Institutionalization of Traditional Technology

Nilambar Joshi Memorial Lecture : 2009

Nilambar Joshi Smriti Sansthan, instituted in 2005 to commemorate the life and work of an eminent educationist and social worker, has as its objective promotion of educational status, upliftment of socio-cultural condition and protection of the traditional knowledge of the region to which he belonged. Till date this Sansthan has brought out two publications entitled LOK VIDHA in October 2005 and November 2006 respectively.


Nilambar Joshi ( 1912 – 2004 )

The Inaugural Number of Lok Vidha brought out on the first death anniversary of this savant in October 2005 very fittingly celebrated the cultural tradition of Har Jagaran focused on the Krishna Leela. Kumaon, rather Almora, having been the Karma Sthali of late Nilambar Joshi is celebrated as the Cultural Capital of Uttarakhand and therefore reproduction of various songs connected with the Har Jagaran tradition was the most befitting way to remember some one who besides education and sports was actively involved in organization of Ram Leelas throughout his life. No wonder it was Devi Dutt Joshi who hailed from Neelambar Joshi’s mohalla who is reputed to have laid the foundation of the ‘Geya Paddhati’ of Kumaoni Ram Leela, as it has been noted that this very Ram Leela was enacted for years in the courtyard of Cheena Khan Mohalla. 1


Besides documenting and preserving the old tradition of Har Jagaran of Almora city, through as many as 43 songs, the 42nd in fact being a miscellany of 12 songs, the Inaugural Number of Lok Vidha easily makes it a collector’s item, especially our deeply religious ladies of the town.


Deep religious faith of our hill-ladies reminds me of an occasion when I was traveling on a train, bound from Benaras to Lucknow, when I found myself listening to a conversation between an elderly lady tourist from some European country and an elderly publisher from Meerut. Replying to the elderly Indian publisher’s query as to what has been her ‘ Best and Worst’ experience of her brief stay in India, this lady took no time in naming the Akaash Deep Udyapan celebration on the ghats of Benares as her most enduring memory, which highlighted the deep religiosity of Indian women. She had just a few days back seen the Benarasi ghats illuminated with hundreds of Akash Deeps, strung on bamboo-poles, on the Kartik Poornima, lit by hundreds of bedecked and fasting women of Benares ! Truly, Indian women are the real preservers of our great cultural heritage and tradition. As to her worst experience, the old lady voted her experience of an auto-riksha ride on some busy street of Benaras as the most chilling experience of her life, as the auto-riksha seemed to collide every time it took a turn or overtook some other vehicle, miraculously managing to meander through and deftly avoiding an accident at the eleventh hour ! Almora’s cultural traditions remind one automatically of  Benares ; verily Almora is to Uttarakhand what Benaras is to India, its literary and cultural capital.    


The seven thumb-sketches, three box-items, eighteen obituaries and the parting Tribute paid to the departed soul on the 10th November, 2004 at Ramsay Inter College by the bereaved citizens of Almora, reproduced in the Inaugural issue of Lok Vidha, are an eloquent testimony of the abiding contributions made by late Nilambar Joshi in making and shaping of Almora as way we find it today. 2    


Traditional  Technology :

It is the second number of Lok Vidha entitled Kumaon Himalaya Ki Parampargat Prodyogiki or Traditional Technology of Kumaon Himalaya for which both the author- trio and the Sansthan deserve every one’s commendations and sincere thanks. Divided in six chapters and covering themes of ( i ) Economy, ( ii ) Agriculture, ( iii ) Water Resources, ( iv ) Cottage Industries, ( v ) Daily use and ( vi ) Jewellery, the heads and sub-heads not only seem to break altogether new grounds but deserve serious attention of all those who are looking for serious openings for sustainable development in this newly created Himalayan state. As has been pithily observed by the President of the Sansthan and doyen of Almora journalism, P.C. Joshi in his foreword, the natural resources made available by the Nature are adequate to address the modest needs of all human beings but not for the greed of a single man. This principle is at the very core of the concept of sustainable development. 3


Fully aligning myself with the objective of the Sansthan, here Traditional Technology, towards which the writer trio of Professors Pande, Pokhariya and Dr. Joshi have so eminently contributed as the second issue of the Sansthan’s house journal, what I wish to share here is the universal and the most obvious concern, namely why these time-tested legacies have not been upscaled or manifested themselves in all nooks and corners of Uttarakhand ; accelerating development – through manufacture, value-addition and creation of livelihood opportunities through various service sector activities ? Further, why no in-depth examination of these traditional technologies have hitherto been made, what is their present status and finally, have any efforts been made to institutionalize the idea, or the technology, or the process, its management or various other forward and back-ward linkages which are so crucial in any given ‘pre-production to post-marketing’ value chain ?

Dictionary meaning of the English word ‘technology’ is linked to the Greek word ‘technologia’, meaning systematic treatment of art, from techne, Greek word for art or skill. Usage in English has extended the meaning of technology to all kinds of mechanical devices and forms of practical activity, by which certain material objectives ( e.g., the production of particular goods or performance of particular services ) are attained. Further, it includes, but is not confined to, practical application of theoretical knowledge. It is in this context, a status report of traditional technology ( paramparagat pradyogiki ) and further examination on it assumes great importance, in context of our newly emerging state of Uttarakhand looking for out-of-the-box ideas. Lok Vidha’s second issue has to be read, and re-read, with this precise objective in mind.4    


An attempt would be made to address the various issues, which I have outlined, with the help of a trilogy of books which I happen to have penned down, five years preceding the appearance of this most valuable monograph on our Traditional Technology, remnants of which are still to be found all around us. Soon after our new state was formed in year 2000 many of these traditional technologies were commented upon by this author as well, but with an eye on their adaptation and upscaling. Three of my books, namely Food For Thought and Action ( 2004 ), Patwari, Gharat and Chai ( August 2004 ) and Inside Uttarakhand Today ( 2007 ) consisting of  altogether 105 essays, try to provide some additional insights; as they came to my notice as the Forest & Rural Development Commissioner ( 2000 – 2003 ) of the state, and a few as its Chief Secretary ( 2003 – 2005 ).5


Institutionalized Ones

Humans differ from other species in the sphere of institutionalizing their learnings.  ‘Learning’ gets institutionalized through our educational institutions, or informal institutions like ‘families’; manufacture through assembly line factories, governance practices through administrative training institutions and so on. What about our technologies, especially our traditional technologies ? Is it i.e. lack of institutionalization, which has rendered them obsolete ? Will institutionalization of them make any difference, at least in the way we look at them ?


As far as it is known, the following traditional technologies listed in the Lok Vidha’s monograph appear to have received some assured or firm anchor / institution, in private or public sector, and thus have a potential of being upscaled or mainstreamed.




  1. Ghat or Gharat ( watermill ) : Ministry of Alternate Energy, Alternate Energy Institute, HESCO, Defense Ministry > Holds potential of micro-enterprise, electrical and mechanical uses ( Anol Model, Hesco Model ) > Borgaon, Bageshwari Charkha is one of the oldest continuing uses of watermill, 6

  1. Tel ka Kolhu ( oil expeller ) > Chullu ka oil, NGOs like HARC, Aarohi, Chirag, ATI, Rudrapryag have started selling through Women Federations / SHGs, Trifed, outlets like Himjoli ( Kathgodam /Naini Tal  ),


Agriculture :

  1. Housewall honey-making > ATI, Rudraprayag, Dev Bhumi organic honey, being sold through Hiljoli outlets,

  1. Wooden Frame/Box method  > several private and NGOs are making, Horticulture department,


Water Resources:

  1. Hill lakes > used for drinking water,

  1. Bhabar Water-reservoirs used for raising fish > auctioned by fisheries department > NABSCOM project, > Fish Farmers  Development Agencies > Central Institute of Cold Water Fisheries, Bhim Tal > Farmer Fisheries ponds demonstrated by Dr Kum Kum Sah of Pithoragarh, which could be linked to Gharat units and developed in conjunction holds tremendous potential, 7

  1. Hand-pumps in hills > Kasar Trust, Mankot, Bageshwar , especially its Chief Executive, Tim Rees, had successfully devised and perfected, and later got approved by the  Planning  Commission, Govt. of India > Today it is widely used both in Uttarakhand and Himachal; I recollect during my Secretary, Hil Development days ( 1992 – 94 ) people used to laugh over this possibility and even Jal Nigam and Jal Sansthan were skeptical about its success; Tim Rees, who was offered a Corpus by Hill Development department turned down the offer to demonstrate the technology on a very large scale as he had to shortly leave for UK to attend to his ailing sister, Ashish Mitra, who succeeded Tim Rees , and others took up the implementation later on a large scale,  



  1. Sheep-wool production and wool-based woollen products like Dan, pashmina, blankets, pankhi, chutka, thulma, shawl > a large number of villages in border districts of Uttarkashi, Chamoli ( Mana-Niti ), Bageshwar, Pithoragarh ( Johar, Darma and Byanse) continue to manufacture various woolen products, mainly tribal women practice manufacturing, some women have been honoured with National Handicrafts Awards, > Sheep & Wool Development Board, Khadi & Gramodyog Board, NGOs like Pancha-chuli, Him Kutir, 8

  1. Ranch ( Loom ) based weaving > Decentralized house-hold woollen products in Danpur, Johar, Byanse, Chaudans, Niti-Mana  > Mahila Haat, Dilli Haat,

  1. Fibers like Rambans, Hill-nettle, Hemp, Bhimal, Bamboo, Ringal > Bamboo & Fiber Development Board, Trifed > products made of grasses by Tharu women SHGs / Federations, Women Development Organization, Panchachuli, Him Kutir, 9

  1. Copper-wares, this ancient cottage industries has been continued in the private sector mainly at Almora and Bageshwar, with a few artisan having won National craftsmen awards > Tamra-nagari at Almora, sales through Trifed, Himjoli, Studio Alaya, Pancha-chuli etc. show diversification and private marketing avenues,


Daily-use  Articles :

  1. Various Bamboo and Ringal products are not only the oldest but in range easily the widest, used for daily use and  agricultural operations > Bamboo & Fibre Development Board, Trifed, Himjoli, Studio Alaya,

  1. Various milk products e.g. Bal, Sigori, Choclate, ghee, khoya, are oldest example of mountain milk products, centered around growing cities like Almora, Bageshwar; these have now acquired almost a brand reputation and a large number of shops outside Almora now specialize in these sweet-meats > District Milk Producers’ Union and dairy co-operative societies, 10

  1. Fodder collection processes  > in the agrarian economy of mountains nothing is more important for the hill-women than collection and storage of fodder for cattle, green grasses, tree leaves are collected during the season of their availability and the same are stored in many ways for the off-season;  green grasses are dried up and later the dried grasses are tethered along a pole in a conical shape ( called Loota ); this method prevents drenching and there is ease in grass drawal; dry paddy straws are mixed with stems of certain shrubby cereals, after completely drying these are bunched and kept as the Loota, sometimes these are also strung on trees, the latter keeps it out of animal’s reach and safe from termites > ‘bharar’ and ‘goths’ are other methods of, protecting fodder from rains and conserving it for future use > Livestock Development Board ( green fodder project ), Himotthan project and Van Panchayats,


Jewellery :


  1. Men and women are found of jewellery and the latter are made of gold, silver, mixed metal, copper and moonga, makers are known as swarnakar or sonar > private enterprise found all over the region.          


Besides the 15 technologies mentioned in this minutely researched monograph I would have included tea-cultivation, tea-processing and manufacture as well, for which Kumaon was not only well known once but which has again witnessed a revival, like some other. Its institutionalization has taken place through constitution of the Uttarakhand Tea Development Board. Not only has tea cultivation ad processing been revived in Kumaon, and Garhwal, but further value addition has taken place through turning it into Organic Tea and making it one of the first few taken up under the Public Private Partnership mode, the manufacture being in the private sector.  

Museum Pieces ?


What remains to be discussed and considered are those traditional technologies which have been mentioned in the monograph but which have languished and thrown into history bin. These are :


Haath-chakki, Dalani/Davani, Ghadu, Sil-butta, Oakhali ( two types ), Kolhus and Jwant ( 5 ) under Economy ; Jutai, Buai, Danela, Gudai, Neerai, Katai, Churai/Madai and agricultural operations might appear as unlikely candidates for being counted as technologies, which they certainly are. These operations, where they are amenable to mechanization constitute the discipline of agriculture mechanization, however, little efforts have gone into making these operations any the easier notwithstanding ICAR and DRDO institutions in the region. In agriculture, the various aspects related to seed e.g. from production to seed certification, has been eminently covered by the Turai Seed and Development Corporation, but its operations are confined to the pains only. To that extent seed technology has been institutionalized, and TDC happens to be one of the earliest examples of PPP practice in the primary sector and Uttarakhand became home to it. However, seed technology has neither been extended to the hilly part of Kumaon nor has it been similarly extended to the Horticulture sector.


Seed Technology, including its storage e.g. Chinta/Minta, Putka, Aas/Araas, Bhakar are excellent remains of our agricultural heritage, in many places still n practice. Indigenous practices of plant protection e.g. Bhesul or Bhaison, Aag-Jyav and various techniques of crop propagation e.g bhoosa-ropan, transplantation, Bin or Byano casting, grafting, dabba operations, cutting plantation are various indigenous operation, which do not deserve to be just thrown into the dust bin. With the onset of Organic Farming many of these old techniques have again become relevant as these are not dependent on external assistance. Organic Farming essentially being freedom from all kinds of externalities, all these agricultural operation deserve a second look, documentation and application.


Causes  of  their  Obsolescence :

How many of traditional technologies covered in this Monograph became obsolete on account of either having become old fashioned or being no longer useful ? About the traditional technology of the products, which were used for any kind of production in the days gone by none could be accused of what is known as ‘a built-in obsolescence’ i.e. designed for not lasting long so that people will have to buy new ones ! The market-economy has gifted to the mankind this concept of ‘built-in obsolescence’ and one talks of ‘first generation’ computers, ‘second generation computers’ and so on.  


Dr. Yashodhar Mathpal, the learned expert on Cave Paintings, in his eminent study the Kashth-shilp of Uttarakhand, has mentioned the fact that paucity of wood-workers who had once built the monumental temples made of wood in the Tons-Yamuna valley was one of the causes of the down fall of this outstanding tradition which gave to Uttarakhand an array of temples. These craft-persons mostly belonged to the so-called ‘lower classes’ of the society and with the advent of independence and various incentives afforded to these sections of the society weaned them away from the profession, both on account of better opportunities in the organized / service sector and an absence of patronage. Most of our artistic traditional heritage or traditional technology received patronage of the kings or the wealthy class which diminished with the advent of democracy and modern age. Over the years ‘working with hands’ was given a certain amount of stigma and its inferior status vis a vis things intellectual or cerebral in nature, has been really the main factor behind this disappearance of traditional technology. A look at all these traditional technology would reveal that their practitioners mostly belonged to the so called ‘Shilpkar’ community. For our traditional crafts or services we have to salute and credit our hill ‘Shilpkar’ communities. Most of our National Award Winners in Handicrafts invariably belonged to either the Scheduled Caste communities or the Scheduled Tribes, the latter in the wool-based sector. To the best of my memory, for copper-craft the only National Award Winner our state has produced belonged to the Tamta community and a couple of National Award for Weaving woollens have gone to two Scheduled Tribe women from amongst Johari Saukas.    


It is with this backdrop that the responsibility to reactive and revive our traditional technologies in the craft sector was cast on the Bahuuddeshiya Vitta and Vikas Nigam, anchored in the Social Welfare department. A scheme called Shilpi-Gram Yojna was commenced with a view to provide in-situ finance and infrastructural assistance to the identified shilpis and the villages with dominant number of crafts-persons were also prepared. According to the information available till date shilpi-surveys have been completed in 80 of the 95 blocks of the state, as many as 1026 shilpis have been identified working in some 20 crafts practiced in our state and about 400 craft-persons have been assisted for projects like iron-smithy, wood-craft, woollen-work etc. As against a total of 36,000 beneficiaries in other trades certainly a number of 400 is small but even then it has been the only effort in this direction. It is learnt that the entire scheme of help in traditional technology centered crafts is presently under a close review and it is hoped that the original concept of Shilpi-gram and in-situ help for revival of traditional craft would see some substantial help coming their way, arresting the down-hill trend.


Institutionalization of Traditional Technologies :

Learning from the past, in the new state of Uttarakhand, soon after its emergence various Development Boards, Service Agencies or Institutions of Excellence were set up to anchor important relevant technologies, recognized as such till then or not, and these are expected to not only provide a plate-form to the technology, either as a commodity, process or a service, but attend to the much needed co-ordination, including the backward and forward linkages, the last being mostly the reason of their having become redundant or remaining in a languishing condition. This approach has also achieved various other ends e.g. ( i )  in a new state like Uttarakhand it supplemented a non-existing or a weak extension service/department, or ( ii ) it provided the much needed extension arm to the activity, or ( iii ) it allowed flow of funds either from the government or a funding agency for the activity/initiative , or ( iv ) or if nothing else, it helped provide a forum for idea incubation, if the related concept of development was altogether new or relatively unknown.


In hindsight, it would be appreciated now, as the personnel division of various departments between Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and finalization of cadre structure of most of the development departments is still in process even after nine years have elapsed, this approach did not allow the ‘spirit of marching forward’ ( many naively believed and mentioned the so-called ‘clean slate’ ) to dampen the spirit of starting anew, which everybody naturally expects from a new state.


We would like conclude by showing how this new organizational approach has helped the existing traditional technologies in being not only mainstreamed but most of the time also being broad-banded on the one hand and in some cases revived as they received the much needed backward or forward, or both linkages, for want of which they ad almost gone out of existence.


Uttarakhand Tea Development Board : As mentioned tea-cultivation and processing has somehow not been mentioned in crop related traditional technology, but this Board has been able to not only revive Uttarakhand’s celebrated tea-industry but added it further value by converting into organic; today organic tea cultivation is spread al over Uttarakhand mountainous region, it has considerable value to the used land, it has demonstrated a successful collaboration between the State, farmer and private enterprise. Decentralized tea-cultivation, with a small processing unit for a tea-area of just 25 hectare is a model which is eminently replicable. It has also demonstrated very innovative convergence of employment generation schemes, state budget, land-holders’ contribution through land and labour and most importantly revival of a commodity activity in a rainfed farming conditions.


Uttarakhand Organic Commodity Development Board: It has not only taken on board all agricultural operations and technologies of a purely mountainous region but has, like tea cultivation, given great value by turning traditional hill agriculture into Oragnic cultivation of many a hill commodities. It has also added value to lowly valued hill agricultural products like mandua, madira and given a practical demonstration of how our traditional agriculture, with little application of science and technology, has shown the potential of being converted into a highly sustainable mountain activity. Old mountain practices like ‘Bara Naza’, local seed exchange amongst farmers and Save Local Seed ( Beej Bachao Abhiyan ) has also received great boost, thus serving the cause of bio-diversity preservation. Next steps, involve covering activities like pest-management and various other aspects of agriculture like suitable mechanization, seed management, varietal research and so on, developing an entire new discipline of organic farming parallel to conventional or chemical farming. Compost-making and various related practice make organic farming as the biggest validation of our traditional knowledge and need for its continuation, incorporating new discoveries of science and technology. As the only one stop station it also runs a training institution at Majhera, organizes sellers –buyers meet, negotiates favourable prices on their behalf, participates in scores of promotional activities, and equally importantly demonstrates how charities like Sir Rata Tata Trust are prepared to extend their assistance even to a government sponsored activity, if the idea is good and worth a try !


Uttarakhand Organic Seed Certification Agency : An off-shoot of Uttarakhand’s emphasis on Organic Farming, the Agency has emerged as its service cum commercial arm, providing employment opportunities to local educated youth on the one hand and reduced cost of certification to the organic farmers, thus making organic agricultural commodities quite competitive, price-wise. New packages of certification and organic certification demonstrate how new states could carve out their own niche amongst the comity of states and incubate new ideas successfully.


Uttarakhand Bamboo and Fibre Board, similarly takes on board all the listed traditional technologies, lends it requisite help through Common Facility Centres, establishment of Bamboosatems, new applications like a whole range of bamboo-products manufactured by poor tribal women, application of modern design and technology for value addition, providing forward linkages trough exploration of markets, outlets in the private sector; or highlighting fuller potential of certain lowly rated raw materials like agave/rambans, hill-nettle, various grasses, industrial hemp, ringal, and bhimal; Uttarakhand Livestock Development Board and Uttarakhand Sheep & Wool Development Board, respectively not only sustain our cattle population through effective artificial insemination technical support, organized purely on modern lines, but broad-band the animal heath-services through trained rural para-vets on the one hand and introduction of green grasses and fodder-trees though externally funded programmes and  using the community forestry/van panchayat route and support to sheep and goat herdsmen by issuing them identity cards, fixing their annual routes with the help of forest department, providing them de-worming/vaccination facilities during their march camps or at their  wintering places in the Turai Bhabar; finally similar backstopping support is provided by various other Centres of Excellence like the Uttarakhand Herbal Research Development Institute ( HRDI), Mandal, Chamoli, Aromatic Development Centre, Sela Qui, Kuroiler Rural Poultry Project, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand Bio-fuel Board and so on.   


Tradtional Technolgies deserve to be re-visited, revamped and redeployed using the latest science and art, management practices and above everything else, studied as minutely as has been done under the aegis of the Sansthan, duly documented and diplayed in their full glory in a State Museum, as it is as much a history of our progress, culture, scientific knowledge and inherent values as a community closest to Nature. Mountain people and their practices have received due notice and recognition after the world has realized what damage the so called model of development has caused to the Nature and its Environs. In this age of Climate Change and Global Warming the day of our traditional technologies has verily arrived, let us celebrate it by giving it a second hard look.  



References :

1. Shirish Pande’s article in Shakti of 6th November 2004, Shikshavid Nilamber Joshi, as in Lok Vidha, Inaugural Number, October 2005, p  64 – 65.


2.  Lok Vidha, ibid, particularly  p  ii, 1 – 46  and  48 – 75.


3.  Lok Vidha, Kumaon Himalaya Ki Paramparagat Prodyogiki, Nilambar Joshi Smriti Sansthan, 2006, p  viii.


4. Irfan Habib, Technology in Medieval India, c.650-1750, A People’s History of India, number 20, Aligarh Historians Society, Tulika Books,  2008, p  ix.


5.  These three books have been published by M/s Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, a premier publishing house of scientific books, located at Dehra Dun.


6. Patwari, Gharat and Ch’ai, has two articles, Ureda and Gharats provides a comprehensive account of gharat and its various uses and deals with the possibilities, p 43-52; and Re-energising Water Mills and explains the Action Plan devised for its mainstreaming, work done by HESCO, UREDA and how Bageshwari charkha represents the potential of this oldest economic enterprise, p 53-61.


7.  Patwari, Gharat and Ch’ai,  warm water fisheries has not been given the attention due to it, Tarai Water Reservoirs and their potential has been discussed in this article; pisciculture, fish-farming


8.  In Technology Mission for Wool essay in Food for Thought and Action importance of wool has been considered and constitution of Sheep and Wool Development Board has been discussed, p 183-195,

9. Initiative taken in Uttarakhand in promotion of the Bamboo ission has been dealt extensively and in a strict chronological sequence in  Food For Thought and Action,  pages  79-87,  342-344,  and the Bamboo and Fiber tradition of Jaunsar (Koti) has been dealt extensively through an an inspection visit, p 509-514, showing that bamboo tradtion is as much in existence in Garhwal interiors as well; Bamboo and Fiber potential is again taken up in Patwari, Gharat and Ch’ai, this being the third article on Bamboo discusses he potential in te state after the Seventh World Bamboo Congress, held at Delhi during 24 February to 4th March, 2004.


10. Issues related to dairy development in the mountain regions, as distinct from the plains, has been dealt extensively in the Food For Thought and Action, as far back as in 2110, just a year after the new state came into being. This essay shows that among the Himalayan states Uttarakhand stands head and shoulder above the rest, in any respect of dairy development. Following the famous Amul pattern of co-operative airy development. However, there is a case to lok at dairy development paradigm in the mountain regions differently in the less developed regions, while the Amul pattern could be followed in the Turai and plains region, p  24 – 40.  

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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