Generic Affinity of Balti, Bodhi, Spiti
& Lahuli Speeches
by: P. N. Pushp and K. Warikoo
and Cultural Foundation
- by S.K. Pathak
According to the Tibetan sources, mang yul (mi rigs man po'i yul) a
land of many peoples is used in respect of the inhabitants of Western Himalayas
(Himavanta). The ethnic description of the area is suggestive. The Indian
Puranas mention that this snow-clad area is where the Naga, the Asura, the Yaksa,
the Kinnara, the Gandharva were distinct from the Aryan (aryajana) inhabitants
of Sindhu and Ganga river valleys and from the Dramila people belonging to the
south of the Vindhya hills.
The Western Himalayas refer to Ladakh and its adjacent area like Kashmir (Kha
che), Kandahar (Gandhara) and its eastern highland up to Lahul (Iha yul). Mang
yul which indicates an extensive area of the west and the north-west Himalayas
had been a seat of hetrogenous peoples with a cultural fusion. Through the
culture-scope of the Western Himalayan inhabitants one may observe various
spectra while the scenario is wide and varied.
The traditional geographical name of this area is praticya, the
western region adjacent, to udicicya, the northern belt of Bharatavarsa.
Obviously, the extent of the Western Himalayas included a wide uneven area of
mountain gorges, valleys and ravines in which Kashmir, Gandhara, Kamboj and
Madra janapadas belonged adjacent to Uttarakuru varsa.
A large number of Bod (Tibetan) people of Mongoloid origin preferred to
spread in this area for several centuries. Their settlements cover a wide area
of Balti, Ladakh, Spiti, Lahul and the Dokupa of northern belt. Here, a brief
account about that movement of the peoples concerned may focus the genesis of
For instance, Ladakh was an independent State comprising a large part of
Western Tibet in olden days. A chronicle of Ladakh compiled in the 17th century
called La dvags rgyal rabs, meaning the "Royal Chronicle of the
kings of Ladakh", recorded that this boundary was traditional and
well-known. A.H. Francke translates the portion of the text as follows:
"He (skyid lde nyima mgon) had to each of these three sons a separate
kingdom, viz; to the eldest, Dpal gyimgon, Maryul of Mnah-ris, the inhabitants
using black bows; Ru-thogs of the east and the Gold-mine of Hgog; nearer this
way Lde mchog-dkar-po; at the frontier Ra-bar-dmar-po; Wam-le, to the top of
the pass of the yi-mig rock..."
Here Maryul means the low land in contrast to the high land of further north
west sloping down. By the 10th century A.D. the boundary of Ladakh was upto
Ruthog (Rudok) in the north and Lde mchog dkar po (Demchok) in the east. The
yimig rock was adjacent to Imis pass and Wamle (i.e., Hanle). The present
inhabitants of Spiti and Lahul were generally administered separately, though
they belonged to the Mongoloid group.
According to the inscriptional evidence (7th century A.D.) Spiti was ruled by
a Sena Dynasty. (See Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. III. p. 288-9 by
fleet). Raja Samudra Sena granted a copper plate tamra-sasana for founding
Parasurama temple at Nirmand. The Vamsavati of Kulu also refer to Raja Rajendra
Sena became victorious in Kulu but Raja Chet Sena lost.
The Tibetan records mention the annexation of the Spiti valley and Pare
valley by Ladakh by the 10th century A.D. An order from the Head Lama of Hemis
Gonpa of Ladakh is cited below:
"Order issued by Head Lama Dechon Namgial, ruler of Hemi Gunpa of Ladakh
in concurrence with 200 Lamas delegating administrative powers to Nono Sonam
Lotan of Churup: Following are the boundary limits of villages of Karak,
Bargaiok, Sumkhel, Goondi, Churup, Tummur and Geu which fall within the
jurisdiction of Hemi Gumpa and include forests, pasture lands, woods and water
Subsequently Spiti came under the occupation of Skyid lde nyi ma mgon in the
10th century A.D. The Ladakh chronicles state that the second son "he made
ruler over Guge with Pu hrans (Purang) Rtse (Tse) etc. Lde gzuz mgon, the
youngest was made a ruler over Zans dkar sgo gsum".
Zans dkar sgo gsum, the 'three doors' of Zanskar, was a reference presumably
to the three valleys that join at the central part of Zanskar. Spi lcogs has
been identified as Lahul (lha yul) which lies between Zanskar and Spiti
referring to one of the three valley-doors (sgo gsum) of Zanskar.
The inhabitation consisted of Zhang Zhung pa who practised Pon (Bon) prior to
the advent of Kyidenyimagon. Zang Zung pa settled in Stod (pa) (of upper
region), smad (pa) (lower), and Bar (pa) of middle localities including Yo yul,
Guge and Thoding (mtho lding). Among the inhabitants of those areas, Reng pa (in
Naka), Ha srang, Tocho etc. the villagers preserve their clanwise distinctions
though mutual exchange of commodities has prevailed since olden days.
Genera of Speeches in Western Himalayas
In the Western Himalayas there had been multiple of speeches spoken by
different groups since the olden days. The Indus valley had been the seat of
many peoples prior to the advent of the Aryans in that area.
As far as the literary evidences go, Panini (400 A.D.) endeavoured to
systematise an acceptable speech after refinement out of various speeches which
had then been prevalent in that region. In the history of the human language, it
was probably the earliest endeavour of scientific systematisation in the human
speech. He mentioned his predecessors like Sakatayana, Varsayania Yaska, Mahesa
and others. He took a bold step to declare his endeavour as samskrta bhasa.
Samskrta literally suggests that which is refined or put together for
purification. He distinguished samskrta from prakrta or common
people speech or from the speeches of asura, pisaca and mleccha.
Here, asura, pisaca and mleccha refer to those groups of people
who failed to pronounce Samskrta bhasa.
Who are the Asuras? The Asuras are said to have been incompetent in
articulation of vowels and consonants accurately. The Satapatha Brahmana takes
care of the proper articulation of samskrta (Vedic) consonants and
vowels. For instance, they failed to articulate the araya (h), correctly; 'helava
helava' they-uttered (te 'asura attavacasa he 'alava he' 'alava 126.96.36.199). The
Madhyandina-branch of the Satapathi Brahmins were occasionally indifferent to
correct articulation; so that they got corrupt recitation as the mlecchas did.
Mleccha were those who could not pronounce Samskrta (vak) appropriately as
prescribed in the Svarabidhana of the grammatical treatises. Mostly the mlecchas
were the Kirata, the Savara, the Pulinda (Amarakosa, Sudravarga).
Linguistically, Samskrta bhasa is regarded as an offshoot of the
Indo-European Speech Family. The Iranian speeches are considered as the sister
Family of the Indo-Aryan Speech. It suggests that the Iranian language has got
affinity with Vedic Sanskrit. Among the scholars who hold that the Aryans had
their early home in the region of Bulk (Bactria) and Sogdiana in vicinity of
Bokhara on the bank of Oxus (vaksu) river acknowledge that two courses of spoken
language developed in India and Iran though closely to one another.
(i) The Indian group refers to the Vedic speech together with ancient Prakrits,
which were endeavoured by Panini (400 A.D.) for refinement. Those speeches are
broadly named the Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) languages with their subsequent
development in the Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) i.e. Pali, Jaina Prakrit (Ardha
Magadhi) and important branches of Prakrita like Maharastri, Sauraseni,
Magadhi. Again those are changed into the speeches of Apabhramsa, and,
thereafter 'bhasa' like Hindi, Assamese, Oriya, Bengali, Gujrati, Marathi,
Balti, Bodhi (bhoti), Spiti and Lahuh speeches
(ii) The Iranian Zend (or Zand) referes to its specimens available in the
Avesta texts. Old Persian or Achemenian, Pahlavi, Modern Persian, Pustu and
Armenian belong to this group.
(iii) The Semetic languages derived from the Assyrian, Hebrew, Armanic (Aramaen)
refer to Arabic, Himgaritic which are said to have entered the Western
Himalayas after the advent of Islam.
(iv) The inhabitants of Balti which is bounded on the north by the Muztagh
range and Nagar, on the east by Ladakh, on the south by Wardwan and Zanskar
and on the west by Gilgit and Astor speak a language distinct from the Western
Tibetan Dialect or Bodi, Budhlor Bhot of Ladakh. Grierson in his Linguistic
Survey of India (III.3) mentions the special characteristics of Balti.
Sprigg has recently studied the peculiarities of the Balti speech in general.
(v) The Brukpa people who are said to have migrated from Dardistan speak a
distinct speech other than Balti and Ladakhi. In this respect, Siddheswar
Varma in his study on Burushaski Language (1920) has focussed the linguistic
peculiarities verily. At the same time the traditional account of the Bon-po
priests, who had once migrated frorn Tazik (Stag gzig, broadly identified with
Iran or old Persia in the Tibetan Literature), refer to their previous
settlement in Brudza, (also written brug dza/brug toha/bru sa) in the Western
Himalayas. The Bon po priests had there a separate speech named Zhang Zhung
(also pron. hsang hsung/Shang Shung) which does not hold resemblance to Bodi/Bhoti
of Ladakh offshooted from the Western Tibetan dialect, i.e. toi ka (stod skad).
The Western Himalayas are inhabited by the Mon po, the Tchang pa (byan : The
northern people), the Dards and the Mongoloids of Ladakh, Spiti and Lahul. The
Brukpas do not claim themselves Mongoloids. Except the Muslims including those
of Purig and Gilgit, the population professes Buddhism. In Ladakh and Lahul some
Christian families are observed. In respect of the Buddhists, the written
language is chos skad the uniform language used in the Buddhist
scriptures. No divergence is observed there.
The Mons, the Tchang and the Dards who reside in the north west of Kashmir
valley are said to have migrated since the Kusana period of the early Christian
era. Mihirokula of the Hunas (6th century A.D.) could extend his control upto
Ladakh. The Tibetan sources, claim that Srong btsan sgam po (650 A.D.) conquered
the territory upto Gilgit and the Pamirs. The Rajatarangini refers to the
Tibetan control in that area as Lalitaditya (699-736 A.D.) is reported to have
driven out the Bhauttas (Tibetans) out of his kingdom.
The western Tibetan dialect of Tibetan i.e. Nyargi ka (mna' ris skad) is said
to have been induced in this area by the different hetrogenous groups of Bhotias
since the 7th century A.D., though the Ladwags kyi rgyal rab is silent.
The Baltispeaking persons reside in Ladakh, Kargil and Baltistan. The Balti
speakers invented their separate script after embracing Islam in the early 15th
century A.D. Purik (Pu rig) which belonged to Ladakh earlier was handed over to
the Raja of Bait] after the Dogra war against Ladakh (1846 A.D.). The Bhauttas
inhabit the area from Zojila to Mulbeck to Dras.
The Western Tibetan Dialects (Toi-ka)
(i) Nyarika (mn a' ris skad): The people residing in Ruthak (Rudok), Gartok,
Yumbamtsang, Hundesh, Bhongtha, Kailas Mansarovar and Surnge usually speak a
specific dialect. The main peculiarity of this dialect is to maintain the
suffix letters or jenjuk (res 'jug) letters of a word and to retain the sound Sange
Lango and rango, while they remain in the second part of the
To kat or Stod skad (the broad nomenclature of the Tibetan dialects of the
Western Tibet including Nyari-ka and Tcang-ka) came down upto Gilgit and Skardu
areas though a large number of Persian diction and usage have entered in the
speech inadvertantly. The pronounciation has became more bisyllabic and
polysyllabic owning to variation of accentuation.
(ii) Tcang-ke (byan Skad): The Tsangpo river is known as Matsang in the
Western Tsang. The locality on both sides of the river Matsang including
Shigatse and Saka may be known as the area of the Tsangke-dialect-speaking
region. The Lhabrang Dzong in the north and Zonkha Dzong in the south also
belong to this region. The dokmi tribe who are inhabitants of the southern
bank of Tsangpo approaching the Indian borders, however, speak a different
dialect which may be called Lahulka which holds affinity with the Ladakhi-ka
of the Indo-Tibetan speeches.
In respect of the inhabitants of Balti, the dictions are not always akin to
Persian or to Pashtu. Despite that, the pronounciation, and consonantal
accentuation do not resemble to those by the south-western Ladakhi or Bodhi
In Ladakh, the inhabitants also preserve different identity as regards their
spoken tongue, particularly, the speech of Leh does not resemble to that of
Chushul and Demchok on the east or to that of the inhabitants of Alchi.
The Ladakhi dialect also resembles with that of Khalatse in lower Ladakh, in
which the following sub-dialects are observed.
(i) Shaur: from Hanu in the west to Suspol, Basgo in the east.
In this connection, the Shina and the Dard speeches deserve a special mention
for their peculiarities. As discussed above the Dard speech is not monosyllabic
like the Bodhi, with an affinity with Brukhsa which holds a tendency of the Old
Iranian speech like Pahlavi. The Shina speech though belonging to the Iranian
Speech Family, preserves its affiliation to later Persian which requires a
(ii) Leh: to the east of Sham upto Shih
(iii) Rong: east of Leh to Zanskar
(iv) Rabshu: close to Bod Skad.
Phonetically, in Balti speech, vowel a and (a) are open
syllables, sometimes long in contrast to closed vowel like (short) mi, min.
In some cases, a specific tendency of lengthening prevails with hard
accentuation of words beginning with consonant initials. Where as in the spoken
Ladakhi it appears to be soft in case of the consonantal initials.
It is evident from above that the spoken languages of Western Himalayas
appear to be varied but a generic affinity prevails, i.e. toi ka (stod
skad). Metaphorically, these represent a flower bouquet in which every bunch
holds the individual identity inspite of assemlance i.e. unity in diversity.
||bustring (woman); ldzod/lzod (moon, month), gion-pa (the left side);
(sister); be ngo (daughter, girl); o-nga/in (yes); met/men/mendule (no);
ibzhi (four); ghafcu (fifty); gha (five).
||bo mo (woman); lzai mo (moon, month);gion (the left side); srin mo
(sister); bo-no(daughter, girl); onga/in/yotduk (yes); met/ men/mendu
(sometimes); mendula (no); zhbi/sbyi (four);gha (five).
bumo/bo mo (woman); lda-wa/lza (moon, month); gyon pa/yon (the left side);
string mo (sister); bu mo (daughter, girl); in/yot (yes); zhi (four);
ngapen (fifty); shnga/nga/ gha (five).
||bu-mo (woman); (1) da-wa (moon, month); you pa (the left side); shrin mo
(sister) bo mo (daughter, girl); ona (yes); man (no); bzi/zhi (four);
ngaben (fifty); snga (five);
||bhu mo (woman); da wa (moon, month); ghyon pa (the left side); shrin mo
(sister); bhu mo (daughter, girl); ong (yes); min (no); shi (four);
hugapen (fifty); nga (five).
||aje (woman); zald (moon,month); gianto (the left side); catr (four); aje
(daughter, girl); ju (yes); Saje/Shajs (r)e (sister); nus (no)
||mu (woman); da (moon, month); wan (the left side). srunyo (sister); cat
(four); pac (five) duh (daughter, girl); yea/yera (yes); naishe (no).
||cham (woman); zlad (moon/month); gyon (the left side); no (sister);
bizhi (four); nga (five); sas/bumo (daughter, girl), yod/lags (yes); med
||nga yot (I am); nga yot pa (I was); nga se bong bu thank ruk (I beat an
ass); bakshis ju (Thank you, Sir); Yati nangnu (nar) ba lang cham yod
(Have you cattle at home?); ngai nangnu nyis balong yet ba sum nyisu
pholakh, sumthu ra yet (I have a pair of oxen, three cows, twenty pigs,
||ngarang yin ne (I am); ngarang yet pin (I was); ngas bong bu rdung duk
(I beat an ass); Che rang mju (thank you); Yanti balang nangnu cham yot
(Have you cattle at home?) ngai khanma nyis balang yot, ba sum, phah mishu
sumen raluk yot (I have a pair of oxen, three cows, twenty pigs and thirty
||nga in (I am, I was); nga bongngu rdung at (I beat an ass); thugs jeche
(thank you); nga rug khampa na balang ra lug cham yod (have you cattle at
home?); nga'i Khampana lhang to nyis ba sum yang raluk nyishu gang ing
nyishu tsanga yod (I have a pair of oxen, three cows, twenty five sheep).
||nga yod (I am); nga yod (d) n (I was); nga bong bu bongu (r) dung yot (I
beat an ass); thug jeche (thank you); khtot nangna balang raluk cicam yot
lhang bo nyis ba mo sum falug phagpa ga nyesu tsa nga yot (I have a pair
of oxen, three cows, five pigs, twenty five sheep).
||nga yod (I am); nga in (I was); nga pongbu gyab la yot (I beat an ass);
thug (s), je the (thank you); khyo de khampala palang kachod yot (How many
cattle are at home?) ngai khangpala lang nyi yot palang sum, teno lug
nyishu nama nyitsenga yot (I have two oxen, three cows, twenty five goat).
||as hun (I am); as hun (I was); Sbong bus ruken (I beat an ass); ju
bakshis (Thank you Sir); the gore tires kacha han (Have you cattle at
home?); aso gore dudone hain, tregabe hain, bi lasa, tri , gathe hain (I
have a pair of oxen, three cows, twenty pigs, thirty goats).
||mo ashi (I am); mo ash (I was); mumos bong to (I beat an ass); zhuznu
(Thank you, Sir); mu gotar zoo theo han, zoomo tria han (I have a pair of
oxen, three cows, twenty pigs, thirty goats)
||nga yod (I am); nga yod (I was); Sbongburdung (I beat an ass); thugjes
(Thank you); Khyerang Khangpar tundo palang (Have you cattle at home?)
cham yoth, ngaji Khangkar lanto nis pahsi sumi (I have a pair of oxen,
three cows, twenty pigs, thirty goats)
Bruce, C.G., Kulu and Lahaul. London, 1914.
Francke, A.H., Antiquities of Indian Tibet, Calcutta,
Grierson, G.A., Linguistic survey of India. Vol. I
& III, Delhi, (Reprint), 1967.
Hay, W.C. Report on valley of Spiti and facts collected with a
view to a future Revenue Settlement. Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Vol. xix, 1850. pp. 429-48.