Pastoral Nomads and their Movements

In the mountains

  • Today, in Jammu and Kashmir, Gujjar Bakarwals are great herders of goats and sheep . They migrated in search of pastures for their animals , in the nineteenth century .
  • They moved annually between their summer and winter grazing grounds .
  • Between September and April, they live with their herds in the low hills of the Siwalik range because during winters the high mountains are covered with snow . Their animals have grass thanks to the arid scrub woodlands .
  • They started their northern march for their summer grazing pastures at the end of April .
  • For this journey, several houses formed a group known as a " kafila ."
  • Crossing the Pir Panjal and they enter the valley of Kashmir .
  • At the beginning of summer , the snow melted and the mountainsides were lush green.
  • The various types of grass that germinated gave the animal herds excellent , nutrient-rich fodder .
  • By the end of September , the Bakarwals start moving again back to their winter base.
  • When the high mountains were covered with snow , the herds grazed in the low hills .
  • The Gaddi shepherds of Himachal Pradesh had a similar seasonal cycle .
  • Just like Gujjar Bakarwals, they too spent their winter in the low hills of the Siwalik range , grazing their flocks in scrub forests .
  • By April, they spent the summer in Lahul and Spiti in the north.
  • When the snow melted and the high passes were clear because of summer many of them moved on to higher mountain meadows .
  • By September they began their return journey.
  • On the return journey, they once again stopped in the villages of Lahul and Spiti , reaping their summer harvest and planting their winter crop .
  • Then they descended with their community to their winter grazing ground on the Siwalik hills.
  • Next April, they once again began their march with their goats and sheep , to the summer meadows .
  • Further to the east , in Garhwal and Kumaon , the Gujjar cattle herders went down to the dry forests of the bhabar in the winter and went up to the high meadows – the bugyals – in summer .
  • Many of them were originally from Jammu and came to the UP hills in the nineteenth century in search of good pastures .
  • Many pastoral societies in the Himalayas, like the Bhotiyas, Sherpas and Kinnauris , followed a cyclical pattern of shifting between pastures in summer and winter .
  • All of them adjust to seasonal changes and make use of available pastures in different places .
  • When the pasture was exhausted or unusable in one place they moved their herds and flocks to new areas .
  • This continuous movement also allowed the pastures to recover and prevent their overuse.

On the Plateaus, Plains and Deserts

  • Pastoralists are also found in plateaus , plains and deserts of India like the Dhangars of Maharashtra .
  • In the early twentieth century, the population of Dhangars in this region was estimated to be 467,000 .
  • Most of them were shepherds , some were blanket weavers , and others were buffalo herders .
  • During the monsoon, the Dhangar shepherds stayed in the central plateau of Maharashtra . This was a semi-arid region with low rainfall and poor soil , covered with thorny scrub . Only dry crops like bajra could be sown here.
  • In the monsoon, this tract became a vast grazing ground for the Dhangar flocks .
  • By October the Dhangars harvest their bajra and start to move west
  • They arrived in the Konkan after a march of roughly a month . This was a flourishing agricultural tract with high rainfall and rich soil . Here the Konkani peasants welcome shepherds .
  • The fields needed to be fertilised and prepared for the rabi harvest after the Kharif harvest was cut .
  • Dhangar flocks fed on the stubble and manured the fields .
  • The Konkani peasants gave supplies of rice which the shepherds took back to the plateau where grain was scarce .
  • The Dhangars abandoned the Konkan and the coastal regions with their flocks when the monsoon arrived because the sheep could not withstand the rainy monsoon conditions. They then returned to their homes on the dry plateau .
  • The dry central plateau of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is covered with stone and grass and is inhabited by cattle, goat and sheep herders .
  • The Gollas herded cattle and the Kurumas and Kurubas reared sheep and goats and sold woven blankets .
  • They lived near the woods , cultivated small patches of land , engaged in a variety of petty trades and take care of their herds .
  • Unlike the mountain pastoralists, it was not the cold and the snow that defined the seasonal rhythms of their movement rather it was the alternation of the monsoon and dry season .
  • In the dry season , they moved to the coastal tracts and left when the rain came . Only buffaloes liked the swampy , wet conditions of the coastal areas during the monsoon months .
  • At this point, it was necessary to move other herds to the dry plateau .
  • Banjaras are another well-known group of graziers .
  • They are found in the villages of Uttar Pradesh , Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
  • As they searched for pastureland for their cattle , they travelled long distances , selling plough cattle and other goods in exchange for grain and fodder from villagers.
  • The Raikas live in the deserts of Rajasthan
  • The rainfall in the region was meagre and uncertain .
  • Harvests fluctuated every year on cultivated land .
  • Over vast stretches, no crop could be grown . So the Raikas combined cultivation with pastoralism. 
  • During the monsoons, the Raikas of Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner stayed in their home villages , where pasture was available .
  • By October , when these grazing grounds were dry and exhausted , they moved out in search of other pasture and water and returned during the next monsoon
  • One group of Raikas – known as the Maru (desert) Raikas herded camels and another group reared sheep and goats .
  • The life of pastoral groups was sustained by careful consideration of a lot of factors .
  • They had to estimate how long the herds could stay in one place and identify water and forage for them.
  • They needed to calculate the timing of their movements and ensure that they could move through different territories .
  • They had to set up a relationship with farmers on the way so that the herds could graze in harvested fields and manure the soil .
  • To support themselves , they merged a variety of varied pursuits , including farming , trading , and herding .
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Davneet Singh

Davneet Singh has done his B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He has been teaching from the past 14 years. He provides courses for Maths, Science, Social Science, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science at Teachoo.