Sacred Water

To visually document the Border Road Organisation (BRO) employees celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi in Tandi was a matter of chance. Last year in August as we waited for the taxi in Stingri, we heard a screeching loudspeaker not very far from where we stood. We asked Tashi, the dhaba owner if he knew what the noise was all about, and of course he did. The echoing bhajans (religious songs) were from the pandaal (makeshift shrine) set up at the BRO station in Stingri. The employees of BRO from Maharashtra were the organisers and like every year, locals were invited over for lunch. As we reached the venue, the women from Stingri had just finished eating. They were easily up for some post lunch chit chatting as they got themselves comfortable on the neatly aligned chairs and pulled out their knitting bags. It’s highly unlikely that Lahaula women will abandon their knitting pouches at home. A mobile phone and a knitting bag are two essentials. (Lahauli women and knitting deserves a special post)

In the video posted, we see BRO employees carrying Ganesha’s idol to Tandi for visarjan (immersion) in the sacred Chandrabhaga sangam (confluence). It’s interesting to see ways in which water works as a connector across different religions and cultures; how personal and community religious moments are relived or rather asserted by people when distant from their specific cultural settings. Water is in many ways central to Lahaula religious and cultural tradition as well, and like other Western and Trans Himalayan mountain communities, its usage goes beyond personal hygienei. In rituals related to birth, death and everyday sustenance, water is central. But how as a community are we negotiating our relationship with water when perceptions of the role are in themselves changing? Our government does acknowledge rather superficially the religious and socio cultural value of water but seems unwilling to compromise at the cost of economics. What implications will unsustainable water policies of future have on our everyday connections with water? Warming climates, rapidly receding Himalayan glaciers and the toxicity of our cities continue to occupy centre stage in climate change talks and analysis. However, this discourse is completely overlooking the implications of this climate change on everyday life in the margins like Lahaul-Spiti. How can we initiate locally rooted efforts towards a cultural understanding of climate change? Multiple evidences show that scientific knowledge systems have repeatedly failed to recognize the complex socio cultural systems at work across the globe in ‘mitigating’ climate change.

The second video is from Gemur village in Tod valley. Last year, on the day of Nangchaii the first task for Chommo was to offer prayers at the village water source on behalf of her family. She along with her 9 year old daughter made sure they woke up before sunrise. Chommo planted a pea sized butter on the rubber pipe, offered flowers, swirled around juniper, and filled her water can with what was now pure water. She remembers elders in the family telling her that one could also be very fortunate to have the Tibetan Dzi (agate) dropping into the water can- a symbol of wealth and prosperity. For Chommo, it was important to acknowledge the centrality of water in their everyday life and pray for its abundance in the coming year. Maybe, this is what socio environmental sustainability is in practice- a reciprocal relationship with our natural resources. The water flowing out of the pipe is more than just water for Chommo and her family. Gemur is also the village which faces the threat of displacement from the proposed 300 MW Jispa hydroproject along with several other villages of Tod valley. How do people inhabiting ecologically sensitive landscapes like Jispa, Gemur (and other villages in Tod valley) perceive the changing climate, negotiate their everyday relationship with it, in specific with water? How is it for them to imagine the Bhaga river coerced to flow as per the whims of a turbine and a concrete tunnel?

iResearchers working on “Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environment in the Himalayas”, a project of the India China Institute of the New School propose that anthropological inquiries should look at different uses of water across Himalayas, its interconnections with class and caste.

iiNangcha is the day after Halda where it is mandated for households to remain indoors, and in general to maintain a quite atmosphere as any kind of loud noise or disturbance could upset the family deity. We were told that earlier Nangcha was observed strictly as villagers would not risk crossing the village premises.


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