-By Shrikant Gupta
Gharat is a traditional mill used for grinding cereals and grains for day-to-day domestic consumption. This typical form of mill is found in the mountainous and rugged terrain of Himalayan region especially in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Natural sources of water available in these undulating hilly terrain that are flowing turbulently through out the years are used for operating the mills. The simple devices used in running the mill are locally manufactured by the folk and rural people who are inhabiting in this region. Installation of these kinds of traditional mills are mostly found to the site where perienial source of water is available. These running streams carrying large volume of water is managed to pass through a canal locally constructed at an elevated point from where water can be dropped with desirable amount of force. From this elevated point, a long wooden canal is mounted in an inclined position allowing the water to fall and hit the blades of wooden turbine. This wooden turbine contains multible wings/blades and it is positioned in a manner that the lower end of the wooden canal faces the blades. When water hit the blades of wooden turbine, it starts rotating and further allowing the entire parts of the devices function as a mill which is unique of its kind. Interestingly, all these simple devices work very efficiently.
In the olden days, possession of Gharat as an important item of household was not only a significant achievement of the family but also a matter social prestige and pride. The owner of Gharat in those days happened to be a socially dignified and a rich person. He was given privilage of a person with distinct social status. Among the Rawain community of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the socio-economic status of a person who owned Gharat in those days was given due regards by the villagers and the neighbouring communities.
Appropriate site where perrienial sources of water is available could only maintain or run a mill. Therefore, the owner of that land in most of the cases runs Gharat to meet the requirement of the village or surrounding community. This was perhaps the reason that owner of Gharat among the Rawain community occupied a is respectful position in their society.
The traditional Gharat used in the Gundigaon village of Uttarakhand has not been replaced by any kind of mechanical innovations. It consists of wooden parts like Panyala (wooden canal), Jhaleri (wooden turbine with multiple wings or blades), Ghate (grinding stone), Chada (wooden and iron lever with gear), Reedi (wooden funnel used to stuff grains for grinding) etc. and all these tools work with their elaborate mechanical functions allowing the grains to grind simply by using the engergy of water.
Fast flowing water is collected at an elevated point from the low lying shed of Gharat. The water is then droped down by Panyala inclining to that level which can give sufficient amount of energy to rotate the turbine and the big size upper wheel of stone. The water wheel so call Jhaleri is interconnected through a wooden lever that gives mechanical energy to rotate the stone grinder. Another shaft of lever (excelled with wooden or iron gear), fixed near the rotor is vertically mounted to propel and adjust the upper portion of grinding stone. This lever is mainly used for adjusting the stone wheel (grinder) to lift up and down so that the grains could be grinded either in coarse or fine manner. A funnel shaped Reedi with Lalthou (controlling knob) is mounted vertically above the stone wheel grinder for pouring desired quantity of grains. The grains that are stuffed inside the Reedi gets passed on to the centre hole of the stone grinder only after the controlling device called Lalthou gets vibrated with the friction of grinding stone wheel. When grains are droped uniformly into the cavity of grinding stone, it subsequently gets crushed with the stone wheel resting at lower portion of the rotating Ghate. The grinded cereals ready for consumption are than collected and distributed to the concern person who came to grind their cereals or grains.
With the intervention of modern electrical and fuel operated mills, the use of Gharat in this mountainous region declines to the level of extinction. It is important that such kind of traditional devices which are sustainable in all its forms need properly documented and preserved as an important asset of Himalayan Culture. In the year 2007, a complete set of Gharat was collected and exhibited at Traditional Technology open air exhibition of the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal. During the installation of Gharat, in this museum, people from Gundiyatgaon of Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand took part in displying this rare material cultural heritage of the Himalayan region.

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