photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 15)








Chansu village, Sangla, Baspa valley, Kinnaur


December 1996



Section 1
What was Sangla Valley called [before]?
Sangla Valley was called Tukp. It was also known as Teesh Kunang which meant one fort for seven villages since teesh meant seven and kunang meant fort. The seven villages are Jaata, Shong, Chansu, Kamru, Sangla, Badseri, Rakcham, Chitkul. These seven villages have a fort, which is located in Kamru. That's why this valley is named Teesh Kunarg.

Do you believe that gods and goddesses are atmas (souls of dead people)?
Of course they are atmas. While the Kurukshetra war of the Mahabharat was going on, these gods and goddesses (who were humans earlier) left their physical body and went to witness their war. The battle continued for 12 years. When they returned after 12 years, their bodies had perished. Then all the souls went to Lord Krishna and told him that they wanted their bodies back since their bodies had died. Lord Krishna told them that he could not do that and suggested that all of them should go to Uttarakhand where they would be worshipped by the innocent people and their idols would be made. So all of them selected separate places to dwell in and people started worshipping them and made chariots for them also. [It is traditional for the statues to be taken in procession on chariots].
I believe that these gods and goddesses can't be reborn till the great day of total destruction (pralaya in Sanskrit). The gods and goddesses feel that their life is worse than the life of human beings. Men can do good deeds and die and are reborn in good places, but the gods can't do that and have to dance according to men's desire. People had great regard for them and they were worshipped with lot of gusto, but nowadays they have been reduced to mere toys or playthings for everyone.

Do you feel that the gods and goddesses are made to dance just like that?
They give a slight signal and then people make them dance on their own.

But the people who lift their chariots do not even tilt their necks a little?
There is a lot of acting on their part and less of the divine force!

What was Kinnaur district known as earlier and how did it get that name?
Earlier Kinnaur was called Masu. If people said that they were from Kinnaur nobody would recognise them, but if they said that they belonged to Masu, everybody knew them. The name "Kinnaur" has come from Mount Kailash, and now it's known as "Kinnaur".
Section 2
Which was the first family to have settled in village Chansu? Who was the landlord?
The Saryan family was the first to settle down here. They were the first Rajput landlords. Then came the Piu family. The Saryans came from village Saryan in Kullu. That's why they were popularly called Saryans. They came in the year 1607. This was even earlier than the coming of the gods and goddesses. My grandfather was alive when these deities came in the form of a bird. It so happened that one day as a farmer was ploughing his field, a bird came and sat on his plough. The peasant picked it up but he felt that there was fire coming out of the bird. So he threw it, far away. Because of that, the [top knot] of the bird broke. Soon afterwards, I found an idol [in which the top-knot was also broken] I picked it up and brought it home. Even today you can see that the top knot on the crown of the idol is broken (meaning the deity came in the form of the bird). Since then, the deity Chakes Narayan settled down in Chansu. Slowly, a number of landlords came and were given jobs by my grandfather. Some were employed at home, were married there and helped to settle down. Thus an entire village came into being and was called Chansu.

What is the normal age for marriage and how is it performed?
[As I asked this question my maternal grandmother entered and told me that, earlier, people were forced to get married. The parents discussed everything between themselves and forced the boy and the girl to marry. The girl did not even realise what was going on. She was usually barely 12 and had never seen the soon-to-be husband. Parents used to push the girls out, and the boys people forcibly took the girls away.]

Grandfather, how did you get married?
I also forcibly kidnapped my wife. Then my parents went to her house to discuss the matter and then the marriage took place.

[Narrator’s wife now answers]
I had no idea where I was being taken. In those days I wore just the woollen kurta (loose-fitting collarless shirt), not even salwar (loose trousers), as I was very young. I was 12 and Nana (grandfather – ie her husband) was 14. But nowadays lots of changes have taken place. Earlier, only four or five goats were slaughtered for the wedding but now it's not less than 26-27 goats per wedding. Now, we have to give many dresses and a large dowry. Earlier, garlands of walnut kernel and the kernels of wild apricot were made and worn by girls - they still are. Just 25 or 50 paise or Rs.5 were given as udyanang (token) for marriage. But now it is not less than 400 or 500 rupees.
One of my friends, Kamla Devi, refused to get married. Her father threw her out of the window. The person who was to get married to her forcibly dragged her away. The elders used to be very bad during my days. The girls used to escape during the night and come home from the in-laws' place but were sent back, forcibly, to their in-laws.
Section 3
Who kept the money, the men or the women?
Mainly the men. The women had only the little money that they earned themselves.

What was the currency like?
During the times of my grandfather there were silver, gold and copper coins. They were called Victoria. During my time there were rupees and silver coins.

Did the road exist earlier?
No, there was a foot track going through Shong, Bua and Kilwa.

How did you go to Rampur (a trading centre)?
We went there on foot. We carried our bedding and rations on our back and crossed Shong, went down to Kilwa, climbed up to Nichar, reached Sarahan and then on to Rampur. This total journey to Rampur took five to six days.

Was salt a major item of trade? From where did you get salt, and how?
We got salt from Tibet, we carried the produce from our land on goats and while returning loaded salt on goats. This has been going on from the times of our ancestors. We brought salt during summers and sold it during winters. This was done only by landlords. The poor worked in landlords' fields and were given salt by them.

Did the Harijans (lower caste) arrive after you?
Yes, they arrived later on. They were given land by the Rajputs. People believed in untouchability. The Harijans had to cover their mouth with their hand while talking so that their breath did not reach the Rajputs. They were not allowed to enter the temples or go to the house of a Rajput. They could talk only from the courtyard down below. Today it is not so. They can go to temples, visit Rajputs, organise fairs, can dance also.

What was the living conditions like while you were small?
It was very poor. We boiled chuli (apricot) and vaimi (?) and drank it. We made chilta (dumplings) from fafra (buckwheat) and vegetable out of dried turnip leaves. We had just heard the names of wheat, rice, maize. These were purchased from Rampur but reserved for kanungos (revenue official ranked higher than a patwari) and patwari (revenue officials). We used to have chuli and walnut oil. Now nobody collects walnut or chuli but in our day we used to make five to six [kg?] this of oil.

How was the oil made?
The walnut was broken, the kernel taken out, and put in ukhal (stone vessel for pounding). After being pounded in the ukhal it was taken out and oil was fully extracted. The poor had nothing to eat so the rich landlords gave them thukpa (soup) of chuli and vaimi, - made after boiling the skins of both these - and gave some chilta of fafra. So the poor cracked the walnuts for the landlords.
Section 4
What was the local dress like, and what was it made of?
The dress was woollen. The men wore chuwa (shirt) and sutan (woollen pyjama). After wearing chuwa-sutan they tied a woollen rope round the waist and wore woollen shoes and woollen cap. The poor remained barefoot. The pyjamas had patterns and designs but these were specially worn for fairs. Otherwise they used to be simple but the shape of these pyjamas was the same. These were stitched by tailors with a needle and the woollen shirts were made of very fine thread.

What fairs were popularised by your ancestors to pass time?
They took part in many fairs and festivals. The festival of Fagul is celebrated in January and February, Chaitrol of the Chansu village in March and April. All the residents of Tukpa valley are invited for this fair. The famous festival of the Sangla Valley, celebrated in December, is called Diwali (festival of light). In Batseri the famous fair Utren is celebrated at the end of January. People of other villages are invited for these fairs. People drink the whole night, perform nati (dramas), dance and sing. Puris (type of fried bread) are made and so are other culinary delicacies prepared.

How is the famous festival Chaitrol of Chansu celebrated?
Houses are plastered and patterns of all kinds painted, like sheep, goat, cow, food, grains, crops. Earlier they did not get lime for painting, so a white stone was heated and used for painting. An earthen pot was taken, a bread of fafra was kept on it, and on that the jogari (a symbolic deity) was fixed. It was taken round the house and thrown away from the house as shown in the figure. After that, everyone went to the temple and God's chariot was taken out. Then they drank and danced. The pot was not available beyond (on this side of Rampur). So people had to get it from Rampur. That day even Kinnar Kailash was worshipped, people were really happy and all the essential items for the lord were taken out. The deity of Chansu came from Sangla Valley’s village Shong. Even now there is a stone idol in Shong where a women is holding her baby in her lap. So the people of Chansu believe that the deity’s mother is in Shong and the deity comes every year to meet his mother. Everybody can't visit that place. Only people accompanying the deity can go there. When the deity goes there the residents of Chansu give them (the people who go along) pakwan (different kinds of food) made of butter and ogla (variety of buckwheat).

What was your grandfather's health like?
He was in very good health. He was well built, strong and was about 120 years when he died. Till [he was] 100 he could eat modi (roasted wheat), so strong were his teeth. He had sharp eyes. Those days everybody was very healthy.

Did anyone fall sick?
No, except for a slight fever, which was treated by the juice of chuli skin. This took care of colds and fevers. There were no [modern] medicines in those days. There was only one vaid (practitioner of indigenous medicine) who made herbal and root medicines. He lived in the village of Kilw
Section 5
Do you prefer the modern or the old food?
Food in the old days was better since it was pure. They had pure oil and food grains. Nobody fell sick. The food grains that came from the lower area brought diseases that did not exist earlier. Today's food has taste, but no food (nutritional) value. Even today if you eat just one chilta of fafra you'll not feel hungry for hours, but you feel hungry soon after having rice.

Was the birth of a girl considered a burden?
No, both boys and girls were treated as equals. People had very few children. If more were born sacrifices were made and deities were invoked not to give them more children. This really helped them. Girls were respected and treated well. She was the “Lakshmi” (Hindu goddess of wealth), owner of the house. Those who had more daughters were considered very rich since all the work depended on them. Men only cut wood and ploughed the field. Everything else was done by women. So they were greatly respected and married with a lot of pomp and show. But the tables have turned now.

Nobody took ill, you say but if one did, what was the solution?
In that case we asked the deity if some spirit had possessed the sick person and then the spirit was taken out, which relieved the sick person. People had faith in gods and goddesses and were dependent on them. Earlier, they had too much power but it's diminishing now. Bone fracture cases were cured by locals.

What happened to seriously ill patients?
In case there were any, if at all, there was a vaid in Moorang village who gave herbal medicines, which were very strong. He was called Amzi.

Do you have faith in herbs?
Yes, quite a lot, and not in the other medicines. These give only temporary relief whereas herbs are a permanent cure.

What was the condition of the forest in your days?
The Chansu forest was very dense. The sun's rays could not penetrate the trees. From Jadak to the village, an area of 3-4 km, was completely covered with forest, where many wild animals like bear, kasturi (musk deer) and a variety of wild birds were found. They used to come to the village to drink water in winter, and dogs hunted them. My dog once killed a kasturi. Not many people hunted, only those who had a rifle. People had Tepidar rifles or the local ones made by the blacksmith. Gun powder was filled in the barrel, and burnt, causing an explosion. That's how they hunted. They got gunpowder from Rampur.

During the British rule did English men come here?
Very often. We had to arrange ghee (clarified butter) and milk for them and fodder for their mules. The king of Rampur used to convey a message to us. If we failed to provide for the English, we were beaten up and brought in before the law court. The post (mail) first reached the jaildar (prison functionary), then the numberdar (community head/local revenue officer), who informed the villages that some officers were to come and they had to carry their luggage. Their duties were allocated. The people of Bua carried the luggage up to Shong, the people of Shong up to Chansu and the people of Chansu carried it to Sangl. This is how their luggage was carried. The British tortured the local innocent people. If they wanted to visit Uttarakhand (United Provinces during colonial times) their bedding and luggage had to be carried across the hills [A pass leads over the mountains from Sangla to Garhwar]. Earlier, people were slaves. Now they are happy that the nation is independent and all are free to work as they wish.
There was no theft or dacoity (robbery) of any kind in my times. If anybody stole anything, a sentence of death by hanging was the punishment. The culprit was kept in Rampur jail for one year and then in the fair of Reckong Peo, in front of everybody he was hanged as an example and a deterrent to the others. People did get scared. Now the times are bad, and theft and robbery are very common. People used to go on foot to the fair of Rekong Peo and carry an entire year’s ration for the kanungo and patwari like rice, for instance. During the fair we could buy rice, in Reckong Peo. Otherwise we had to get if from Rampur.
Section 6
Do you feel that most of the birds that you used to see in time are extinct?
Yes- now one can hardly spot them. We could see munal (Himalayan pheasant) as one sees crows. Chakor (partridge) and limya, tyara (other types of birds) – which had feathery tufts and made a “wak-wak” sound – were also found. The forest was very dense. If one went there at night one could see the forest demon Van Manush. I never came across one but I had a small house in the midst of the forest where I lived with my goats and servant on the land. The Van Manush used to come and sit by the fire for warmth. He used to come quietly. He looked like a human but had hair on his body. He came repeatedly for three or four days. One night the servant beat him up with stick. After that he never came back. His body stank. His hair had fallen off in the forest.
When my dadaji (paternal grandfather) was born there was nothing to feed his mother on. So, api (person who washes the clothes of the new-born infants) went to the village to get food for dadaji’s mother. He found soshal (a local food preparation) on a plate near a cave. Api picked up that plate for the mother. Since that day there has never been any scarcity of food in our house. There was in fact so much available that surplus and rotten grains were used as manure in the fields. Some lent grain to others.

In those days did people rear more animals for manure?
Yes, more goats and cattle and buffaloes were kept. The tools for agriculture were simple like kudali (weeding tool), small kudali, and wooden ploughs. Mostly, it was the women who worked in the fields. Farming was incomplete without women.

Why did people preserve the horns of sheep, goats and other animals?
Years ago when there was a famine these horns came in very handy. They were ground and made into coarse powder, boiled, and the juice was drunk. We got food grains from the temples reserve store, but it was usually not enough. So during famines people depended on animal horns.
Section 7
Are modern goats different to the earlier ones?
Earlier, goats were very big, but now they are very small-built. The rich used to slaughter 12 to 13 goats and the poor five to six, and stock them up for the winter. The horns were hung outside and the meat was hung inside the room. It was consumed in winters. The goats used to have layers of fat. This was a result of the rich fodder available in those days. Earlier the fodder was very different from what is available now. It had much more nourishment. But, as human food has changed, animal fodder, too, has changed. Earlier both men and animals were very strong. Nowadays both have become weak. Cows that gave four litres of milk now give only one litre though they are of the same breed. It's all due to the quality of grass.

How was the goat fat used?
It was used for seasoning vegetables and other food items. Sometimes it was used in chakpa also. Chakpa was made from what is called rong, the local rice, which looked like mustard seeds. This was good for treating small rashes, boils or pimples on the body.

What were the major staple crops?
The main crops of Chansu were ogla, fafra, vathu (?), dankhar (?), chaulai (variety of amaranth), yaur (?), local matar (peas), masoor (variety of lentil) etc.

How did people educate themselves in those days?
People were educated at home only. Those who came back after getting a formal education used to teach the others at home. The medium of instruction was the Tankre language. Hindi came much later. People used to write on a takhti (wooden slate). First oil was applied to the takhti, then ash was smeared over it. After that we used to write with a kala (pen made of wood). In those days gajali (chalk) was not available.
In the Sangla Valley the person responsible for the spread of education was Shree Ranga Ramanushji who came from outside as a sage. He collected all the deities in Sangla and performed a yagya (sacred fire ritual). Everyone used to go to him for learning. It was only because of that sage that the government opened schools, first in Kilwa and then Sangla.

Then, how did people count?
Some did it in the Tankre language or in their own language. Some people did their calculation with the help of a string of 100 beads, called a koli. In the local language 1 was id, 2- neesh, 3- shum, 4- p, 5- dayan, 6- juk, 7- jeesh, 8- rai, 9- gui, 10- sai.
Section 8
For irrigation did people depend on rain, or did they use kuhls (narrow irrigation channels)?
Yes, we depended upon the rain as it used to rain a lot those days. Nobody used the kuhls. The jungle was dense, which caused lot of rain. Since people had a lot of faith in gods and goddesses they always turned to them and invoked them for rainfall. They were very helpful. When they prayed for rain they also promised the deities to obey them and do their work. Sometimes it rained and sometimes it did not.
Earlier, people mainly ate boiled potato. Turnip leaves were dried to be used as a vegetable in winters. The poor used potato mixed with fafra leaves as food. People ate only potato from morning till night. The poor remained poor and the rich became richer. Every body was free; there was no chief. The poor worked in the fields of the landlord and in return they got their two square meals. The landlord was considered to be the chief.

How old is the slate mine here?
It did not exist earlier. The people of Chansu made it later, but it was meant only for personal use, not for sale. Later on it became a business. The people used thick slate tiles on the roofs of their houses.

What was the women's dress like?
The women of Chansu wore a woollen dori (apron-like garment) and choli (blouse) of green, blue or red colour. This has always been the dress that was worn for the fair. The green choli was not commonly found but the red and blue were worn frequently. They wore a woven woollen shawl covered with a design. For the design the colours (dyes) always came from outside. People from outside used to bring colour during the Lavi fair. All this work was done by Harijans. Earlier the dori had no patterns and was called chologa (plain piece of cloth). It only had lines, say one of green colour, then of blue, then black, and so on. The dori [dori also means lines] with design came later on.

How was life in the winter?
The snowfall used to be 12 feet, which covered the single-storey houses up to the roof. People used to clear the way for getting wood. Then sitting by the fire, people cracked the stones of chuli and vaimi and walnut. They spun wool all day long the entire day. They gave water and grass to the cattle. There was so much to do indoors during the winter that we were kept very busy.
Earlier the women used to go to each other’s houses and work, mainly spinning wool during winters. But now this custom is more or less finished. They also worked collectively in the fields.

What was the arrangement for light?
There was no electricity. But the jogari (flaming torch made of pine) was used, which was available in the jungle, and is still available here. Its smoke made everybody black!
The chulha (stove) used to be different as drawn here. On all four sides it had stones and in the centre it was made of iron. While working the centre is lit. If used only for warmth, then the centre could be lifted out.
Section 9
What did you use for bathing and washing clothes?
There was no soap available. People used cow's urine for bathing and washing their faces. Clothes were washed with ash. Clothes were put in a vessel and boiled with ash. But a variety of soaps and [soap powders like] "surf" are available now. Things have changed.

Is untouchability very old?
Yes, it has always been there. The "untouchables" could not enter a temple. While talking to a Rajput, the lower castes covered their mouths with the hand. The Rajputs used to be standing on the upper floor and the untouchables on the ground floor while talking. The upper castes encouraged untouchability. But now it has all changed. The Harijans can go to the temple, dance and sing freely.

Did the dowry system exist earlier?
No, nobody gave or demanded dowry. Parents gave willingly what they wanted to, like a vessel or so. The in-laws felt contented with that. But it is not so now.

What type of bedding was commonly used?
In our times we had a rug of goat’s wool for spreading under us and a blanket of sheep wool [on top]. We had to make do with only that. Now they have heavy quilts - quite comfortable.

When China attacked [India] in 1962 did their soldiers reach here?
We did get the news of the invasion, but their soldiers did not come here. But I know a story of British times. During the British regime when Englishmen came here to attack us, the women were working in the fields and cutting grass with their sickles. When they saw the British they ran, leaving the sickles behind. When the English invaders saw this weapon, they were wonder-struck and said [it's now a Kinnauri saying] that this weapon must have got twisted because of the cold but how did the wood get fixed? They also wondered that if the women had such a deadly weapon, then the men must be having something even more dangerous. They turned back from there only!

Is there any event in your life, which you can't forget?
Yes. One day I saw that my stock of food grains had finished completely. I lived on potatoes for a full 8 days. There was no dearth of butter though. I took a ball of butter and went to Kamru and offered it to the god there and brought some food grains for his family.

How many orchards do you have?
I have four sons. I have given my three sons an orchard each, and the fourth is with me and my youngest son. Each of us gets an income of one lakh (a hundred thousand) every year.
Section 10
Who started apple orchards in Chansu?
First of all Bhagat Ramji and Thakur Singhji planted apples, and later on the government gave us saplings. Gradually everybody started planting them. When I planted my apples I was 40 years old.

How did you get flour?
We had a gharat (mill) in our village, which worked on water. It was also called panghat. We did not have to go very far to grind our flour.

How many tourists visit Chansu now? How do you feel about tourism?
Their coming has not upset anybody. They come for pleasure and the locals also feel pleased to see them. They are not doing anything wrong. They spend their own money and go away. This has not bothered anybody.

Has the construction of the road been good for Chansu?
Yes, the road has made things simpler. We get everything so quickly. It's nice for us to go to other places. Earlier we used to walk up to Simla and then catch a train. Only the rich could go on a pilgrimage. Everybody had to walk up to Simla, which is about 250 km. All the rations, bedding, clothes etc, had to be carried by us. Up to Rampur there was no road. Now everything has changed.

You said that the forest of Chansu was very dense. How has it been destroyed?
It was destroyed for the construction of the road, for construction of houses, by people who came with cutting machines. They cut the trees ruthlessly for making packing cases for apples. Some people made brisk business of the deodar (Himalayan cedar) wood. This is how the beautiful forest got destroyed. The coming of the road has been partly good and partly bad for us. In spite of all the development there is no road in Chansu, because the government is not giving adequate compensation to the farmers whose land is being used for road construction.
Till today people carry rations on their back. The climb up to Chansu is about 4 to 5 km. It is a very difficult climb, particularly in the old days. The people of Chansu used to carry a 50kg, bag of rice on their back while climbing as there were no mules earlier. Mules came later on, brought by the people who came to buy slate. Those who do not have mules have to perform the task of mules themselves. The only source of income for the people of Chansu is the slate mines. This is bringing prosperity to this place.

Has the government carried out any sound plans to benefit Chansu?
Yes. The government has brought electricity, opened schools, hospitals. The government is looking after us in every way. We have a Middle School, we have had electricity for 8-10 years. Now even telephone lines have come. Earlier we had to walk if any message had to be conveyed. Older people had the stamina to walk, and they never stopped on the way. They would keep on walking and never felt tired.
Section 11
When did Buddhism spread to Sangla?
It has always been there but become more popular after the Dalai Lama's arrival [in India]. People have collected [engraved] stones at many places, even on the roads, which proves that people follow Lord Buddha. These are the stone engravings commissioned by landlords. In Chansu the Buddha temple was built my father’s father. It is now open for all villages.

What could be the reason for cutting of big mountains and glaciers?
Earlier, there were no landsides or glaciers. It's all due to the road construction. The construction of the dam is disastrous for Sangla valley because if it ever breaks then the entire area would be washed away. I like my own place; my own land and I do not want to go anywhere close from here.

Can you tell us if human excreta was used as manure?
Yes, in Kinnaur it was used as manure and also in Chansu village. We used to dig a deep pit where everybody went to relieve themselves. Poplar leaves were put over that later on it (the manure) was taken out dried and sprinkled over the fields. This was the best manure for increasing grain production. Chemical fertilisers are destroying the soil here. The local manure is much better. Chemical fertilisers increase production for two to three years but later on nothing grows. Apples are becoming hollow from the inside. But wherever local manure is used apples are good.

Interviewer’s note: Milling is of two types. In summers wheat is ground in panghat or gharat but in winters when the water is frozen, it is done at home on this grinding wheel, etc. A small wooden handle is rotated by hand while grains are put into the hole in the centre of the flat stone wheel. Flour comes out from between the two flat grinding stones. People mostly ate modi in winters; modi is made of roasted wheat. The stone of chuli and vaimi and walnut kernel used to be mixed into that. Roti of chuli skin was made and eaten for 2-3 years. It was very tasty and nourishing.