Most studies about North Indian society have focussed on the regions of the Indo-Gangetic plain

Most studies about North Indian society have focussed on the regions of the Indo-Gangetic plain, neglecting the region of the Central Himalaya comprising what is now the state of Uttarakhand.1 Because of its physical inaccessibility and difficult terrain, the area remained largely insulated from the mainstream of the socio-political life of the country. Consequently not much was known about the land and the people other than what was contained in the reports of a few enterprising divisional commissioners of the then British Raj. It was only in the late 19th and early 20th century that studies were carried out to explore its past. Garhwal, a part of Uttarakhand, is mentioned as Kedar Khand in the Skanda Purana and in the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata. The original inhabitants of this land were Kols, descended from the Munda ethnic group. It is believed that they were pushed into the hills by the Dravidians retreating into this region in face of the Aryan onslaught from the northwest. In mediaeval times there were successive waves of migrations to this region from the Gangetic plain, Punjab and Rajasthan. Subsequently, the Kiratas came in from the east and forced the Kol-Mundas to seek shelter in remote valleys. Then came the Khasas from the west, who subjugated both the Kols and the Kiratas. Many other races including the Nagas and the Huns also came and intermixed with different waves of immigrants. The Khasas were dominated by the people who came from the Indo-Gangetic plain. In the early 14th century, Ajay Pal of the Parmar dynasty united the region by bringing 52 principalities under his sovereign rule. Since then it has been known as Garhwal. In colonial times, the middle class which emerged in India was trying to find an identity for itself by a complex process of negotiation which Bhabha has called Colonial Mimicry (Bhabha 1994 87). With resistance to British imperial culture, arenas evolved in the public sphere to provide discursive space for citizens, particularly the nationalists, to foster public opinion against the colonial hegemony which was directly impacting their lives. Garhwal, however, could not actively take its place in such discursive space. Owing to its remoteness, and the underprivileged status and non-literacy of a large majority of its people, it could not form an imagined community with the rest of the country. In recent decades literacy rates have registered an impressive increase. However, Garhwals indigenous culture, in particular its folklore, transmitted mainly through oral narratives, did play a role in helping construct the ideology of the groups living here. It may be stressed that folklore2 construed as an autotelic ensemble travelling from group to group and not as autonomous cultural expressions(Jabbour 2004 22) is integral to understanding a culture, and is expressive of the symbolic language of the non-literate part of ones self (Ramanujan 2001 532). The unique environment of Garhwal has conditioned the outlook, manners, customs and traditions of the people living here.3 Their folklore has traditionally made them feel connected and enabled them to articulate their lifes experiences and aspirations. This rich folklore sheds light on the social and cultural conditions of the region. It makes innumerable references to medieval times, contextualizing religious, social and political history. Hence the study of folklore has great historical significance apart from its intrinsic cultural value. The local bards have preserved the legends, which have come down to us mainly through oral tradition. Historically Garhwal has seen an admixture of the Aryan and the indigenous cultures, which is evident in the coexistence of the Great Tradition of learning and culture as opposed to the Little Tradition of the indigenes.4 There is, however, a symbiotic relationship between the two. Robert Redfields contention that in a civilization, there is a Great Tradition of the reflective few and a Little Tradition of the largely unreflective many (quoted in Ramanujan 2001 535) takes a patronizing view of what he calls the unreflective many. A rich repertoire of folklore in India incorporates not only the texts of the Great Tradition but also the innumerable variables of it found in the indigenous cultures constituting the Little Tradition. Written and hallowed texts are not the only texts in a culture such as the Indian. Oral traditions of every kind have produced texts and Cultural performances (Singer 1992 47) which are enacted at various ceremonies or social rituals. Furthermore, every cultural performance not only creates texts but also carries them forward as the dynamics of folklore. Although the caste system, with its attendant discriminatory practices and distribution of power among various groups, has been a pervasive feature of Garhwali society, a distinctive feature of it is that the scheduled-caste doms, who are mostly artisans, are not treated with contempt. Their traditional rights, which are socially recognized, have acquired statutory sanction, and their interactions with the higher castes are reflected in many of the rituals and customs of the people. This can also be attributed to the amalgamation of the Brahmanical tradition and the mediaeval Bhakti tradition, represented by Kabir and Dadu who were popular among the low castes in Garhwal and created several of the gathas or narratives. The influence of Gorakhnath was particularly pronounced. The gathas related to Nirankar, popular among the low castes, are obviously influenced by the Kabir and the Nirguna traditions. These legends are often critical of orthodox Brahmanism. Such narratives were composed or altered by different social groups to legitimize their beliefs. A prominent form of Garhwal folklore, known as jagar, incorporates such narratives. Living in close proximity of the snow-clad mountains, the Paharis have assimilated beliefs in the spirits, gods and demons that characterize their mythology. The interplay of the Great and Little Tradition is conspicuous in the Jagar Gathas of Uttarakhnad. Jagar is a spirit possession ceremony (or sance), in which a deity is invoked, through the medium of a chosen person, to the accompaniment of ritual music of drums and singing of religious narratives – the gathas. Presiding over the ceremony is a jagariya. This is a priest conversant with the spirit lore. He invokes various gods like Nagaraja or Narsingh with his incantations, while playing on his donr, (also known as damaun) a sort of kettledrum, and thali, a bronze plate. His incantations and the musical rhythm trigger a sudden response in the medium who then reflexively sways to the tune and comes under the spell of the spirit. The spirit then renders appropriate counsel for the well- being of the family. The jagariyas, invariably from the dom caste, are called upon to perform the ritual to cure illnesses in the family, to appease ancestral spirits or to ward off misfortunes. An unrequited spirit can also be summoned through an appropriate ritual. The jagariya is in a commanding position at the ceremony and the privilege extended to him can be seen as empowerment of the low castes, since it involves appropriation of a high caste status, which otherwise the caste groups resent. In fact jagariyas are viewed with awe and respect by all sections of the hill society. Various deities, many of them feminine, are eulogized in the gathas. Many gathas follow Puranic traditions and themes, coloured by local beliefs reflecting the material realities of life. They show the influence of Vaishnvism associated with Krishna, Rukmini, Pandavas, and also of the Sakti cult associated with Siva and Parvati. The popularity of Parvati is evident in Nanda Ki Gatha, which shows the intense desire of Nanda, another name for Parvati, for her fathers home. She was married to Siva, the ascetic, an apparently unequal match for her. Contrary to the orthodox depiction of Parvatis unquestioning devotion to Siva, her insistent longing for her parental home carries the undertone of an unhappy and unequal marriage. The subtext of the narrative reflects the hard lives of Garhwali women, their alienation and their longing for the familiar environs of the parental home. A popular jagar gatha goes like this Char din swami, mee mait jayondawu, Bhai bhateejon ki swami khud lagi rain Budya bwe babu ki bhi khud lagi rain Sabu se ladali mee dinyu yeen Trisuli Twe baba par meru saraap padyan Jain dilayee hols meeku tain bhangphuka jogi ku (Chatak 1996 149). (My lord let me go to my fathers home just for four days I sorely miss my siblings, And I think of my old parents I, the darling daughter have been condemned to this Trisul Curse be upon you, my father Who has married me this Jogi ever stoned) Since women do not have real choice in matters of marriage, mismatched marriages are all too common in Garhwal. Women use songs to express their reluctance to change homes and leave their familiar environment. Several reasons are given – dislike of the husband for being too old, his unsympathetic behaviour, hostility of the in-laws and hard work expected of them. There is a substantial degree of male migration in these parts and the men folk remain away from their villages for long periods of time doing odd jobs in the cities. In their absence women have to rely upon their own resourcefulness. They have to live, work and raise families virtually by themselves. Their travails are related in their songs, through which they unburden themselves of their sorrows. These songs follow the moods, seasons, activities and life cycle events, touching upon every stage of a womans life cycle – recounting her several roles at home and in society. The language of the folklore for them performs a safety valve function which not only relieves the pent-up emotions of the women but also subverts the prevailing attitudes and institutional practices. The cultural sphere of folklore in traditional societies is effectively used to articulate protest and dissent as well as aspirations. Thus it generates an alternative potential for the quest for emancipation from oppressive patriarchal systems. As a medium of expression, these songs are a channel of communication and a creative act by which rural women identify themselves and feel empowered (Capila 200255). Use of the native language is crucial to their narratives related to their intimate self and lived experience. Loss of language creates a disjuncture between their lives and their longings. There is a distinct genre of folk lyrics, known as khuder geet, which are meant to stir the filial longings in the heart of a woman separated from her fathers home. She calls upon nature to help her glimpse the home she misses. A popular lyric goes like this Hey unchi dandiyun tum nisi java, Ghani kulayun tum chhanti howa, Main lagin cha khud maitura ki Baba ji ko mait dekhan deva (Chatak 2000 58). Which can be rendered as Bend down ye hills, Disperse ye crowded pines, Let me see my fathers home, My heart for that place pines. Such songs, which obviously deal with the natural environment, take on an ecological perspective since they gain a context against the backdrop of bountiful nature with rich forests, streams etc. If the exploitation of forests goes on, it will be difficult to visualize what the song describes. In fact such scenarios against the backdrop of dense forests, as alluded to in the song, are already getting rarer with the drive for modernization in the Uttarakhand hills. This drive has picked up momentum with the land and forest mafia becoming active ever since the creation of the hill state in the year 2000. With the reigning discourse of globalization, the process of cultural de-differentiation has also set in (Lash 1990 5). Since the modernizing enterprise privileges the elite over the folk and the literary over the oral, it is the elite who appropriate the right to express the folk, and thereby interpret their lore as they wish and not as it ought to be. Paradoxically the preferred language of literary production in Garhwal is Hindi while the oral rooted in traditional culture is in Garhwali. Both English and Hindi play a hegemonic role in marginalising local languages. Neither the central nor the states education policies have done anything to reduce the pre-eminence of English and Hindi and promote the use of Garhwali. In the regime of globalization there is a tendency towards greater homogenization, which undermines the claims of its advocates to encourage recognition of cultural relativism and localized traditions. On the other hand it has come to be associated with the global spread of English to the detriment of minor or less used languages leading to what has been referred to as language death (Crystal 2000). It creates a dichotomous situation for the representation and interpretation of folklore and its underlying subtexts. As economic forces become increasingly obdurate, the weaker groups, especially the women, are marginalized. Folklore has not remained unaffected by the processes of globalization. It is changing its form and content day by day as it re-shapes cultural identities. Even though technology is being employed for the documentation and preservation of folklore, the archival materials, frozen as they are, cannot have the same value as the lived experience. In the Hindu worldview nature has a ritual significance, and a form of utilitarian conservatism as opposed to protectionist conservatism is generally followed (Misra 2007 139). However, under colonial rule, and even after independence, the state-managed Forest Department made increasing penetration into the hills (this was intensified following the border road building activities urgently taken up after the Sino-Indian War of 1962). These activities proved ecologically degrading. The local people argued that developmental activities and ecological concerns should also address the needs of the poor. The forests of the Garhwal Himalaya have been central to the livelihood of the people. Prior to British intervention in 1815, community institutions of the hill peasantry, such as the village panchayats, had effectively exercised control over the use and management of both cultivated and uncultivated lands within customary village boundaries. They respected the conservation values embedded in local culture and religious traditions such as the maintenance of sacred groves – sections of forest dedicated to deities or ancestral spirits. The groves were meant to be left undisturbed forever. Unfortunately the Indian state, and development agencies such as the World Bank, seemingly disregarded the historical, cultural and spiritual ties of the people with the land which, in development discourse, is considered as merely a commodity.5 Amidst contesting approaches to development6 there arose a powerful environment movement, the Chipko Movement7 (Chipko, Hindi for to stick to, or to hug) in the Chamoli district of Garhwal, in early 1973, founded and led by Chandi Prasad Bhatt. The villagers devised a plan to stop the commercial felling and decided to act on Bhatts suggestion Let them know that we will not allow the felling of ash trees. When they aim their axes upon them, we will embrace the trees (Weber 1988 40). The Chipko movement cannot be romanticized as a return to some pristine traditional village life.8 Rather, as a functional livelihood strategy, the women fought determinedly to prevent the complete clearance of their forests (Mawdsley 1998 8). By going beyond their immediate local need to embrace a wider spatial and temporal universe, Chipko became a meaningful social movement with regional implications (ibid.39) It addressed a serious concern of many hill people that the states management of forests offered few dividends to the locals in this already economically marginalized area, and further, that it degraded the ecological base upon which local people depended. The Chipko activists included village women and men, Gandhians such as Sarla Behn, Mira Behn, environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna and his wife, Vimala Bahuguna, and Chandi Prasad Bhatt, members of forest labour cooperatives, students from leftist political parties and others. This wide range of participants gave Chipko diverse strategies. It was termed as a movement, a path towards a green earth and a true civilization and an explicitly ecological and feminist movement (Shiva 1988 76). Particular mention must be made of Gaura Devi. At the village of Raini in Chamoli district, when the contractors of the forest department were about to fell trees, she mobilized 27 women who rushed to the forest and clung to the marked trees, forcing the contractors men to withdraw. As recounted by Gaura Devi, Our men were out of the village so we had to come forward and protect the trees. We have no quarrel with anybody but only we wanted to make the people understand that our existence is tied with the forests (Guha 2000159). Gaura Devi has become part of folklore for the way in which she represents the central features of the movement, the economic stance, women as protectors of nature and the power of the local people. The life of Gaura Devi has become the subject of a folk song by Dhan Singh Rana, a local bard, who narrates her lifes struggle thus You are like Bhagwati, Gaura, you have done great work. As long as the earth exists your name will remain. In the name of the environment people exploit the world. Still today in your hills the forests are cut. Take birth again, Gaura, and fly into rage, No matter where, but take birth again and fly into rage. In this world of injustice, show your miracle again (Linkenbach 2001 37-40). Here Gaura is treated almost like a mythological figure who is urged to take birth again and to help the common people in their struggle against injustice. She is like the Goddess Devi incarnated as mahisasurmardini to slay the demon of injustice. Chipko often gets highlighted in eco-feminist discourse, which is based on the woman/culture connection. Vandana Shiva sees the women, particularly the rural women as embedded in nature (Shiva 1988 xvi). It is true that women universally have some fundamental sensitivity to the land, air and water with which they are intimately associated and have a stronger ethic of care for others, including the environment. According to Shiva, women are the custodians of Prakriti – nature or the feminine principle – which is the manifestation of Shakti, the divine feminine creative energy of the cosmos. Prakriti seeks to nurture and maintain the harmony and diversity of the natural forests as a life source from which men and developed industrial cultures are alienated, and which must be recovered. When this holistic view is replaced by the commercial paradigm it signifies for women simultaneously a beginning of their marginalization, devaluation, displacement and ultimate dispensability (ibid. 42). This transformation is triggered by the arrival of the masculinist, reductionist, industrial and colonizing forces. According to Shiva the equation between ecological self-sustenance and the feminine principle is undermined by the exploitative forces of global capitalism An ecologically sustainable future has much to gain from the world-views of ancient civilizations and diverse cultures which survived sustainably over centuries. These were based on an ontology of the feminine as the living principle Not merely did this result in an ethical context which excluded possibilities of exploitation and domination, it allowed the creation of an earth family (ibid. 41). It is in this context that the activism of the women like Gaura Devi, Sarla Behn and Vimala Bahuguna is seen as a significant intervention. Sunderlal Bahuguna himself, while underlining womens power, concedes, We are the runners and messengers -the real leaders are the women (ibid. 70). The women of Garhwal also launched a movement known as Rakhi Bandho Movement. The slogan of the movement goes Paidon ka tum sun lo krandan Kar do unka Raksha Bandhan (Listen to the cries of trees. Protect them by tying rakhis to them) So the women tied rakhis to the trees, as if they were their brothers and even men followed suit taking collective onus for the protection of the trees. The slogan made an emotional appeal and invoked tradition to involve people in organizing protest. The folk invocation was in Garhwali. Obviously the native language or the language of the backyard as U. R. Ananthamurthy (2012 2) metaphorically calls it, plays a significant role in creating such awareness. The people of the Garhwal hills have nurtured a fascinating culture. It is in this spirit that the folklore of Garhwal tells us not only about reverence for all life but also takes us closer to the elemental forces that sustain life. The study of folklore can result in greater environmental awareness.9 Much needs to be done by way of research in this area. Today we have analytical tools provided by social anthropology, literary criticism, and popular culture, which can be used to analyze and document the narratives, including the oral narratives that go into the making of the folklore of Garhwal, to study it in the context of society, gender and environment, and to understand the nature of dissent, protest and social change in the hill community. In the highly stratified and patriarchal society in which the women are marginalized, folklore, embedded in articulation, gestures, performances, stories, narratives and codes, generates an alternative discourse which gives enough space to women to enter public domain by deploying metaphors which invert the conventional hierarchies. Unfortunately the language of this discourse, Garhwali, is now in much disuse so much so that it is listed in the UNESCOs report on the Atlas of the World Languages in Danger in the unsafe category.10 Unless effective measures are urgently taken to promote the use of Garhwali language and document its knowledge system much of the traditional wisdom will be in jeopardy. It has been argued that when the value of linguistic practices arises across domains of use, a market for that language exists (Bourdieu 1991). The tools of globalization such as digital technology, communication networks and the internet can also be harnessed to promote minority cultures and marginalised languages and provide fresh impetus to language revitalization. NOTES The state of Uttarakhand was constituted in 2000 out of the parent state of Uttar Pradesh. The state has a unique character as nearly 63 of the region is covered by forests and about 93 of the area is hilly, with only 7 of the area constituting the plains. Folklore is used here as a collective term for those traditional items of knowledge or lore that as recurring performances are communicated through oral transmissions. The Indian equivalent of folklore, lokayana, coined by Suniti Kumar Chatterji, expresses the real intent of folklore as it signifies a way of life (ayana) of a people (loka). There is, however, no universal agreement on the boundaries of various genres of folklore. In Garhwal, folk songs and folk stories are the more prevalent genres. One of the earliest studies documenting the folklore of Garhwal was conducted by Tara Dutt Gairola. See E. S. Oakley and T. D. Gairola, Himalayan Folklore, New Delhi Cosmo Publications, 2001, first published 1934. For comments on the dialectical categories within the Indian tradition (Marga, the mainstream tradition dominated by the Brahmanical Sanskrit culture, and Desi, referring to the regional language expression), in the manner of the Great Tradition and the Little Tradition, see G. N. Devy, Of Many Heroes An Indian Essay in Literary Historiography, Mumbai Orient Longman, 1998. Since the early 1980s through the 1990s, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have been attacking traditional communities under the guise of Structural Adjustment and globalization. See Silvia Federici, Women, Land-Struggles and Globalization An International Perspective, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 2004 39 47, p.52. G. N. Devy questions the efficacy of the prevailing discourse on development fashioned in the West, and argues for the indigenous pathways to progress and development. See G. N. Devy, Development, A Nomad Called Thief Reflections on Adivasi Silence, New Delhi Orient Longman, 2006, pp.123-142. For a comprehensive history of the Chipko Movement see Ramachandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Berkeley University of California Press, 2000. The village as a metaphor for subsistence farming in a communal setting, has also been a crucial site for womens struggles, providing a base from which to reclaim the wealth the state had been appropriating from it. We may remind ourselves that the genesis of most environmental problems, including global warming, is anthropogenic that must be reversed. In recent years, particularly since the creation of Uttarakhand, with rampant migration of people from the hills to the plains of the state the number of speakers of Garhwali language has been dwindling rapidly. They are turning to English and Hindi to seek the job market. UNESCOs Atlas of the Worlds Languages in Danger, in its third edition (2010) has categorized 198 languages, including those of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, which are threatened with extinction. Garhwali is in this category. Works Cited Ananthamurthy, U. R. 2012. The Unritten Backyard, Summerhill IIAS Review, Vol. XVIII, No.2 (Winter 2012) Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. London Routledge. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press. Capila, Anjali. 2002. Images of Women in the Folk Songs of Garhwal Himalayas, New Delhi Concept Publishing Co. Chatak, Govind. 1996. Garhwali Lok Gaathayen, New Delhi Taxila Prakashanp. ———. 2000. Garhwali Lok Geet, New Delhi Sahitya Akademi. Crystal, David. 2000. Language Death. Cambridge Cambridge University Press. Devy, G. N. 1998. Of Many Heroes An Indian Essay in Literary Historiography, Mumbai Orient Longman. ______. 2006. A Nomad Called Thief Reflections on Adivasi Silence, New Delhi Orient Longman. Federici, Silvia. 2004. Women, Land-Struggles and Globalization An International Perspective, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 2004 39 47. Guha, Ramachandra Guha. 2000. The Unquiet Woods Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Berkeley University of California Press. Lash, Scott. 1990. Sociology of Post-modernism, London Routledge. Jabbour, Alan. 2004. Intracultural and Intercultural the Two Faces of Folklore. In Folklore, Public Sphere and Civil Society, ed. M. D. Muthukumarswamy and Molly Kaushal, New Delhi IGNCA. Linkenbach, Antje. 2001. The Construction of Personhood Two life stories from Garhwal European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, 20 (1). Mawdsley, Emma. 1998. After Chipko From Environment to Region in Uttaranchal, Journal of Peasant Studies, 254 Misra, Shalini. 2007. Spirituality, Culture and the Politics of Environmentalism in India, Journal of Entrepreneurship (2007) Muthukumaraswamy, M. D. and Molly Kaushal, eds., 2004. Folklore, Public Sphere and Civil Society, New Delhi IGNCA Oakley, E. S. and T. D. Gairola. 2001, 1934. Himalayan Folklore, New Delhi Cosmo Publications. Ramanujan, A. K. 2001. Who Needs Folklore In The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, Vinay Dharwadker, ed., New Delhi OUP. Shiva, Vandana. 1988. Staying Alive Women, Ecology and Development, New Delhi Kali for Women. Singer, Milton. 1972. When a Great Tradition Modernizes An Anthropological Approach to Indian Civilization, Chicago U of Chicago Press. Weber, Thomas. 1988. Hugging the Trees The Story of the Chipko Movement, New Delhi Viking. PAGE PAGE 10 Y, dXiJ(x(I_TS1EZBmU/xYy5g/GMGeD3Vqq8K)fw9
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