Friday, April 7, 2017
The Secrets of the Mysterious Village of Malana
In the far north of India in the Himalayas, in the Parvati Valley, also known as the valley of the gods, in Kullu, under the peaks of Chandrakhani and Deo Tibba, at over 3,000 meters level, there is an almost inaccessible village of about two hundred houses called Malana. It is a unique settlement composed of about 1,800 inhabitants, which is self-governing with a system that is considered the oldest active democracy.
Also called republic of Malana or small Greece for its peculiarity of democratic self-government, related to its possible origins, it is also known for cannabis cultivation. The very isolated geographical position and the difficulty to reach has allowed it to preserve the biodiversity of this settlement that has been intact over time in its architecture, language, traditions, rituals, forms of government and independent decisions.
Malana can be reached from Parbati valley surpassing 3,180 meters of Rashol Pass (10 hours of walking), or through Naggar going up to 3600 meters of Chanderkhani step (2 days of walking). The easiest way to get there is by Jari, through a beautiful trail of 23 km which takes about 8 hours walk. Jari in turn is two hours drive from Kullu and is the official point of access to Malana.
About a kilometer and a half from the beginning of the path there is a checkpoint where visitors must register and be accepted before entering the valley and take 21 and a half kilometers that lead to Malana. Its a long and arduous path, lined with several streams and waterfalls. The nearest village is to Chowki, 15 km, but has nothing in common with Malana.
The central square, the place where the village council makes its decisions is just as in ancient Greece. At Malana the most important decisions are taken in a sort of agora, where meets the hakkma, which most recalls what once was the center of the Greek polis. What distinguishes this village perched in the Himalayas are its unique features like inflexible will of the inhabitants to preserve their unique heritage and secular. The inaccessibility so far has been an attraction for adventurous travelers and scholars. The unique geographical location has preserved the biodiversity of this ecological paradise.
The village deities is considered by the inhabitants as superior compared to others in the region. Their cult is strikingly different from the usual traditional rituals. A few words of the language and architectural decorations are probably of Greek origin. There is a legend that connects it to the legitimizing of the rule of Jamlu Devta. The Kanashi language does not belong to the Indo-Aryan group, and serves as a means of communication only between Malana people.
The architecture is unique and each structure has a specific purpose with a descriptive name. The residential houses are in no way similar to those of the surrounding regions. A self-managed democratic judicial system applies the same rules throughout the ages.
According to legend and history, Jamdagni Rishi, named in local dialect Jamlu Rishi lived with two brothers. Later Jamdagni stayed here and the brothers went away. One of them to Lahaul and the other to the Banjar valley. Malana was ruled by the great Banasura and soon there arose a conflict. The conflict ended with an agreement to the conditions that the administration and justice had to be treated separately, the members of the executive would be selected in consultation with Banasura.
The Justice remained under the aegis of Jamdagni Rishi. Any dispute management had to be resolved by the judiciary while there was the obligation to use the Kanashi language for those living in Malana, as well as the preservation of customs and traditions. During the festivals, the first sacrifice had to be given towards Banasura. The rest of the village has preserved its traditions that are still adhered to.
Every important building bears a sign that reminds you not to touch anything. The exotic atmosphere captures the visitor upon entering the village while the houses with their antique look and people in traditional dress seem to be part of a completely different world.
Malana is divided into two parts of the upper Dhara Beda and lower Sor Bede and exclusively inhabited by Rajputs and only two families of Lohars and Julahas. The Rajputs are divided into four clans of Dhamyani, Dhurani, Nagvani and Pachani. The first two live in the upper part, while the other in the lower. In terms of Dhamyani hierarchy it is the most important clans, while Panchani is the last.
A stone path, dotted with various sacred stones passes through the center of the village. For foreigners there is a list of rules to follow. The people are friendly, but people from outside should keep their distance and not touch anything in the village. Anyone touching a resident must pay a fine of 1,500 rupees (the amount required to pay a purifying sacrifice of a lamb) or a goose. This is because here people practice a very ancient form of religion which considers the foreigners as untouchables. Foreigners can be offered to food, but all the utensils must then be purified. And it is allowed to take photos, but not film.
At the center of the village Dharamshalas are the house that hosts the pilgrims who visit the temple of Jamdagni Rishi that is richly decorated with wood carvings depicting flora, fauna and dancers. Most of their names refers to the day of birth like a person born on Sunday is Ahuta, Monday is Suanru, Tuesday is Mangal, Wednesday is Budh or Bui, Thursday is Bestru or Bei, Friday is Shukru and Saturday is Shani Charu or Sheyi.
There is also the custom to give to the male babies his grandfather's name. The wives call their husbands by name as opposed to the prevailing tradition in the rest of India. Malana centuries stands on its own. Self-government is democratic, with a sort of parliament. The board called Hakima has three non-elective offices of Goor, Pujari or priest and Kardar representing the high court. Pujari and Kardar are hereditary charges.
They are also elected four members of Jestha. Each of the elected lower court chooses another member (Pogudar) so the number of those elected to eight rooms, one of them is elected Pradhan (head). The office of Goor, believed to be the voice of God in the village (as it is believed to be possessed by the spirit of Jamlu Devta), it can be attributed to anyone.
There may also be two Goor, or none, as happened after the 1985 death of Madgu that was not replaced (due to bad influences of evil forces). Tradition has it that when a Goor is recognized as such, you wear a white hat and let your hair grow. On occasion the Goor, in a rite of shamanic type, dance in ecstasy possessed by the spirit of Jamlu Devta. On these occasions hears the complaints of citizens and expresses its opinions.
The justice is self-managed. Judgments are discussed first from the bottom board, until it reaches unanimity. They are then issued by the High Council and especially, monetary fines. Sometimes decisions are re-discussed and after weighing the interests of the village, the pros and cons, are changed. Anyone who does not accept the verdict is driven away from the valley. The most severe sentence on the theft of sacred objects, provides that the offender be tied to a stone and thrown off a cliff.
The houses are built of wood and stone with two or three floors and each floor has a name and a specific function like the ground floor is called Khudang and is used as stables for livestock. The first floor, Gaying, is used as a warehouse for food, clothing and firewood. The top floor has a large balcony and is the residential area. The language spoken is Kanashi, totally different from all the dialects of the area and seems a mixture of Sanskrit and various Tibetan dialects and is considered one of the secrets of the village and foreigners are not allowed to use it.
Malana is a real linguistic maze, that is incomprehensible even in the Parvati valley where they speak dialects belonging to the Indo-European family. The Kanashi has been classified as a Sino-Tibetan language, connected to Milchang which is a sub-branch of the Kinnauri, a group of dialects spoken in Kinnaur. Although the inhabitants claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers in their retreat to Greece would have preferred to stay in this beautiful valley, there is evidence of lexical links with Greek and Macedonian languages.
The population cultivating the land and sheep, is very keen to preserve the ecosystem. You cannot plant nails in trees, light fires in the forest, uproot branches that are not dry. The hunt requires a special permit that is granted only in special periods. Malana celebrates two great festivals of Badoh mela in August and Fagdi mela in February.
Weddings are regulated and must take place within the four clans that make up the village. It is a simple ceremony, without priests or special rituals. Usually people get married before the age of 15. On the day of the wedding the groom wears a turban and traditional clothing. He along with his friends and relatives visit the bride's house, where a feast is organized. They are served rice, chapati, dal and meat.
Meanwhile, the bride is dressed in the traditional dress and adorned with jewels. Parents hold out gifts and blessing. Subsequently, the bride and groom get ready for the new life according to custom and the groom is the first to leave the party holding a mashal or torch. The bride runs after him and together they go into the home of his family.
That's it as far as the wedding goes with no ceremony, no priest and elaborate rituals. The only place in the outside world with which the inhabitants of Malana maintain relationships is the village of Raso, where is venerated the goddess Reneuka, the wife of Jamlu. For this girls from Malana can get married here, otherwise they are authorized to do so only within Malana. If anyone marry a stranger they can be also prohibited to return to their village.
In a divorce, the man must provide a home and food for his ex-wife. Divorced women can remarry but have to spend a year seperately, while for males is permitted polygamy. The dead are cremated and lasts a three days ritual. The temple of Jamlu Rishi with its elaborate wooden decoration is notable for its unique architecture. Horns of sacrificed animals are fixed on the facade of the temple.
The priest of the village is the only one in the village to wear a white turban. His ancestors, for centuries, take care of the village shrine and pass on the traditions of the Jamlu Rishi to inhabitants and has a two-story house, beautifully decorated and embellished outside, with intricate wood carvings. His family members live elsewhere but visit often with food and what he needs. Very close to the priest's house is the home of Jamdagni Rishi, the temple, called in the local dialect Jamlu Rishi.
The priestly office is hereditary. Jamlu is the deity who is considered lord of the village. His courtiers are elected and raise funds for the maintenance of civic services by revenues produced by the village land, strangers who graze their cattle, cash contributions from devotees, gold and silver horse and visitors offers.
The Malana administration is based on religion and why the elected members selected among the inhabitants of Bhandaria which are assigned the tasks of collecting tax on the land area, which falls under the jurisdiction of the village shrine, deposit all revenue in the sanctuary treasure, keep the profit and loss account, collect and deposit the offers, arrange funds for functions and organize the festivities, hold the symbols of Jamlu Devata during religious processions.
The three-story building next to the courtyard is designed to keep food and other necessities for the pilgrims. According to the standard of the country, no one in the village has to stay hungry. Visitors and pilgrims in this place can then get food. To keep this stock each year are selected four people from the village. For the gods there is also a separate Bhandar, adjacent to his temple. In this building they are kept the food, in addition to cash offers, gold and silver horse.
Here is produced the Malana cream, considered the best charas and hashish in the world, grown despite the laws of the Indian government. Malana is a land where time almost stands still, but which may suggest different stimulating ideas to the modern world on how they solve their problems is a lesson for the urban elite as their are no law books, no clause, no constitution, no lawyer, no police officer or police stations, but the villagers live in harmony with one another, sharing their problems.
With the basic minimum requirements, the Malana people, over the centuries have learned to live in harmony with nature. They are happy to be part of the benevolent nature. Although they may not have access to luxuries of the modern world, you can still see the glow of satisfaction on their innocent faces. In fact a foreigner of any other country is an intruder.
Malana is like a close-knit family that with its unique way of life, the secret language and the particular traditions has always attracted the interest of foreigners.