Economy, Polity, Religious Traditions
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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.