Major characteristics of the district Kinnaur – Himachal Pradesh

By | June 25, 2020

The People:

  • The Kinnauras have been mentioned in ancient literature and mythology.
  • R.C. Das wrote about the people that “the Kinnaras, an ancient non-Aryan tribe ( Himalayan), frequently mentioned along with Gandharbas, Yakshas, Kiratas and others have been considered as a class of Gandharbas in the Mahabharta”.
  • While in a recent detailed account of the people, Bajpai informs that the Kinnauras have deep roots in Indian mythology, legends, and literature and are considered as a distinct race.
  • Somewhere between human beings and gods, Buddhist and Jain literature have mentioned the Kinnauras time and again.
  • Kinnauras have found a prominent place in Indian and Central Asian art.
  • The whole of the ceiling of cave one at Ajanta has done them a great honour.
  • They have also been depicted in countless sculptures.
  • Besides, the Kinnauras have also found mention in stories of Jatakas.
  • Writing about the legendary ‘Kinnerdesh’ i.e. the land of Kannauras, Bajpai informs that the land of Kinnauras at one time was supposed to lie between the sources of the Ganga in the east and the Chandrabhaga river in the west.
  • It is also said that this land was spread between the rivers Yamuna and Satluj.
  • To the north of it was the southern part of Kashmir, probably Zaskar range, which was forming the northern boundary, and southern boundary was Dhaula Dhar.
  • The modern Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh is the remnant of the old legendary and mythological land of Kinnerdesh.
  • There must have been pressure from different sides on these people.
  • It is probable that the Vedic Aryans of the plains pushed upwards and another branch of Aryans Khasha might have penetrated into the region gradually marching through the hills of Kashmir.
  • However, the present-day Kannaura do not comprise a homogenous group and display significant territorial and ethnic diversity.
  • For a better understanding of ethnic and cultural distribution the Kinnaur district according to Nag, may be classified into three territorial units.
  • These are, namely, Lower, Middle, and Upper Kinnaur.
  • Lower Kinnaur comprises the area between Chaura at the boundary of Kinnaur district with Rampur Bushahr and Kalpa including Nichar and Sangla valleys.
  • The people of the lower Kinnaur are primarily of the Mediterranean physical type.
  • It is difficult to distinguish them from the people residing in the adjoining Shimla district with whom they have some affinity.
  • The people of the lower Kinnaur are mostly Hindus, though the ethno-historic factors have resulted in some Buddist influence.
  • The middle Kinnaur is the area between Kalpa and beyond Kanam, including Morang tahsil.
  • The people of the middle Kinnaur are the mixed racial strean.
  • Some have marked Mongoloid and others marked Mediterranean features.
  • In some cases there is an mixture of the above two in varying degrees.
  • The inhabitants are Buddhists as well as Hindus.
  • Many people have faith in both the religions.
  • The remaining north-eastern part of the district i.e. the area between Poo and Hangrang valley, extending up to international border with Tibet, comprises upper Kinnaur.
  • The predominant physical type of upper Kinnaur in the Mongoloid though a few persons with Mediterranean features are also seen in the area around Poo.
  • Some persons show the blending of Mediterranean and Mongoloid elements in varying degrees.
  • However, the people in the Hangrang valley are almost universally Mongoloids.
  • They mostly follow the Mahayana Buddhist religion.
  • The Kinnaur district thus has a population of at least two distinct physical types-the mongoloid, mostly found in upper Kinnaur and the Mediterranean, mostly in lower Kinnaur.
  • These two have blended in varying degrees, especially in middle Kinnaur region.
  • The Kinnaur society is divided into two broad occupational groups the peasants and the artisans possibly of diverse ethnic origin. These groups are represented by Kanets (Rajputs) and Scheduled Castes.
  • The Kanets comprise the main cultivating community of the area and use honorific surname Negi.
  • Presenting an account of different castes/communities in Kinnaur district, there are two principal castes in the district, namely, Kanets or Rajputs and Scheduled Castes.
  • Among the first grade Kanets there are as many as fifty sub-castes, in the second grade there are seventeen sub-castes and in the third grade who work as potters have three sub-castes.
  • Waza Kanets belong to the third category and are considered inferior among Kanets.
  • The Scheduled Castes include Chamangs and Domangs. Chamangs make and mend shoes and weave cloth.
  • The Domangs are primarily blacksmiths.
  • There is a third caste called Ores. The main profession of Ores is carpentry. In social stauts Ores are equal to the Domangs.
  • Among Scheduled Castes, blacksmiths and carpenters, i.e. Domangs and Ores consider themselves superior to Kolis or Chamangs.
  • Though the basic racial strain among the Chamangs and Domangs is Mediterranean, somewhat coarser features are discernible among them as compared to the Rajputs.
  • Some scholars identify them and their counter-parts in the cis-Himalayas with darker people of mixed descent from Proto-australoid and Mediterranean physical types


  • The people of the district dress mostly in woollen clothes.
  • Their clothing is well suited to the climate and is artistic too in its own distinctive way.
  • The head dress for men and women in a round woollen cap called thepang in the local dialect.
  • It is generally of light gray or off white colour with a coloured velvet band on the outer fold.
  • Band of green colour is most popular.
  • However, cap with band of other colours like crimson, blue, yellow etc. may also be worn. Men wear woollen shirts called ‘Chamu Kurti’ which is made of woollen cloth and tailored in the village.
  • Another type of dress which the men wear is ‘Chhuba’. It is a long woollen coat somewhat resembling an ‘achkan’.
  • A sleeveless woollen cloth jacket worn out side the ‘Chhuba’ is called ‘Chamubasket’.
  • Men wear is Chamustan on their lower part which is somewhat like a ‘Churidar Pajama’.
  • Women wrap up a woollen shawl like garment called ‘Dohru’.
  • The first wrap of dohru is on the back with the embroidered border displayed throughout its length up to the heels.
  • Darkar shades of colours are preferred for dohru. Besides, beautiful coloured shawls are also worn by them over their shoulders. ‘Choli’, a sort of full-sleeved blouse is born by the women.
  • Some of these have decorative coloured linings also. However, now a days wearing of cotton Salwar and Kameez has become more popular among the young Kannaura girls.
  • The traditional footwear commonly worn by the Kannauras were made of wool and goat hair with sole of goats hide.
  • However, with the passage of the time wearing of trendy readymade shoes is in vogue.

Food habits :

  • The staple food is wheat, ogla, phafra and barley which are local produce.
  • Besides these kankani, cheena, maize, koda, chollair and bathu are also taken.
  • The principal pulses consumed are peas, black peas, mash and rajmash.
  • The vegetables usually consumed are cabbage, turnips, peas, beans, pumpkin, potato besides some locally available with green vegetable leaves.
  • They relish rice too which is imported from plains.
  • Taking a salted tea, called ‘Cha’ in the morning and evening is very popular among the Kinnauras which is usually taken along with Sattu, made of parched barley flour.
  • They are non-vegetarian and relish goat and ram’s meat.
  • Taking of alcoholic drinks in their day to day life and also on the ceremonial or festive occasions is quite common among them.
  • Alcohol drinks are also offered to their deities and gods.
  • Alcohol is distilled at the household level. It is made out of fruits like grapes, apple, pear and barely grown locally. The Kinnauras are very fond of music, dance and singing.
  • As stated earlier, the people of lower Kinnaur are mostly Hindus, though some reference of Buddhism is also evident.
  • Their most important gods and goddesses are Durga or Chandi, Bhairon, Usha or Ukha, Narayan, Vishnu, Badrinath and Bhimakali.
  • The Chamang and Domang in addition have their own favourite deities such as Nag Deota.
  • Besides each village has its presiding deity. The inhabitants of middle Kinnaur are Buddhist as well as Hindu.
  • In the northern area Buddhist influence is stronger.
  • The important deities of middle Kinnaur are Chandi, Gauri Shankar, Kansa and Narayanjee.
  • There are some monasteries besides the temples.
  • The village god at Kanam worshipped by people of Buddhist faith is Dabla, who has certain features associated with the earlier Bon religion.
  • The image of Dabla is installed along with those of Buddha and Guru Rinpoche: (Padma Sambhava ) in one of the monasteries at Kanam.
  • The religion of upper Kinnaur is mostly Buddhism, having the institution of Lamaism.
  • They mostly follow Mahayana Buddhist religion.
  • Almost every village has a monastery with Lamas and Jomos, who are recruited amongst the Rajput (Kanet) only.
  • According to Chib, a major part of the district is inhabited by people professing Lama religion.
  • Though venerated by the inhabitants of Nichar and Sangla tahsils.
  • Lama faith does not have a strong hold in these areas.
  • There are Buddhist temples in many of the villages of these areas yet the followers of this faith do not form a significant group in Kalpa, Morang and Poo tahsils.
  • Lamas are consulted and their services are utilized in performance of many religious ceremonies.
  • In Nichar and Sangla people do not necessarily consult Lamas on these occasions.
  • In the absence of Brahmin priests the people perform ceremonies themselves.


  • Kanet boys, who learn the Tibetan scriptures, and are well versed in Buddhist doctrines, are called Lamas.
  • Similarly the Kanet girls, who do not marry, but devote their time to the study of Tibetan scriptures are called Zomos or Jomos.
  • They live in nunneries. The two principal nunneries are at Kanam and Sunnam and in these, a great number of Jomos live.
  • Besides this, almost every village has a few Jomos.
  • The Lamas live in monasteries and are looked upon as very holy.
  • In fact they are the priests of all the Kanets.
  • There are several monasteries of these Lamas in Kanam, Sunnam and other villages, Lamas are either Gyolong or celibate, like the Brahmchari or Dugpu, who marry but never shave the head.
  • Lama is consulted with regard to every important undertaking.


  • A number of dialects are spoken by the inhabitants of district Kinnaur which come under ‘ Kinnauri’ or ‘Kanauri’.
  • According to the classification of languages, made by the Linguistic Survey of India. ‘Kanauri’ comes under the Tibeto-Chinese family of languages.
  • It has further been classified as a language belonging to the western sub-group of Pronominalised Himalayan Group belonging to TibetoHimalayan branch under Tibeto-Burman Sub-family.
  • In Shimla Hill States Gazetteer, 1910, there is a mention of three dialects spoken in Kinnauri.
  • Bajpai has mentioned that there are as many as nine different dialects used by various sections in district Kinnaur.
  • According to him, “One of them Sangnaur is spoken in a solitary village Sangnaur of tahsil Poo.
  • The villages on the Tibetan border speak Tibetan dialects of western Tibet.
  • The extent of spoken Tibetan is limited to the village of Nesang, Kunu, and Charang adjoining Tibet.
  • Jangiam dialect is spoken in Jangi, Lippa, and Asrang villages of Morang tahsil.
  • The Shumceho dialects is spoken in the villages of Kanam, Labrang, Spilo, Shyaso, Tailing and Rushkalang of Poo tahsil.
  • A Kinnauri-Jangiam mixture is the language used in Rakchham and Chitkul villages of Sangla tahsil.
  • The Scheduled Castes or Harijans speak a language which is closer to that of a certain part of the adjoining districts of Kinnaur.
  • Besides these dialects, the educated people of Kinnaur can speak also Hindi. Both men and women, especially in Sangla and Kalpa valleys, can speak English in addition to their mother tongue and Hindi.

Contribution of the district in the form of any historical figure

  • The district is famous for its ancient art, culture and handicrafts.
  • Every village has its deity or ‘devata’. Kinnauri songs are very popular in the state. Kinner-Kailash is a very ancient religious place dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • It is situated at an altitude of 6,473 metres.
  • People perform religious journey around Kinner-Kailash during the months of summer.
  • This region is very rugged and mountainous. It remains covered with snow.

Read also: History of District Kinnaur 

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