The Gaddi Community: A Rich History and culture in the Himalayas

The Gaddi community is a culturally rich and diverse group of people that live in the Himalayan mountain ranges of India. Their traditions and culture add vibrant colors to the beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh. In this article, we will explore the history, lifestyle, and culture of the Gaddi community.


The Gaddi community has a long and complex history. Their origin goes back to Hindus who took refuge in the western Himalayan mountain ranges to protect themselves from invasions, war, and religious persecutions in the plains (Punjab) during and pre-Moghul period. It has been a long journey since the time of their historical migration from Central Asia, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Western Punjab, and some other parts of the country to the remote mountains. They came to rule, capture the land (Kshetras), establish Monasteries (Goasthas) in ancient times, in search of peace in the middle historical period, and escape the persecution and bigotry practiced by the then Mughal rules.


The Gaddi community, known for their semi-pastoral lifestyle, has become a tribe by circumstance and not due to any particular natural calamity. They are called a tribe to uplift their social and economic conditions due to the hardship faced in their living conditions. The term Gaddi is generic and includes the Brahmins, the Rajputs, the Thakurs, the Khatris, and many more. Due to the hilly terrain, there is less agricultural land, so the Gaddis have adopted the main occupation of rearing sheep and goats in the surrounding green, wild pastures.

Heavy snowfall in winters results in the majority of these people migrating with their flocks of sheep and goats to the lower hills in the districts Kangra,Chamba,Mandi,Bilaspur and Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh and Gurdaspur,Hoshiarpur in Punjab, in search of pastures.Some have even been able to purchase land and engage in cultivation, which has allowed them to become a permanent part of the communities in which they migrate. Some of them graze in Sirmour district, and a few of them even in the Gharwal region of the Uttrakhand state. Some of them have purchased land in the places of their winter stay and have engaged themselves in cultivation for generations. From their self-contented, semi-pastoral lifestyle, the community is striving to cope up with the fast-changing realities of the present day's socio-economic environment.


The Gaddi community has a rich cultural heritage that is manifested in its folklore, costume, jewelry, and lifestyle. They have great faith in God and Goddesses, especially Lord Shiva. The word Gaddi is a generic name and it includes all sects of Hindu society. The language (dialect) spoken within the community is Gaddi. Tankri was the script used by the old people. In general, however, colloquial Hindi is spoken, whereas Devanagari is used as a script. The community has annual fairs and festivals which they celebrate with music and dancing. The women take care of farming, cattle, and households, whereas men are now moving out into the world to look for ways of earning money.

 Also read about: Nawala Festival of Gaddi Tribe

This community, rich in culture, lives in the Himalayan mountain ranges primarily concentrated in the Bharmour Tehsil (Subdivision) of Chamba, as well as parts of Kangra (including Dharamshala, Palampur, and Baijnath), and Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh. The community also resides in parts of the Jammu & Kashmir region in the northern states of India. They occupy the challenging and inhospitable terrain between the Pir-Panjal and Dhauladhar mountain ranges, located between the Ravi and Chenab rivers.


Gaddi shepherds are not nomads anymore. They have homes, substantial village houses, and they own land which they or their family cultivate.The majority of the Gaddis are now also landowners and practice agriculture as their primary means of livelihood. They are also pastoralists and own large flocks of sheep and goats, as the traditional occupation. This has also resulted in their bartandari (customary) rights on forest land which are Government owned. Today, many of them have also taken up jobs as teachers, in government and private organizations, and other white-collar jobs. Some are also working as unskilled laborers in public works department and forest departments to augment their income and also talking part in political activities at the regional level in State Assembly and the cabinet.


The community has a total dependence on the local market, where at times the people barter their meager surplus cereal produce with the shopkeeper, who acts as middlemen between the people and the market. Horticulture produce is sold to bigger markets through local collecting agents. Barter is rarely resorted to, and cash forms the usual medium of exchange. The children below 15 years, both boys and girls, assist their parents in and outside the household activities and also tend the cattle. While working as casual laborers in road maintenance, they also receive wages in cash.


Gaddis consider sheep and goats as their property. They use the meat and milk for consumption and wool to make woolen articles. Women mostly prepare the articles from sheep wool. The wool is sorted, washed, cleaned, combed, and spun to make the articles. Some articles are 

- Gardu: A special blanket made by the Gaddi community with a black and white square pattern. It's 5m long, 1.5m wide, and is a status symbol. It's so warm that it protects Gaddi shepherds from both snow and rain.

- Gardi: A smaller and lighter version of the Gardu blanket, usually given to children or taken on journeys.

- Patti: A long, narrow cloth woven in a single color and used to make clothing items such as coats, pyjamas, shirts, and caps.

- Dodh: A blanket of one color, almost the same size and weight as Gardu. It can be decorated with colored threads.

- Shawls: Woven for both genders, but male shawls are rougher and heavier, while female shawls have multicolored designs.

- Thalch: An intricate rope made from goat hair, used to carry loads or dry woolen clothes.

- Khalri: A bag made of sheep or goat skin, used for carrying food and other items. The size of the bag varies according to the size of the sheep or goat whose skin it is made from.

- Thobi: A durable carpet made of goat hair, varying in size according to users' needs.

These articles are heavy and rough to meet local weather needs. They are not promoted and don't get an appropriate price in the local market. Due to modernization, they are producing less and getting less income. The promotion and popularization of these heritage products will help to continue the tradition.


In conclusion, the Gaddi community is a unique and vibrant group of people living in the Himalayan mountain ranges of India. They have a rich cultural heritage that is manifested in their folklore, costume, jewelry, and lifestyle. While their traditional occupation was rearing sheep and goats, they have now diversified into agriculture, education, and other jobs as well. Despite facing many hardships, the Gaddi community has managed to preserve their culture and traditions, which adds to the beauty and diversity of India.

In next article we will read about their tradition and customs.

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