‘Nothing Greek about Malana’


Filmmaker Vivek Mohan, who directed a award-winning film on  Malana, contests the popular claim regarding the origin of people living in the isolated hamlet, claiming that they are very much carrying forward an Indian tradition of democracy and not Greek.

As a film-maker with keen interest in Himachali culture, history, do you think there is enough of Himachal yet to be explored?
It’s not only exploration; it’s also dissemination of what has been done already. Press in general in HP can’t see anything beyond BJP vs Congress(I).

In fact, very little written record is available about the history of Himachal. Do you think an average Himachali is living an identity crisis with mass media and scholastic work speaking only half the truth?
Yes. Half-baked truth. There’s great divide between upper and lower Himachal… the crisis starts there!

Looking back, are you satisfied with what your path-breaking film on Malana has told the world about life in this mystery village?
George Bernard Shaw once said,” Satisfaction is death!” That’s why the title…”Malana – In Search Of…”.

Would you like to differ with what researchers and even journalists  have to say on Malana?
99% of them have not visited Malana…In the last 10 years I’ve been crying hoarse to get me the name/no. of whoever said Malanese are Greeks. I’m still waiting!

So have Malana residents been victims of miss-information?
No. In fact they laugh it off…it’s the other way around! Without visiting Malana, a section of the media has been “Manufacturing Consent” (an award winning film on Naom Chomsky).

And this may be true of the other such isolated communities living in the state.
History has always been ‘His-story’!

Then what’s the truth about Malana?
Earlier civilizations blossomed near fertile river bodies. With the invention of irrigation, year-round farming and organised labour replaced subsistence living. Thus originated Malana. The Hindi/Devnagri word comes from ‘MILANA’ – coming together – when hunters on their return discovered fertility!

So you mean there are no descendents of Alexander the Great?
Malana is a ‘living fossil’ of ancient Indian republics termed ‘janapads/ganapads’…MALANA remained isolated due to its geographical location and allegiance to their supreme deity Lord Jamlu (the only temple dedicated to him is in Hansa village beyond Kaza in Spiti and not to be confused with Jamdagni Rishi again!). As its subjects they consider themselves supreme too and are ‘untouchables’ in that sense! Even Mandialis and Parsis look ‘different’ as they intermarried like Brahmins earlier to save the race. What’s the big deal?

And what about the oldest living democracy?
The common saying goes that if one doesn’t understand any particular language it’s all GREEK to the person. The word DEMOCRACY is GREEK but the concept is ancient Indian. We’ve had oral history passed down…even MAHABARTHA and RAMAYANA were written much later…myth or history?! Our British rulers rewrote ‘His-story’ as ‘jiski lathi uski bhains’.

Just before the forward in AL Balsham’s famous book “THE WONDER THAT WAS INDIA” there’s a quote… “I shall not now speak of the knowledge of the Hindus,…of their subtle discoveries in the science of Astronomy – discoveries even more ingenious than those of the GREEKS and the Babylonians – of their rational system of mathematics, or of their method of calculation which no words can praise strong enough – Ii mean the system of 9 symbols. If those things were known by the people who think that they alone have mastered the science because they speak GREEK they would perhaps be convinced, though a little late in the day, that other folks not only GREEKS but also men of a different tongue, know something as well as they.” – The Syrian Astronomer/Monk:Servus Sebokht.(writing A.D.662).

So the final word is yet to come?
It’s like six visually impaired men feeling an elephant from six different angles and drawing their own conclusions. In the end the whole thing reminds me of a popular filmy song picturised on Jr.Mehmood…””Sikander ki hui ladai toh mein kya karoon?”

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  1. i do not agree with this. the similarities between himachalis (not just malanis) and the greeks are mind-boggling… the culture, down to the traditional flower behind the ear, is so similar, it's almost identical. the food, dances, dress – can't be a coincidence. maybe between greeks and the macedonians, but not between himachalis and greeks… the physical distance between these two cultures is just too much.

    based on what i've seen and heard (and i'm no historian) i have to disagree with it.

  2. Dear Vivek your work on Malana is unique precedence for film makers, historian, researchers, sociologist, political scientists, theologists, anthropologist and so many. After casually watching your Movie on Malana during International Film Festival at Shimla recently I can say with my little knowledge about this format that Your film trying to explore about this preserved living fossil in very cumbersome style need to be simplify by bring forth its abridged edition in more polished style which could easily grasped by even common men. I find some lack of ambiance in its clippings and vice over which. To make it for common men you should bring out its Hindi version and other language to make it universal.

    'Malana in search of' also cover wide ranges of subject matter which included life style, poltical system, education, nature, livelihood, economy and so on and so forth. The fresh products on same shoot could focus on so selected theme and its comparative study with rest of system.

    New work could be focus on each issue with multiple angle along with expert comment about each subject treatment.

  3. After reading this interview, I have a number of pretty outraged comments to make about M. Mohan’s views, whose film I have watched attentively. He has apparently “ been crying hoarse to get […] the name/no. of whoever said Malanese are Greeks.” If this film director had done the most basic of homeworks,  i.e., reading up on available literature about Malana, (extensive bibliography available on google scholar and any academic search engines) he would have known the source of this idea/myth. Considering this idea was first aired in the 19th century, I hope he isn’t holding his breath for the “culprit’s” telephone number in between hoarse cries. 
    He then proceeds to give us “the truth about Malana”; according to him “Earlier civilizations blossomed near fertile river bodies. With the invention of irrigation, year-round farming and organised labour replaced subsistence living. Thus originated Malana. The Hindi/Devnagri word comes from ‘MILANA’ – coming together – when hunters on their return discovered fertility!”  M. Mohan is neither a historian nor a specialist in ancient languages, cultures or etymology. I therefore find his unbacked assertions on the origins of the village and its name, appallingly arrogant. Rather than present his ideas as theory or personal hunch, he declares that it is they are the truth. The verb “milana” could indeed be the origin of the name, then again, there is just as much chance that it isn’t, especially as the Malani language is not based on hindi/devanagari (the latter never the name of a language by the way, but of a script). Not to mention the fact that his explanation of the origin of the settlement makes absolutely no sense considering Malana’s geographical position. Malana may be a vestige of ancient Indian republics called janapads/ganapads, although it seems most unlikely, as none of them was geographically close to the village. However, once again, there isn’t any nuance in his categorical affirmation that they are this.  I’ll direct another reproach to his lack of intellectual honesty: to him, their obvious physical (not to mention linguistic and cultural) differences with their neighbours, is ‘no big deal’, not any more surprising than the different appearance of Parsis. However it does not strike him that contrary to the Malanis, the origins of Parsis are well known and documented:  they are not of Indian origin. He is actually contradicting himself on top of demonstrating a total lack of curiosity and therefore respect for his subject. 
    M. Mohan wants to prove the point that the oldest form of democracy is Indian in origin; and rather than go through the tedious motion of checking historical sources, he talks about the Indian invention of the decimal numeral system as if this totally unrelated fact (which no one disputes) was any sort of backing for this idea. 
    Actually,  if M. Mohan had any sense of irony, he would appreciate the fact that our purest source for the existence of democratic forms of goverment in ancient India is offered by  Diodorus, a Greek historian contemporary of Alexander the Great. He would also appreciate the fact that the contemporay scholarly opinion that “the lack of the concept of citizen equality across caste system boundaries lead many scholars to believe that the true nature of ganas and sanghas would not be comparable to that of truly democratic institutions” comes straight out of a work produced by an Indian historian, Ram Sharan Sharma. 
    To conclude, his patronizing repetitions about ‘history’ is being “His-story”, apply to himself. The nationalist sentiment that seems to be behind his own personal rendition of history are actually counter-productive: such drivel, dishonesty, and blatant stupidity do not reflect particulary well on his country. Ps: By the way, before “manufacturing consent” was ever a film about  Noam Chomsky, it was one of M. Chomsky’s most famous and readily available book. 

    • The title of the film is – “MALANA-IN SEARCH OF…” (may be your “attention’ started after the title?! No one ever claimed(cried hoarse) the “truth”. Please go ahead…it’s your version and my version and the real ‘TRUTH’! As for the search engines are concerned…they are not ‘words of God’ You get the info that is fed which not necessarily could be the correct info?! The film is a mix of whatever was available and whatever was found put forward. Don’t get ‘adrelin rush’ !

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