Everyone might be aware of popular tourist destinations like Kullu, Manali, Shimla and many others in the state of Himachal Pradesh but have you ever heard of one of the oldest democracies of the world Malana? Yes, the village is ONE OF THE OLDEST DEMOCRACIES in the world. This mysterious town, completely untouched and hidden from the rest of the world, is situated between the majestic peaks of Chandrakhani and Deotibba. The village is also known as the village of Taboos. Interesting as it is, it has many tales and unique features which we are going to explore in this article.
Mallana village situated northeast of Kullu on the side of Parvati valley is located at a height of about 9,938 ft above sea level. This village is connected to Rashol pass and Chandrakhani pass of the Parvati valley but the easiest was to reach the village is to take a taxi from Jari because there is no bus that goes to Malana.
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These people have had their own parliament which comprises of the Upper House known as Jayesthang and the Lower house known as Kanisthang. The Malanese people have their own judicial system as well and their deep faith is demonstrated by the fact that the entire village votes for only a single person in the election which they believe is chosen by their deity Jamlu Devta. The locals believe that the sage Jamlu laid the foundation of their democracy in the Puranic times and gives indications to the people about his decision in any matter ranging from a dispute to elections.
It is said that the deity’s spokesperson, known as “Gur”, is either possessed by Jamlu Devta to declare his decision or he dreams about it. There is a village council consisting of 11 people considered to be the representatives of the presiding deity Jamlu Rishi. The most interesting part is that these people resolve a dispute through lambs.
What the people do is that they cut the right foreleg of the lamb of each side involved in a conflict, fill it with poison and then sue it back with the help of needle and thread. The party whose lamb dies before the both of them is considered to have lost the conflict.
The “Touch-Me-Not” locals:
People in the Malana village consider outsiders or tourists as inferior people and untouchables! However weird is that, the people strictly follow their rules of not touching the tourists or let them touch anything in the village. Once in the village, you should be extremely careful and not touch any person, thing, place or deity of the temples without permission and they don’t even grant permission to anyone ever. If ever you make that mistake, you are supposed to pay a forfeit sum to compensate for the sacrificial slaughter of the lamb in order to purify what has become impure with the touch.
Closed for outsiders:
According to the legends, the deity does not want any villager to rent out their homes as guest houses or give shelter to outsiders in their homes and if anyone does that, they have to face the wrath of the deity. Thus, you will literally find no accommodation in the village but there are many around it. The villagers also do not allow the outsiders because they feel that their culture is harmed in some way and those outsiders who did visit have contributed a lot in polluting the village. The government of India has also officially closed the village for tourists and one can go only when permitted. The villagers here are very conservative and primitive in some ways.
Strict rules followed:
What can be stricter than not allowing outsiders to touch anything or anyone but still there are many rules that the people follow like fixing nails on the trees are prohibited, the villagers are not allowed to burn fire in the forests, the villagers are only allowed to pick to dry twigs and fallen out branches for fuel and trees are not allowed to be harmed, and hunting is not allowed until permitted by the village council.
There are strict rules even when it comes to architecture and all the houses in the village are built in a similar manner. All houses comprise of three storeys, the ground floor being reserved for sheltering their livestock and firewood, fodder etc required to take care of the livestock, the first floor is reserved for storing eatables, storing wood, and for weaving purposes and the top floor with a balcony is used as a living quarter.
However, the villagers are quite outgoing in respect to marriage dealings. The marriages here happen without any priests and rituals and it cannot get simpler than this. The people here believe in Rakshasi marriages in which the brides are taken to the grooms’ house. Even though the people are extremely conservative here, divorce is not a rare phenomenon. After the divorces, the boy has to give all the facilities like a separate house, food, allowance etc to the wife. Polygamy is also practiced in the village and the divorced women as well as widows can remarry.
People also do not entertain any police intervention in their disputes and all the disputes are resolved by the village council. However, recently many villagers have expressed their dissatisfaction towards the ways and decisions of the village council and have thus started to reach out to police and the court of Kullu district to resolve their differences. The village council has also not taken any other decision since this started happening.
The “Secret” language:
The people of Malana speak Kanash which is considered to be a mix of Tibetan and Sanskrit languages. Outsiders are strictly prohibited from speaking the language and the villagers are also discouraged from speaking any language other than their mother-tongue. This language is also not allowed to be spoken in the neighbouring villages and does not resemble any of the languages of the nearby areas. However, with the advent and availability of technology, the children do know and understand a bit of Hindi.
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Mystery around their origin:
There are several theories floating as to what exactly is the origin of the village. According to the folklores, the villagers are direct descendants of the Aryans. But some other stories indicate that the villagers are descendants of the remnant army of King Alexander the great. This village is also known as the Athens of the Himalayas. But so far, people have been unable to prove the claim. Even the languages- Greek and Kanashi- have no resemblance at all.
A stoner’s paradise:
Malana is a village where many tourists used to flock because of its heavenly Hashish. This village has staunch faith in Shiva and used to have LEGAL cultivation of cannabis. This is where the tourists got the best quality charas and ganja and kids used to try to sell it to the tourists. Malana cream is a world-famous hasish and has won the title of the Best Hashish in 1994 and 1996 at the High Time’s magazines’ Cannabis Cup. This place used to be known among the stoners as exotic and alluring “Malana and Magic Valley.” But as of 2017, the government has not only closed the village for tourists but also taken strict steps to curb the cultivation and sale of cannabis.
Festivals of Malana:
However unique be the village, nothing can match the strangeness of the festival that is celebrated by the Malana village. The village celebrates Malana Fagli and Harlala mask dance festival in the month of February and Malana Shaun on 15th of August. In the Harlala mask dance festival, the group of villagers wear nothing but cannabis leaves around them and demon-like masks and dance around the houses of the village spreading cow dung all over them. This is supposed to provide insulation to the houses from the cold weather. In the same festival, people take out a procession for Mughal Emperor Akbar. The connection with the Malenese people and Emperor Akbar is that when King Akbar came here, he suffered from a serious illness but the people of Malana managed to cure him. Akbar was so impressed by the villagers that he exempted the entire village from taxes.
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The village is so unique and serene in so many ways and the people are now struggling to keep their culture alive and unaffected. Even though these people are infamous for treating outsiders as untouchables, these people can be extremely sweet to you once you mingle and not make any mistakes. The village has also been a subject of many documentaries like “Malana: Globalisation of a Himalayan Village” and “Malana: a lost identity.” This adorable place in the Parvati Valley which itself is famous since the time of Beatles has a rich history, culture and values which many in the country are still unaware. And the credit of being one of the oldest democracies in the entire world means that more people should know about this heritage of India.
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Image Source: The Hindu