opportunity to interact with the tribal community during my initial years   . My first  interaction with the community happened in the year 2004 while trekking in Har ki dun valley . On the first day of the trek I had spent my night in one of the Jaunsari village in Tuni  Uttaranchal. While interacting with a family with whom I was staying, I learned about the rich heritage and culture of this community which had relevance to Mahabharata period .

 Their claim of being a pure  Aryan race and descendants from Pandavas doesn’t stop only in name. The people of the Jaunsar Bawar region practice polyandry and polygamy and many brother share many wives. The custom owes its origins to the Pandavas who shared Draupadi amongst the 5 brothers.

Another unique custom which is followed here is the concept of bride price. The custom owes its origin to some strong logic. The parents spend a substantial amount on raising, educating and making the life of the girl as good as they can make it. In return the girl is an asset to the family as she cooks, cleans, works on the farms etc. When a boy wants to marry the girl, he is taking away an asset of the family and must pay the fair price of the asset known as the bride price.

Divorce is not taboo in the culture, and divorced women are not been looked down from society. However, if the woman comes back to the parent’s home after a divorce, the family must pay back the bride price to the man’s family. If the woman divorces her husband to marry another man, the second man must pay (a higher) bride price to the first man’s family.

The Jaunsari population consists of Khasas comprising of Rajputs (mainly Rai, Rana, Chauhans, Tomars, Rawats, Negis, Rathores, jhinkwan etc) and Brahmins (mainly Sharmas, Joshis, Nautiyals etc.) as high caste, Luhar, Bajgi as the middle caste and the Dom comprising Dalit, Kolta as the low caste.] The Rajput and Brahmins are the landowners. The Luhars are the artisans working as ironsmiths as well as the goldsmith. Tha Bajgi offers drum music at all the religious, social and cultural functions. The Kollandless labourer and he works in the field and house of the Khasa people. The Koltas are taken as untouchables by the higher caste people because they work as menials. Khasas play the dominant and leading role in the social, economic and political life of all sections of people.The culture of the local Jaunsari tribe is distinct from other hill tribal communities of Uttaranchal and adjoining areas of Himachal  its culture matches with the Trans Sirmaur region that is the. area lying in western side of Giri river, comprises Rajgarh and Shillai tehsils. These people are also known as Hatti, and has similar culture like Jaunsari people.

A fact demonstrated by the presence of polygamy and polyandry in the local traditions, with richer tribesmen practicing polygamy, while their poor counterparts, choose to share a wife , though the husbands should be brothers a fact which is often connected to, the five Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata, marrying Draupadi , from whom Jaunsaries trace their ethnic  origin though, anthropology studies in the past revealed that these practises were fast phasing out.

An important aspect of their culture are festive sports and dances like the folk dance named ‘Barada Nati’/Harul/Raso/ during all festive occasions, like ‘MaghMela’ which is the most important festival of the Jaunsaries. It is marked by an animal sacrifice ritual, which celebrates the killing of ‘Maroj’, an ogre, which according to local legends, stalked the valleys for years.

According to local village lore, the Pandavas and Kauravas figure in the anthropology of the Tons valley and some families claim to be direct descendents of the two clans. The Jaunsaris claim to be descendants of the Pandavas, while the Bawaris are from the Kauravas or Duryodhana’s clan. The two cultures usually do not mix, and it is a rare occurrence to see the two cultures mix in terms of marriage or social custom.

One of the major architectural marvel worth visiting is Mahasu Devta temple at Hanol place which is 180 KM from Dehradun  . On the banks of Rivers Ton lies the magnificently build centuries old temple . A 9th century structure which has been designated as a protected monument by the Archaelogical Survey of India. Dedicated to Mahasu, the god-king of the region that spans Eastern Himachal and Western Uttarakhand, this strikingly austere temple is an important pilgrimage, particularly during the annual fair held every August. Legend has it that when Krishna decided to disappear at the end of theDwapar Yuga, the Pandavas followed him. When they crossed the River Tons, Yudhishtra was awe-struck by the beauty of the place and asked Vishvakarma to build a temple here and stayed in it with Draupadi for nine days. 

 

Jaunsar – Bawar areas lies deep inside Himalayan terrain in order to visit and interact with these hospitable communities only option is by foot . There are few good exiting trek routes which passes through these tribal areas .

  1. Har Ki Dun Trek – Har Ki Dun stands for “ Valley of Gods “   One experience beautiful nature both flora and Fauna 12000 FT .  best time to be here is during summers and before Rains . During Rains the terrain becomes very hostile .  This is an easy to moderate trek can be covered in 5 nights and 6 days .
  2. Rupin – Supin Trek – This existing trek can be from both Uttaranchal and also from Himachal . Trek can be originated from Uttranchal from Netwar Uttranchal and cross over to Himachal .  This is a moderate trek which elevates to 15000 FT into Dhauldhar Range.  This Trek can be done during Summer and Winter. During Winter proper snow gears are required .
  3. Kedar Kantha Juda Talb Trek – This is one of the wonderful  family trek and an appropriate  for the beginners who wants to have their initiation in the vivacious world of  trekking and mountaineering . Complete trekking and camping can done in 2 nights 3 days . The Summit height of Kedar Kantha is 11000 FT .  This trek can be enjoyed both during Winter and Summer.

 

Who Says  Mountaineers & Trekkers conquer mountain they only Conquer themselves .  Sir Edmond Hilary .

And I Love Conquering self time and again .

Himalayas – I Love .

Souvik Mukherjee

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Magh Festival at Jaunsar
Jaunsari Magh Festival
Jaunsari Celebrating Deepawali .

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