Himalayan Histories

Economy, Polity, Religious Traditions

By Chetan Singh

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, History
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Hardcover : 9781438475219, 316 pages, February 2019
Paperback : 9781438475226, 316 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents


1. Introduction

2. Defining Spaces, Constructing Identities: Regional History and the Himalaya

3. Defining Community: Territory and Transformation in the Western Himalaya

4. Geography, Religion, and Hegemony: Constructing the State in the Western Himalaya

5. Nature, Religion, and Politics: Keonthal and Kumharsain

6. Myth, Legend, and Folklore in Himalayan Society

7. The Dum: Community Consciousness, Peasant Resistance, or Political Intrigue?

8. Between Two Worlds: The Trader Pastoralists of Kinnaur

9. Strategy of Interdependence: Gaddi, Peasant, and State

10. Migration and Trade in Mountain Societies

11. Pastoralism and the Making of Colonial Modernity in Kulu, 1850–1952

12. Diverse Forms of Polyandry, Customary Rights of Inheritance, and Landownership in the Western Himalaya

13. Thresholds in the Wilderness: Identities, Interests, and Modernity in Western Himalayan Borderlands

14. Riverbank to Hilltop: Pre-colonial Towns and the Impact of British Rule on Urban Growth


A rare look at the history of Himalayan peasant society and the relationship between culture and environment in the Himalayas.


Himalayan Histories, by one of India's most reputed historians of the Himalaya, is essential for a more complete understanding of Indian history. Because Indian historians have mainly studied riverine belts and life in the plains, sophisticated mountain histories are relatively rare. In this book, Chetan Singh identifies essential aspects of the material, mental, and spiritual world of western Himalayan peasant society. Human enterprise and mountainous terrain long existed in a precarious balance, occasionally disrupted by natural adversity, in this large and difficult region. Small peasant communities lived in scattered environmental niches and tenaciously extracted from their harsh surroundings a rudimentary but sustainable livelihood. These communities were integral constituents of larger political economies that asserted themselves through institutions of hegemonic control, the state being one such institution. This laboriously created life-world was enlivened by myth, folklore, legend, and religious tradition. When colonial rule was established in the region during the nineteenth century, it transformed the peasants' relationship with their natural surroundings. While old political allegiances were weakened, resilient customary hierarchies retained their influence through religio-cultural practices.

Chetan Singh, former Professor of History at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, has been researching and writing on the history and culture of the western Himalaya for more than two decades. He was Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla from 2013 to 2016. His books include Natural Premises: Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya, 1800–1950 and Region and Empire: Panjab in the Seventeenth Century.