The culture, rituals and beliefs of Jaunsari tribe is often linked with occult and mysticism as the region is underdeveloped which makes it relatively unexplored than other counterparts.
Jaunsar-Bawar is a mountainous region which is located about 85 km from Mussoorie at Chakrata tehsil in Dehradun district. The area is inhabited by Jaunsari tribe which dates back to the period of Pandavas of the famous mythological tale Mahabharata. Jaunsar-Bawar comprises of two regions namely Jaunsar which is the lower half and Bawar which is the upper snow clad region which includes ‘Kharmba Peak’ situated about 10,118 ft above sea level.
The Jaunsar-Bawar region doesn’t share any different attributes as both of them are geographically adjacent to each other. Bawar is a predominant tribal community which resides in the upper regions of the area, having no social contact with the outside world. Bawar has still managed to withhold their culture and traditions which have lured many famous historians and anthropologists for conducting research work in this region.
The Britishers conquered Jaunsar along with Dehradun after the war of 1814 with the Gurkhas. Later in 1829, it was incorporated in Chakrata tehsil. During post-Independence period, Jaunsar was a part of Punjab state of Sirmur. Before the establishment of British Indian Army cantonment in 1866, the entire area was known as Jaunsar-Bawar.
Jaunsaris trace their ethnic origin from Pandavas of the mythological tale ‘Mahabharata’ who married ‘Draupadi’ also known as ‘Panchali’ as she was the only wife of the five Pandava brothers. Since then the practice of polygamy and polyandry has been prevailing in Jaunsar-Bawar. Jaunsaris claim to be descendants of the Pandavas while the Bawaris are from the Kauravas or Duryodhana’s clan.
In Jaunsar the practice of polygamy and polyandry was prevalent. The richer tribesmen practiced polygamy while the poor counterparts practiced polyandry which can also be called as ‘Fraternal Polyandry’ in which two or more brothers choose to share a wife. Though, anthropology studies done in the 1990s states that these practices were fast phasing out which were further replaced by monogamy. Whereas, recent studies have found that such practices do not exist at present.
Another unique custom followed by Jaunsaris is the concept of bride price. The custom is based on the logic that parents spend a significant amount on raising, educating and nurturing their daughter. Which in turn is an asset to the family as she does all the household work, takes care of the family and works in the farmland. If a man desires to marry her, then he must pay a fair price for her as he is taking away an asset of the family. Another interesting attribute of Jaunsari culture is that divorce is not considered as a taboo and divorced women are not ostracized from society. However, if a woman decides to go back to her paternal home after a divorce then her family must return back the bride price to the man’s family. In case, if a woman divorces her husband to marry another man, the second man must pay a higher bride price to the first man’s family.
Jaunsari community reveres to ‘Mahasu Devta’ which is one of the principal deities of Jaunsari tribes. Dance and music are also an integral part of the culture of Jaunsari community. During festivals both men and women dance to the rhythm of the melodious folk music. The dancers fashion themselves in colorful traditional clothes; representing the rich culture of Jaunsar while the local people wear ‘Thalka’ or ‘Lohiya’, which is a long coat. The local people perform folk dances like Barada Nati, Harul and Raso on festive occasions like ‘Magh Mela’ and ‘Bissu’, a type of fair which marks the harvesting period. During Magh Mela villagers sacrifice ‘Maroj’ an ogre to their deity as according to a local legend it is believed that Maroj haunted in the valley for years.