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Perception of Bhutas in Garhwal


D. R. Purohit, Poornanand & Richa Negi

The folk beliefs of Garhwal, on the basic constitution of man, differ from the Pauranic tradition. Two origin myths of Garhwal narrate the constitution of man and the cosmos. The first myth, found in Lata village on China border in the lap of Nanda Devi range, is the most plausible of all Nanda myths of Garhwal.

According to this myth, in the beginning there was only water, and water everywhere — having an a priori existence. From the whirls of water originated Shakti, the goddess. She longed for a companion, and started churning the waters. First came up twelve seeds of grain, then twelve species of grasses and plants which were kept safe in patal Lok, the underworld. Next came up the Kapila cow, then Kalp Vriksha, Dev Kanya, the pitcher of nectar, and the pitcher of poison. It was followed by Brahma. The Goddess wanted to woo him as her husband, but he refused saying that he was borne of her. Then came Vishnu, who also rejected her on the same grounds. She then rubbed her thighs, and out came Ishwar Raja, Siva. Siva also rejected her prayer, but with a concession that they could marry after an interval equal to twelve generations. Shakti became so infuriated on his refusal that she spit upon his thighs and up grew his genital from there. It continued growing up to sky with such a speed that the Goddess had to stop it by creating dense smoke around and above it. It stopped but the sweat which seeped down in the process gave birth to two cells of algae on the right and left of the genital. The cells were broken and inside them were found two frogs, Dendkhi and Mendkhi. The frogs started woozing out saliva at an enormous speed, giving birth to bubbles. The goddess then created a fish of silver, put life into it and asked it to break open the bubbles. Out of many bubbles broken, the two bubbles revealed two celestial beings, Nal and Nalini, the brother and the sister. In order to test their celestialness, she threw upon them her agni-patt sara (the fire cloth), and hasanda jyundal (smiling sacred rice). The test was successful.

Nal and Nalini grew as adolescent. But they started having an amorous relationship. The goddess then separated and sent them to far north and south. There they planted their incestual sin upon the cows, buffaloes, wild animals, birds and natural vegetation. The remaining sin was left upon a stone. After twelve years they returned and decided to marry. Nalini started bearing children now.

When the first child was born, it slipped to Naglok and got transformed into various parts of Naglok. Its head was transformed into sky; its eyes, the stars; its bones, mountains and valleys; and its flesh, the soil.

The same was repeated with the second issue which slipped into Martya Lok. There Nal found that Ishwar Raja was the king. Ishwar Raja loved to have human beings as his companions/subjects. Therefore Nal wanted to create man. He first tried to make the body of man with various metals, but failed. Ultimately, he made it of ashes, phlegm, dust, and mud and succeeded. But the man would not hear. So ears were planted on his body. Many words were tried to get a response from this man. At last he answered to the word ann, food. Nal thus created everything that was needed for human existence — grains, oxen, fire, wind, cow, sleep, measurements, insects, etc.

The third issue was lost into Swarg Lok, the ether, which was ruled by Anchali Raja; Nal created nine planets, yagya, etc.

In this way the myth provides explanation for every object of the universe. But it does not explain the constitution of the human soul and the five bhutas separately. On the basis of the myth and popular beliefs and practices, the following points have been explained.

The Gross and Subtle

Folk myths of Garhwal nowhere give the mathematical details of the constitution of each bhuta (elements of nature). However, a recognizable pattern of the gross and subtle is found in the form of the concrete matter and the all powerful souls of gods, goddesses, man, animals and birds. All such souls are believed to be the subtle forms of the pancabhutas. Finding expressions in their human vehicle, they assume all powers of a gross form. The case of ran bhuta (soul of man dying at battle), and gharya bhuta (soul of a man dying prematurely with wishes left unfulfilled) is an evidence.

Thus all Bhumyals, Bagdwal, Latu, Heet, Khetrapal, Bheldeo, are the subtle forms of earth. All goddesses and Dropadi, Jakh, Narsingh are the subtle forms of fire. Bayal, an invisible procession of divine spirits represents air. Shankar and Nad-Budh Bhairav are the subtle forms of sky as they are the presiding deities of dhol, Garhwali folk drum. The myth of the dhol also says that in Dwapar, Vam Dass Drummer of Mandhata had a dhol called gagan, sky. Chhaya is the soul of water.

Characteristic Features

The beliefs of the folks of Garhwal about the cosmos and the human world are strongly patterned. There is incest among the human, animal and vegetal world because Nal and Nalini did it first. Ishwar Raja’s agreement with Shakti is the cause of not marrying into the same clan for at least twelve generations. Strikingly, not a single act of the universe exists which has no explanation in the myth.

Ritual and Social use of Bhutas

When souls of gods and goddesses are invited to the community, they are given a gross forms of ensigns animated with the help of the following: sacred ashes of the shrines of Trijugi-Narayan and Kalimath (fire), soil of the all sacred shrines, like Tholingmath, Mathyana, etc., and soil under the bed of a lion (earth), water from Ganga at Hardwar and Vasudhara, Gangotri, Yamunotri, etc. (water). The sky element is omnipresent in the form of aerophonic and membranophonic instruments. Besides, there is a practice of fire and water rituals. Jal Jatra (water procession), is a common ritual of tree worship. The bonfire in the dance arena is for ritual worship, and is later used as a test for the powers of gods who jump into it for the purpose. In profane rituals, the use of all four elements is a must without which the spirits cannot be aroused.

Following the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts thesaurus project, a number of words concerning the five elements have been collected for understanding the folk aesthetics of Garhwal. Since the work is still in progress, I have presented in the Appendix, by way of example, a few related words, such as smell (an attribute of earth), sound (an attribute of sky), burning (an attribute of fire), etc.


Thesaurus of Folk Aesthetics

The Garhwali dialect, according to Grierson, is a later growth of Khash or Darad language (Linguistic Survey of India, 1914). Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee in the Origin and Development of Bengali Language also supports Grierson’s view. This view was held for a long time till Govind Chatak came up with a more convincing theory in this Garhwali Bhasha, Aik Bhasha Shastriya and Vyakaranic Adhyayan (1959), where he propounds that Garhwali dialect originated from Shorseni Apabhransh.

Nothing has so far been written on the folk aesthetics of Garhwal. While serious efforts have been made on the dictionary of Garhwali words. The first work of Jazat Chand Ramola, considered to be comprehensive, is available only with ‘a’ and 'aa'. Next, the dictionary prepared by late Baldev Prasad Nautiyal could print only 'a' and 'aa' alphabets. This work is still thought to be the most comprehensive and authentic. Unfortunately it is still lying unpublished in the custody of his son. The only dictionary which has so far been published is by the late Jay Lal Verma’s Garhwali Bhasha ka Shabdkosh (1982), published posthumously.

Since all critical works on folklore of Garhwal have been either in Hindi or English, no pattern of poetics in folk idioms has emerged so far. The scholars have only been using the tenets of Sanskrit poetics to the folk literature. However, the corpus of this folklore is so rich with aesthetic words, motifs, symbols, metaphors, idioms, proverbs and mythic structures that a sustained and concentrated effort alone will be able to document it completely.

This chapter has only tried to collect random words under the following broad categories : mythopoetic, sensory, figurative and emotive.

The first characteristic feature of aesthetic words and idioms of Garhwal is its synthetic quality. It suggests its growth from the intimate interaction of the humans with the objects of nature. Still holding the passion and energy of natural symbols, just word or expression is capable of drawing a complete metaphor. Thus a sensitive being is a kafuwa shareel, like the consciousness of a kafee bird, and a heart is a neeli paraan, the heart of a neeli bird.

The second feature is the multiplicity of synonyms, homonyms and homographs. For example, there are scores of words for a single expression of smell:

kikran is burning of woollen stuff.

kutran is burning of cotton.

kumran is burning of human hair.

kaunkhan is smell of rotting of grains.

khikraan is burning of chilly.

chiraan is smell of urine.

bhujyaan is smell of roasting grains.

kachyaan is smell of half-cooked things.

mankhyaan is smell of humans.

The same richness is found for the expressions of temperature, taste, touch and sound. Dozens of words are used for various sounds:

araat is sound of being smothered.

kaklaat is sound of noise.

kanaat is sound of light groaning.

kiraat is sound of crying of a baby in pain.

kilkanu is sound of shrieks.

khaklat is sound of water.

khikchaat is sound of free laughter.

gablaat is sound of gutteral speech.

gamgyaat is sound of fast water current.

gumnaat is sound of whispers.

ghungyaat is sound of fast wind or engine.

Homonyms are also found in plenty. The word bathaun is used for air, telling, talks and a vegetable.

The most striking feature is the use of motifs in structural unit of the sentences. The motifs work with force and efficacy on the reader/audience. These words serve the purpose of imparting an aura of the past to the present in rituals and dance and in mythifying the present.

rui ki gholyansi, sutalya doodh : coziness of cotton, milk feeding with pot

chalaunya si teer, pathaunya si beer : like a ready arrow, and ready warrior

wonsi ku jharwalu — bata ku gadhwalu : flapper of dew and pioneer of journey

mati jaise ann — dhungyun jaise dhann : grains plenty as soil and riches plenty as stones

alu khaye mass — chhale peene khoon : ate hot flesh and drank unclotted blood

rang si dhalaki — fool si alasi : transformed like a colour and withered like a flower

chaukhamba tiwari — chhatish awash : an arched palace and multiple of chambers

bara gaun tai lagai dheet — bhanja tai lagai peeth : feast dozen villages and discard your own nephew

A major portion of the words is onomatopoetic. The sound of the words brings in the association of the theme. Words like humankar, dumankar, jalankar, udankar, are redolent of the sounds of Vedic mantras.



agnipatt sado mythical cloth with Goddess Shakti having properties of fire
ardhanga disguise of the goddess as Sita
umana nakedness of the first man and woman, Nal and Nalini
ausar festive period of mask dances
ubhed, manauti vow of offering
kaguli letter used by gods
kutneti mythical female in pandwani who enamoured Arjun
khanvai shaman/diviner.
khali sodhan preliminaries of devadasi dance
khankar budya clown of Gopichand drama
khet milya encounter of characters
khelwari  short dramas performed during the mask dances
ghani hvwege ghungryali lathi hvwege chunkyali chaitola, hastola  an expression used for the beauty and movements of the one-year-old Nanda dance performances in Malari valley
chalu-palu provisions for the rituals
chol bhatta ritual of bringing gods into human company by offering them rice and dal
janyati wedding guests
jangooru shaman, diviner
jat-aukhyat heredity
tuno-totake witchcraft
thantu nachaun to rehearse dancing with the ensign of goddess
tharpada(v) to consecrate
dhiyan bhatta feast offered to married sisters at the time of conclusion of a professional ritual
patter bhatta feast given at the time of final winding up of masks
manglaun to invoke
jagan purush clay effigy of yagya purush
jas blessings of gods
jamman, nyoja-nisan langota ensign of god or goddess
jeunra death god
jagari ballad singer
talwar monodrama on myths and legends rendered through dialogues and songs
deora, jat, vanyat, jugat cyclic procession of gods and god- desses
deori devouts participating in the religious processional ritual
deoangasi made of the celestial element
deokhali, deokhala arena for dance-drama of gods
dhari devouts bearing the ensign of the god or goddess
dhavari loud call
na:r, pashwa, patter, dankrya vehicle of god or goddess
nakchhdi roop perfect copy of beauty
Nathu Panday a humorous character in folk inter- ludes
naikwart, palkwart a kind of dramatic performance by a particular community of Garhwal
payan leave an identification mark at the place of departure
patter padhaun interacting with the masked charac- ters
patter kudi hut made for masks
pothlya two clownish characters in Gainda and Moru Dar episode of Pandwani
panwada heroic ballads
banatoli place where the ballads of Jakh god are sung for one night
budulu a prominent character both sacred and humorous in mask dances of Jakh
baidi-baida two choric characters harbingers of gods in mask dances
bhalda narrators of Nanda, Narsimha
bhanibansi director-cum-singers in mask dance- drama
bharat story
mwar a pioneer of masked characters
makhawa clown
mirgwalla sweat and dirt of the body of Shakti
rath procession
Lata legendary character in Nanda myth
vindara amphitheatre
sirtu whole-night performance
humankar,dumankar,   the first words used in the recital of nirankar origin myth 
ransu  narrative tale 
santa class



adat, larat the sound of being choked
kakadat the sound of regular complaints
kaklat, kiblat combined noise of females
kataktal,kitaktal,kitanau sound of thunder
kanat, kanaun sound of a sick man
karat sound of wringing pain
kirat, kilat sound of pain of baby
killa noise
kilaroli combined noise of children
kilkanu crying
kumanat, gumnat inaudible whispering
kainsal cymbals
khabdat sound of removing domestic articles
khaklat sound of water
khamnat sound of neck bells
khikhchat ludicrous laughter
gamgyat sound of water current
gablat sensation of lice or bug on the body
gaungjyat echo of water current
gugrat howling of leopard
gidkanu sound of clouds
ghaghrat sound of the slabs of a millstone
ghugrat howling of a dog
ghungyat sound of wind and engines
chachrat creaking sounds
chunchyat sound of rodents
chhamnat sound of ornaments
Chibrat sound of the movement in the bush
jajlat sound of earthquake
tatadat, taprat, tabrat sound of a fall
tal beat
thatrat shuddering
damnat sound of falling grains
ninyare cricket
pataktal sound of strike on the head
pipdat sound of breaking open the pods
faftal sound produced by bathing of a bird
bardat muttering
bhimnat buzzing
damdyat sound of heavy foot steps
dandyat crying sound of an animal
runak dim sound
sinsyat, sunsyat sound of water and wind
sulgari   whistling




ang malkana twiching
anmil, anmale discordant
kachyonda hack
kachana, kachyan, pairaun, pairwar, syund-pati make-up
kirmodi si dall file like the fruites of kirmod
kutmani bud
kungali tender
kauvyar mime artist
kanchua  frock coat
khankryala jonga
mungryali feeli a powerful man
khitkani si erotic laughter
kot, kothali   inner apartment
gabhar central action
galthu dull character
ghinduron si rath like the procession of sparrows
chakha moment
chakandar prankish character
chakhuli bird
chaunru rectangular place for audience
chamachham full rhythm
jhallar impulse
jhukmuk, jhusmuns dawn
janaka-janaki movement of a very heavy thing
jhaloor   nose ornament
jhumala, limli, khantada,jhulada raiment
dhaunpeli, dhamel, chufuly, chufali locks
dhaunkalyo farce
neuo girdle
nakal-chhakal imitation, copy, acting
naikyan, pater, naiky:n traditional female dancers
deocheli pathuva female ornament of wrist
bathaun air
bathen, bigralli,band,swani   beautiful women
malyo bhidako crowd
mull hansan burst of smile
bhanbhani ritu nostalgic days
bhukki kiss
bhentagati   meeting
mokharu mask
taprat flurry quandary
tatu ko timanya ornament of breast
tandu-bhandu paraphernalia
thamka, kaub, saraun, san   gesture
thandu-mathu slow pace
dari crowd
dhal-panyal potentials for art and acting
rasyan literary joy
rungdya bhanun music piercing the heart
vensar, bulak nose-ring (eliptical)
bhujaawali nath nose-ring (circular)
sunangan golden
hidra moving crowd




anmani restlessness
asand, khari, nisyad crisis
alokan background
anasurt unknowingly
aglyar pioneership
urda gale
uryoun, misaun to set in motion
uthaun to raise the pitch of drums
umal, jhallar impulse, psychic drive
kankryalo full of valour
kandura,kansuna,kanduda evesdropping
kwansu dil tender heart
kalkali compassion
kablat sensation of restlessness
kansu, jhala interpretation through the beats of drum
kudwak, kutwak ominous speech
kunas an expression of awe
kurodh anguish
kauthgyar festive crowd, spectators
kau-bau dilemma
khand-mand nemesis
khuded, khud nostalgic, nostalgia
khotu milaun rehearsal
khaulu, khali arena
goga rumour
ghan catastrophe
chaunla janu to possess
chass, chasak pain in heart
chhagal concluding beats of drums
jama state of mind


jikudi, jitama heart
jhidjhidi stir through spine
tanku turban (bhotiya)
dabkhan staggering
daundi-chaundi   declaration through drums
dhab spirit
dandol chain of thoughts
dutti scandalous female character
dund scandal
thakchat, thakart catharsis
thad, thaad, thal fair
theero shock
dhargas, dhito bold
dharmani dance arena
dhandh wonder
dhami drummer
nigure, nithur callous
nisparai desolate
par act
pan temper
paito, paitasar preliminaries
pancharanu to challenge
fadu thread of story
fadu milaun connecting the links
baram jagnu intuition
baramtal   tension
baduli hiccups in remembrance
badeen, jhumariya female bard dancer
barpala duty shifts in cultural performance
bavarya, ularya over romantic
bijog sorrow
bisaun resting period in drum beating
biblandi karuna crying pathos
bukara, bukari, bokaran burst of cry
bainda whimsical
baugi indifferent
bhavan, bhaman feeling of loneliness
bhaun, dhal   tune
bharmana fantasy
manswant human presence
mayalu, mayalku, mayaldu affectionate
mandan, khali dance ensemble
maya love, passion
bharamana fantasy
raijanu prosper
ramkadi-chamkadi lustrous carriage
rathen to be stunned by spectacle
rasbaso full of aesthetic pleasure
rood, roodi summer, drought
rangmathu exhilarated
raibar   message
rauns, chapchapi   empathy, pleasure, satisfaction
rithaul chain of thinking
lad sentimental love
laudyabaikh womanish male
sabryu:n souvenir to compare
sumrana memories
saraun full of rhythm and rhyme
swal duhraun response of dialogues
sikasar, sakasar copying
sirokhanu, siraun vow of offering
suwa darling
saimani greeting word used by the low caste for the higher caste
saunjadya playmates
sodhnu narrate in detail
hakdak wonderstruck
harihatt intransigence
hungara unintelligible dialogue by masked characters
hirr shudder
gyan baul, vairagya, nirvane renunciation


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