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Asaar ko Pandra ra Kothey Bari

Updated: May 29

Yashika Subba


Upon my arrival home this summer, the Uvawlee celebration has already taken place. Uvawlee (Upstream) and Udhawlee (Downstream) are rituals performed by the Kiratis of Eastern Himalaya. When the first light of dawn touches the streams, the community gathers, bearing offerings of grains, fermented millet drink, flowers, eggs, and fish. These offerings are presented to the deities, for protection, well-being, and bountiful weather for their crops. Through Uvawlee and Udhawlee, the Limbu people celebrate life, growth, and renewal. The Eastern Himalayan region is home to many indigenous communities, where the interrelationship between people and nature is deeply rooted in spiritual beliefs. 



Among the mountain communities, an agrarian spirit thrives, shaped by the dynamic landscape and steep terrains. In the multiethnic society of the Darjeeling hills, surrounded by expansive tea gardens, one of the most profound ways to pass on culture from one generation to the next is through food—both those of cultural significance and those of domestic importance. Living amidst tea plantations where fields for planting paddy are non-existent, the idea of farming becomes an abstract concept. Yet, what connects us to the agrarian community’s spirit is my two grandmothers and their Kothey Bari (kitchen garden), which produces the humble foods we call the taste of home.




My maternal grandmother  (Mam budi) may not express it openly, but as she harvests the long-awaited Bee (bitter eggplant) and Iskus Ko Munta (Chayote shoots) for her granddaughter to savor a taste of home during her visits. Iskus, a plant where every part—from stem to leaves, fruit to roots—is consumed. She carefully picks and cooks these vegetables, claiming that no one can match her recipe.



Women, in their narratives, always sow seeds for their loved ones—daughters who live far away, grandchildren who have outgrown the comfort of home, extended families, and sisters from whom they were separated early on. When they meet after a long time, they get to taste a bit of home. For women, love often transcends ubiquitously through food. 



On the other hand, a fond memory of my childhood is foraging fiddlehead ferns with my Boju (paternal grandmother) during summer. In some of the tea gardens, workers were allotted small forest patches for fodder, firewood, and water—a tradeoff for those who sought a new home in the tea bushes of Muglan. Today, this land holds not just ancestral but spiritual and emotional significance. My grandfather rests peacefully in his beloved forest, which he inherited and where he once cultivated cardamom. My paternal grandmother, who married into this place at a young age, has been its steward for the last 57 years, maintaining the connection between our family and the forest land with her husband since his passing. This deep connection to the land and its rituals can be attributed to my grandmother’s resilience and her strong inclination towards her culture, rooted in an agrarian mountain community.



As I forage fiddlehead ferns this summer, I am reminded of the importance of learning and safeguarding nature, keeping health and happiness alive through humble spaces like the kitchen garden in modern times. 

As I photograph my grandmothers, I reflect on their agricultural spirit. Whether I get to enjoy Dahi chiura or not, I hope to keep alive their knowledge of seasons, plants, crops, and soil—wisdom passed down through generations. This connection to my roots is something I aspire to express and share with the world in ways I could.


 

Resource person: 

Bhanumati (Kalpana) Subba (personal communication, May 2024)

Chandra Tamang (personal communication, May 2024)

Sanju Subba (personal communication, May 2024)



Bibliography:

Lepcha, E., Gurung, N., Rastogi, A., Swiderska, K. (2021). Safeguarding Lepcha and Limbu cultural values and worldviews for conservation and sustainable development in the Eastern Himalayas, India. IIED, London.https://pubs.ijed.org/20361g


Photographs taken by Yashika Subba on May, 2024



About the writer:


Yashika Subba belongs to an indigenous community in the Eastern Himalayan region.  She is a research scholar in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT, Dhanbad  and is looking forward to broadening the ongoing global attention on climate change and mountain communities.




 


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