Malana of Lambs of Justice

‘Men of Faith, Less of Reason: Resolving conflicts based on the death of lambs. They believe in a godly approach. In a complicated conflict, they make a deep cut in the foreleg of a lamb each of the two parties, poison it, and then sew it back with a needle. The person whose lamb dies first is said to lose the case’.

  • The village council resists all external influence. As they consider themselves as the descendants of ‘Alexander the Great’, some ‘law and order’ that they still practice can be traced back to those days. Malanis believe that they are ‘pure’ Aryans. Thus Malana has been named the ‘Athens of Himalayas’.

  • The village administration is democratic and popularly known in the Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh of India, ‘the Republic of Malana’. Having an immaculate system of self-governance; with its own lower and a higher court, the President and Prime Minister who lives in a world of self-created autonomy. Malanis point to their age-old election system. The People had a well-planned and organised parliamentary system; the omnipotent god, still rules the village council.
  • The place lives by stringent customs and traditions; holds many secrets. The age-old taboos are respected by one and all. Outsiders are told to keep distance and not touch anything in the village. Their local court system even today reflects the ancient Greek system.

  • Apart from the geographical difficulties to reach Malana, social taboos, may also stand in one’s way. While the world moves ahead in time, Malana Village seems to be stuck in the distant past. While some of the Malana village rules may seem just absurd, there are others that are terrifying; and are odd in today’s world. Some of them are strange and others arouse curiosity. The native people have their own justifications for themselves as if they intend to maintain a pure Aryan race.
  • They are a unique tribe who live in a world of self-created autonomy amidst the greater Himalayas and claim Greek descent. The village is governed by a bicameral parliament, consisting of a lower house and an upper house.

  • Till at least 1952, according to Colin Rosser, it was virtually inaccessible and known as the home of different people.’
  • Camping at the Manali rest house*, way back In February 1993, we were chalking out a visit to Malana. It appeared to be a wishful plan, more so with scant information on the table, other than telltale stories. Ms. Kuldip Grover’s high team spirit, despite her health problems, inspired; &we ventured on. An employee, native to the area, volunteered to guide; and in the longer run coordinated extremely well.
  • Though, trekking an early stretch from Jari (Kullu) was polite; soon it started drizzling, with flakes of snow; indicative of snowfall in the offing. The climb up the slopes was tough; reaching the village across slush was a formidable task. The wind was docile but the cold was spiky.
  • Looking down the Mallana Nalla from atop a high cliff en route, the guide narrates a ‘hearsay’ how the punished criminals were pushed down to die. The Village guarded by towering peaks is certainly not easy to climb and one has to complete the Malana Trek after traversing the Malana Nallah that flows right across the Parvati Valley. Beautiful waterfalls and the Malana nallah stream are scenic.
  • It had snowed and was late in the evening that we took refuge in an unattended forest hut in the village, embedded within the lap of Mother Nature.

  • Lucky enough; of the two rooms, gents could squeeze into one. The makeshift toilet became handy. Food was cooked, courtesy of the guide with the local help, whatsoever.
  • An overwhelming sense of seclusion, in the morning, is a feeling of how the Malana community had evolved, shunning the outside world for centuries.
  • There is similarity In Architecture of houses^, in accordance with certain Malana village rules; with a raised platform in the middle; blanketed under the snow.
  • The larger platform is where the village council meets, the smaller is where the villagers sit and listen. All council meetings are thus public hearings. Inside Malana, every villager is considered equal, irrespective of profession, we guess.
  • The village has several ancient temples; Jamlu temple, built-in Kath Kuni style, with wood carving and deer heads. The villagers are always willing to pose for a photograph.

  • We were told that the Harlala mask dance festival, celebrated in the month of February-phalgun, was around the corner. ‘It is an occasion when everyone takes a bath and a group of people wearing nothing but cannabis leaves and demon-like masks dance around the houses spreading cow dung, which provides insulation from the cold as well. Another interesting aspect of the festival is the procession for Emperor Akbar.’
  • Baskets, ropes, and slippers made of hemp had always brought in income other than growing maize, potatoes, and buckwheat. In Rosser’s days, however, Malanis bartered ghee, wool, honey, and game birds with the other Kullu villages for salt, food, and tools.
  • The history of Malana differs from person to person as everyone shares their different stories. The indigenous language, Kanashi has no script & is used for internal communication only. The villagers have been keeping several secrets to themselves.

  • Whereas Athenian democracy in Greek (around the 6th century BC) is often described as the first known democracy in the world; yet the USA is the only country with continuous democracy for more than 200 years. Also, Vaishali, situated in Vaishali district in Bihar, is believed to be the world’s first republic and is currently an archaeological site in India. I wonder, therefore, if Malani’s claim is a disputed myth.
  • Social taboos may sustain; modern civilization may rise, but for prevalent primitive trends. The rules are here to stay; they do not seem to be changing so soon. Malanis are guarding their own lifestyle and social structure till today and, therefore, command respect; simple beings are happy in their own world and are friendly.

Lately, the inauguration of the Atal Tunnel across Rohtang Pass has prompted calls from people urging locals for tighter controls to preserve fragile ecology and take pride in their cultural heritage.


^ A raging fire in 2008, burnt many structures in the village.

*The rest house was washed away in a flash flood in river Beas, in the nineties.

Prof. (Er.) Chander P Mahajan is an art critic & a free lance journalist. The Environmentalist stays in Shimla and Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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