Where Mortals and Mountain Gods Meet: Society and Culture in Himachal Pradesh

Item Code: IHK082
Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla
Author: Laxman S. Thakur
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8179860000
Pages: 207 (20 Color Illus., & 18 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8 inch X 5.8 inch
Weight 720 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Where Mortals and the Mountain Gods Meet brings together a group of scholars fro different disciplines such as art, music, religion, history, economics and pure sciences to present a variety of approaches to the study of mountain societies. It examines the importance of the Himalayan snow for the perennial rivers; its rich and diversified plant biodiversity, and forest wealth; the economy and society including the pastoralist communities; architectural, sculpture and epigraphical treasure; the traditional system of knowledge and its celebrity at the village level and many more interesting topics. In includes twenty-four contributions covering a large span of Himachal’s cultural past from early times to the recent period. It will interest every scholar of ancient, medieval and modern Himalayan studies.

Laxman S. Thakur teaches Ancient History and Archaeology at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla since 1985. He is the author of The Architectural Heritage of Himachal Pradesh: Origin and Development of Temple Styles, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Deli (1996), and Buddhism in the Western Himalaya: A Study of the Tabo Monastery, Oxford University Press, New Delhi (2001). The Organizing Committee of the XV International Congress of Aesthetics (Department of Aesthetics, Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo, Japan) has recently declared him the winner of the Asia Award for his paper titled, ‘Experiencing and Visualizing Void’. He is the editor of Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS), a journal published by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.


The present volume is an outcome of the presentations at a national seminar on ‘Himachal Pradesh: A Socio-Cultural Profile’ organized at the Institute from 9-11 November, 2000. Himachal Pradesh has a rich tradition of society, economy and culture. Under the impact of modern trends many changes-some good, some bad-are taking place in the region. The seminar took a critical stock of the tradition and changes in this region.

The volume had twenty four papers of varying standards. These have been categorized into four groups-Natural and Human Resources; Structures of Polity, Society and Economy; Numismatics, Epigraphy and the Arts; and New Horizon in Regional Cultural Studies. The studies are not only statements on traditions but are also indicators of changes and possible insights into prospective trends. As such, I felicitate the learned contributors and compliment the able editor, Dr. Laxman S. Thakur for their hard work. I am sure that the volume would be a welcome addition to the library of regional studies.


The collection of papers in this volume was presented in a seminar on ‘Himachal Pradesh: A Socio-Cultural Profile’, organized by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla from 9-11 November 2000. Several scholars actively working on the social and cultural history of Himachal Pradesh read their papers at the Institute. Contributions to this volume cover many facets of Himachal’s past. To present the contributions in a thematic and chronological continuity I have taken the liberty of reorganizing all the twenty-four papers into four sections. Jagdish Bahadur, B.D. Sharma and Sudha Vasan remind us of the possible dangers of the increased human interference in our natural resources. All the authors are agreed to the extent that drastic rethinking is required to manage modification in the natural water flows, to make changes in the land use over exploitation of forests could lead to an unprecedented civilizational catastrophe.

The largest section, consisting of nine papers, discusses the structures of polity, society and economy from ancient to modern period. The first paper in this section is authored by P.N. Gautam. It deals with the administrative structures of Himachal from the earliest times. The latest data on the demographic profile of Himachal has been provided by R.L. Bisotra. B.K. Kaul Deambi’s paper provides the glimpses of the society and economy of early medieval Chamba and Kangra. What was the nature of peasant protest in pre-modern hill societies can be known from the contribution of Chetan Singh. The portrayal of the hill society in the gazetters, settlement reports, travelogues and other official documents produced during the colonial period is questioned by P. Kanwar. She has rightly pointed out that the details furnished in these documents need to be supplemented by local oral traditions and field studies. The emergence of the institution of beggar and the struggle for its eradication has been detailed by Jaideep Negi. Two subsequent papers by V. Verma and L.P. Singh are more or less based on the district gazetteers. V.K. Sharma sees horticulture as a potential catalyst for improving the economic conditions of the hill people.

Section III is primarily devoted to art, architecture, sculpture and coins. The paper by Devendra Handa sums up the differing views on the coinage of the Kunindas. The most pertinent question which needs to be probed is whether the Kunindas can be compared with the Kanets-the agricultural community of Himachal Pradesh. He succeeds to a large extent to make distinctions between the Amoghabhuti and Chitresvara type of coins. The famous Visnu image and its pedestal inscription, discovered by J. Ph. Vogel from Fatehpur (Kangra) in 1904, has been reinterpreted by Ashvini Agrawal. Two subsequent papers are on the architectural heritage: monasteries and temples. The location of monasteries on the trade routes and the existence of a rich artistic heritage in the regions contiguous to Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur have contributed immensely to the emergence of monastery’s peculiar plans and other decorative details during the second diffusion of Buddhism in the middle mNa’-ris. I have tried to show that a change in sectarian affiliation resulted in some changes in the architectural configurations. The wooden temples of the Outer Saraj region of Kulu district have been studied by O.C. Handa. B.S. Malhans’s paper presents a detailed study of the ceremonies and rituals associated with the reconstruction of the Mahu Naga temple at Kogi, near Naldehra. Two subsequent papers are by T.S. Gill and B.P. Kamboj. The former analyses the art of Amrita Sher-Gil, produced at Shimla, and the latter explores the murals of the Dei Sahiba temple at Paonta. The last contribution in this section is by Manorma Sharma on the folk music of Himachal Pradesh.

Section IV begins with M.R. Thakur’s paper on the cultural traditions of the Kuli valley. Based on the field studies, the author of the paper provides many interesting details not available in stereotyped literature. An important contribution in this section is by Uma Singh Mahajan on the magico-religiosity of the Ravi valley of Chamba. What is perceptible in such living traditions is the juxtaposition of the great and the little traditions of Brahmanism: for the iconic representations are used the gods and goddesses of Brahmanism, whereas all rituals and ceremonies are not adhered to the prescriptions and proscriptions of Sanskrit texts (either Vedic or post-Vedic or Pauranik). One of the peculiarities of the religious systems of western Himalayan region is the complexity of the beliefs and the rituals, the relationship between the god and the local people and the guru or a person through which a particular god dances and talks. Equally important and fascinating subject has been chosen by B.R. Sharma for a detailed analysis in his paper on the sancha-vidya. The complete decipherment of the scripts used in the writing of the manuscripts would enable us to know the origins of such a system of knowledge. Varied forms of cultural manifestations in traditional societies are undergoing tremendous change in recent years through tourism and improved means of transportation R.N. Batta and J.P. Bhatti’s paper sounds a note of caution with the remarks that a culturally conscious tourism policy needs to be framed in which the participation of local community is ensured. Such a tourism policy needs to be framed sooner than later.

I thank Professor V. C. Srivastava, the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study for assigning me the task of editing the proceedings of the seminar. Grateful thanks are due to N.K. Maini, Ashok Sharma, S.A. Jabbar, Renu Thakur and Chetan Singh.


1 Hydrological Importance of Himalayan Snow, Ice and Glacier3
2 Social Significance of Ethno-botanical Studies 21
3 Community Forest Management: Historical Legacy of Himachal Pradesh30
4 Socio-Administrative System of Himachal Pradesh 51
5 Himachal Pradesh: A Demographic Analysis67
6 Socio-Economic Profile of Ancient Chamba and Kangra as Gleaned from Sarada Inscriptions 87
7 The Dhoom in Himachal Pradesh: Community Consciousness, Peasant Resistance or Political Intrigue 107
8 Himachal Society through Imperial Eyes: An Inquiry117
9 Labour Management under the Feudalistic set up in Himachal Pradesh129
10 Transhumant Communities of Himachal Pradesh 143
V. Verma
11 Polyandry in Himachal Pradesh: A Socio-Cultural Analysis and Reflection165
12 Social Transformation through Horticulture in Himachal Pradesh 175
13 History and Coinage of the Kunindas193
14 An Inscribed Visnu Image from Fatehpur (Kangra) Reinterpreted209
15 Tradition, Assimilation and Innovation in Western Himalayan Buddhist Architecture during the bStan-pa phyi-dar215
16 Wooden Temples of the Western Himalaya 238
17 Reconstructing the Himachali Tower Temple of Nanahal Devata (Mahu Naga) at Village Kogi according to Traditional Archetype and Ritual 256
18 Amrita Sher-Gil: Her Life and Art at Shimla 277
19 Wall Painting of the Dei Sahiba Temple Paonta (B.P. Kamboj)287
20 Contribution of Himachal Folk Music to Classical Music303
21 Some Cultural Legends and Traditions of the Kulu Valley321
22 A Separate Reality: Trance Possession and Excorcism in the Magico-Religious System of the Ravi River Valley of Chamba, Himachal Pradesh 334
23 Sancha Vidya: A Traditional Astro-Tantric System of Knowledge355
24 Tourism and the Socio-Cultural Environment: A Policy Analysis on Himachal Pradesh371
R.N. Batta and J.P. BHATTI
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