Gadaria caste

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Gadaria, Gadri

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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India

By R. V. Russell

Of The Indian Civil Service

Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces

Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner

Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.

NOTE 1: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.

NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from the original book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot these footnotes gone astray might like to shift them to their correct place.

The occupational shepherd caste of 1. General northern India. The name is derived from the Hindi gddar notlce- and the Sanskrit gandhara, a sheep, the Sanskrit name being taken from the country of Gandhara or Kandahar, from which sheep were first brought. The three main shepherd castes all have functional names, that of the Dhangars or Maratha shepherds being derived from dhan, small stock, while the Kuramwars or Telugu shepherds take their name like the Gadarias from kuruba, a sheep. These three castes are of similar nature and status, and differ only in language and local customs. In 191 1 the Gadarias numbered 41,000 persons.

They are found in the northern Districts, and appear to have been amongst the earliest settlers in the Nerbudda valley, for they have given their name to several villages, as Gadariakheda and Gadarwara. The Gadarias are a very mixed caste. They themselves 2. Sub- say that their first ancestor was created by Mahadeo to tend divisi0ns - his rams, and that he married three women who were fascin- ated by the sight of him shearing the sheep.

These belonged to the Brahman, Dhimar and Barai castes respectively, and became the ancestors of the Nikhar, Dhengar and Barmaiyan subcastes of Gadarias. The Nikhar subcaste are the highest, their name meaning pure. Dhengar is probably, in reality, a corruption of Dhangar, the name of the Maratha shepherd 1 This article is based on information collected by Mr. Hira Lai in Jubbulpore, and the author in Mandla.

caste. They have other subdivisions of the common terri- torial type, as Jheria or jungly, applied to the Gadarias of Chhattlsgarh ; Desha from desk, country, meaning those who came from northern India ; Purvaiya or eastern, applied to immigrants from Oudh ; and Malvi or those belonging to M.ilwa. Nikhar and Dhengar men take food together, but not the women ; and if a marriage cannot be otherwise arranged these subcastes will sometimes give daughters to each other. A girl thus married is no longer permitted to take food at her father's house, but she may eat with the women of her husband's subcaste.

Many of their exogamous groups are named after animals or plants, as Hiranwar, from kirarty a deer ; Sapha from the cobra, Moria from the peacock, Nahar from the tiger, Phulsungha, a flower, and so on. Others are the names of Rajput septs and of other castes, as Ahirwar (Ahlr) and Bamhania (Brahman). Another more ambitious legend derives their origin from the Bania caste. They say that once a Bania was walking along the road with a cocoanut in his hand when Vishnu met him and asked him what it was. The Bania answered that it was a cocoanut. Vishnu said that it was not a cocoanut but wool, and told him to break it, and on breaking the cocoanut the Bania found that it was filled with wool.

The Bania asked what he should do with it, and Vishnu told him to make a blanket out of it for the god to sit on. So he made a blanket, and Vishnu said that from that day he should be the ancestor of the Gadaria caste, and earn his bread by making blankets from the wool of sheep. The Bania asked where he should get the sheep from, and the god told him to go home saying 'Elian, Elian, EMn,' all the way, and when he got home he would find a flock of sheep following him ; but he was not to look behind him all the way. And the Bania did so, but when he had almost got home he could not help looking behind him to see if there were really any sheep. And he saw a long line of sheep following him in single file, and at the very end was a ram with golden horns just rising out of the ground. But as he looked it sank back again into the ground, and he went back to Vishnu and begged for it, but Vishnu said that as he had looked behind him he had lost it. And this was customs.

the origin of the Gadaria caste, and the Gadarias always say ' Ehan, Elian', as they lead their flocks of sheep and goats to pasture. Marriage within the clan is forbidden and also the union 3- M^r- of first cousins. Girls may be married at any age, and are "^ ol sometimes united to husbands much younger than themselves. Four castemen of standing carry the proposal of marriage from the boy's father, and the girl's father, being forewarned, sends others to meet them. One of the ambassadors opens the conversation by saying, ' We have the milk and you have the milk-pail ; let them be joined.' To which the girl's party, if the match be agreeable, will reply, " Yes, we have the tamarind and you have the mango ; if the panches agree let there be a marriage." The boy's father gives the girl's father five areca-nuts, and the latter returns them and they clasp each other round the neck. When the wedding pro- cession reaches the bride's village it is met by their party, and one of them takes the sarota or iron nut-cutter, which the bridegroom holds in his hand, and twirls it about in the air several times. The ceremony is performed by walking round the sacred pole, and the party return to the bride- groom's lodging, where his brother-in-law fills the bride's lap with sweetmeats and water-nut as an omen of fertility.

The maihar or small wedding-cakes of wheat fried in sesamum oil are distributed to all members of the caste present at the wedding. While the bridegroom's party is absent at the bride's house, the women who remain behind enjoy amuse- ments of their own. One of them strips herself naked, tying up her hair like a religious mendicant, and is known as Baba or holy father. In this state she romps with her companions in turn, while the others laugh and applaud. Occasionally some man hides himself in a place where he can be a witness of their play, but if they discover him he is beaten severely with belnas or wooden bread-rollers. Widow-marriage and divorce are permitted, the widow being usually expected to marry her late husband's younger brother, whether he already has a wife or not. Sexual offences are not severely reprobated, and may be atoned for by a feast to the caste- fellows. The Gadarias worship the ordinary Hindu deities and customs.

4. Keii- also Dishai Devi, the goddess of the sheep-pen. No Gadaria gion and m j to the sheep-pen with his shoes on. On entering funeral J ° ... ,, , , it in the morning they make obeisance to the sheep, and these customs seem to indicate that the goddess Dishai Devi x is the deified sheep. When the sheep are shorn and the fleeces are lying on the ground they take some milk from one of the ewes and mix rice with it and sprinkle it over the wool. This rite is called Jimai, and they say that it is feeding the wool, but it appears to be really a sacrificial offering to the material.

The caste burn the dead when they can afford to do so, and take the bones to the Ganges or Nerbudda, or if this is not practicable, throw them into the nearest stream. 5. social Well-to-do members of the caste employ Brahmans for ceremonial purposes, but others dispense with their services. The Gadarias eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from fowls and pork. They will take food cooked with water from a Lodhi or a Dangi, members of these castes having formerly been their feudal chieftains in the Vindhyan Dis- tricts and Nerbudda valley.

Brahmans and members of the good cultivating castes would be permitted to become Gadarias if they should so desire. The head of the caste committee has the title of Mahton and the office is hereditary, the holder being invariably consulted on caste questions even if he should be a mere boy. The Gadarias rank with those castes from whom a Brahman cannot take water, but above the servile and labouring castes. They are usually somewhat stupid, lazy and good-tempered, and are quite uneducated. Owing to their work in cleaning the pens and moving about among the sheep, the women often carry traces of the peculiar smell of these animals. This is exemplified in the saying, ' Ek to Gadaria, dusre lahsan Mae,' or ' Firstly she is a Gadaria and then she has eaten garlic ' ; the inference being that she is far indeed from having the scent of the rose. The regular occupations of the Gadarias are the breed- ing and grazing of sheep and goats, and the weaving of country blankets from sheep's wool.

The flocks are usually 1 The word Dishai really means probable that she was originally the direction or cardinal point, but as the sheep itself, goddess dwells in the sheep-pen it is

tended by the children, while the men and women spin and weave the wool and make blankets. Goats are bred in larger numbers than sheep in the Central Provinces, being more commonly used for food and sacrifices, while they are also valuable for their manure. Any Hindu who thinks an animal sacrifice requisite, and objects to a fowl as un- .clean, will choose a goat ; and the animal after being sacrificed provides a feast for the worshippers, his head being the perquisite of the officiating priest. Muhammadans and most castes of Hindus will eat goat's meat when they can afford it. The milk is not popular and there is very little demand for it locally, but it is often sold to the confectioners, and occasionally made into butter and ex- ported. Sheep's flesh is also eaten, but is not so highly esteemed. In the case of both sheep and goats there is a feeling against consuming the flesh of ewes.

Sheep are generally black in colour and only occasionally white. Goats are black, white, speckled or reddish-white. Both animals are much smaller than in Europe. Both sheep and goats are in brisk demand in the cotton tracts for their manure in the hot-weather months, and will be kept continually on the move from field to field for a month at a time. It is usual to hire flocks at the rate of one rupee a hundred head for one night ; but sometimes the cultivators combine to buy a large flock, and after penning them on their fields in the hot weather, send them to Nagpur in the beginning of the rains to be disposed of.

The Gadaria was formerly the bete noir of the cultivator, on account of the risk incurred by the crops from the depredations of his sheep and goats. This is exemplified in the saying : Ahlr, Gadaria, Past, Yeh tinon satyandsi, or, ' The Ahlr (herdsman), the Gadaria and the Pasi, these three are the husbandmen's foes.' And again : AMr, Gadaria, Gujar, Yeh tinon chahen ujar, or 'The Ahlr, the Gadaria and the Gujar want waste land,' that is for grazing their flocks. But since the demand for manure has arisen, the Gadaria has become a popular personage

in the village. The shepherds whistle to their flocks to guide them, and hang bells round the necks of goats but not of sheep. Some of them, especially in forest tracts, train ordinary pariah dogs to act as sheep-dogs.

As a rule, rams and he-goats are not gelt, but those who have large flocks sometimes resort to this practice and afterwards fatten the animals up for sale. They divide their sheep into five classes, as follows, according to the length of the ears

Kanari, with ears a hand's length long ; Semri, somewhat shorter ; Burhai, ears a forefinger's length ; Churia, ears as long as the little finger ; and N^ori, with ears as long only as the top joint of the forefinger. Goats are divided into two classes, those with ears a hand's length long being called Bangalia or Bagra, while those with small ears a forefinger's length are known as Gujra. 7 . Blanket- While ordinary cultivators have now taken to keeping goats, sheep are still as a rule left to the Gadarias.

These are of course valued principally for their wool, from which the ordinary country blanket is made. The sheep 1 are shorn two or sometimes three times a year, in February, June and September, the best wool being obtained in February from the cold weather coat. Members of the caste commonly shear for each other without payment. The wool is carded with a kamtha, or simple bow with a catgut string, and spun by the women of the household. Blankets are woven by men on a loom like that used for cotton cloth.

The fabric is coarse and rough, but strong and durable, and the colour is usually a dark dirty grey, approaching black, being the same as that of the raw material. Every cultivator has one of these, and the various uses to which it may be put are admirably described by ' Eha ' as follows : 2 "The kammal is a home-spun blanket of the wool of black sheep, thick, strong, as rough as a farrier's rasp, and of a colour which cannot get dirty. When the Kunbi (cultivator) comes out of his hole in the morning it is wrapped round his shoulders and reaches to his knees, 1 The following particulars are taken ed., p. 219. In the quotation the from the Central P, .,/ Hindustani word kammal, commonly on Woollen Industries, by Mr. J. T. used in the Central Provinces, is sub- Marten, stituted for the Marathi word kambli. '-' A Naturalist on the Prowl, 3rd

guarding him from his great enemy, the cold, for the thermo- meter is down to 6o° Fahrenheit. By- and -by he has a load to carry, so he folds his kammal into a thick pad and puts it on the top of his head. Anon he feels tired, so he lays down his load, and arranging his kammal as a cushion, sits with comfort on a rugged rock or a stony bank, and has a smoke. Or else he rolls himself in it from head to foot, like a mummy, and enjoys a sound sleep on the roadside. It begins to rain, he folds his kammal into an ingenious cowl and is safe. Many more are its uses.

I cannot number them all. Whatever he may be called upon to carry, be it forest produce, or grain or household goods, or his infant child, he will make a bundle of it with his kammal and poise it on his head, or sling it across his back, and trudge away." Wool is a material of some sanctity among the Hindus. 8. Sanctity It is ceremonially pure, and woollen clothing can be worn ofw°o1 - by Brahmans while eating or performing sacred functions. In many castes the bridegroom at a wedding has a string of wool with a charm tied round his waist. Religious mendicants wear jatas or wigs of sheep's wool, and often carry woollen charms. The beads used for counting prayers are often of wool. The reason for wool being thus held sacred may be that it was an older kind of clothing used before cotton was introduced, and thus acquired sanctity by being worn at sacrifices. Perhaps the Aryans wore woollen clothing when they entered India.

Gadaria \ Pal \ Bhagel [Baghel] \ Shepherd \ Dhangar

From: Gadaria \ Pal \ Bhagel \ Shepherd \ Dhangar Who are they?

The Gadaria are also referred to as Baghela or Pal, are a community of shepherds. The word Gadaria is derived from the Hindi word gadar meaning sheep and denotes “one who keeps or tends sheep.” Ethnologists, Russel and Hiralal (1916), describe them as “an occupational shepherd caste of northern India,” while another authority, William Crooke (1896), calls them “a caste of shepherds and blanket weavers.”

The traditional occupation of a majority of the Gadaria continues to be herding and rearing of sheep and goats for their wool, milk and meat. They also sell their animals in the local markets and fairs. Most of them own small-to-medium sized plots of land, or have acquired them under one of the official land-for-the-landless schemes in the post-independence period, and practice agriculture as a subsidiary occupation.


The Gadaria of each region have different accounts to explain the origin of their community. In Haryana, legend has it that during the reign of King Rama (7th incarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu trinity) they were sent into the jungles, where they gradually took to rearing goats and sheep. In Uttar Pradesh, where a majority (4.5 million) lives, they derive their synonym, Baghela, from the Baghela River which flows at the state’s border and trace their descent from a Baghela ruler.

In Maharashtra they are also known as Kurumwar and Dhangar, while in central Madhya Pradesh, where they number around 740,000, they are known as Gadri. The Gadaria of Maharastra claim that their first ancestor was created by Mahadeo (synonym of Shiva, the Destroyer in the Hindu trinity) to tend his rams. In Rajasthan (290,000) the Gadaria are commonly known as Gairi (from gaira, meaning sheep in the local dialect), and claim to be co-wanderers of Krishna, one of the most popularly worshipped gods who was a cowherd. Their oral tradition recalls their migration from Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, where Krishna lived. In Delhi (33,000) their synonyms are Pal or Pal Shari.

The Gadaria people consider themselves as middle social ranking but other communities consider them to be of a low social standing. The Gadaria do not accept food and water from certain low caste communities like the Chura (sweeper), Chamar (tanner), Nai (Barber) and Dhobi (washer man).


They live in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the union territory of Chandigarh.


They speak the language of the regions they reside in. Therefore in Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, it is Haryanvi, Rajasthani dialects and Hindi (which only the literate among them speak). In all these states, the Devanagari script is used except in Maharashtra, where their second language, Marathi, is written in its own distinct script. In Punjab and Chandigarh, the Gurmukhi script is used by Punjabi speaking Gadarias.

What Are Their Lives Like?

For the majority of the Gadaria, the primary occupation continues to be herding and rearing of sheep and goats for their wool, milk and meat. They sell their animals at local markets and fairs. Most of them own small-to-medium sized plots of land which have been acquired through official land-for-the-landless schemes in the post-independence period, and practice agriculture as a subsidiary occupation. In the hilly and forested state of Himachal Pradesh they have retained permission to collect firewood and graze their flocks in the forests. They also weave woolen blankets.

However, in states like Haryana and Delhi the Gadaria have virtually abandoned their traditional occupation and are engaged as laborers, masons and practice animal husbandry. In Haryana, the men push the handcart for transporting construction material and sand from riverbeds. They provide non-skilled labour in the industrial and private sectors. A few Gadaria make it to higher levels of government service – in defense and police services. Some of them are teachers in local schools.

The Gadaria approve half heartedly of formal education for their children, which results in low literacy levels. They may continue to study to the secondary school level and then drop out because of economic or social reasons. They use both indigenous and modern medicines and are fairly open to family planning. The government has an Integrated Rural Development Program which assists the Gadaria by providing subsidized credit facilities for animal husbandry, agriculture and other benefits.


The Gadaria are endogamous, i.e. they marry only within their community, and, usually, also observe the rule of village exogamy, i.e. marrying outside one’s village. A number of subgroups or sub-castes and clans are found among the Gadaria of different states. In Haryana, there are four subgroups, namely Nibbhar, Dhingar, Kanchane and Saila. The first two marry among themselves but not with the latter two. They are further divided into thirteen exogamous clans like Hirenwal, Saraswal and Kastur.

In Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra there are two endogamous subgroups named Dhangar and Nikhar, each considering itself superior to the other, and a number of clans. In Himachal Pradesh a third subgroup named Ochre is also sometimes added. The Gadaria of Madhya Pradesh have two subgroups called Disori and Larsia, with five or six clans each. In Punjab, Chandigarh and Rajasthan, they have five to twelve exogamous clans.

The Gadaria are monogamous but a second wife is allowed in exceptional cases such as barrenness of the first. Child marriage was practiced earlier, but this is changing. Marriages are arranged by negotiation between the family members. The matrimonial symbols for women are sindur (colored vermilion powder streaked along hair parting), bindi (coloured dot in the middle forehead), nose-studs and bangles. Dowry is given in cash and kind; and bride price is customary in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. Divorce is only strictly sanctioned on grounds of adultery, impotency and mental sickness. In Haryana, divorce is not permissible under any circumstances. Remarriage is allowed.

Parental property is divided equally among sons only; the eldest son succeeds as head of the family. Daughters have no share unless the family has no male heir – in which instance, the son-in-law is invited to manage the property. The women have a low status in Gadaria society. Besides domestic chores, they tend the animals, grow vegetables, collect firewood, water and perform religious duties. They are adept at embroidery and weaving floor coverings. The community has a rich tradition of folktales, folksongs and dances. They use percussion and wind musical instruments; both men and women love to dance.

The Gadaria have a traditional caste council consisting of five to seven elders. In Rajasthan, headmen of 10 villages constitute the caste council. The council exercises control over the community and deals with family quarrels, divorce, adultery and elopement. The council levies cash fines and excommunicates the guilty.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Gadaria are Hindu. They worship all the major deities like Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and Rama. Vaishno Devi is held in special reverence. (She has attributes of all the three deities of the Hindu trinity.)

As is the norm with Hindu communities – each community can also worship a specific regional god or goddess. In Uttar Pradesh, Shakti worship is prevalent. (Shakti meaning power or energy) Wednesday’s are Gaumata (“Cow-mother”) day for worship. In Haryana, Khera Devta, a village deity is highly venerated and a lavish annual feast is celebrated for him.

In Rajasthan, the main regional deity is Bheru (“Sheep”), while Kalkamata (“Black mother” or Kali, goddess of destruction) is their village goddess. In Maharashtra local deities are worshipped for the welfare of livestock, while in Haryana and Chandigarh, Talokpara, whose shrine is near Kala Amb town, is a much-propitiated clan deity. In Chandigarh, idols of Sati (virtuous women who immolated themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) are worshipped for the wellbeing of the family.

The Gadaria believe in evil spirits, ghosts and magic. Witchdoctors (Bhopa) are consulted for guidance and for curing diseases. All major festivals are celebrated. The dead are cremated and a period of death pollution observed; ancestor worship is prevalent.

Some Gadaria of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh have become followers of the Arya Samaj and Radhasoami sects which are egalitarian and non-idolatrous, though conceptually Hindu. A few Gadaria have adopted the Sikh religion.

What Are Their Needs?

These shepherds poor living circumstances and literacy levels; the hard life the women endure keep them bound to their rituals and power gods

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