Van Gujjars: A Rich Cultural Legacy

The Van Gujjars are a semi-nomadic, Islamic community found in Northern India (primarily in Uttarakhand), parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s a sub-community within the larger Gujjar community that traces its origins to the Gurjara kingdom in West India from where they migrated to different parts of the sub-continent in 570 CE. The Muslim Gujjars, which included the Van Gujjars went further north, settling in the Himalayan states.

Etymologically, the name ‘Van Gujjar’ is a combination of Van that means forest and Gujjar, which is a sub-caste in India. The name loosely translates to ‘Forest Pastoral Community’. Speaking a language called Gojri—which is a dialect of the Dogri language; the community has a rich culture and unique traditional knowledge systems that need to be preserved and encouraged.


GUJJARANO AINA: Through this live exhibition and photo archive; the Van Gujjars of Uttarakhand invite you into their lives: deep in the forests, upon the hills by the river, into their deras in denizens and on the huts and fields in resettled colonies. Showcasing snippets of their lives and culture through visuals; they inform, educate, shock and delight as they become in charge of their own narrative. Gujjaranga Aaina, a Gojri word for ‘The mirror of Van Gujjars’ is the first of many such photo-exhibitions that showcase the lives of Van Gujjar children, women, men, elders and animals of the community.

IMPACT: The result has been overwhelming. From documenting their walks through the forest to crossing the river; tending to cattle and reading a book; evening playtime to doing household chores; their body of work is diverse, creative, insightful and one that raises several important questions of prevalent power structures and socio-cultural institutions.

So dive right into this virtual exhibit and get thinking.