Kinnaur District is located in the eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, to the south of Lahaul and Spiti. On its southern side, it borders Garhwal (in the newly-founded Uttaranchal State), and on its eastern side, Tibet. Out of the 77 official villages (called “revenue villages”) of Kinnaur, the Kanauri language is spoken in sixty localities. Kinnauri culture is very rich and the localites take great pride in it.
According to linguistic studies, it belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family and has some possible links with the former Zhangzhung language. Besides its standard form, spoken by a majority of persons, Kanauri ha s several dialectal variants, some of which are specific to quite tiny groups of people; the most striking example is that of the dialect solely spoken in the medium-sized locality of Sungnam. Despite this highly localised variability, all Kanauri- speakers can understand each other quite well. As for the remaining localities, their populations speak a Tibetan dialect that does not vary much from one village to the next (notwithstanding what the speakers themselves often assert) and that is akin to the dialect spoken in neighbouring Spiti. Tibetan-speaking villages are mostly confined within a small radius: these are 15 official villages in total, namely Kunu, Tsarang, Nesang, and the uppermost villages lying between Pooand Sumra. While Tibetan dialects are rarely known by Kanauri-speakers, most of the Tibetan-speakers are able to understand some Kanauri. During the festive gatherings, they often sing as many Kanauri songs as Tibetan ones.
Throughout Kinnaur, both the Kanauri-speaking and Tibetan-speaking populations are divided into the same castes, called jāt (from the Hindi jāti , ‘caste’). In descending order, these hereditary and endogamous castes are as follows:
(1) the Khoshia (K.) or Chayang (T.), who constitute the largest group; 10
(2) the carpenters (K. Ores; T. Shingzowa [ Shing bzo ba ]) together with the blacksmiths (K. Domang; T. Zo [ Bzo ]), who live in a few localities and occasionally move from one place to another, depending on the demand for their services as craftsmen; and
(3 ) the weavers (K. Chamang; T. Zilao), second in terms of the number of people.
A point worthy of note is that in Kanauri-speaking places, carpenters, blacksmiths and weavers do not speak Kanauri when they are amongst themselves, their own mother tongue being a form of Pahari. Given that the Brahman caste is totally absent from Kinnaur, Buddhist lamas (monks) and nuns are the main religious specialists throughout the district; in particular, monks invariably conduct the most crucial rituals of all, namely the funerals. In the Kanauri-speaking places, the cults devoted to the local gods (at least one per locality) are another important part of religious life. The gods, represented by copper vases and in some cases by richly ad orned palanquins, are carried outside their temples on a great number of ri tual occasions where mediums play a very important role in forecasting events and prescribing how their followers are to behave in certain situations. By contrast, in the Tibetan- speaking villages, local deities are rather insignificant. They have no palanquins at all, nor in most cases have they temples or altars at the village level. Consequently, they are fully iden tified with their mediums, so much so that when a medium dies and has no su ccessor, the god is said to be dead. Nowadays, such cases are not uncommon – a fact which reveals a strong lack of interest by the Tibetan-speakers in local cults. The ethnonyms in current use among Kanauri-speakers In Kalpa [F3], the inhabitants regard themselves, together with all the villagers who live between Chora [F 1] and Pangi [F4], as Kanauraga. The people settling beyond Pangi are known as Nyam, irrespective of their language, although Nyam is often given as an equivalent to the Hindi Tibti ( tibbat ī ), ‘Tibetan’. How is it that the village of Pangi, high uphill, is understood in Kalpa as the eastern limit of Kanauring, the country of the Kanauraga? To understand this, one should bear in mind that until 1962 (when a National Highway was constructed along the Sutlej River), Pangi lay on the so-called Hindustan-Tibet Road: going eastwards, the next village to be crossed was Lippa, whose Kanauri dialect is radically different from standard Kanauri spoken up to Pangi.
Significance of Buddhism in Kinnaur
Buddhism was introduced in Himachal Pradesh in 3rd Century BC by the great Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. He ordered the construction of numerous stupas in the state. One of these stupas that existed in the Kullu valley also finds a mention in the accounts of the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang.Today, even though the majority of population is Hindu, yet the Buddhist influence is strong in the state. The primary reason for this is the presence of His Highness, the Holy Dalai Lama (14th), Tenzing Gyatso.
Way back in the 1960s, when the Chinese invasion took place in Tibet, the exiled Dalai Lama, along with his 85,000 Tibetan followers took shelter in a former British cantonment, Mc Leodganj. His efforts have not only ensured the progression of Tibetan culture in the state but he has also become a focus of entire Tibet Buddhism for the last four decades. His Holy Highness imparts teachings on the philosophy of Buddhism both by himself on regular basis and also on the request of various Buddhist devotees from Taiwan and Korea. Because of this, the Buddhist movement has regained its lost momentum.
Due to the cushioning of the region with rugged Himalayan mountains, rivers, forests , it is free from any cultural imperialism .The culture of the border district is nicely shaped by the simplicity and traditional customs of the people and the way they lead lives. Tourism industry has flourished in leaps and bounds over the decade.
The people of the border area of Himachal Pradesh belong mainly to the agrarian communities and lead a simple, hassle free life. All the people in border district are humble, sensitive and hard working. Chained by their own Vedic beliefs, the natives appear to have remained secluded from the modern trends. Their life seems to be revolving around the mountains and valleys which they consider as their home. With the changing times the locales are getting proper education and are therefore shifting to other professions. Woman of the region wear attractive jewellery. The people of Kinnaur region, are supposed to be very beautiful and have an extraordinary collection of ornaments. In fact the women are not only adorable and beautiful, they are hard working also. With lots of enthusiasm, they participated in making pottery and men in carpentry.
Tradition and Culture
The inhabitants of border district have a fair complexion and are well built, tough and muscular. The extended family system is still prevalent in the border region. Polyandry prevails in the villages but is rapidly losing ground to monogamy. The border district himachalis practise fraternal polyandry and the patriarchal system of inheritance. All the brothers of the bridegroom are considered automatically the husbands of the bride. Polyandry helps the people of the border district especially in Kinnaur to perpetuate the name of their family and safeguard the family property from fragmentation. The polyandrous tribes of the Himalayas can be compared with the Pandavas of the ancient Indian epic of Mahabharata, who are believed to have had a polygamous system. However, such marriages are on the decline. The women of Kinnaur are famous for their beauty and there are many references to it in books of olden times. According to the old scriptures, the Kinner ‘Kanyas’ (girls) were famous for their beauty and were used as ‘Vish Kanyas’ (poison girls) by the kings and royal families to overcome their enemies through their seductive “talents”. Music and Dance Music and Dance form a very important part of the Culture of the border district of Himachal Pradesh. Both these art forms revolve mainly around religion in Himachal Pradesh. Some of the popular dance forms in the state include Losar Shona Chuksam, Dangi, Gee Dance and Burah dance.Another interesting aspect of the culture of border district of Himachal Pradesh is the endless succession of fairs and festivals celebrated in the region. The main festivals are Holi, Dussehra and Diwali, but numerous local festivals are also celebrated with great pomp and grandeur. The people of border area are fond of dance and music and these are key elements of culture of Himachal Pradesh. The songs and performing dances are spiritual in nature and mainly used to invoke gods and goddesses during festive seasons. Himachal is racy in folk music. Himachal Laman songs are quite famous. Famous dance styles are Shunto in Lahul & Spiti. Border Trade / craft Trade along the Indo-Tibetan border in Himachal Pradesh has a long history with the first state intervention in trade recorded over three hundred years ago. Colonial mercantile interests, the political interests of independent India and China, infrastructure, economic development and cultural transformations have all affected this trade and transformed communities living on either side of the border. A memorandum on the resumption of border trade between India and Chinese Tibet was signed at New Delhi on 13 December 1991, and Shipki La in Himachal Pradesh was one of the two designated trade routes. The two major trade routes along Shipki La and the Kaurik Pass are described. Current practices, attitudes and aspirations of traders and villagers along these routes, and the quantum and quality of current and potential trade are analyzed. Based on this, the potential impact of encouraging legal trade along these traditional routes and the impediments to improvement in trade are discussed. The study team visited the Namiga village nearest to the Sipkilla point in which border trade take place. The border trade taking between India and China through these trade points is barter trade: Exchange of goods for Goods. Some of the important points regarding Indo – China trade taking place in the border areas of Himachal Pradesh area as follows:
(1) It is a purely a Barter Trade
(2) Goods and animals to be transacted fixed by the custom authority by an individual should not exceed worth of Rs. 25000
(3) Only local border area people and locally produced goods and materials in surroundings of border areas to be traded.
The items identified for trade are: (1) 29 items from India and (2) 16 items from China.
Border Trade to be taken place between, 1st June and 30 November. All type of goods transacted are free from custom duty. The trade takes place by the local trader with Trade pass issued by the Trade Authority – The Deputy Commissioner of the district. However, as opined by the local people who are involved in the border trade, the common tradable export items are clothes, utensils and grocery and imports include wool, goat and sheep, horse, yak, butter. Border district is also widely renowned for the beautiful handicraft items produced. The border area of Himachal Pradesh has a rich tradition of handicrafts the carpets, leather works, shawls, paintings, woodwork and paintings of the land are all evocative of the rich culture of the border districts of Himachal Pradesh. These craft items are woollen and pashmina shawls, carpets, embroidered and Gompa style paintings, wood work, wooden utensils and various other domestic things. Pashmina shawl is one of the products which is popular not only in the border areas of Himachal but all over the country. But lacks of market facilities, these artistic and elegant handicrafts were not sold very much. Though, the demand for handicrafts has increased within and outside the country. The condition of state changed drastically with the technological advancements. It is a multireligional, multicultural as well as multilingual state like other Indian states. Most commonly spoken languages include Hindi and Kinnauri. Shawls of Kinnaur are famous for unique patterns and lively colors. Kinnauri caps are also famous art work of the people. Due to extreme cold winters, there is necessity of wool weaving. Typical local music and dance reveals the cultural distinctiveness of the border districts. These dances are performed during local festivals and other special occasions.