Pahari - Orientation

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Identification. "Pahari" can refer to any mountain-dwelling people, but in north India it generally designates the Indo-European-speaking peoples of the Himalayas who, however, generally prefer regional ethnic designations. In India these include, among many others (from west to east) : Churachi, Gaddi, Kinnaura, Sirmuri (all in Himachal Pradesh); Jaunsari, Garhwali, Kumauni (all in Uttar Pradesh); etc. Crosscutting these are terms distinguishing religions (e.g., Hindu, Muslim), caste categories (e.g., for low castes: Dom, Kilta, Shilpkar; for high castes: Khas, Khasiya), and specific castes (e.g., for low castes: Bajgi, Lohar, Mochi, etc.; for high castes: Brahman, Baman, Rajput, Chhetri, Thakur). There are also terms associated with specific noncaste ethnic groups and livelihoods, such as Gujjar (transhumant cattle herders, some groups of which are Hindu, others Muslim). In Nepal distinctions among Paharis are more often reported to refer to caste than to region: that is, the high-caste category, Khas, and the low-caste category, Dom or Damai, with their specific caste names. These caste names distinguish them from Tibeto-Burman-speaking neighbors whom they identify by ethnic terms (e.g., Magars, Gurungs). The term, "Pahari" comes from the Hindi word pahar, meaning "mountain," and so literally it means "of the mountains."

Location. The Pahari occupy the outer, lower ranges of the Himalayas—generally between about 600 and 2,100 meters above sea level—adjacent to the Indo-Gangetic Plain, in a 1,600-kilometer crescent not more than 80 kilometers wide, stretching from Kashmir in the northwest to central Nepal in the southeast. These geologically young mountains are the result of the Indian tectonic plate pushing under the Asian one. This upthrust results in frequent landslides and rapid erosion, creating precipitous topography with sharp peaks and V-shaped ravines rather than alluvial valleys or lakes. The massive scarp, which even the lower Himalayas present to the flat Indo-Gangetic Plain, forces the northward-moving summer monsoon clouds abruptly upward, generating heavy precipitation each year and ensuring a rich postmonsoon harvest. Winters tend to be cold with moderate to slight snowfalls at the upper limits of Pahari habitation (at 1,800 to 2,400 meters) and comparable rainfall at lower elevations.

Demography. Reliable population figures on Pahari speakers are not available, but my estimate is in the neighborhood of 17 million: 6 million in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, 6 million in Uttar Pradesh, and 5 million in Nepal. Their population density is not great, perhaps 58 persons per square kilometer, but the annual growth must be around 2.5 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. The people of the outer Himalayas are culturally and linguistically distinct from their plainsdwelling Hindi-, Punjabi-, and Urdu-speaking Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim neighbors to the south and from the higher-elevation-dwelling Tibetan-speaking Bhuddist Bhotias to the north. G. A. Grierson, in his classic Linguistic Survey of India, labeled their Indo-European language "Pahari" and identified its main sections: Western Pahari, found west of the Jumna River (i.e, now Himachal Pradesh) and into Kashmir; Central Pahari, between the Jumna and the Maha Kali rivers (i.e., in Garhwal and Kumaon, now comprising the Himalayan Districts of Uttar Pradesh State; and Eastern Pahari (generally called Nepali), extending from Nepal's western border (the Maha Kali) into central Nepal. Less sharply drawn than the northern and southern linguistic boundaries are those to the east, where Pahari gives way to Tibeto-Burman, and to the west, where it meets Dardic languages, mainly Kashmiri. Also, along the southern border of the eastern half of the Pahari domain, in the terai (the narrow band where the Himalayas meet the plains), live the tribal Tharu with their distinctive language.

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