A Little Greece in Himachal Pradesh
In the valleys of Kullu and Manali below Chanderkhani Pass, situated at an altitude of 2,76m is a little hub of hundred houses. The kind of village that can be found all over the valleys. Yet, there is something special about this cluster of stone roofs. This is Malana or, as the village is popularly known in the Kullu valley , the Republic of Malana.
The village, which consists of 1,000 tribals, has an immaculate system of self-governance with its own lower and higher court, president and Prime Minister. They are a unique tribe with unique customs who live in a world of self-created autonomy amidst the greater Himalayas and claim a Greek descent.
The people do not mingle with others outside the periphery of their village. Not only is their rigid caste structure within the village, in every nook and corner are visible signboards with clear warnings for tourists: 'Do not touch'. Visitors are forbidden to touch either the people or any of their possessions - wood, stone, crops or houses inside the village. Violation of this could lead to a fine of upto 1,000 Rupees or even imprisonment in a closed room, guarded by 12 locked doors.
The boards reiterate hostility towards outsiders, even towards people from other tribes of the Kullu valley. Mingling with visitors is an offence and is totally discouraged. Money given out at shops is not taken directly from hand and will be accepted only after it is kept down. More than a feeling of apparent superiority, the deeper truth is that this isolation has helped them protect and preserve the purity of their folklore, customs, language and their exclusive Greek identity.
In the main square of the village there is an edifice which has stood the test of time. It is the sacred temple of Jamlu, the main deity God of Malana.
For instance, they will only marry inside the 11 clans of the village. Never has a Malana person married outside the village. Although they are wary of strangers, amongst themselves they co-exist and co-habit without restrain. There is no restriction to the number of marriages men and women want to have. All the middle-aged people have been married at least 10 to 15 times.
Marriage is a simple affair, those wishing to be married or remarried will assemble in the main village square. The men, with fire torches in their hands, will look for a bride who will consent to the union.
The villagers speak in a dialect, which is unintelligible to everyone except among themselves. Linguists say that the words are similar in sound to Greeks words are similar in sound to Greek words and if that is not enough, there is a trumpet-like instrument still in use in Greece.
In Malana it is mostly played during the Harlala mask dance festival, celebrated in the month of February. It is an occasion when everybody takes a bath and a group of people wearing nothing but cannabis leaves and demon-like masks dance around the houses spreading cow dung, which provides insulation from the cold as well.
Another interesting aspect of the festival is the procession for Emperor Akbar. As the legend goes, a priest from Malana came to Akbar's court and showed him some coins. Akbar kept them in his treasury but soon after, he acquired leprosy. Nothing would cure him till a saint in his dream told him to return the coins and along with that give away his image in gold. So his soldiers went all the way to deliver these to Malana.
The image of a silver elephant with the gold figure of Emperor Akbar is still preserved inside the temple, but the coins that had brought about the misfortune have become a mystery. Maybe they are still there as the contents of a trunk which remains locked inside the temple.
Malana is connected to the Kullu valley by three mountain passes, it can be reached from Parbati Valley, Manukaran through a 10-hours trek over the 3,180m, Rashol Pass, or via Naggar over the 3,600m beautiful Chanderkhani Pass, which is a two days trek. The easiest and shortest way to reach Malana is from the village Jari connected to Kullu valley. It is an easy and picturesque walk of 6-hours to Malana, which is only 12-km from here.