Pahari - History and Cultural Relations

The Pahari people probably derive from population movements out of the plains into the mountains. It is widely believed that they have come during the past 3,000 years as refugees from population pressure, plagues, famines, droughts, political oppression, military and civil conflict, and the like. Muslim invasions, from about A . D . 1000 to 1600, may have accelerated such movements, which need not have been characteristically massive but likely included many small-scale, even familial, migrations. Residents of Sirkanda, the Garhwali Village in which I have worked for many years, say that their ancestors began coming some 300 years ago in extended family groups from still-known mountain villages in the Pahari heartland to the northeast in search of new land and pastures. Whatever the sources, it is clear that over time the Pahari population has been geographically mobile and numerically variable. The very name of "Garhwal" suggests this, for it means "land of fortresses"—referring to the ruins that are to be found throughout the region (including two in Sirkanda) and that are as much a puzzle as the people who built them. The Eastern and Central Pahari languages form a dialectal continuum, but there is a relatively sharp break in mutual intelligibility between Central and Western Pahari. Other cultural differences between the Eastern/Central and Western speech communities, together with some demographic Evidence, also suggest that long ago there was a frontier, located somewhere between the Jumna and Ganges watersheds. As recently as the first decade of the nineteenth century, the small princely principalities that comprised the Pahari region east of present-day Simla in Himachal Pradesh were conquered by the Nepalese. A decade later the British drove them back, decreed the Maha Kali River to be the western border of Nepal, and laid the foundation for the present administrative subdivisions of the Indian Himalayas.

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