Not just Airy Fairy….

Chapter 8

And any talk about Music, remains incomplete without its other half – dance! Both need each other to express itself wholly and completely…it’s difficult to envisage dance without music and music which doesn’t end in up in dance…especially when both are folk in nature…so…in a way, dance is the culmination of music, and music is the foundation for dance…When one connects with music deeply, it wants to make you dance & sway to its rhythm… And when one is engaged deep in dance…the dance culminates in losing yourself to the music… So both are so inextricably linked to one another – that each one finds completion but in the other! A very part of their life, dance and music surge to fulfill the emotional and social needs of every Kumaoni.

And the Kumaonis believe that the purpose of dance is not only for mere entertainment, but is also one of the ways to invoke God. It is said that as a discipline, dance owes its inspiration to the fascinating mythical dancing girls who live on snow filled peaks called Paries. According to folklore, these fairies that float in the firmament are young damsels of unsurpassed beauty and belong to the court of Indra. In case you are visiting the riverside, you must make time to trek to a lake which can be accessed only through the property – and guess what it’s called? Parital! Or the lake of the Paries! The guide will be more than happy to share stories about how the lake got its fascinating name! Ok, back to dance, this whole region is a kaleidoscope of folk dances and the Kumaonis, with their powers of endurance, are always game to shake a leg, even after a hard day’s work. And Dance it is that keeps them ever fresh and alive, proving the old adage. “The tribe which dances does not die.”

Some of the commonly seen forms of local music and dance are:

  • Ramaul: This form of singing gets its names from the Ramaul dynasty of Kumaon. The Kings of Ramaul dynasties were considered to be the incarnations of God. The legends of bravery of these kings form the central theme of the Ramaulsongs. The main instruments used are Kumaoni drum “hudka” and “Kaans” thali.
  • Jagar: involves invoking a God or Goddess. The main singer is called the ‘Jagariya’.
  • Chanchri Chanchri is also a community form of dancing and singing.
  • Chapeli is very commonly seen during weddings, fairs and festivals, in earlier days was a form of courtship dance with the aim to pair couples for increasing the tribe. The central theme of Chapeli is love and is in form of questions and answers.
  • Hudkiabaul: as the name suggests these are the songs sung by worker in fields on beat of a small Kumaoni percussion instrument (drum) called the Hudka. The Hudka and the Dhol are very much a part of the Khadi Holi too, mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by Tolis where men sporting traditional white nokdaar topi, churidar payjama and kurta, dance in groups and visit different homes and greet the members of that house and chant hymns praying for prosperity of the householder.
  • Bair: a big source of entertainment during festivals and melas this form of singing is based on a debate format on a topic till one of them gives up
  • Shakunakhar: as the name suggests these are songs for auspicious occasions like birth and weddings.
  • Malushahi: these are based on love story of Malushah and Rajuli. Malushah was one of the kings of Kumaon.
  • Nyoli: this gets its name from Hill Nightingale, who is it said to flies from forest, to forest singing in search of her separated lover. Thus the theme of these songs is love and separation. Last but not the least…
  • Jhora: is a prominent form of community singing and dancing from Almora, in which the dancers join hands to form a circle and keep moving round and round while singing…heralding the coming of spring….

….which is also heralded by the change in the landscape of the hills. And the most dramatic sign, that nature offers to announce the onset of Spring is the blooming of the buransh or the rhododendron flowers as flashes of red that run riot on the otherwise serene green hillsides…buransh, regarded as the state tree of Uttarakhand, has a number of medicinal properties, which have a benign effect on the heart….  in ways more than one, as these flowers are also symbolic of love and affection and find mention in a kumaoni songs…do try the buransh squash that is prepared every season especially for the guests at the property…

On one such day, when the buransh trees were in full bloom, according to local folklore, one Sidha played his flute, while resting under the shade of a rhododendron tree. Fascinated by his music, the dancing fairies from Indira’s court descended on earth and carried away his soul to Heaven. Meanwhile his wife, Brinjamati, who happened to be Krishna’s sister, had had such a premonition in her dream. When she arose, she went in search of her husband and to her dismay, saw her worst fears had come true. She found her husband dead. In her agony she went to her brother and the omniscient Krishna promised to help.

Krishna went to the banks of the Mansarovar, where the fairies were bathing in the lake. They had kept their clothes on the shore. Krishna took the flute to his lips, and poured his heart and soul into playing the most beautiful strains like he had never played before. Enchanted by his music, the fairies shut their eyes, to drink up every drop of divine music that flowed from his flute. Swaying to the tunes of the flute, the damsels lost themselves in the magic of Krishna’s music. Seizing the opportunity, the quick-witted Krishna whisked away their clothes all the while still playing on the flute. When the ‘murali ki dhun’ stopped, the fairies were jolted back to reality and they saw Krishna atop the tallest tree on the shore with their clothes. They entreated him to give back their clothes, but Krishna refused to do so till they promised to free Sidha and give him back, alive to his wife. All’s well that ends well….Krishna struck a ‘fair’ exchange with the fairies and in the end; the fairies got back their clothes and Krishna’s sister, her husband. Btw, did you know that in the Baithiki Holi, the Holiyars or the singers of Holi songs as they are known, in their Baithaks (sittings, and hence the name Baithiki) sing compositions based on Indian classical ragas, that convey tales from the lives of Lord Krishna?

Besides worshipping the usual gods and goddesses associated with Hinduism, the people of Kumaon worship a host of folk gods and goddesses. There is a very interesting phenomenon, which is that most of the temples are considered special because of their unique ‘mahanta’ are located on hill tops and only accessible on foot after a rigorous climb. However the hill folk realised that it wasn’t always possible for all to reach the temple and sometimes people would be too old or sick to journey all the way up to the top. So they constructed ‘satellite’ temples of the ‘main’ temple in more accessible places so that those who were unable to undertake the uphill walk could at least ‘pray their respects’ to the gods at a more convenient location.

Here in the hills, although every peak, lake or mountain range is somehow or the other connected with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess, it does not however, in any way overshadow the strong influence of the local Gods and Goddesses in the life of the pahadis. And in the line of reverence, Golu Devta, tops the list. Regarded as the dispenser of Justice, He is believed to be an incarnation of Gaur Bhairav (Shiva).

The most popular story about Gwalla talks of a local kings dominion and this is how it goes…..long long time ago, the katyuri King Jhalrai, went on a shikaar, and after a long and hard day out,  sent his men to look for water. After searching high and low, they finally found a waterfall and started filling their vessels, not realising that the water that was splashing off their vessels fell on a young woman praying close by. On being disturbed, Kali,  in a fit of anger, taunted the king…. Attracted to her momentary fiery – ness that seemed to be tethered to a deep sense of serenity within, Jhalrai, instantly fell in love with this woman. This love at first sight culminated in marriage and Kali, with her most unusual nature captured the heart of Jhalrai and reigned supreme on his soul to become his favourite amongst all the queens. Vexed by the way the King was charmed by his new wife, all the other Ranis were waiting in the wings for the right time to vent their anger and ill will on the unsuspecting Kali. In time, news that Kali was soon to become a mother further delighted the King. But as the time for the impending birth grew closer, Jhalrai had to leave on urgent matters of the state.  And this was the opportunity that the other queens were waiting for to hatch their evil plan…..

Kali gave birth to a son. The conniving queens, kidnapped the newborn and placed a stone in the cradle instead. They put the baby in a basket and set it afloat on the river. Thankfully, the baby boy was found and recused by a childless fisherman.  Named after the river Gori Ganga in which he was found, Gola, was brought up by the fisherman as his own.

Some years later, wandering around with his toy horse, Golu chanced upon the queens frolicking in the river, and with utmost innocence requested them move aside so that his thirsty horse could drink some water. Miffed with the request, the queens dismissed the little boy’s pleas by asking how could a wooden homes drink water. Nothing in a million years could have prepared the queens for what they were just about to hear…with the cool calmness of his mother, Golu said that if a queen could give birth to a stone, then a wooden horse could surely drink some water!!! News of this incident reached Jhalrai, who was quick to put two and two together – and realised that Golu was none other than his long lost son – lost to palace politics and intrigue instigated by his own queens. Those fallen in grace were reinstated, the guilty punished. Golu became the crowned prince and in time a great general in his father’s army, whom, in time he succeeded. A just King, Golu ruled with a great sense of fairness and impartiality. True to his legacy, he is now revered as the Kumaoni God of Justice.

There are many temples dedicated to Golu Devata in Kumaon, and the most popular are at Chitai, Champawat, and Ghorakhal.  It is the popular belief that Golu Devata dispenses quick justice to the devotee. So, in a last ditch attempt for justice, the devotees hang stamp papers to get their desired decrees and in return offer bells after the fulfilment of their wishes!! Thousands of brass bells of every size adorn the temple premises. Ghorakhal, by the way is close enough to visit one morning, should you so wish to.

Airy, by the way, is actually another folk God, who takes care of animals!

Other places of interest that you may want to visit, during your stay here are….do speak to the manager here, who is a local resident and very well informed about the whole region here. For those of you who like to be up and about, you could plan your excursions with his help. You could either do a temple trail, or a day out exploring the many lakes in this area, a trip to the more touristy Nainital or a quieter, but longer outing to Mukhteshwar. Perched atop the highest point of this little mountain town, is a 350 year old Shiva temple called Mukhteshwar Dham. It is believed that Lord Shiva killed a demon here and granted him salvation (mukti) hence the name Mukhteshwar.

No talk about Kumaon would be complete without an ode to The Kumaon Regiment, which is the most decorated infantry regiment of the Indian Army. Kumaonis have been famous for their valour. Their courage is legendary and spirit indomitable! The regiment traces its origins to the 18th century and has fought in every major campaign of the British Indian Army and the Indian Army, including the two world wars, the Kargil war being the most recent one.

Their motto is Parakramo Vijayate or Valour Triumphs!! And their war crys are –

Bajrang Bali Ki Jai (Victory to Bajrang Bali)

Dada Kishan Ki Jai (Victory to Dada Kishan) & Jai Durge Naga and of course Kalika Mata Ki Jai (Victory to the Great Goddess Kali) and there is a story behind this is…

Legend has it that once when the Regiment was seaborne, their ship was caught the midst of a turbulent storm. When all efforts to save the ship from sinking failed, the soldiers turned to Goddess Haat Kalika as their last resort and implored her to come to their rescue. As luck would have it, there was a turn of events and miraculously, the ship made it safely to the shores. Since then, Goddess Haat Kalika became the ‘Isth Devi’ or the patron goddess of the Kumaon Regiment and the Haat Kalika Temple, situated in Pithoragarh district thus assumed utmost importance for the brave soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment many of them offer their services at the temple. FYI, the contribution of the Kumaon Regiment and their accomplishment in the Indo-Pak war of 1971 is painted on the walls of the Temple.

With at least one member of a family serving or having served in the Kumaon Regiment, being more the norm rather than an exception here, we can safely say that service and patriotism simply runs in their veins of the ‘sons of the mountains’. Drawing inspiration from the mountains all around, so beautifully expressed in the lines below, these men do what very few can….

परबत वह सबसे ऊंचा, हमसाया आसमां का, वह संतरी हमारा, वह पासबॉं हमारा That tallest mountain, that shade sharer of the sky, It is our sentry, it is our guard.

Sitting under the protective shade of the Himalayas, gives a feeling of security within, as though one is covered and shielded by its benign aura – that one can be carefree and fanciful, because there is a benevolent  power looking over and out for us….

Just like the Himalayas have stood tall, as our natural defence against invaders, so do these brave men stand ever vigilant in difficult terrain and hostile weather, so that we may feel safe and secure in the comforts of our homes.  With the very  mountains towering above them and the soil of their motherland below them, what lies in between is nothing but their  ‘junoon’ to serve…..

And all we can do at the end of the day is to salute them, and in their homage, from the very core of our hearts say Jai Jawan! Jai Hind!

As you wind your way back to civilisation, and bid the mountains goodbye, there can be no two views, whether you know it now or not, that the magic of the mountains has to  have worked its wonders on your heart …leaving a deep imprint on your soul, as though to mark you as one of their own…..and they are bound to call you back again…and again…And when they do, it will be heard only at the depths within, and  the call will be soo very strong, that it will overwhelm you and draw you unto themselves….and you will drop all else and leave to be one with them…with just this much on your lips ….the mountains are calling and I must go! Until then…as they say farewell! Adieu & ‘soul’ long!