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M. Gaborieau on 7 Bharats recorded in Nepal (1969)

Excerpt from the Introduction by Marc Gaborieau (1977) to:
Oakley, E. S. and Tara Dutt Gairola. 1977 [1935]. Himalayan Folklore: Kumaon and West Nepal. Bibliotheca Himalayica Series II Volume 10. Kathmandu. Ratna Pustak Bhandar. xlvii+315pp.
Gaborieau's introduction appears on pp. xi-xliv. The excerpt below is from pp. xxiii-xli.

In Western Nepal, the repertory is not very extensive and not very different from that of Kumaon. Working with bards in Dandeldhura (which was part of the former Doti kingdom) and collecting indirect information from Bajhang (North of Doti), I obtained seven stories. Three of them are shared with both Garhwal and Kumaon, namely Udā Chāpliā (see n°25, pp. 150-152), Ranu Rāwat (see n°28 pp. 159-166) and Kālā Bhaṇḍarī (n° 3, pp. 37-42), the last one being sung only in Bajhang. Two are shared with Kumaon only: Chiyā Bhiyā Kaṭhāyat (known in Kumaon under the title of Bhimā Kathāyat) is a story which tells of two brothers who were subjects of the Katyuris of Western Kumaon and won a victory over Vikram Chand. The other story is about the heroic deeds of Saṅgram Kārkī (known in Kumaon as Sakarām Kārkī). Finally two of the stories gathered in Nepal have not been traced anywhere else. The first tells of Bimlā Rāwat, who is a mischievous character. Deprived of his share of inheritance by his seven stepbrothers, Bimlā Rāwat goes to live with his maternal uncle. Because of his misdeeds, his uncle cannot keep him and sells him into slavery. Bimlā Rāwat manages to run away and comes back to take a revenge by killing the whole family of his maternal uncle. He is finally killed by his step-brothers. This story stands alone. It appears to be a parody illustrating just the reverse of the heroic values celebrated in other songs. The second story recorded only in Nepal is that of Bikā Paneru, a brahman of Doti.

I shall set down here the summary of two of those stories: Saṅgrām Kārkī, the text of which is nowhere available, and Bikā Paneru, who appears to be a really local hero. In order to convey an idea of the peculiar style of the bards of Western Nepal, I shall present very detailed summaries.

Saṅgram Kārkī (from a recording made in Dandeldhura):

"Once upon a time lived in Doti a warrior called Saṅgrām Kārkī, son of Samundra Kārkī, grandson of Purān Kārkī. He went to serve Trimal Chand who ruled over Champawat in Kumaon. The king sent him to fight enemies at Badām Gaṛhī. On his way to that place, he disguised himself as a Rāī-Bhāṭ (genealogist and panegyrist) in order to beg food. A Datta brahman who accompanied him cooked his meals. After a fierce battle, he killed all the enemies and came back to Champawat with a caravan of booty which he delivered to the king: elephants loaded with salt, horses loaded with precious clothes, goats loaded with golden coins.

Trimal Chand was greatly pleased; but the courtiers became jealous of Saṅgrām Kārkī's success. In order to get rid of him they persuaded the king to send him to fight the heavenly bird Garuṛa, and the Nāga, the snake of the subterranean world, who were causing much trouble to the people along the border of Garhwal. Saṅgram Kārkī went there and set a trap. One night, he laid on the ground a red-hot iron sheet, the light of which attracted the Garuṛa and the Nāga. He easily caught them and killed them.

Then, whipping his horse who flew like a bird, he proceeded toward Garhwal. On the way, he met people who were carrying diamonds worth nine lakhs. They were afraid to fight such a hero and asked for mercy saying: "Take our diamonds, and spare our lives." Saṅgrām Kārkī replied: "As a sign of your submission, I shall take the tip of your noses, ears and tongues." "Do not take too much, they answered, take just a little bit." Saṅgrām Kārkī became angry: he pulled out their noses, ears and tongues and put them in his pocket. They went to king Manik Chand and by making signs — since they could not speak — they explained to him that such a frightful hero was on his way. Saṅgrām Kārkī appeared in front of the king who asked him who he was. He answered:

"Up there my horizontal drum is resounding,
Up there my kettle-drum is resounding:
I am the fierce warrior of Trimal Chand
Saṅgrām Kārkī is my name."

The king then told him: "Then you are my warrior. Trimal Chand is my younger brother who has usurped my kingdom. That is why I came to rule here over Garhwal. You have killed the Garuṛa and the Nāga who protected me. Now, will you work for me ?"

Saṅgrām Kārkī accepted this offer. The king sent him to conquer rice fields situated near the Indra river in Garhwal. He donned his battle dress and his weapons and left.

By this time news had reached his father Samundra Kārkī that his son had gone to Garhwal. The father went there to try to persuade him to stop fighting and return home. Samundra Kārkī reached the Indra river and stayed on one bank. His son was on the other bank but he could not recognize him. The father shouted across asking Saṅgrām Kārkī who he was. The answer came: "I am Saṅgrām Kārkī, son of Samundra Kārkī, grandson of Purān Kārki." Then Saṅgrām Kārkī crossed to the other bank to join his father, who told him: "You have already won so many victories; you should come back home!" Saṅgrām Kārkī answered: "Up to now I have survived; how long shall I live? It would be a shame for me to desist from fighting with these despicable Garhwalis. Take these diamonds with you and go back home; I shall join you in a week's time."

When the Garhwalis heard that Saṅgrām Kārkī, the famous warrior of Doti had come, they gathered an army on the other bank of the river. They said:

"Run away, Kārkī the warrior, give way:
We, Garhwalis, have come; run away."

He answered:

"I shall not run away;
You have to give way, you, Garhwalis;
I shall cut off your heads if you do not give way."

The fight began. Stones were thrown over the river and fell on Saṅgrām Kārkī until no more were left on the Garhwali side. The horse of Saṅgrām Kārkī bolted, and the last stone fell on the left arm of the hero and smashed it. He thought: "How could I, without shame, go back to my village with a paralyzed arm?" He cut off the wounded arm and threw it across the river. It fell on a tree where it remained hanging. The enemies shouted to him: "We would like to take your arm as a trophy. How can we get it from the tree?" "There is an easy way," he answered. "Organize a ceremony of seven days during which brahmans will read the vedas. At the end, sacrifice a goat, and the arm will fall of itself!" So they did and, on the seventh day, the arm fell down and smashed half of the enemies. Astonished by such a prodigy, the survivors thought they should stop fighting such a hero and make their submission to him. They started to cross the river to join him.

Saṅgrām Kārkī thought they were coming to fight and said to himself: "I am unable to fight and do not want to suffer an ignominious death. But on the other hand, my horse has run away. I cannot leave it here; a hero cannot return home without his horse." He committed suicide by cutting his tongue with his teeth. While dying, he remembered his brothers Sakta and Bhakta Singh who lived in their castle of Piũlī Koṭ; while he had to die alone in a foreign land.

When the enemies drew near, they found him motionless with blood flowing from his mouth. They cut his head with a saw and carried it to the king:

Let the name of Saṅgrām Kārkī be famous during the four yugas.
He remains famous, the hero who defeats the enemies.
He remains famous, the hero who makes a pilgrimage to Gaya.
He remains famous, the hero who (commits suicide) by biting his tongue.
He remains famous, the hero who follows his own dharma.

Bikā Paneru (from a recording made in Dandeldhura):

"Once upon a time, Pahāṛī Shāhī, king of Doti, was holding an assembly in his palace of Ajaymirkot. Among the counsellors was Bikā Paneru, who belonged to a famous brahman family of hereditary ministers. After consulting his counsellors, the king said to Bikā Paneru: "If you pay me, as a tribute, a golden cat and a golden fish, I will allow you to enjoy your fief of Naulākoṭ; otherwise, I will not allow you." "Son of an enemy," he answered, "rather than pay you a tribute, I would prefer to be reincarnated three times as a donkey, my mother to be reincarnated as a sow and my father as a donkey ." He left the assembly and, coming back home, he told his wife: "Let us leave Doti and settle in Kumaon."

He donned his dress and weapons and left with his family and servants. When he had reached the rice fields of Tamulī, the king sent four soldiers to call him back. But he said: "A hero does not go back on a decision. I will not come back." He sent with the soldiers a letter in which he wrote: "If I raze to the ground your palace and build myself a palace with the stones and mortar taken from yours, I am really Bikā Paneru. If not, I am only the son of the untouchable guard who watches your gate!"

At the time when Bikā Paneru reached Kumaon, the astrologers fixed an auspicious day for performing the śrāddha of the father of the king of Kumaon. No local brahman possessed the book of purāṇa which was to be read during the ceremony. The king inquired and was told that only Bikā Paneru of Doti possessed that book. He called him and, after the ceremony, he gave him a shield full of golden coins and a place called Dhumśilā, where he could settle and enjoy the revenue of four villages.

By that time a warrior called Bijaya Singh Geṛo came back from a campaign in the plains, with a caravan loaded with booty. When he heard that four villages had been given to Bikā Paneru, he became angry and said to the king: "This is the way you spend without taking my advice the money I win for you in my campaigns." He insisted that Bikā Paneru should pay seven lakhs of rupees to the king and one to himself, to be allowed to enjoy the revenue of those villages. Bikā Paneru, against the advice of his wife, refused to pay. There was no issue but a fight. Bijaya Singh Geṛo went to atlack Dhumśilā. Bikā Paneru was playing dice with his son Candra Bhān, when his wife heard the sound of drums. It was the army of Bijaya Singh Geṛo accompanied by drummers playing ḍhol huṛkiyā singing heroic ballads, and dancing girls. The wife said: "Are you not ashamed to play dice while your enemies attack?"

Bikā Paneru decided to behave in a knightly manner. He told his son and his servant to give the enemies his best goat with rice and pulse so that they might prepare their meal near the fountain. Candra Bhān, hidden in the grass, watched the enemies kill the goat. Although his father had told him to be patient, he could not wait. His dagger in his hand, he rushed in the middle of the enemies. He was surrounded, and his father who came to rescue him was wounded. Only Candra Bhān remained to fight; should he face the enemies alone? He asked advice from his mother. She cursed him saying: "We could not enjoy our land in Doti. We cannot enjoy these villages in Kumaon. Your father always refuses to pay tribute. This is my curse: may your fame as a warrior remain for ever, but may you have no descendance." Candra Bhān then went to his father's sister who told him: "One must not care for one's own life. If you, your father and your uncle cherish your life, I shall go myself to face the enemies."

Candra Bhān danced with joy. He assembled his allies, donned his battle dress and weapons, and went to fight. All the enemies were killed except Bijaya Singh Geṛo who managed to run away. His father told him : "What you did is nothing. You only cut tender stems of yam, but Bijaya Singh Geṛo who is like a thorn in a bed, like a bit of straw in the eye, like blood in milk, you let him escape! Go and pursue him." Candra Bhān borrowed his father's swift horse, caught up with his enemy at the other end of Kumaon and killed him in a single combat.

The Paneru family was victorious, but they had been cursed by the mother. Bikā Paneru thought: "Our fame will remain, but we will have no descendance. We have won a victory, but God knows what may happen. In the future, we may be defeated and suffer an ignominious death from the hands of the enemies. Better to have a glorious death from our own hands." He ordered his servant to drown his two grandsons Bālā and Dānā in the fountain. When their dead bodies floated in the fountain like pulse fritters in boiling oil, the whole family lamented on their death. A big pyre was prepared into which the women threw themselves and were burned alive. Finally Bikā Paneru and Candra Bhān stretched themselves out on the ground, and threw up to the sky their daggers, which fell into their navels. Thus did they accomplish their own fate with their own hands. They prefered their honour to a comfortable life of submission and their fame will remain throughout the ages."


At the end of the XVIIIth century, the Gorkha dynasty which was building the new unified kingdom of Nepal, with its capital at Kathmandu, extended its conquests to the West. Doti and Kumaon were annexed in 1790 and Garhwal a few years later. After the Anglo-Nepalese war of 1814-6, Nepal kept only Doti white Kumaon and Garhwal became districts administered by the East India Company. The political conditions which had prevailed for more than a millenium were thus transformed. Except for the autonomous principality of Tehri Garhwal, the small kingdoms with their courts and their warriors were destroyed. These events affected unequally the repertory of the bards. Temples survived; public and private ceremonies continued to be held: so the religious songs have been rather well preserved. The other part of the repertory, dealing with kings and heroes, was much more seriously affected. With the end of the wars between kingdoms and of the feuds between local chiefs, the sources of inspiration dried out. It is remarkable that — except for a few songs from Garhwal [CĀTAK, Govinda. 1968. Garhvalī lok-sāhitya aur kalā. Delhi. pp. 245-246] — the whole of the repertory refers to events which took place before the end of the XVIIIth Century. It was already standardized at that time and is gradually dying out.

As a conclusion to this inventory of the songs of the Central Himalaya, we may remark that historical speculations about this area have tended to aim either too far or too near. Certain scholars aimed too far when they tried to find in the songs survivals of a pre-aryan substratum, preserved by the untouchables; but neither in the heroic songs, nor in religions songs is there any hint of a prearyan culture. This substratum (if indeed it existed) should be particularly discernible in religions songs. In point of fact this is the part of the repertory which owes the most to the pan-Indian culture.

Other speculations come too near to our own times; they try to explain the culture of the area by an influx of Rajputs driven away from the plains by the Muslims. Historical evidence about the Katyuri dynasty of Kumaon and the Malla dynasty of Western Nepal shows that the Hindu culture was firmly rooted in the area before the Muslim invasions. Such is also the case of temple architecture which developed early in Kumaon and was imitated in Western Nepal. An additional clue can be derived from the repertory of heroic songs: the main nucleus deals with the Katyuri dynasty which, by all evidences, is not of Rajput origin. The songs refer mostly to the end of the Katyuri dynasty (XIVth Century) and the early period of the subsequent dynasties (XV-XVIth Centuries). The repertory appears to have been established at that time, that is to say late in the medieval period. When we compare it to the repertory of the plains (including Rajasthan), we find that the titles are quite different. While stories like Dholā Mārū, Chandan Lorik, Sorothi, are common all over Northern India, the Central Himalaya has not adopted them, but has instead a repertory of its own. Although the Himalayan repertory as we know it may belong to a rather late period, one may suggest, as an hypothesis, that it was done in continuation of an earlier tradition deeply rooted in the area.

[Citation for the source of this text.]