The Gaddis of Himachal – Exploring the ways of the shepherd community
A small community of shepherds, the Gaddis of Himachal are a special lot. Their traditional attire speaks a lot about the creativity of these simple hill folks and can leave even the most talented designers awestruck.
The day had barely set in and we were already on our way to Bhanjraru, a sleepy town in the remote Tissa region in Chamba. Flocks of sheep were already on the migration route and we were often stuck amidst herds of sheep with the Gaddis making painstaking efforts to clear the way. Some Gaddis dressed in their traditional attire passed by me, taking me down the memory lane with thoughts of the frail Badri Dass rushing through my mind.`
I had accompanied my professor on a research study on the Gaddis of Himachal in Chamba and we were headed to a small village Holi in the Bharmour area of Chamba. Holi is a small hamlet around 20 km short of Bharmour, the erstwhile capital of Chamba. It took us 3 hours from Chamba to reach Holi as the road was in a pitiful state. The year was 2004 and with no mobile connectivity in the region, we were virtually at God’s mercy.
Badri Dass, an old acquaintance of my Professor was a rich Gaddi by any appropriation. He was the owner of 500 sheep at that time. Given the market rate of Rs. 10,000 that each of his sheep commanded, I felt like a pauper by the sheer knowledge. His modest home was nothing short of a museum. His wife was a skilled craftswoman and had woven a range of woollen fabrics which had the potential to leave even the most talented designer awestruck. Out of curiosity, I asked her to show her products and explain the way they had been knitted. Wool fibres need to be sorted according to different lengths to make distinct articles. These are then washed, cleaned and combed. Spinning of this combed wool is done on a charkha and the wool is finally woven on Rachh or Khaddi.
I was visibly impressed with a black and white square pattern blanket that Badri Dass had worn. Known as Gardu, the blanket is a specialty of the Gaddi community and is used by them on special occasions. These are usually gifted to guests, almost naturally leaving me feeling a bit offended when he offered one to my professor but reserved a mere courteous smile when I expected the same. Sensing my uneasiness, Badri Dass started explaining the way a Gardu is woven by joining a 45 x 60 meter width of Patti. These are then sewed together. A ready Gardu could be 5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide.
A smaller version of Gardu, known by the name of Gardi, is also commonly used by Gaddis. This has similar patterns as a Gardu but is usually used by children who accompany the Gaddis on their journey with the flock. To this day, I have a grudge with Badri Dass for he could have gifted me a Gardi, if not a Gardu!
Patti, Dodh and Shawls are the other specialties of the Gaddi community that occupy a special role in their dress. While Patti is a single colour fabric usually available in white or black, Dodh is generally white. A patti is used to make cholu (coat) for men and a kurti or pyjama for women.
Soon enough, the road was clear of herds of sheep and we were in Bhanjraru. Thoughts of Badri Dass and the Gaddis of Himachal still occupied my mind and I yearned to meet him, all of again.
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