photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary








shop keeper/ farmer


Khumera, Mandakini valley, Chamoli


February 1994



Section 1
Sri Mahesha Singh, how many people are there in your family?
We are 13 in the family: four sons; two daughters-in-laws; two wives; myself; three grandsons; and a daughter.

Is your family originally from this village or did you come here from some other place?
We have come from elsewhere, we came from Malla (Uttarkashi). Our family deity is Kashi Vishwanath and also Goddess Badashakti, we still go for the pilgrimage associated with her.

Do you know how many years or generations ago you came here?
I really don't know. One of our grandfathers was called Saman Singh, another one was called Jaman Singh, then Kushal Singhji, then Guman Singhji, etc. Ten generations must have past by now. We, Rawats were nine families and our house was at another place in the village and you can still see the ruins of it there. Our family was quite prosperous then, now we are all quite ordinary.

How does your family support itself?
Well, the primary resource is agriculture. When there was a road for foot travellers, then we had a shop in the lower Byung Chakki. We had a water mill and there were cattle. Our water mill is the oldest. One of my grandfathers was in the armed forces, he would get a pension of Rs 9 in those times.

What are the major financial resources of the family now?
They are still agriculture, cattle rearing and the water mill. One of my sons has a government job and three of them are labourers.

What about education in your family?
I have studied up to class four. I didn't pass class four because I got an attack of kavapitti (an affliction for which part of a crow is used as a cure) during the exams. My sons are educated but not very highly. One of them has passed class twelve, and the others have passed class eight. My daughters are still studying.

What is the history of this village according to you?
There is a rich history. This village was one of the prosperous villages of this area. It was also well known for religious or cultural reasons. Pandav leela (leela = dance drama), Nag leela, Krishna leela and collective yagyas (sacred fire ritual) would be performed here. The organisation of the village was excellent, there was much awareness and the people were prosperous. But now the village is gradually becoming full of unbelievers. There was a time when there was a collective store and kothar (traditional wooden store house for grain, usually carved) here. There is a temple of the Goddess Singhvahini here. The Goddess was very powerful; she would go to the villages afflicted by small-pox, cholera, gaukhur (?) etc and cure the sick. Godddess Bhagvati had the temple but over time it has all been stolen. First the theft of grain started at the store; then oil, ghee (clarified butter), clothes and statues of gold and silver were stolen three times. Now nobody goes to the temple even to light the lamp; the vessels have been stolen. Today there is a complete lack of trust between people in the village, as each person thinks that the other one must have taken it all while the other suspects someone else. It is true that the gold and silver may have been taken by an outsider but the vessels and grain etc must have been pilfered by the villagers. An outsider too can only steal with the collusion of a villager.
There was a forest but it has vanished completely. Whenever somebody became the village chief he did not take any action on illegal fields. The women and the Yuvak Mangal Dal (village youth organisation) had planted trees and built a wall, but powerful people uprooted the trees and broke the wall and turned it into fields and nobody took any action against this. There is no forest left to speak of now. The village leaders did well for themselves with bribes and got the forest dug up. The first chief of this gram sabha (village assembly) was Nanda Singh who put up many applications for turning the land into fields. Then Indra Singh, Molak Ram, Ghanshyam, Atmaram, all these chiefs did not check this practice of making fields; only during the time of Molak Ram was the forest spared. Our village had given 170 nalis of land for a school, but the villagers appropriated it and now only 70 nalis are left. When money was collected for a boundary wall, it was not made because the pradhan (head of panchayat), Ghanshyam, did not agree. He was pressurised by the owners of the fields in the vicinity. This is the situation today. In earlier times the organisation was such that commons would be left for grazing cows, and parts of the forest were restricted. There would be a monthly meeting about the forest and there was no problem regarding the forest. Now the land has been somewhat eroded because of the road and some of it has been destroyed by landslips.
Section 2
What is the system of education in your village and in the area?
Initially in our area there was a primary school at Guptkashi, another at Ukhimath, one at Kunjethi (Kalimath), one at our village Khumera and one in Bhaikhanda which made a total of five schools. Times were such then that the polling station for the entire area was located at Kunjethi. Now every village has a school, our own village has four schools; primary school, high school, balwadi (creche), saraswati shishu mandir (vocational school). In spite of these four educational institutions not a single boy has been able to go beyond high school. The results of the last year and this year are almost nil.

Was the old system of education better or the one at present according to you?
Well, I was happy because now there are means for education, one does not have to travel great distances to study, but there seems to be a lack of mental ability, and good manners have vanished. In the schools, the teachers are not organised in unison; each of them plays his own tune. They have no concern for the future of the students. If there are 50 students in a class, and even 10 are to succeed, the teachers have to be hard working and committed. Now there is much money in the world, and it is being misused to follow fashion and in dressing up.
Section 3
According to you, what should be done to give the right direction to education?
If you ask me, then first of all the fault lies with us that when the child comes back home from school we give him no attention; what did he do at school... little children need attention especially. Did he bring back his clothes and books intact and what tasks has he been assigned for the night? Then, if a teacher is doing a really good job, the officials should know about these teachers, they should be told to encourage good teachers and punish the bad ones. In earlier times, people succeeded with a little education and a lot of hard work. These days people with a good education are just hanging around.

What were the economic resources of the village, which fulfilled the needs of the people?
The economic means were the same... people were engaged in agriculture and lived danda bharda (in a thatched hut in the forest with cattle). They produced ghee and milk and bought and sold cattle, and ghee was also sold. Earlier the sale of milk was less, now it is much more but nobody now works hard on the cattle. Earlier the people engaged in agriculture were self-sufficient. Now there is so much soil erosion. Nobody is really concerned about farming. In the name of agriculture these days land conservation is being done. In that too only measurements are being taken but no work is being done. These days it is only for alcohol and chicken that work gets done. Half the money is given to the Junior Engineer and half of it is distributed among the kashtakars (labourers). Money is being misused like this. People do not look after their fields nor are they involved in any other productive activity.

What are the differences between the earlier methods of agriculture/livestock rearing and the ones followed now?
The old system was better. In livestock rearing, in most families the dairy animals and the sheep and goats were kept together. The sheep would provide wool and people spun their own cloth and needed to buy less from the market. The sheep is such an animal that you can gradually get a herd from one sheep. You can get 16 sheep in four years. Other than this we reared cows, buffaloes and goats and worked hard on their upkeep to get sufficient milk and ghee. Now that there are no cows and oxen and buffaloes, there is no dung to be found. Without any dung how does one grow grain? Now they are bringing chemical fertilisers and that is not being used properly because there is no training in how to use it in the right way. It is being misused. No soil tests are carried out and any fertiliser is put which affects the crop adversely. Earlier there were savings after consumption but bad times are upon us now. If people want to make amends they can still plant ritha (soap nut trees) and save on the cost of soap. If you look at it another way then there have been some improvements also. Now people live more hygienically and diseases are fewer. Medicines are also effective, even though one has to buy them from the market.

What is the panchayat (village council) system of your village?
We had a thriving panchayat system in our area. In each village a panchayati square would be identified and everybody would gather there. Then people would put aside their taklis (spindles) and ringals (canes or cane baskets) and be quiet and one or two panchs (five men who lead the panchayat) would speak while the rest listened attentively. Say, for example, some road needed to be repaired and community effort was required, or a pandava dance (celebration of the five pandavas - warrior Princes of the Mahabharata) had to be organised or a deity worshipped then a decision would be taken in the community panchayat. On any big occasion all the connecting roads of the village would be repaired. Then another panchayat would be held to decide what else was to be done. And whatever was the decision of the panchayat it had to be carried out. Everyone abided by the panchayat's decision. Now there are no panchayats, if ever there is one then each person tries to put pressure to get his own way and there is no decision.
Section 4
What was/is the system of a panchayati bhandar (store) in your village and area?
Now there is no such system, but earlier the panches of the village would appoint one man as the bhandari (storekeeper) for the bhandar of the village. He was given the keys to the store and was given much respect in the village. Along with him was a likhwar (writer) and a mathpati (treasurer). The three of them would look after the organisation of the temple and the village. The written records would be with the likhwar and the grain would be in the care of the bhandari. Very early on, in our times there was a prahari (watchman/village crier) in the village who would cry out the important news such as meetings, etc. Our prahari was Ratnu and each family in the village would give him a nali (approx. a kg) of grain from each crop as his due. He would cry out that today is the panchayat and everybody should come together. No sooner did people hear him that they would gather. These days nobody comes even if they hear this call, and if they do then they will fight.

What were people supposed to give to the bhandar?
People had to give grain at the store and that was called nali patha (1 kg 2kg). They gave wheat, barley and mustard at the rabi (spring) crop and mandua (finger millet), rice, pulses, beans, salt and chilli were collected at the time of the kharif (autumn) crop. One patha of rice, two patha of mandua, one seer (approx. 1 kg) of dal (lentils), one mana (approx. 400g) of chilli, one mana of salt, one nali of oil, one mana of ghee, one patha of wheat - things were collected in such measures at the bhandar. You could then borrow from the store as and when you needed anything and give it back at the time of the crop. You had to return one and a half times of what you took. If somebody took a loan one or two months before the crop ripened it was known as panturu. Grain borrowed in panturu had to be returned as one and a quarter times of the quantity borrowed. If somebody borrowed grain in the month when the crop was to ripen it was known as pauncha. In that you returned as much as you took. Grain from the bhandar of our village went to the entire naujula (administrative area consisting of 18 villages) and also to villages like Ransi and Gondar.
Section 5
The grain from the bhandar of your village would be sent to which villages?
Naujula Bhainkhanda which has 18 villages and towards Kalimath the people of Ransi and Gondar took grain from our village. There are written records of this in our panchayat. The villages of Narayankoti, Kotheda and Nala Gaon did not borrow our grain because they produced enough of their own. There was a similar system for money. The mathpati would lend money and that would increase upon return. So the grain and the village funds would grow. Now things are such that if you give ten rupees to anybody you will not get those ten rupees back or else you will get them minus five rupees. The main objective behind the panchayati bhandar system was to have enough stored for emergencies and famine and increase the funds of the village.

What did the panchayat do in your village?
Yagya, Srimad bhagwat (bhagwat = religious meeting), Daivi bhagwat, Pandav leela, Nag leela, Ubaid, Akhand puja (puja = prayer ritual), Krishna leela and devra (the movement of the Gods for a long journey) were done by the panchayat. All the forest related work was also done by the panchayat. On all these occasions, roads and water springs were repaired by collective labour in the village. The panchayat was there to ensure that the general atmosphere of the village was good and nobody would use bad language, etc. The people who came from outside to take part in these rituals would give nyuj-nali (ritual offering to the gods) and bhent (gifts/offerings of money). They would also do manauti (making a wish before God, which if granted required certain rituals to be performed) and those whose wishes came true would offer a statue of god at the temple.

What was panchayati cooperation (collective work) like in your times?
There was a lot of cooperation. If a panchayati house had to be constructed then there would be a roster of ten families. Ten families - one person from each family - would hew the stone, another ten would cut the wood and ten families would fetch the stone and wood. Similarly the duties of the artisans would be allocated and the carpenter and the stone mason would do their work and the building would be ready. For example, the building of the primary school of our village built collectively was ready in a mere 18 days. This building has a large amount of dairi (wood) and it is still in good shape. The main reason for this was that there are people of different castes in our village and they all contributed to finish the work very fast. As we had good relations with the people of the neighbouring village Tyudi they also helped in the construction as they felt this was very good and auspicious work.
For individuals it was so that if a family was constructing a house then the entire village would come to know that they would have to help them. Somebody would help them to bring stone, somebody would bring the mud...or even wood, in turns. And on the day there was much work such as bringing wood from the forest, bringing padhale (slate), so that all the villagers would finish off this task in one day. That family had to arrange for one meal for the villagers on that day. This was called madad (help) and thus completed through co-operation. These days whether they give help or not people do not ask for help because of a sense of self-importance. There is much self-importance in people these days.
Section 6
Which system do you prefer?
It was an excellent system earlier. There would be so much grain that we never needed to buy any from the market. The bhandar met our needs adequately. If there was a drought then there would be some pressure on the bhandar. I happen to know that when the government first opened ration shops then people would bring things from there only under the cover of darkness so that nobody saw them because they felt ashamed. Grain was available and the villagers also felt that if you are buying for some amount from the market you may as well buy from me. They would say “Bhai (brother) take it, it is your turn today, it may be mine tomorrow.” And everything was available, whether it was milk or ghee, goats or grain. The situation began to deteriorate when... now you think about it... what is the village dependent on? The village depends on the forest. The forest has moisture, when there is moisture there is manure and pathela (dry leaves) and if there is humus (manure) and pathela you can keep cattle and they produce dung, which increases the productivity of the fields. When there is more dung there will be more grain and people will be inspired to work harder.

We talked about the panchayat system in the village. Is/was there any panchayat system for the entire region?
Now there is no system but there used to be one. There are three villages here (Khumera, Tyudi, Banasu) and every year we would have a collective meeting at the centre (near Sidhva Devta) for the three. All the collective work for the three villages would be discussed at this meeting. When the villagers of Tyudi would do a jagar (night-long religious rituals) for the devta (deity), or when our villagers would go for collective worship because our thakur (principal deity), Balaram, resides there then the meeting would take place. If somebody attacked our jointly held forest then we would hold a meeting at the same place. If there was some major task which one village could not manage and which could be completed only through the co-operation of all the villages then we would meet.
Sometimes our meetings were held near Jarav Devta (place where there is/was a shrine to Jarav Devta, a deity who dances on burning embers). The meetings of 14 villages were held there. The meetings concerned with collective planning for 14 villages were held there. Meetings for schools, hospitals and other such work and worship of the Jarav Devta were held, and whatever decisions were taken were successfully carried out. There was a meeting about the school in Guptakashi in which all the people from the area were involved. However, the opening of the Vidyapeeth (Ayurvedic) school was the result if the efforts of Shri Gangadhar Bhaithani but all other major work was accomplished through meetings. We gave contributions for the schools of Agastyamuni, Ukhimath and Guptakashi. So there would be meetings for all the major tasks.
Section 7
Were any special arrangements made for the yatra (journey) of the devta of the village (Devra)?
Yes, the special arrangements of the deity's journey would be that the halting stations of the journey would be decided at the village. A certain number of days would be spent in the neighbouring villages itself - when our devta would go on his yatra then first we would go to Tyudi and then Bansu because these villagers are the devta's villages also. After this we would proceed to the villages of our Brahmins (Devsal, Kothera) and then plan the rest of our journey. Say we had to go to Kedarnaththen, the first stop would be at village Byung and the villagers would provide one meal. Then [we would go] on to Rampur village where also the villagers were supposed to arrange for one meal either now or on the return journey. This they would ensure. Then one day will be spent at Trijuginarayan and then on to Gaurikund. The people of Gaurikund would not arrange for rations. On the last day we would be at Kedarnath. At Trijuginarayan the temple would arrange for rations and the devta stayed at the temple. At Kedarnath, the temple arranges for rations; if we were fasting on that day then the temple provided rations on the following day. Then again, if some halt had been missed then we would stay there on the way back. Similarly, when the devta of some other village will come to our village we will provide for them. So in all the distant pilgrimages; Badrinath, Gangotri, Haridwar, the temples will give rations but in our area we are entirely dependent on the devta. If the devta chooses to show us his power (the wishes of the people are granted) then we get a lot of hospitality or else the panchayat will arrange for the rations.

What was the pradhan or begar (forced labour) system in this area like, as per the orders of the government?
Oh ho! Don’t you even remind me of that. I don't want to talk about it. It was the time of our slavery; begar and slavery were hateful. On the inside, our food and lifestyle were fine but on the outside we were slaves. When the sahib (person of importance) of the British would come or any government official would come to the village then there would be begar. The people of one village would have to carry their luggage to the next village. The villagers of Guptakashi would have to take it to Narayankoti who would bring it to our village and we would take it up to Bhaikhanda. This is how their luggage would move and the same thing would happen on the return journey. We had to arrange for their food and also look after their underlings. We had to get grass for their horses and along with milk and ghee for them we also had to arrange for meat and fowl for them. Each villager had to accompany them to the border of the village.
Then things were such that in the whole of Garhwal only two men were highly regarded. One of them was Shri (Mr) Anusuya Prasad Bahuguna and the other was Barrister Mukundilal. It was therefore said that there were only two men in Garhwal, and it was through their efforts that the system of begar was abolished.

What were the duties of the pradhan in the village?
People held the pradhan in awe in the village. He would settle disputes in the village mostly giving the right counsel and bringing about an agreement. In those times very few disputes of the village reached the courts of law. If somebody refused to listen to the pradhan then he would file a petition then only would the matter go any further. He would also collect the lagan (tax) but since he was from the same village he understood the situation. He also kept records of the births and deaths. The system was all right but it was, after all, slavery.
Section 8
Do you like the present times or those, which have passed?
These are good times; this is the age of freedom. Today, if somebody has money he can do anything at all, even commit a murder. Today you need money even if you seek justice.

What was the attire of the people in this area earlier? What were their food habits?
As far as food is concerned, there was no shortage of milk or ghee, flour and rice were available in plenty. Meat was also available in good measure because in the north there is no taboo on meat eating. However, some religious people or sometimes entire villages would not eat meat and they still do not eat meat. There was no dearth of any kind of foodstuff. Vegetables and fruits were available in plenty in the forest, even those which are not to be found now. You can't even find rai (mustard), methi (fenugreek), palak (spinach) now. You could get kafal (edible red berry) from the forest, now they can't be found. From the forest you could get kafal, hinsar, kilmora (medicinal herb), bedu, timla, chanchra (fodder tree with edible fruits), kali hinsar [also used in medicines], ghingyaru, ted (vine with tuberous roots), bibru, jamun etc (local vegetables and fruits). Jamun is very expensive; the forest where jamun was found was known as Jamanyani. In the Bugyal Rangela, moli, agyali, kyaven and other fruits were available.

What is the situation regarding untouchability in this area?
Untouchability has disappeared now. In those times if anybody touched a Harijan (lower caste) then he would be purified with gaumutra (cow urine) but all this has vanished now. All this was done then because of the behaviour and food habits of the Harijans. Now everybody studies together, we are all equals and we all live hygienically so untouchability has ended. Now because meals are eaten in the same way it is all right. These days high caste people sit and drink alcohol in the homes of Harijans, then where is the justification for untouchability?

What do you feel has been the difference in the condition of women?
The condition of women is good in the present times. It was all right earlier too but if you compare the two then it is better today. Now there is equality and women feel that they are better off today. There used to be a lot of pressure on them earlier. They couldn't wear shoes, if ever they did then they would have to take them off and hold them in their hands as soon as they entered the village. These days daughters-in-law cook in the kitchen wearing their chappals (slippers). Now there is a lot of cleanliness; there used to be a saying earlier, “when is the rice for the daughter-in- law clean and the sky for the shepherd clear?” Now the situation is quite good and women are moving ahead in all spheres.
Section 9
What is/was the system of marriage in this area?
The system of marriage was all wrong earlier, and is it correct today? According to me it was neither right before nor is it correct today. Earlier one had to run after the father of the girl and he would ask if you had any farming land or not. If you had few fields and cattle then he would not give you his daughter. Not a great deal was asked about the boy. Then the girl's father would talk about money because he took money for the girl. If the boy's father tried to get the amount reduced the girl's father would say that he had to get ornaments made for his daughter and give cattle, sheep and goats. Usually all the money he took would get spent because he would give everything for the girl but it was all from the money taken from the boy's side. He would give some cattle, etc. from his own house. Now, you first have to find out all about the boy, his education, his job and then you begin talking about exchanges (dowry). Earlier the girl's father would only receive but now he sweats. Now the groom's side does not have to spend a great deal. It is like the sides of a balance, it was tilting that way earlier and it is tilting the other way now.

What should be the system of marriage according to you?
The system of marriage should be such that there should be neither give nor take. It can be said that the boy's side has not spent anything for the girl's upbringing and the girl's side has not incurred any expense on the boy's upbringing and education so things should be equal. You spend your own money and we will spend ours.

Based on their occupation, which castes are found in this village and in this area?
First there are the Brahmins who perform the rituals of worship and marriages. Then there are the Bajgiri who played musical instruments and also stitched clothes. They were known as Das earlier. The third are the Rajputs who are mainly involved in farming and cattle rearing. All the other castes also stayed here.

Your village is on the pilgrimage route. What have been the main benefits for the village when this journey was undertaken on foot and how?
There used to be chatties (halting stations) at various places. There was one near our village (Nichla Byung) also. Pilgrims would come and there would be arrangements for their stay and we would benefit from them as they bought provisions, milk, ghee and wood.

What were the various occupations of people at the chatty where you were a shopkeeper, for twenty years?
The first was trade, then there were water mills. The wheat of all the shopkeepers from Guptakashi to Kedarnath was ground here. The people of about 25 villages of the region also had their grain ground here. Third, the iron-smiths would make kedari kangan (copper bangles) and umbrellas and agricultural implements. The Chamars (untouchables) would make shoes out of local leather. There was also a san (device for turning wood which runs on water power) for making wooden utensils on which wooden cups, parya for making buttermilk, parothi and kundi for storing curds and palea for storing butter were made. Kamandals (a small cup usually carried by ascetics) and wooden bowls and a variety of other goods were made. Then there was a lot of profit. Today the same chatty (Nichla Byung) is completely finished, people have even carried away the stones. Now we only pay tax for it.
Section 10
When the road came then the other bazaar (Byung Gad) came up. What differences do you find between the old Bazaar and the new one?
In Nichla Byung there was much joy in food and eating because people lived with a collective spirit. Then everybody did their own ringal work and nobody played nor did anybody drink alcohol. Now there is alcohol in every house. In this modern Bazaar, soap, biscuits, tea etc. are displayed for show and at the back are kept containers of alcohol. In this Bazaar, Nepalis have settled down, who make alcohol and our people sell it. Almost everybody is doing business in this way and even old people are into drinking and playing cards. As for progress, water mills have come up there as well and 20-25 shops have come up but on the whole this settlement is headed in the wrong direction.

According to what you remember, what used to be the prices of things earlier?
We sold 4 kilograms of milk for a rupee. Today the value of the rupee has fallen but things and prices are at the same place. Then we sold 4 kg of milk for a rupee and today you get a pao (approx. 250 gms) for 3-4 rupees. The price of grain - to my knowledge - I sold 6 kg of wheat for a rupee and today it is 4 rupees for a kg at the government shop. In the government shop also the shopkeeper charges what he likes. Rice is 4-5 rupees a kg. Women and illiterates etc get cheated there also.

What is the folk art or folk culture of this area?
The folk culture is mostly devtas, jagars etc but it is disappearing now. It is because of the times. It is nobody's fault really.

According to you what are the changes happening over generations and what should be done about this?
Who will listen to me and do as I say when I tell you what I think according to my understanding and brains? These are not such times. There were fields at many places [in the forest]; you can see the foundations of houses there still today. There must have been people there sometime. When they destroyed the forest they must have either died or must have left. Today in our region, a road is to be made through the thickest forest up to Yudi and Bansu and then farms will be made. The pald (thick forest) of Saunla will be destroyed. In Jaud forest and Dhauder there will be government farms. The Mauth forest belongs to the people of Rahumera.

Do you think the road should go from Jakhdhar to the Tyudi forest (when both these villages are a mere 1.5 kms from the road)?
What does it matter what we think? This region of Saunla is a forest associated with our culture; it is the region of the thakur of this land. Neither should the road go through here nor should the forest be cut.