The punjabisation of Himachal

‘Karva Chauth’ is a nice little colourful festival. But pause for a moment and consider if it is really a part of the culture of entire Himachal Pradesh, particularly upper Himachal !

Agreed the festival today is celebrated with great zeal and zest across the hill state, which sometimes gives the false impression that it has been with us in the hills for generations.

On the contrary old timers say the festival is recent, so recent, barely 15 to 20 years old.

Karva Chauth was unheard of until recently in over half the state.In rural Shimla, Kinnaur, Lahaul & Spiti. In parts of Kullu, Sirmaur and Chamba it was unknown until less than a generation ago.

Ask any elderly highlander, a Kinnaura, a Lahaula, a Kullua, a Sirmauria or a Chopalia. Ask a Kotkaru, a Kotgarhu, a Kumarsanu, a Choharu or a Gaddi shepherd and the reply most likely will be that the festival is new and has made its way into their isolated world in the last few years.

Today karva chauth has overrun the highlands with surprising speed. You will be surprised to observe that the festival is celebrated with great gusto in small towns and villages.

This to me is yet another wave of ‘punjabisation’ affecting and diluting the old world of the hills.

Could this also be yet another influence of TV soap operas beaming into our homes. The false glamourisation of scheming, over-made women in flashy saris and dangling jewellery, seemingly fasting on karva chauth to win over their naive men.

Back to the real world, in many parts of Himachal it is so easy to find couples who had their first karva chauth after becoming grand parents.

Nothing wrong with this, but it only proves that the festival is recent and borrowed and not part of the local tradition.

It proves that karva chauth is only a trend and a fad adopted from the neighbouring lower hills and plains.

It proves yet again how easily popular culture from the plains overruns the lives of the vulnerable hill folk who often get a great kick aping their Punjabi neighbours from the plains !

Photo’s by Amit Kanwar

In a 20 year career published widely. He has worked for the BBC, AFP, The Statesman, IANS and the Business Standard . Known for his hard hitting writing and occasional off-beat stories. He lives in Shimla.

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  1. says: Rajinder Katoch

    Dear Mr. Chauhan,

    I was born as a punjabi but after the formation of HP I am a proud Kangri. Every district of himachal is distinct in its own sense. A person from Kangra cannot understand lahauli aur spiti district dialect. Even a lahuli prefers to remain aloof. Therefore Himachalis of Hamirpur, Kangra, Una, Pathankot etc are more close to Punjab than their own state people belonging to Lahul & Spiti, Kinnaur etc.
    Lastly, we should be thankful that it is not westernization of our beloved Himachal happening. Our ancestors (Katochs, Pathanias, Jamwal, Patials) are all Punjabis.

  2. says: Prithviraj

    Mr. Katoch,

    In response to your comment.

    Punjab did not even exist when the Kangra state was at its peak nearly 2000 years ago. So its not correct to distort facts in a public form. The gene pool itself differs of Paharis compared to those from Punjab.
    And lastly, for your information, the ancestors have nothing to do with Punjab. These tribes you mention have never had origins in the Punjab plains. So request you to please read our history and not be defensive. It is nothing wrong with being anything or from anywhere in the country.

  3. says: VIVEK MOHAN.

    Yet another narrow minded,inferiority complex ridden viewpoint ! Tell you what…we’d have better off as hill state of Punjab. When types of Zintas annonces before the whole world that she’d love to do bhangra (and not nati) if KXI wins … you get what you deserve – cheap CD’S on bus stands what culture are you talking of promoting???

    1. says: Anonymous

      Mr Vivek – I take it as as offence; you tring to snub the culture of the hill.

      Can’t you see it clearly says ‘diluting the old world of the hills’.

  4. says: K.Y. Singh

    This is no Punjabisation of Himachal at all. The tradition is much older than the days of television in India, Himachal or Shimla. I am born and brought up in the hill capital and noticing the festival from the late sixties and my elders are observing the same from a longer time even. The tradition of fasting for children, parents and better half are part of our cultural milieu and Himachal is no exception.
    It could be true that the festival was unknown in the tribal parts of Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti and adjoining areas of upper Shimla district like Rohru and Choharu which were more close to animism, totemism and the pagan culture. But majority of them have migrated to the urban centres of Shimla and other north Indian towns and learning the ways, behaviour and habits of the inhabitants here. The customs, mores and traditions are also learned and acquired by human civilisations over a period of time.
    The hill folk you have called “vulnerable” is not so at all, they are the biggest imitators and copycats…and no harm in that too. The apples have brought them down to towns, now let them emulate the culture through festivals and let them move beyond “Shivratri” and cutting “khadoos” (sacrificing lambs). This is a cultural “sanskritisation” for them and a new method of social control…any harm!
    Sir, please don’t be frustrated, are you androphobic or gynephobic, I don’t know…
    Don’t fear the beautiful women on the Mall and Ridge every year on the eye-catching Karwa Chauth evening…

  5. says: Dr. Adarsh Kumar

    Over analysis….. as simple as that……
    1. Half of the himachal was erstwhile punjab….. so as the culture and festivities.
    2. With the information boom, communication, TV etc the cross culture is bound to come.. and nevertheless its not at all bad part of culture which is celebrated only once in a year.. so nothing wrong if it celebrated in himachal
    3. I think its better than the DJ culture… and somehow connects with family values rather than distracts from social morals.
    4. If the author is concerned about promoting consumerism bcoz of such festivals .. than punjabisation is not important… what is worrying is Chinisation..
    So lets be broadminded.. Think globally and act locally

    1. says: aryan

      I totally agree with u Dr Adarsh. I fail to understand why this topic is raised by writer. Afterall it is part of our vedic culture. It is not sort of valentine day that writer is making such a big issue. An this festival is not the property of Punjab, but of Great Indian History

      1. says: Anonymous

        I do not see anything wrong with this article. The author has expressed his thoughts on corrosion of the hill culture – why so much noise? We talking about keeping our identify and customs intact and not being influenced by over glamorized soaps to pick us things which are not our part.

        1. says: Dr. Adarsh Kumar

          well……. nothing more to say.. i still believe that Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit. And it is difficult to convince my wife that Karva Chauth is not good for the cultural health of our beloved himachal…………..
          and i know her obvious answer would be……… is that an issue or may be ….. does it really matter

          1. says: FAT BOY

            Are you a real doc. I mean a studied one – a little intellectual. Even you missed that this article is about saving the pristine culture of the hills. There are practices in the hills which reinforces and maintains the sanctity of sacred relations – why follow a fad glamorisd and purpoted by Tele?. Trust me it matter a great deal – not sure if you know what effect uprooting could have.

  6. It would be a fallacy to assume that state borders or distt. borders in India are water tight.There’s a good deal of overlapping of language & cultures.Even persons of Lahaul belonging 2 different valleys can’t understand a word of each other’s dialects, & use Hindi 2 comunicate.The dialects of outer Seraj of Kullu cant be understood by other parts of the same distt..

  7. says: Alok Mahendroo

    Yes in the villages it is totally irrelevant.. especially in the ‘Gaddi’ culture.. (not pahari, i.e. lower regions of Kangra etc.). Just this Karvachauth, I asked one of our village women about the fast… she looked at me and gave me a str…ange look.. and said “what is that fast about??” But in areas of mixed cultural heritage (where the influence from the plains of punjab has been prominent) the punjabi traditions are quite prevalent. Although, even in the Gaddi culture.. slowly the Punjabisation is creeping in especially in the chamba region where I see the marriages have taken a totally different hue.. especially with playing of punjabi pop instead of folk music.. which one still hears in gaddi marriages of upper Kangra region…

    As an end note… concerning Englishisation… One would only have to visit any of the popular touristy areas of Dharamsala, manali or even the touristic areas of triund or malana.. and you’d find young boys (and girls) who have easily adapted israeli cuisine language and mannerisms, with great pride… How’s THAT??

  8. says: Dharam P Sharma

    I remember my mom bringing me to the open ridge at’ Simla’ during early 1950’s and to watch moon hiding behind the clouds so that she could break fast at nights! I still remember the story of Karva chowth being narrated to the family- love of brothers towards their sister to create an artificial moon. So it has been very much a part of Himachali culture for those who follow Hindu traditions.

  9. says: Avi

    I agree. Not only that but also bad things (drugs).

    Nice points all.

    This needs serious discussion. Could you please share your views on blog directly or I can post these views there.

    Mr. Chauhan is senior writer and it is essential that all the points are discussed openly as that would help to put a better picture for all.

    1. says: Alok Mahendroo

      There is a lot more changes which are quietly happening.. leading to cultural loss.. I am not sure if we can save them.. you see it is the flash and glitter which lures the people faster than the strength of cultural ties.. I have often thought about this.. today when I play enchanting traditional Chamba folk music in my centre.. people giggle and laugh.. at the strangeness of it.. 🙁

      1. says: Avnish

        So true. I listen to pahadi songs on my iPod all day and when I talk about them to himachali friends here who have become bit more American, they laugh. I just love the tunes. Plus they have little interest with our blog or our… other tries via ‘My Himachal’.

        But when I show the blog and HP pics (thanks to photographers on flickr) to American friends, they feel mesmerised and want to visit our hills immediately 🙂

        A friend last year just packed his bags and was ready and came to me at last minute to find details about air ticket (not even visa ready:-)).

        We have amazing culture and beauty. It needs to be protected and also shown to the world so that instead of getting attracted to other cultures we promote ours.

        For the article: yes there is difference around HP. My in-laws are from Mandi district and karvachauth is not there in rural areas. I did hear people talking there that it’s a Kangri culture. Now that’s a different discussion.

        Our old/past generation in upper hills is more pahadi. Or I would say they think more close to roots. That is true if you are in any part of world. Also our shy pahadi nature is not very open to new ideas or outsiders. I have experienced that myself while growing and even now.

        We here in US love India and for our generation or one earlier, it’s impossible to forget India.

        Dharam Ji would agree with me.

        However as India went through many ups and downs, rules by outsiders, we have become cosmopolitan society. That’s there in Delhi/Mumbai and now due to media it’s reaching into rural areas. We won’t be able to stop it but best route is to promote ours! Now that’s bit tough and not many people come forward to help in protecting and promoting our culture.

        So whom to blame?

        Would love to hear everyone’s views!

        1. says: Alok Mahendroo

          Promotion of cultural groups in schools would be a good start.. unfortunately.. the govt. schools try it sometimes..but since everyone here seems to think private schools are setting the trend.. the local cultural events are looked down upo…n.. and the private schools are something you have to see to believe it.. any of their annual functions would reflect bollywood nights.. 🙁

          The other help would be to provide incentives to restaurants and guest houses preserving local flavours.. and I do not mean a 5 yr tax holiday.. but some concrete incentives..

          In the arts and crafts.. one need to generate innovations to adapt traditional crafts to modern flavours and get them competitive quality wise to challenge the world market… Most of the chamba rumals I have seen here (priced at above Rs.5000) have beautiful theme drawings unfortunately marred by the draftsmen so that a tiger ends up looking like a dog with stripes….

          Things are being tried I KNOW.. but most of it ends up being overseen by babus or departments with no sensitivity towards art and craft…
          In the old days a craftsman or an artiste was looked after by the rajahs or the landlords where they would provide them with enough money in appreciation and lands etc to take care of them and their families.. where now they have to be enterprising enough to first make good stuff and then wait for it to be marketed before he would sight any earning.. in the meanwhile where does he feed the family from..??

          1. says: Dharam P Sharma

            Culture of rural Himachal is heterogenous and unique almost at each village level; even the dialect changes every four miles! it happened due to isolated development in earlier times.But now, with more and more integration of the people due to transportation and communication, such transformation is bound to happen. We shall see the integration of our cultural heritage with the passage of time! A new order shall emerge for future Himachalis! That is the law of nature.

  10. says: lkkapoor

    It is correct that celeberation of Karva Chauth in Himachal is of recent origin except Shimla town nd part of Kangra Distt. of old Punjab. Celeberation was there but with other name nd ritualswhich is still in many parts not as strict as with Punjab origin. TV nd cinema has largely contributed this festival to grow, not in Himachal but also in many parts of country now.With changing scenerio overall in the world, there is nothing wrong for adaption or rejection. Good topic for discussion only please.

  11. says: RKS

    “We feeling” or community feeling helps in the growth of society. This is what our sociologists say. So whether it is a village or tehsil or district or state or a nation, we develop a bond of togetherness and strive to achieve higher goals than the counterparts.
    All inside the boundary of Himachal state must feel proud to be Himachali. Why associate ourselves with Punjab, who even refused to give us our due share in states’ reorganization. Favouritism to Panjabiyat is akin to Kashmiries who does not believe in their own identity and feel proud to associate itself to Pakistan.
    People with this mentality has always hated other communities across Himachal. The biggest target being the people of Shimla district for whom the term “Khadu” has been repeatedly used (mere jealousy of economic well being). Such hostile people must honestly realize that they do not get any such things in return. Leaders flourishing on such powers see Jalandharwalas as more favourites than the Bilaspur, Mandi and Solanwalas.
    I hope we must develop a feeling of statehood first like Gujaraties. Only after that we can have a strong nationalist feeling flowing.

  12. Well having travelled, lived and worked in allmost 40+ countries and 100+ major destinations in them across 6 continents i still feel that Himachal is heaven on earth n truely unforgettable for its rich culture.And it makes india more incredible.Though i was outside himachal since 1998 and lived in New Delhi Mumbai Bangalore Chandigarh Jaipur till 2007 for allmost 10 years n now around the world from 2007 till date for allmost 4 years i can hardly find such warm and hospitable people anywhere on this earth.The culture of himachalis is unique and still prevailing in villages majorly n in towns to a good degree.The people love to carry on the cultures and traditions irrespective of whats changing in nearby districts and states and cities of Punjab Chandigarh Delhi & NCR.I strongly believe in unity in divesity of India and will not involve in unhealthy discussion which divides people based on location at the same time feel that cultures can mingle but not change completely in the state of Himachal.Even karvachaut is is part of himachali culture with exception of areas like Lahual Spiti and Kinnaur. I did hear people talking here in himachal that it’s a punjabi or himachali culture.Rather it is culture of people of India which also shows Unity in diversity.Yes the remote villages did not mingle much with rest of world so they they have there own peculiar culture so distinct that it can not be traced in them.

    We have amazing culture and beauty in every place around India and thats why its called incredible India.And we Indians need to respect these intra and inter cultures. The rich Indian cultural heritage needs to be protected and also shown to the world so that instead of getting attracted to other cultures we promote ours peculiar and unique cultures of these far off places and rich united culture of India and show to world that we are not just 5th largest economy in the world in GDP but also truely incredible n colourful n special owing to our Cultural heritage which is unique and diverse now and allways.

    1. says: FAT BOY

      Duh! Cultural heritage is not responsible for spurt in GDP.

      We talking about saving what is part of us. Changes are inevitable but why kill our traditions and why change and pick up customers (alien) which would kill our roots and history.

      I am sure you would hate to capture people of hills doing bhangra during local festivals. What we have save it.

      I do not want to visit a museum to look back at my culture.

      1. says: Rajneesh Sharma

        Culture is what people follow..its a part of evolution too, not the one which is forced to be followed, all talk of this and that …sharing high Fi philosophy regarding cultural values etc etc..and same guys/girls follow western standards in food, lifestyle, buying imported brands…listening Rock music …wearing Ray Bans…using Dior perfumes…clothing ….and everything they deal with in routine of life…what a pseudo discussion going in here..Come on, be realistic.

        I would like to ask my “cultural advocate brethren” ….how many of you do wear Himachali cultural dresses in your everyday life? Do any of you guys wear pajama with tweed coat while going to Chandigarh sector 17 or Delhi or even Shimla Mall road..why dont you do that, that too is a part of can find that attire in rural Himachal still..part of our cultural heritage..village life..hmm..if you are so proud of culture then don’t discuss pseudo things..first implement these cultural ethos in your personal us your pictures with this proud achievement and then be a Advocate General to discuss and argue..

        People discuss phoney things and try to become cultural messiahs unnecessarily ..

  13. says: Ajay Suri

    I am not sure if it is right to say that it is affecting the culture/traditions of the hill state. Born in Una, I have always seen KC being celebrated in family. Culture/rituals of any state are not same throughout. In the end, even if the tradition of celebrating KC is getting into areas where traditionally it has not been, it’s not bad at all. It is a good change rather than the other bad things like use of drugs, alcohol etc.

  14. says: ML.Verma

    I completely agree with Mr.Chauhan. I tried to go through a few scripture of auspicious importance about this festival and I did not found mention of it anywhere. The festival has gradually become popular among the people of Himachal Pradesh. In my childhood it was not even visible but when I did complete my matriculation in the late 1980’s I do recall that it was slowly being emulated by couples. Now it is being followed by the people in villages and those in the cities equally.

  15. says: Rajneesh Sharma

    About Himachal and culture, its a complex subject. We live in world which is phony and full of imitations, people follow culture which brings appreciation, respect, sense of belongingness or recognition..nothing more. While in Rome do as Romans do..applies same everywhere !

    And for my fellow friends, be in AMERICA or SWITZERLAND..they feel out of their country, far from fellow people..this absence makes their heart go fonder for native land…(just like when lovers are apart, they miss..and in togetherness they fight n argue)…….just to earn more money, no culture can bind a person who is academically grown up, intellectually mature or professionally efficient ..would see green pastures. In a foregien land ..INDIANS feel alienated..somehow feel strangers..miss a sense of belongingness…so even the sight and sound of music or news from native land makes their heart delighted..thats a sentiment makes them connected to homeland.

    Rest, Himachal indeed is a land of mysterious stories, deities, nature and cultural has enough spice to amuse guests with all flavors of tourism, adventure and folk traditions..just the absence of marketing, infrastructure and professional regulations from government are entirely missing.

  16. Dear Baldev,
    Sorry for joining here a few months late. But I must congratulate you for this article. Right on spot. I have been very uncomfortable on watching this TV and Movies effect in our parts of the world. It is a very recent phenomena. To be honest, we do not celebrate it in our homes. It’s just not us, somehow. But I do not mind when others follow it, ‘coz it is their life and culture and history and decision. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone on this. There are many and many like minded people.

    On the culture debate , I would only say that please preserve the good things in your culture and surely borrow and follow the good things in other cultures too, although bad influences have a way of spreading fast!

    We live in a democracy and have the freedom to do what we feel and think. This democracy gives people like you and me the freedom to feel, follow and express as we wish. So does this democratic set up give others the freedom to feel, follow and express as they wish.

    And I see the great Indian democracy at work in these comments. Everyone expresses what they want yet we respect the opinion of others. Jai Hind.

  17. says: raja

    good i was born in ludhiana,punjab my father in amritsar,punjab my mother in gurdaspur,punjab my grandfather in kangra,punjab my wife in nabha,punjab and her father in kangra,punjab but we are not punjabi we are proud himachalis and you people living in hp are threatened of minor issue

  18. says: Anu

    Well, You should come to bangalore then!

    A few years back, before the internet era, we never performed Raksha bandhan and Holi.
    We used to go to our North Indian friends’ houses if we were invited for Holi. We had our own version of both these festivals. Now, the following festivals are becoming common
    1. Friendship day
    2. Holi
    3. Raksha bandhan (In school, girls are asked to tie rakhee to boys and vice versa)
    4. Valentine’s day

    and some yuppy fools even performed the Tomatina festival after watching that pretentious movie about vacationing in spain.

    Now with facebook culture creeping in, people form their own sub culture and rituals (like ice bucket challenge, chaddi challenge etc)

    Just be happy that something as harmless as karva chaut has come to Himachal.

  19. says: Natty Singh

    I feel it’s not right to say that Himachal culture turning into Punjabisation in terms of KC because it’s not removing or depleting from our culture ,it’s adding to our culture.

    We learn from others and give to others.

    I feel it’s a good thing being added to culture in which women starves for a full day for their Husband long life.Every women in country would like to have his Husband livelong. Moreover,this valuable ritual is practiced in entire India these days.

  20. says: Tom

    Well….you cannot force people to adopt or leave something…it might backfire as well…
    There are just two views here…one is a concern of losing one’s identity and another one of being broad-minded…
    Well… The best solution is don’t lose your culture or don’t let other culture replace yours…if that is in place, it’s ok to adopt other cultures as a.bonus…
    Having said that, the author is concerned that the additions might become part of native culture this altering the originality…
    Well change is something unavoidable…nothing has originality….nothing was readymade and was sent to earth….

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