Culture and People

All About the Roots : Kumaon

All About the RootsKumaon

This post is not about the recommendation on the places to visit or things to do while you are there – all the tourist stuff.

Its about my roots… its the place where my Ancestors  lived . This post is a reference place for the information about Kumaon. Every Indian has a specific identity within within the broader Indian identity and it means a lot. This identify relates to the place where the person belongs to, its history, stories & mythologies, the rituals & traditions, the language, the culture, the art, the music, the dances, the cuisines….

Every living organism needs to stay connected to roots for its survival.

I was born in New Delhi, therefore, it’s my Janmabhumi (Birthplace) and have lived/worked in Delhi NCR region all my life, so it is my Karmabhumi as well.

I am a Kumaoni by birth, only the second generation urban settler, the first generation born & brought up in New Delhi, the capital of India, a Metropolitan city, an urban Jungle. My forefather, for centuries, lived in the North India Himalayan Mountain area called Kumaon, till my father (Dayanand Sharma) came down to New Delhi around the time of India’s independence, to earn a living in the city.  Those mountain villages where my fore-fathers lived are now a part of Almora District of the North Indian state Uttarakhand.

The Kumaon region consists of a large Himalayan tract, together with two submontane strips called the Terai and the Bhabhar. The submontane strips were up to 1850 an almost impenetrable forest, given up to wild animals; but after 1850 the numerous clearings attracted a large population from the hills, who cultivated the rich soil during the hot and cold seasons, returning to the hills in the rains. The rest of Kumaon is a maze of mountains, part of the Himalaya range, some of which are among the loftiest known. In a tract not more than 225 km in length and 65 km in breadth there are over thirty peaks rising to elevations exceeding 5500 m.

The inhabitants of the Kumaon hills are commonly known as the Kumouni. The social structure is based on the extended family system, the eldest male member being the head of the family. Women are respected in society but they usually confine themselves to household activities. No religious ceremony is considered complete without the wife joining the husband. Women also work in the fields and forests alongside the men.

Despite Kumaon being an integral part of the Indian mainstream, it has often experienced sociological and historical phenomena which are at variance with those in the rest of the country. This may be because of the distinctive geographical features of the region. In the last 4000 years, Kumaon has given shelter to and is, consequently, an amalgamation of various people who have migrated here from all places. Kumaon is derived from the word Kurmanchal. – It means the Land of the Kurmavatar, the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is referred to as the preserver of the Hindu Trinity.

Literacy rate in higher in Kumaon compare to national average. A key factor going in Uttarakhand’s favour in attracting services and industrial investments is its significantly high level of literacy in both Kumaon & Garhwal regions. The overall rate of literacy in the state is 72.3%. This endows it with large pool of educated labour that industry can draw from. Importantly, the spread of high level of literacy is even across the rural and urban sectors with the respective literacy rate of 68.5% and 81.5%. The total school enrollment ratio for Uttaranchal for the age group of 6-17 was at 87%, significantly higher than the all India ratio of 72%.

The culture of the present Kumaon is a blend of influences from the indigenous population as well as from the immigrants to this region. Consequently, the myths, dialects, languages, folk literature, festivals, fairs and forms of artistic expression are examples of the creative influences of the different cultural groups that constitute Kumaon.

Every peak, lake or mountain range is somehow or the other connected with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess, ranging from those associated with the Shaiv, Shakti and Vaishnava traditions, to local Gods like Ham, Saim, Golla, Chhurmal, Kail Bisht, Bholanath, Gangnath, Airy and Chaumu.

Temples are dedicated to the nine famous Goddesses, other local Goddesses, Bhairava, Surya and Ganesha. The temples at JageshwarBageshwarBinsar, Thalkedar, Rameshwar, Pancheshwar, Baijnath and Gananath are devoted to Lord Shiva. The temples of Devidhura, Gangolihat, Pumagiri, Almora, Nainital, Kot Ki Mai and Kotgari Devi are associated with the Shakti tradition, while the region of Lohaghat – Champawat (Mount Kandeo) is associated with Kurmavatar Avatar (The incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of a Tortoise). This region also has two famous Sun temples.

Kumaoni Holi – The uniqueness of the Kumaoni Holi lies in its being a musical affair, whichever may be its form, be it the Baithki Holi, the Khari Holi or the Mahila Holi. The Baithki Holi and Khari Holi are unique in that the songs on which they are based have touch of melody, fun and spiritualism. These songs are essentially based on classical ragas. No wonder then the Baithki Holi is also known as Nirvan Ki Holi. The Baithki Holi begins from the premises of temples, where Holiyars (the professional singers of Holi songs) as also the people gather to sing songs to the accompaniment of classical music. The Khari Holi is mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by the people, who sporting traditional white churidar payajama and kurta, dance in groups to the tune of ethnic musical instruments.

Kumaoni’s are very particular about the time when the songs based on ragas should be sung. For instance, at noon the songs based on PeeluBhimpalasi and Sarang ragas are sung while evening is reserved for the songs based on the ragas like Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman etc.

Kumaoni language (कुमाँऊनी भाषा) is one of the Central Pahari languages of the Kumaonis (कुमाँऊनी ) – people of the Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand, a region in the Indian Himalayas. Alternate names are Kumaoni, Kamaoni, Kumaoni, Kumau, Kumawani, Kumgoni, Kumman, Kunayaoni

Kumaoni is spoken by over 2,360,000 (1998 numbers, 2012 Linguistic Census of India currently underway) people of Indian states of Uttarakhand – AlmoraNainitalPithoragarhBageshwar,ChampawatRudrapur (Udhamsingh Nagar) districts; AssamBiharDelhiMadhya PradeshMaharashtra andPunjab, besides being spoken in some regions of Himachal Pradesh and Nepal. The Central Pahari languages include Kumaoni and Garhwali (spoken in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand).

Kumaoni, has many regional dialects spoken in different places in Uttarakhand. Amongst its dialects, the Central Kumauni is spoken in Almora and northern Nainital, Northeastern Kumauni is in Pithoragarh, Southeastern Kumauni is in Southeastern Nainital, Western Kumauni is west of Almora and Nainital.

Almost all people who can speak and understand Kumaoni can also speak and understand Hindi, the official language of India. However, due to a number of reasons, Kumaoni is one of the languages which is shrinking very rapidly. UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger designates Kumaoni as language in the unsafecategory and which requires consistent conservation efforts.

Though predominantly worshippers of Lord Shiva and Shakti, the people of Kumaon have a rich tradition of folk deity worship. The heroes of some long – forgotten age have later on become folk gods and they give expression to the popular beliefs of the people. Each folk god has a separate story attached to his name and each one is remembered through some peak, temple or jagar (a form of ritual folk poem). It is believed that Kumaon once had a tradition of Yaksha worship.

The presence of ‘Naga’ or snake worship is an indication of the reverence’ given to the brave. Besides worshipping the usual gods and goddesses associated with Hinduism, the people of Kumaon have also worshipped Kul Devatas (family gods), Gram Devatas (village gods), Naga Devatas (snake gods), Bhumi Devatas (land gods) and Veers (the brave heroes).

The earliest historical references to the region are found in the Vedas. Specific mention of the mountains exists in the Mahabharata, dated to about 1000 BC, when the protagonists of the epic, the Pandavas, are said to have ended their life on earth by ascending the slopes of a peak in Western Garhwal called Swargarohini – literally, the ‘Ascent to Heaven’.

The Kumaoni’s have singular faith in the presiding deity of Kumaon – Nanda Devi, the Goddess of Bliss. The graceful peak of Nanda Devi , is visible from almost everywhere in Kumaon. Nanda Devi who is said to be the reincarnation of Parvati is said to represent the icy, unmoving form of Parvati in endless anticipation of her desired consort, Lord Shiva.

The word Kumaon is believed to have been derived from “Kurmanchal”, meaning land of the Kurmavatar (the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the preserver according to Hindu mythology). The region of Kumaon is named after as such. Evidences of Stone Age settlements have been found in Kumaon, particularly the rock shelter at Lakhu Udyar. The paintings here date back to theMesolithic periodLord Buddha‘s mother, Mayabati belonged to this clan. Another version of the origin is that.

One theory also traces the work word Kumaon to the 5th century BC. The Kassite Assyrians left their homeland ‘Kummah’, on the banks of river Euphrates, and settled in the northern part of India. These inhabitants formed Koliyan tribe and having their new settlement as ‘Kumaon’.

The early medieval history of Kumaon is the history of the Katyuri dynasty. The Katyuri kings ruled from the seventh to the 11th century, holding sway at the peak of their powers over large areas of Kumaon, Garhwal, and Western Nepal. The town of Baijnath near Almora was the capital of this dynasty and a center of the arts. Temple building flourished under the Katyuris and the main architectural innovation introduced by them was the replacement of bricks with hewn stone.

On a hilltop facing east (opposite Almora), is the temple of Katarmal. This 900-year-old sun temple was built during the declining years of the Katyuri dynasty. The intricately carved doors and panels have been removed to the National Museum in Delhi as a protective measure after the 10th-century idol of the presiding deity was stolen.

The Chands of Pithoragarh were the dominant dynasty which later ruled Kumaon . The magnificent old temple complex at Jageshwar, with its cluster of a hundred and sixty-four temples, was built by the Chand rulers over a period of two centuries. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Kumaonis have been famous for their valour, their courage was legendary, their honour indomitable. The Kumaonis were never fully subjugated by the powerful Muslim dynasties of Delhi.

Kumaonis were observed by the British, their valour was thus given recognition by the British and were included in the British Army. It is interesting to note that the 3rd Gorkha Rifles was known as the Keemaon battalion when it was formed and it included Kumaonis as well as the Garhwalis along with the Gorkhas.

The Kumaonis, once accepted as a martial race, were recruited in the Hyderabad regiment and displace the native troops, ultimately becoming the Kumaon Regiment after Independence of India.

The Kumaon Regiment is one of the most decorated regiments of the Indian Army.The regiment traces its origins with the British Indian Army and has fought in various campaigns including the two world wars. After independence, the regiment has fought in all major conflicts involving India. They showed their exceptional courage in the Indo-Chinese War, the Battle of Rezang La has been proverbial for valour.


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