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A Folk Tale from Kumaon

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Purukh Pant:

The traditional oral performing art form – LokGatha is an integral part of life in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. A tradition that has come down to us through generations continues to be nurtured in the villages by folk singers. At the core of these songs are stories that represent the collective consciousness of the people of the region and various aspects of their history. Presented below is one such story of a local hero called Purukh Pant.

By Anjali Nauriyal

This is a tale of a valorous young man of Kumaon named Purukh Pant. He may be referred to as the Robert Bruce of Kumaon. A Brahmin by birth, he was born in a remote village called Uprada, in district Pithoragarh of Kumaon Himalaya in the year 1560 or thereabouts.

Purukh Pant dreamt of accomplishing brave feats, and accordingly nurtured in himself traits common amongst the warrior Rajputs. He was tall, strong and charming, and known in the entire region for his physical prowess. His forehead had the glare of goodness and his ears were large flaps, considered a sign of wisdom.

Circumstances forced him to live with his maternal uncle, and look after his cattle. So the better part of his day was spent in in the jungles of Nimathi and Sundhunga. There, while the animals grazed, Purukh enjoyed the company of friends erecting mud and stone structures for the needy villagers and their livestock. On some special days he loved to laze in the sun and lay in the thicket just daydreaming. And when hungry he and his group of friends would collect wild berries from the woods and drink milk straight from the udders of the cows and buffaloes.

In those days King Narchand, notorious for his unkindness and vileness, ruled over the region, bounded by Ram Ganga and Kali Ganga, with its capital at Seerakot. This territory was huge. In this territory roamed Kafaliya of Hat, in search of Kafal, a fruit that grew abundantly in entire Himalayan woodlands. He gathered this fruit for the king who harbored nothing but viciousness for his subjects. So much so that he forced them to bow before his dog and salute him before entering his court, and forbade them to perform rituals related to worship of deities and Pitar Shradh.

Different communities were assigned different surnames in accordance with the odd jobs, farm duties, household work or other responsibilities they performed. Dahlilas were the people who weaved baskets. Bhandaris were those who were entrusted duties as storekeepers. Kanyals were spear cleaners. Mahars took care of domestic animals.

One summer evening, Purukh returned tired from his jungle excursion. This was the very same Sundhunga jungle that he frequented with his cattle. At home he discovered that his favorite Gajali cow had not returned. He rushed back in panic, and looked for Gajali all around the mountain slopes. Finally he chanced upon the King’s Dotiyal soldiers who had captured and tied the cow in their compound. When Purukh accosted the soldiers, they apprehended him and then presented him before the King. Enraged by Purukh’s nerve and pluck before his mighty self, the King insulted him and ordered his soldiers to blacken his face and cut off his Brahmin’s ‘Choti.’ He also commanded them to cut Gajali’s tail.

Purukh returned insulted and disconsolate from the King’s court. He swore to avenge his insult and undertook to wreck havoc on the King’s army and ruin his peace. He grouped together Kafaliya, Mahar, Gaida, Akoti communities in a new kinship and founded his own defense force.

This group then made itself formidable, by preparing its indigenous weaponry that included sticks, clubs, and axes. And then paying obeisance at the deity’s feet at Malaynath Temple, Purukh’s army then positioned itself strategically in the dead of the night, and surreptitiously surrounded Rajkot hills. The army then covertly damaged the houses of the Dotiyal soldiers. Just then the yapping of the King’s dog alerted the King’s army. The King directed his army to roll down boulders from atop the hills and crush Purukh’s men, who were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

The King then ordered Purukh’s arrest. Purukh fled his village and took on the guise of a mendicant or Jogi. For some duration he remained concealed in his maternal Uncle’s village. From there he led a sustained crusade against the rule of the cruel and unscrupulous king.

The King placed a reward on Purukh’s head and launched a massive manhunt. Hidden in his new guise even his grandmother could not recognize him. In her innocence she served him Kheer on a leaf-plate, considering him to be a mendicant. While consuming the kheer, Purukh accidently dropped some on the ground. Seeing this, the grandmother commented, “Just as you do not know how to eat kheer, my Purukh has no idea how to subjugate Seerakot.”

“How do you think can Purukh conquer Seerakot?” he asked, still hiding behind the façade of a mendicant.

“He should gain control over the water source used by the army. If he can do that he can make them perish. They will all die of thirst.”

Armed with his grandma’s prompting, Purukh appearing as a mendicant reached the capital Seerakot. By now his fame as a Jogi had spread far and wide. The king too had learnt about him and was curious to meet him. And when the day came when he managed an audience before the king, the king asked him how he could serve him. The king expressed his eagerness to grant him any of his wishes. At this Purukh demanded water for his evening prayers from the King’s water source.

The King readily agreed, not realizing he had become a victim of the Jogi’s trickery. So when the King’s army men reached the King’s water source, Purukh confronted them and stopped them from using the water, after informing them that he was now the holder of the water source and not the King.

Fearing the wrath of the Jogi’s curses, the King was now reduced to purchasing water for his men. Purukh started selling water to the King and eventually collected a huge sum of money. He then used his collected sum to form his own army, which in no time became formidable enough to challenge the King’s army.

It was now that the King discovered that Jogi was in actuality no one else but Purukh.

Purukh Pant’s army now attacked the King’s army with force and defeated it decisively. Purukh Pant won the war and became King of the entire region with Seerakot as capital.

Thereafter Purukh departed for Kedarnath Temple to seek the blessings of the deity. On his return journey he got into some kind of argument with the Bhotia women who made woollen garments. Enraged the women, some of whom were wives of the slain soldiers of the King’s army, dragged him to a nearby pond and exterminated him.

Such was the fate of this valorous man of Kumaon!

Dr Anjali Nauriyal is Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI. Veteran journalist, author and actor, Dr Anjali Nauriyal is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI.