By Tashi Namgyal (Achinapa)
Leh: The Dard people claimed to be of Aryan race occupied lower Ladakh in about 200 B.C. The inhabitants of the existing villages around khalatse are of the dard race. Over the course of many years, they mixed with the cultures of the Tibetan race. But the people of these villages still believe and worship the deities of that time.
Historians called the people of Dha, Hanu, Garkon, Dartsik and batalik the Dard because they have been migrated from a place called Dardistan which is believed to be located near Gilgit (now in Pakistan). The word “Dard” is derived from Sanskrit which means people who live on the hill side. Some historians assert that when Alexandar’s army that came to India in 327 B.C. returned to Greece left behind some troops in the Gilgit area and so Greece is the region where the Dard originated.
Ladakhis called them Brokpa or Drokpa which means people moving from place to place with their cattle in search of pasture. Before their permanent settlement in the above-mentioned villages, they were constantly travelling through Baltistan, Purig, Zanskar, Nubra and even in the upper region of Ladakh. The migration routes are clearly mentioned in their folk songs and they still sing those songs during their New Year and harvest festivals.
THE Brokpa people have many shreds of evidence of being similarities with the European people. They have fair complexion, long nose, blue eyes, tall body, sturdy, brave, hairy skin, beautiful and handsome. Some of their cultural habits are also similar to those of Europeans. They brew wine from locally grown grapes. They rarely use fertilizer or pesticides in their fields as they rear many sheep and goats to produce manure. So, most of their agricultural products are organic.
They grow tomato as cash crop and supply to the army and other parts of Ladakh. Apricots grown in the region are more delicious than the rest of other parts of Ladakh. They follow the calendar based on solar revolution to celebrate New Year and to begin agriculture activities. Their dialect which is called Minaro emerged from a mixture of various languages. So we can find many words similar to Indo-European words.
For instance Bubu for Baby, Wa for Water, Katar for Knife, Nu for New, Kungo for Comb, ek, du,tra, chor for one, two, three four etc. It is also believed that till 18th century they were worshipers of the local deities. Sacrificial offerings for the deities were common in the past. A monk from Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh viz Tene Lama motivated them to follow Buddhism and he built monastery and stupas in Dha village.
The ruins of the monastery can be noticed at Dha thang. Later a saint monk from Achinathang in late 19th century viz meme Konchok Wangpo, Fomsapa motivated them to follow the Drigung Kagyu lineage of Mahayana Buddhism and still today the Drokpa villages Dha, Hanu, Garkon and Dartsik are under the Lamayuru monastery and each of the villages have their own small monastery.
Many Drokpa youth have become monk in monasteries and studying Buddhist philosophies and other modern education in Dehradun and Lamayuru. When the whole Ladakh region was divided into two separate administrative districts in 1979, half of the Aryan valley below Garkon falls in the Kargil and rest of the villages are with Leh district.
They rarely intermarry with other ethnic race of Ladakh and that is why they are known to be the pure Aryan race of the world today. Till recent period, they did not keep cows for milk. Only goats and sheep were reared for milk production and meat. But nowadays they begin to keep cows for milk and butter. But elderly people still don’t eat beef and butter produced from cow milk. They even don’t use cow dung as firewood. They believed that if they use productions from cows, their deities will not be in their favour.
The grand harvest festival – Bononah and New Year celebration are the important festivals they celebrate in the month of October and January respectively. But the Bononah festival observes only in every 3rd year because the three villages Dha, Garkon and Ganoks (now in Pakistan) celebrate the festival turn by turn every year. In 2013, the festival was in Dha and in 2014 it was celebrated in Garkon.
In 2015, there will be no harvest festival in Dha or Garkon because it is the turn of Ganoks. We don’t have any information whether people in Ganoks celebrate the festival or not now. The festival is observed for 5 consecutive days. On the 1st day, the festival begins with the sacrificial offering of a goat to their deities at Lhato in the early morning. Both the Garkon and Dha villages have separate Lha brdagpa household.
A man from Lhabrdag household has to become Lha (diety) wearing white cloth and white turban. People take him to the dancing place called Lchangra from Lhato with offering the music Lharnga and incidence of juniper (shukpa) and then the festival begins formally. The fixed numbers of folk songs are sung during the 5 days. The leaders of the singers are called Brongopa. They have to complete 21 songs during the 5 days.
The songs are related to Lhablchor, Rarzi Lhu, Lingspa Lhu and Lhabskyal Lhu. Lhabskyal is sung at the last and the dancers have to take off their caps and they put a scarf on their heads observing mourn of separation of men and their deities. At last while dancing, they had to go a distant place outside the dancing place to see off their deities and conclude the festival.
The New Year is observed only after winter solstice that’s on 23rd December. An auspicious day is fixed by the village headman to begin the New Year celebration. It lasts for about 10 days. On the 1st day, every household items/utensils have to be cleaned with the mixture of boiled water and juniper. They take the utensils to the stream and wash all them all. They also clean their houses on the 1st day. Fresh butter is also sent to their sisters who had married into other households.
Next two days the people and children gathered at a particular place with a bundle of sticks to throw fire that is called Odphangs.
Interestingly it is also common in Baltistan even today and they called it Me-phangs. It is believed that the evil spirits of the departing year is burnt and thrown away into the fire and wishing for a favourable year.
On the 4th and 5th day, Tsesphyag is observed. They bow down before their Sabdag- the household deity and the younger people greet their elders and relatives. Paba with butter is eaten on those days.
On 6th day, every person of age multiple of 12 that is 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72 and so on have to gather to a place with a new dress to sing and dance. They have to take tea and butter with them to the dancing place.
On 7th, 8th and 9th-day people gathered at the dancing place to sing New Year folk song. On the 10th day, elderly men perform ibex dances.
And finally on the 11th day the childer perform ibex dance. This year losar in Dha started from 1st of January and in Garkon it is from 5th January.
Yata is a grand feast stewarded by a rich man. When a household become rich enough to feed all the people in the village, he organizes a feast for them. A lot of wine, meat, paba and butter etc. are served to them. There is a story behind it. A man called Skit Paljor of Mangza pa household from Garkon become very rich, he had about 1000 sheep and goats. A group of people got jealous of that and they planned to steal some of his goats to kill and eat. Skit Paljor came to know about their misdeed. He told them not to steal his goats and informed them about the grand feast. He invited them all along with other people. So the people composed a special song in his praise. The translation of the song is as under:-
Brother Skit Paljor what things you don’t have? You have many big goats and sheep to eat. You have the bulk of butter covered in the bags made of sheepskin. Offer to God! May the God may make you more prosperous!
So Skit Paljor organized the feast giving them to eat one sheep and two goats, one big and one small. Even today the Yata is occasionally given by some prosperous family.
Bhangri is the festival which is celebrated by a family with the villagers when they blessed with a new baby. All the relatives and friends from far off villages are also invited on the occasion. Apart from these they celebrate marriage ceremonies also.
Marriage engagement is yet another interesting practice of Brokpa people. Parents begin to think even just from the birth of a son about his marriage. So when they see a girl child suited to their son, the father of the son with the maternal uncle and man from their clan (Phaspun) go to the house of the girl with necessary nine items.
The items are one needle, one design cake (Kabtse), five chapattis, one Bre (measuring pot) of barley and one rupee. If the parents of the girl agree with the parents of the boy’s family, an informal agreement is decided among them. Both the families now should abide by the agreement strongly. Defaulters may be prosecuted according their local customary laws. When the children attained the matured age for marriage, then they formally marry with a spectacular ceremony. But nowadays love marriage is common than their past practice.
Though we have not much literary evidence about the Brokpa people settled down at the bank of Indus river in Dha, Garkon, Dartsik, Batalik, Hanu, Silmo and some other villages now in PoK like Ganoks etc.. But they have preserved their culture and dialect till date. The people of Batalik, Silmo and Chullichan are the followers of Islam. Sheikh Ali from Brolmo near Kargil in the late 19th century came there to preach Islam. But the people still speak their original dialect. But they have abandoned their original dress.
Traditionally women in Brokyul wear only white in colour dress and men wear black or maroon dress. A unique flower, Munthoto is used for decoration of their caps. The seed of the flower does not dry for years even after plucking from its plants. Hundreds of needles in a row are also used as ornaments to decorate their caps.
Amazingly when I was serving as teacher at Dha in the year 1997-98, the children used to call their father and mother bo and aye respectively in their language but when I was posted there again in the year 2013, I came to know that the children now don’t know these two words in their dialect. Now they called the father ‘Aba’ and the mother as ‘Mummy’. This is only an example to show how their dialect gets vulnerable to abolish gradually. So people of the area should think and act to preserve their valuable distinct identity for the future generations.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org