ETHNONYMS: Gujareta, Gujjar, Gujjara
The Gujars are a historical caste who have lent their name to the Gujarat District and the town of Gujaranwala in the Punjab, the peninsula and state of Gujarat, and the area known as Gujargash in Gwalior. They numbered 56,000 Persons in 1911, of which the majority belonged to the Hoshangabad and Nimar districts. (In 1971 there were 20,634 Gujars enumerated in Himachal Pradesh alone.) In those provinces the caste is principally found in the Narmada Valley. The caste is broadly divided along religious and geographic lines into the Muslim Gujars (who also share many Hindu customs with their Hindu Gujar brethren and are thus not fully accepted into the Muslim majority) in northern India and Pakistan and the Hindu population in the central regions of India. Gujars speak Gujari, a dialect of Rajasthani, an Indic language of the Indo-Iranian Sector of the Indo-European Family. In Himachal Pradesh the language is mixed with Western Pahari. Gujars write in the Urdu script.
The origins of the Gujars are unknown; however, several theories place them either as a branch of the White Huns who overran India in the fifth and sixth centuries or as a branch of the Kushan division of the Yueh-Chi tribe, which controlled much of northwestern India during the early centuries of the Christian era. In the past the Gujars were considered marauders and vagrants. Today they are law-abiding pastoralists and cultivators. Many Gujars were converted to Islam at various times and in different places, beginning with the attack of Mahmud of Ghazni on Somnath in Gujarat in 1026. The Gujars of Oudh and Meerut date their conversion to the time of Timur in 1398, when he sacked Delhi and forcibly converted them. By 1525, when Babur invaded, he discovered that the Gujar in the northern Punjab had already been converted. Until the 1700s the conversions continued under the Mogul ruler Aurangzeb, who converted the Gujar of Himachal Pradesh at the point of a sword. The Pathans and Baluchi drove the Gujar converts from their land, forcing them into a nomadic existence.
The Gujars are divided into Hindu and Muslim septs, with the latter being Sunni converts retaining some of their Hindu practices. Most keep copies of the Quran in their homes; however, like Hindus they worship a family deity. Brahman priests are consulted to determine a lucky time for the first bath for the mother after a baby is born. Id-al-Zuha (Id-al-Adha) and Id-al-Fitr are their two most important festivals. Gujar Muslims observe some of the Hindu festivals, such as Holi and Naz Panchmi. They bury their dead according to Muslim custom; however, they make fire offerings and upturn a pitcher of water near the grave as Hindus Traditionally do. Gujars make offerings to the dead on Fridays, like Hindus, but instead of feeding Brahmans, Gujars follow the Muslim tradition of feeding beggars in the anticipation that the charity will reach their ancestors.
The Hindu Gujars are a successful sedentary cultivating group. The Muslim Gujars are a pastoral people, whose living depends on the raising of buffalo, which involves a seminomadic life-style constantly in search of pastoral land. There is little interest in secular education, which has made them vulnerable to the rapidly changing world around them.
The Gujar divide themselves into hundreds of exogamous clans, the names of which are derived from the names of founders or from places of their early settlement. Muslim Gujars count descent patrilineally, and marriage is patrilocal with consanguine marriage sought; marriage is usually arranged by parents. The payment of a bride-price by the groom's family is commonly made in cash or buffalo. A less costly arrangement is the exchange of daughters and sons in marriage. Some still conduct their marriages as Hindus. Others consult a Brahman priest to determine a lucky day for betrothal, but the mullah conducts the marriage ceremony. Divorce and remarriage are accepted. A woman may leave her husband and live with another man, who is obligated to pay compensation to the ex-husband.
Raheja, Gloria Goodwin (1988). The Poison in the Gift; Ritual, Prestation, and the Dominant Caste in a North Indian Village. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Rose, H. A. (1911). "Gujar." In A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Provinces. Vol. 1, 306-318. Lahore: Superintendent, Government Printing. Reprint. 1970. Patiala: Languages Department, Punjab.
Russell, R. V., and Hira Lal (1916). "Gūjar." In The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, edited by R. V. Russell and Hira Lal. Vol. 3, 166-174. Nagpur: Government Printing Press. Reprint. 1975. Oosterhaut: Anthropological Publications.
Sharma, J. C., (1984). "Gujars." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes. Vol. 1, 298-301. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.