In the Lahul region of Himachal Pradesh, Hindu and Tibetan cultures coexist. This region is also known as ‘Garsha Kandoling’ to Tibetans, which means ‘Garsha, a garden of Dakini’.
The people of Lahul live 3,400 metres above sea level in a challenging mountainous environment. Most of the original inhabitants are Mongoloid, and believe in Tibetan Buddhism. Their traditional ways of life are also Tibetan- like, and suitably adapted for the rigours of life at high altitude.
This book is based on fieldwork conducted from 1987 onwards. In the first half of the book, anthropological data about Lahuli society is presented. Various topics such as the means of inheriting wealth, gender issues, and marriage customs (including the practice of adopting a bridegroom into the bride’s family) are discussed. The discussion is thematically focused on the issue of opposing principles between the household (Kyum), and family (Jinmad). Polyandry, a unique form of marriage in Tibet, can be understood as a means of mediation between these principles.
The second half of the book describes a utopian religious movement that developed in the early 1960s and which later led to the tragic journey undertaken to discover Demojong, a Beyul (hidden country) that was said to exist near Kanchenjunga. The leader of this movement—Terton Tulshuk Lingpa (1916- 63), was a Ningmapa yogi from Tibet. Following India’s Independence in 1947, Lahuli society and culture has been transformed dramatically. But as this intimate portrait drawn by a Japanese anthropologist shows, the people of Lahuli have successfully reorganized and adapted their way of life, preserving their traditional values and religion.
Tanase Jiro researches and teaches Anthropology in the School of Human Cultures at the University of Shiga Prefecture, Japan. He completed his Ph.D. at Kyoto University in 2008. From 1987 onwards, he has actively conducted field research in the Tibetan cultural areas of the Indian Himalayas; including Lahul, Spiti, Zanskar and Ladakh. His most recent book is Dalailama no gaikokan Dorujief (Dalai Lama’s Diplomat Dorjief) (2009).
The region within Central Asia where the Tibetan people live and where the Buddhist Tibetan culture has primarily permeated, is truly vast.
On the Tibetan Plateau, north of the Himalayan range, lies the Central basin of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. The eastern region of this basin, centred around the Dalai Lama’s capital of Lhasa (lha sa), is called U(dbus), while the western area, around Shigatse (gzi ka rtse)—where the Tashilhunpo (bkra shis Ihung po) monastery is located, is called Tsang (gtsang). Although both of these regions now form part of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, U-Tsang can be considered the centre of the Tibetan cultural sphere.
Even now, vast areas of Asia are strongly influenced by Tibetan culture. These include Mongolia to the north, the Himalayan state of Bhutan and the Indian state of Sikkim to the south, western Sichuan to the east, and in the west, the Indian states of Jammu &amp;amp; Kashmir and a part of Himachal Pradesh (see Map 1). Tibetan cultural influence has also spread to the republics of Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia of Russia.
Lahul, the land I will be introducing in this book, lies near the south-western edge of this vast Tibetan cultural domain, and is now a part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (see Map 2). It is situated in the region centred around the 77 °E longitude and the 32.5 °N latitude, and belongs to the area called Punjab-Himalaya within the Himalayan mountain range. It covers 5,830 sq 1cm, but has a population of only around 20,000 people.
The people of Lahul live on a highland which is 3,400 m above sea level in a cold and harsh mountainous environment. Much of the year it is cut-off from the outside world. The pass that provides access to the area is usually dosed from November through June, with travel outside of Lahul during those months only possible by helicopter or on foot through dangerous snowfields.
Villages line the steep gorges created by the Chandra and Bhaga rivers, and the Chandra-Bhaga River formed by the confluence of the two. Which flow through the Lahul region (the Chandra-Bhaga River becomes the Chenab downstream in Pakistan, then eventually joins the Indus before flowing into the Arabian Sea). Tibetans know this area as Garsha Kandolin (gar zha mka’‘gro ling).
Complex Social Conditions
Although it is a small geographical area, very complex social conditions are found in Lahul. According to the well-known Indian linguist D.D. Sharma, there are seven groups with different languages living in the Lahul area: For instance, in the Bhaga basin (the main focus of this book), the area called Punam, which stretches from the Tandi downstream to the Peukar upstream (see Map 3), has its own language. It has been associated with Munda, the language of the indigenous people of India, and belongs to a completely different language genealogy from the Tibetan dialect used in Tod (Stod) region, which lies upstream from Punam. The differences between the two languages are quite striking. For example, the villages of Peukar in Punam and Tino in Tod are only a few kilometres apart, both being located on the left bank of the Bhaga River, and there are no distinctions in their cultural characteristics such as clothing, customs of daily life or housing styles. However, the languages spoken m these villages are completely different from one another.
To all outward appearances these people seem to belong to the same society and culture. So, this raises the question, how did such a remarkable linguistic break occur between two villages located so close to each other? For a Japanese like me who grew up in a homogeneous linguistic environment, this situation is hard to understand, but the people in Punam define themselves as Punampa specifically because of the language they speak. At the same time, however, they have kept their cultural identity as Lahulian or Garshan (gar zha pa) along with the people of Tod and others around them. Women wearing fitted trousers under long pleated skirts in sober colours such as dark brown or navy blue and a vest are a unique sight in this particular region. Although they acknowledge the deep connections with Tibet in theft religion and other cultural features, they consider themselves different from the people of Bopa (Tibetan) or Khampa (eastern Tibetan, although in Lahul this word often refers to the Tibetan people in general).
History of Lahul
One reason for such complex cultural conditions in Lahul is that this land is clearly a cultural and political intersection between the Tibetan and Hindu spheres. Indeed, between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries, Lahul came under the control of the kingdom of Ladakh in the north, and then under the jurisdiction of the Hindu kingdom of Kullu or Chamba. In more recent times it was integrated into British India—the Republic of India—except for a short period of domination by the Sikhs.
During the British Indian period, the colonial government retained and utilized the existing ruling structure of Lahul. Feudal lords called Jo, or Thakurs, were appointed as local governors by the Indian government, and handled various duties related to administration, justice and tax collection.
During this period, in 1856, the Moravian Mission established its base at Keylong in Lahul. In 1857, Heinrich August Jaschke (1817-83) was assigned to this post as a missionary. He studied the Tibetan language and later completed a Tibetan dictionary, which is still in use today, as well as a Tibetan translation of the Bible. In 1906, August Hermann Francke (1870-1930), who contributed greatly to the research of Western Tibetan history, was also posted at Keylong. In brief, during this specific period, Lahul was the frontier of Tibetan studies for the West. However, there were hardly any conversions to Christianity in Lahul.
After the Second World War, following Independence in 1947, the power of the long-established chiefs was forfeited. Since Tibet was occupied by China in 1959, Lahul was forced to be integrated into the Indian society, and the influence of India has been growing steadily.
Considering the background of this region, there are good reasons for referring to Lahul as the ‘Tibetan World of Indian Himalaya’. Geographically, Lahul lies next to the areas such as Zanskar and Spiti, the people follow a Tibetan lifestyle that is suited to the high altitude, and, as I will note later, incorporates customs and concepts unique to Tibetan culture, such as polyandry and the concept of ‘bone and flesh’. It is also permeated by Tibetan Buddhism.
Perhaps it is also appropriate to consider Lahul a part of the southern edge of the Tibetan cultural sphere, along with Bhutan, Sikkim, Mustang, Ladakh, Zanskar and Spiti. Since these areas have been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture, yet imbued with the cultural elements unique to the land, such as Hinduism, they have developed societies with their own characteristics.
However, people who actually live in a society unconcerned about the issue of determining to which civilization their society really belongs to. People integrate the traditional values they inherit from their ancestors with new emerging value systems, facing the situations that confront them, and get on with their lives.
In this book, I want to illustrate how the people of Lahul have invented various ingenious measures to cope with the harsh environment, managed to develop rich human relations, and deal with the tensions caused by such conditions, as well as religious passions which occasionally arise among these steadfast villagers.
I will briefly outline the structure of this book according to its division into the following chapters. Chapter 2 provides a simple description of Kardang village where I spent most of my time in the Lahul region. Iii Chapter 3 I will focus on the economy, specifically on the main traditional livelihoods of agriculture and stock farming. Chapters 4 through 6 discuss the social structure of Lahul. The central theme is the issue of opposing principles between the household (kyum) and the family (jinmad). I will discuss various topics such as the means of inheriting wealth, issues of marriage and adopting a bridegroom (makpa) into the bride’s family, and gender issues.
In Chapter 7, I will introduce indigenous supernatural beings such as earth spirits and evil spirits. Because these spirits can create havoc with village life by occasionally causing villagers to commit murders, these entities can sometimes assume a more powerful reality than the divine deities of Buddhism.
In Chapter 8 I will take up the subject of a religious utopian movement that developed in the Lahul region during the early 1960s. The leader of this movement was Terton Tulshuk Lingpa, a Ningmapa yogi from Tibet. Lahul has existed within the vast Tibetan cultural area, and ascetics such as Tulshuk Lingpa, as well as various pilgxms and traders, have travelled throughout the land.
A religious movement called Rime that previously sprang up in Tibet touched off the resurgence of Buddhism in Lahul during the previous century.
In Chapter 9, I will summarize the religious activities in Lahul with reference to the Tibetan context, whilst also noting the most recent changes.
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