Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara

Shambhala

Gods of Kuluta


Sometimes it would seem that all the strange countries of Asia have already been described. We have admired the curious tribe of the Todas. We have been amazed at the sorcerers of the Malabar coast. We have already heard of the Nagas of Assam and of the extraordinary customs of the Veddas of Ceylon. The Veddas and Paharis of Northern India are always pointed out as most unique tribes.

Although many articles have already been published about the Northern Punjab, where an incomprehensible conglomerate of ancient hill tribes are massed together, yet the remote hillmen have been touched so little by civilization, that the inquisitive observer constantly finds interesting new material.

The mixture of ancient Rajputs, Singhs with Nepalese and Mongoloid hillmen has produced quite an individual type, which also produces a peculiar religion—a combination of Hinduism and Buddhism.

The sacred Kulu valley lies hidden on the border of Lahoul and Tibet, forming the most northern part of Punjab. Whether this was Aryavarsha or Aryavarta is difficult to say. But the most significant names and events have gathered in this beneficial valley. It is called the Silver Valley. Whether in winter, when the snowy cover sparkles, or in spring when all the fruit trees are covered with snowy-white blossoms, the valley equally well merits this name.

In this ancient place they have their three hundred sixty gods. Among them also is Gotama Rishi, dedicated to Buddhism, which is known to have been here for ages. There is also Akbar the Great, whose statue is in the Malana temple, and all teachers and heroes who by sword or spirit won great battles.

Deoban, their sacred forest, is entangled with century-old trees. Nothing may be destroyed in the silence of the protected grove. Even leopards, bears and jackals are quite safe in this abode of the god. People say that some of these protected trees are over a thousand years old and some even two thousand. Who has counted their age? Who knows their beginning? And their end is not near, so powerful are the unembraceable trunks and roots.

Equally ancient are the deodar trees round the Maha-devi temple in Manali. Heavy boulders, stones resembling huge monuments, are scattered all over the mountain-slopes of the Himalayas. Near the temple are seeming altars, built of stone. Here the gods are said to meet during the spring festivals. In the darkness inside the temple rises a rock, washed by a prehistoric stream. Was it here that Manu compiled the first commandments for the good of mankind?

On the mountain slope above every village can be seen a comb of ancient giant pine trees or deodars. These are all places sacred to the three hundred sixty gods of the glorious Kulu valley, or as the ancient people called it, “Kuluta.” These places were marked by the Indian pundits, by old Tibetans, and by the famous Chinese traveler of the seventh century, Hsuan-tsang.

In Kulu valley, even up till now, disputes are settled by the prophet priest. In the sanctuaries of temples are untold sanctities, which the human eye is not allowed to see. The guardian of a temple enters the sanctuary only rarely and always blindfolded, and carries out one of the sacred objects to an initiate, for a brief moment.

The people of the mountain nest, Malana, speak an incomprehensible language and nobody has as yet clearly defined this dialect. They live their own lives, and only rarely do their elected representatives descend into the valley to visit the temples of the god Jamlu. In high black cone caps, with long ear-pieces, and in homespun white garments these mountain hermits tread the snowy narrow paths.

During the New Year of India, the entire Kulu valley celebrates the festival. We were told that the goddess Tripura-Sundari had expressed the wish to visit us. The triumphal procession of the goddess, of her sister Bhu-tanta and the god Nag, arrived. In front of our house stood a long row of multi-colored banners. Further away was a multitude of drums, pipes and bent brass horns. Farther on, in finely ornamented costumes, dancing all the way, with bent sabers, came the priests, gurs, kadars and local festival dancers. On the broad terrace the procession halted. Every one of the three palanquins of the gods was covered with silver and golden masks. The music roared, songs were chanted, and they began a wild war-like sword-dance. Like Caucasian hillmen or sword-bearers of Kurdistan the sons of the ancient militant valley, madly but gracefully whirled round in dance.

Then an old Brahmin priest appeared. He took two sabers from the young dancers ... as if a miracle had happened, the bent old priest suddenly became full of life, and like a warrior leaped about in a wild sacred dance. The curved sabers flashed. With the back of the saber blade the old man inflicted on himself imaginary symbolical wounds. It seemed as if he would gash his throat. Then with an unexpected movement the bare steel was run between the open mouth . . . was this an old man, or a youth masked in a gray beard?

All this was unusual. But the most unusual was to come. The dancers calmed down. The musicians stepped aside. The palanquins of the goddess were borne upon the shoulders of the men, but the men who carried them did not touch the poles with their hands. On the contrary, the palanquins seemed to push them about, and, as if drunk, they staggered around, led by an unknown power. They began turning around with the palanquins on their shoulders. Suddenly the palanquin seemed to rush at a chosen person propping itself up with the end of the poles against his chest. He shuddered, became pale, and his entire body shook. ... In a transformed voice he shouted out prophecies. But the goddess also desired to speak through another. Again the palanquin moved around in a circle. And again some one was chosen and endowed. It was a pale youth with long black curls. Again the blunt look of the eyes, the chartering teeth, the trembling body and the commanding proclamation of prophecies. The New Year had been honored. The procession lined up again and returned by the steep hilly path to the temple, where drums were to thunder till long after midnight and where the dancers would again whirl round in sacred war dances.

It is good when the gods of Kulu are gracious.

What do the inhabitants of Kulu valley like most? Dancing and flowers. We visited another sword dance. Skilfully the sword blades whizzed through the air and around in a semi-circle danced a row of colorfully dressed men, arm in arm, singing drawling songs, accompanied by drum-beats and large kettle-drums. On rich stretchers, under an ornamented canopy, sat Krishna with a blue face and in gold brocaded garments. Next to him sat Radha, and in front was a small Kali, her face black, like a Nubian, with a long, red, out-stretched tongue attached to it. The children who represented the gods sat up very seriously, with an understanding of their nomination. And round stood the crowd—a mixture of many nations: Paharis, Tibetans, Hindus, Ladakis and many other types of hillmen with strange faces. All this seemed to carry me back to the American Southwest Pueblos, where, during the festivals, we saw similar rows of people with their arms interwoven, who represented rain clouds, the harvest, and hunting—everything that harasses and delights the people who live in contact with nature.

During our travels, we heard much of every manner of god. We saw how the Chinese punish their gods, drown them in the river, cut off their hands and feet and deprive them of their dignity. The Samoyeds either anoint their gods with fat or flog them. In short, all sorts of things may happen even to gods. But, that in our times, a legal contract should be made with a god such as is done in Kulu still seems a novelty. In the Bible we read of covenants made with gods, but of course, this was without government revenue papers. But here in Kulu valley the gods are very close to life and they base all their decisions according to the up-to-date laws of the country. Here I have before me a contract between a private individual and the god Jamlu, concerning the water supply. Such written contracts with gods I have never before seen. Everything becomes modern and even gods sign contracts on revenue paper.

But not only do contracts with gods occur in Kulu, but even the fairy tale of the Coq d’Or. Before me is a deed of sale of an ancient fortress and there is a special clause that the previous owner retains his right to a quarter part of a golden cock, buried on these grounds. The tale of the Coq d’Or! . . .



Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: isvara_museum@mail.ru