photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 20)








Harsil and Dunda villages, Bhagirathi valley, Utta


December 1996



Section 1
What is your name?

What is your husband's name?
My husband died a long time ago.

How is this elderly man with you related to you?
He is my jeth (elder brother-in-law).

How many children do you have?
I have four children. The eldest son looks after the goats. The second one does not do anything. He looks after the fields.

What kind of fields do you have?
We have an apple orchard. That is our only crop in Harsil.

What are you people doing here these days?
We are working with wool such as carding, spinning, weaving, and all other work connected with wool. Other groups of our people do the weaving. We spin the wool and give it to them.

Are the people who weave from a different place?
No, they are known as Jaad, but their caste is Kohli. People who belong to this caste generally weave the yarn.

It means that you also have different castes. What are they?
We are Kshatriya, called Jaad. Kohli are also known as Khampa. We can eat with them but we cannot marry in that caste.

Are you natives of Harsil?
Our paternal grandfather must have been the first to come here. We (our generation) belong to this place. There are two places, Melang and Jadug, higher up. [Near the Indo-China border]. We came to Vagori (in Harsil) from there. When we were at Vagori, an army unit set up camp there. They shifted us here. We take our goats and go there but we have to take prior permission of the army. We cannot go without their permission.
Section 2
You must have your houses there?
Yes, there are houses there. I have seen them. Some are wooden houses and some are of mud, stone and wood. The wood is scarce there. There are grass meadows.

Do you remember your days there?
It is very nice there. Our land is there. One doesn’t have to go far to graze the cattle. Food over there was very nice. There was plenty of milk and buttermilk. In Vagori there is not much land, therefore, there is a shortage of milk and buttermilk. People keep fewer cattle. Milk used to flow like rivers there. There is plenty of grass and it is easy to feed animals.

Did you spin and weave wool there?
We used to buy wool from Bhotiya (tribal group who are weavers of Tibetan origin) and Tibetans. We had a business there where we used to buy wool and salt and gave them khumani (apricot). They used to buy fafra (buckwheat), uva (variety of barley) and jau (barley) from us. These used to be the crops there. We use fafra to make poli (traditional bread).

You must be growing a potato crop as well, along with the apples. How much do you get?
Last year the produce was good. We let out the trees on a contract basis. Last year we earned Rs 13,000. This year we did not get anything because the crop failed. The apples had marks on them. The potatoes are not worth selling. They are only for own use. We got only one bag of potatoes. We do not have any fields.

You must be having some rich people among you?
No one is very rich. Some people asked the local people for land in the middle of the forest. So they get ten sacks full of potatoes. In Vagori there are rivers on both sides and only sand. Therefore it is not possible to cultivate anything there.

What is your village temple?
It is the temple of Lord Buddha.

I have seen bowls full of water placed on all four sides inside. What is the significance of the bowls? Some lamps were also burning.
Seven bowls full of water are kept there by each household, not less than that.

Why? Why not less than that?
No, in our temple we keep seven bowls. This is our ancient custom. Every day in the morning fresh water is filled and thrown away in the evening. The priest does this work in the temple. He burns the lamps everywhere. We fill the water bowls in the mornings and evenings in our houses and light lamps. This is our tradition of prayer. We also believe in Devi (goddess).

Who is your goddess?
Her name is Ringali. And there is a temple dedicated to Renuka Devi in Dunda.
Section 3
Where did the goddess Ringali come from?
She came from Pithoragarh. Someone must have had a quarrel and offered ghat (a prayer to a deity to punish one's enemy) to this goddess, and she must have come here with that person.

Do you believe in ghat?
We have not done it but they have. Yes there is ghat.

Do you believe in the pandavas (the five warrior princes of the Mahabharata)?
Yes we believe in them. During the month of October, for three days, when navratras (nine nights preceding Dussehra festival) begin, all the villagers gather together and dance. The Jhumaria (caste of musicians) come from Garali and make others dance to the beat of their drums. All the men and women dance. There are only a few people whom the pandavas possess.

Who were the pandavas? What are their names?
Bhimsen, Arjuna, Nakul, Sahdev, Yudhishthir, Draupadi.

Are you literate?

Was there a school in your time?

Do you feel like studying now?
No, how can we study now? We have grown old.

If someone comes to teach you, will you study?
Our eyes have become so weak. How can we study now?

You must have daughters. Do they study?
Yes I have two daughters. The elder daughter has been to school. She has become a baudh (Buddhist nun).

When did she become a nun?
Last year in April a lama (Buddhist priest) came from Himachal Pradesh and stayed here for two or three months. He comes every three or four years and stays for some months and then returns. He comes during winters. He did not make my daughter a novice (take orders) forcefully. It was my daughter's own wish. How can one be forced into it?

What was the ceremony like? You must have seen it. Please tell me.
The priest read a book and made her also read it. That was all. Then she became a nun. Now she wears red clothes.

How did you feel when she became a nun?
My daughter had very long hair and it was all cut off. I felt very bad and cried for the four months of Chaturmas (the four months during the rainy season).
Section 4
Didn’t you stop her from becoming a nun?
I tried to stop her but she would not listen. She said “Mother, I have a strong desire to become a Buddhist”.

Where is she these days?
These days she is in Bihar.

Are there any other girls in your village who have become nuns?
Yes, there are two other girls who became nuns before her. Their names are Lappa and Dana. My daughter's name is Sukardei.

What is the meaning of this name?
She was born on a Shukravar (Friday) so we named her Sukardei. This is what it means. We are uneducated- we know only this meaning.

In which class is your younger daughter studying?
She does not want to study - she doesn’t like it. We tried a lot to make her study but she didn’t. What can be done when she doesn’t want to study?

Does your elder daughter come home sometimes?
Yes, she comes. She came in September and stayed for three months. Lappa and Dana also came home.

Can we meet them when they come?
Yes, yes why not? They meet everyone. You can meet them if you want. Maybe you will also become a nun. My daughter tells me that there are many girls from our country and abroad. She tries to make me understand that I should not cry and that she is not treading on the wrong path. Hindus, English people, and many people from other religions respect Lord Buddha. "I am not the only nun. You must come and see".

Does the school move up and down with you?
Yes our school moves with us. Shishu Mandir (a particular kind of private school) also moves up and down with us. My granddaughter is in Shishu Mandir.

Where are your cattle these days?
They are in Kotdwar, we call it Kurudwar. My son and our servant are with the cattle. We have two cows. We get the grass from the forest but sometimes buy it.

You come walking or by bus?
When we bring animals we come walking with them. We can come by bus only when we have two or three extra people to bring the herd. The children and daughter-in-law come by bus and we come walking.

You keep walking up and down on this route, so what change have you seen in the forest in all these years?
Where are the forests now? There are fields and houses everywhere. Earlier these were forests everywhere, and very dense forests. Grass was available in abundance and there was no shortage. Now there is not much grass and we have to go far to fetch it.
Section 5
What is the reason for this? Everything is decreasing.
The population is increasing and, naturally, cultivated land is increasing. Wherever there is vacant land, it is under government control. The government has put it under plantation, so we cannot get grass from there. Trees are being cut. Generally the trees are cut during winters but mostly wood is stolen from the forest during this period. A permit is given for some trees in the forest to be cut during summers. Who goes to look into the forest in winter? Everyone does their farming in summer. And during padiyali (a specific time for mutual aid and collective work among village groups) no one has enough time to go to the forest.

Do you spin wool during padiyali?
Yes, during padiyali we spin wool. There are around ten to eleven spinning wheels running together and this is how everyone's wool is spun.

Do you sing songs while spinning wool?
Yes we sing songs while spinning wool.

You must know some songs. Will you sing for me?
I do not know any.

What festivals do you celebrate?
We celebrate a festival during the month of Falgun (February/March), which is called Lassar. Before this we celebrate Diwali (festival of light).

How do you celebrate it?
In the mornings we go to the river Ganga and bring the Ganga jal (holy water of the river Ganga). We make as many bunches [of flowers?] as there are boys in the house and one in the name of God. All the people gather together and put ash and urad (a variety of pulse) in the pan. We also put in chilli. All this is burnt together and then thrown towards the river. The whole village then goes together beating the drums, towards the riverside and brings small stones along with them. Then they give one stone to each house and wish that the house may be full of gold and silver. This is how the first day of the festival is celebrated. On the second day, we go to worship the Ganga in the morning. We take flowers, incense and two puris (type of fried bread), worship the Ganga and make offerings. We bring water from the Ganga with us, knead the flour with this water, make a small temple out of this dough and keep a puri next to it. We believe that it is kept in the name of Lord Buddha. This temple is also of Lord Buddha. After this we cook the food and give it to the [married] girls who have come to their parent's house. We call them dhiyani (worshippers). We eat after them. We make special food for them.

What special things do you prepare?
Meat, curd, vegetables, puris, etc and chang (home made wine) is offered to the men. On the third day we hoist a flag. Everybody wears new clothes. The flag is hoisted in the astrological sign of the person in whose horoscope the name is written. There are five colours of the zodiac, red, yellow, white, blue and **** [unclear recording]. If water shows in the horoscope, a blue flag is hoisted, if fire, a red flag is hoisted. For earth the colour yellow is offered, and for air dark blue is offered, also white.
Section 6
How do you hoist the flag?
Depending on the colour which is drawn, on the cloth of the same colour an imprint of Lord Buddha is made and it is tied at the top of a bamboo and hoisted. Small stripes of colours of the remaining zodiac colours are also tied.

What is the significance of hoisting a flag? What happens on hoisting a flag?
We believe that the person whose work is stopped, starts again as the wind flows. His star configuration starts working again. He begins to get successful in his work. This is the significance of Lassar festival.

Do you have any other festival?
During September Lord Yasanga comes and dances. He belongs to Himachal Pradesh. This god dances to the beat of a drum. A man dances and we believe that the god has entered into him. The man pierces two, three needles through his cheeks. He carries a brass pot in his hand and dances. This pot is the symbol of the god. All the people of the village make a line behind him and dance. They also hold hands and dance.

Where did this God come from?
We have people who have come and settled here from Himachal. This god has come with these people. When they dance, the villagers also dance with them. That is why we do not understand their songs but we do participate in them.

There are certain ceremonies on the birth of a child. How do you celebrate it?
We celebrate the birth of a boy in the third year, at five years or in the first year. During the celebration of the child's birth, we spend money in the same way as for a marriage. All the villagers are invited for food, the relatives are also invited. The child is made to wear a cap and everyone puts money inside it. The relatives give a lot of money. Villagers also give five to ten rupees and wish for prosperity, saying “may the child be rich.” The child gets around two and a half to three thousand rupees that day. chang is offered to all and a big goat is sacrificed. I sacrificed a goat in celebration of the birth of my son. My grandson's name is Dharmendra, his mother's name is Kalyani. My daughter-in-law's name is Kailashi and my younger daughter-in-law's name is Udgin. The child's hair is shaved in the third year. At that time sweets are distributed.

What is the death ceremony like?
On the seventh day we invite the whole village for food, on the fourth day children are given food, then again on the forty ninth day we give food. A whole year later, the village is invited for food. We call it varsuga. The poor call others for food only after seven days.
Section 7
What is the symbol of widowhood?
All the ornaments are discarded that day.

What are the names of the ornaments?
In the ears we wear alang and murki and churu on the neck. It has special beads. [These beads are orange, black, coral and gold] It is very precious. I have got it from Duvasur which is in Himachal. One tola (10gms) of coral costs four to six thousand and gold is weighed and priced separately. It looks very charming when worn.

How many years have passed since it was made?
This necklace is as old as I am. My parents gave it to me.

Tell me about wool. Do you purchase things concerned with wool or do you make them yourself?
We purchase everything.

Do you use indigenous medicines?
Yes, we do. Attis (aconite) is given during a cold. I do not know how to use kadwi (a bitter root).

Do you believe that women cause impurity in the temple?
Yes, we do not go to the temple or worship during periods.

Do you prefer a joint family or a nuclear family?
Now everyone has started living separately. No one wants to live jointly.

Do you have a good rapport with the new generation? Do you share the same views?
No we don't. Young boys do not listen at all. My daughter-in-law also lives separately. A joint family is good. Today if I want to go to my daughter's place for a few days, I cannot go. I have grown old, yet I have to take care of him (her husband). I cannot leave him. I should have become free at this age yet I am bound.

Are modern times better or was it better in the old days?
The old days were better. We ate to our satisfaction, though we had fewer clothes. We used to get only two pairs of shirts in a year. Earlier there used to be less cash so we couldn’t buy so many clothes. Now we have money, so we can buy clothes. People change their clothes everyday.

Where does your income come from? From wool?
We do not earn much from wool. We earn very little from weaving, and on top of it the koli (weaver) keeps back some wool. For weaving a three feet patheda (a long woollen belt) we get Rs 9, Rs 90 for a whole patheda, for a pankhi (woollen shawl) we get Rs40. Similarly, for a big blanket we get above Rs 100, Rs 200 or up to Rs 300.
Our people used to keep goats for carrying goods. They used these goats for business. When the pandits (priests) from Ramoli used to come here to gather paddy and other grains, our people used to carry the grains up to Ramoli. They used to give us our share of labour. This was also a source of our income. Since there were no roads then, the goats were the means of transporting goods.
Section 8
Earlier tourists used to walk up to the Gangotri temple. Now a road has been constructed. Has this affected your life or the environment around?
The road has been beneficial in many ways. Earlier old people with poor eyesight used to fall from the mountains and die. Many tourists used to sit on horses or litters. It used to be difficult. Now they reach there straight away.

What bad effects did it have on your environment?
Now we fear theft, as thieves have started breaking open our doors. Earlier it never used to happen, we had no fears. We never felt scared in the forest also, but now we do feel so. We go straight from the road. This fear is due to the road. But it has brought a lot of comfort for the tourists. A lot of thefts have taken place here.

When you used to come here before, were there any concrete houses here?
No. Earlier we used to have grass-thatched huts. We used to burn the grass and keep the wood safely in some place. Now we have made concrete houses here because this is our lowest base from where we go down. This has become our permanent home.

Is there any special incident in your life that you remember?
I remember the earthquake of 1991, though our houses did not collapse. Our houses are made of wood on top. The houses, which have plastered walls, broke down, but there was no disaster. We had reached Dunda village by then. Here also there was no misfortune but the earthquake was severe. Once a flood had come in which the houses of some people were drowned. This flood came in the river near Vagori.

In your time the king used to be the ruler. What was his regime like?
The king used to go on a tour of his state. I never saw the king but I saw his convoy. Whenever the king passed a particular area, the people there used to carry his goods on their back. He never paid them, because he was the king. Those days were not good, the modern age is better. Everyone is independent. Now no one is subordinate to anyone.

If you could go up again to your original village, would you like to go?
Yes, we would all like to return immediately. We remember the lush green fields there.

Do you have a Mahila Mangal Dal (rural women’s council)?
We had. But now its supervisor is no more. Her name was Chander. Then it was my daughter, but she became a nun. Now there is no one. Now our village head is a woman, Kamala Devi. She is illiterate. What is the point of making an uneducated person a village head? What can she do? She will not even be able to speak in front of others. Now we shall make a Mahila Mangal Dal.
Section 9
What was the weather like before? Do you think it has changed?
Earlier it used to snow in December, in Dunda as well as at Harsil. But this year in December the rains have not even started in Harsil, and the weather has gone bad in Dunda. When we sow the seeds, it does not rain. This year it rained so heavily during the rainy season, all the potatoes became rotten, the wool also got wet. The timing has gone wrong. It rains at the time of harvest, which causes great loss.

You have a lot of wine in Harsil and Vagori. Do you make it?
Some people make it, not everybody. Those who drink come from far, generally people have liquor. Poor people make liquor and earn money. One bottle sells for Rs15- 20. In the evening all the drunkards gather.

Do you think that such an environment is right for the children?
No. It is bad for the children. We tried to stop it but no one listens.

What is the name of the language you speak?
It is called the Jaad language.

Can you tell me how a marriage is performed?
In our days the village head and the malguzar (local revenue officer) used to go and bring the girl, the procession never used to go. Even the priest was not taken to the girl's home. People used to gather at the boy's house where the priest offered prayers. The priest used to come from Gangotri. Now marriages take place here as they take place anywhere. The bridegroom and marriage procession goes - they go around the fire seven times - and then the procession comes back.

Which villages do you consider for marriage relationships?
Boys from Thakur and Brahmin families have also married our girls. We have relations in Himachal Pradesh also. We marry people of our own caste as well.