Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Keeping With Tradition

Kotgarh has managed to retain its culture and the old traditions to quite an extent. The wave of modernity that has swept the state has definitely changed things for good but in Kotgarh modernity still co-exists with the old. To quote Raaja Bhasin an eminent write, "If modernity is there, these places (Kotgarh) still speak of tradition – and as an example, the odds are that you will see most of the women still wearing reztas...".

The "Gora Sahib" - the white skinned gentleman not only brought his friends to Kotgarh but a bit of the Victorian culture which is clearly visible in the 'full-length buttoned-up, long-sleeved rezta' - Victorian Style gown well modified to suite the Kotgarh climates. Not much is known how rezta took its current form.

Among the slew of fast cars and designer attire the good old rezta and the saluka still rules.

The traditional dress of womenfolk comprises the rezta (long dress), the dhatu (head scarf) and the saluka (waist coat) with rebdar pajama while the male dress includes the Kullu/Busheri cap (some could even be seen wearing the gandhian cap), kurta, and saluka (waist coat) and woolen coat (jacket). Older folks could be seen using a gachi (waist band) too straighten their back.

The ornaments includes: Chhak, a hollow ‘U’ shaped silver ornament - used for decorating hair and the Tikka is placed on forehead.
Ear ornaments: Baddi, Kantay, Darotu, and Bragar.
Nose ornaments are: Long, Tilli, Nath.
Neck ornaments: Ambli, Jantar, Haar, Kanthi.
Wrist ornaments: Shangley, Choodiyan band.
Finger: Kangri.
Toe: Poole.
Ankles: Paizab.

Most of these ornaments are being used only during the festivals and social functions.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My fond memory - The Tani Jubbar Fair

Often, I see articles in prints about this picturesque place. A lot has been mentioned and written about it an it rightly deserves a spotlight. I fondly remember the place and its colours and those once a year visit to the fair.

Each year we kids used to look forward to the Tani Jubbar fair, it was listed as a Holiday in our school calendar. A day before, our gang after a heart fill of cricket would sit under the open starry sky and plan for the most important day that year. Every gang member had a suggestion to push - 'when to start?', 'how much money to carry?', 'which route to take?', 'to walk or wait for the overcrowded bus or hitch a hike?'

Mom used to have a difficult time with me fussing about my clothes and the pocket money. I only insisted on wearing a new pair and nothing else and always demanded more pocket money on that special day. My demands were met only after I would promise and assure her that I would keep my little brother close and return home well before sunset and won't venture too close to the lake.

A promise of exciting day ensured a sleepless night. I would peep from under the covers all night hoping to see some light through the window; my eagerness used to be met by my mothers admonishment. My mom would warn me of catching cold and was very firm to keep me tucked in till the sun was up.

On that day to everybody’s surprise I would be the first to jump into the bathroom for a nice scrub. And the remaining morning would be spent preening in front of the mirror - my little brother could never understand it.

The gang would group around my house. It would gradually increase in size as we moved through the village and then made our way through the forest trail. The excitement and exhilaration used to be palpable. We would fool around and enjoy the up hill climb through the sea of people to be greeted by the beautiful serene lake with ancient Nag Devta temple on the other end. We were in awe of this beautiful lake – a small placid shimmering lake surrounded by deodar tress on the northern and the southern slope and by apple orchards on the western and eastern front. We always loved coming back to see it.

One could see the bright coloured rezta/dhatu donned womenfolk’s with kids in tow. The place used to be filled with colours, smiles and the smell of cheap perfume. Groups and groups of womenfolk and kids would emerge from nowhere and then disappear in the crowd. The electric environment would rub on to everybody and we rarely saw a sad soul around.

The courting couple were a real delight to see and then there was the younger lot showing off to attract attention and the old folks catching up on the good old times. One could also catch sight of some tourist in the swank cars and inapt attires - we kids always had a laugh at them.

The day would be spent eating juicy jalabies, water melons, cheap ice candies and frolicking around. I was always scared to ride the swings and the wheels and admired the easy which which they were operated. Quite a time was also spent checking the toy guns at the hawkers before settling for a good one.

The most awaited moment used to be the arrival of the Deota (It is his festival), a mesmerising sight. He would be carried on his rath to the main ground preceded by the baja. The whole place was filled with an air of charm and divine blessing. As the day passed we weary kids would look for some shade in the slopes and on most occasions disturbed the courting couples. Later it was the nati that attracted us - everybody could be seen joining in irrespective of the cast and social standing. The day would get noisy with every passing hour and influx of the devotees and visitors. The evening was always reserved for the folk dance competition. A lull used to fall when it would start followed by cheers and applauds.

A blissful day would come to an end and remembering mom’s instructions we would regroup and make our way back home with the toy guns and memories and a promise to come back next year.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Care & Share

Someone died today. You might have known him well - he slogged for you in your orchards, run errands for you, maintained your house, brought news and gossip to you, kept you in good humour with his jokes and stroked your ego. Literally, he was your 'pacemaker' and let’s call him that. He died but you are still alive.

The 'pacemaker' had inherited nothing and was raised on doles, didn't get much education and food. He lived in squalor but dreamed big - he dreamt of being you someday but he couldn’t even come close.

I came across couple of archaic articles in news print which lauded Kotgarh for its economic progress - one of the articles says Kotgarh has the highest per capita income (rural) in Asia and then an article published couple of years later says it has the highest per capita income in the South East Asia. My chest is already puffed up but the news of the death of 'pacemaker' deflates my jubilations - we could have made a difference to his life.

I remember meeting an elder from Kotgarh about a year ago who was aghast at the appalling attitude of the youngsters toward the elders and he was quite eloquent in expressing the though that more than the cast and the religion it’s the economic divide which separates the people in Kotgarh. The display of bonhomie is pseudo and the relations are all but for personal gains.

Have you done your bit for your ‘pacemaker’? Do you ensure his family is taken care of? His kids have decent education and his small dream are supported. Don't wait for him to die.

Next time in case you are driving back home from Narkanda in odd hours, check if you could help someone reach home for dinner.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An ancient ritual.

The recent solar eclipse on January 15, classified as the longest eclipse of the century, reminded me of a practice followed by the locals on such celestial occurrences. It was believed that the sun was being devoured by a demon and needed help. People would gather in front of their houses and offer seven types of grains to the demon and plead with him to release the sun. They would chant:

"Chaar papiya chaar, jetre gule tetre khaar" meaning,

Please release the sun we offer you these grains consider each grain equivalent to one khaar.

The measure of quantity was volume and grains were measured accordingly. The smallest measure was a patha. It would work out to slightly more than one kg. 16 pathas equaled 1 bhar and 20 bhar was 1 khaar.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The traditional Kotgarh 'baja'

Not much has been captured and written about the traditional
baja -the suite of percussion instruments. The baja belongs to the local Gods (Devta) and accompanies them for the jatar's and festivals. It is hired for social functions and marriages by the locals and is accorded the highest respect and honor.

Excerpt from an article by Vijay K. Stokes in Tribune dated Saturday, November 29, 2008.

"It (baja) consists of two large base drums called dhols, each of which is struck on one side with a curved stick held in the right hand, with the other side is struck and muted by the left hand, resulting in a loud, lower-frequency sound than cannot be produced by dholaks or tables. Other instruments include a higher frequency half drum, called a nagara, played with two straight sticks; and a metal plate, called a bhana, that on being struck with a stick, produces a high-frequency metallic sound. Besides these percussion instruments, the baja also has three pairs of horns: the karnal, a flared lower-frequency horn; the kaori, a bulbous, higher frequency horn; and the harnshinga, an S-shaped high-frequency horn. When played in the hills, these horns produce haunting, echoing sounds. The baja can be accompanied by a sarnai (a shehnai) that plays the notes of the song’s melody."

A sample video of welcoming and paying respect to the Devta ji's baja before the start of the function.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Samuel Stokes: India’s Johnny Appleseed

- by Raaja Bhasin

In the late 1920s, my father as a small boy took the train from Lahore to Shimla with his uncle, Bihari Lal who had become an admirer and something of a friend to an American who had settled in Kotgarh, one of the poorest pockets in the Shimla tract. Beyond Shimla, the Hindustan Tibet Road as it existed then was adapted only for horses, pack animals and plain old foot-slogging.

It took them three days to get to Kotgarh from Shimla where Bihari Lal was helping the Quaker from Philadelphia, Samuel Evans Stokes set up a school. The journey now takes a couple of hours along a road along which huge lorries cart equipment to Nathpa- Jakhri, one of the largest hydro-electricity projects in the world that is located in the valley of the Satluj river that flows in the valley below.

The journey of Samuel Evans Stokes was a far longer one. It was in the years that my father moved up the dusty path to Kotgarh that the apple plants which Stokes had imported from the United States were taking root. While the school which had taken uncle and nephew there in the first place died quietly without a fuss, the ‘Delicious’ varieties of apple which had been developed by the Stark Brothers of Louisiana went on the transform the economy and much of the landscape.

Today, the apple-based economy of the contiguous villages of Thanedar and Kotgarh have given it one of the highest per-capita incomes in Asia. Around these villages, signs of the time may be there – hoardings that announce the latest cell-phone plan or advertise call-centres and air-hostess training institutes. But while they may be there, they do not dominate the landscape nor do they hustle people off to explain why a CD drive cannot function as a coffee-cup holder to a caller from the American mid-west. If modernity is there, these places still speak of tradition – and as an example, the odds are that you will see most of the women still wearing rejtas, long flowing –almost Victorian – gowns and dhatus, headdresses.

Born on 16th August 1882, the son of a Quaker millionaire from Philadelphia, Stokes arrived in India on 26th February 1904. He was coming to help in a leprosy home that had been established at Subathu in the foothills below Shimla, the ‘summer capital’ of British India. He had barely settled in when in April, 1905 a devastating earthquake rocked the area and nearby Kangra was severely hit.

Entire towns were levelled and things were much worse in the isolated villages. Samuel Stokes moved there to help in whatever way he could. The administration assigned him the work of going from village to village to assess the losses and indemnify the affected persons. Though assured of payment of personal expenses, his conscience could not accept this and he did not take a paisa for this arduous work.

Sapped of strength, from Kangra, Stokes moved to Kotgarh beyond Shimla and to the end of his days, this was to be his home. Long before he built that remarkable house ‘Harmony Hall’ at Thanedar, above Kotgarh – and named after the family home in New Jersey – Stokes, howsoever briefly, even lived in a cave.

Here, he married a local Christian girl, Agnes and worked ceaselessly to uplift the local people from the host of problems that beset them – including the custom of ‘begar’ where labour would be pressed in service for little or no remuneration and often worked under inhuman conditions. He took recourse to ‘passive resistance’ which had been used by his Quaker ancestors in the past for the sake of their ideals.

Backed by the whole of Kotgarh which bravely responded to his call, the government ultimately gave in and the system of ‘begar’ was abolished. Stokes’ action on behalf of the hill people commended him to Mahatma Gandhi who wrote in Young India: “No Indian is giving such battle to the Government as Mr. Stokes. He has veritably become the guide, philosopher and friend of the hill men.”

Soon after the repressive Rowlatt Acts were passed in 1919, Stokes became an active associate of Mahatma Gandhi and was even jailed for his role in India’s struggle for freedom. This gave him the distinction of being the only American to be imprisoned in the cause of India’s freedom.

In 1921, in his booklet National Self-Realisation, Stokes wrote: “Our immediate object is to make the Government of this land representative of the will of the people.” In the same booklet he wrote: “…ultimately Complete Swaraj, independent of the British Empire is the only goal for India.” For another one of Stokes’ booklets, Awakening India, Gandhi Ji wrote the foreword. Characteristically, he sought his own guidance and way with religion and it was in these years that Stokes converted to Hinduism and changed his name to Satyanand.

Harmony Hall, Stokes’ old home, still stands on top of the hill, surrounded by the apple orchards that he first planted. This unusual piece of architecture speaks worlds for the man that built it. This draws from the local style of interlocking horizontal wooden beams packed with dressed stone, and is combined with elements of the ‘western’ architectural experience - high chimney-stacks and large windows; in more ways than one, two entirely different backgrounds that were merged into a single entity.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Tani - Jubbar Lake - Jarol: 5 Kms From Kotgarh. Famous for 'Nag Devta' temple. 'Nag Devta' is the guru of Chatur Mukh.

Mailan Devta Temple (Chatur Mukh) - M
ailan: 2 Kms from Kotgarh. The Deo or Deota is the most powerful of the Gods in the Hills. He is the family God of the Kotkhai and the Khaneti chiefs and the Thakurs of Karangla. The devta’s temple is constructed in Shikhar style and is a marvel in architecture. The devta premises has a Bhagwati temple known as Mata Kedar who was brought 150 years ago from Kedarnath.

Hattu Temple & Peak: 15 Kms from Kotgarh. At 11,000 ft, this peak offers a panoramic view of the snowline. Hatu hillock provides beautiful and majestic views of the Himalayas and the surrounding pahari hamlets. It also has a small Kali temple. For almost six months in a year (winter and spring), Hatu is covered with a thick blanket of snow.

St.Mary's Church - Kotgarh: Built in 1843; this church at Kotgarh is one of the oldest churches in India housed in the premises of the Gorton Mission School surrounded by orchards and a small graveyard at the back.

Parmjyotir Temple- Thanedhar:
4 Kms from Kotgarh. Built by Stokes in the Pahari style after his conversion (SUDHI) to Hinduism.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beautiful Kotgarh

Kinnar Kailash (a view from Kotgarh)

Kinnar Kailash (a view from Bherari)

Gorton Mission School (the old building)

Kotgarh Village

A view from Bherari

Trail through the apple orchard

A view of Shelajan (the highest peak)

Cluster of houses around the Mailan temple

The DFO Residence

St. Mary Church (renovation time)

Temple Kotgarh (Than)