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Spiti (A Study in Socio-Cultural Traditions)

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Item Code: NAL029
Author: Tobdan
Publisher: Kaveri Books
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9788174791726
Pages: 238 (10 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 440 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The book concerns about the people of Spiti, their life, society, culture, religion, history, etc., who had been living in the extremely difficult environment in the high Himalayan valleys. High altitude, scarcity of precipitation, dry and bitterly cold climate, lack of vegetation, single crop in a year that too grown with great care, are some of the prominent features of the environment of the area. In order to sustain life in such a condition with extremely scarce natural resources the society made innovations in evolving some unique social institutions capable of resisting the threatening forces. Each member in the society occupying different social position and passing through different stages of his life was assigned different and changing role, shedding a part of his right and opportunity with the greater objective of perpetuation of the society. Religious institution played a great part in the sustenance of the Spiti society.

The present study, besides touching the common topics, endeavours to cover some other aspects which are not found described in the works of the earlier scholars.

About the Author

Tobdan (1944), belonging to Lahul, is a self studied scholar, interested in the study primarily about Lahul, and incidently the areas surrounding it in Himachal Pradesh, in the Western Himalaya on various aspects of their history, language, religious practices, social customs, etc. His first work, 'History and Religions of Lahul', appeared in 1984, after which he has added more than half a dozen works to his credit. His last work 'Exploring Malana' appeared in 2011. Some research papers have appeared in the reputed journals and collected works. He writes in English, Hindi and Bhoti. He is presently associated with the People's Linguistic Survey of India of the Himachal Pradesh section. He is member, governing body, Himachal Pradesh Arts, Culture and Language Academy.


Spiti, a small tract, has been known always as a poor country. Yet, even though living under the most difficult conditions of environment, it has been able to maintain a society with high standard of cultural traditions. It has several monuments, besides the world famous Tabo, worth inclusion in the list of monuments of world heritage. Today Spiti is a popular destination for the serious art connoisseurs, scholars of religious history, and the adventurers, hailing from the world over.

Among the earlier visitors to the area, going with the objective of studying the area, were scientists, administrators, explorers, scholars, like A. Gerard, Alexander Cunningham, Major Hay, P.H. Egerton, James B. Lyall, G. Tucci, A.H. Francke, O.C.Handa, Deborah E. Klimburg-Salter, Roberto Vitali, Kurt Tropper, SC Bajpai, Krishan Nath. Deepak Sanan, and many others. Each one has made contribution in his specialized field. The old Gazetteer gives the most comprehensive coverage of the subjects.

The present study, besides touching the common topics, endeavours to cover some other aspects which are not found described in the works of the earlier scholars.

The harsh living conditions and economic hardship have compelled the society of Spiti to evolve or borrow some typical social systems in order to continue the existence of life in the area. For the maintenance of the household as a permanent institution and giving it strength, each member of the household had to make a sacrifice of portions of his rights. Household is an institution which provides refuge to every member of the family as a last resort even though separated temporarily and he can also be called back in the case of need to join the family and resume the appropriate role in the maintenance of the household. Therefore some of the subjects like the structure and function of the family and the interdependent relationship between the society and the religious institutions are very peculiar. We observe that the conditions of environmental stress was similar in Lahul. There the measures adopted for the sustenance of the household is slightly different. In Spiti the society takes the support of the religious institution, the monastery, while in Lahul it is the economic diversification adopted in the family.

During the course of my study I have received valuable help and guidance from Lama Drimed Lodoe, Chhewang Dorje and numerous others. C. Dorje of Archeaological Survey of India, as always, had been guiding and helping me in many ways. I express my deep gratitude to them all. I am greatly thankful to Shri Rakesh Goel of M/s Kaveri Books for accepting the work for publication and bringing it out in an excellent form.


Spiti is bounded on the north by Rubsho (Ladak), west by Lahul and Kullu, south by Kinnaur and east by the Chinese Tibet. It comprises the valleys of Spiti and Pin rivers. Cunningham (1854: 23-24) gives its area as 4865 sq. km. and the length of the Spiti river from its source to its junction with Para as 102 km. The mean elevation of the inhabited parts is 3958 m. The lofty mountain ranges average in elevation measuring 5485 m or more above sea level and one of the peaks measures around 7010 m. The monsoon clouds are blocked much earlier in the mid region of Kinnaur which renders Spiti generally dry weather.

Spiti constitutes a sub-division in the district of Lahul and Spiti in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Administratively before Independence Spiti alongwith Lahul comprised part of Tehsil Kullu, in district Kangra, in the state of Punjab. The same set up continued unchanged for sometime after the Independence. Recognising the region as a remote and backward, Lahul and Spiti were declared as scheduled area and the inhabitants as scheduled tribes. The Government constituted a high powered committee called Tribal Advisory Council under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister with members chosen from among the public of the area and representatives from the various government departments in order to quicken the pace of development in the area.

Spiti and Lahul are two distinct geographical regions separated by a wide uninhabited tract and each possessing its own distinguishing geographical features: one being a typical desert land in the high plateau and the other one located in a narrow valley which remains covered under thick sheet of snow for three to four months in a year continuously. Between Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti, and Kyelang, the headquarters of the district, in Lahul, there is a distance of one whole day's journey by bus. Geographically the area of Spiti is contiguous with Bashahar and the inhabited parts of each other meet at the border. Historically the two regions had not been parts of a single administrative unit except for a short time during the British period. Thus although geographically situated quite inconveniently, the administrative relationship of Spiti with Lahul, originated under the conditions of some necessity on the occasion of the acquisition of the area by the British which later on matured into a permanent bond. When the British government obtained Spiti from Ladak, it firstly entrusted the charge of supervision to Bashahar state, which lasted for about three years. Thereafter Spiti was joined with Lahul and the administration of the area was brought directly under the Assistant Commissioner, Kullu. One reason that could have been for this action is that Bashahar was a princely state and Spiti was a directly administered territory. The Nono of Kyuling was granted recognition as chief of the division. In 1941 Lahul and Spiti were combined to form a sub-tehsil, with headquarters at Kyelang.

In 1947, on the occasion of Independence of the country, Spiti, as a part of district Kangra, was annexed to the Punjab state. In 1960, Lahul and Spiti was converted into a district and Spiti became a sub-division of it. Soon the office of the Sub- divisional Officer was raised to that of Additional District Commissioner. He was granted greater freedom in the matters of administration and his relationship with the Deputy Commissioner was much lightened. He was delegated greater financial powers so as to enable him to implement the developmental programmes more speedily, It was essential Keeping in View the snort working season and greater geographical difficulties in obtaining sanctions from the higher authorities. On November 1, 1966 the hill regions of Punjab as a result of reorganization of the states were merged with the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, including Lahul-Spiti, bringing the inhabitants in their natural ambience.

Nomenclature: To the natives of Spiti themselves the country is known as Piti and its residents as Pitipa. In the written form it is spelt as sPiti or sPyiti, however, to be pronounced only as Pi-ti. Early European scholars used both the forms, the spoken form as Piti and literary form of sPyi-ti and sPi-ti, but finally 'Spiti' became the officially accepted name, both as spoken and written. Trebeck (1822) was perhaps the first European to employ the term in writing. He wrote 'Pitti', from the local pronunciation, although he was aware of its literary form. The biography of Rinchhen Zangpo, although the great scholar crossed Spiti and went through Lahul to Kashmir, does not refer to Spiti. rGod- tshangpa (thirteenth century) and sTag-tshang Ras-pa (first half of the seventeenth century), the two great siddhas, have referred it in their namthar as Pi-ti. In literary tradition there are found some other variants o(the name, viz. Pyi-ti, Be-ti, Bi-ti, etc. Lobzang Shastri discusses various sources of different forms of the name Spiti as found in Tibetan literature (Lobzang Shastri, 2006).


List of Platesix
IISocial Classes and Partition of Household21
IIIReligious Traditions39
IVThe Bucchen of Pin64
VNono: The Native Chief85
VIHistory: Some Notices94
VIIThe Traditional Fiscal System and History of its Study140
Annexure-1 : Documents165
Annexure-2 : Translations175
Annexure-3 : Other Topics190
Sample Pages

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