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The significance of the Daal (kaahin)

in the Shina-Dardic society

A journey through a new and breathtaking world

Mohammad Shafi Sagar

This Article is about the custom of Shin Dard people belonging to Drass
and adjoining areas. It is a part of the book titled “SHINA LOAK ADAB”
( ‫ (انشولک ادب‬by Mohammad Shafi Sagar where he had collected several
ancient songs and translate them in urdu. This English translation includes
only one article of the book, presented by the author in an international
conference of International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) and
translated in English and German by Rainer Kimmig and Bettina Zeisler.
Contacts 9419399487, 9622221748
E mail

The Shina-speaking Dards live in several regions of Pakistan and India. Many authors have
written about the Dards. If we talk about the Dards living in Ladakh, then we think of the Dards
of Dah-Hanu or Darckiks-Garkoon. The mental horizon even of local authors does not reach
further than up to these places. However, there are also Dards in Dras, who have, until now,
escaped the attention of the researchers. With respect to the Dards of Dras, each author is content
to state that they converted to Islam and abandoned their old customs. But the truth is that many
old customs have remained alive in Dras. The people of Dras are perhaps themselves responsible
for this neglect. It is possible that they did not cooperate with the researchers. However, if we get
to know this local culture and tradition, then we experience a journey through a new and breath-
taking world, which could be a world of dreams, if not our real world.

The Shina-Dards of Dras believed in a group of invisible beings (makhlooq), which would
always be of great benefit for the people, which would help them and would have pity with them.
The people had great respect for these very special beings. The local Dards believed that if one
satisfied them, then one would be protected against any kind of mishap and suffering. It would
be wrong to assume that the Dards of Dras had venerated a specific being; they rather believed
that every region had its own lord. If they took care that this lord was satisfied, the latter would
not cause any damage to them. This particular lord is also known under the name Raachii or
Raachoo. And if in those days the Shina people, being at an unknown place, felt fear, they
recited a few special words and so overcame their fear. These particular words were: daadii
hanutu gaa, daado hanutu gaa, Raachoo bo, pyalo bo. „Whether you are a man or a woman,
protect me, become my protector!‟ If one takes a closer look at this custom, then the Shina
people wanted that the respective owners (maalik) of the land, which they also called sabdag, did
not harm them. Mohammad Amin Pandit writes in his book A Short History of Kashmir that the
ancient Hindus believed that each spring had its own lord. Therefore, it is possible that the old
religion of the people of Dras corresponded to the old Hindu religion. The Shina people living in
Dras knew of several invisible lords of the country and of the house. And so, they also
transmitted their names, such as Buroong-Chiring, Abelii, Hakiila, Lootoolma, Rilo, etc.
Hundreds of stories about their rage and their dangerous deeds have been transmitted orally until

For example, one day a man came to place whose spirit-lady was Abelii. As soon as she saw the
stranger coming towards her, she seized him and fastened him to the beam of the roof. But the
strange thing was that these invisible lords were always friendly to those who really belonged to
the place and did not harm them. Nevertheless, even the people who really belonged to the place
had to venerate the invisible lords and special food was put down in the room of the goat and
sheep. One also had to utter prayers, which the local people called boyee Furthermore, once a
year a sheep had to be offered to the sabdag, the meat of which was distributed among the family
members. No stranger was allowed to eat from this meat.
Apart from these, there was another invisible species, who grazed sheep and goats. These beings
were called Yas (Yash). The Yash resembled the Djinns. They had one eye in the middle of the
forehead. This species was also kind to the people and helped them. Sometimes, the sheep and
goats of the Yash met with those of the people and as a result, the property of the people
increased. Dr. Leitner has included in his book about the Yas h of Dardistan some stories of the
Astoor of Gilgit. Similarly, one hears a lot of such stories about the Yas h in Dras. Among the
Yash, there are a few who have an evil nature. These could even cause harm to the people. There
is a story about one of these:

One man made friends with a Yash. The Yash told him that he would help him with the
cutting of the grass. But the man should stay with his family in his house until the grass
would be cut. Nobody should have a look. The man agreed and told his family not to look
outside and to stay in the house. As they heard a terrible noise outside, the man’s wife
could not bear it any longer and peeped out of the window. And what does she see? A
large group of Yash are cutting the grass. But in the same moment as the woman saw
them, they disappeared.

Another story, published by Dr. Leitner in his book tells how a man was invited to the wedding
of a Yash. There he observed, as the bride took leave, how the bride mother sang a very beautiful
song in the Shina language.

Goom baghe de Badaelee khatooni goom baghe de ha ha.

Ghi baghe de Badaelee khatooni ghi baghe de ha ha.
Moos baghe de Badaelee khatooni moos baghe de ha ha.
Maa baghe de Badaelee khatooni maa baghe de ha ha.

Distribute the wheat, you maiden of Badiil, distribute the wheat, ha-ha!
Distribute the ghee, you maiden of Badiil, distribute the ghee, ha-ha!
Distribute the meat, you maiden of Badiil, distribute the meat, ha-ha!
Distribute the wine, you maiden of Badiil, distribute the wine, ha-ha!

There is further a story that is famous in Dras.

One man went along with an old Sufi. On the way, the Sufi looked to the right side and
began to smile. The man asked the Sufi: Why are you suddenly smiling? But the Sufi did
not answer. But the man insisted until the Sufi had to give in. He held out his right hand
and told the man to seize his thumb. As the man seized the Sufi’s thumb and looked to the
right side, what does he see? There is a Yash wedding and the bride has earrings from
which two big millstones are hanging down.

Countless such stories about the Yas are known in Dras. To include them in a book would be
equal to confine the ocean to a pot. Djinns of this type are also mentioned in Kalhan‟s
Raajatarangginii. Kalhan calls these beings Yaksh.
A third invisible species in which the people believed is called Baraye. These beings a similar to
the paris (fairies). They are small and wear white wool garments. These beings takes a great
liking at singing and dancing. They often abduct humans and bring them into their own world,
where they keep them as prisoners. The Shina people assert that they often hear the drums of
these beings. And some people claim that they have seen how an army of these beings had set up
white tents and had settled there together with white dogs. These beings often come to the
springs and lakes. In ancient songs and stories, one can see how they bathe in lakes and springs.
These were the sole beings who could predict the fate of humans.

A Daal (kaahin) is a man who keeps regular contact with these three species. One does not
become a Daal through training, but through birth. Sometimes when the Raachii or Baraae (the
protecting spirits) were benevolent to a human, they would initiate the contact with him. If the
Daal wanted, he could call upon the Raachii and from them he would get information about the
fate of a particular person or about the general conditions of the time (Dall predicts about the
future, i.e political situation, natural disasters, peace and war conflicts of the area etc during the
coming days). We have seen with our own eyes how a Daal calls upon the Raachii. But only a
Daal can see the Raachii, not other people. According to the Daal, the invisible beings with
whom he had contact were two girls wearing white wool garments. They would give him an
answer to each of his questions. One can, therefore, conclude that the beings with whom the
Daal had established contact belonged to the species of the Baraae. But it is not so easy to make
contact with the latter. It takes very experienced people. These specialists first burned chili, that
is juniper, and then sang particular songs. The songs that were sung to establish the contact
between Daal and Raachii were called oonali. Every Daal could establish his contact with the
Raachii by singing an oonali. But if a Raachii initiated the contact with a Daal, she would do
this with much seducement. In this situation, the Daal had to sing a sophisticated song.

Cholomi ga dani Brachel ga khanna jo cholomi ga dani.

Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.
Cholomi ga dani Soojie ga aavorail jo cholomi ga dani.
Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.
Cholomi ga dani Kharbu traye jo cholomi ga dani.
Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.
Cholomi ga dani Shimsha shaiy jo cholomi ga dani.
Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.
Cholomi ga dani khebair konoley jo cholomi ga dani.
Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.
Cholomi ga dani jasgund naranoo jo cholomi ga dani.
Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.
Cholomi ga dani jasgund calvo jo cholomi ga dani.
Taway shoie boom titaway kay jo jook sulubomaek sharanie.(etc)
Oh, pure Raachii (protecting deity), you who dwells on the Brachil pass, we sing the choomo
Dani (the royal song).
I am bound to you in love. I hope that this is to the liking of your heart.
Oh, pure Raachii, you who dwells on the pure Soujhi Aavrail (name of a mountain), we sing the
choomo Dani (the royal song).
I am bound to you in love. I hope that this is to the liking of your heart.
Oh, pure Raachii, you who dwells on the pure Kharbu Trayee (name of a mountain), we sing the
choomo Dani (the royal song).
I am bound to you in love. I hope that this is to the liking of your heart.

This oonali mentions all the mountains of which one believed that they are inhabited by the

1 . Brachel Khand, 2. Souji Aavrail, 3. Kharbo Trayee, 4. Shimsha Shai, 5. Khaiber Konolley, 6.
Jasgund Naranie, 7. Jasgund Davie, 8. Danal Danie, 9. Khoona Godomie, 10. Youlboo Naranie,
11. Sooji Ogoom Chand, 12. Sooji Sarie Chand, 13. Mushkay Brachan, 14. Pranas Korhyar, 15.
Joozie Barie, and 16. Kool Aastan.
With this oonali one attempts that the Raachii, wherever she may be, appears before the Daal.
Thereafter the Daal falls into a trance and the contact with the Raachii is established. Should no
contact be established despite all this, then he must sing the oonali called Gayaaliima, which is
as follows:

Gayalima badi gayal waloon,

cha wo bay ga bajon cha
Braichul khana ray bojon.
Gayalima badi gayal waloon,
cha wo bay ga bajon cha
Sooji aavorailey ray bojon.
Gayalima badi gayal waloon,
cha wo bay ga bajon cha
Kharboo trayo li bojon.
Gayalima badi gayal waloon,
cha wo bay ga bajon cha
Shimsha shayoo li bojon.
Gayalima badi gayal waloon,
cha wo bay ga bajon cha
Khiber konolyo li bojon.(etc)

Oh you, who bring along success, let us go to the Bracheel khand and fetch the success. ...

In this oonali all those places are mentioned that appear also in the chomo dani.
Some of the elders think that this is not an oonali but a common song. Be that as it may,
compared with the chomo dani it is wonderfully melodic, and accompanied by the drums the
Daal falls into a state of forgetting himself and begins to dance. And while he is dancing, he falls
into trance, which is the sign that the Daal has got into contact with the Raachii. Then the people
have to sing the last oonali, called Shais ga mashais:

Shais ga mashais balakhshish wo bromaim

bootiyaie bo vas balasomaie bo vas.
Doodi Myani dooday ga birio jo
bootiyaie bo vas balasomaie bo vas
Doodi Myani bir bal charoo jo
bootiyaie bo vas balasomaie bo vas
Doodi Myani yoie ga oocho jo
bootiyaie bo vas balasomaie bo vas
Doodi Myani titavaie ga choorie vo
bootiyaie bo vas balasomaie bo vas
Doodi Myani aadam bafoori vo
bootiyaie bo vas balasomaie bo vas
1. Oh Raachii, we sincerely beg your pardon, we are at your service, forget your anger, please
deign to come, come here lightly. Oh my beloved, you, who are dwelling in a lake of milk, forget
your anger, please deign to come here lightly.

2. Oh Raachii, we sincerely beg your pardon, we are at your service, forget your anger, please
deign to come, come here lightly. Oh my beloved, you, who are dwelling on the Birbal Charoo,
forget your anger, please deign to come here lightly.

3. Oh Raachii, we sincerely beg your pardon, we are at your service, forget your anger, please
deign to come, come here lightly. Oh my beloved, you, who are dwelling in the Chorida springs,
forget your anger, please deign to come here lightly.

4. Oh Raachii, we sincerely beg your pardon, we are at your service, forget your anger, please
deign to come, come here lightly. Oh my beloved, Titavaie Choorie, forget your anger, please
deign to come here lightly.

5. Oh Raachii, we sincerely beg your pardon, we are at your service, forget your anger, please
deign to come, come here lightly. Oh my beloved, Aadam Bafoori, forget your anger, please
deign to come here lightly.

In this oonali the names of the seven women are enumerated who have the honour to be Raachii
or protecting spirits. They are as follows:

1. Achos Nelabadi, 2. Bizoon Nilabadi, 3. Chaite Gangchaite, 4. Chaimer Machoosie, 5. Boondi

Shalmooki, 6. Aawori Aajoonie, 7. Adam Bafoori.

Then the Daal predicts about the future. Some people apply special signs at the head of the Daal.
The Daal foretells them their fate. One believes that everything the Daal says is true.
Dr. Leitner in his book Dardistan mentions the preparation of the Daals of Gilgit and Astor as
“The Daal is fumigated with juniper. Milk of a white goat is poured onto the juniper. This
is accompanied by the beating of a drum and special songs are sung, after which the
mind of the Daal reaches another world. After this a white goat is slaughtered and the
blood-covered head is brought to the Daal. The Daal begins to lick of the blood from the
head and sets out for his journey.”

The custom to mix into the juniper the milk of a white goat, sharial (a certain grass), makuti (a
certain flower), utiambar (the thin pods or peelings of coral), etc., is found also in Dras. But the
local Daals, at the very beginning, let all the meat be taken out that is in the house. Therefore
there is no custom of licking the head of a goat.

The Daal had an important position in the local society. He had to be called in order to expel a
bhut or pret (ghosts) that was dwelling in the house or in the village. The Daal also had a special
role in curing the ill. But not only humans sought the help of the Daal, even the invisible beings
called Yash called upon the Daals from time to time. One such story is very famous in Dras:

One man was under suspicion to have stolen grass. This man decided to arrest the thieve
red-handed. He hid in the grass and slept. Around midnight he saw: a Yas (a spirit) of
great length and breadth with one eye on the forehead appeared and bound the grass
together with a long rope. The man was terrified and remained silent. The Yash put the
rope around then man and the grass, loaded everything onto his back, and went off. The
Yash threw the grass directly into the stable of the sheep and goats. In this way, the man
who had slept in the grass had come into the house of the Yash. He realised quickly that
the family of the Yash did not see him. (Like a human usually cannot see a Yash, a Yash
cannot see a human. Only infrequently the faculty appears in the eye of a human or a
Yash to see the other one.) In short, what happened next? The man began to go around at
ease. He ate and relaxed. Each animal that he touched with his hand became ill. One by
one, all the people and all the sheep and goats became ill. The Yash called upon the
scholars and doctors in order to obtain healing. But nothing helped. All of them said:
“there must be a two-eyed ghost (i.e. a human) in your house. Finally one Yash, who was
the most scholarly in that society, came to the world of the humans, contacted a human
Daal, and told him the whole affair. The Daal immediately went to the house of the Yash.
He saw that a human was hiding there. The Daal told that man: “Take what you need
and go away!” But the man felt there much more comfortable than back home, and
therefore he did not want to leave the house. The Daal told him hundred thousand times:
“If you don’t listen to me, we have to expel you forcefully.” But the man did not give in
and told the Daal: “Do what you like, I am not in the mood to leave this house.” Then the
Daal put a big pan onto the hearth and heated up sand. Out of the sand, the Daal drew a
wooden base, put a wooden horse on it, and began to dance to the rhythm of the drum.
The man observed the Daal, the horse, the sand, etc. attentively. As the sand got hot and
began to glow it took the form of a wide plane, and the sand turned into green grass.
Then the wooden horse turned into a real horse and started grazing. As the man saw the
horse and the meadow, he suddenly felt a desire to sit on the horseback and to let it run

across the meadow. Although he tried hard, he could not bear it any longer and finally
jumped upon the horseback. The horse went off. After a short while, he saw that there
was no longer a meadow nor a horse, and that he had come back to his own world. The
man regretted deeply to have made the big mistake not to have listened to the words of
the Daal, and thus to have been forced to return empty-handed.

Many such stories are related to the Daals. Among the famous Daals of earlier times, Daal
Chamar Singh, Daal Chaliya, Daal Ruposok, Daal Samad, etc. are especially worth mentioning.
Daal Samad counts as the last Daal. The tradition had continued up to him, but then modern
thinking had gained ground and the lineages of the Daals and kaahins came to an end. The
system of the Daals and the Raachiis might perhaps be a remnant of the old Bon religion. The
Bon religion is the old religion of the people of Dardistan, Ladakh, and Tibet. The fundament of
this religion had been laid by a person called Shenrab Mibo [the Urdu original has mido, but the
Tibetan name is mibo!]. It is said that this man is of Shin descent. For this reason, the Shina are
respected as religious people. In his lecture at the meeting of the Indian Nat ional Cartographic
Association at the Kashmir University Dr. Abdul Majid divides the Dardic society into four
lineages, namely
1. Rono, that is, scholars or healers (haakims). 2. Shin, who perform religious deeds, 3. Yashkun
who practise agriculture, and 4. Dom, the musicians. The same classification is given by John
Biddulph his book Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh. He has added, however, a further caste of
labourers. This division explains why the Shin were the most inclined towards the
aforementioned traditions. With respect to the biography of Shenrab Mibo, Kachoo Sikander
Khan Sikander writes that Shenrab Mibo had travelled to Indra‟s paradise. This shows the
relation between the Bon religion and Hinduism.

However, the forms of this religion as described by the historians for Ladakh, do not match the
religious practises in Dras. The reason could be that the religion was fragmented into many
different sects. Sikander Khan writes accordingly that at the age of ninety Shenrab Mibo
departed this world with words on his lips according to which his religion would be divided into
sects. But the tradition of the Bon religion that prevailed in Dras was pure and without any
admixture, whereas in Ladakh, the Buddhist scholars had tried to blend Bon with Buddhism, so
that it became difficult to discern which tradition is Buddhist and which belongs to Bon. In Dras,
by contrast, Buddhism did not have such influence. Here, Islam had a greater influence, a
religion that could hardly be more distant to the religious practises of Bon, and that did not allow
such practises, at all. One started, therefore, to classify all such practises as Buddhist traditions.

Still today, one finds indications of the presence of Bon in Dras. The same happened with
the physical remainders of the Bon religion in Dras. After the people of Dras had accepted Islam,
they abandoned the Bon monuments and the followers of Buddhism declared them for their own
and appropriated them. In an equal manner, the elder residents of Dras contend that the statues
found in Dras would be statues of the king and the queen. They call these images of the gods in
the local language cho and chomo. The local elders assert that the word cho means „king‟ and the
word chomo „queen‟. [In fact, this is Tibetan: cho (written ཇོ་ jo) is the title for a „ruler‟.] This is
corroborated by the description by Alexander Cunningham, who in his book Ladák writes that

these statues have nothing to do with Buddhism. He writes that the inscription is in the
Takri script [Takri script is close to the Sharada script, which was common in Kashmir] and not
in the Tibetan script. Cunningham writes:

"from the style of these figures, as well as from the nature of alphabetical characters, I have no
hesitation in stating my opinion that they are Brahminical statues erected by some Kashmirian
Hindus. T his opinion is strengthened by the fact that there is a third undoubted Hindu pillar standing
close to them, which I believe to be a Sati pillar. On one side is sculptured a horseman, which is the
usual emblem, placed on the pillar of a Rajputani Sati, to denote that her husband was a solider. On the
back of pillar there is an inscription of eight lines in Kashmirian Tákri which I am unable to translate
satisfactorily." (p. 382)

If one reads this description than it becomes clear that these deities are in reality two memorial
figures and not cult figures of a religion.

Simpson 1882, which argues that there is another figure on the stela, which is clearly Buddhist,
and may be older than the Hindu goddess on the other two faces! He also mentions the peculiar
drawing of a stupa with 13-ringed „tope‟ or dome on the same stone.

When we read these two statements we come to the conclusion that either two or one statue is
related to Hindu memorial figure.

The system of the Daal has certainly come to an end, but some customs are still present in some
families of Dras who still follow the Raachii system. It is still customary for them to offer a
young goat to the Raachii. If a woman cannot get a child or has her child die immediately after
birth, the women of this family adorn a one year old kid of a white goat with a garland of
flowers, with little bells, chains, and so on and bring it to a certain place. From there, it is lead to
a rock known as the rock of the Raachii. This symbolises that the goatling has been accepted by
the Raachii. Thereafter the goatling is killed and its meat is given to those present. However, the
married men and women are not allowed to eat this meat.

Many centuries have passed, but the deeds of these Daals are still preserved in the hearts of the
people of Dras.

Biddulph, John. 1880. Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh. Calcutta: Office of the Super intendent of
Government Printing.
Cunningham, Alexander. 1854. Ladák, physical, statistical, and historical: with notices of the
surrounding countries. London: Allen. [Reprint: Asian Educational Services, New Delhi,
Madras 1998]
Leitner, Gottlieb William. 1890s. Dardistan in 1866, 1886, and 1893. Being an account of the
history, religions, customs, legends, fables, and songs of Gilgit, Chilás, Kandiá (Gabriál)
Yasin, Chitrál, Hunza, Nagyr, and other parts of the Hindukush, as also a supplement to the
second edition of the Hunza and Nagyr handbook, and an epitome of part III of the author’s
The languages and races of Dardistan. Woking: Oriental University Institute. Reprint 1978,
New Delhi: Manjushri.
Pandit, Mohammad Amin. (Mukhtasar tareekh Kashmir in Urdu Language page no 35 1st
edition October 1962 2nd edition june 1982 )
Sikander Khan Skinder Kacho (Qadeem Ladakh In urdu page No 488.)
Stein, Marc Aurel. 1900. Kalhaṇa’s Raajataraṅgiṇī: a chronicle of the kings of Kaśmīr,
translated, with an introduction, commentary, & appendices by M.A. Stein. Vol. I,
Introduction, Books I-VII. Vol. II, Book VIII, notes, geographical memoir, index, maps.
Westminster: A. Constable & Co. Reprint 1961. Delhi etc.: Motilal Banarsidass.