Book: In the Shadow of the Devi: Kumaon; Author: Manju Kak; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 255; Price: Rs 1995
It is not just an abode of natural beauty, snow-capped peaks and tourist destinations but the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand has got much more to it. And writer Manju Kak's latest book explores the region through its art, craft, craftsmanship and woodwork.
Having spent her childhood in Uttarakhand, Kak presents a bird's eye-view in her elaborate writings on the region. "In the Shadow of the Devi" is a well researched and thoroughly informative book, which also talks about the state of affairs in the region before it was carved out of Uttar Pradesh.
A visual delight, the book is beautifully complemented with photographs by Kumaoni artists Anup Sah and Vaibhav Kaul, among others, and covers the past and present, length and breadth of the Kumaon belt amalgamated with interesting and unknown facts.
The introduction is vast and informative -- from dynasties that ruled the region to the invasion of the Britishers. "The documented history of the state of Uttarakhand goes back a few millennia. This ancient land has been alluded to in both mythology and literature," Kak notes in the book.
The author makes use of many metaphors and imageries to paint a vivid picture of craftsmanship, wooden doors and tradition, which are particularly significant to the culture prevalent in the region.
"There are definite indications that there exists some connection between the wood carving traditions of Gujarat and Nepal. Oral history states that woodcraft was brought to the Kumaon hills by the immigrants fleeing after the Maratha wars (1774-1818) who then settled in these parts, bringing with them the knowledge of wood carving of Gujarat and Saurashtra," the author mentions.
Kak writes that the craft of wood carving can be considered as a prism through which one can arrive at a clearer understanding of Uttarakhand and its people.
"The carvings of the Kumaon region are particularly interesting as they are an amalgam of diverse cultural influences. These include features borrowed from Gujarat and Rajasthan and the plains of north India from where the migrants came. Tibetan, Nepalese and even British influences are seen particularly in the higher reaches of the Kumaon hills," she adds.
To add to the perception that the 'pahadis' are the original inhabitants of the region, Kak throws more light on how Kumaon came to be a home to migrants from Tibet, Nepal and Sikkim.
"Migration has been a historical process in north India, and Kumaon is no exception. From very early times, there have been migrations into the Himalayas. The region also lay open to waves of migrant tribes that came through the northwest passes in the early centuries," Kak reminds the readers in this well-researched book.
The belt is also home to rich flora and fauna and Kak's book appropriately captures this facets too. She also gives space in her book to the wild animals and beasts like red giant squirrel, caracal, leopard, Indian otter, Himalyan black bear, the musk deer and cheer pheasant that are explicitly found in the region.
Kak has further devoted a chapter to the women in the hills, their movement against the sale of ash trees, which was very similar to Chipko movement but not as famous.
The book is a must read for those who want to explore more of the land that lies in the shadow of the majestic Nanda Devi.
(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)