On Gujjars And Bakarwals
Nomadic Graziers of the Himalaya: The Gujjars of
Jammu and Kashmir
The glaciation in the Indian sub continent continued for a long time. However, the formation of the Himalaya came into being about 25 million years ago. After its formation, this great mountain system remained under glaciers and sheets of snow and their melting continued till about 10,000 years ago. Since the emergence of the Himalaya and the surrounding plains was a gradual process, the settlement of human population in the Himalaya too was a slow exercise. The early settlers must have chosen the outer Himalaya or the hills adjoining plains as their first abode. With the process of snow melting they must have migrated above in the vertical fashion thereby creating Himalayan settlements.
The migration from one particular altitude to another above may have been necessitated by various factors like availability of additional area and the inherent quest of the human mind to explore and know new areas. It is, perhaps, because of these reasons that we find human settlements in Himalaya right from Jammu (aft 350 m) to Changthang (aft 5200 m). The accounts of human settlements in the Himalaya may have been lost in the antiquity, yet a fair assumption can be made about the “recent” settlers. According to the recorded history of human transhumance and settlement, the Aryans came into Himalayan pastures during 1500 BC (Debenhem, 1977). By this time the Aryans of Central Asia had domesticated the horse and this provided an unlimited mobility to the Aryans.
When they observed the vast potential of the Himalayan pastures, they migrated and initially settled here. Later, they spread to the plains and the entire north western India came under influence of the Aryans. The migration of the Aryans from top to down and the movement of original inhabitants from lower altitudes to higher ones gave rise to a number of ethnic identities in the Himalaya. However, the influence of the Aryans on transhumance and pastoralism, remained a dominant characteristic. The intermingling of the Aryans and the native population gave rise to various ethnic identities in this area. Most of these were initially pastoralists but later they took to settled agriculture. However, some of the communities maintained their tradition and are still practising the migratory livestock rearing. The most important communities are Gaddis, Bhotyas, Jahads, Changpas, Bakarwals and Gujjars. This paper aims at presenting the findings of a survey undertaken on the Gujjars of districts of Jammu and Udhampur of Jammu and Kashmir state.
Anthropological aspects Though nothing can be said with certainty about the origin and rise of the Guijars, it is evident from various theories and hypothesis that they are an ancient tribe of India. It is, generally, believed that these people migrated to India before 6th century AD from central Asia and settled in Gujarat and Rajasthan. They are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Yuchis or Kushans. During 7th century, a devastating drought occurred in Rajasthan and Gujarat and some of the Gujjars migrated to the Shiwalik hills i.e; the outer Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and other Himalayan areas.
According to Cunningham, the noted explorer, the Gujjars are prominently present in every part of the north western India from the Indus to Ganges and from Hazara mountains to the peninsular Gujarat. In Jammu and Kashmir, numerically they are the third largest ethnic group and are spread throughout Jammu and Kashmir. They are not found in Ladakh but some of them migrate along with their flocks of sheep, goat and cattle to Dras area of Ladakh. Ethnicity Initially the Gujjars were Hindus but during the rule of Mughal king Aurangazeb, most of them converted to Islam but retained their Hindu gotras or subcastes. The common gotras are: Bhati, Chandel, Chauhan, Baniya, Lodha, Bhensi, Chopra, Chechi, and Khatana. The Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir have also retained these gotras and marriage in the same gotra is strictly prohibited. They speak a dialect which is different from Dogri and Kashmiri, the major languages of the state.
The site of Spirituality
The Shrine of Wanghat has always served as a consoling place of disheartened soulsAmong the tribals of Jammu and Kashmir the shrine of Mian Baba Ji Sahib at Wanghat is of great significance. Besides the tribals, people from the planes also visit the shrine. Situated in the lap of mountains, with pristine ambience the Shrine reinforces the collective consciences of Gujjars and Bakerwals of J&K State.The real name of Baba Ji (as popularly known) was Ubaidullah son of Mian Fazal Gul. He was born on Friday at Sanjwada Balakot Hazara (Pakistan) in 1960 Bikramie era.
Saints had predicted to his father about the birth of a child who will excel in spirituality, and piety. Despite being illiterate his two books, Israr Kabirie and Malfuzat Nazimia are considered scholarly writings. Gujjars and Bakerwals give central importance to the shrine of Wanghat Sharief. The place first developed into a sacred site with the arrival of Ubaid-ullah Bijran from Hazara in the late nineteenth century. The immigration was instrumental for the transformation of the Bakerwals and Gujjars from an occupational category to one single ethnic group. The individuals and families accompanying Ubaid-ullah, formed the nucleus for the ethno genesis of this community, which in present J & K State, is a conglomerate of Sunni families from several ethnic groups. The Shrine of Wanghat which is held in high reverence by the Kashmiris in general and Gujjars in particular, is built at the graves of Ubaid-ullah and his son Mian Nizam-ud-Din.
Ubaid -ullah popularly known as Mian Baba Ji was born around the middle of the nineteenth century in Sanjura, Hazara. Among the three sons he was the youngest and was deeply religious who sought spiritual guidance from several preceptors of Naqshbandhi Sufi order. He was an orphan at the age of four and thus the hardships of life began while he was ignorant about the life itself. He was brought under the guidance and patronage of Hazrat Nizam-u-Din Khanawari in Muzaffarabad. At thirty he migrated to Wanghat on the instructions of his Pir as a devotee to various shrines. During his travel when he prayed, he got some unusual imprints. After his return when he conveyed the story to his Peer Hazrat Khaja Khannive, the Peer directed him to visit back and settle there forever. Regarding this place at Lar saint Sheikh Noor Din Noorani had forecast that this will be the residing place of a pious and spiritual person who will illuminate the area by his pious deeds.
Consequently Ubaidullah migrated in the last decade of 19th Century with a group of sixteen disciples, mostly Gujjars. He settled at Lar, originally a pasture area and uninhabited, above Sindh valley.In the years that followed, he came to be known as Babaji Larvi and the number of his disciples increased manifold. Baba Ji spend his whole life as a simple man helping the needy, poor, sick and ignorant. The desperate and dejected people usually visited him with hope and would return relieved. Babaji held the religious congregations where religious knowledge was imparted to the community. Before leaving to pastures to graze the cattle, tribals visit the shrine to pray for the safety of themselves and their reared cattle. The sick people visit it with a hope of spiritual treatment. He was succeeded by his son Mian Nizam-u-Din who also passed away in 1972. Both are buried inside the shrine. Mian Nizam-ud-Din was the disciple of Babaji who occupied the place after his death.
Mian Nizam-ud-Din also lived a life of piety and spirituality. Besides illuminating the community with religious teaching he fought against the money lenders who usually exploited the poor masses. The Urs of Mian Baba Ji Sahib is celebrated in the month of June. The tribal from all over the state come to Wanghat and celebrate it with collective faith. The people from planes also participate in the Urs. The devotees feel a sort of relief from the sufferings of this world at the calm, cool, beautiful, venerated and of course, the prized site of Mian Baba Ji Sahib.The Shrine of Wanghat has always served as a consoling place of disheartened souls. While visiting the shrine which is located in the lap of beautiful mountains, a person feels himself relived from the difficulties of life. The Shrine has remained the great attraction for famous poet Hafiz Jalandari who spent there weeks together. Today when the Urs is celebrated in remembrance of these great saints, thousands of devotes from all over the state have assembled to pay homage to them. The disconsolate people hope and pray for their welfare and well being.
Written by DR. MIR NISAR