Religion of the Dards in Ladakh

Contents of Part 2








Primordial times



Tree of the World






New-Year festival of the Kalas^ & Lahul



Bonon~ah pantheon



Major themes of the hymns



Deities of Lha-yul



Deities of Mi-yul


p. 34 Hymn 1 : beginning of the world




"In the beginning there was water and some ice froze


Some dust ... settled upon the ice


Some grass then grew upon it


Then arose three mountains"

p. 35, 34 sandalwood-trees, birds

p. 35

"Francke’s version ... as the earth forming in a lake."

{origin from an island is a lake is likewise Quechua and Maori}


"the primordial mound is seen floating in water, then arise three mountains of white, red and blue colour. Further grow three trees of the same colours and upon the trees are three birds."

{cf. Aztec floating chinampa gardens}

p. 34

[Hymn 1, vv. 10-11] The 3 trees are "the white Sandal-wood tree then the blue Sandal-wood tree and the red Sandal-wood tree."

[p. 44, fn. 56 – As^kun Kafir : "a wonderful tree exists on a mountain which is protected by snakes. ... This saga is similar to that regarding the Sandal wood tree in India which is enveloped by snakes".]

p. 37 Hymn 3 : communal living of all beings




"In the beginning ... the gods and ... the humans all lived together. ...


The 360 gods then returned to their land


The 360 humans stayed in their own land."

p. 38 gods become paintings on rocks

[Kalas^] "separation of the humans and the gods. ... . ... they all went to a place in the mountains at the end of the Bumboret valley where they were turned to pictures in the rocks."

{Australian aboriginees say the same; and refurbish (repaint) the pictures in order to maintain communications with those gods}

pp. 38-39 Kafir myths

p. 38

[Prasun Kafir] " "She will bear a child", said the seven brothers ... . ... They called a harp player. He recited the Mandi hymn ... . As he spoke this the world trembled.

p. 39

The gods fled and went away. ... "... Disperse, go each to your place", said the harp player to the Gods (Snoy 1962:146)."


[Kati (Red) Kafir] "In the beginning ... god ... created earth and fixed a large iron pillar upon it. ... (Hussam-ul-Mulk 1974:26)."


[Kafir – Robertson 1896:381-2] "Moni, who himself was created from the breath of Imra, assisted Imra ... . One terrible fiend was dancing {cf. Nr.tanr.tya} before god Moni. Moni removed a screw or plug {Medea killed Talos "by pulling out the pin"(GM 92.m)} from the demon[’]s body surreptitiously and repeated the act seven times. The body of the demon fell to pieces and from the seven pieces emerged other demons ... (Compare Andhaka myth from the R.gveda)."

Snoy 1962 = P. Snoy : Die Kafiren. Dissertation, Frankfurt am Main.

Hussam-ul-Mulk 1974 = "The Cosmology of the Red Kafirs". In :- Jettmar & Edelberg (ed.s) : Cultures of the Hindukush. UNIVERSITA:T HEIDELBERG, BEITRA:GE ZUR SU:D ASIEN FORSCHUNGEN, I.

Robertson 1896 = G. S. Robertson : The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush. London.

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

pp. 42-43 divine pigeon

p. 42

[Dard] "there was a tree of the world in the midst of an ocean beyond the reach of humans. ... A pigeon used to fly to the tree and east the seeds." [fn. 49 : "The pigeon represents a fairy and is often seen as such."]

p. 43

"In the area it is a common belief that the fairies descend in the form of pigeons." {cf. [Christian] Holy Ghost’s assuming guise of dove}

pp. 43-44 mythic pilaster

p. 43

"In the Vedic literature, where the "Pillar of Creation’ (Skt. : Skambha) plays a role (R.gveda III.31.12-13), we ... have the notion of a ... pillar as the agent causing the separation of heaven and earth."


[Dard] "in the beginning the earth was enveloped in water which was frozen at some places and upon which giants lived. The ruler of the giants called Yamlo Hal Singh, in order to create the earth, became a pillar in the water and the mouse dug through the ice to bring forth earth which was spread upon the wings of a bird." (Ghulam Muhammad 1907:28)

p. 44

[Kati Kafir] "In the hymn of Disani ... : "From there (thy?) golden stick split heaven" ... ." After this is related about the creation of a castle whose doors lead to different places (Morgenstierne 1951-1953:182-183)."

Ghulam Muhammad 1907 = "Festivals and Folklore of Gilgit". MEMOIRS OF THE ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BENGAL, I (1905-7). pp. 93-127.

Morgenstierne 1951-1953 = "Some Kati Myths and Hymns". ACTA ORIENTALIA, Vol. XXI (1950). pp. 161-89.

pp. 57-58 religious functionaries, with Kafir aequivalents



p. 58, fn. 75 Kafir


"There were Labdag (Tib. : Lha-bdag) ...



The Labdag responsible for servicing the village deity ... on behalf of the villagers is also the main functionary ... .

"Uta (priest)"


Then there are the Brongopa who have been taught the hymns from memory. ...

"Debilala (the hymn singers)"


There are Lhapa who are mediums. They fall into trance and the deity is said to descend (Tib. : Lha’bab) or a communion occurs and as a result they prophecy {prophesy} events."

"Pshur (shaman)"

pp. 61-65 activities of religious functionaries

p. 61

"The Brongopa ..., just as the Labdag and the Lhapa, have to wear a white wollen {woolen} cap during the festivities. ...

p. 62

Early in the morning they take a cold bath in the stream ... . The consumption of cooked food ... is prohibited during the festive days.

To lead the women in the singing as well as in the contests with the Brongopa is a Brongopi."


"The Lhapa by going into a trance is able to communicate with the deities and in this state to provide prophetic answers. To the Lhapa, as well as to the Labdag, is ascribed the power to be able to see the deity as something white moving about. Dumen and Le`i Nakr.n are the deities with whom the Lhapa enters into communion and in this state of trance he is believed to have the power to heal diseases and utter oracles."

p. 63

"Once the Labdag is informed that the festival is to take place ... he goes into seclusion ... . ...

p. 64

Upon returning from the bath at the stream he will not enter his house any more but sit upon the roof of the house observing silence ... . ... After the ritual sacrifice the Labdag retires to the cave, out of sight of the villagers ... . ... .

... the musicians play the tune Larenga (Lharenga = music of the gods). ...

p. 65

The musical instruments will be hidden under a white sheet of cloth as the Labdag must not see them. [The brongopa singer] ... will hide his flower covered cap under a white sheet as the Labdag must not see it."

pp. 66-68 Bonon~ah festivities

p. 66

"Hymns with sexual connotations are sung and accompanying dances are performed. Singing contests are held between two parties, one of women led by the Brongopi and the other of men, where often obscene questions and answers are exchanged. Men are allowed to kiss the women they like and the husband or the father is not to take offence."

p. 67

"There are riddle contests ... . There are still others exhibiting mental or physical strength between men and women ... . These are believe to produce beneficial results and generate, or set in motion, useful power."

p. 68

"two of the junior Brongopa stand facing each other with the raised palms of one touching those of the other do as to form a doorway ... .The labdag passes through this doorway and starts the spiral dance followed by ... the villagers each holding the other round the waist. In this manner, dancing and meandering in the form of a spiral, the whole column proceeds to the "Stone"".

pp. 71-73 comparisons of Dard rites with rites of congener tribes





"Among the ... Dards sexual hymns are sung while other hymns have the form of riddles sung between groups of men and women. ... Dances with sexual movement are performed ... . The ... Dards sing a hymn with sexual connotation to their deity Yanding (hymn 9).

Among the Kalash ... the deity Balumain is said to be the one who taught human beings the sexual songs." (Jettmar 1975:373, 386)


"the Bonon~a festival was held at the ... Juniper Shrine ... and ...

"In Lahul there is a procession of lighted torches to the sacred Juniper tree (Asboe 1933:200)".


massive Ibex horns surrounded it."

{cf. the goat-horns composing the former altar as Delphoi}


"The spiral dance takes place on the last day of Bonon~ah. ...

Toward the end of the New Year festivities of the Kalash a dancing procession descends in a spiral movement ... . Each man hold the one in front at the hips and they dance on the roof of the goat stall".

Jettmar 1975 = K. Jettmar : Die Religionen des Hindukusch = DIE RELIGIONEN DER MENSCHHEIT, Bd. 4.1. Stuttgart.

Asboe 1933 = "Social Functions in Lahul, Kangra District". JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE OF GB&I, Vol. 63.

pp. 73-74 ring-dance of the Kalas^ {cf. North American Indian hoop-dance?}

p. 73

"During the spring festival of the Kalash the same spiral dance takes place but in this men and women are bound of each other by means of rings made of branches of a particular tree. ... If

p. 74

during the spiral dance a person breaks the chain by losing the hold on the ring of the next person the it is believed that he or she will not find the way to the other world are death." (Jettmar 1975:389)

p. 74 Kalas^ legend of god’s prophecy fulfilled of destruction of ungrateful village

"A myth from Urstun (... Kalash) relates about the god Gish (Hussam-al-Mulk 1974:27-28) who appeared as a crippled old man and found the villagers ungrateful except for a woman who had only one son. He prophesied to the latter the destruction of their village."

{On account of inhospitality toward them, gods prophesied : "A righteous punishment shall fall severe upon this wicked neighborhood". (OM 8:Ph&B)}

OM 8:Ph&B = "Philemon & Baukis"

p. 72 donkey-footed god

"The myth from Nubra (village C^arsa) of the C^o Bongskang (King Donkey feet) [Vohra 1985a:247-256] who ruled in very ancient times ... is identical with that of the ancient ruler of Gilgit, S^ri Badat." (Mu:ller-Stellrecht 1973:252-259)

Vohra 1985a = "Ethno-Historical Notes on Nubra in Ladakh". In : - ACTA BIOLOGICA MONTANA, Bd. 5 = Himalaya Occidental Ethnologie, No. 2.

Mu:ller-Stellrecht 1973 = I. Mu:ller-Stellrecht : "Feste in Dardistan". Seminar fu:r Vo:lkerkunde der Johann, Wolfgang-Goethe-Universita:t. Wiesbaden.

pp. 78-95 deities of the Bonon~a pantheon







"Bas^a and Ros^e are two deities who remained behind when all other deities were allocated their functions."




"The two hymns dedicated to Le`i Nakr.n (Hymn 5 & 6) ... deals with a dice game following which the migratory route from Gilgit to Ladakh is enumerated." ... . ... the three brothers Dulo, Galo, and Melo, prior to their migration, went to the roof top of the Gilgit Rajas fort (mKhar) where they played a game of dice ... . ... The dice game ... is played on a board on which are placed pearls. ... The dice is thrown and accordingly the pearls are moved. The

{The Mahabharata describeth a dice-game (Dur-yodhana winning over Yudhis.t.hira), following which the sites in the migratory route by Yudhis.t.hira and his brethren are enumerated.} {From this episode in the Mahabharata is derived (or is related with) the jataka nextly mentioned. (Possibly the jataka may be older than the Mahabharata.)}



dice has on it the numbers 2 to 6 and at the place where 1 is supposed to be there is a cross. ... In hymn 5, ... Le`i Nakr.n has a protective spirit called Bon~r.yus. ... the game was played for a gold box, then a large turquoise and lastly for a red stone (possibly a coral). ... Having lost again they took their departure from Gilgit eastwards to Ladakh. ...

In the work Vidhurapanditajataka (Lu:ders 1907:4-5) ... the dice game is being played between the King of Kurus and the Yaksha Punnaka who challenges the King. ... Moreover, the theme in the Jataka of ... a carpet and ... a precious stone as bet recurs in the hymn Le`i Nakr.n".



deity Mande : "Let us dance (on this) place, ... this little field".

[pp. 88-89, fn. 158 : [Altai] conflict between Erlik & "Mandy-Schire"]



"the birth of the deity Mande takes place after Kuschumai becomes pregnant when she hides in a tree while fleeing from a giant who urinates on the tree (Snoy: 160-161)."

{cf. Ourion, urine-engendred (GM 41.f)}



"C^omo Mandi is said to be, along with Le`i Nakr.n, the ruler over all the deities. The title C^omo stands for queen ... and clearly shows the female aspect of the deity."



[p. 90, fn. 161 : "Yasha Yanding {[Skt.] Yaks.a Yama?} refers to the first human".]

"The name of the deity Yanding was also pronounced ... as Yandring."



Dumen : "The descent of the deity is seen to take place upon aOphen Styan~bu, which ... was like a stone chair upon a ridge in Nubra."


Lu:ders 1907 = H. Lu:ders : Das Wu:rfelspiel im Alten Indien = ABHANDLUNGEN DER KO:NIGLICHEN GESELLSCHAFT DER WISSENSCHAFT ZU GO:TTINGEN, PHIL-HIST KLASSE, Neue Folge Bd. IX, Nro. 2. Berlin.

p. 81 Hymn 5 : the dice-game




"On the roof of Bon~r.yus’ [fn. 129 : "Mother of Le`i Nakr.n and his protective spirit"] palace ...


A copper playing board was spread


Pearls were spread on it in a circle


Sandal wood pieces were placed in a circle


‘Numen’ [fn. 130 : "Blue stone with gold spots"] stone was taken in hand


Conchshell dice thrower was taken in hand".

pp. 82-85 Hymn 5 : sites successively arrived at in the migration-legend, "Going down the Gilgit-Bruks^al stream" (v. 22)






dancing-place in Gilgit



palace-window of the Chief of Turmik [fn. 131 : "Turmik stream descends from the Haramosh range."]






S^akar Cundab



dancing-place nigh Skardu fort



Gar Singe`



S^igar & C^hambrojim



Ke`iris [fn. 134 : at confluence with river S^yok]



Parkutta is compared with the sky



S^iri Tinpe



Banka (‘waiting-place’)






Gavis stream with juniper



mDa->brog (Nir mDa)



Sk i` s^ur [p. 101, fn. 190 : "Pasture of the Gods"]



"1000 of their members proceed to Dras"






"At Kharbu the wind made the sound Gor-Gor"



Yuru Singe` zGan~s [fn. 142 : "old name for Lamayuru"]



small field at Teya



"rocky-stony place" at Tinmosgan



juniper-grove at Hemis S^ukpa



>Basgo Cow-head [fn. 143 : stupa containing cow-head]



"Leh where there is a stone"



S^ey "not a very good place"



"At Sakti the minro gave food"



"Crossing the waters over a ‘hanging bridge’ "



"Nubra, at a green-grassy place"



"the Blue village"



"a natural spring (Durtse` C^humik)"



"The leader of the Minaro sat at a high place called aOphoni Styan~bu"

p. 86 variant tribal names of god {name likely derived from [Nas.uray] /MANDA< d-H.ayya/ ‘knowledge of life’; possibly also related to [Skt.] /MANDHAtr@/}


deity’s name



As^kun & Waigal




p. 91 Hymn 8 : Yandin




"Yanding where did you come from? ...


Came down like the smell of Gul-Gul incence {incense} ...


Came down upon 18 pairs of Elephants ...


Came down with a rope of Fish skin".

p. 92 Hymn 9 : Yas^a Yandin




"We did have communion, Is that not so Yanding [p. 92, fn. 163 : "implies sexual movement"] [p. 99 : "Did we have sexual intercourse, Is that not so Yanding"] ...


Yanding, went to Panka che on a camel over sand, 7 times 3 (= 21) thousand feet marched but no marks were seen." {invisible footprints of ghosts?}

p. 94 Hymn 10 : Dumen




"Dumen descended like C^okor raskyes [p. 93, fn. 168 : "wild goat, ... Markhor ... have straight horns as opposed to those of the Ibex which are curved".] [p. 94, fn. 170 : "riding upon a C^okor raskyes"] ...


Dumen came down at aOphen Styan~bu".

pp. 94-95 Hymn 11 : Mor-ki Khantak






"Behind the houses of Mor-ki Khantak [name of a village], 100 kings of the gods collect, Rong-bya-mo [fn. 173 : "Name of the goddess of the gorge. ‘Bya’ in the language of the Minaro is a mouse." {cf. Cymry mouse-goddess}] ...



... 100 boys collect and play Bardi [fn. 176 : a game played with the knee-bones of the goat.]



... 100 girls collect and play C^hagos [fn. 177 : a game played with pieces of shell.]

pp. 97, 99 themes of the hymns

p. 97

"The deities are believed to descend like the vapours of perfumed incense ... . The cloth covering the deity is of unimaginable size."

p. 99

"Hymn 14 called C^holo Ting has the dice (C^holo) descending from the upper regions ... . ... It is a hymn sung by two parties, one comprising men and the other women. The men ask the price and the women always seem to name too high a price."

p. 102 Hymn 14 : C^holo Tin




[sung by the women to the men :] "Your penis is like a dog[’]s penis"


[sung by the men to the women :] "Your vagina is like a bitch’s vagina"

pp. 108-116 deities of Lha-yul






Srin-mo Lha-mo : "the cow is taboo to her. The villagers do not ... consumed its products for fear of offending the deity".



"Sringmo Lha-mo is seen as an old woman residing in a place called Urc^angs."



tZan Mande : "The pre-fix tZang (Tib. : bzang) means good". "Seven days prior to the festival the Labdag ... sits alone on the roof top ... . ... He sits during these days on the roof-top without speaking and receives three rotis (flat baked bread), three inches in diameter".



Gan-si Lha-mo "is especially associated with irrigation and the building of water canals." [fn. 202 : "Snoy 1975:51 & 175, The Darnishi are fairies and help in the building of irrigation canals."]



Ser-lha rGya-po "is supposed to help in times of illness through the medium of the Lhapa".



"Thongs-Lha, Banju-Lha and Pju-Lha are three deities ... noted by Jettmar ... and he published a paper on them (1979:249)."



"Usha-la (or Usha-Lha Lha-mo) is the deity who has her residence in Lastican~ce which is a hamlet of village mDa." [fn. 205 : "Ush ...means hair".] {cf. [Norse] goddess Si`f?}



"Sumal Lha-mo, or also known as Sum-Styan~ gi rGyal-mo," is protectrix of females (from being raped by males). {cf. goddess Persephone, who sought to protect her own raped daughter Kore}



"aDre Pari are ... spirits who fly through the air and ... run over cemeteries curing the day and at night obstruct the vital air of all sorts of beings. ... their voice like the voice of the animals of prey (Tucci 1949:721). ... The banner of the gTsan clan of Tibet ... has a aDre ... on the lower side (Tucci 1949:737)."



"Den-pho (male) and Jinji-mo (female) are dangerous demons ... (Jettmar 1979:351)". "L. Edelberg noted [1972:88 & fn. 33] a lengthy story from the Parun Kafirs in which a female demon ... is called Jini. G. Buddruss commented ... : "Paruni ‘Jini’ ... has neither historically nor linguistically any connection with Arbic ‘Jin’." {perhaps /JINi/ is related to /JINa/ of the Jaina theology}

Snoy 1975 = P. Snoy : Bagrot. Graz.

Jettmar 1979 = "Forschungsaufgaben in Ladakh". ZENTRALASIATISCHE STUDIEN, Vol. 13.

Tucci 1949 = G. Tucci : Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Libreia dello Stato, Roma.

Edelberg 1972 = "Some Paruni Myths and Hymns". ACTA ORIENTALIA, Vol. XXXIV.

p. 115 Hymn 16 : Sumal Lha-mo {cf. maiden Kore who, while she was picking poppy-flowers, was raped by god Hades}




"I am daughter Jomba-C^hok who went up the Shazbarar Nallah [fn. 206 : "ravine of the Shazbarar stream."] ...


The Dodilya flowers bloom there.


One ... man (red mouthed mother[’]s son) wants to have intercourse with me.


His sexually accosting me makes me scream.


Oh Sumal Lha-mo of the Upper regions please save me".

pp. 117-121 deities of Mi-yul






"Sa-bdag is represented by a stone, one and a half to two feet high and ten inches in diameter, which is placed behind the hearth. ...



On top of the Sa-bdag are sometimes kept ... small stones ... representing the continued prosperity of the household over the generations."



"Sandoz (Tib. : btsan-mdos) is a stone pointed at the top and about one and a half feet tall. ... It is usually kept on the roof top ... . The C^an (Tib. : btsan) spirits ... are believed to inhabit the atmosphere and to be red in colour." [fn. 209 : "For more on the C^an (Tib. : btsan) spirits ..., see, Kaplanian:1984."]



"Sarpato Dado is thought to be an old man with a long flowing white beard who appears only during the night. He is usually seen around the streams where there are ... flour mills. Jettmar reports about a Sarpato Dado from Punyal ... northwest of Gilgit (Jettmar 1979:352)."



"The Rui have the ability to take possession of a person’s soul ... . ... They flew through the air to their midnight congregations riding on the main pillar of the house called Thun~". "Kesar rGyal-po fell in love with a beautiful woman with long flowing hair which reached down to her ankles. ... However ... he lit the hair of the Rui after midnight. The witch ran ... with her long hair burning ... . In memory of this incident the lighted torch procession takes place".



"Iliphru who is also known as Balutche {cf. /BALUC^istan/} is said to have the form of a dwarf ... . Balis^tia is similarly a dwarf and the name is derived from the persian word Balis^ which means one measure of the hand from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the ring finger. ... Iliphru is a ... spirit and its form is of three hands. One hand extends from the trunk ... . ... It is Iliphru to whose account are ascribed the carvings on the rocks. These ... are said to be made during the night. ... occasionally a lucky man can find the hat or the shoe of Iliphru ... . These good luck charms ... are supposed to ensure the repeated visits of Iliphru to that person.


In village Turtuk ... a dwarf called Lha-la-lu ... is supposed to have a long flowing beard reaching to the ground and two long canine teeth. He has one long hand extending from his truck and a hat which is the same size. Encounters with Lha-la-lu (or Lha la Klu) is made at night and one should upon meeting him ... try to snatch his hat. If this is done then the dwarf will give a hat full of gold.


... a similar dwarf was also known in Skardu where he was called Phatgon."



"sMon-mo appear ... in the form of beautiful girls and lure the shepherds. They attack a person unawares, dragging him by the leg and throwing him down a cliff into water."

Kaplanian 1984 = P. Kaplanian : Entre Lha et Lhu.

Rohit Vohra : The Religion of the Dards in Ladakh. Skydie Brown International, Ettelbruck (Luxembourg), 1989.