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Lifestyle & Beliefs of the Dard Aryan Ethnic Group of Ladakh

November 01, 2013 7 min read

“It happens when it happens”

Time is not a rare commodity and leisure is a luxury that all enjoy. ‘It happens when it happens’. No hurry. No time crunch. No deadline. No necessity to be in 3 places at the same time physically or mentally. Living life one small task and one small moment at a time. There is always time for another cup of tea. There is always time to accommodate a new plan. There is always time to visit relatives and chat. There is always time to pursue our little desires.

The biggest wealth the Dard Aryans enjoy is not the landscape in which they live or their spectacular culture or their abundant harvests. It is their mindset that allows them the freedom to enjoy the time given to them.

This group lives in a region where the land is rich and the harvests fill up their banks to a level where their needs are all taken care of.  But as we know the quest to satisfy one’s ‘needs’ is easy – but the quest for satisfying ‘greed’ is an unending one. The Dard Aryan people however are a well-balanced wise group – as are most of the Himalayan Buddhist people groups.

We know that a sense of fulfillment occurs at the point when supply meets demand.  In the world of my childhood, people arrived at that point by constraining our demands through mental discipline. In the modern world that I live in today we pursue that point by increasing our supply.

This group however, lives to satisfy their needs. They live in harsh circumstances – harsh as seen by an outsider.  But they themselves are all well-adjusted and do not themselves feel the harshness.  So what an outsider like me thinks, is irrelevant.

Culture of the Dard Ethnic Group, Himalayas, Ladakh

Following are random observations that I took note of during my stay there:

1. Food is the primary occupation of all the people. Growing, Consuming & Trading.

2. Everyone speaks Hindi, their own special language  Dokstat (their own languafe of which there are several dialects) and Ladakhi

3. During my entire stay there, we ate ‘zero’ processed food. Oil, milk, grain, meat, vegetables, fruit were all locally made. I did not consume anything that came in a packet. Including their cooking oil. The only eatables imported from other lands: salt and whole spices.

4. The house is remarkably warm even at night. The reason? Wooden ceilings and a thick layer of wood chips.

5. Seating is on the floor on mattresses laid out along the periphery of the room and covered with rugs.

6. The kitchen is the place where people gather. The women continue to cook on stoves on the floor as they chatter. Toddlers have grown up around these fires and are very well managed. One was 3 years old and one was nearly 2 years old.

7. Toddlers eat by themselves – there is no fussing over eating and feeding. The mother puts finger foods for the child and he picks it up and eats it. Natural instinct.  No force-feeding. No timed eating. It happens when it happens.

8. In my stay there – I did not see a single toy for the two little children. The children are constantly amongst adults and they all just hang out as one big integrated group. The entertainment for the kids  is provided by listening to the adult chatter and watching the adult activities.

8. At night the mother goes to sleep with the child next to her. The toddler continues to play on his own and keeps blabbering next to the mother – without bothering her. Then when he is tired – he lies down and falls asleep.  It happens when it happens.

9. In the olden days, my host himself was a trader along the silk route. (which tells me that the old silk route is not just something in the distant past – it also existed quite recently). He would go along the river with other men, and animals – horses, yaks and donkeys – and take grapes and apricots to Leh to exchange for Tea and salt.  At that time the journey took him 6 days each way. Now with better roads & vehicles he takes a day to cover that distance. Development in independent India is a very perceptible  phenomenon for him and his family. Trading by the Dard Aryans was done along the waterway routes and extended from Skardu to Changthang – covering a distance that is probably 500 – 600 km.

10. My host’s grandson about 15 years old currently in High school, sits with us in the family room / kitchen  and completes his homework alongside. Just as the women cook and chat, the youngsters too multitask. (Not very different from mine who listen to music or chat on FB and study at the same time)

11. Vegetables are grown in the large garden outside their homes.

12. The mountain across faced ‘shelling’ during the Kargil war between India and Pakistan. The blasts could be seen and heard by my host and his family.

13. Families have no surname or family name. The two names given are randomly selected and are based on an almanac or given by a Lamaji. These names are all Buddhist so there is no way to identify the ethnic origin of this group by their names. [This is possible in the case of names from most of the states in India]

14. In other societies, we see structures that are prioritised and individuals are trained to comply. For instance – in old Bengal Kitchen management was paramount, in Gujarat household management and business management permeates all aspects of life and relationships. And in Singapore civic administration provides the structure within which individuals adjust themselves. All for the perceived good of the society. But it also put varying amounts of pressure on the individuals to adapt to the system. In This ethnic group, no such ‘higher-priority-structure seemed to be in place. Maybe there are structures that would reveal themselves to me over extended exposure – maybe I did not delve deep enough into that society to see it.

15. All the hardship that they face comes from nature – weather, altitude, and accessibility. There seems to be no social hardship despite the historic difference of origin, from the rest of the people of Ladakh. [This is remarkable because almost everywhere, ‘differences’ result in ‘disagreements’]

16. Women make up their hair in 14 braids – 4 on each side of the face and 6 at the back. Braiding is a social event that occurs once a week or fortnight when all the women gather together and help each other.

17. They wear a coral & shell ornament on the back braids called the Choti that is a minor version of the Perak.

18. In the olden days, men had long hair and tied it in a single braid at the back. A guest of the host narrated an anecdote of a time several decades ago when two young men of the village came back from a journey with radios and their hair cut short. They were made fun of by the rest of the villagers and called derogatory names. [that would be politically inappropriate to mention in today’s world of eggshells]. Today all but one of the men had short hair.

19. The orange paper-like flower on their headdress is called the Monthuto flower. It can last for forever if it is not subjected to physical pressure and handled carefully. ANother flower Shoglo is also popular and is found only in certain villages of Ladakh.

20. The needle is very important and is worn in the hat by both men and women. It is also the symbol of offering of a marriage proposal.

21. traditionally Aryan Dards do not eat chicken, fish, cow milk, buffalo milk or eggs. Meat of goats and lambs is eaten.

22. It is customary to wash one’s hands before touching any vessel of another household.

23. A large stone is worshipped and is kept near the hearth or the stove in the kitchen. This practice is a legacy from the days before Buddhism was embraced and continues even today. Puja or worship is performed by offering food to the Stone before eating any meal.

24. Greetings take the form of spoken words accompanied by a hand shake in the case of men and a lifted fist in the case of women. If a long gap has passed between meetings then the right hand is raised in a circular motion around the hat of the person as if to perform ‘arti’.

25. Birth celebrations are held every 12 years. So every year at Losar there is a grand celebration that celebrates those who are 12, 24, 36, etc years old held in the village as well as in the homes of the individuals. [remarkably similar to the Chinese who also speak of their life in terms of the number of cycles they have completed (at 48 I completed 4 cycles)]

26. Weddings are usually held in winter as there is no farming / harvesting work to be done there and everyone is free to visit.

27. People in some of the villages have converted to Islam but the language and dress code remains the same.

28. Dard Aryans number between 4000 and 5000. Another group called the Shani Aryans live in Dras and number between 7000 and 8000.

29. Origin: They believe that three brothers came from the NorthWest and from the highest point they shot out three arrows.  The places that these arrows fell upon the ground were selected to be the locations of the new settlements. These three places are the villages of Dha, Hanu and Garkon. .

30. They also believe that once upon a time they lived alongside Devis and Devatas that they call the Lha.They believe that their race has descended from marriages between the Lhas and Humans. During one of the harvest festivals the Bononah, everyone was having a merry time and someone offended the Lha. As a result, they left forever, never to come back.

As I come across more notes and as I keep meeting and interacting with my new friends I will keep adding to this.



Oct 2013

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