In the modern times, Kothars are slowly disappearing in the hills. The new generation has become ignorant of such techniques. They are lured by modern gadgets and have developed a high dependency on market supplies.
A century back there were no mobile phones, motor vehicles or any other technology to assist human beings in their daily chores. Man, through his powerful acumen had developed his own indigenous methods and tools to complete his task efficiently. These tools were neither inspired by great scientific theories nor were they innovated by tech-driven engineers. Rather they were simple to operate, highly efficient and were very rugged.
The Kothars (also known as Kuthar/कुठार:Hindi) in Uttarakhand are a wonderful example of such human ingenuity. With limited land under cultivation and high dependency on agriculture and monsoon rains, the people in hill face great challenges to maintain the perennial supply of food grains. The Kothar is an answer to their growing concern for food scarcity. Made entirely of Deodar wood, Kothar is a wooden structure, where food grains are stored for years to protect them from the adverse impact of insects, bacteria and other micro-organisms. The construction of this structure is itself a testimony of our ancestors understanding of nature and its unfathomable benefits.
These wooden storage are assembled together in such a way that no iron nails are required in their construction. And once constructed, the structure can withstand hostile variation in temperature for more than hundred years. This longevity is due to deodar which is rugged and has the natural quality of shielding the food grains from external contacts like moisture, bacteria while maintaining a conducive atmosphere within the structure throughout the seasons. Villagers have a saying here: “Sau sal bada, sau sal pada, par nahi sada deodar – सौ साल बड़ा, सौ साल पड़ा, पर नहीं सड़ा देवदार“. The local people say that their Kothars are existing since their great grandfather’s generation.
The interior architecture is also very intriguing. Inside the structures, there are wooden containers in which the grain is stored. In general, there are around 5 to 6 wooden containers. Each container has a big storage capacity, which varies from 4 to 5 quintals. The security is not just inside the structure but on the outside too. Back in the late 1800’s, when Garhwal was under the attack of Gurkhas, food was the primary target of the enemy.
In such situations, people protected their Kothars by designing a highly efficient and cost-effective security system. Each Kothar had long chain suspensions, whose one end was hitched at the house and other at the Kothar’s door. In this suspended chains, bells were fixed at a certain height. If there was any robbery attempt and the thief tries to open the Kothar’s gates, then the bells fixed on the chains would start ringing, alerting the concerned household.
In earlier times when there were no warehouses for the storage facility, Kothar was simply the best option for preserving food grains. Each family had their own Kothar. Sometimes the people shared the same Kothar. At times of crop damages and natural calamities, these Kothars had enough food preserved to feed the families. Apart from the grains, Kothars can also incubate seeds for future agriculture purposes.
The advent of the 21st century may have witnessed a sea change in the technological development but still millions of people remain hungry. India accommodates a significant proportion of world population who are living in the state of abject poverty, which is ironic to the fact that it is the same country where there is an indiscriminate wastage of food.
For people living in the hills where the government food supplies never reach on time, Kothar is a great example of how indigenous technologies can help in sustaining a good life at high altitude regions. But with the passage of time, such indigenous techniques have been disappearing due to large scale promotion of modern machines.
The modern technology has been a culprit in overshadowing the traditional and indigenous knowledge repository. The ubiquity of science and its tools have been dominating the indigenous science. Hence the unanimous faith in modern science has eroded the common faith from old traditional knowledge. The same traditional knowledge that inspired scientific fraternity to make innovations like wheels, aeroplanes, electricity is now been shunned as obsolete, inefficient and unreasonable.
In the modern times, Kothars are slowly disappearing in the hills. The new generation has become ignorant of such techniques. They are lured by modern gadgets and have developed a high dependency on market supplies. Moreover, the rampant migration crisis in the hills is also undermining such techniques. To further aggravate the problem, the government has banned and set stringent penalization for the cutting of Deodar trees.
At the time, when food has been made fundamental right in the country, such indigenous storages can be harnessed for ensuring food security at high altitudes. Further, the Public Distribution System (PDS) leakage in the food supplies can be efficiently curbed by storing food in Kothar’s which can be monitored by the local communities. Also, the danger looming over the agriculture in hills due to climate change can be mitigated by fostering the use of local seed varieties. The extinction of local variety seeds can be avoided by turning Kothars into seed banks. The millennial and science community, which has become ignorant of their history, needs to resurrect and promote such indigenous techniques. These are not just mere innovations but they are a reminiscence of our great legacy and rich culture.
Article by Rajender Singh Bisht