A reference book on Himachal Pradesh, compiled and arranged by the author, who is a reporter for the Indian Express, gives a detailed overview in terms of history, geography, demography, culture, economy and society of this hill-state. Endowed with abundant natural beauty and a unique cultural heritage, this dev bhoomi, the land of gods, is a much sought-after tourist destination. Lying between the low-lying Shivalik hills and the mighty Great Himalayan range?the Shivalik hills, the Dhauladhar range and the Zanskar range?the state has major rivers like Sutlej, Beas, Ravi and Chandrabhaga flowing through it.
Himachal is predominantly rural state with 90.2 per cent of the population living in rural areas; the highest proportion (23.2 per cent) inhabits Shimla district. Several streams of cultural traditions have mingled here for thousands of years to shape the social fabric of the state?Korlorian, pre-Aryan, Bon, Buddhist, Lamaistic and Aryan traditions gelled within the customs of Huns, Gujars and Rajputs. Greeks, Mongols and Mughals came in waves and added colour to the cultural mosaic of the hills. The people believe in Lord Shiva and Shakti, in the form of the presiding deity, speaks through the chosen media and guides the life of the people.
The author talks of birth, marriage (through Hindu rituals or by abduction), prevalence of both polyandry and polygamy, art, craft and architecture. The author talks of Buddhist art which came up after Ashoka the Great'sreign and during Kushan rule, with learning centres set up at Udaipur and Gurughantal in Lahual Valley around 1st and 2nd centuries AD. A curious mix of Hindu and Buddhist worship developed in Lahual that saw the incorporation of many Hindu gods into the Buddhist system and these included Adityadevea, Ishwaradeva (Shiva) and Manjushri. It was these attractions that led to distinctive art forms as witnessed in the remnants seen in Lahaul and Spiti. Classical Gupta style of architecture and art forms entered during the 7th and 8th centuries. ?The art of Gupta period is known as Nagara style after the nagrik, the upper-class citizen of the cities? and this form prospered ?under the patronage of samants (city lords) and nagar seths (city businessmen)?, says the author.
The stone sculpture of Chandals and Pratihars believed in sensuous sculptures, similar to those seen in Khajuraho and other places in central India. The bigger kingdoms of the Shivalik disintegrated to small principalities giving birth to indigenous art forms – most typical being masks ?representing awe-inspiring environment, religious and supernatural beliefs of the people?. Over time, masks became ingrained in rituals and are today carried in palanquins along with the deities of the village during festive celebrations. ?The state has more than 6,000 big and small temples including the small shrines that dot almost every village and hamlet,? says the author.
Both solo and group dances are popular in Himachal. Giddha and munjra are popular dance forms here.
Talking of literature, the author says there is not much of old Pahari literary works available today. History of Kangra reveals that when Delhi'sSultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq visited Kangra in AD 1361, he saw in Jwalamukhi temple a library of Hindi books numbering 1,300. He ordered one each of the books dealing in philosophy, astrology and divination to be translated by Fiz-ud-din Khalid Khani into prose in Persian language and called it Dalayail-i-Feroz Shahi.
The history of the state says that people from the Indus Valley civilisation stayed here between 1250 and 1750 BC. It is said that the Kolorians were the original inhabitants who were pushed away by those from the Indus.
This book is essentially a tourist guide and also a reference book for students and candidates preparing for competitive examinations.
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