Gaddis of Dhauladhars, a Semi Nomadic Tribe of Himalayas

Posted By : Akshay Wadhwa

Who are gaddi shepherds:

The Gaddis are a semi-nomadic semi-pastoral tribe who inhabit the austere Dhauladar ranges of the Indian Himalayas. The word “Gaddi” is derived from Gaderan Village in Pachhad Tehsil in Sirmaur District of Himachal Pradesh.

Gaddis of Himalayas

Their origin is rather uncertain and unclear and their ancestors believe that they fled from Indian plains. During the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, it is believed that some of the Gaddis got converted to the Islam and some fled to settle inmore protected areas like Gadherana. The origin of these tribes, according to anthropologists, has a rich history behind the development of tribal India. A few attempts to study ancient temple inscriptions and other texts, Gaddi recorded history suggest that they have been present in this region since the 7th century CE. However, the fact about their origin lies in the popular myths in the entire state of Himachal and you could hear varied tales and stories about it.

The Gaddi community of Himachal Pradesh has traditionally practiced transhumant pastoralism, travelling with their flocks between the upper reaches of Chamba and Lahaul valley in summer towards the nutritious grass and towards the Himalayan foothills of Kangra, Bilaspur, Mandi and Kullu districts in the winter.

They are peace loving, hospitable human beings. The life of Gaddis has been tough and hard and they have to bear with sweat and smile, endless hardship in pursuit of their profession of animal husbandry. The Gaddis are simple, honest and virtuous race known for their eminent regard for truth. This can be judged by the fact that in the days of British rule whenever they were fined by Kangra authorities they would pay a similar penalty into Chamba treasury.


Gaddis are a tribe of stalwart and healthy human beings. Gaddi tribe is a pure Hindu tribe with Aryan features- Physically Gaddis are of medium height and have a lot of stamina. The nose is sharp, colour fair and hair generally black. Their women are also physically very strong, slim and good looking.

Gaddi economy is directly controlled by the habitat which is evident from the way land of Bharmaur tehsil is being utilized and its figures. Agricultural practice is still backward and pastoral pursuits did not come out to be the main occupation of the whole region. Gaddis still practice transhumance as their principal occupation despite the fact that the government is providing incentives for agricultural and horticultural development. The production of crops in the region is extremely limited and for short duration and the Gaddis have no alternative but to rear livestock for profits. The ecology and environment of Gadderan is also suitable only for sheep and goat rearing in large numbers because these animals have the ability to move for long distances in the higher and steep slopes of the Himalaya. Hence, sheep and goats become most important livestock in this region.

The Gaddis moved across altitudinal zones in their quest for pasturage. In this Kangra painting from the Archer collection, stylistically dated to c. 1900 (Archer 1973: II: 234. Pl. 76), the painter depicts one such family on the move with their flock— sheep and goats—that is guarded by the Gaddi shepherd dog. One can see the heavy load that they carried and how they stowed provisions in the loosely tied upper garment.

Difficult altitude, slope and soil along with low temperatures and less rainfall are the major limiting factor for the growth of agriculture. Another major limiting factor is the small size of land holding and fragmentation in land holding. In Kugti, the highest village, a farmer’s plots are scattered over 8 to 10 different places on an average, making it very difficult to plough.Looking at the scenario and event s prevailing currently, it could be concluded that the Gaddis have adapted themselves to survive in the treacherous terrain by pastoral, primarily and agricultural practices, secondarily.


Gaddi tribes: Culture

The people of Gaddi tribe mostly pass their time in singing, dancing/ gambling and enjoying good time at fairs and festivals and other ceremonies. The traditional songs of Gaddis are very important from a historical point of view. The Gaddis have their own style of dancing which is closely connected with the narwala ceremony/ given as a homage to Lord Shiva. The Gaddis not just worship the lord Shiva as a deity but identify themselves as the people totally dedicated to Shiva. This identification is significantly apparent in the legends and stories and the work and culture in the area is embodiment of this popular belief. According to another legend, prior to Shiva’s marriage to goddess Gauri (an incarnation of the Mother Goddess, Parvati), Gauri was unaware of the Shiva’s godly nature and was not very keen on the marriage. She requested snow from the Ruler of Snow, Himraj, in order to stop Shiva from attending the wedding. Shiva, in turn, created a flock of sheep and they cleared a path through the snow, allowing him to cross the mountains. Therefore, to Gaddis, the role of herding sheep is more than simply a vocation.

Gaddi tribes: Dress

According to a legendary belief among the Gaddis, a prince of one of the ruling families of Rajputana named Jaistambha became an ascetic on being driven away from his home, probably due to ascension dispute to the throne. On his wandering he reached Kharamukh in the interior of Ravi valley below Bharmaur and there in a cave sat in meditation for Shiva who was pleased and granted Jaistambha a set of Topa (Hat), Chola (Gown) and Dora (a long cord to be tied on the waist) which later on became the distinct dress of the Gaddis.

Gaddi tribes (Gaddis): Women's dress

Under the Chola (Gown) that falls beyond the knee length are worn a comfortable woollen pyjamas. To absorb the profuse sweating during their long march while grazing their flocks of sheep in the rugged terrain, their undergarments are usually made of cotton. The Chola usually has many tiny items in its pockets like needle, thread, and flint-cotton etc and is tied up with Dora at the waist in order to form a special big pocket to store essential items and the new-born lamb that is carried to the grazing ground. It resembles the Kangaroo’s natural pocket to carry her baby.In the innumerable folds of the Dora are stored a kulhari (an axe), a banssari (flute; Gaddis are famous for their musical flair, particularly of flute), a runka (flint-iron), a mandua (leather pouch), chilam (small smoking pipe), a darat (iron sickle) and other items which are indispensable in their daily life as wanderer. On an average, around 40 kilogram of load is carried by a male Gaddistored in and tied around his Chola. The load which is mainly his temporary household is carried on the back instead of head which is the practice that separates Gaddi from the other pastoral tribes like Gujjar. Even the women of Gaddi tribe carry a lot of loads, especially during the winter migration accompanying their husbands. As true nomadic wanderers having no fixed place to stay, Gaddis carry all their family possessions, which anyway is modest, with them while they look for greener pastures for their flocks.


A frilled Ghagra (long skirt), tied over the waist and reaching their ankle with a full sleeve blouse (Top) falling at the waist is their usual and traditional dress. They also use Dora but of lesser length and weight. They like wearing ornaments and earrings, bangles, long necklace etc.


The Gaddi Language:

The Gaddi Tribes speak the local Gaddi language. The gaddi language is especially popular among the regions of Daohla, Pachound, Dhaggar, Chappar, Jageer, Duggan and Dulangal.

Gaddis tribe food:

The Gaddis food consist of Maize, Wheat, Rice, Potatoes, Barely and Dals with vegetables. Rice mainly used food such as Lungadi or Piddha made from rice water obtained by boiling rice and bhaat, which is also known as pucca food.

Gaddi population in himachal pradesh

Total Gaddi tribe population is approximately 1.78 lakhs and about 45.4 percent of the state's ST population. v The concentration of these Gaddis tribes is found mainly on both sides of the Himachal Pradesh state's Dhauladhar Range. The cornerstone of Gaddi culture is the town of Bharmour which lies in Chamba, the valley between the Dhauladar and Pir-Panjal ranges in the state of Himachal Pradesh which basically comprises of five valleys – Kugti, Tundah, Samara, Holi and Bharmour. This area, also called Gadherana, has the challenging terrain with rough and sharp mountain ridges, majestic valleys, furious rivers and frozen lakes, and is identified by all Gaddis as their homeland. However, the settlements are not just limited to this region and also found in neighbouring parts of Ravi valley towards Chamba and in some parts of Kangra district.

Gaddis tribe location on map

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Akshay Wadhwa

With the spirit of nomad in heart, he is drunk on life and (un)hooked to freedom. After graduating as an IT engineer, out of love for technology, he worked as network security engineer with an MNC and to pursue his passion to teach, he left his full time corporate job to work with Teach For India as a fellow.Currently working with Nomadic Feet, he wears many, many hats (and cargos too!). When he’s not travelling and wearing those hats, he loves to write poetry and read books as well as humans. Madly in love with mountains and countryside, he believes art and travel can revolutionize our society.