The untamed beauty of the Himalayas immediately captures our collective imagination with visions of serenity, natural splendour and mysticism. But these mountains also dictate the lives of those who live by its laws—the resilient hill dwellers, or paharis, whose work and lives are shaped by their surroundings. Born on November 9, 2000, Uttarakhand is the 27th state of India. Culturally it is divided into Garhwal and Kumaon. It is the Kumaoni region which is the focus here. The culture of the present Kumaon region is a blend of influences from the indigenous population as well as from the immigrants to this region. Consequently, the myths, dialects, languages, folk literature, festivals, fairs and forms of artistic expression are examples of the creative influences of the different cultural groups that constitute Kumaon.
Every peak, lake or mountain range is somehow or the other connected with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess, ranging from those associated with the Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava traditions, to local Gods like Ham, Saim, Golla, Chhurmal, Kail Bisht, Bholanath, Gangnath, Airy and Chaumu. Temples are dedicated to the nine famous Goddesses, other local Goddesses, Bhairava, Surya and Ganesh. The temples at Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Binsar, Thalkedar, Rameshwar, Pancheshwar, Baijnath and Gananath are devoted to Lord Shiva. The temples of Devidhura, Gangolihat, Pumagiri, Almora, Nainital, Kot Ki Mai and Kotgari Devi are associated with the Shakt tradition, while the region of Lohaghat – Champawat (Mount Kandeo) is associated with Kunna Avatar. This region also has two famous Sun temples.
According to British historians there were 35 Vaishnava and 250 Shaiva temples in British Kumaon. Eight Vaishnava and 64 Shaiva temples were dedicated to the Shakti or female form alone. Although Lord Shiva’s influence prevailed throughout Kumaon, mainly because of its proximity to the region of Panchkedars and Kailash – Mansarovar, this did not in any way hamper the influence of the local folk Gods and Goddesses. Although the tales of Nanda Devi and Naina Devi have now been linked together, they began as two different stories.
The book In the Shadow of the Devi: Kumaon details the legacy of a land, a people and a craft deeply intertwined with its environment. Its author Manju Kak looks at this enigmatic land of Kumaon through the prism of woodcraft, unique in its aesthetic in this part of India, documenting the styles, influences and techniques used by the craftsmen of Uttarakhand, as well as Kumaoni artisans’ worldview and beliefs. In addition, this book is an important document of the life of paharis, as it also discusses communities, forest policy and the status of women, analysing and unraveling facets of hill life that made the claim for statehood so unique.
The book is beautifully complemented with photographs by award-winning Kumaoni photographer Anup Sah and Vaibhav Kaul among others. It is also a visual delight for those who have an interest in the region. It adds to the existing knowledge on Uttarakhand, emblematic of other Indian hill states though its focus is on Kumaon, the land that lies in the majestic mountain Nanda Devi’s shadow, as the title suggests.
by Nilabh krishna