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Tales of Justice and Rituals of Divine EmbodimentOral Narratives from the Central Himalayas$

Aditya Malik

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199325092

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199325092.001.0001

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(p.231) Appendix 1 Kalbisht and Gangnath

(p.231) Appendix 1 Kalbisht and Gangnath

Tales of Justice and Rituals of Divine Embodiment
Oxford University Press

The following section contains the stories of Kalbisht and Gangnath as they were told to me by Lahiriji. Kalbisht and Gangnath are, like Goludev, deities concerned with justice (nyāy kārī devtās). Their stories intersect with the story of Goludev and, in the many jāgars that I sat in and recorded, Kalbisht and Gangnath would often be “incarnated” by the same dancer or by different dancers sometimes in a sequence one after the other, and sometimes simultaneously together with Goludev or even with each other. The stories of Kalbisht and Gangnath differ from that of Goludev—though all three deities’ life stories deal with the experience of crass injustice—in that the former stories articulate the themes of violence, premature death, love and renunciation. Whereas Goludev is reinstated to his rightful place as a prince and subsequently as a just king at the end of his story, Kalbisht and Gangnath find no such restitution. They are killed through unjust and violent means, appearing later as ghosts (bhūt) or in the dreams of future devotees who then go on to establish their places of worship. Goludev on the other hand, is a royal deity (rājanīya devtā) who “dies” on his accord after supposedly disappearing with his horse into the depths of a lake situated near the temple of Ghoda Khal.

(p.232) Kalbisht

Now Kalyan Bisht, or Kalbisht, he is called Kalua, Kalyan Bishta here. In Dvarahat there is a village called Kotilmatelya in District Almora, near Dvarahat; the village Kotil Matelya, he was born there. His mother’s name was Ramota. His father was Ram Singh, his grandfather Dham Singh. These were his elders [pūrvaj]. From childhood on he used to manage cows and buffalo—buffalo, goats, and cows—he used to manage all of these. From childhood on he used to love playing the flute. He used to play the flute a lot. So one day, when he turned five, he told his mother: “Make me a flute!” She had a flute made for him. And from Malabhot she had a sānkhyā dhaṛaṭ—a sickle [dhaṛaṭī], and an axe [kulhāṛī] weighing twenty ser, which is called a ramat axe, made for him. He used to like a black blanket that he would drape over his shoulder. And the flute, that is called algojā bāṃsurī, was a double-joined flute that by playing [blowing] through both flutes you would get one note [svar]. That’s called an algojā bāṃsurī in Pahari, in Kumaoni language. He loved playing the flute and the binai [an instrument played with the lips]—he liked playing that too.

So he used to release the cows and buffalo and go and sit in the forest. He would lay down his blanket and remain in a carefree mood [mast], listening to the sound of his flute. The girls and women, wives and daughters of the village would hear the sounds of his flute and become drunk with joy [raṅg me raṅg]. There was no sin [pāp] involved, but all the women, girls, and daughters who would be out there cutting grass and collecting wood would be around him in an ecstatic mood. Time went by and he turned twelve. He turned twelve. So when he was twelve years old, Kalyan Bisht started appearing as though he was twenty years old! They say in the story [gāthā] that he had such a blazing appearance, such a shine on his face, so marvelous—a body like butter, soft and supple. Just seeing his face, everyone would fall in love with him.

One day his mother, Ramota, said to him: “Why do you spend your entire day with women and daughters-in-law?” She was suspicious! She said this and he got angry. He stopped going to the cowshed from the next day. He stopped releasing the cows and buffalo. By the time he was twelve, his father had already passed away. His grandfather, Ram Singh, had already died before that. So at that time he slept for seven nights and seven days. He didn’t eat or drink, nor did he get up. Now all the women and daughters of the village began pining away [talapanā] and the buffalo sank into the mud [kīcaḍ]. There was (p.233) no one to release them. The goats remained tied up for seven days and seven nights. The mārkulī jaṭiyā [buffalo], that is, the buffalo who struck out, the buffalo who used to hit out—that buffalo died of hunger. Jhapnā bījor, whom we call sāṃḍ—a bull—the bull that stays with cows, it also started crying. So his mother said: “Kalyan Bisht! I didn’t bring up a boy, I brought up a jackal that scavenges at the cremation grounds!! Just like a jackal comes to the cremation grounds to eat food scraps, that’s how I brought you up. You’re no good for anything! If you’re your father’s true son, then take these buffalo who are starting to die to Binsar Dhuri on Almori Hat; Binsar that is beyond Almora.” [There was a forest there.] She said: “Go there!” So when he heard his mother’s words—he wasn’t someone who listened to [what other people] said, he was an avatārī boy, magical, he had taken birth with his mother in a divine form [devrūp], he was an avatārī child. So he replied to his mother: “Prepare my sattu [mixture of gound pulses and cereal], make bāḍīs [meal prepared from pulse or millet], rabri [desert prepared with milk or yoghurt and millet] made of phunja [?]‌, feed me with thirty-six different kinds of foods! Who knows whether I will eat from your hands again? Pack up my things! Pack up my tent. I’ll go to Binsar Dhuri tomorrow.”

On the first day he made camp in Dhiyarikhal near Ranikhet. He took the cows and buffalo on the first day to Dhiyarikhal. Twelve times twenty goats, that is, two hundred forty goats and buffalo, cows. He went straight to Dhiyarikhal and camped there. He set up [a]‌ tent there. The calves were given milk to drink. After that he went to sleep. He ate his food [sattu] and fell asleep. The next day he went and camped in Havalbad in Kosi, where Naulakhya Pandey lived. During that time Naulakhya Pandey—there were very few Lakhpatis (owning a Lakh of rupees; extremely wealthy people)—Naulakhya Pandey was one of them. Their names were Sur Pandey and Sangram Pandey—they were two brothers. The brothers used to live there with their wives. They were such kings, so wealthy, that they had a Naulakh Garden with fruits and flowers everywhere, everything was lush and plentiful. So at night Kalyan Singh set up camp at Havalbad. The next day he left for Binsar Dhuri, Kapad Khan. There is a temple of Kalyan Singh in Binsar Dhuri. When he arrived at Binsar, he set up [a] tent, gave the cows and buffalo milk, and began playing the flute and grazing the cows every day. When he played the flute on the third day, one sound went to the East to Purab ke Pakhan, the other sound went to the West to the Naulakh Garden. The third sound went to Uttarakhand. They went to all four directions (p.234) because his cowshed was on a high peak. So when Kalyan Bisht played the flute, Sangram Pandey’s wife, Kamla Paniyali, that is, Pandey, the music… it went into Kamla Pandey’s ears. She sent for her maid. In those days, like we keep a servant [naukar] now, they were called maids [chorī]. She sent for her maid. Now maids were not like ordinary servants. The maid was brought along from [the wife’s] maternal home—she was called a maid. [Kamla Pandey] asked her: “Where is this sound coming from? What kind of bird is it that has shattered my heart? The sound from the flute is so amazing! When will I see his face? Go and find out!”

The next morning, when the maid went there, she fainted when she saw him—Kalyan Bisht’s appearance, his form, his age twelve to fourteen years old, and all the goats, cows, and buffalo, one more beautiful than the other. Kalyan Bisht said: “Girl, what’s the matter? Where have you come from?” When she woke up again, she replied: “I’ve come from such and such place. Kamla Pandey has sent me. She has a Naulakh Garden. And she said that she fainted after listening to the sound of your flute. That’s why she sent me to find out who you are!” [Kalyan Bisht said:] “What will you take from here? You can’t go empty-handed!” So he sent yogurt—a container full of delicious yogurt! Now when Kamla Pandey saw that yogurt and had a taste of it, she thought to herself: “This yogurt is so delicious! How remarkable must be the person who made it!” She didn’t say it out of any sinful feelings; she said it firstly because of the sound of the flute and secondly because she was under a spell [chal]. A masān had got hold of her, of Kamla!1 It was [riding] on her, so she told her maid: “You tell him to bring milk to us!” Kalyan Bisht would bring milk to Havalbad from Binsar. So when Kalyan Bisht would approach within one mile [of Binsar] the masān would run away. Once Kalyan Bisht would leave, she [Kamla Pandey] would tie up her head [tie up her hair], lie down, and fall unconscious. This happened every day. The milk arrived, Kalyan Bisht would come, and everything was fine. She would cook, look after her husband, everything [was normal]. Then after that, when he would leave, she would become unconscious. So Sangram Singh grew suspicious whether there was some illicit relationship between her and Kalyan Bisht. “That’s why,” he thought, “when he arrives she is happy and when he leaves, she goes back into her state [hāl]!”

So he told his brother-in-law [sālā] in Dyodhi Pokhar near Almora. So in Dyodhi Pokhar there lived Lakhua Dyodhi and Bhanwa Dyodhi, two brothers (p.235) lived there. Their names were Lakhua Dyodhi and Bhanwa Dyodhi, who were his real brothers-in-law. So he [Sangram Pandey] told his real brothers-in-law to go to Binsar and kill Kalyan Bisht. The brothers-in-law said: “Don’t worry, we’ll do this!” When both brothers went there they fought with Kalyan Bisht. When they fought, the two brothers cut off Kalyan Bisht’s legs. They cut off his legs from the knee downwards. Lakhua Dyodhi and Bhanwa Dyodhi [cut off his legs]. I tell you even today Kalyan Bisht never dances standing upright. He never dances standing. He dances on his knees. This is the main reason [for his dancing on his knees]. These are true matters. So they cut off his legs but didn’t kill him. Kalyan Bisht beat them anyway. They cut off his legs from below his knees. Then they said [to Sangram Pandey]: “We can’t beat him, he’s a great pehlvān [wrestler or strongman]!” He said: “All right, you go disguised as buffalo herdsmen—simple!” It was during the summer time. Kalyan Bisht was letting the buffalo graze and was asleep himself. He lay down the blanket, placed the flute on his pillow, and had gone to sleep. He had gone to sleep. In the meantime Lakhua Dyodhi and Bhanwa Dyodhi went there again. They said [to themselves]: “It won’t be good if we kill him while he is asleep. You shouldn’t kill a sleeping man. We should wake him up and kill him.” So what did they do? They drove a nail into the best buffalo’s hoof. After they drove a nail into the best buffalo’s hoof it sat down because of the pain. They awakened Kalyan Bisht. They said: “We are buffalo herdsmen, show us the buffalo!” He replied: “Whatever you wish, take whichever buffalo you like!” They said: “We see that buffalo. It’s not getting up at all. Make it stand!” As soon as Kalyan Bisht bent down to lift up the buffalo they struck his neck with their swords. The head remained in Binsar and the body fell to Kapad Khan, three miles below [in the valley].

Then in the story they say you have no one, no father, no mother, you are alone! Who would take the news home? It was midnight. At midnight his mother had a dream. Kalyan Bisht appeared in her dream: “Mother, they’ve killed me, there is no one with me. I’ve been hungry for so many days, thirsty without water!” So his mother got up in the middle of the night: “What am I seeing here, Kalyan Bisht?” So then she summoned Raja Goriya [i.e., Goludev]. Now this is where Raja Goriya is mentioned in the story. Raja Goriya was her brother—Kalyan Bisht’s mother’s brother—she was his mother’s dharam sister, his dharam sister. So she called out to Raja Goriya: “What am I seeing here?” So Raja Goriya didn’t let her budge from there at all. His (p.236) [Kalyan Bisht’s] head was cut off and his body lay there. Then she said to her plowman [haliyā], Mother Ramota said to her plowman who belonged to the śilpakār varg,2 she told him: “Kalua, go to Binsar. I’ve seen such and such dream. What’s happened to my Kalyan?” He went to Binsar and brought back the news. Now when he sent back the news that such and such had happened, she squeezed out milk in twenty-two streams. When she squeezed her breasts milk fell into Kalyan Bisht’s mouth. Then khal-khal-khal his head began laughing. And Goriya, he did such a thing, he surrounded the entire area. He didn’t let anyone cut him up and bury him. Goriya didn’t let anyone budge. So from here Mother called and from there Goriya didn’t let anyone move. And after that, when Mother found out, she said: “If you really are my son … if you were killed because of a fault of yours, then you should dissolve into the earth. If you have no fault, then you will completely destroy the Naulakh Garden. [Only] then shall I call you Kalyan Bisht! Then I’ll call you my son!” Then Kalyan Singh gradually destroyed everyone and everything in Naulakh Garden—Suraj Pandey died, Sangram Pandey died, Kamla Paniyal died, the children died. The fruit trees in Naulakh Garden stopped giving fruit, no flowers bloomed. The grains in the fields didn’t rise [through the ground]. Upside-down things began happening. So he destroyed the entire family.

After that, during that time, that devtā took incarnation in the śilpakār varg in Bara Khan where there is a place called Ida village. Kalyan Bisht incarnated in Ida village in that śilpakār’s home who used to serve him. And even today Kalyan Bisht gets incarnated in a śilpakār’s body. And the person of the Pandey community [jātī], he will serve [the devtā]. He will fill his chillum with tobacco, he will place his cap on his head, he will prepare his seat on the floor [āsan], [that’s what] a person of the Pandey jātī will do [i.e., during a jāgar]. This is true even today. So this is the history of Kalyan Bisht. He is a nyāy-kārī devtā.


Gangnath’s mother had no sons. She had no sons. So she took a vrat [vow] on pūch Sunday and on the makar of māh. Makar Sankranti that falls in the month of māh.3 Then only does Gangnath take birth. When Gangnath was born, on the first day, the second, third, fourth, fifth days, on the fifth day they prepared with cow dung, cow urine, milk, butter, and ghee. They went to a (p.237) pandit who, with mantras, made the pañcgāv for the fifth day.4 On the sixth day there is the “sixth” [chaṭṭi]. A boy who is born here, he has a sixth. So when they celebrated the sixth, after that Bhave Chand, who was his father, he began inviting thirty-three crore deities, sixty-eight thousand Ekesar, Caubātī kī dhūl, Samaśānī Bīr, Bau Bīr, fifty-six Jādu, eighty-eight thousand Rikeśvar, Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Maheśa.5 First of all, he invited everyone. Preparations for his naming ceremony [nāmkaraṇa] are under way. Invitations were sent. Preparations are under way.

Gangnath, when he grew to be one, two, three, four, seven, twelve years old, then Gangnath gosain, what did he do? He would go to Chaubhat-Ganghat, where four roads cross in the crossroads. He would go there and play the flute. All the women and girls who would be traveling back and forth, he would pounce on them, he would catch hold of them and not let them go up or down. The history of these devtās has always been like this. So he would catch hold of them and throw one down here and throw the other one down there.6 He wouldn’t let anyone go up or down. So would he scare the women and girls. I wouldn’t say he did anything wrong. He just wouldn’t let them go up or down. He would catch hold of them like this. When he started doing this, the news reached Kalua Dotiyal in Malla Dotigarh. Gangnath lived in Talla Dotigarh. His brother-in-law [jījā] Kalua Dotiyal lived in Malla Dotigarh. Kalua Dotiyal was his real brother-in-law in Nepal. So he was his real brother-in-law. So he heard about what was going on. The women and girls belonged to his village. They complained: “There is a boy over here who won’t let us proceed up or down. He catches hold of someone, and throws down someone. He’s a mischievous type of boy.” He [Kalua Dotiyal] brought his forces and arrived there, Kalua Dotiyal did. He beat up Gangnath very badly. They had a tremendous fight. They had a fight, and Gangnath cut his head off.

Gangnath returned home and took his young men with buffalo and cows, playing the flute. They had a palace of gold, plenty of milk, curd [dahī], ghee, nothing was lacking. There were fields beneath his house; the forest above his house was full of trees. “You have no blemishes; you have a dog who would attack, a beautiful cat, silver, gold, jewels, all this belongs to you. The palace belongs to you, the front yard is made of gold. The palace is made of gold, then what else do you need?”

In his past life, Guru Gorakhnath—no, Guru Gopichand, Gopichand Bharthari had met him. He remembered Gopichand Bharthari.7 He studied (p.238) mantras. He remembered him [Gopichand Bharthari] at night. If he had reigned for twelve years, he would be twenty-four years old now. So Bhana Joshani came to him in a dream. She said: “You were my husband in that life. You promised to be with me for seven lifetimes and you forgot me.” The Joshi people who live in Almora, they are such great people, all of Almora belongs to them. So the Joshi’s wives are called Joshani. So she appeared to him in a dream. She sat next to his pillow, made him a meal and fed him. He was asleep, she kissed and did everything. When he woke up in the morning and he realized there was no one. There had been a beautiful woman, who was married, she said all these things to him. She had told him that she lived in such and such place: “You come here!” Then Gangnath gosain came to Chittai Goel from Nepal. When he came here the Joshani saw him. When he saw the Joshani he snuck into the Joshi’s home. When he entered the home he was beaten up with sticks. They said: “Who is this?” Yes, before this he did something else. Before this he was caught by the desire for renunciation [bairāg]. When the desire for renunciation overcame him, he said: “Look, Mother, I’m not interested in your royal kingdom, in ruling.” Yes, before that, let me tell you.

When he was a wayward boy, there was a place called Bhaonji in Pithoragarh [district], he would go with twelve times twenty women and girls who would cut grass in the forest, playing his flute. Everyone loved him, all the women and girls belonging to the village. So in Bhaonji bazar, people used to gamble. He went there to gamble. He went to Pithoragarh to gamble. Now there was a prostitute in Pithoragarh whom we call pātar, whose name was Kusum. So when she went to Bhaonji bazar, she was dancing. She was also quite beautiful. While she was dancing away she bumped into Gangnath. He said: “Come along with me.” She said: “First play a game with me. If you win this, I’ll go with you. If you don’t win, you will wash my clothes for the rest of your life, if you lose.” She said: “Sit down for the game.” They would use kaurī shells. They played pāñcā.8 So they sat down to play pāñcā. In the first round he lost everything he had on him. In the second round he lost his cows and buffalo. He staked all the buffalo and cows. In the third round he staked the entire kingdom of Dotigarh. He lost the third round as well. He lost everything. His mouth started to go dry. His mouth went dry, so he said: “Kusum, give me some water to drink.” She told her maid: “Give him some water to drink. He’s lost everything; what does it matter. Give him some water.” He said: “I won’t drink water from your maid. You bring the water and give it to me. Only then (p.239) will I drink it. I’ve lost anyway. I’m your servant anyway. But one last time, give me water to drink!” said Gangnath. He was divine. So when she went to get him water, the maid said: “You are sitting in the wrong place. This is the losing seat. You sit here in her place. You sit here and then play.” Before she came back Gangnath sat in her place. He drank water. She said: “What else?” He said: “There is one more thing.” “What?” “I’ve given you Dotigarh. I have a palace made of gold. I’ll stake the golden palace.” She said: “Why are you sitting here?” “It’s because my back is paining.” So he sat down here. They played pāñcā. She was going to lose for sure. Kusum lost. In the first round he won back Dotigarh. In the second round he won the cows and buffalo. In the third round he won back the money [he carried on himself]. In the fourth round he won Kusum. So he brought her back with him from there. Even though he brought her with him, they didn’t get married. You won’t call this a marriage [even though they were together.] He didn’t marry Bhana Joshani either.

So when he brought her home, he remembered the game of dice, the time with Gopichand Bharthari from his previous life. Then he was overcome with a desire for renunciation. He had done everything, fun, enjoyment, et cetera—he had done it all. “Now I should leave this saṃsār and make my āsan somewhere in Haridvar Ghat.”9 Now he went looking for a Guru. “Who will I find as a Guru?” From there he wore his royal clothes and came to Almori Hat.10 Now he’s arrived at Almori Hat, at Bhana Joshani’s [home]. He said: “Come with me. We’ve been together for many lives.” He came here and was beaten up with sticks. Someone beat him with sticks or with something else. Even then he took Bhana Joshani and went to Haridvar. At Haridvar at Kankhal, he bathed. No, he bathed at Haridvar Ghat. At Kankhal he went to āsan of his Guru. When he went to his Guru’s āsan, Guru Agenath, who lights fire, who lights the dhūnī,11 Guru Khagenath, who sifts ash and prepares sacred ash [bhibūtī], Guru Bhagenath, who gives promises—look at the meaning of guru—Guru Gorakhnath, who imparts true knowledge, who shows you the path of renunciation. He met these four Gurus. First he bathed; after bathing, when he went to Kankhal to his Guru’s āsan, he met all four Gurus. He said: “Guru, give me the path of renunciation. Give me jog-māyā.12 I want to take renunciation.” Then the Guru tried to reason with him. Here his mother tried explaining to him: “Don’t do this, son. You are my only son. Who’ll enjoy and look after everything?” He said: “Burn down Dotigarh! Burn down your home! Give away your buffalo and cows. I don’t care about all this. I’m (p.240) leaving.” He didn’t listen to anyone and left. He arrived in Almori Hat. When he went there and was removing his royal clothes, the Guru had made him saffron robes. So when he was removing his [royal attire] the entire Kankhal began trembling. Such a great king is about to take renunciation! Many people were swayed by a desire for renunciation when the devtā incarnates [?]‌. When Gangnath’s jāgar is on, then when he is given jog-māyā, whoever you say that to, he will incarnate. There is the name of Haridvar Ghat, the other Guru Gorkahnath’s name, the third is Kankhal’s name. The fourth is bairāg. So when they gave him renunciation, they shaved his head, split his ears, came to Kankhal and made him into a Naga.13 They gave him the ochre robes, tongs, Caubhat kī dhūl, Baksar Deś kī vidyā, Lahor kī jaḍī, Kanvar Deś kī būṭī,14 all the magic and whatnot, they gave him, they gave him knowledge. Then at that time Bhana Joshani also took renunciation. So they both dance together. Today too the Joshani dances and Gangnath dances too. This is his story.


(1.) See chapter 2 for an explanation of this demonic spirit.

(2.) Śilpakār refers in general to a craftsman and varg(a) to caste. The śilpakār communities engage in scavenging and sweeping and, by and large, belong to the lowest castes in India. They are also associated with the professions of the blacksmith, coppersmith, and work involving basketmaking and bamboo mat making, stonework, carpentry, masonry, oil pressing, drum beating, and leather work. See “Shilpkar,” People Groups in India, http://www.peoplegroupsindia.com/profiles/shilpkar/.

(3.) Makar Sankranti is an important festival that is celebrated all over India, especially in Kumaon, to mark the movement of the sun into the celestial sign of Māgha or Māh (Capricorn) that falls in early January.

(4.) Pañcgāv or pañcgavyā is a mixture prepared from products of a cow: dung, urine, and milk as well as curd and ghee.

(5.) These are names of various pan-Indian and local deities and spirits, both benevolent and angry, including the three main deities of Hindu tradition: Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva.

(6.) “Up” and “down” refer to the division of the crossroads, as is the case with many towns and villages in Kumaon, between tallā and mallā, meaning “lower” and “upper” settlements in terms of elevation.

(7.) The story of Gopichand Bharthari is a well-known oral epic from northern India, particularly Rajasthan, that narrates the life of King Gopichand, who decides to renounce his kingdom, wealth, and family ties to become a renunciant belonging to the Nath ascetic order. The story is particularly poignant in describing the emotional pain and conflict involved in giving up human relationships in order to become a renunciant. See Gold 1992.

(8.) Pāñca, “game of five,” is the name of a game of dice that is related to the board game pacīsī (Parcheesi).

(9.) “Seat” as in the place or seat of an ascetic or renunciant.

(10.) Hāṭ is a market or bazaar, that is, the commercial or trading town of Almora.

(11.) The sacred fire of ascetics.

(12.) The power of yog(a)/jog or the ability to become a yogi/jogi.

(13.) That is, a naked, ash-smeared ascetic who has renounced everything: material possessions, family ties, and social status.

(14.) This list refers to various kinds of esoteric knowledge and magical herbs.