The Culture of Kumaon…


Almora view

Almora view (Photo credit: Hoppy1951)

Almora, Uttarakhand. 1860s.

Almora, Uttarakhand. 1860s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kumaoni Culture


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Binsar, a view of Kumaon Himalayas, (Uttarakhand)

Binsar, a view of Kumaon Himalayas, (Uttarakhand) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • 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 Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Binsar, 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.
English: Temples of Baijnath, Uttarakhand, Ind...

English: Temples of Baijnath, Uttarakhand, India. Français : Temples de Baijnath, Uttarakhand, Inde. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kalika Temple at Gangolihat

Kalika Temple at Gangolihat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Durga, Baijnath, Uttarakhand.

Durga, Baijnath, Uttarakhand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1204 A.D Baijnath Temple

1204 A.D Baijnath Temple (Photo credit: Himalayan Trails)


Jageshwar (Photo credit: प्रतीक)

Masonry and Architecture in Kumaon

  • Kumaon has a distinctive style of architecture, which is to be seen on the one hand in scattered settlements of the higher Himalaya and populated agricultural valleys, and on the other in the temples, naulas-bawaris (water tanks), forts and dharamshalas (inns). Most of the old houses of Kumaon have stone walls, mud floors, slate roofs and patangans (courtyards of gray stone) and their doors, windows and Kholis (main entrance to the house) have intricate figures of Ganesh and other Gods – Goddesses. The wood carver or carpenter never forgets to make closed nestles for birds. Although brick and concrete houses are now being constructed in Kumaon, very often, depending on the availability of the material, people still prefer to use stones, slate and wood for the construction of their houses.
  • The temples, which have been constructed over a period of about a thousand years, follow a local style known as the ‘Himadri’ style of architecture. The temples at Jageshwar, Almora, Katarmal, Thal, Baijnath, Someshwar, Dwarahat, Gangolihat, Patal Bhuvaneshwar and Marsoli are very good examples of the local style, which is often termed as post Gupta architecture.
  • Along with architecture, Kumaon has also had a distinctive style of sculpture. One finds many idols in temples and even outside temples. The idols at Jageshwar, Dwarahat, Baijnath, Katarmal, Kasni and Champawat bear ample testimony to Kumaon’ s rich tradition of sculpture. The bronze or astdhatu statues are also worth seeing. Similarly, the Ek Hathia (literal meaning, ‘one handed’) Deval near Thal and the Ek Hathia Naula near Champawat are unusual expressions, not only because of the stories attached to their creation, but also from the point of view of their architectural design. A few statues bear influence of Buddhist art. The region is also rich in epigraphic and numismatic expressions.
  • There are Beerkhams or victory pillars (one piece) scattered all over Kumaon, and a few forts or ruins of various forts, are still to be seen at AlmoraChampawatPithoragarh, Karnkarayat, Sira, Gangolihat and Kuti.

Different Forms of Aipans

  • Saraswati Chowki :- Saraswati being the Goddess of learning, when a child begins formal education a puja is held to give him/her an auspicious start. The main feature of this chowki is a five-pointed star with a swastik flower or a diya in the center. The artist then proceeds to decorate the center piece with flowing designs or floral patterns
  • Chamunda Hast Chowki :- This chowki is made for “havans” or “yagyas” . Two triangles interspersed with two diagonal lines running across both, with a 5-pointed star in between, enclosed in a circle make the centre piece of this chowki. The gaps are filled up with floral designs or lakshmi’s feet. The circle itself is often decorated with 8 petals of the lotus.
  • Nav Durga Chowki :- Used for ritual Devi pujas. The main points here are nine dots representing the Nav Durgas. Those who are adept in aepan designs make a square enclosing these dots with parallel lines running crisscross and decorate these with lotus petals. A simpler way is to form swastiks with the 9 dots, it is then called Nav Swastik. There are many variations of this. A simpler version is made by drawing three horizontal and vertical lines with a Swastik in the centre.
  • Shiv or Shivarchan Peeth :- Shiv is the reigning God of the people of the Himalayas. He is worshipped specially in the months of Savan or Magh. 28 or 108 Parthiv Lings are placed in a copper thali and Shiv or Shivarchan Peeth is drawn on the ground. This is an eight cornered design with 12 dots joined by 12 lines. To make it more attractive there is an outside border of four plus four corners.
  • The Surya Darshan Chowki :- It is connected with the naming ceremony of a newborn child. For eleven days the baby is kept indoors, on the eleventh day the child is brought outside for Surya Darshan. This chowki is made on the floor where the priest sits reciting mantras.
  • Janeyu Chowki :- The chowki is made specially for the sacred thread ceremony. Seven stars within a six-sided drawing form the main section. The seven stars represent the Sapt Rishis. Around this floral designs with dots are drawn.
  • Asan Chowki :- This is associated with the many kinds of chowkis used for various pujas. It is a decorated seat for the devotee and his wife for a ritual puja.
  • Dhuli Arghya Chowki :- Twilight in India is called “Godhuli Vela” or the time when cows return home from the pastures. The dust which rises from their hooves gives the time its name. For weddings the bridegroom’s party also arrives at the bride’s house at this time of evening. In bygone days the bridegroom’s entourage usually walked to the bride’ s place and so they arrived with dusty feet. Since the groom for this period represents “Narayan”. God himself. so he is greeted with devotion. His dust covered feet are washed before the puja welcoming him begins. He stands on a “Chowkil. or small stool on which is painted a tree like figure with three branches coming out on the top. It also resembles a pitcher with Shiva’s Trishul or Trident on the top. At the base is Bramha the creator and in the middle Vishnu. On two sides of this painting, two parrots are painted and at the bottom the lotus as well as the Swastik. All three denote luck and are good omens.
  • Acharya Chowki:- The groom is always accompanied among others by his own Pandit or Acharya. The Pandit is given more prominence than even the father of the groom. So a special chowki is made for him. A Swastik is made on it with red colour. The lotus and other auspicious symbols such as a bell, a conch shell, sometimes even 2 parrots are painted around the Swastik.
  • Durga Thapa :- The Durga Thapa is painted on paper by the women of Kumaon for two Durga Pujas held during the year, one in March-April and the other before the festival of Dussehra. The pujas take place for nine days and are therefore caned Navratras.
  • This Thapa or painting is highly complex. Almost an the gods and goddesses. besides several local deities are depicted along with the many-armed Durga who rides the lion. Ranking her on the left and right are the family deities of the Thakurs of Kumaon. Kot Kangra Devi and Jwala Devi. She is surrounded by auspicious symbols such as the conch shen, ben, lamp, tulsi. rice, grain and swastika. To her left are the Bhuja Bali gods. Ram and Lakshman. The twin sisters. Anayari and UjyarL representing light and darkness and the goddesses worshipped at the hiJI temples of Punyagiri and Dunagiri also find representation in this Thapa. On the right side are- the Nav Durgas and the nine headed Chandi Devi, with the temple guards at the bottom of the hierarchy. The topmost row in the painting features the sun, Ganesh – the elephant-headed god who is the remover of obstacles, Riddhi, Lakshmi the goddess of wealth and her consort, Vishnu. the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity; Brahma, the Creator and Saraswati the goddess of learning; local gods Gola Nath and Bhola Nath on horseback and Bala Barmi. The eight-petalled lotus within a circle is of special importance in a Durga Puja.
  • Jyoti Patta :- In the hills of Kumaon, among the Brahmin and Sah families there is a practice of drawing a “Jyoonti” at a wedding or a sacred thread ceremony. In earlier times, “Jyoontis” were murals painted on the walls of rooms where religious ceremonies took place. These drawings are now made on paper, hardboard or plywood. Even printed Jyoonti Pattas are available. “Jyoonti” is the local word used for the Jeev Matrikas – Maha Laxmi, Maha Saraswati and Maha Kali. Worship of the Matrikas is an ancient tradition in Kumaon. The Bagnath Temple in Bageshwar has a panel of the Matrikas supposed to date back to the ninth century. The drawing of the “Jyoonti” or Jyoti Patta follows a pattern. The first line depicts the Himalayas because it is the practice to send the first invitation to them. Thereafter there are lines of floral or geometrical designs. One important panel has two lotuses on either side and a tree which symbolizes the mythical Kalpavriksha. Brahma, the Creator, and Vishnu, the Preserver, are said to reside in the roots of the tree, Shiva, the Destroyer, in its trunk and his consort, Parvati, in the topmost part of the tree. Below the tree, two parrots are painted for luck. In the center of the panel are Radha-Krishna or Ganesh and Riddhi’ or even the figures of the bride and groom.
  • The main panel has the three Matrikas attended by Ganesh. On top, are the two circular faces of Anyari Devi and Ujyari Devi, the presiding deities over Light and Darkness. Ranking the central panel is an elaborate design of dots and lines called “Bar Boond”. This represents an invocation as well as invitation to the gods to attend the wedding and bless the couple.
  • Lakshmi Yantra :- In the hills of Kumaon as in other parts of India, the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, is worshipped during the festival of Diwali. Before the idol is placed on the spot where the Puja will take place, the Lakshmi Yantra is drawn on the floor with ochre colour (Geru) and rice paste (Biswar). This is the seat of the goddess. The center point of the Yantra is marked by a dot or flower, which symbolizes the Universe. It is enclosed in two triangles, which form a star with six points. The upper triangle represents Shiva and the lower one, Shakti. The triangle is encircled with six or eight lotuses. There can also be an outer circle of sixteen lotuses. The lotuses represent the moon, stars, the home and wealth. There are usually other circular designs around the centerpiece. The circles are surrounded by lines on four sides signifying “doors” is called “Bhupur”. They symbolize the Earth. The entire painting is adorned at various points with Lakshmi’s footprints.
  • Below the Yantra are depicted two puja “asanas” or seats for the couple who perform the puja. Alternatively, these seats could be meant for the head of the household and the priest who conducts the ceremony. In most Kumaoni households instead of a clay or metal statue of Lakshmi, sugarcane is cut and placed crosswise. Traditional feminine attire like a lahanga (long skirt) and Odhni (shaw!) adorn the sugarcane to make it look like a female form. Thus is the sweetness of life invited with ritual precision to preside over a household.
  • Other Art Forms: The Shaukas use their own and Tibetan knitting art form to decorate mattresses known as Dans. In these woollen goods we find the mixed influence of the Kumaoni and Tibetan styles. Kumaon also has a distinctive style of making different baskets (Doka, Dala, Tokri); wooden casks (Theki, Harpia, Naliya) for keeping curd, butter and ghee; mattresses (mosta) and ropes etc. The art of Hilljatra mukhotas (masks) is also worth mentioning.

Importance of Music and Dance




  • Kumaoni’s are fond of music, folk dance, and songs accompanied by local musical instruments like murli, bina, and hurka.
  • The hurka is played by the “jurkiya” and the dancer accompanying him, known as “hurkiyari,” is usually his wife or daughter.
  • They go from place to place narrating folklores, singing the praise of their gods and goddesses.
  • During fairs and festivals and at harvest time, they often dance the Jharva, Chandhur Chhapalior, and many other forms of folk dances.
  • The popular folk songs are Malushahi, Bair, and Hurkiya Bol.










Kumaoni Traditions (Sanskars)



  • Pachauli: On the fifth day of the birth of a child, the mother and the child are given a bath, followed by puja and singing of traditional songs.
  • Chhati: This event is celebrated on the sixth day of a child’s birth. It is day long event and generally finishes in the evening. It usually consists of decorating the house with traditional aipans and other things, singing of traditional Kumaoni songs followed by lunch.
  • Nawan: This is celebrated the ninth day of the child’s birth. Basically it is celebrated in the same manner as the Pachuli.
  • Namkaran: On the eleventh day of the child’s birth the namkaran ceremony takes place. The house is decorated with AIPANS. Brahmin is called for puja. The child is exposed to the sun for the first time on this day , similarly he is made to touch the earth on this day. A coonch shell is wrapped in a new cloth and the brahmin takes it near the childs ear and very gently speaks the childs name in his/ her ear. This cloth is then kept in the puja place and used to make a dress which the child wears on his/her Unnaprashana day.
  • Unna-Prashana: This event is celebrated in the 5th month in case of a girl child and the 6thmonth of a boy. The house is decorated with traditional art (painting form) of Kumaon called Aipans which is called Alpana in Bengal, Satiya in Gujrat, Rangoli in Maharashtra, Chowk pooran in UP, Kolam in south India, Madne in Rajasthan, Arichan in Bihar and Bhuggul in Andhra. Guests are called, puja is done and later the mother does symbolic feeding of the child with a gold ring. It is a tradition to keep items like toys, silver coin, pen, ink, books, janau and knife on a big plate. The child is taken near the plate and encouraged to pick or touch any of the items. It is said that if he touches or pick the items as shown below he / she will be inclined to the profession:
    • Toys : Sports
    • Silver coin : Business
    • Pen : Bureaucrats
    • Ink :Writer/Artists/ Intellectual pursuits
    • Books : Teacher
    • Janau : Priest/ Religious bent of mind
    • Knife : Soldier/ Police.
    • Lock : Thief/ Bad character/ Child is likely to fall into bad company when he grows up
  • In today’s world the UNNPRASHAN ceremony is still done but people do not take these prophecies seriously.
  • 1st Birthday: This is also celebrated in the traditional way. The child is given a traditional bath in a big brass vessel called Parat. Wheat flour is mixed with turmeric and used to rub the child. All relatives pour water over the child as a symbolic gesture. This is followed by a feast.
  • Chuda-Karma: This is celebrated on the third birthday of a child. Five different pujas , Ganesh Puja (Lord Ganesha), Matri Puja (Mothers), Kalash Sthapna, Nav-Grah Puja (Nine celestial planets), and Punya-Wachan are done. After this the hair of the child are shaved off. The child’s ear are also pierced on this day.
  • Akshar Aarambh:. This is done on the child’s 5th birthday. In Kumaon the studies start in the 5th year. After puja of Ganesh, Saraswati and Gurj-Puja, the Brahmin starts his formal studies on this day by teaching him the alphabets.
  • Janau/ Barpand: This is second most important day in the life of a male child. The house is decorated with Aipans. Guests are invited. Puja on this day is more elaborate than on previous occasions. After puja the boy wears the sacred thread called Janau. He takes pledge to remain a Brahmchari (virgin) till he completes his education. His head is tonsured on this day. This day is normally celebrated in the odd birthday like seventh, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth etc.

Kumouni Wedding


  • Marriages in Kumaon are simple. There is no ostentatious display of wealth, unlike the plains. There is no dowry taken or given. Sambandh or the other party’s social standing and family background are very important. This is not linked to their wealth or other such issue.
  • Marriage is the most important day in any person’s life, irrespective or his religious denomination.
  • In India marriages ceremony are of various types for example Brahma or Dev-Vivah, Gandharv-Vivah, Asur-Vivah and so on. In Kumaon Dev-Vivah or Brahma-Vivah is prevalent. In this form of ceremony the parents and the priest play the central role.
  • Marriage ceremony in Kumaon is very elaborate affair. The main events which take place are:-
    • Barpand or Janau It takes place a day earlier in case the boy has not had his Janau earlier. A boy cannot be married without his Janau.
    • Vakya-Daan: This means that the boys parents have given their word and the marriage is fixed.
    • Tika: Unlike in the plains on this day the groom’s younger brother brings the engagement ring to the brides place and again unlike the plains he slips it into the bride’s ring finger. He also presents her with jewellery, sweets, clothes, and dry fruits. Similarly the girl’s side also sends the engagement ring and other such things for the groom.
    • Suwal Pathai & Rangwali/Pichora: On this day Ganesh puja is done. During the puja three small cloth pieces are taken in which turmeric pieces, Roli, Supari, Akshat (soaked rice) and coins are put and tied. One each is placed in the kitchen, one on the entrance to the house and the third is tied to the wok/pan which is to be used for making various dishes for the marriage. Later statues of Samdhi & Samdhan  are made by using Til, Rice Flour and Jaggery. These are later put in a small basket and decorated. These are exchanged on the day of marriage. Big Papads (papadums) are made of flour, dried in the sun and later fried. These Papars are called Suwale. These are also exchanged along with sweets on the marriage day. In so far as Rangwali/Pichora is concerned it is a big piece of cloth which is to be used as a Duppata and worn by the bride, her mother and all her female relatives, similarly it is worn by the grooms mother and his female relatives. Yellow cloth is used for rangwali. Small red spots are made on it by using home made vegetable dyes and later it is dried in the sun. It is made with the help of all female relatives, traditional songs are sung when it is made.
    • Purwang: This is celebrated in the morning of the marriage day. Parents of the bride keep fast, puja is done. Later the bridegrooms family bring the Ubtan (which is a mixture of Flour, Turmeric powder, Rye seeds, Other traditional herbs and oil) used by the groom for his bath. All female relatives take turns to put this paste of Ubtan on the brides body. Later she is given a bath. The groom is also similarly given a traditional bath. The bride is required to keep her hair open. The brides father after puja ties a small yellow / pink cloth piece (called Kankan) on the left wrist of the bride. A similar cloth piece is tied on the left wrist of the brides mother. Similar piece of cloth is also tied to the grooms right wrist. The cloth piece contains one whole beetle nut, turmeric piece, coins, Akshat (whole rice)and Roli. These are opened on the fourth day of marriage.
    • Barat/The Marriage Procession: This is the arrival of the main marriage party. In the grooms house the grooms mother stands on the main door and blocks it and reminds her son the sacrifices she made in raising him. The groom gives his mother money which is symbolic of the sacrifices she made. His sister in laws and other female relatives decorate his eyes with black Khol. The groom is then put on a horse and given a traditional send off. All female sing typical folk songs meant for this occasions.
    • Dhuliargh: Its literal meaning is a ceremony conducted at a time when the cows are returning home. When the marriage party reaches the brides house, the bride’s brother receives him and uses a red umbrella to escort him to the spot where the marriage ceremonies are to take place. The bride’s father washes his feet as also the feet of the Brahmin who has come with the grooms party. They both are given clothes, watch, jewelery, and money. Later both the Brahmins tell those present, the family history of each side going back seven generations. The female relatives of the bride in the meanwhile sing traditional songs in the back ground.
    • Kanyadan: The literal meaning is ‘giving a girl away’. During this ceremony both parties sit side by side. A small makeshift curtain separates the bride and the broom. The mother puts her Anchal on top the bride and escorts her to the place of the marriage ceremony. Both Brahmins conduct the marriage ceremony by chanting traditional Sanskrit chants. The bride’s father gives his daughter hand to the groom. Later the whole ceremony is finished and the groom puts the red roli on the Mang or hair parting of the bride. The girl is now deemed to have been married. The marriage party leaves for their house before first light. They are given a traditional send off where all females sing traditional marriage songs.
    • After marriage the bride returns home to her parents place after two days to a week, depending on the distance. This is called Durgun or Durgaman ceremony. She normally stays for a few days and then returns to her husband’s home. Gradually return home.
    • Songs form a very important part of most of the ceremonies in Kumaon, more so in a marriage ceremony.











8 thoughts on “The Culture of Kumaon…

  1. Pingback: Everything that you wanted to know about Kumaon « For Whatever It's Worth…

  2. Beautifully described. Made me homesick . I could visualise everything . Great work . Keep it up we need such kind of works for preserving our culture.

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