Culture of Uttranchal
Garhwal, or Gadhwal, is a region and administrative division of Uttaranchal, lying in the Himalayas. It is bounded on the north by Tibet, on the east by Kumaon region, on the south by Uttar Pradesh, and on the west by Himachal Pradesh. It includes the districts of Chamoli, Dehradun, Haridwar, Pauri (Pauri Garhwal), Rudraprayag, Tehri (Tehri Garhwal), and Uttarkashi. The administrative center for Garhwal division is the town of Pauri.
The region consists almost entirely of rugged mountain ranges running in all directions, and separated by narrow valleys which in some cases become deep gorges or ravines. The only level portion of the district was a narrow strip of waterless forest between the southern slopes of the hills and the fertile plains of Rohilkhand. The highest mountains are in the north, the principal peaks being Nanda Devi (25,661 feet), Kamet (25,413 feet), Trisul (23,382 feet), Badrinath (23,210 feet), Dunagiri (23,181 feet) and Kedarnath (22,853 feet). The Alaknanda River, one of the main sources of the Ganges, receives with its affluents the whole drainage of the district. At Devaprayag the Alaknanda joins the Bhagirathi, and thenceforward the united streams bear the name of the Ganges. Cultivation is principally confined to the immediate vicinity of the rivers, which are employed for purposes of irrigation.
Garhwal originally consisted of 52 petty chieftainships, each chief with his own independent fortress (garh). Nearly 500 years ago, one of these chiefs, Ajai Pal, reduced all the minor principalities under his own sway, and founded the Garhwal kingdom. He and his ancestors ruled over Garhwal and the adjacent state of Tehri, in an uninterrupted line till 1803, when the Gurkhas invaded Kumaon and Garhwal, driving the Garhwal chief into the plains. For twelve years the Gurkhas ruled the country with a rod of iron, until a series of encroachments by them on British territory led to the war with Nepal in 1814. At the termination of the campaign, Garhwal and Kumaon were converted into British districts, while the Tehri principality was restored to a son of the former chief. The British district of Garhwal was in the Kumaon division of the United Provinces, and had an area of 5629 sq. mi. After annexation, Garhwal rapidly advanced in material prosperity. Pop. (1901) 429,900. Two battalions of the Indian army (the 39th Garhwal Rifles) were recruited in the district, which also contained the military cantonment of Lansdowne. Grain and coarse cloth were exported, and salt, borax, livestock and wool were imported, and the trade with Tibet was considerable. The administrative headquarters was at the village of Pauri, but Srinagar is the largest place. It was an important mart, as was Kotdwara, the terminus of a branch of the Oudh and Rohilkhand railway from Najibabad.
The culture of the present Kumaon is a blend of influences from the indigenous population as well as from the immigrants to this region. Consequently, the myths, dialects, languages, folk literature, festivals, fairs and forms of artistic expression are examples of the creative influences of the different cultural groups that constitute Kumaon.
Every peak, lake or mountain range is somehow or the other connected with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess, ranging from those associated with the Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava traditions, to local Gods like Ham, Saim, Golla, Chhurmal, Kail Bisht, Bholanath, Gangnath, Airy and Chaumu. Temples are dedicated to the nine famous Goddesses, other local Goddesses, Bhairava, Surya:. and Ganesh. The temples at Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Binsar, Thalkedar, Rameshwar, Pancheshwar, Baijnath and Gananath are devoted to Lord Shiva. The temples of Devidhura, Gangolihat, Pumagiri, Almora, Nainital, Kot Ki Mai and Kotgari Devi are associated with the Shakt tradition, while the region of Lohaghat - Champawat (Mount Kandeo) is associated with Kunna Avatar. This region also has two famous Sun temples.
According to Atkinson there were 35 Vaishnava and 250 Shaiva temples in British Kumaon. Eight Vaishnava and 64 Shaiva temples were dedicated to the Shakti or female form alone.
Although Lord Shiva's influence prevailed throughout Kumaon, mainly because of its proximity to the region of Panchkedars and Kailash - Mansarovar, this did not in any way hamper the influence of the local folk Gods and Goddesses. Although the tales of Nanda Devi and Naina Devi have now been linked together, they began as two different stories.
Naina Devi is a name for the Goddess Parvati. According to the Jagars Naina Devi was established in Kumaon by the Katyuri queen Jiya Rani. On the other hand there is a myth which talks of Sati's committing suicide by jumping into a sacrificial fire, when she and Lord Shiva were insulted by her father Dakshaprajapati during a Yajnya, to which Shiva and Sati had not been invited in the first place. The myth goes on to say that while Shiva was taking Sati's body away, her eye fell down at a spot near the temple of Pashan Devi in Nainital. Therefore, according to myth Naina Devi is none other than the goddess Parvati. (It is the story that Sati was reborn as Parvati).
Nanda Devi is the Greek Goddess 'Nana', who came to the Himalaya with the Indo - Greeks and Kushan Kings. However, the fact remains that Nanda Devi is typically a Kumaoni goddess and most popular in the region. Referring to the rich religious myths and lores associated with Uttaranchal, E.T.Atkinson has said: 'To the beliefs of the great majority of Hindus, the Kumaon (Himalaya) is what Palestine is to the Christian.'