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Situating Bhalessa And Bhalesi: Lesser-Known Pahari Languages

UNSECO has described the majority of these dialects as endangered languages of western Pahari. We make an attempt to understand their historical trajectory.
Situating Bhalessa And Bhalesi: Lesser-Known Pahari Languages

Image Courtesy: Daily Excelsior

Bhalessa is an area high lying in Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district and has a mosaic cultural heritage. Bhalessa lies 32° 57' 50.50" N 75° 58' 48.88" E. There are most famous mountain peaks/Dhars in Bhalessa like Mehlwar Pass, which rises to a height of 7,705 ft. above sea level. The area is endowed with a vast wealth of natural beauty and resources.

Full of natural endowments, scenic splendour, and places of tourist interest, worship, round the year snow-clad mountain peaks and challenging tracks allure the adventurers and trekkers. The area has good potential for tourism, including pilgrim and adventure tourism; the Kalgoni Temple, Durga Maa shrine at Tipri Khaljugasar deserve special mention here, owing to their captivating scenic splendour pilgrim centres and lofty mountain peaks. Unfortunately, their area is in shambles. This needs to be explored.

In these areas, there is a lot of snowfall during the winter season, and the summer is as pleasant as Kashmir. These places are worth visiting in the winter for enjoying the snowfall especially.

Due to its varying physical features, Bhalessa does not have a uniform climate. The climate is temperate, and average rainfall in the area and other parts of Doda have been recorded as 35.08 inches per year which is the lowest compared to other areas of the Jammu Division. Due to low average annual precipitation, the area has been declared drought-prone.

Bhalessa is a region consisting of the trio tehsils of Gandoh, Chilly Pingal, and Kahara in the Doda District of Jammu and Kashmir. The area has a distinct cultural canvas, as is evident from the languages/ dialects spoken widely here. The area of Bhalessa practices bilingualism, besides Bhalesi, there is a Kashmir spoken by the people, and both the Bhalesi and Kashmiri are linked languages between the varying communities. Bhalessa is a wide area that remained a part of the Bhaderwah Jagir, the jagir of Raja Amar Singh of Bhaderwah. Bhalessa was once a paragana of Bhaderwah. Now it has its distinct cultural identity and language. Bhalesi is grooming as a language now owing to its own grammar and distinct culture.

Bhalessa region is a multilingual Kashmir and is also spoken widely, besides the Bhalesi being a Pahari dialect of the area. Bhalesi has its own rich words and a plethora of grammar. It is listed in the First linguistic survey of India volume IX. Bhalesi dialect has some similarities with Bhaderwahi but has its own distinct phonology. Bhalesi is widely mentioned in the studies conducted by PK Kaul, Petterhook and Ghram belley. The people belonging to Bhalessa (Gandoh Bhalessa, Chilly Pingal, Jitota, Neeli, Bathri Changa, Khaljugasar, Ali Gingota, Basnota, and Kahara Tehsils speak Bhalesi and it is evident that its people are Pahari Speaking People (PSP).

However, Bhalesi comes under the umbrella of Indo Aryan languages and are enjoying the same right as provided to the himachili, Pothwari, Kangri and others. The unique feature of Bhalesi Pahari language is that it is spoken by all the communities i.e both Hindus and Muslims so it is a link language between the two communities. Bhalesi practice distinct Pahari Culture and are more closely related to the Pahari languages spoken in Himachal Pradesh and Bhaderwahi.

The Bhalesi dialect is surrounded by the other Pahari languages like Chinali, Pangwali and Chambeali to the southeast, Padri to the northeast, Sarazi to the west and Bhaderwahi respectively to the south.

The Bhaderwahi and Bhalesi differ in the area of the preponderance of diphthongs, the dropping of /l/ between vowels, for example, in Bhalesi, we pronounce black as /Kalo/ in comparison to Bhaderwah, we call it /Kao/.

Bhalesi is spoken in trio tehsils of Gandoh, Chilly pingal and Kahara and some parts of the Thathri subdivision. The trio tehsils of Bhalessa sub division enjoy distinct cultural and ethnolinguistic identities and common language features. The Pahari Speaking People of Bhalessa are both communities, and both can speak this language well. Since Bhalesi is a lingua franca of Bhalessa.

The common feature of the cultural heritage of Bhalessa includes sharing of common brotherhood The area is having mixed culture. Besides Pahari Bhalesi, people speak several other dialects, viz Mixed Kashmiri, Gojri. Bhalesi is a common and linked language of the area. "Kod" is a popular cultural festival celebrated in Bhalessa. Kod and its own folklore. Other festivals are "Panyaou" "kanchoth" "Basow" "Dikhneen" "Malchay" "Rang", Bheja Mela of Beer devsthan is the Biggest Night mela of District Doda held at Bheja Bhalessa besides Kalgoni Mela. Gujjar and Bakarwals are nomads.

Like the Guddies they come down to plain and barren areas of Punjab during winter. During summer, they go deep into the mountainous valley of Bhalessa. The Bhalesi has rich words dictionary of its own and can be groomed so as to overcome the list of endangered status. Its Pahari Shape and family need to be retained and its script needs to be revived.

Bhalesi is a dialect spoken in the northern portion of Bhadarwah, a Himalayan territory situated in Jammu-Kashmir. Bhalesi is a frontier dialect, lying in the immediate vicinity of many Paharl and Kashmiri dialects, indicating some parallel dialectical tendencies. Thus the dialect betrays the tendencies to vocalic Umlaut, which is a distinctive feature of the formation of plural, a phenomenon somewhat parallel to the Umlaut of vowels so predominant in Kashmiri. Owing to its isolated geographical position, Bhalesi is an eminent pattern of dialectical preservations and innovations. Thus its vocabulary as preserved, in a slightly modified form, the Sanskrit word [vantah] ni!'. Developed into Bhalesi [bafh] 'barren,' while Bhalesi [ jAkkori] ' a female calf, well-developed ' preserves Skr. [sakvari] a cow, occurring in the Atharvaveda (cf. p. 62). Siddeshwer Varma, a noted linguist and a writer who undertook in 1928 a linguistic tour to Bhalessa. Some rudimentary features of the Bhalesi, dialect have been described in the Linguistic Survey of India, Vol IX Part IV, but no systematic investigation of the dialect on the spot had hitherto been made. But side by side with this series of words, there is another series in which the word for the territory of Bhalessa is bhal, while the Bhalesi dialect is either called simply 'bhali or 'bhah -Galla. Now the etymology of the word bhal is obscure. It may go back to the Skr. word bhall-'good '. Locally it is known as Bhaley manus or Bhaley logoon kades.


Siddeshwer Verma noticed in Bhalessa two sub-dialects, one spoken in the South, the centre of which is the village Kalhotran, the other spoken in the North, the centre of which is the village Jakyas. The following are a few distinctive:

The vowel system of the Northern dialect indicates a tendency to glides or diphthongal vowels of delicate pronunciation like i: i, cf. past participles. Now it is clear that Bhalesi dialect has different lexical tendencies in northern and southern portions it may be in Neeli area it is somewhat slightly different from what is spoken in Jakyas or chilly pingal. Not too much dissimilarity we find but atleast in pronunciation northern Bhalesi differ from southern one in terms of vowels and past participles.

The comparative analysis of the different dialects has been made by the different linguists like GA Grierson, who conducted an extensive study of more than 367 languages of India. A British ICS officer and the head of the First linguistic survey of India (LSI), he has spared a chapter in Volume 9 part 4 that Bhalessi is different from Bhaderwahi to a huge extent but comes under the chain of Bhaderwahi-Bhalesi-Padri classified under the western Pahari grouping of Indo Aryan language system. The Bhalessi, Bhaderwahi, Padri Sarazi Pougali, Gadi, Deshwali are the other dialects near to the Bhalesi. The Other languages adjoining Bhalesi are Pangwali, Chameali spoken in Pangi and Chamba where we enter a language chain of Himachali, Kangri, Lahuli and the indigenous culture of Himachal Pradesh.

Bhalesi is spoken by both the communities of Bhalessa i.e Tehsil Bhalessa, Tehsil Chilly pingal and Tehsil Kahara where it has a connection with Bhaderwahi and Bonjwali Padri and Sarori dialects. Bonjwali is spoken in Bonjwah area, Saroori in Saroor and Padri being a part of Bhaderwahi Bhalesi Padri chain is spoken in the saffron valley of Padder. Padder is a rich land and padri has reached its extinction due to non-seriousness by the speakers and non-adoption by the government authorities. The same is happening to the Bhalesi dialect, it is an endangered dialect and is reaching extinction due to lack of minority status, Pahari speaking status for it.

Bhalesi has more than 90,000 speakers, both Hindus and Muslims and is not adopted so far.

The Central Institute of Indian Languages and other organisations like the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and languages has not yet established a separate section for Bhalesi. Bhalesi has not even been granted minority language status, with 4% Pahari reservation to its people. The people of Bhalessa are veering for adoption, enrichment and propagation of Bhalesi. The indigenous language movement is in place to grant this sweet language minority status, 4% reservation in Jobs, Pahari hostels, special economic package and scholarships.

With regard to the survey and census, this language is excluded. The Pahari speaking Board of Jammu and Kashmir need to conduct a fresh survey of Pahari dialects like Bhalesi, Bhaderwahi, Padri, Sarazi Pougali, Gadi and Deshwali.

The fact that all the areas the entire region of Chenab valley right from Pogal Paristan to Padder and Bhalessa comes under the language classification of western Pahari as elucidated in the Linguistic surveys of India and other books.

As per the George Ibraham Grierson survey, a linguistic survey of India appointed by the British government, Bhalesi is classified under western Pahari besides Bhaderwahi, Padri, Poguli and Serazi. The serazi has been kept in the Kashmiri as well as in western pahari to some extent by some linguists.

UNSECO - United Nations Social Educational and Cultural Organisation (an international body of the United Nations) - has described the majority of these dialects as endangered languages of western Pahari.

Bhalesi as enunciated by the Grierson and other linguists of the time is a dialect spoken wisely in Bhalessa. As the Grierson's classification of the languages the Bhalesi has been put in the category of the Western Pahari -Bhaderwahi group. The Bahderwahi group includes (Bhaderwahi-Bhalesi and Padri) keeping in view the lexical similarities of these dialects. Padri is spoken widely in Pader area of District Kishtwar whereas Bhaderwahi is spoken in Bhaderwah.

There is a lexical similarity between these dialects of the western Pahari.

UNESCO has kept these dialects under the definitely endangered languages of the western pahari. The dialects are indeed definitely engendered due to the lack of a wide study of these dialects. Besides this, the dialects have been a prey of political exploitation by the politicians and policymakers at large.

As per the figures available to the author, the Census of 1909 has given the details of Bhaderwahi Bhalessi and Padri. According to Census 1901, Bhaderwahi and Bhalessa have a total no of 20977 Pahari Speaking People meaning thereby they speak Bhaderwahi and Bhalesi. Whereas the padri had 4540 people who spoke Pahari at that time.

Bhalessa lies to the east of the Bhalessa which has been in close proximity with each other. The Bhalesi dialect is closely connected with the Bhaderwahi. The main difference is that Bhalesi is found of dropping r between the two vowels Thus the genitive singular in these dialects are slightly different.


The Bhalesi is having lexical similarities with other dialects of the area like Bhaderwahi, Sarazi etc. Amitabh Vikram in his work "Bhaderwahi: Typological Sketch". Has given the following similarities between Bhaderwahi and other Pahari dialects including Bhalesi.

Nevertheless, Dr Siddeshver Verma in his works and linguistic tour to Bhalessa in 1928 has elucidated that Bhalesi is a distinct dialect and has unique features like a tendency to glide or diphthongal vowels of delicate pronunciation.

Some rudimentary features of the Bhalesi dialect have been described in the Linguistic Survey of India, Vol IX Part IV, but no systematic investigation of the dialect on the spot had hitherto been made. Dr Siddeshwar Varma in his monography series published by the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal Volume IV has elucidated the dialect of Bhalesi. Dr Varma conducted an extensive tour of the area of Bhalessa in 1928 to study the characteristic features of the Bhalesi language. He has elucidated the vowel system, Reduction, contraction and elusion, nasalisation and denasalisation, Accent, Striking features of the consonants, word building verbs and numerals. The Bhalesi has been divided into two sub-dialects: northern subdialect and a southern sub-dialect.


To conclude we can say that Bhalessi owing to its two sub-dialects spoken in the north and south has several distinctive features. Both the sub-dialect of Bhalessi i.e southern and Northern have differences slightly and form the very core and give value to the grammatical features of the Bhalesi language. The use of diphthongs in Bhalesi has made Bhalesi a very distinct language of the area and is different from the other dialects or languages.

Bhalesi language comes under the western Pahari and has a grammar of its own. The Bhalesi is classified under the western pahari grouping by the GA Grierson.

Bhalessa, besides enjoying ethnicity among the varying communities and need to be given special status under Pahari speaking population. The Census of India needs a relook to identify the bhalesi speaking population.

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