Malana and the Akbar-Jamlu Legend

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Paper published in the Journal of the Panjab Historical Society, 4 (2), 1916 by George Malcolm Young. The text is reproduced here as it appeared in the journal except for the headings, which I have added along with images to give an improved reading.


Members of this Society are probably acquainted already with the name of the village of Malana in Upper Kulu and with some of the distinguishing characteristics of its inhabitants—their obscure origin which some have supposed to be Mongolian, their separate language, their sacerdotal constitution and particularly their malignant and mysterious god Jamlu. These topics have been discussed at greater or less length in Gazetteers, Journals and other works of reference. My sole apology for venturing on this well-worn track is that in 1911 by the god’s special permission I was present at his annual festival [of Phagli] held at a very inclement season of the year, when Malana is almost inaccessible, and saw the ceremonies attending it, which I believe have not been witnessed or described by any other European official up to the present time (1916).

I left Kulu immediately after this visit, but contrived to go to Sultanpur from Simla in the following autumn for two days, and interviewed the Kardar or high priest of Malana who had not been visible, as I shall explain, during the festival itself. From him I obtained some further details. The rest of the short time that I was in Kulu was in the depth of winter when it was difficult to move about, or, in particular, to visit the other places where Jamlu is worshipped. This paper will therefore add little to what has been written about Malana and Jamlu, beyond the bare narrative of what I saw and heard at Malana itself and afterwards from the Kardar.

There is probably no part of Northern India or of the Himalayas where religion is still found so entirely local and territorial as in the Kulu valley.

Religion in Kulu

Although Jamlu is in several respects unique he possesses also in a marked degree the typical qualities of his race, the Deotas or godlings of Kulu; and in order to understand his true character it will be necessary to dwell on these for a few moments.

There is probably no part of Northern India or of the Himalayas where religion is still found so entirely local and territorial as in the Kulu valley. In the plains a major or minor deity, whether Aryan or non-Aryan, or even a mere saint, may be worshipped by a particular caste or sect or at particular seasons, but none is worshipped exclusively by the whole population of a particular district, town or village or within any other single territorial limit. Each has his devotees scattered about the country. In Kulu the reverse is the case. The god is worshipped by all the inhabitants, both high and low, of one village or of a collection of adjacent villages, or perhaps of a whole valley. This localisation of the god is due partly, as Sir Denzil Ibbetson pointed out, to the natural tendency in all hill countries to attach deity to some striking features of the landscape, a mountain, river, lake or waterfall a thing which you cannot easily do in the plains: partly also in this instance to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the Kulu tract, which have kept it comparatively free from Brahman immigration.

The result is that the local gods have preserved their individualities instead of being absorbed, as a number of them appear to have been absorbed in Kumaon and Garhwal, into cults of Vishnu and Shiva. There are relatively few pujaris who are Brahmans in the upper valleys of Kulu, and though Brahmans have often decorated the local god with a name and legend from the Hindu scriptures they have not succeeded in most cases in submerging his individuality.

As often as not the god has the same name as the village in which he lives. His pujaris, attendants, and band (for all Kulu gods keep orchestras of varying excellence), are not recruited from any priestly or musicianly class, but from the ordinary zamindar caste of the country, the Kanets. These men generally hold land in feudal tenure from the god in consideration of their temple services. The god’s estates and the temple treasury are managed by a kardar or agent who is a Kanet zemindar and often lambardar as well. There is also a prophet of the god called the “Gur” or “Chela” who is his mouthpiece on all occasions, and this man like the rest is a Kanet of the village.

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The god in short is a popular local institution managed by the village for its own benefit. Conducted on these lines he becomes something more than what he originally was—a mere malevolent being whom it was as well to honour and obey lest harm should happen to one. The deotas are, no doubt, malevolent and still greatly feared by their adherents, but they are also regarded as personifications of the village or villages over which they preside, and a sort of apotheosis of the villagers themselves. These features are peculiarly characteristic of the god and community of Malana.

As often as not the god has the same name as the village in which he lives. His pujaris, attendants, and band (for all Kulu gods keep orchestras of varying excellence), are not recruited from any priestly or musicianly class, but from the ordinary zamindar caste of the country, the Kanets. These men generally hold land in feudal tenure from the god in consideration of their temple services. The god’s estates and the temple treasury are managed by a kardar or agent who is a Kanet zemindar and often lambardar as well. There is also a prophet of the god called the “Gur” or “Chela” who is his mouthpiece on all occasions, and this man like the rest is a Kanet of the village.

Jamlu’s Sacred Mountain

Towards the north-western extremity of the line of snowy mountains visible on clear days from Simla, there is a conspicuous double peak often called by visitors “the Cathedral.” Its appearance is not unlike that of a Byzantine dome with an attendant campanile. This is the mountain of Jamlu, under which the village of Malana lies in a high and isolated ravine. The mountain is marked on the map as Deo Tibba though I doubt if it is often called by that name in Kulu. The designation would not be very helpful since every mountain of eminence is ascribed to some deity or other. Probably the first surveyor who marked this mountain asked the men with him what it was, and received the natural reply: “It is the hill of the god”, i.e. of Jamlu. And so the mountain was recorded on the map in the words of the speaker as “Deo ka Tibba” or “Deo Tibba.” I have heard it called locally “Girwa Koti”, which I understood to have the more distinctive meaning of “The House or Temple of the god”; and if this is correct the Simla nickname of Cathedral is more or less in keeping with local sentiment.

This mountain which is over 20,000 feet high is on the watershed generally called the mid-Himalayan Chain that broadly speaking divides the Tibetan or semi-Tibetan tracts of the Himalaya from the Indian, and forms the barrier beyond which monsoon does not pass. Behind the mountain to the  north lies Spiti. Looking south from the range, the mountain is near the middle of the base of an irregular triangle, formed by the line of the watershed and the Beas and Parbati rivers, which flow down from it and meet about six miles below the town of Sultanpur. In this triangle is Malana, facing north, among the upper slopes of a wild and deep ravine that runs twisting down from the mountain to the Parbati river.

Mount Deo Tibba as seen from Bijli Mahadev. ©️ Arun Chaudhary @himalayanfootprints.

Routes into Malana

On either side of the Malana valley are high ranges separating it from the valley of the Beas on the west and from the upper tributaries of the Parbati on the east. These spurs end abruptly in a mass of precipices above the Parbati river, but there are passes over each of them higher up, by which Malana can be reached. The eastern pass leads to Manikaran, a village in the Parbati valley famous for its temples and its hot springs. The western pass leads to Nagar in the Beas valley, the ancient seat of the Rajas of Kulu. The two passes are about 13,000 feet high, the routes over them are steep and troublesome and practically closed during the winter months. There is a third approach which runs up the ravine itself, and is used by the Malana men in winter, but this path has the reputation of being extremely dangerous. In short, Malana does not encourage the tourist.

The Malanese and their Peculiar Language

The village itself is a small one and contained 376 inhabitants at the time of the last census [1911?]. The community like that of most Kulu villages consists mainly of Kanets with a few of the menial caste called Dagis. The men have if anything slightly better and more Rajput-like features than the usual type of Kanet, a fact which all travellers appear to have noticed. But in spite of this some writers have credited the people with a Mongolian origin. The theory is no doubt derived from the peculiar language of Malana, called Malani or Kanashi, which is not spoken anywhere else. It was once thought to be Mongolian, but is now said to have no more affinity with Tibetan, than it has with Sanskrit or Hindi. It has however many words in common with Kanawari, the dialect spoken in the Chini tahsil of Bashahr [now Kinnaur], and somewhat less with Lahuli.

It seems a plausible theory that all the Kanets of Lahul, of Kulu and of Kanawar… once spoke a common original language.

The languages of Lahul and Kanawar are believed by the Moravian missionaries, who are the first authorities on the subject, to be derived from a common parent language which they call Bunan. The people speaking this language formed a wedge, as Mr. Diack conjectures, between the Tibetan-speaking races on the north and the Hindi-speaking populations on the south. It is also supposed that the wedge at one time extended over the mid-Himalayan chain into the upper valley of the Beas and its tributaries, and that a remnant of it has thus been left at Malana.

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Kanashi in a tentative family tree for West Himalayish proposed by Manuel Widmer in his A descriptive grammar of Bunan (2014).

I do not know if any one has suggested that this language was the original tongue of the Kanet race, or of the indigenous stock from which they were at least partly sprung. But it seems a plausible theory that all the Kanets of Lahul, of Kulu and of Kanawar, which is called Kuno (the same word as Kulu) by the Tibetans to this day, once spoke a common original language, one branch of which is still called Kanashi or Kanaishi.

We may in that case suppose that Malana was colonized from the Beas valley at some time possibly after Aryan immigrations had begun, but before the steady infiltration of Rajputs into the lower hills had imposed the Hindi [Indo-Aryan] language on the masses of the people. Later, as Kulu itself came under the Rajputs, the tide of Aryan speech advanced to the mid-Himalyan chain, flooding all the valleys and leaving high and dry only the Lahulis on the other side of the Rohtang pass and the people of Malana cut off from Kulu by passes almost as difficult. This view is quite consistent with local traditions of the origin of Malana and Jamlu.

Matrimonial Affairs

The isolation of Malana has affected it in other ways besides language. The people for instance marry among themselves only, and their handsome features may be the outcome of their purity of stock. The village is built in two separate halves about 80 yards apart. Men from one half marry women from the other half only, and vice versa. An instinct of self-preservation has however led the community to make an exception in favour of a village not very far away called Rashol, from which women are taken in marriage to Malana when required. In spite of this extraneous supply isolation and in-breeding are gradually bringing about their inevitable results at Malana, at all events in the opinion of the rest of Kulu which regards the Malana men as not merely uncanny but dangerously mad. The Kardar informed me that occasionally Malana men do take wives from elsewhere, but that there are never any children of such marriages.

The people themselves profess that they cannot afford to pay the high prices demanded for wives in the Kulu valley and this may be one of the reasons for their exclusiveness. Their matrimonial tariff, according to what they told me, is distinctly reasonable. When you marry you pay nothing at all except one rupee into Jamlu’s treasury: and if you elope with somebody else’s wife, a proceeding which is not considered immoral in Kulu provided that you pay for her, you need only offer the outraged husband twenty rupees as compensation instead of a hundred rupees which is the rate in other parts of Kulu. If the husband is so foolish as to express himself dissatisfied with the offer, five rupees out of the twenty are appropriated for Jamlu’s treasury and he gets no more than fifteen rupees for his pains.

The Political Setup

Another consequence of the remoteness of Malana is that the place has never come much into contact with executive authority, but has been left more or less to govern itself. It has accordingly developed a constitution out of the hierarchy of temple ministrants which is typical of Kulu village life. There is the Kardar or agent controlling the god’s treasury and estate, and he is also the principal pujari. Besides him are two other pujaris who do most of the officiating in the temple services. These three officials are nominally elected, but the Kardar told me that as a matter of fact the office in each case has been in one family several generations. There is also the Gur or prophet, selected by the spirit of the god, which descends upon the chosen one shortly after the last holder of the office expires. It manifests itself then and after-wards in divine frenzy and raving which are induced generally by sitting for long periods without clothes in the open until a shivering fit seizes the Gur. Questions are then asked him, and between chattering teeth he jerks out what the god wishes him to say. […] Sometimes the divine afflatus descends upon a second individual, who is then allowed to hold office as a sort of understudy.

Besides these officials there are eight elders or “jathere” drawn from the eight wards into which the community is divided. These leaders are elected at intervals of three or four years. All the offices are vacated at the same time but re-election is not infrequent. The eight elders act as a government and decide all disputes, taking counsel of the god when necessary through the Gur. Their invariable method of exerting authority is the imposition of fines, which are however on the modest scale appropriate to the purses of Malana men, and rarely exceed eight annas. These fines are paid into the treasury of Jamlu which also receives a large quantity of offerings from pilgrims who go there in the summer. The treasury is reputed to contain several lakhs of money, the accumulation of centuries.

The body of officials mentioned is called the “Bari.” It occasionally tours the subordinate shrines of Jamlu collecting tribute, when it is treated very sumptuously and with an uneasy veneration. The Kanets of Malana are also a corporate body, the well-known “Ra Deo.” When this body is assembled, usually about a hundred strong, the spirit of Jamlu is believed to become incarnate in the whole gathering and in this form proceeds to visit and billet itself on the villagers in places where Jamlu has other shrines. The Ra Deo is well fed and pays for nothing, but, as Sir James Lyall notices, the expense of the entertainment is tacitly deducted from the tribute due from the village to Jamlu. The Ra Deo is however both dreaded and disliked, and the feelings of those worshippers of Jamlu who suffer from these visitations would be suitably expressed in the modern verse—

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How very nice it is to see
Our dear relations come to tea:
But it is nicer still to know
That when they’ve had their tea, they go.

Jamlu’s Cult

The Malana god is even more peculiar than his people. He is now associated chiefly with the mountain at the head of the Malana stream and with the glen itself, but tradition places his original abode at Hamta above Jagatsukh on the way to Kulu from Spiti. His subordinate temples are mostly in that part of the valley. Only nine of them, of which the Kardar gave me the names, pay regular tribute to Jamlu’s treasury at Malana, and are in consequence recognized by the Malana people. From Hamta Jamlu went to Jagatsukh and then crossed the pass to Malana. He has an elder brother Gaiphan, the god of a very high peak in Lahul. Once a year this god is supposed to come across to a place in the Parbati valley, called Barshaini, where he has a temple and where he meets his brother Jamlu. Both gods then proceed to a place two miles distant and bathe together. It is a matter for regret that this excellent and godly ensample is not observed even annually by the Malana villagers who are probably the dirtiest clan in these hills. Gaiphan is the elder brother, but Jamlu is the wealthier and the cleverer. […]

When Jamlu first crossed the Malana pass, his wife Naroi was with him and together they carried a casket containing the other gods of Kulu… At the top of the pass they opened the casket, and the gale of wind which always blows there dissipated the gods throughout the country to their future homes, where they became established. There are of course many more than eighteen gods altogether in Kulu at the present time. This legend possibly refers to the period preceding the dynasty of Rajas who reigned at Nagar, when the country is reputed to have been governed by petty thakurs or barons, whom Sir James Lyall conjectures to have been semi-subordinate to Suket. Some of these thakurs may well have become deified, and the extent of their territory may have corresponded to what is now the sphere of influence of the god. At Malana the villagers described Jamlu himself to me as a thakur.

When the Rajput dynasty had overcome these thakurs, it consolidated its sway by the introduction of the famous idol Raghunathji, which it set up at Sultanpur in charge of Brahman attendants. All the gods in Kulu were made to do obeisance to Raghunathji and still admit his overlordship, except Jamlu who declines to this day to do any such thing. In the time of the Rajas the independence of Malana was shown in the fact of its forming a regular asylum for fugitives from justice, who were considered to be, and probably were, safe in the holy mountain of Jamlu. The same protection, according to the Malana men, is even now extended to all animal life in the glen. It cannot be denied that an occasional sportsman finds his way into a corner of it, but the people profess to regard such incursions with indifference, for Jamlu permits no bullet to find its mark.

Jamlu was in due course invested… with an orthodox pedigree and a seat in the Hindu pantheon … [as] Jamad-Agni … rishi of the Vishnu Purana.

The god thus appears, much as do the older deities of Greece, as the representative of an autochthonous race, dynasty and religion in the face of the Aryan invader and his heavenly Olympus. Later on Jamlu was in due course invested by the Brahmans with an orthodox pedigree and a seat in the Hindu pantheon.

The men of Malana tell a boastful story of a Brahman who came, perhaps from Sultanpur, to Malana specially for this purpose, and told their ancestors that he could expound to them who their god really was. This pandit, they say, actually brought the pedigree written out on parchment and displayed it to the incredulous Malana host. The Kardar suggested that he should come into the temple, and lay the document there for Jamlu to see and recognize, if he would. At the same moment the spirit of the god descended upon the whole Ra Deo, which raved and gibbered to the bewilderment of the Brahman. Trembling and clad in nothing but a loincloth he went with the pujari who was similarly attired into the temple to show the pedigree to Jamlu. Nobody knows what happened within except that the Brahman became paralysed and speechless and had to be dragged out by the pujari. Neither would say what they had seen or heard, but the Pandit recanted, tore up the pedigree and went away confessing that he did not know who Jamlu was. This is what the Malana people tell.

In point of actual fact the Brahman, if he ever went there, achieved his object, and the god is now permanently identified with Hindu mythology in the minds of all those who profess to know anything about him. His very name is simply a hill corruption of Jamad-Agni, the name of the rishi of the Vishnu Purana who sought rest and seclusion in the Himalaya together with his wife Renuka who is identified at Malana with Naroi. The Kardar himself speaks of the god as “Jamdaggan,” and calls his Lahuli brother Gaiphan by the name of Jagamdamb, apparently a male variant of Jagadamba Devi. Parsu Rama, the famous youngest son of Jamad-Agni and himself an avatar of Vishnu, also appears as the deota of some six temples in outer Seoraj and Bashahr, particularly at Nirmand in Seoraj where the Bhunda, a well-known survival of human sacrifice, has been performed till very recent times in his honour. At Nirmand he is doubtless the successor of an indigenous god, whose name like the original name of Jamlu has disappeared from memory. But at Malana Parsu Rama of Nirmand is acknowledged a son of Jamlu. For all his exclusiveness and contempt for Hindu mythology therefore Jamlu is now involved in it himself, and the story of the embarrassed Pandit is a vain attempt to refute history.

Not unlike it is the legend which has sprung up at Malana out of the visit of British troops to the place in 1883. At that time the village had been giving trouble and it was decided to take the opportunity to send up a mountain battery which was marching in Kulu at the time. The Malana men had to make a road over the pass and to submit to the indignity of a large camp pitched within the precincts of their sacred village. Having made the road and met the contin-gents on the pass they are reported to have disappeared into the caves and recesses of the glen until the visitation was over. However that may be, they now inform the traveller that a few rash British soldiers, entered like Pompey or Titus into their holy of holies, and were smitten by Jamlu with momentary dumbness and loss of sight. I have little doubt that if the story of my visit in 1911 survives at all in Malana, it will be similarly distorted to the glorification of Jamlu.

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There is one other general aspect of Jamlu to be touched upon, his connection real or fabricated with Islam. In the Kulu Valley many people believe him to have been a Muhammadan and point out that sacrifices to him are “hallaled.” Mr. Fyson, the present Assistant Commissioner in Kulu, tells me that in Jamlu’s temple in the Kulu valley sacrifice is made on the 12th of Phagan in each year to Shah Madar, the saint of the Madari sect.

Shah Madar is stated in census reports to have been an Aleppo Jew converted to Islam in the 11th century, who came to Makanpur in the United Provinces, where after the inevitable victorious encounter with the local demon he set up as a saint. He has a small number of followers in the Panjab and there are shrines to him among other places in Chamba. He is also mixed up in the Mian-Bibi legend in Hoshiarpur. One branch of the sect, said to have been founded by one Jaman Jatti, is known by the name of Malang. Whether the resemblance of these two names to Jamlu and Malana respectively has anything to do with Jamlu’s Muhammadan tradition I do not know, but Shah Madar is said to be regarded in Kulu as the chela of Jamlu.

Sir Denzil Ibbetson mentions a tradition that the Malana folk were transported from their original homes in the plains to Malana by one of the Mughal Emperors in consequence of some offence. The Malana people themselves do not however admit any Muhammadan connection, and as they have not even a common language with their brethren at the subordinate shrines, it seems quite possible that the worship of Jamlu at the latter places may have diverged from the old forms preserved in Malana and acquired new features of its own.

It is not, however, very easy to trace the connection between these Muhammadan traditions and the Jamlu-Akbar legend to which we now come. That remarkable story has obtained only incidental mention in Gazetteers and settlement reports.

The Akbar-Jamlu Legend

It has been known that there is in Malana an image, whether of a man or of an elephant, authorities differ, which is said to have been sent by the Emperor Akbar to propitiate Jamlu on an occasion when Akbar himself or one of his ladies was stricken with disease. It was known also that this image was produced once a year at the festival of Jamlu held in the month of Phagan. The full story told me by the Kardar and others in Malana is as follows:—

A certain Sadhu in the reign of Akbar came to Malana on a pilgrimage, and in accordance with the custom which still prevails was given on departure a blanket and a small sum of money from Jamlu’s treasury. When he reached Delhi part of the sacred money was taken from him on his entrance into the city by the octroi collectors in payment of a poll tax, which happened to be the form of exaction then favoured by the Delhi Municipality. The act of sacrilege did not escape Jamlu’s notice even at that distance. Very shortly afterwards the Emperor was stricken with leprosy. Dimly aware that supernatural agencies were at work, he consulted first of all his Mullahs who were unable to help him. Thereupon, say the Malana people, he turned to the Brahmans, as indeed the broad-minded and probably desperate Akbar would doubtless have done in the circumstances. The Brahmans soon told him exactly what had happened and the name of the god who was afflicting him. They assured him that until the sacred money was found and returned to Jamlu’s treasury at Malana, there would be no hope of recovery from the disease. Akbar asked how much money had been taken from the Sadhu. The Brahmans told him that so far as their information went it was two pice. To his protest that it would be impossible to identify two pice out of the whole of his Imperial treasury, the Brahmans replied that it might be so, but that in view of his present predicament it seemed at least worthwhile to make an attempt. Akbar accordingly turned out his treasury, and the two pice were found miraculously stuck to one another among the coins.

The Emperor must now, the Brahmans said, make a pilgrimage to Malana and restore the coins to Jamlu’s temple in person. Akbar, like Naaman the Syrian, appears to have demurred to the remedy prescribed for him, but with more show of reason. A journey from Delhi to Malana in winter would be a long and strenuous undertaking, and meanwhile his throne and empire had to be looked after. Someone, however, suggested that it might be equally efficacious to send expensive images of the monarch and his retinue to Malana instead. The Brahmans agreed that it might. So Akbar caused a statue of himself to be made in gold and images of his horses and his elephants in gold and silver and sent them with a deputation to Malana. On their arrival Jamlu was placated, and the king’s leprosy ceased.

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The origin of this myth has not so far… been traced. No particular importance seems to attach to the introduction of Akbar into the story as that Emperor’s heroic figure and widely known toleration of Hinduism make him a frequent theme in local Hindu legends of the Panjab.

On every year on the 12th of the month of Phagan this mystery is re-enacted at Malana. The images are brought out from the treasure house in which they have lain wrapped up for 12 months, and carried with pomp to a little grove above the village, where they are unveiled and set out before a small stone embedded in the ground, the spot to which Jamlu comes to receive the homage of the Emperor.

The origin of this myth has not so far as I am aware been traced. No particular importance seems to attach to the introduction of Akbar into the story as that Emperor’s heroic figure and widely known toleration of Hinduism make him a frequent theme in local Hindu legends of the Panjab. Moreover it was in his reign that Kulu is supposed to have come for the first time under Mughal sway. The dispatch of images to do duty for the sufferer and to appease the god is an instance of magic easy enough to parallel. One recalls the somewhat less ornamental images sent by the lords of the Philistines on the advice of their priests and diviners to accompany the ark or Jehovah back to Israel and to induce the Hebrew gods to stay the plague in Philistia. The tale of a very similar and much more recent placation of Jamlu by the Seorajis, who in about 1882 sent dolls made of grass and bark representing their ancestors to be chopped in pieces before Jamlu, is told by Colonel Bruce in his book “Kulu and Lahul.” But though the main incidents of the story may be common, the existence of the statues in Malana and the performance of the annual ceremony seem to indicate a substratum of truth. More light could possibly be thrown upon it by an observation of the sacrifices held simultaneously in honour of Shah Madar at the subordinate shrines since these presumably commemorate another version of the same legend. But I was only to be in Kulu once at that season of the year and chose to try for Malana itself.

On the way to Malana

The first difficulty was one of route. The two passes leading to Malana were closed, and though a party of men might manage to cross one or other of them on a fine day, it would have been impossible to take tents or baggage. There remained the ascent through the bed of the ravine. This route has the most sinister reputation, fostered no doubt by the Malana men. It is said to run along desperate ledges almost the whole way, and in wet weather to be subjected to a continual fusillade of enormous rocks, propelled by Jamlu from the tops of the precipices on those rash enough to profane his valley. Closer enquiries showed that the terrors of the path were exaggerated. I was told that if it were a fine day the Malana people would carry up my tent, provided that the loads were not made too large.

The Negi or headman of the Kanawar Kothi in the Parbati valley, and the lambardar of Jari, a village opposite to the entrance of the Malana gorge, with other pilgrims volunteered to come with me. This showed at any rate that the journey was not impossible and that Jamlu’s opposition was not sufficient to deter an escort. So a message was despatched to the village to expect me about the 3rd of March, which was the day before the ceremony.

I afterwards heard that a great debate ensued at Malana on the receipt of this news. Some of the elders pointed out that no European had ever seen or ought to see the rite, and that if the Sahib came it would be better not to hold it at all. But the god himself decided in favour of the invader. Addressing the elders through his oracle, the Gur, he remarked that though they might suppose that this Sahib was making the pilgrimage out of vulgar curiosity or motives even worse, such was not the case. He could not even help himself, for he was coming by Jamlu’s will and command. The ceremony was to take place as usual, and if the Sahib wanted to watch it he should.

I knew nothing of this when I arrived on the afternoon of March 1st at the little rest-house at Jari, where I was met by the Negi and the other pilgrims, about 12 men in all. It had been raining most of the day, and though the sun now shone brightly on our side of the valley, a heavy storm hid Malana, and the view opposite was not encouraging. From left to right as far as the eye could reach, an immense range of precipices, the barrier of the Malana country, rose dark and sheer from the river bed, half veiled by a still darker canopy of cloud that hung motionless along its walls. From behind came incessant growls of thunder, the voice no doubt of Jamlu break-ing the cedar trees and, as it seemed to us, warning the intruder to beware. Straight before us in the rock face was a narrow cleft, the floor of which rose rapidly like a stair until it vanished into the gloom. This was our path, and at the moment its appearance was as cheerless as its reputation. Later in the evening however we heard that the Malana men had carried up my tent and were expecting us the next day.

The morning was fairly clear when we crossed the Parbati and wormed our way into the gorge. The bed is very narrow and choked up almost everywhere by a debris of fallen rocks, over which a deafening torrent forces its way. One realised that if rocks were falling at the time, the route would be extremely dangerous, as there was no room to dodge them. Otherwise the ascent is no more than a rough walk with here and there a short scramble. After some hours we reached a sharp bend in the stream, where a jutting ridge afforded just enough slope for a path. Up this we climbed for perhaps about 2,000 feet. We must have ascended a good deal altogether, for when we finally emerged from the chasm on to the shoulder of the ridge, there was Malana at our feet and all the hill-side, deep in snow. After saluting the villagers, who seemed friendly, I made for my tent the top of which I could see sticking out of a drift in a space between the two halves of the village. Snow began to fall, and when it had thoroughly drenched the tent a piercing breeze blew upon the sodden canvas. It was as chilly a night as one could wish to spend. 

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The Day of Ceremony

At dawn I was awoken by the blare of silver trumpets at the temple, and soon afterwards a deputation appeared from the village with two requests. These were interpreted by the Chaukidar, who though a native of Malana could speak a more intelligible tongue. The first was that if I attended the ceremony I should not sit upon a chair in the god’s presence. To this I found no difficulty in agreeing as I had no chair with me. The second was, that I should wear no leather on my feet in the village throughout the day. The petition was supported by a present of a new and very ornamental pair of rope shoes which I reluctantly consented to wear over four pairs of socks in the snow. I was then conducted round the village at my request to see the place.

There is only one real temple in Malana, the one to which reference has already been made. Curiously enough it is not Jamlu’s but Naroi’s. Jamlu himself has no temple at Malana. The other sacred buildings include the god’s treasury, a refectory for all the householders to dine together during the festival, and a room for the musicians. None of the buildings is particularly striking, but it seems that every inch of the upper half of the village is sacred, for a chorus of obvious protest was raised by the Malana men as we started, and swelled as we progressed. The Chaukidar led the way, turning now and then to argue with the others. He took me past the temples to a grove above the village where the ceremony is performed.

There are two rocks in the hill-side and just below them a very large deodar with smaller ones beside it. In the space between the trees and the rocks is the small oblong stone already mentioned as the meeting-place of Jamlu and Akbar. As yet this stone lay hidden under the snow. Close by was a much larger stone shaped like a table, on which the statue of Akbar would be set. One of the rocks above has a wide sloping top; where the men of Malana stand. On the other rock somewhat higher and further back, Brahmans and Kanets from elsewhere are permitted to watch. The Dagis or village menials are only allowed to stand some way down the hill-side and can see nothing.

The large deodar tree and the rocks [February 2019].

I soon found that what the people would object to was not so much my coming near the scene as my being with them on the eminence above it. At the same time I could not with dignity or satisfaction join the Dagis. After deliberating I fixed on a rock exactly on a level with the centre of the grove whereupon a Malana man pointed to a place on the same level but still nearer and said that I could go there. This raised a discussion however, and after it had gone on for some time I caused an unexpected panic by calling for the Lambardar. The Lambardar is the Kardar of the god, and one of the most important taboos in the ritual is that he remains from the day before the festival to the day after shut up in the temple, seeing and speaking to no one. So I was implored not to send for the Lambardar and my standing on the nearer rock was agreed to as a compromise. Then I went back to my tent and had breakfast, the only pilgrim who ate any food before sundown that day.

I heard afterwards that while I was in my tent the Chaukidar was arraigned for having led my rope-soled but profane feet into holy places, notably the village well, a spot of peculiar sanctity. The Council fined him eight annas. But the Chaukidar pointed out that he was in the double position of a Malana man and a Government servant, and that in the latter capacity he had to do what I told him. He made so eloquent a defence that the elders remitted the fine. But it was decreed necessary to expiate the violation of the well by the immediate sacrifice of a lamb.

At about one o’clock they came and said that the ceremony would soon begin. Till then there had seemed to be some uncertainty about the time of the performance. The priests were probably watching the weather. It is apparently a tradition that snow must fall at the climax of the ceremony not only at Malana but simultaneously at other temples of Jamlu in Kulu. When we reached the grove however the sky was quite clear. I took my stand on my allotted rock, all the Malana men who were not officiating were grouped together on theirs, and on the third rock there were some twenty pilgrims besides our party.

In a short while the temple musicians came up at a quick step and in single file and arranged themselves below the rocks, the trumpeters on the left, and the drummers, of whom there were as many as twenty, on the right close to me. The drummers maintained an uninterrupted beat during the whole ceremony, the trumpeters blowing blasts from time to time. With them had arrived the pujaris and the Gur and the eight elders of Malana. After a little waiting the pujari and the eight men went across to a tiny shrine not more than forty yards away in which the images had been placed overnight. From this building the senior pujari handed out to the elders several large and uncouth silver statues of horses, elephants and deer, also a large silver umbrella of the kind used by Kulu deotas, and a smaller one which was afterwards fitted into the back of a very large silver stag. All these images are said to be offerings of pilgrims, or made by the Malana men from such offerings. The pujari himself carried a closely wrapped bundle containing the statuettes presented by Akbar. The little group then returned to the grove.

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About this time the snow was formally scraped away from Jamlu’s oblong stone in the ground. This is so much an essential part of the ceremony, the Kardar told me afterwards, that once in living memory when there was an exceptionally early spring and no snow lay in Malana at the beginning of March, snow had to be brought from higher up the mountain and spread over the stone for the pujaris subsequently to clear away. A huge faggot was lighted evidently to keep the pujaris warm during the performance, for these two men now took off their ordinary clothes and put on very thin transparent white skirts falling straight from the waist and open at one side. They wore nothing else at all.

The first pujari took a trident-shaped branch in his hand and with infinite solemnity walked slowly round and round the table-shaped stone, bowing himself to the earth and laying his trident along the ground at every step. This preliminary act of consecration was marked by a change in the beat of the drums to a solemn anapaestic measure. After walking several times round the stone in this manner, the pujari produced a censer containing leaves of the hill juniper, which he lighted and waved over the stone. All was now ready for the appearance of Akbar. 

The ceremony as it happened in 2019.

The pujari stooped to the bundle which he had brought and swiftly took out a silver or gilt statuette about four inches high, apparently a naked figure of very primitive workmanship. He held it on the palm of his hand, his arm thrown out straight from his shoulder, and stood thus wildly and violently shuddering, an effect which must have been materially assisted by his very thin attire. The roll of the drums had by this time become terrific, the trumpeters blew their trumpets, and the Malana men raised a loud shout. The moment of the year was reached, Akbar had come to Malana and stood before Jamlu.

In trying to photograph the priest at this instant I realised that the snow was actually falling in accordance with the programme. Either Jamlu does control the weather or someone in charge of the ceremonies had been watching it more carefully than I. It was a small cloud, and the sky cleared again very shortly. The statue of Akbar was then placed on the table rock and the pujari did obeisance to it. From his bundle he produced twelve more very small images of horses and elephants, evidently the rest of Akbar’s gift. These he grouped behind the statue handling them with much show of devotion and pressing them against his bowed forehead before he put them down one by one. Over Akbar and the attendant images he fixed the big silver umbrella and round them he placed all the large statues which had been carried up by the elders. The stone was censed once more, flowers were laid over Akbar and the other images, and branches of juniper waved like fans above them. A libation probably of ghi was also offered. All this took some time, the pujari frequently breaking off the ceremony to sit by the faggot and warm himself.

The Sacrifice

Then followed the sacrifice. A white ram was led up, anointed and garlanded by the pujaris. It was then laid on its back and its forelegs and hind legs tied together. There was no “hallaling” of the sacrifice. Instead the pujaris seized the ram together, each holding two feet and keeping its back on the ground, dragged it in this way round and round the stone, every few seconds lifting it high above their heads and battering the unfortunate beast with all their force down against the rocky ground. At this horrible sight the Negi turned away with an exclamation of disgust, and I noticed that quite two-thirds of the Malana men came away from the rock and refused to watch. When the ram was nearly dead, the pujaris took it away among the rocks, cut it open and extracted the heart, which they offered to Akbar. After this one of the pujaris began carving up the ram, while the other wrapped up the smaller images again without any ceremony and handed the larger ones back to the elders.

Both the pujaris resumed their ordinary clothes and the procession was about to return to the treasury, when one of the elders called attention to the fact that the pujari had made a mistake in the ritual. It was not quite clear what the mistake was: perhaps the priest had advanced beyond a certain point with blood on his hands; perhaps he had dropped blood by accident on or near Jamlu’s stone. At any rate a fine of four annas was indicated and imposed, and a lamb was promptly sacrificed to purify the offence.

A few minutes after, the gathering dispersed and the images were all taken back to the temple treasury, not to the small building in which they had lain the night before.

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Really Akbar?

Not the least curious aspect of the ceremony was the position occupied by the statue of Akbar. According to the legend he comes as a suppliant leper to be healed by Jamlu whom he has offended. In the ritual however he appears as the object of worship and sacrifice. Much of the rite is probably of older date than the Akbar legend, and the statues, whoever actually presented them, may in the course of time have become so identified with the performance that the sacrifice is now made to Akbar, who has the advantage over Jamlu of a visible representation.

The Songs in Naroi’s Language

There was a crowd in front of Naroi’s temple all the rest of the day. Later on there was a ceremony which I did not see as the Negi had told me that there was no other performance, but the orderly who came up with my tent and was a Kanet watched it closely and his account was afterwards confirmed by the Kardar. The Gur appeared before the temple carrying on his head the heavy silver casket called the “Pir” which contained the … gods of Kulu. Sitting down he swayed it slowly from side to side while some of the women sang verses. The chief pujari offered incense to the casket at the same time with an averted head.

I gathered from the Kardar, whose wife was one of the singers, that any Malana woman who has a vow or who can sing (the qualifications are alternative) may take part in the ceremony. The songs are in yet another language, called Naroi’s language, of which they are apparently the sole relic, Kanashi, the ordinary dialect of Malana, being Jamlu’s language. The women learn these songs from their mothers-in-law, and the men do not profess to understand them. All that the Kardar knew about these songs was that they consisted of sixteen questions and answers and that they referred to gods of some sort. The performance takes place on five consecutive days of which the day of the Akbar ceremony is the middle one.

Farewell to Malana

By the time that the ceremony was over it was dark and the other pilgrims were at last able to eat food. Nothing more took place that day, and early the next morning we struck the tent, and bade farewell to Malana, not altogether sorry to escape from the snow. Jamlu preserved his courteous attitude to the end, and threw no stones at us as we passed down the ravine.

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2 Responses

  1. Keshvender singh says:

    I would like to point out that under the topic of jamlu’s cult you have mentioned how jamlu to this date refuses to do obeisance. How ever the fact is that to this date jamlu does come down from malana at the left bank of river beas to pay homage to raghunath ji during the 7day dusserah when all the other deities come to kullu. It is said that the god doesnt cross a river under any circumstance and also comming to dusserah with thousands of people around effects the purity of the god. And so he doesnt cross the river beas. But does come to the left bank to pay homage.

    • admin says:

      The article is from 1910s. So at the time either the author was not aware of Jamlu (and other deities) coming to Dussehra and staying at Angu-Dobhi or it could be possible that Jamlu started coming to Dussehra after this time, that is 1910s.

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