Malana: Athens of The Himalayas

Malana is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. A remote, primitive little village, in the Himalayas. Malana was isolated from the outside civilization for thousands of years, was never invaded or ruled by an external administration. The people here have been living in harmony with nature, with their own language, their own world, their own democracy. Malana is a 4 km hike from Jari Village, which lies on the road from Kullu to Manikaran. About 2 hrs drive from Manali.

According to tradition, the residents of Malana are the descendant of Aryans, and they acquired their independence during the Mughal reign when the Emperor Akbar walked to the village in order to cure an ailment that he was afflicted with; after having been successfully cured he put out an edict stating that all the inhabitants of the valley would never be required to pay tax. An alternative tradition suggests that Malana was founded by remnants of Alexander the Great’s Army. Their ancestral roots may be debatable but their democratic setup with participatory court procedure has similarity to that of ancient Greece.

This People’s Republic has been governed by a village council with an upper house and a lower house like the bicameral assemblies of our parliament. The council members are chosen by the village folk through a process of unanimous selection – not an election. Their court has been resolving all their internal disputes. The social structure of Malana in fact rests on villagers’ unshaken faith in their powerful deity, Jamlu Devta. The entire administration of the village is controlled by him through the village council. His decision is ultimate in any dispute and any outside authority is never required. It is although a real fact that Malanis through this council perform a political system of direct democracy very similar to that of ancient Greece. Thus Malana has been named the Athens of Himalayas.

Malanis admire their culture, customs and religious beliefs. They generally do not like to change though some traces of modernization are visible. People in Malana consider all non-Malani to be inferior and consequently untouchable. Visitors to Malana village must pay particular attention to stick to the prescribed paths and not to touch any of the walls, houses or people there. If this does occur, visitors are expected to pay a sum, that will cover the sacrificial slaughter of a lamb in order purify the object that has been made impure. Malani people may touch impure people or houses as long as they follow the prescribed purification ritual before they enter their house or before they eat. Malanis may never accept food cooked by a non-Malani person, unless they are out of the valley (in which case their Devta can’t see them). The interaction with the outside world is slowly changing these traditions.

Kanashi, the language of Malana, does not resemble any of the dialects spoken in its neighborhood but seems to be a mixture of Sanskrit and several Tibetan dialects.  This sort of amalgamation makes it difficult for an alien to understand it.  Language is also considered to be one of the secrets of the village and outsiders are not allowed to use it for communication.

Another claim to fame of Malana is the very good quality cannabis plant that grows in abundance there. For ages the use of cannabis has been an integral part of their lives, from medicine to footwear. But in the past they had never traded it; neither did they know the value of it. Their only trade with the outside world had been sheep wool. In the seventies came some white men. They taught the villagers how to rub the cream – the cleaner and more potent hashish suitable for an international market. Those foreigners drew them into business. Malana cream became an international brand. Hashish production grew like a home industry for each household, without being aware that processing of cannabis is a crime. Although the state administration, occasionally cracks down on this illicit trade, but the small town of Kasol, nearby, is home to a large number of international backpackers.

Some fanciful stories about this village called “a little greece,” as also its drug mafia with its do’s and don’ts, are often published in newspapers and magazines. However, what distinguishes this village in the interior of  Himalayas is its architecture, language, worship rituals and autonomous administrative system.  The unique geographical location of Malana has enabled it to preserve its biodiversity and it is an ecological haven.

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