The Brogpas are said to be of Indo-Aryan stock and came
down the Indus centuries ago. Whether it is German women who seek
Brogpas for racially pure progeny or anthropologists researching their
life, these Aryans continue to fascinate. Aditi Tandon
reports from Ladakh.
Dullness of the cold desert fades away as you enter the Southern foothills of the Ladakh range. Perched on the rugged cliffs of Batalik sector is a cluster of four villages that have captured the world’s imagination with claims of their pure Aryan descent. Across these villages the Indus flows quietly, enhancing the romance of a landscape that suddenly abandons all austerity and bursts into a riot of orange. The colour marks Monthu Tho, the perennial flower that signifies the Brogpas, who inhabit Garkone, Darchik, Dah and Hanu villages.
Literally meaning mountain dwellers (Brog means a hillock, while Pa stands for an inhabitant), the Brogpas are said to be descendants of the Dards, of Indo-Aryan stock, who came down the Indus centuries ago. For years they have been guarding their purity by preventing inter-caste marriages that are considered dangerous for the cultural health of the race. They have also been religiously pursued by foreigners who are crazy about a pure Aryan progeny. Off and on there have been reports of German women sneaking into the area in the hope that a Brogpa would seer her child. Invariably they have had to return dejected, at least so say the local police and Army authorities. What makes Ladakh’s "pure blooded Aryans" so special? One is cautioned by a Army man, "Don’t pester them too much with queries about their lineage. There are no records to prove their claims but they firmly believe in their Aryan origin. Often, they inspire a similar belief in others. This pure Aryan cluster is visited more by researchers and besotted foreigners than by domestic tourists."
Torn between reasoning and faith, researchers from the world over have been flocking to the area to study the unique physical and cultural characteristics of "Aryans." For long now, the mystique of this "pure Aryan race" has thrilled visitors as well as ethnologists and social anthropologists. At any time of the year, at least four researchers camp in the area, to read the psyche of these reticent people who view outsiders as "intruders". No wonder some villagers admit to have turned down sexual passes made at them by German women yearning for a pure Aryan progeny. Post-Kargil, the influx of foreigners to this area has been largely curtailed due to the strict policies of the Indian government. Of the four Aryan villages, Darchik and Garkone (Leh district) can be accessed only after a clearance from the Home Ministry. These villages fall in the inner line drawn by the Army for security purposes. They are very close to the LOC.
But despite restricted entry, there have been rumours about foreigners entering Darchik to establish sexual liaison with Brogpa men. Dismissing these rumours as baseless, Army authorities maintain that any visitor entering these villages must get security clearance from the Army Headquarters. However, some village elders tell that earlier few children were adopted by Germans on the promise of good upbringing. They add that German women are hugely smitten by Brogpa men. This attraction is understandable not only for Hitler’s legendary fondness for the race but also for the Brogpas’ physical characteristics which reinforce one’s belief in their pure Aryan descent. People here are taller, fairer, with high cheek bones and almond-shaped eyes. Says an Army officer, "They render their folk traditions once every three years during a special celebration in the Bona-na festival. This event is a testimony to Brogpas’ rich historical antecedents which they seemingly trace from Central Rome."
Film maker Sukhwant Dhadda (of Ek Chadar Maili Si fame), who is making a documentary on the festivals and traditions of Brogpas, confirms the view. "Bona-na is a freak festival. It signifies the level of liberation these villagers have achieved. They have long been known to practice polyandry to save their small land holdings from further division. But they also practice open sex, especially during the Bona na, in which they kiss in the open and indulge in free sex. The folk rendition tells us that they do all this to scare away the Gods by indulging in morally reprehensible acts."
Another observation is made by Mona Bhan, a Rutgers University student from the University of New Jersey, USA, who has been visiting Brogpa villages for four years for her PhD on the pure-blooded Aryans, "I am studying cultural anthropology and what better subject for research than the Brogpas? Their pure Aryan identity has been taken for granted by most who believe that the Brogpas have maintained their purity by discouraging mixing up of races. In my opinion, the Brogpa identity has not developed in isolation. Further, scientifically speaking, affinity in races is an outdated concept. I am deconstructing the notion of pure identity and studying the factors that have created this notion in the first place."
While researchers debate the issue, locals maintain their age-old belief in racial purity. They add that observation of festivals like the Bona-na is obligatory in nature as it forms part of the centuries-old Brogpa tradition. Seen from another plane, "Aryans" are religious minded people who have laboured hard to preserve manuscripts as old as 25, 000 years. Specimens of these manuscripts are to be found only in the Hemis monastery. Chieftain of Darchik village Tashi Dava, says, "We are Buddhists by religion. We drink goat’s milk, and eat plain barley and saag. For everything important we consult our religious head who is a lama. As far as economy is concerned, we are fortunate to be part of the Batalik Sector which is one of the green belts of Ladakh region."
The four Aryan villages are thus a fertile zone in an otherwise rainless Ladakh. Agro-pastoralists by nature, the Brogpas grow apricots in plenty. In the past they used to barter apricots for salt. But now, commercialisation has fuelled local economy and each apricot tree is fetching a household around Rs 30,000 annually.
Of total earnings, it is mandatory for each household
to supply goats and a fixed amount of rice to the village kotwal who
functions under the local chieftain, also called the nambardar. Says
Tashi Dava, the nambardar of Darchik, "The stocks are
maintained in anticipation of the arrival of guests. If none comes, the kotwal
can consume everything." The authority of the nambardar
is considered supreme in Brogpa community. Traditionally, Brogpas have
been peace-loving and vibrant people. Their flamboyant head dress,
"kho" embodies their spirit abundantly. It is studded with
flowers and coins. Married women wear the Monthu Tho in their
head dress. It signifies marital status. They also adorn themselves with
silver ornaments. Traditional dress of Brogpas is made of sheep’s
wool. Says Tsering Dolma, a Dah resident who got married recently,
"We wear flowers all over our body. We also grow them in plenty in
our houses. Our food habits are simple. Although traditionally we are
wheat and barley eaters, nowadays other preparations have also become
part of our kitchen menu. We drink Chhang, a traditional drink
prepared from barley."
— Photos by the writer