Tribes

Gaddis

Gaddis are predominantly a Hindu group who have a migratory style of living. The Gaddis are nomads who move along with their flock of sheep to higher pasturelands, though they have their permanent settlements in villages on lower altitudes. They move to the higher altitudes during summer months but in winters they retreat to the lower heights. At the higher ranges they build up temporary dwellings as a shelter against rains and other natural calamities, but at lower ranges they have permanent settlements. There are specific rules governing the movement of the Gaddis. For instance, they should not halt with their flocks for longer than one night at any single halting place in any forest in which they have no rights of grazing.

According to the most commonly held view, the term ‘Gaddi’ derives its name from the Mount Kailash which is the seat or throne (Gaddi) of Lord Shiva. The people who found asylum and settled in Bharmaur (in district Chamba of Himachal Pradesh), the territory of Lord Shiva’s gaddi, came to be called as the Gaddis. Their main occupation is the keeping and rearing of sheep. The number of sheep one holds determines the wealth of Gaddi people.

The dialect used by Gaddis belongs to the Sanskrit Aryan families of northern dialects. However, there may be a small variation in the dialect with little local influence of other dialects. Even illiterate Gaddis are polyglots, capable of conversing in Gaddi, Pahari and Hindi.

Historically, Gaddis have been a transhumance tribe and, therefore, share much with similar communities found across the world. However, their inhospitable habitat and livelihood practices have made them evolve as a unique culture, with respect to their costumes and dresses, food habits, rituals and festivals, though not really refined in the modern sense. In general, the outside world finds them honest, straight and god-fearing. With few needs and simple habits, the Gaddis for centuries led an unsophisticated, contended life, but all this is changing now.  Of late, due to migration of the wealthier gaddis to the plains or valleys in Kangra district and the consequent higher education and economic empowerment, their traditional life styles have undergone a see change for the betterment of the tribe.

Rakkar, a quiet hamlet about 15 minute walk further up from Sidhbari, is a historical settlement of the Gaddi shepherds who migrated across the mountains from Chamba in search of better opportunities over 100 years ago. Most of the original mud brick houses still stand today and one can experience life in a traditional Gaddi village here. Once regarded as a backward village, Rakkar has now become an example for environmental conservation and rural development efforts thanks to the work of two NGO's who operate out of here.

Gaddi dance

The nomadic Gaddis have a fine musical tradition too. Gaddis sing folk songs and dance to amuse themselves. Traditionally the women dance inside their houses but today they take part in dance at public places. Folklores and folktales about the heroic deeds of their ancestors and about the beauty of the womenfolk are also prevalent. Romantic ballads narrating the story of Kunju and Chanchlo, the Romeo and Juliet of Chamba valley, are sung late into the night as the men and women dance.

The Gujjars

The Gujjars are another nomadic tribe of the Kangra district. While the Hindu Gujjars have permanently settled, their Muslim counterparts are still sticking to nomadic pastoralism. They are found in Dehra, Nurpur and areas adjoining the plains (Kandi areas). The muslim gujjars are deeply attached to their tribal customs, rites and rituals. These nomads climb up the hills during summers and return to the plains in winters. The economy of these Gujjars is mainly dependent on the animal husbandry and forests. Most of them are landless and their economic status depends upon the number of buffaloes one possesses. Illiteracy has been found to be the major cause of their backwardness. They also offer services as porters or pony men for the tourists who go for trekking in the Himachal mountains.

Gujjars are known for their exquisite tribal dressing style. The colorful turban with the unique style of wrapping has been a style mark of this Gujjar tribal community. Aged Gujjar men wear Topi, also called Afgani hat. The tribal females are very fond of the jewelries, and have fascination for the necklace with a triangle pendant, studded with a beautiful stone in the center of it. It has a religious significance, symbolizing evil eye and mainly worn to avert bad luck.

The Gaddi societal structure too follows the trend of almost all the tribal communities of the Indian subcontinent. Patriarchal norms are prevalent. Gujjar males are family oriented and it is the Gujjar tribal female who has the duty and responsibility of fulfilling all the activities of the households.

Marriages are very simple, ceremonised without any vanity or show. Marriage procession comprises of horse riders. After the ceremony is over, the bride is brought on the back of a horse. Marriage parties are given a feast of delicious food including sweets, rice with several types of curries, mutton and fruits. Generally the marriages are arranged by the family members but sometimes there may be mutually agreed marriages between the bride and the bridegroom. Occasionally, there may be a number of young lads opting for a most beautiful girl of the clan. When there is a competition, the cattle's are offered in lieu to the parents of the girl. The bidder giving the highest bid wins the battle, of course the will of the girl is always sought by the mother of the girl confidentially. Once it so happened that a young Bakarwal gave away his whole herd of animals only to get the hand of a beautiful damsel. Other members of the community offered him some animals in gift and to some extent he was compensated. Marriages are conducted by the priests of the mosques generally in Niquah style.

Gujjars celebrate all the festivals of national significance, with Eid being their main festival.