Munsiyari Tribal Heritage Museum – A Bhotiya Love Affair

While strolling through the remote villages of Tehsil Munsiyari, shaded by the mighty Panchachuli and nestled in the Johar Valley of Kumaon region of the state of Uttarakhand, the remoteness of the region hardly escapes your notice. The sublime valley was once a bustling trade route to Tibet inhabited by the Himalayan trading and herding community, the Bhotiyas. Also known as Shaukas or Joharis, they followed barter system by exchanging produce like grains and  jaggery for commodities like salt and wool.

IMG_0362
Cover picture and the above picture credit : Atul Misra

The laidback Bhotiyas did not know the locks and metallic bolts of modern times. So, how did they keep their belongings safe? With the aid of two ingenious contraptions, Taal and Gareli. Their’s was a crafty system devised out of a sickle shaped key and  lock in shape of a wooden block called Gareli. Two parts of a wooden door were fastened with a long piece of wood, with the help of a sickle. How innovative !

Setting:

The Bhotiya houses had wooden doors with two panes. In the middle of the plank a rectangular  port of about 1 ½ “ x 1 ½ “ was made. This looked like a key hole .

The inside panes had a block of about 1’x1’x 4-5’ dimension .This back side block housed the locking rod; the Gareli. Holes were made in the block for the Gareli to slide in.

Contraptions:

Gareli – the sliding rod crafted out of wood  was fixed on the inside of the panes. This was the lock that slid in the grooves crafted in the middle of the panes and would lock both the panes together.

Taal  – was an iron rod like a sickle  which  was used to slide the lock in the slot. The size and curve of individual Taal varied with individual houses so that no body could break in.

Mechanism:

IMG_0405The caretaker points out the port through which he will insert the Taal.

IMG_0406He puts the taal inside the hole and thus starts the lock down procedure.

IMG_0407As he  pushes it in further, the taal lifts the gareli and slides it inside the hole made on the inside of the block fixed to the frame.

IMG_0408Voila ! The door is locked !

IMG_0409And this is the key!

Taal also had another use. It was used to immunize the children. During winters on the day of festival called Vishu- tayar when there was a no – moon on a Monday, Somavari – Amavashya, the pointed end of the taal was placed into the fire and with its heated end the belly of children near the navel was pricked. The treatment was called Taal- Bhutai ( burning with the hot end of taal) and it was believed that it immunized the children from certain ailments. Perhaps it locked out bacterias and germs. Well maybe the kids were relieved  when Taal and Gareli were replaced by regular locks and bolts. Godrej definitely is !

You came across this unique door locking system at the Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsiyari. You have visited many museums; some have added to your knowledge, some have wowed you with their displays, few have baffled you with their archaic rules and regulations but most have stayed fresh in your mind because of their uniqueness.

The Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsiyari is one such museum. The museum is Mr. Pangti’s dream to document the fast disappearing way of life of the Bhotiya community. Bhotiya is a generic term employed by the Britishers to denote the communities coming from a common Tibeto- Burman family .

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The Sino- Indian war of 1962 and the Chinese occupation of Tibet abruptly ended the Tibetan barter trade and gave a deathblow to the prosperity of the region and the culture that depended on it. Though they were given the status and benefits of being a Scheduled Tribe via a notification dated 1967, many members migrated to cities in search of a better life.  Even those who were left are slowly loosing their traditional way of life.

Mr. Pangti has striven hard for the conservation and preservation of this dying culture of the Joharis. He has done it by collecting and showcasing the various aspects of this folk culture in a unique museum set in eye ball to eye ball contact with the Panchachuli range

 

You are humbled by the man’s love for his community and the passion to document every aspect of the Johrai culture. You are amazed by the organization of the displays at the museum…..humble it may be but not poor!  The ornaments, the implements, the artifacts, the tools of weaving and agriculture, the baskets, the clothes, the weights and measures, the richly carved doors and windows are explained to you via an excellent audio guide. You walk along listening to the guide and you feel you are rubbing shoulders with them in their Johar valley.

Author – Aparna Pande Misra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com

 

 

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