Kulu Customs

by Prof. Homersham Cox

[As appeared in The Modern Review, Vol. 8 (6), 1910.]

इस आलेख को हिन्दी में यहां पढ़ें।

Eating and drinking are the primary needs of human life, indeed of all life; and so in giving an account of the customs of any people it is natural to begin with what they eat and drink.

The Kulu peasant takes four meals a day; nohari, kilari, dopohori, and bayali. They correspond very nearly in time with the chota haziri, breakfast, tiffin, and dinner of the Anglo-Indian; and in both cases the second and fourth are the most important, while the first and third are light meals. Nohari consists of the cold remains of the previous night’s dinner and is eaten before the peasant leaves his house to go to his work in the fields. If he has not far to go he returns home for his breakfast at nine or ten but generally the food is cooked and brought to the labourers by the women of the house. Dopohori is taken at three o’clock, and unless the house is near, is like kilari eaten in the field under the shade of a tree. The last meal, bayali is taken at home after the day’s work is over. The food consists chiefly of bread or rice, but as these by themselves are rather insipid, something of more distinct flavour called chokan is eaten with them. Usually the chokan is some green vegetable, or dal, or curds; more rarely it is meat. The farmer eats himself and gives his labourers food produced on his own land; rice, if he owns rice-land, and if not, bread. As Kulu valley is narrow, the land near the river, or ropa, on which rice is grown, is small in extent. Most of the cultivated land is botla, and produces wheat or barley or maize, so that for the villager living on the hills rice is a luxury. Beside their food, the workmen receive from the farmer grain for pay, since there is very little cash circulating in the valley. Water is drunk at meals, except on days of festivity when a wine called lugri, made from rice, is provided. Tea which has become very common in the neighboring Kangra Valley is hardly ever taken in Kulu. According to Strabo “the beverage (of Indians) is made from rice instead of barley, and their food consists for the most part of a rice pottage.” The first statement is true in Kulu at the present day, but the second only applies to the owners of the low-lying lands near the Beas, not to the dwellers on the hill-sides.

The clothes of the peasant and his family are still generally made by themselves. He wears a round woollen cap, sometimes made from the wool of his own sheep and some-times bought from the Lahoulis; a coat without buttons called cholu whose chief difference from an ordinary coat is that its body consists of twenty or more longitudinal strips sewn together; and trousers called sutni. With these three things the ordinary peasant is contented, and as the cholu and sutni are like the cap often made from his own wool he need not spend anything on clothes. Those who are better off wear a shirt and sometimes a waistcoat in addition. In place of the sutni, knickerbockers called kach reaching only to the knees are worn in the summer, but the sutni is obligatory at melas. The old Kulu costume is however falling into disuse. The cap is now often replaced by a turban and the cholu by an ordinary coat.

People of Kulu in the 19th century.

The women’s head-dress, tipu, is merely a square handkerchief, bound round the forehead and temple and tied in a knot behind. As it is not loose like the dopatta, it cannot be drawn over the face. But Kulu women do not care to conceal their faces, even when they wear the dopatta as some of them now do. Ideas of modesty vary in different countries. I remember a Kulu friend being very much amused by a Kangra woman pulling her dopatta in front of her face when passing us. It seemed to him all the more ridiculous as the lady had reached an age at which she had no longer any reason to fear the too ardent gazes of men. But on the other hand to wear only a kurta and paijama as women in the plains often do, seems to the Kulu people indecent. Over the kurta and paijama, the Kulu women throw a pattu, that is to say a blanket enveloping the whole body. It looks very hot in the summer but they do not seem to mind it. Indeed a thing which strikes an Englishman is that in the hills both men and women can wear heavier clothing in summer and less clothing in winter than he finds possible. In their own country they seem less sensitive to both heat and cold. But they can not endure change of climate, and people of Seoraj refuse to stay in Sultanpur, the capital, during the hot weather. The poorer village women wear only the tipu and pattu without any other clothing. In former days it was the custom for unmarried girls to go bare-headed but this rule is no longer always observed. The Kulu dress has, it will be noticed, at least one merit, that both men and women are free from that constant source of annoyance, buttons and studs.

The houses are built of stone roughly hewn, with beams of khelu (deodar) wood at regular intervals. The longitudinal beams called cheol are connected by transverse beams running from back to front of the wall and by vertical iron or wooden bolts. So that the whole wall is held together as if it were a single block of stone and can resist a severe earthquake. Probably it was for this reason that such a method of building was originally adopted and the traveller who passes through Jhatingri in the Mandi State can see its advantages clearly proved. While the Jhatingri dak bungalow fell like a pack of cards in the earthquake of 1905 the sarai built in the traditional way is still standing. Outside, the house is generally plastered over and white washed. Most houses have only one storey, but those of the richer villagers have two stories with verandahs of prettily carved woodwork. One of these better houses will contain about six rooms, three above and three below, all very small for the sake of warmth in winter. The peasant does not in Kulu any more than in other countries, believe in the merits of fresh air. Some of the Panjabi trades-men in the town have chimney, in their houses, but no Kulu peasant has followed their example. Even when he can well afford the additional expense, he does not care to adopt new customs and by so doing incur general disapprobation. The fire is in the middle of the room and the smoke escapes by a small hole in the roof. During the long winter evenings the family and their guests sit round the burning logs, telling stories and spinning wool. As a rule there is no illumination except the firelight, nor do they need any other since no-one reads or writes. But on special occasions a lamp fed, not with the kerosine oil now so common in India, but with some pure vegetable oil, is burnt before the household god. The roofs of the houses are sloping and are made of slate in Kulu, but in Mandi generally of thatch.

Village of Chhet, Banjar. (Samuel Bourne, 1866)

Food, clothes, and houses, are thing, which concern us every day. But each stage of human life has certain customs associated with it, and in trying to describe these, I shall follow the order of time from birth to death. The Kulu child generally makes its entrance into the world with remarkable facility. In one instance, last year, the whole time of parturition did not last more than two hours. The mother who did for herself everything that is usually done by doctor or midwife, was able to get up the next day. It is the custom, however, for her not to leave the room for a period of five or seven days in the case of a girl, and of fifteen days in the case of a boy. During this time she eats only gruel mixed with ghi, and is considered impure. On the fifteenth day the boy is taken out to see the sun. A bow and arrow are placed in his hands and then put aside for his use when he grows older. In these peaceful times they can of course never be anything but a toy. A large flat cake, kneaded with ghi is divided among friends and visitors in the boy’s name. For the purification of the mother a mixture of raisins, barley, khaili wood and bekul wood, is burnt on a stone. Till then all the members of the household must remain apart from their caste fellows. The child often continues to drink the mother’s milk till another is born. Shetu’s boy who was born in the year of the earthquake, five years ago, is still unweaned. When it is necessary to wean the child, the powdered bark of a tree called the dodni, which has a bitter taste, is placed on the breast.

The naming of the child is often deferred for sometime. Rirku’s boy, born a year ago has not been named yet. Some names are chosen from the month in which the child was born, as Basanti, Phagni, Maghnu, Poshu; some from a personal peculiarity as Shetu, white. He has received that name because he has fair hair and blue eyes. Bechara, unfortunate one, seems a very inappropriate name, for its owner, a little boy of four years old, is a singularly happy and cheerful child. But when small he was always ill till he was passed under the root of the phagra or wild fig tree, where it grows out from a steep bank. Since then he has been strong and healthy. So far as I can learn there is no special ceremony in connection with naming the child, nor is any book consulted. Masculine names generally end in u and feminine in i, but Maghnu is a woman’s name.

Among the children’s games played in Kulu is one called Sag-Samundar, which resembles the English game of hop-scotch. A rectangle is divided as shewn in the diagram into nine compartments called respectively, Sag or Samundar, Bhau, Dhobi, Billi, Bragh, Kutta, Gidar, Andar, Bahar. Billi is much narrower than the others. By the side of Billi is a compartment of roughly semi-circular shape called Kua. The boy places one foot in Andar and the other in Bahar and tries to throw a flat stone in Sag. If he succeeds, he must lop from one compartment to another, omitting Billi, and knock the stone out with his foot. The stone must not come to rest in Billi or on a line, or go out the rectangle by either of the sides. Each of the other compartments is dealt with in the same way, except Andar and Bahar into which the boy, instead of hopping must jump with his feet close together. Last of all he throws the stone into Kua and brings it out through Billi. The same game is played in the Panjab but with other names assigned to the compartments. Other games of children are goj-moj or hide-and-seek; and ore-pore or odd-and-even. This last consists in guessing whether an odd or even number of the stones of the Sari (wild apricot) is held in the land.

Children playing Saz Long, the Kashmiri version of hopscotch. (ca. 1900, Kashmir) [Source]

The small boy very soon learns to assist in the household work, to look after the cattle or to fetch water. When he is not occupied with these tasks he can play, for it is seldom he is sent to school. There are few schools in Kulu and not one in which English is taught. The education given in them, conducted from the very beginning in a foreign language, is adapted to boys who wish afterwards to obtain subordinate clerical appointments in Government offices, but would be useless to the sons of peasants who intend to follow their father’s occupation.

Marriage does not take place so early as in the plains. Kishi, Rirku’s daughter, who was married last January was fourteen years old though she looked much younger. It is usual for the father of the boy to make the first advances. When he has come to an agreement with the father of the girl, a Brahman is consulted as to a suitable day for the performance of the ceremony. The Brahmans have nothing else to do with the marriage from beginning to end. In his book on the “Caste System of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh”, Mr. Nesfield says: “One of the first symptoms of a savage tribe becoming Brahmanized is that they have begun to consult the astrologer.” The Kulu people cannot be considered savage, but they too have begun to seek the advise of the Brahman jyotishi, although in other respects they are not under Brahmanical influence. As yet they have only begun, for sometimes the household god is consulted and not the Brahman. Rirku thought it wiser to consult both. A friend of the writer, a Dhusar tradesman, who has come from the Punjab and settled in Sultanpur, said that the reason why Brahmans take no part in the marriage ceremony is that the villagers belong to a low caste, the Koli caste. That this is not the true explanation is shewn by the fact that in Allahabad even a chamar can obtain the service of Brahmans at his marriage, although, no doubt not Brahmans of the best kind.

The marriage ceremonies last for four or five days. On the first day the parents of the bride and bridegroom separately entertain their friends in their own houses. The bride has to bathe three times during the day. On the second day the boy with his friends go to the girl’s house. He enters the house, and carries the girl, who is seated on her mother’s lap, outside. Before lifting up the girl, he has to pay the mother a rupee, and this is said to be paying her for her milk. When the boy and girl are in the compound ousltside the house, red marks are placed on their foreheads and they are worshipped as gods. This is called parona. After that, they go to the bridegroom’s house. He may walk or ride but the girl must be carried on the back of one of her relations. She stops for the night in the house, and the next day, the third, her father goes there with his friends and is feasted by the father of the boy. He returns on the same day, and on the fourth day the girl herself returns accompanied by her husband and his friends. They are again entertained in the house of the girl’s father, and then go home, leaving the girl with her father for a year or two longer. Hindu marriage customs, observed in Kulu, as well as in other parts of India, are: tying a thread round the wrists of the boy and girl, walking seven times round the sacred fire, wearing of a sword by the bridegroom.

When the bride is a widow there are no elaborate ceremonies. A stamped agreement between the two parties is written and a feast is given to their friends. Sometimes a wife falls in love with a man who is not her husband. In most parts of the world this gives rise to anger and even blood-shed but in Kulu the affair is generally settled amicably. The husband accepts a sum of money and then gives a written consent to his wife living with the man she has chosen. There may he a little difficulty as to the amount to be paid. Some ten years ago Poshu was going to sell his wife for forty rupees, but his friend Rirku said to him, “Your wife is worth much more than forty rupees; you ought to get at least eighty for her.” After some haggling Poshu got the eighty rupees and was so delighted at his good fortune that he passed the night singing and drinking lugri with his friends. As far as I can learn eighty rupees is a fair average price for a wife. Naktu paid only forty for his, but that was because she is often possessed by a bhut. If the husband is obstinate, the lovers can fly to the neighbouring Mandi State. As a Kulu song puts it:

Mun jana Mandi be
Firangi ki selara lana?

“I will go to Mandi;
what can the English-man do?”

Sometimes two people live together without either a marriage ceremony or a written agreement. Nor are they blamed on that account for though prostitution is considered as shameful in Kulu as it is in other countries, no importance is attached to the mere absence of certain forms, when the man and woman are united by mutual affection and fidelity. Rirku and Maghnu have lived together for twenty years without marriage and are not any the less respected by their neighbours and caste-fellows. The only difficulty is when the father of the woman is alive, for he cannot eat in his daughter’s house. For this reason Bholu and his wife, as she was called, determined to go through the ceremony of marriage as soon as they had collected enough coin and lugri. The poor girl however died of puerperal fever before they had completed their preparations. It was a very sad case as her life would probably have been saved if she had been attended by a skilled mid-wife. In Kulu, it is not necessary as in the plains, for a girl to be married before the age of puberty. She may even have given a child to the man she intends to marry. But she must go to him directly from her father’s house. A wife or widow is not allowed to have a, formal marriage (byah) with another man.

In most cases, the chief occupation of the grown up man in Kulu is agriculture. He is generally the owner of the land he farms. The words Dr. Rhys Davids uses with reference to India in the time of the Buddha would apply to Kulu now: “None of the householders could have been what would now be called rich. On the other hand there was a sufficiency for their simple needs, there was security, there was independence. There were no landlords and no paupers. There was little if any crime.” But for “no landlords” we ought to substitute “few landlords.” Some of the land is held on what in Europe is called the metayer system, and in Kulu gar. In this system the grain is divided after the harvest equally between landlord and tenant. The work of the farm is for the most part done by the farmer and his family. They may perhaps, when the farm is larger than usual, require the help of outside labourers at harvest time. But there are not, as in England, three classes, landlords, farmers, labourers; for the men who work at times for others have also their own little bits of ground and houses. The peasant in Kulu does not run the risk of being turned out of his home and deprived of all means of livelihood if he offends his employer. Other traditional occupations besides agriculture are tanning leather; stone, metal and wood work. But the highest and lowest castes, the Rajputs and Brahmans on the one hand and the sweepers on the other, are said to have come from Kangra. So too has the jhir or fishing caste.

Ploughing the rice-fields, Kais 1980s. (Wolfgang Himmel)

The chief amusement of men and women in Kulu is the jach or religious festival. Dashra which is held in the large meadow near Sultanpur is the principal of these, but there are others held in different places throughout the valley. Some like those of Bekri and Bhuin are held every year, and some after longer intervals like the Kaika jacha which is held every three years. There is very little difference between one jacha and another, except that some are more largely attended both by gods and men than others. The women wear their jewels and the men put on their best clothes and hang garlands of flowers from their necks, for one of the most striking features in the character of the Kulu people is their great love of flowers. Men dance round the rath of their god while his servants play on their musical instruments. The local residents provide for their friends, who come from a distance, food and lodging and, above all, abundance of lugri. In Seoraj, it is still the custom, as it was in Greece in Homeric times, for the women of the house to bathe the guest.

This is done, it need hardly be said, with perfect regard for modesty. In the jachas are sung for the first time songs which afterwards become current throughout Kulu. Sometimes they relate incidents of local history which are by this means preserved in popular recollection for many years. The deeds of the first Englishmen who came to Kulu are not forgotten yet. Other songs deal with the old familiar themes of all poetry. One of these, which is very short, may be given as a specimen of the Kulu language:—

Sebhi phulu; bhar phulu tulola
Sawan, Bhadon ejasi
Phiri ghiriya
Jawane ek kalola.

All is in bloom; in full bloom is the rose
The summer months come
And return again,
The flower of youth comes once.

In the daily work of the field, with the occasional diversion of a jacha, the life of the Kulu peasant passes on to its close. When this comes and the last breath has been breathed, the body of the dead man is taken at once to be burned. For the next five days the relations eat only a mid-day meal consisting, of bread and dal. Before they begin the meal they put aside a portion on a stone outside the house along with some dhup for the dead. 

Crows come to carry off the food, but one crow always comes alone, and in this crow is the departed spirit. On the fifth day, the ceremony called sundar takes place. A goat is killed and the flesh is distributed among relations and the poor. It is usual to make presents to distant relations in the name of the dead man and this takes the place of the present to the Brahman given in other parts of India. After sundar the household cease to fast. Four years later is chaburka, when presents are again made to distant relations.

Something ought to be said about the religion, race and language of the Kulu people, but these are matters which can only be adequately treated by a Sanskrit Scholar, and I must confine myself to a few personal observations. The distinctive features of Hinduism are, it seems to me, three in number; (1) the caste system, (2) the ascendency of the Brahman, (3) the reverence for the cow. Now the first and third of these are as strongly marked in Kulu as anywhere in India, and so the inhabitants may be called Hindu, but the second feature is absent. As has been mentioned already, the services of the Brahman are not required at marriages or funerals. Some years ago a Kulu friend told me that Rajputs were more highly esteemed than Brahmans, and indeed spoke with some contempt of the Brahmans as a begging caste. More recently I had the opportunity of noticing the much greater deference paid to a Rajput of good family than to the Brahman zemindars in the District. In ancient India, the two castes seem to have held the same relative position. Rhys Davids says, “It will sound most amazing to those familiar with Brahmin pretensions (either in modern times in India, or in priestly books such as Manu and the epics) to hear Brahmins spoken of as ‘low-born’. Yet that precisely is an epithet applied to them in comparison with the kings and nobles. And it ought to open our eyes as to their relative importance in ancient times.”

The rules of caste about eating and drinking are observed in Kulu, perhaps even more strictly than in the plains, for they are insisted on with quite young children. But the caste-system has not the oppressive features met with in the South of India. There is no caste whose mere presence is considered a pollution. No one, not even a chamar or a sweeper, is excluded from the worship of the village god. Indeed, I am told, any such exclusion would be displeasing to the god for he likes all the people of his village to worship him. It is said that in ancient India “There can have been no such physical repulsion as obtains between the advanced and savage races of today” and this is true in Kulu now. There is nothing like the feeling the white man in America entertains towards the negro. The American will not tolerate marriage or even an illict connection with a negro woman. He will not allow the negro to sit at the same table for that would imply equality. But he has no objection to taking-food from a negro’s hand, and, in fact, in many American hotels the waiters are Negroes. A Hindu, on the contrary, will not take food from a Musalman, but he does not, in Kulu at least, regard the Musalman as an inferior.

Deities and Devotees, Upper Kulu 1910s. (Kangra District Gazetter 1917)

As for the third feature of Hinduism, there is no part of India where the cow is regarded with more affection than in Kulu. Even the Musulmans and English men resident in the valley have too much regard for the feeling of their Hindu neighbours for them to wish to kill a cow.

As I am not a philologist, I cannot say, what relation the Kulu dialect has to the other Indian dialects, but even to the layman it is obvious that some of the words have older forms than the corresponding words in Hindi; for instance, trai, three. The terminations ra re ri take the place of ka, ke, ki, thus: Rirku ra ghor = Rirku ka ghar. Be is the equivalant of ko in Hindi: ghorabe jana = ghar ko jana. For the agent case main is used, and for the nominative—haun: main likhu = main ne likha; haun likhnu = main likhunga.

The people of Kulu are of lighter complexion than the people of the plains, and sometimes though not often, have fair hair and blue eyes. Their type of features does not differ much from the European. The chief gur of Sibji is very like an old Scotch friend of the present writer, All castes resemble one another in features and complexion and so far as I have observed there is no reason to suppose that differences of caste correspond to differences of race. The few Mahommedans settled in the valley have come from other parts of India, mostly from the Panjab. They live on the most friendly terms with their Hindu neighbours, and indeed the strife of race or religion or politics is unknown in Kulu. In the “Imperial Gazetteer of India”, Vol. 1, p. 295, it is said:

“The Mongoloid type of the Himalayas, Nepal, Assam, and Burma, represented by the Kanets of Sapul and Kulu….. The head is broad; complexion dark with a yellowish tinge; hair on face scanty; stature short or below average; nose fine too broad; face characteristically flat; eyelids often oblique.”

This does not apply to the Kulu people I have myself seen, whether Kanaits or other castes. They are not in general conspicuously short like the Gurkhas; their faces are not flat and their eyes are not oblique. They differ in features, language and customs from the Lahoulis.


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कुल्लूई रीति रिवाज़ (1910) - Tharah Kardu · 16 April 2024 at 17:56

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