Cultural Traditions, Modernity and Challenged Identities in the Central Himalayas (Garhwal, India)

  • Datum: –16.00
  • Plats: Engelska parken 3-0012
  • Föreläsare: Ram Prasad Bhatt, Data Ram Prasad, Claus Peter Zoller, Heinz Werner Wessler
  • Arrangör: Indologi tillsammans med Forum för Sydasienstudier
  • Kontaktperson: Heinz Werner Wessler
  • Konferens

Tehri Garhwal had been an extremely remote princely state before India’s independence in 1947. The Maharaja’s territory joined India and the state of Uttar Pradesh in 1949.
Since then, through the increasing communication and exchange with the rest of Northern India, social and cultural as well as religious traditions are going through a phase of dramatic change. Changes even concern the landscap

Central Himalayan Narratives: A Field of Rituals, Dance and Dramas


Data Ram Purohit (University of Garhwal, Srinagar, India)


Rituals, lore, music, dance and drama in the Central Himalayan region of Uttarakhand state of India emerge from narratives. From end to end of the region one finds  thousands of major and minor stories giving birth to huge and long lasting rituals and a comprehensive network of fairs and festivals.


The narratives are related to ritual enactments. The perhaps largest example is the Nandadevi Rajjat procession, which lasts for 22 days, covers a distance of 283 km and includes the participation of three million devotees in recent years. The procession is a religious as well as cultural and social event.


There are other processional rituals like those of Chalda Mahasu, Basudev and Saneshwar, which continue for twelve years, six years and three years respectively. The comprehensive meta-narratives of Mahabharata and Ramayana open the space to 16 large scale rituals devoted to Mahabharata and half a dozen to Ramayana. While some traditions are on the decline, others become more popular since they are important to assure identity in an epoch of rapid change.


The ritual matrix has given birth to more than 100 theatre forms, hundreds of dances and thousands of songs. These traditions are constantly threated, revitalized, and transformed. The presentation will include a discussion on the repertory and canon variations of the narratives of the Central Himalayas.



On history and legacy of Central Himalayan bards and warriors


Claus Peter Zoller (University of Oslo, Norway)


The theory of Outer Languages (OL) and Inner Languages (IL) – claiming earlier and later immigration of speakers of different OIA dialects – has repeatedly been connected with corresponding religious and social differences (Parpola, Vassilkov). The religious and social characteristics of the earlier arriving OL Aryans and their descendants differ from those of the later arriving IL Vedic Aryans and their descendants especially in two regards:


(a)             Their religious specialists were/are not Brahmins but other bard/shaman-like professionals that maintain till today a tradition that is characterized by religious pastoralist imagery (e.g. they can be the ‘herdsmen’ of the deities) and also by practices of sacred transgression (enacted e.g. in carnivalesque religious rites).

(b)             They pursued (and occasionally still pursue) traditions of charismatic/ecstatic warrior practices which are still today celebrated in heroic ballads and in martial festivals like Thodā in Bangan and Himachal Pradesh.


Since culture/language/tradition of the Vedic Aryans became dominant very early, that ‘other’ Aryan sphere has been for a long time in a position of defense and retreat. Therefore its traces are not found without some effort. The ecstatic warrior lifestyles of the Himalayas have died out but it seems that the non-Brahmin religious specialists of the Central and Western Himalayas are in some cases also the custodians or martial traditions-related oral literatures (ballads, songs, etc.) (similar to the OIA Cāraṇ bards).


My presentation presents data and arguments that illustrate and explain the above theses. Thus it will hopefully be one of the bases for our discussions regarding plans and measures towards a common research project.

The Biography of the untouchable bards from the central Himalayas


Ram Prasad Bhatt (University of Hamburg, Germany)


The Hindus of Uttarakhand Himalayas are culturally distinct from their counterparts in the plains of India in many ways; one of them is the status of the bards in their social and religious life. The rigidity of the caste system as in the plains of India does not exist in the Himalayas.


It is indeed a paradox in the social setup of the region that on the one hand, these Śilpakāras ‘the artisans’ are considered to be the untouchables but on the other hand, without their participation in religious and ritual ceremonies, such as birth, marriage and death rituals, are not seen as completed. Historically the Śilpakāras are the bearer of the rich traditional knowledge of music, dance and the oral literature. 


I will discuss the biography of some of the traditional bards from central Himalayas and their position in society based on the data collected in the past few years and look at how development programs, modernization, migration and literacy have influenced and changed the life and traditional occupation of these bards and their families. In the end, I shall also examine the future of the traditional occupation of these bards. 




Setting the landscape in the times of global change: Ecocritical readings of Garhwali folk songs


Heinz Werner Wessler (University of Uppsala, Sweden)


Central Himalayan traditions in the state of Uttarakhand (India) inherit a rich tradition of folk songs. They are traditionally performed primarily in a religious environment, particularly during the jāgaraṇs, i.e. overnight vigils in tempels. At the same time, the text emulates geographical and cultural landscape, and flora and fauna of a region that was perceived to be quite remote from the North Indian mainland until recently. Garhwali songs link up nature and culture, the visible and the invisible, belief systems and social constructions, the human and the non-human.

The canon of songs that is performed by the so-called hill Ḍoms – also called Śilpakārs - particularly focusses on a ritual and mythic repertoire that is only partly compatible what is usually defined as Hinduism. Unfortunately, younger generations of traditional singer families often turn away from the highly specialized art of their forefathers. With the advance of basic education even in this remote region, many turn to other professions and don’t want to be associated with singing and drumming any longer, which does not gain them the social respect they expect.

The tradition of singing has been in the decline, particularly since singers were identified as low caste, the growing attraction of Bollywood film songs and a general lack of interest in “backward” cultural traditions. However, the creation of the state of Uttarakhand and its developing identity politics with its desire to assure regional identity resources, have changed the picture to some extent. State-funded pension schemes for traditional performers, the institutionalization of cultural festivals and modern forms of performances have been initiated and open new platforms and chances for traditional art forms. At the same time, the function of the cultural canon and its performance as part of a larger identity politics project in a time of drastic change, including ecological change, questions the critical potential that the songs inherit.


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