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Pahari languages

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Title: Pahari languages  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Nepali language, Himachal Pradesh, Garhwali language, Mandi district, Azad Kashmir
Collection: Culture of Himachal Pradesh, Hindi Languages, Languages of India, Languages of Nepal, Pahari Languages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Pahari languages



  • Classification 1
  • History 2
  • In Nepal 3
    • History 3.1
    • Mountainous dialects 3.2
  • About 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


The Pahari languages fall into three genealogical groups. Eastern and Central Pahari have been placed together as the Northern zone of Indo-Aryan, with Western Pahari in the Northwestern zone along with Punjabi and related languages.

Central Pahari

These languages are closer to Rajasthani than they are to Hindi.

Eastern Pahari
Western Pahari

There are a dozen Western Pahari languages, of which Dogri is the best known. Though traditionally considered Pahari, and often Hindi or Punjabi, the Western Pahari languages are more closely related to each other than to other Indo-Aryan languages. 17 to 20% of Jammu and Kashmir speak Pahari languages.


The origin and spread of the Pahari language can be traced back to the time when Jammu and Kashmir was a Hindu state. As Buddhism was born and started to spread in the region, its main preaching center became what is now known as Jammu and Kashmir. There, the Buddhist Priests sought a language other than Sanskrit, the dominating language, which was considered the language of the Hindus. And so, the Buddhists achieved success in the form of Pahari which in fact was as one language and of one state at that time. This was the golden age of Pahari as one language (which can be dated to 400 BC). Buddhists adapted Pahari as the language of their preaching and various scripts were introduced to write the language. With the rise of Buddhism in Jammu and Kashmir and corresponding areas, Pahari was developed and promoted. When King Asoka took control of Kashmir, he was also said to have contributed to the development of the language, and to have introduced another script for writing it.

That was the climax of the Pahari language. However, with the decline of Buddhism and the revival of Hinduism in Kashmir, this proved to be the downfall of Pahari as there was no one to promote and serve. Pahari was left to the purview of the local people and its unique script writing soon fell into disuse. It was passed down from parents to children and so on. It was vulnerable to all other languages; that is why with the arrival of Muslims, Sikhs, etc. the region contributed to the change in its vocabulary and Pahari began to resemble other such languages. In Pakistan–administered Kashmir where the majority of people speak Pahari, a team was assembled to trace the background of Pahari language and determime whether it was a dialect of Punjabi or another language. After extensive studies in 1969 it was declared a separate language.

In Nepal

In Nepal, Nepali is the native language mainly of the Indo-Aryan population of the "hills" north of the Mahabharat Range up to the limits of rice cultivation at about 2,500 meters. The mother tongues of most "hill tribes" of higher elevations are Tibeto-Burman. Nepali is mainly differentiated from Central Pahari through its being affected, both in grammar and vocabulary, by Tibeto-Burman idioms. The speakers of Central and Western Pahari have not been brought into close association with Tibeto-Burmans, and their language is therefore purely Indo-Aryan. Even the Bihari people have adapted this style and also use a wide range of terms from this language. English speakers generally call it Nepali . Khaskura is also called Gorkhali or Gurkhali, the language of the Gurkhas, and Parbatiya, the language of the mountains. Palpa, closely related to Khaskura, is deemed by some authorities to be a separate language.

Language Group Comment
Garhwali Central Pahari spoken in Garhwal region
Kumaoni or Kumauni Central Pahari spoken in Kumaon region and Mahakali zone of Nepal
Nepali Eastern Pahari Nepali is a lingua-franca of Nepal, Indian state of Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal. It is also widely spoken in North-East region of India and other states being Himanchal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Dogri-Kangri languages Western Pahari Dogri has official status and kangri is spoken in kangra,chamba,bilaspur,una,mandi regions of himachal pradesh.


The term Khaskura, "Khas talk," originated in western Nepal where it referred to the tongue of "Khas" Indo-Aryan rice growers mainly living along streams that enabled irrigation. In the highlands where rice couldn't dominate agricultural production, and particularly the knot of highlands separating the Karnali-Bheri basin from the Gandaki basin, a complex of Tibeto-Burman dialects called Khamkura—Kham talk—prevailed and persists today among the Kham Magar ethnic group. So the term Khaskura seems to have originated in a Khaskura/Khamkura duality.

Perhaps five hundred years ago, Khas pioneers migrated eastward. They detoured around Kham uplands where rice could hardly be grown to settle in the lowlands of the Gandaki basin. One particular Khas family settled in the small Gorkha principality and ruled it for generations. This family was destined to become the Shah family that unified Nepal as we know it today, thus Khaskura came to be called Gorkhali.

Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the urbanised Kathmandu Valley, then called Nepal, just east of the Gandaki basin. Nepal became Prithvi Narayan's new capital while he and his heirs went on to conquer small principalities for hundreds of miles along the Himalayas. Nepal gradually came to refer to the Shahs' entire realm, not just the Kathmandu Valley. Khaskura/Gorkhali became the new country's lingua franca, thus it came to be called Nepali as well.

Although the language of the Khasas has disappeared, the tribe is still numerically the most important Aryan one in this part of the Himalaya, and it hence gave its name to its newly adopted speech, which is at the present day locally known as "Khas-kura." In the manner described above the Aryan language of the whole Pahari area is now a form of Rajasthani, exhibiting at the same time traces of the old Khasa / Khas language which it superseded, and also in Nepal of the Tibeto-Burman forms of speech by which it is surrounded. (For information regarding Rajasthani the reader is referred to the articles Indo-Aryan Languages; Prakrit) Khas-kura shows most traces of Tibeto-Burman influence. The gender of nouns is purely sexual, and, although there is an oblique case derived from Rajasthani, it is so often confounded with the nominative, that in the singular number either can be employed for the other. Both these are due to Tibeto-Burman influence, but the non-Aryan idiom is most prominent in the use of the verb. There is an indefinite tense referring to present, past or future time according to the context, formed by suffixing the verb substantive to the root of the main verb, exactly as in some of the neighbouring Tibeto-Burman languages. There is a complete impersonal honorific conjugation which reminds one strongly of Tibetan, and, in colloquial speech, as in that tongue, the subject of any tense of a transitive verb, not only of a tense derived from the past participle, is put into the agent case.

Language Comparison
  Khas-kura Kumauni Kashmiri
  Masc Fem Masc Fem Masc Fem
I am chu chu chik chu chus ches
You are chas ches chai chi chukh chekh
He is cha che ch chi chuh cheh

In Eastern and Central Pahari the verb substantive is formed from the root ach, as in both Rajasthani and Kashmiri. In Rajasthani its present tense, being derived from the Sanskrit present rcchami, I go, does not change for gender. But in Pahari and Kashmiri it must be derived from the rare Sanskrit particle *rcchitas, gone, for in these languages it is a participial tense and does change according to the gender of the subject. Thus, in the singular we have: – Here we have a relic of the old Khasa language, which, as has been said, seems to have been related to Kashmiri. Other relics of Khasa, again agreeing with north-western India, are the tendency to shorten long vowels, the practice of epenthesis, or the modification of a vowel by the one which follows in the next syllable, and the frequent occurrence of disaspiration. Thus, Khas siknu, Kumauni sikno, but Hindi sikhna, to learn; Kumauni yeso, plural yasa, of this kind.

Materials regarding Western Pahari are not so complete. The speakers are not brought into contact with Tibeto-Burman languages, and hence we find no trace of these. But the signs of the influence of north-western languages are, as might be expected, still more apparent than farther east. In some dialects epenthesis is in full swing, as in (Churahi) khata, eating, fern, khaiti. Very interesting is the mixed origin of the postpositions defining the various cases. Thus, while that of the genitive is generally the Rajasthani ro, that of the dative continually points to the west. Sometimes it is the Sindhi khë. At other times it is jo, where is here a locative of the base of the Sindhi genitive postposition jo. In all Indo-Aryan languages, the dative postposition is by origin the locative of some genitive one. In vocabulary, Western Pahari often employs, for the more common ideas, words which can most readily be connected with the north-western and Piedca groups. (See Indo-Aryan Languages.)

Mountainous dialects

There are speakers of various Pahari dialects living in the mountainous north of Pakistan, between Kashmir and Afghanistan, although these dialects are increasingly coming under the influence of the national language Urdu and also Punjabi.

  • Khas-Kura, as its speakers themselves call it, passes under various names. The number of speakers in British India 143,721 were recorded in the census of 1901, most of whom were soldiers in, or others connected with, the British Gurkha regiments. At present Khas kura or Nepali is the lingua franca of Nepal spoken by millions.
  • Central Pahari, includes three dialects – Garhwali, spoken mainly in Garhwal and the country round the hill station of Mussoorie; Jaunsari, spoken in the Jaunsar-Bawar tract of Dehradun; and Kumaoni, spoken in Kumaon, including the country round the hill station of Nainital. In 1901 the number of speakers was 1,270,931.
  • Western Pahari, includes a great number of dialects. In the Simla Hill states alone no less than twenty-two, of which the most important are Sirmauri and Keonthali (the dialect of Simla itself), were recorded at the last census. To these may be added Chambiali and Churahi of the state of Chamba, Mandyali of the state of Mandi, Himachali of Chamba and Kangra, Kuluhi of Kulu and others. In 1901 the total number of speakers was 1,710,029.

With increased communication and education these dialects are coming under greater influence from the national languages, but these communities have never been totally isolated and the dialects in the east have had other influences, such as Tibetan, which is not an Indo-European language.

The Himalayan mountain runs from Pakistan in the west, across northern India and into Nepal. Pahari dialects are found in the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand whilst in Pakistan there are dialects spoken in the eastern part of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (such as the district of Abbottabad), and also in the Northern Part of Pakistani Punjab – as well as across Azad Kashmir. Western Pahari (Himachali) dialects include: Pothohari/Potwari, Mirpuri, Kangri, Kullu, Mandeali, etc. The Central Pahari dialects spoken in Uttarakhand include Garhwali, Kumaoni and others. Garhwali itself has many subdialects spoken in different parts of the state, like Jaunsari, Jadhi, etc. In Uttarakhand the language is referred to colloquially as mwari twari (mine and yours).

The words Garhwali and Kumaoni are also used to refer to people speaking these dialects.

It is noteworthy that in India most people consider the Western Pahari dialect spoken in Himachal Pradesh to be same or just a variant of Punjabi, it is a similar case in Pakistan, the Pahari language there is sometimes calld Dhanni or Jhelumi and in some places it is called Mirpuri but it bears similarity to Punjabi – and any native speaker of Punjabi can understand it.


The Himalayas run along Nepal, India and Pakistan. The word 'Pahar' means a 'mountain' in most local languages such as Nepalese, Hindi (Parbat being a synonym) as well as Urdu (Koh being a synonym). Like all other languages of the region, the Pahari languages are also from the Indo-European, and in particular Indo-Iranian branch of languages. As mountains have the tendency of isolating communities from change, dialects in the mountains tend to have their own characteristics with some similarity to others mountain dialects while remaining isolated from one another – there does seem to be a dialect continuum. All of these dialects are commonly referred to as the 'Pahari' languages, and most people from the Himalayan range as known as Paharis.

The southern face of the Himalaya has from time immemorial been occupied by two classes of people. In the first place there is an Indo-Chinese overflow from Tibet in the north. Most of these tribes speak languages of the Tibeto-Burman family, while a few have abandoned their ancestral speech and now employ Indo-European dialects. The other class consists of the great tribe of Khas / Khasas or Khasiyas, Aryan in origin, the Kavcoc of the Greek geographers. Who these people originally were, and how they entered India, are questions which have been debated without arriving at a definite conclusion. They are frequently mentioned in Sanskrit literature, were a thorn in the side of the rulers of Kashmir, and have occupied the lower Himalayas for many centuries. Nothing positive is known about their language, which they have long abandoned. Judging from its relics which appear in modern Pahari, it is probable that it belonged to the same group as Kashmiri, Lahnda and Sindhi.[5]

They spread slowly from west to east, and are traditionally said to have reached Nepal in the early part of the 12th century. In the central and western Pahari tracts local traditions assert that from very early times there was constant communication with Rajputana and with the great kingdom of Kanauj in the Gangetic Doab. A succession of immigrants, the tide of which was materially increased at a later period entered the country, and founded several dynasties, some of which survive to the present day. These Rajputs intermarried with the Khasa inhabitants of their new home, and gave their rank to the descendants of these mixed unions. With the pride of birth these new-born Rajputs inherited the language of their fathers, and thus the tongue of the ruling class, and subsequently of the whole population of this portion of the Himalaya, became a form of Rajasthani, the language spoken in distant Rajputana.

The Rajput occupation of Nepal is of later date. In the early part of the 16th century a number of Rajputs of Udaipur in Rajputana, fled north and settled in Garhwal, Kumaon, and western Nepal. In 1559 a party of these conquered the small state of Gurkha, which lay about 70 km north-west of Katmandu, the present capital of Nepal. In 1768 Prithwi Narayan Shah, the then Rajput ruler of Gurkha, made himself master of the whole of Nepal and founded the present Gurkhali dynasty of that country. His successors extended their rule westwards over Kumaon and Garhwal, and as far as the Simla Hill states. The inhabitants of Nepal included not only Aryan Khasas or Khas, but also, as has been said, a number of Tibeto-Burman tribes. The Rajputs of Gurkha could not impose their language upon these as they did upon the Khasas, but, owing to its being the tongue of the ruling race, it ultimately became generally understood and employed as the lingua franca of this polyglot country.

See also


  1. ^ "Kumaoni". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  2. ^ "Jumli". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  3. ^ "Nepali". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  4. ^ "Palpa". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  5. ^ ' See ch. iv. of vol. ii. of R. T. Atkinson's Himalayan Districts of the North-Western Provinces of India, forming vol. xi of the "Gazetteer of the North-Western Provinces" (Allahabad, 1884), and the Archaeological Survey of India, xiv. 125 sqq. (Calcutta, 1882).


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