23 December 2012

Kesar Saga - An Epic from the Himalayas

The Kesar Saga poem is an eleventh-century Tibetan epic about Kesar, the King of Ling. The story became the national epic of Ladakh, and it is so much a part of the region’s cultural landscape that some claim that Kesar was actually born in Kargil. A god incarnated, Kesar announces at his birth his identity as the Lion King. He will inevitably confront the evil Trotun who has long ravished the kingdom. To avoid a prophecy of his defeat at the hand of a magical king, Trotun convinces the nobles of the land to exile Kesar, and the hero consequently suffers many hardships. Through his own quick-wittedness, the help of the gods and magical means, Kesar eventually achieves his goal, overcomes evil and brings unity and prosperity to the kingdom of Ling.

The Saga exists in oral form throughout central Asia, from Mongolia to Ladakh. Different forms exist in different regions, and Ladakh is no exception. Kargil District in particular is said to be home to some of the most highly developed versions of the work.

The Kesar Saga is traditionally heard in oral performance, a feature in common with epic traditions around the world. In the winter months, most parts of Ladakh are closed off from the outside world. Even internally within the districts, movement between villages can be difficult or impossible, and conditions mean that little in the way of outdoor work can be done during the winter. Consequently, entertainment forms a larger part of life in winter than in summer, and one major form of this is oral recitation. Ladakh has tribes like the Mon and the Beda who, though debarred traditionally from many other professions, were in great demand as musicians. The position of the musician then, while not necessarily privileged, was highly specialised, indicating the importance of music in these communities. There are stories of famous epic singers performing the Kesar Saga over a number of weeks, and this kind of recitation (always from memory) must have required very specialised skills. Telling the Saga still involves lengthy sessions, sometimes with dances and re-enactments that are associated with particular scenes, and which surely bring to an even more personal level a story already strongly connected to community life.

In addition to professional performances, music forms an important part of everyone’s life in rural Kargil, and this can make another connection to the epic. Garu songs, sung in Kargil whilst ploughing fields, include verses that are attributed to the Kesar Saga. It seems likely not only that everyone growing up in rural Kargil will have heard the Kesar Saga, but that they will know some of it themselves.

As with many ancient stories throughout the world, the Saga has a central character who is royal, and encounters difficulties in gaining his rightful position and who in the end wins, with the forces of good on his side. The epic identified with Tibet does not reduce its cultural relevance to the people of Ladakh, as international boundaries in the region have always been – and remain fairly – fluid and disputable, whereas the Tibetan cultural influence on Ladakh is firm.

Kesar’s birth is miraculous (it is mediated by the gods, and he is himself part divine), and he achieves great feats as a child. In this he is a typical hero, but the context in which he is set is unmistakeably Himalayan. Beyond the content of the poem itself, the mode of transmission – oral recitation in a village context – binds Kesar and the stories about him to the homeland of those who hear them as children.

King Kesar is a fantastical figure, and many of his exploits are brought about by magic. Sometimes, though, his means are more recognisable to us today. On his way to kill the King of Hor, he uses his cunning skills to overcome a group of enemies:

Then Kesar arrived at a place where nine bridges were tied together, and where 100 soldiers of Hor had to keep watch. Kesar took the shape of a young lama, and caused much rain to fall. He made friends with the soldiers and built a house for them, the roof of which rested on a single post. One night when much rain fell, he tied a silken cord to the post, went outside, and tore the post done. All the soldiers were slain by the falling roof.

As well as showing divine power, Kesar is also an embodiment of divine rightness. Even his wife ‘aBrugma is not spared punishment after she refuses to bear children for Kesar, following the death of the King of Hor. But when justice has been done, she is restored to her rightful place:

Now she was punished in the following way: from the land of the dwarves to Ling she was tied to the tail of the horse and dragged along; then she had to be everybody’s servant for three years; for three years lucerne [alfalfa] was sown on her head and ploughed with Dzos; for three tears she had to serve in the castle with leather round her knees; for three years she had to tend stone-partridges; and for three years she had to milk the senting-bird. In this way fifteen years elapsed. Then one year was required to repair the castle at Ling. Now ’aBrugma was made a lady again. The wedding lasted three days and three nights, and they lived in perfect happiness.

11 November 2012

Kapula - the vanishing traditional footwear

The traditional footwear of Lahaul & Spiti is the ‘Kapula’. Made from shoots of plants and animal skin or ‘pakpa’, Kapula was used round the year, particularly during the winters, where the temperatures can plummet to -20 degrees Celsius. The Lahaulis usually prefer kapula made of goat skin rather than sheep’s skin because the former is more durable and suited to the weather of the region. People used to wear jurab (traditional socks) made from pattu and bakza (pure wool) to cover their feet and the kapula was worn over that.

The kapula is made from shoots of plants like ‘gundum’ (local wheat), ‘beli’ (wild shrub) and animal skin. Shoots of gundum, known as ‘soma’, are first sprinkled with water and then twisted and beaten continuously with a ‘sodung’, a cylindrical wooden tool. It is beaten till the soma becomes soft but not too brittle so that it cannot be woven. Once it is done, two to three strands of soma are hand rolled to make it thick and sturdy and then the long strands of fibers are hand woven to make the shoes. To make them attractive and colourful, coloured threads are intertwined in the fibers to create designs, especially on the upper part of the shoes covering the toes. Sometimes some strands of soma are dyed with colors from Manali or Kullu. However, today coloured woolen threads are used instead. Animal skin is soaked in water overnight and is used for covering the shoes from outside; it is stitched with ‘bhang’ thread. It can take up to 2 to 3 days to finish one Kapula. One of the variations of this traditional shoe is ‘gepul’ in which no animal skin is used.

In Lahaul & Spiti, any pronounced class division based on vocation does not exist and everybody used to make these shoes in the early days and they were also used without any kind of discrimination. However, during the religious festivals of ‘Halda’ and ‘Lossar’, the locals do not wear kapula, which are fitted with animal skin; it is believed that wearing kapula during such sacred occasions will violate the purity of the function. The people devotedly follow this tradition and if anyone violates this tradition, the violator is fined and not allowed to mingle with the other participants; they are served food separately and will also have to sleep in a separate section, away from the others.

Kapula, was once extremely popular among the people, which is evident from its mention in the Guree Geets, the folk songs of Lahaul & Spiti. These colorful Kapulas in the early days were considered very fashionable and attractive. However, the popularity of this traditional form of shoe is on the decline, and has very limited use.

3 November 2012

Capacity Building Training for Para-Teachers

A two-days training event was conducted by TUBAE African Development Trust as part of Praya initiative towards improving quality of education in the underserved areas in Turkana in Rift Valley province of Kenya. It provided inputs to participants on teaching methods, innovative teaching aids and discussed the challenges and concerns faced by the teachers.

16 October 2012

Kholi - the intricate woodcraft of Uttarkashi

Decades back, the temples and the houses of the rich/higher class people in Uttarkashi could be identified through the majestic looking wooden entrances/doors with intricate designs. These magnificent structures are called Kholi, which was not just a demonstration of their architectural display and richness but it gave an idea about the creative intelligence and technical brilliance of the local artisans as well as religious background of the family living in the house. Kholi is believed to be completely indigenous, with some rumoured influence from Tibet, but has not been validated so far by any study. It is a low height entrance deliberately designed in a way that any person entering through it has to bow his/her head. Traditionally, Kholi was made by the local artisans who belonged to the lower classes of the society. Constructing a Kholi was considered a very religious process that took years to complete and it called for celebration and participation of the entire village.

Kholi is a visual marvel with intricate designs of flowers like brahmkamal, birds like Munal and Gukti and animals like elephants and lions. Kholi also announced the belief systems of the house owners, like suryavanshis (Rana, Chauhan and Bhandari) will have sun’s image carved into the Kholi while nagvanshis (descendents of Gangu Ramola) have images of snakes in the same. The Uttarkashi people have quite interesting beliefs attached to Kholi, for example, the horns of animals are attached in the Kholi to drive away the evil spirits; birds were carved in Kholi mainly because in the early days it was believed that birds are sacred and brings good luck to the family. They deliberately made small holes in the Kholi design in a tasteful way so as to allow honey bees to get inside the Kholi, as it is believed that bees bring luck and blessings and make the house safe and pure.

More than just being an ornamental showpiece, Kholi was also part of the security system in the village. Years back when there were no burglar alarms, Kholi was attached to the signal system in case of burglar attacks in ‘Kothar’, which were traditional storage houses of food grains and other valuables. A string was attached to the lock of the Kothar with its other end tied to a bell inside the Kholi. It was attached in such a way that any person who touches the ‘Kothar’ at night will set the bell ringing, waking up the whole village.

Usually people from rich families opted for Kholi as their houses, since it took at least 2-3 years to make an intricately designed one. It was said that on an average one Kholi was made every ten years in a village, the reasons might vary from the time taken for making a Kholi to affordability among the people. Traditionally, no colours were used to decorate it, but as time went on, people have started using colours to make it more attractive. Earlier, people used to collect trees for building Kholi based on the colour they wanted to have. For example, deodar trees give yellow wood, thuner gives red wood and kel tree gives white wood.

The process of making a Kholi is very elaborate with religious rituals performed along with community participation. The entire process is a classical example of the social interaction of the locals as well as cultural integrity. The process starts with the person who wants to build the house by evoking the village deity to get permission and advice on every matter, from construction area to size of the house to fixing the day to start the construction. The artisans normally start their work in winters as there is enough sunlight and the cool weather makes such hard work bearable. Even cutting the tree for Kholi is a big event with religious rituals held in the village temple and offerings being made to the tree. This is done because of the belief among the locals that if permission is not sought, it may result in accidents and losses. At least one person from each house in the village accompanied and assisted in the process (It is common in the villages in Uttarkashi that whenever there is a big event in a house the entire village participates and assists the family in the event and it is called Rem. Once the work is done, a grand feast was organised before everyone returned home). The trees were usually cut before sunrise and after sunset – before 4 am and after 8 pm.

Deodar or thuner trees are usually used for making Kholi, the reasons being that deodar wood allows for intricate designs to be made and thuner is very durable with a shelf life of at least 200 years. The artisan starts his work after doing religious rituals for the tree and though he is from a lower caste, on that particular day and throughout the construction process he is treated like a Pundit and equivalent to God. The artisan uses traditional locally made tools like kulhadi (to cut the tree and shear off the bark), ari (to cut it according to the measurements), renda, basula (for finishing), thiya, hathodi, gunya and kanasi (instrument used for sharpening the equipments).

According to experts, in the early days there were no measuring tapes or pencils or chalk, therefore these artisans used their palm (blasth in local language) as scale of measurement and used burnt coal to make drawings. To make outlines of designs on the wood, they soaked burnt coal in water and a thread was immersed in it. The designs were using that smeared thread and the design was carved into the wood using the equipments. Gum called ‘dal ki masett’ used in construction of the Kholi was made locally by grinding black grams soaked overnight in water. Even though in the early days no colours were used on the Kholi, later people used natural dyes on it, for instance they painted the colour extracted from the skin of acroot which gave it a purple colour.

The designs for the Kholi are decided upon in consultation with the house owner too. Once the work is finished, Kholi is installed with permission from the village deity. The installation happens before sunrise or after sunset only as it happens in the case of every important event. It is closely followed by Brahmbhoj, a special feast prepared by the Pandit. This is equivalent to the house warming ceremony.

Kholi is mentioned even in some folk songs and devotional songs of Uttarkashi like ‘Nara Bijola’ and other devotional songs.

Kholi designs have not changed or evolved since then, but with new and improved equipments the process becomes comparatively easy. Even then, Kholi’s popularity is only going down, with the lesser number of skilled artisans and the ever changing preference of people now constantly in touch with the styles of the outside world. Kholi is still in demand with the hotel owners and outsiders building their houses in Uttarkashi, and they resort to buying old Kholis. Moreover, nowadays an artificial Kholi is used as entrance to the venue of marriages or any such big ceremonies, as they are no longer built in the region.

1 October 2012

Rural Technopreneurs to address Himalaya’s energy needs

The youth participants cheered for each other as each of them performed completing electronic circuits successfully! The youths were being trained as Rural Technopreneurs to start up renewable energy based micro-enterprises in the district in order to improve energy access in remote villages of Himalayas. With >5000 un-electrified villages, the high altitude Himalayas is one of the least electrified areas in the entire country. The inhabitants meet 60-80% of their energy needs from the dwindling vegetation cover. Uptake of renewable energy and efficient energy technologies in the Himalayas is constrained by lack of awareness and procurement of renewable energy equipments calls for importing from far-away plains areas; maintenance services are not available within the region. The Pragya initiative is striving to create an energy supply value chain with Energy-Shop-cum-Technology-Kiosks as retail outlets for these products to be run by Rural Technopreneurs (read more). The two weeks long vocational training course helped these youth learn installation, sales and servicing of renewable energy equipments. They are now gearing up to form a cooperative and start their venture.

6 August 2012

Special Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC

Pragya has been granted Special consultative status with UN ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council). The Non-Governmental Organizations Branch, Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination, confirmed the status last week and informed the organisation of its privileges and benefits of consultative status as per ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 and the responsibilities and obligations.

20 July 2012

Consultations in Leh on improving facilities for police personnel in high altitude

As part of a study on requirement & standardization of clothing, transport, communication, medical, ration, along with up-gradation of norms for building space for high altitude police deployment commissioned by Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPRD), Ministry of Home Affairs, Pragya is conducting workshops, FGDs and interviews across 12 high altitude Himalayan districts in India. The first round of interactions with multiple stakeholders was concluded this week in Leh district of Jammu & Kashmir.

15 July 2012

“Health Mela” at Jang, Tawang

A 2-days “Health Mela” was organised at Jang in Tawang district on the occasion of World Population Day. The theme “Khusiyon ka aadhar, chhota parivar” focused on family planning and maternal health. Pragya Tawang staff supported the initiative led by the district Health Department. The Minister of Tourism, Arunachal Pradesh and the Deputy Commissioner, Tawang, attended the event.

2 July 2012

Resource Center in Shibuye, Kakamega

As a part of Pragya’s initiative to improve educational facilities for children in remote, disadvantaged areas of the Rift Valley Province, Northern Kenya, rural learning centres are being set up. The first of these were set up at Shabwali Secondary School located in Shinyalu constituency in Shibuye, Kakamega district.

Pragya staff along with the partners Muliru Farmers Conservation Group (MFCG) worked with the school authorities to set up the Learning Centre in the school premises that would serve the 891 students of the Shabwali Secondary and Shabwali Primary schools along with the population of the entire neighbourhood. The Centre is equipped with a variety of learning and information resources, AV and IT equipments for bridging the digital divide and innovative teaching and learning aids for children. It would also deliver vocational courses for the youth in the area. 

The children, as well as the teachers were quite excited as they explored the new equipments and the learning toys. Mr Justus, the Geography Teacher exclaimed: “I will now be using the 3D Atlas DVD in the computer to explain during my Geography class...It’s time we embrace technology”.

9 June 2012

Fodder farm and Woodlot in flood affected village in Leh

The village Ney in Leh district was affected by flash floods during August, 2010. Agricultural land and land meant for fodder cultivation had been washed away or rendered unfit for cultivation due to deposition of silt. Salix and poplar plantations of the community, typically used for fodder as well as fuelwood and timber, had likewise been uprooted and washed away in the floods. As a result, the community faced acute shortage of both green and dry fodder all through 2011. They were forced to buy fodder from other villages incurring considerable costs on transportation. Some were forced to sell their livestock as they could not provide adequate fodder to the animals. Following the disaster, the community’s priority was of reinstating their livelihoods and food production systems, and hence much of the year 2011 was spent on reclaiming their agricultural lands, with little attention paid to fodder cultivation or timber/fuelwood plantations. Relief supplies of fodder and fuelwood by the government helped them meet their requirements during that year, but the community realized that such government aid would not last long and efforts towards a permanent solution would need to taken up very soon.

In May 2012, Pragya intervened in the village to establish a fodder farm and community woodlot. Women in the village took up the initiative and identified suitable land owned by the village council (panchayat) for setting up the fodder farm and woodlot. A village meeting was convened and the proposed use of the village land discussed, the council’s permission sought for taking up cultivation on the land, and the plantation details worked out, viz, species to be planted, numbers of saplings/area under specific species, beneficiaries of the produce, and the community members to be engaged in the plantation activity. It was decided that one acre of community land was to be used for the purpose and the produce would be available to the 30 households that had lost all their personal fodder or fuelwood source as a result of the floods.

The land was made ready for sowing with the involvement of one member of each of the beneficiary households in the Ney community. 5 kgs of alpha alpha seed (Medicago sativa) were sown and 250 saplings of Salix and 150 saplings of Poplar were planted in early summer. By October, the beneficiary households had harvested the fodder twice and were able to feed their cattle with healthy green fodder. Women of the village have formed a CPR (Common Property Resource) group and take turns in management of the plantation, including activities such as irrigation, tending, harvesting. The woodlot is estimated to take about 3-4 years to provide benefits to the community, although the leaves of the Salix and Poplar could be harvested for use as fodder to harvest. from the second year onwards.

Sonam Yangdol (Female; 63 years), one of the members of the women’s CPR group in Ney, and a beneficiary of the fodder farm and woodlot, says that she could provide fodder generated by the plantation to her animals during much of 2012. The good quality green fodder (as against the dry fodder provided as relief) has also resulted in a 1-1.5 litre increased yield from the milch animals, over the previous year as well as an improvement in animal health. The women’s CPR group, she says, plan to double the area under the plantation in 2013, so that their fodder & fuelwood requirements are met wholly from it.

28 May 2012

Review paper - Infrastructure development in the Himalayas

The second review paper of a series being brought out by the High Himalaya Forum advocacy initiative, was published on Himalayan Voices portal. Over the past two centuries, the Himalayan natural landscape has seen man trying to conquer it with roads, electricity, communication, as technology takes quantum leaps to triumph over the vagaries of nature. But the pertinent question that arises is that are we doing justice to the ecology of this invaluable geological and bio-diverse region? The high altitude Himalayan regions, with which we are concerned here, present a number of difficulties to the development of infrastructure. The paper "Infrastructure development in the Himalayas" seeks to highlight the most pressing issues concerning infrastructure development in the high altitude Himalayas, with a special focus on the communities and the ecology of the region. These issues have been culled from the years of experience of the scholars, scientists, researchers, community workers, and the like working in/belonging to these regions. While the debate on these issues will continue for some time to come, this paper simply intends to throw some light on basic realities and take a holistic perspective to offer solutions. (Read the full paper)

24 March 2012

Review paper - Perspectives on Climate Change and the Himalayas

The first Review Paper on "Perspectives on Climate Change and the Himalayas" was published on Himalayan Voices as an outcome of a multi-stakeholder participative research. Though the impacts of these vagaries in climate would be felt all across the world, the immediate repercussions are likely to be local; and the Himalayas are especially vulnerable to these impacts. The region suffers from a severe paucity of information on status of climate change and its impacts. There is need for a sound understanding and real-time information on the nature, extent, and impacts of ecological change, such that scientific and appropriate conservation/adaptation planning and action could be undertaken, at the national and global level through area-specific research and micro-level studies involving local communities. The review paper explores some of the most pressing issues in the region pertaining to climate change, the status of research and initiatives by various stakeholders in the region and the gaps that still need to be addressed. (Read the full paper here)

21 March 2012

Agricultural implement support for flood affected farmers

Stambardo village is located in Khaltse block of Leh district. Several residents of the village were badly affected by the flash floods in 2010, with many houses severely damaged and the belongings of several households having been washed away. The village is extremely remote and the floods had also washed away the road leading to the village. As a result, the village received very little attention for relief and rehabilitation, from the local authorities, and households affected by the flood have had to, by and large, fend for themselves, and deal with the destruction caused by the floods.

Tashi Angchok (age: 44 years) is a resident of Stambardo village. He is a small farmer with a land holding of 12 ‘canals’ (around 1.5 acre). Tashi’s house was badly damaged and most of his agricultural tools were washed away. Since his livelihood and incomes were severely affected, Tashi could not purchase any replacements of the tools he had lost. Throughout 2011, he had to depend on tools borrowed from other fellow farmers for attending to his farm work. This however meant that he seldom received the tools at the right time for farm operations, since the farmers owning the tools could spare them only after they had completed the farm work in their own fields. This had meant a decline in his crop production. Some farmers had also charged him a small amount for the use of their tools, thus cutting into his agricultural incomes.

In the year 2012, the agricultural implements provided by Pragya under the project have been of great help to Tashi. Tashi says that now he no longer needs to depend on tools borrowed from other farmers and he can attend to farm activities at the right time and can expect a good crop.

14 March 2012

Skill building Training for Tour Operators

Pragya held a two-day training for stakeholders related to tourism sector in Tawang district, Arunachal Pradesh. Facilitated by the Ecotourism Enterprise Cluster, the training was aimed at developing entrepreneurship and skill for tour operators and tourist guides in the region along with stimulating stewardship for conservation of the natural wealth. The training session covered: fundamentals of eco-tourism; the tourism policies in India and their significance; business planning; personality development and communication skills; tourist accommodation and hospitality; and eco-tourism as a tool for conserving the natural heritage that the region boasts of. Government officials from the Tourism Department provided valuable insights on sustainable tourism to the participants.

27 February 2012

Training of mothers on nutritious diet

A one-day training event in was held at Joshimath aimed at creating awareness among women on the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet in leading a healthy life and encouraging improved cultivation practices to help women grow high-nutrient vegetables in their kitchen gardens. Mr. B.S. Bhati, Agriculture Officer was the resource person for the event, who informed the participants about the different varieties of vegetables, their nutrient values and how they can be grown in kitchen gardens. He also gave some important insights on starting and designing a kitchen garden for growing nutritive crops round the year. It was a valuable training for the participants and Pragya’s efforts were highly appreciated.

9 February 2012

Debrief meeting for Economic Justice Programme Evaluation

As part of an evaluation study of Oxfam India’s Economic Justice programme in Uttarakhand, a briefing meeting was held at Dehradun. Consultants from Pragya Solutions discussed their initial findings from field visits and documents appraisals with the representatives of 9 implementing partners and Oxfam India staff. Inputs for final assessment report were collected and way ahead discussed during the meeting.

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal...