Assisted by Palash Chandra Coomar
The Hindu mythologies have marked the Great Himalayas being the abode of the gods, goddesses and the saints as the most sacred place on the earth. The Skanda Purana has mentioned that by the sight of the Himalayas all sins of mankind are wiped out as dewdrops are dried up by the morning sun. Apart from the sacredness, the Great Himalayas are quite unique in many respects. Since time immemorial these great mountain ranges have given shelter to a large number of people with varied ethnic, religious and cultural identities. In the peculiar isolated/semi-isolated Himalayan ecology they have developed a distinct biogenetical and cultural `life. The peculiarity and distinctiveness of their bio-cultural life has made them distinct. Living in different altitudes and different ecological conditions the people here have polyvalent economy, varied social structure, different marriage patterns, varied systems of social control, and also different religions and world view. This book not only highlights the impact of the Himalayan ecology on the people there but also gives its readers a comprehensive idea about their biogenetical and cultural distinctiveness.
Dr. Manis Kumar Raha (b.1937) M. Sc., Ph.D., who completed a course on Management Development Programme for Educational Administrators in the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, is now employed in the Anthropological Survey of India as the Joint Director. His publications include besides eighty articles and thirty five book reviews, the following books:
The Oraons of Sunderban (1963),West Bengal Tribes Through Photo-graphs (1966), Handbook on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of West Bengal ( 1 966), The Malpaharias of West Bengal (1966), The Rabhas of West Bengal (1967),Kamakhyaguri (1974), The Kinnaurese of the Himalayas ( 198 5),The Himalayan Heritage (1987),Polyandry in India (1987), Matriliray to Patiliny/(1989), Tribal India : Problem Development Prospect (1989), and Tribal Situation m West Bengal (1990). His forth coming books are Polity, Political Process and Social Control in South Asia(1992) and The Karens of Andaman.
Shri Palash Chandra Coomar M. Sc., Senior Technical Assistant in the Anthropological Survey of India, who is working on different research projects, has written a number of articles and book reviews and also co-edited the books, Polyandry in India (1987) and Tribal India: Problem Development Prospect (1989).
The Himalayas have profoundly affected Indian psyche. They are our sentinel. They are also home to a number of interesting communities. They have been the refuse of the communities moving from the plains and far away places. Here the indigenous and incoming communities have met to produce an amalgam of cultures. This has been the subject if many interesting studies which have highlighted the uniqueness of Himalayan societies and cultures and also the extent of acculturation and impact of change and development particularly since independence. Institutions like polyandry have been widely studied, Compared to the plains there exists considerable laxity in the norms governing marriage and inheritance. The incidence of both hypergamy and hypogamy across the varnas and within jati clusters have been widely reported in the Himalayans. The ecological, biological, linguistic and cultural diversities of the Himalayas have been projected. Today parts of Himalayas have been deforested and an ecological crisis of disturbing magnitude has built up with relentless felling of trees, erosion of top soil, etc. Inspite of its celestial beauty most of the people of the Himalayas are impoverished, suffering from acute malnutrition and hunger.
The available information, particularly the mass of data generated under the People of India project, together with the sets of data available from many other sources should make it possible to evolve appropriate strategies for the regeneration of the ecology of the Himalayans and human development.
Dr. M. K. Raha has been one of our prolific scholars. He had devoted a good many years of research in the Himalayas. It is only appropriate that he should put together articles covering a wide gamut of studies on the central and western parts of the Himalayas. I hope this book will be found useful by researchers, students and teachers.
The first thought of editing such a book with diverse themes on the people of the Western and Central Himalayas cropped up in my mind when I undertook my Held work in Kinnaur district, Himachal Pradesh, a high Himalayan region under the project, the Himalayan Border Area Studies.
In a later phase when I studied some other mountainous, in hospitable areas of the Western and Central Himalayas and when I found the marked paucity of anthropological literature on these region, the people of these parts of the Himalayas being ill represented in the anthropological and ethnological books and journals, my desire for editing a volume on the people of the western and Central Himalayas got a boost.
The Anthropological Survey of India formulated two ambitious projects, The Himalayan Border Area Studies and The Population Genetics the Western and Central Himalayas in early seventies with the idea if anthropologically studying the people inhabiting the strategically important places of India close to the international border with other-•countries like Tibet, Pakistan and Nepal. The work on these two projects, actually began soon after the North west Regional office of the Anthropological Survey of India came into being at Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh; September, 1969. It was planned to cover wider areas of both middle and high altitude regions of the western and Central Himalayas closer to the international border and accordingly a good number of teams was sent to Leh, Kargil, Kashmir valley and jammu of jammu and Kashmir, Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Chamba, Kulu and Sirmur of Himachal Pradesh and Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Dehra Dun including jaunsar Bawer) and Pithorgarh of Uttar Pradesh. Later on some more areas were also covered cider these projects and some new projects like “Tribal Customary Laws”, "Tribal Education”, “Culture Trait and Culture Area Survey”, etc., wreak taken up in these Himalayan regions by the Survey. All the papers;:•l1rded in this volume are the direct or indirect outcome from all these subjects. Unlike my other book, The Himalayan Heritage, in which most the contributors are from outside our Survey and in which aspects if culture of the people of the Eastern, Central and the Western Himalayas were included this book ahs all the contributors from the anthropological Survey of India and has articles on the people of the western and central Himalayas only. The articles in this book can broadly be divided into three parts. Part one consists of six articles on the Himalayan ecology and ecological adaptation part two includes seventeen articles in the biogenetical aspects and Part three includes seventeen articles on various aspects of the cultural life of the people of the western and central Himalayas. I have tried my best to include varied types of articles in all the three parts particularly in the later two parts in order to highlight diverse biological and cultural characteristics of the people of the western and central Himalayas. This is possibly the only book so far published which has highlighted through thirty nine articles the various aspects of the ecology biology and culture of the people of the western and central Himalayas inhabiting the states of Jammu and Kashmir Himachal Pradesh and the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh. I shall feel my labor has profitably been utilized if the readers of this book particularly those interested in the Himalayan studies it to be to useful to them.
The Anthropological researches in the Western and Central Himalayan regions of India, which cover the whole of the States of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh and eight hill districts of Uttar Pradesh (namely Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Tehri, Pauri and Dehra Dun districts of Garhwal Division and Pithoragarh, Almora and Naintal districts of Kumaon division) are not very old, rather these are of recent developments. In real sense the anthropological studies among the people of these parts of the Himalayas actually date back in late• forties of course in India anthropology as discipline is only six decades _ so anthropology crept in the western and Central Himalayas to, highlight the characteristics of the people living there in a much later period than it did in case the people of other parts of India, and even case of the Eastern Himalayas covering many parts of north-eastern India.
For centuries the Great Himalayas attracted the saints and sages for meditation and salvation. They wrote so many great epics wherein they had written many things about the Himalayas, praising this great mountain describing the culture of the people lived there. A large number of the Hindu rnythologies and ancient Indian literatures like the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanisadas, Vedas, Puranas and also later epics like the Kadamvari, Raghuransam, Meghadutam, Kumarsambhavam, Vimanvathu, Manusamhita, Amarkosh, etc., have mentioned about the Himalayas and the inhabitants. Besides the sages and saints, early literatures have also mentioned about a number of divine races like the lies has, the Gandharvas, the Guhakas, the Kinnauras, the Kiratas, the Sararas and others occupying different parts of the Himalayas. Many things have been written about them by the great sages and epic writers. Essen in the later phases till early forties whatever accounts and reports; me Himalayas have been published, are almost all written either by the missionaries, administrators, travelers or mountaineers or by the adventurists , as no doubt, the Himalayas attracted men from different walks of life. Even many invaders had taken their course through the Himalayas and many people took refuge in many places of these mountainous ranges because of these invasions. But to the anthropologists the Great Himalayas particularly, the Western and the Central Himalayas, were not that attractive as the _other parts of India were. Attempts made by them to explore anthropologically the various bio-logical and cultural realities of the people of the Western and Central Himalayas till late forties, are not that significant. From late forties of course, the anthropologists and other social scientists have started realizing the potentialities of the Western and Central Himalayas as field for anthropological researches as finally they could understand that these mountainous ranges could provide a very little explored, formidable and interesting site for anthropological studies. This late realization of the anthropologists that the western and Central Himalayas are a virgin field for study for them, left the place almost unexplored anthropologically, and as a result the life and culture of the people in habiting different parts of the Western and Central Himalayas and their biogenetical features remained almost unknown to the world.
No doubt a very large number of ethnic groups have accepted the Himalayas spreading over Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and hill districts of Uttar Pradesh as their cradle land and are living in the high, middle and low altitudinal regions from times immemorial. Many people have migrated there in successive phases in later periods.
These people are found living in varied ecological and cultural environments of the Himalayas. While some of these ethnic groups live in almost arid high altitude regions which remain snow clad for at least live months a year, some live in the foothill areas amidst thick vegetation with heavy monsoon rain. While some people live on the beautiful valleys, some other live on the rugged, inhospitable, steep slopes of the mountain. Though majority of the Himalayans have agriculture as the primary means of livelihood, others are nomad or lead transhumant mode of life with pastoralism or animal husbandry as the source of livelihood; still others have various other occupations like trade, cottage industry, craft, business, service, etc. Here while some people are Buddhists, some are Hindus, some have embraced Islam or Christianity and still others live in the world of their own deities and spirits. Many people here are monogamous but some practice polyandry and so on. Thus no doubt these parts of the Himalayas provide a very formidable and interesting field for anthropological research.
Since early forties as I have already mentioned, some progress has been achieved in studying the Western and Central Himalayas anthropologically. The Department of Anthropology of different Indian Universities and also of some foreign Universities have undertaken Important research works in these regions land some such works have been published. But more vigorous exercise of the anthropological research began since 1970 when the North-Western Regional Centre of the Anthropological Survey of India began to function by undertaking a series of research works in both Physical and Cultural Anthropology and also in other allied disciplines like Human Geography, Psychology, Linguistics etc. The Department of Anthropology of Lucknow, Delhi, Chandigarh and some other Universities and some Institutions also started showing more and more interest since late forties. Interest in to Western and Central Himalayan population by the individual anthropologists has also increased more and more, and as a result more and more anthropologists, both Indian and foreign, started undertaking research works in different areas on varied topics in the Western and central Himalayas. The outcome of such research work is seen in the form of some books and many articles on Himalayans published in recent years.
My interest on studying the Himalayan culture developed when I undertook my first major study in 1970-1974 in the Western Himalayas. among; the Kinnauras, a high altitude people residing in the north western part of Himachal Pradesh bordering Tibet (the report of which has recently been published) though my first exposure to the Himalayas as early as mid sixties when I undertook some research working the Lepchas and the Bhutias of the district of Darjeeling, West Bengal.
During the course of my studies on the Himalayas, I discovered the lack of sufficient coherent anthropological literature on the Western and Central Himalayas, and this aroused in me an idea of publishing some books on the Himalayans. The outcome of this idea and interest are for the present, two books.
In the first book, The Himalayan Heritage (1987), I have incorporated articles on the people of the Eastern, Central and the Western Himalayas. The contributors both foreign and Indian, are mostly from outside Anthropological Survey of India and also belong to different discipline thought the anthropologists definitely dominate None of the 27 articles of the book is on physical anthropology or Human geography or Ecology.
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