Kumaoni language and literature…

Kumaoni language & literature

The Famous Kumaoni Bagpiper

The Famous Kumaoni Bagpiper

English: Temple at Badrinath, Uttarkhand, Indi...

English: Temple at Badrinath, Uttarkhand, India Deutsch: Tempel in Badrinath, Uttarkhand, Indien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Kedarnathji temple in Kedarnath, Utta...

English: Kedarnathji temple in Kedarnath, Uttarkhand, India Deutsch: Kedarnathji-Tempel in Kedarnath, Uttarkhand, Indien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gopi Nath Temple Gopeshwar Uttarakhand

Gopi Nath Temple Gopeshwar Uttarakhand (Photo credit: Neeraj Rawat)

A map showing the distribution of Indo-Aryan l...

A map showing the distribution of Indo-Aryan languages

Map of India showing location of Uttarakhand

Map of India showing location of Uttarakhand

Kumaon and Garhwal Division

Kumaon and Garhwal Division

Almora, Uttarakhand. 1860s.

Almora, Uttarakhand. 1860s.

Known as Kamaoni, Kumau, Kumawani, Kumgoni, Kumman, Kunayaoni, etc. Kumaoni language is one of the Central Pahari languages of the Kumaonis – people of the Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand, a region in the Indian Himalayas. The other Central Pahari languages of in this region/ in state of Uttarakhand is  Garhwali; spoken in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.

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.

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.

According to ethno-linguists Kumaoni language has been given the code ISO 639-3:kfy. Kumaoni has many words common with the other language spoken in India.

Some alternate names of the dialects or subgroups Kumaoni language are : Askoti, Bhabari of Rampur, Chaugarkhiya, Danpuriya, Gangola, Johari, Khasparjiya, Kumaiya Pachhai, Pashchimi, Phaldakotiya, Kumaoni, Rau-Chaubhaisi, Sirali, Soriyali. Most closely related to Garwhali and Nepali.

Being part of the Indo-Aryan dialect continuum Kumaoni shares its grammar with other Indo-Aryan languages especially GarhwaliHindiRajasthani languagesKashmiri, and Gujarati. There are many words in Kumaoni which are common even with Bengali, the whole language is so easy to understand that my wife who’s mother tongue is Bengali, can understand it very easily. It shares much of its grammar with the other languages of the Central Pahari like Garhwali and Jaunsari.

In Kumaoni the verb substantive is formed from the root ach, as in both Rajasthani and Kashmiri. In Rajasthani its present tense, being derived from the Sanskrit present rcchami, I go, does not change for gender. But in Pahari and Kashmiri it must be derived from the rare Sanskrit particle *rcchitas, gone, for in these languages it is a participial tense and does change according to the gender of the subject. Thus, in the singular we have: – Here we have a relic of the old Khasa language, which, as has been said, seems to have been related to Kashmiri.

Other relics of Khasa, again agreeing with north-western India, are the tendency to shorten long vowels, the practice of epenthesis, or the modification of a vowel by the one which follows in the next syllable, and the frequent occurrence of disaspiration. Thus, Khas siknu, Kumaoni sikhno, but Hindi sikhna, to learn; Kumaoni yeso, plural yasa, of this kind.

Present Tense

  • Singular
Kumaoni Transliteration English
मैं लेखनू main lekhnu I write
तू लेख छे tu lekh chhe you write
उ लिखनो U likhno he writes
  • Plural
Kumaoni Transliteration English
हम लेखनु hum lekhnu we write
तुम लेख छो tum lekh chho you write
ऊँ लेखन छन un lekhan chhan they write

Past Tense

  • Singular
Kumaoni Transliteration English
मेल लिखौ maile lekho I wrote
त्वील लिखौ tveel lekho you wrote
वील लिखौ veel lekho he wrote
  • Plural
Kumaoni Transliteration English
हमुल लेखौ humul lekho we wrote
तुमुल लेखौ tumule lekho you wrote
उनुले लेखौ unule lekho they wrote

Future Tense

  • Singular
Kumaoni Transliteration English
मैं लिखूंलो main lekhulo I will write
तू लेखले tum lekhle you will write
उ लेखल u lekhal he will wrote
  • Plural
Kumaoni Transliteration English
हम लेखुंला hum lekhula we will write
तुम लेखला tum lekhla you will write
ऊँ लेखल un lekhal they will wrote

Key Words from Kumaoni Language

  • Relationships
  • Mother
  • Ija/ Amma/Maa
  • Father
  • Bajyu/ Babu
  • Grandfather
  • Bar-Bajyu
  • Grandmother
  • Amma
  • Son
  • Chayal
  • Daughter
  • Cheli
  • Daughter-in-Law
  • Buari
  • Son-in-Law
  • Jawain
  • Grandson
  • Naati
  • Grand Daughter
  • Naatin
  • Younger Sister
  • Bain
  • Elder Sister
  • Didi
  • Younger Brother
  • Nan-Bhau
  • Elder Brother
  • Daju
  • Aunty
  • Kaki/ Bua/ Thul Ija
  • Bride/Groom’s Father
  • Samdhi
  • Bride/Groom’s Mother
  • Samdhin
  • Younger Sibling
  • Bhau
  • Birds & Animals
  • Dog
  • Kukur
  • Cat
  • Biral
  • Cow
  • Goru
  • Horse
  • Ghor
  • Monkey
  • Banar
  • Crow
  • Kaw
  • Sparrow
  • Dhinor
  • Parrot
  • Su
  • Maina Bird
  • Sitol
  • Other Words
  • Snow
  • Hyun
  • Rain
  • Barkh
  • Bright Sunlight
  • Gham
  • Wind
  • Haw
  • Sun Rays
  • Tyur
  • Water Spring
  • Naul
  • Door
  • Dwar
  • Lock
  • Tal
  • Road
  • Rast/Baat
  • Big
  • Thul
  • Small
  • Nan
  • Clothes
  • Lukud
  • Leaves
  • Patt
  • Rice
  • Bhat
  • Vegetables
  • Saag
  • Tea
  • Chaha
  • Hill Top
  • Dan
  • Doll
  • Gudi

Short Phrases

Words/phrases Transliteration Meaning
जै देव Jai Dev Hello (lit. praise the lord) Formal.
नमस्कार Namaskar. Hello/Hi
कस हेरे छे? Kas hare chhe? How are you? Informal
कस हेरो छा? Kas haro cha How are you? Formal
भल हेरो Bhal hero I am fine
काँ जे रे? kaan je re Where are you going
होए Hoye. Yes.
ना Nā. No.
कतु? Katu? How much?/How many?
काँ? Kaa? Where?
कसिक? Kasisk? How?
कैक? Kaik? Whose?
को? Ko? Who?
के? Ke? What?
के हेगो? Ke hego. What happened?

Kumaoni Proverb/Sayings

Kumaoni language has a number of very interesting and apt sayings.

A rough translation of them have been done to maintain the essence of the saying, its not the literate & authentic translation of the same.

  • Jyithju Bol Ke Marni Kamare Tod Dini
    • Referring to the sarcasm of the in-laws (Jyithju is the elder brother of husband) towards the woman. Literal translation – ‘My Brother-in-law is so sarcastically that his speech is enough to break the back’
  • Khet Pat Harege, Lasun Mein Jor
    • Missing the bigger picture. Literal translation – ‘A person who has neglected the farms, focusing only on growing garlic – a herb which doesn’t require much effort & also would not be sufficient too feed the household’
  • Nirbuddhi Rajeki Kathe Kath
    • In every language there are a number of stories about the idiocy of the rulers, this one is a similar one from Kumaon.
  • Sasule Buari Thhe Ko, Buaril Kukur Thee ko, Kukurl Puchedi Hele De
    • When you leave the task to others, it never gets completed.
    • Literal Translation –‘Mother-in-law orders her daughter-in-law, who in turn orders the dog, who in turn can only wags the tail’
  • Addain Baman Ke Bhesein Kheer
    • When a person is not in need, he will criticize unnecessarily.
    • Literal translation  – ‘If Kheer (traditional Indian rice pudding) is served to a already over-fed Holy-Man,  he may complain that the Kheer is smelling of  Buffalo (from whose milk it is made).
  • Meri Pailag Teri Kathap
    • Respecting someone who does not deserve it will only result it ridicule.
    • Literal translation – ‘when I touch your feet (for paying obeisance), you just ignore me’
  • Datuli Apane Taraf Katon
    • People generally tends to take side of their dear ones.
    • Literal translation – ‘A sickle always cuts towards itself’
  • Dadyal Goruk Laat Saini Padanch
    • One has to tolerate even the kicks from a cow who gives milk
  • Jo Gaon Ni Jaan Week Baat Ke Puchain
    • Focus on the activity at hand, do not bother about the unrelated things.
    • Literal translation – ‘There is no point in asking directions to a village where you do not intend going’
  • Aag Lage Pani Dauran
    • Trying to help after creating a problem.
    • Literal meaning – ‘Running for water after burning down a place’
  • Aeke Khadk Pinalu
    • Birds of the same feather flock together.
    • Literal translation – ‘Sweet potato belongs to the same place’
  • Kunal Ke Dekhencha Munal Dekho
    • See the person for his deeds not just on his breed.
    • Literal translation – ‘Do not waste time in seeing one’s horoscope, look at the characterstics of the person’
  • Tuke Mein Taur
    • Too much debate on useless issues, creates rift.
    • Literal Translation – ‘A discussion ending in bad blood’
  • Ghareke Cha Bhadhauli Mein Khala
    • No formality among close friends.
    • Literal Translation – ‘Since you are from the family you will not mind eating in the wok/pan’
  • Dai Khani Wal Bhaji Go Patal Chatni Wal Haat Pad
    • Actual culprit ran away and the fall guy was caught & held guilty.
    • Literal translation – ‘The person who actually stole the curd gets away while the one left licking the plate gets caught’

Kumaon also has a very rich tradition of folk literature, which deals with local/national myths, heroes, heroines, deeds of bravery and various aspects of nature. These songs were written by some anonymous poets. The songs deal with the creation of earth, the deeds of Gods – Goddesses and local dynasties / heroes, as also characters from the Ramayan and the Mahabharat.

There are folk songs dealing with the well known love story of Rajula and Malushahi, the courageous deeds of the twenty two Bafaul brothers, the heroism of Sangram Singh Karki and the imaginary lands across the Himalaya as envisaged by the two Ramola brothers. Usually, these songs are based on events from local history and the bharau (ballads) are usually sung during collective agricultural activities (Hurkiabol) and other songs in different social and cultural festivals. In some prosperous valleys hurkiabol is still a living folk expression.

The pastoral, agricultural and children’s songs of Kumaon also express a close relationship between man and his surroundings. In these songs the relations between man and his bullocks are almost human and children too, share a very intimate relationship with nature. In the songs dealing with the flora and fauna of the region, these often assume symbolic proportions.

There are many types of folk songs e.g. the invitation songs, Neoli, Bhagnaul, Jhora, Chanchari and Chhapeli. In these songs the ‘Suva’ or the p’arrot symbolizes lovers, while in the ‘Riturain’ songs, the ‘Nyoli’ bird is a symbol for brothers and sisters. Neoli is also a style of singing. Even the proverbs of Kumaon are very poetic. Gopidas, Mohan Singh Reethagari, Jait Ram and Chakra Ram Damai were some of the famous folk singers of Kumaon.

As far as the written literature of Kumaon is concerned Lok Ratna Pant ‘Gumani’, Krishna Pandey, Shiv Datt Sati, Gorda, Shyama Charan Datt Pant, Ram Dutt Pant ‘Kaviraj’, Chandra Lal Chaudhary, Pitambar Pandey, Bachi Ram Arya, Jeevan Chandra Joshi, Kunwar Singh Bhandari etc. are some of the well known names. The Shauka, Banraji, Tharu and Boksa tribes also have their own folk songs and dances. These are used mainly during festivals and social cultural ceremonies. The most popular dance of Kumaon is the Chhalaria, or Chholia, a dance form related with the martial traditions of the region. The Bhagnaul, Chanchari and Jhora folk songs are accompanied by dancing. Even today one can experience these in fairs and festivals.

Kumaoni poets and writers are known even outside of Kumaon. The contribution of Kumaon to the Hindi literature and journalism is unique in many ways. From Gumani to Sumitra Nandan Pant, Laxmi Datt Joshi to Shailesh Matiyani, Ela Chandra Joshi to Ramesh Chandra Shah, Hem Chandra Joshi to Mrinal Pande and Pankaj Bisht and many others, the contribution of Hindi writing Kumaonis is well known.

Read Kumaoni Poems/ songs online





10 thoughts on “Kumaoni language and literature…

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

  2. Mr. Chand.
    I have been reading your blog and it’s really very interesting and informative. Since I’m starting to learn kumaoni, the language section, particularly, is of great help. Thanks for sharing all the stories and do keep updating this blog. Your efforts are much needed, and timely.

  3. Reading these kumaoni proverbs, I am beginning to question my knowledge of kumaoni language. I couldn’t understand many of these. Thanks for sharing. I am definitely gonna learn them. 🙂

  4. its interesting to know more about our lenguage .

    We should do something for our kumaoni …like teach it to our children atleast, so as to preserve it.

    ye idea kaam karol… meenke patt chooo.

    : )

    • 🙂 you have wonderful positivity… but I am not so certain, my wife’s mother tongue is Bengali and our kids consider Hindi as their mother tongue and are interested more in English and French 🙂

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