Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pastoral communities and livestock breeds

This paper on pastoral communities in India, gives a table of different states they live in the breeds of livestock associated with them.

Another official government link is on the origins of Indian cattle breeds. What is interesting is that though several cattle breeds originate in and around Gurjara Bhoomi (southwest Rajasthan), the pastoral Gujjars are not associated with any of them. The Gujjars are more connected with tending buffaloes in most places, and less frequently with cattle or sheep.

It is in the oral traditions of the Raika, the largest pastoral community in western India, that the Gujjars are associated with a cattle breed. The Raika/Rebari say they were created by Bhagwan Shiva, to tame the camel, which had been created by his consort Parvati. In the old days they tended the war camel herds of the Rajput rulers. The Raika also breed cattle, sheep, goats, and today live mostly in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Raika say that the Nari cattle breed was originally wild, then domesticated partly by the Bhils, and from them it passed to the pastoral Gujjars. When the Raikas came from Jaisalmer, they took over the breeding of the Nari cattle. The story implies the outward migration of the pastoral Gujjars from Gurjara and their replacement by the Raika. Just as the pastoral Gujjars are not mentioned in ancient literature, and most importantly were not known to the author of the Kuvalayamala Kaha, who lived in Gurjara Bhoomi, the Raika origins too are from a similar late period.

This story also shows that originally the Gujjars were a small community that took its name from the territory it inhabited. If it had been otherwise, they would have been associated with the development of several livestock breeds in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is post their migration to eastern Rajasthan, and beyond, that the Gujjar numbers multiplied and they took up the rearing of buffalo and cattle. The Gujjars in Alwar are associated with Murrah breed of buffalo, while the Van Gujjars in Uttarakhand rear the Tarai buffalo.

The spread of buffalo breeds is westward from their points of origin in the humid and marshy eastern parts of India. DNA research though suggests a Gujarati origin for the domesticated buffalo, from bone remains found at ancient sites. Bone remains at other Bronze Age sites are said to be of wild buffaloes. At any rate the more modern buffalo breeds are traced to a time after the drying up of the Saraswati River and the northwestern regions of India.

The Nili Ravi breed of buffaloes in western Punjab shares many similarities with the Murrah breed. This movement and spread of the buffalo breeds mirrors the movement of the tribe rearing it ... the Gujjars. Proves once again that they are not a foreign tribe. A tribe coming from the dry mountains and plateaus to India's northwest would have brought sheep and goat breeds, or camels and horses, but the Gujjars in the greater part of India are not associated with such livestock. Only in the Western Himalayas, where the Gujjars migrated, have they taken up rearing sheep and goats.