Shivaratri song about the creation of the world and man and man’s mortality - presented by Christian Huber

Kanam (District Kinnaur) © Christian Huber

What can be heard?

A Shivaratri song about the creation of the world and man and man’s mortality (Oras boli, language of the lower castes in Lower Kinnaur; field recording by Christian Huber).

"In the beginning there was neither light nor dark. In the middle of the sea (appeared) God Mahadev (i.e. Shiva), and he became afraid (because the world was empty). Tsondorma Khanɖo (i.e. Brahma, here as the moon) and Vishnu Narayn (here as the sun) came to him. Mahadev said, 'There is no land, no people, no goods!' God Mahadev summoned wind. Wind came, and earth was deposited. The god made a man of gold, a man of silver, a man of bronze, a man of copper, a man of iron (and all sorts of other materials – but these men all did not hear when called because they had no ears). Then a cat came along and said 'Meow!' (and Mahadev saw that the cat had ears). So the god made a man out of dog feces and ashes (because all other materials had already been used up), and the man got ears and answered when called. (Then Mahadev became angry because all the precious materials had been wasted on men without ears, so he said to the man:) 'You shall die! One shall blow the conch shell and take you behind the hill!' (i.e. where the death rites take place)."


What is particularly interesting about it?

This is a song for the Shivaratri festival (Night of Shiva, Shiva's main festival). Like all other Shivaratri songs in Kinnaur, it is sung in the language of the carpenters and blacksmiths. The district of Kinnaur in the Indian Himalayas is an area of great linguistic diversity. Thus, the caste of carpenters and blacksmiths in Lower Kinnaur has its own language, which is also understood in Upper Kinnaur (at least in certain parts) by members of this caste. Unlike other languages spoken in Kinnaur, which belong to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan family, it belongs to the Indo-European language family. There does not seem to be an established name for it among its speakers, and it is hitherto only poorly documented (the language name given in the Ethnologue has been rejected by all consultants). There seem to be a number of dialects. The question whether or not some of these dialects should be considered languages in their own right is a matter for future research.

How am I engaged with it?

The language is one of the languages I am working on as part of my research focus Researching and documentating endangered languages of Kinnaur. In the course of this research, a large number of recordings were made, which are also archived at PhA.

Christian Huber represents linguistics at the Phonogrammarchiv and conducts research on un(der)documented languages of Kinnaur. He also oversees the archival holdings from northern India, Nepal and Tibet as well as German dialect recordings from Austria and northern Italy.


Researching and Documenting Endangered Languages of Kinnaur (Shumcho, Jangrami, Sunnami, Oras Boli)