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.




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