views updated May 29 2018




Identification. Gujaratis are the inhabitants of Gujarat, one of the federal states of the Indian Republic.

Location. Gujarat covers 195,984 square kilometers and is situated on the west coast of India between 20°6 N to 24°42 N and 68°10 E to 74°28 E. Geopolitically and culturally Gujarat can be divided into five regions: (1) north Gujarat, the mainland between Mount Abu and the Mahi River; (2) south Gujarat, the mainland between the Mahi and Damanaganga rivers; (3) the Saurashtrian Peninsula; (4) Kachchh; and (5) a hilly eastern belt consisting of the outliers of the Aravalli system, the Vindhyas, the Satpuras, and the Sahyadris. The state lies in the monsoon area with a monsoon climate. The rainfall period is confined to four months from the middle of June to the middle of October. The amount of annual rainfall varies considerably in different parts of the state. The southernmost area receives annual rainfall as high as 200 centimeters. The rainfall in central Gujarat is between 70 and 90 centimeters; and Kachchh and the western part of Saurashtra receive less than 40 centimeters. The maximum temperature in the year occurs in May, when it is as high as 40° C in north Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Kachchh. January is the coldest month of the year, when the temperature does not exceed 30° C.

Demography. At the time of the 1981 census, the population of Gujarat was 34 million. The population density averages 174 persons per square kilometer; it is highest in central Gujarat and lowest in Kachchh. The population is growing at the rate of 2.7 percent per year. Gujarati-speaking people constitute 91 percent of the population of Gujarat, which also includes 1.5 percent Kachchh-speaking people. There are three main religious groups in Gujarat: Hindus (89.5 percent), Muslims (8.5 percent) and Jains (1 percent). A majority of the Muslims speak Gujarati, though there is a small Muslim section that speaks Urdu. Around 14 percent of the Gujarati population are tribals who predominantly live in the eastern hilly belt. Sixty-nine percent of the population live in rural areas and 31 percent live in urban areas. Ahmadabad, Surat, Vadodara, and Rajkot are large cities.

Linguistic Affiliation. Gujarati is considered by linguists to be a member of the outer circle of Indo-Aryan languages: it is partly Prakritic and partly Sanskritic in origin. A number of Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Europeanparticularly Portuguese and Englishwords have become part of the language. There are several dialects. Important among them, based on region, are Kathiawadi, Kachchh, Pattani, Charotari, and Surati. There are also casteor community-based dialects, such as Nagari, Anavla or Bhathala, Patidari, Kharwa, Musalmani, Parsi, etc. Different tribal groups have their own dialects that bear a close affinity to Gujarati. The distinctive Gujarati script has thirty-four consonants and eleven vowels.

History and Cultural Relations

The territory was known as "Gurjara Bhoomi," "Gurjara Desh," "Gurjaratta," or "Gurjar Mandal"meaning abode of the Gurjar peoplebetween the fifth and ninth centuries a.d. The name of the area known as "Gujarat" was recognized from the tenth century during the Solanki period, when Mulraja laid the foundation of his kingdom with its capital at Anhilwad Patan. During British rule the area was divided into a number of native states and estates and British administrative districts, which were a part of the Bombay presidency. After independence in 1947, the native states merged into the Indian Union. A group of states formed Saurashtra State; the mainland Gujarat became a part of Bombay State and Kachchh was centrally administered. But as a result of further reorganization of the states in 1956, Saurashtra and Kachchh were dissolved as separate states and became a part of Bombay State. Then, because of demands for a separate linguistic state, Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Kachchh formed the separate state of Gujarat in 1960.


Among 18,114 villages, 8 percent are small with a population of less than 200 persons; and 49 (0.2 percent) are large with more than 10,000 people in each. The settlement pattern of each village is either clustered or dispersed. Clustered villages are divided into subclusters consisting of a group of families belonging to the same caste or community. The dominant caste resides in the center, and traditionally Untouchable castes live on the periphery of the village. In the dispersed pattern mainly found among tribals, each familynuclear or jointlives on its own farm. A temple or public platform under a large tree is a central place where males from upper and middle castes meet and spend their spare time. Today, most of the middle-sized and big villages have primary schools, one or two shops, grazing land, and a cremation ground. There are 255 towns or urban agglomerations. All but eleven of these towns have a population under 100,000. Many of them are expanded villages where caste or community clusters form neighborhood localities. Two styles of housing are common in urban and rural Gujarat. The first is the sturdy modern kind made of brick and concrete, with more than two rooms and a separate kitchen. The second is a tenement of mud, stone, and wood. The roofs are of locally made tiles or thatch. (Numerical data from 1981 census.)


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Despite rapid industrial development, agriculture occupies a prominent place in the economy of the state. It contributes an average of 35 to 40 percent of the state's domestic products. Sixty-two percent of the workers engaged in agriculture are either cultivators or laborers. Although agriculture is not fully mechanized, use of tractors has increased considerably in recent years. The major food crops are bajri, jowar, rice, and wheat. Cotton, groundnut, tobacco, and sugarcane are major commercial crops: they occupy about 40 percent of the total cultivated area of the state. Cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, chickens, horses, camels, monkeys, donkeys, and pigs are the main Domestic animals. Bullocks are used for agriculture, cows and buffalo for milk. A cooperative dairy industry has developed. Industrial Arts. Artisans in rural areas are engaged in Pottery, silver- and brass-ornament making, embroidery, handloom construction and furniture making. Despite government support, these crafts are rapidly disappearing. Gujarat is one of the most highly industrialized states in India. The major industries are textiles, plastics, chemicals, and engineering. In terms of income generated from manufacturing, Gujarat ranks second in the country.

Trade. Trade is a primary occupation of Gujaratis. The Hindu and Jain Banias are the trading castes. In this century the Patidars have emerged as entrepreneurs. In addition, the Parsis and Muslim Bohras are also traders. Gujarat has been well connected by trade routes within the continent and also with other countries. Historically, the Gujaratis possessed a remarkable spirit of enterprise that led them in search of wealth to Java and Cambodia during the sixth and seventh centuries a.d. and to Siam, China, Sri Lanka, and Japan at about the end of the seventh century a.d. Some Gujaratis emigrated to Africa in the last century, and from there they have moved to Europe and the United States.

Division of Labor. Except among the tribals, work is clearly divided between men and women. Gujaratis continue to believe that "a woman's place is in the home": a woman's main tasks are cooking, washing, other household work, and child rearing. However, among the poor, women also participate in economic activities, engaging in cultivation and agricultural labor.

Land Tenure. With the introduction of various land reforms in the 1950s, land was given to the tillers. Intermediary tenures were legally abolished. Nevertheless, concealed tenancy continues. Land distribution is uneven. According to the 1976-1977 agriculture census, the average size of holdings for the state was 3.71 hectares. Nearly 46 percent of the cultivators have less than 2 hectares of land, which holdings constitute only 13 percent of the total area holdings; but only 6 percent of cultivators hold 10 hectares or more of land, which altogether constitutes nearly 25 percent of the total holdings. The Patidars and the Brahmans are rich peasants. The Kolis, the Scheduled Castes (or "SC," viewed as "Untouchables"), the tribals, and the Muslims are poor peasants and agricultural laborers.

Kinship, Marriage and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is agnatic and patrilineal.

Marriage. Among the Hindu Gujaratis, marriage is a sacrament. It is arranged by parents. Certain castes (jatis ) follow the principle of endogamy in which a man must marry not only within his jati but also within his subjati, which is divided into ekdas and gols (i.e., circles). However, among certain castes exogamy restricts the circle within which marriage can be arranged. It forbids the members of a particular group in a caste, usually believed to be descended from a common ancestor or associated with a particular locality, to marry anyone who is a member of the same group. Another custom among the Rajputs, Patidars, and Brahmans is hypergamy, which forbids a woman of a particular group to marry a man of a group lower than her own in social standing and compels her to marry into a group of equal or superior rank.

Domestic Unit. The family is generally considered to be the parents, married as well as unmarried sons, and widowed sisters. The joint family is a norm particularly among the trading and landed castes and also among the Muslims in rural areas. In the traditional joint family, three generations live together. All the family members eat from one kitchen and cultivate land jointly. Even if the kitchens become separate, cooperative farming continues in many cases. A joint family may have more than thirty members, although such cases are exceptional. A typical joint family has from eight to twelve members in rural areas and six to eight members in urban areas. Joint families are becoming less common. The head of the familythe father or grandfatherexercises authority over all family members. Women and even married sons have no independence and can do little without first obtaining consent or approval from the head. This situation is now changing.

Inheritance. Among the Hindus, consanguinity is the guiding principle for determining the right of inheritance. The following are heirs in order of precedence: sons, sons' sons, sons' grandsons, the widow of the deceased, daughters, daughters' sons, mother, father, brothers, brothers' sons. Alhough inheritance is based on patrilineal principles, two womenthe widow and the daughterare very high on the scale of priority.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by the mother and grandparents, though the role of the father in bringing up the children has recently increased. A girl is not closely looked after and she is involved in household chores from a very young age, whereas a boy is protected and indulged.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Gujaratis are divided into a number of social groups. The Hindus who constitute the largest group are divided into a number of jatis, which have a hierarchical order based on the principles of purity and pollution. The Brahmans are in the highest position, while the Scheduled Castes occupy the lowest position in the hierarchy. The SCs constitute 7 percent of the population, and they are scattered throughout the state. The Brahmans constitute nearly 4 percent. The other upper castes are the Vanias (traditionally traders) and Rajputs (traditionally warriors). They and some other upper castes together represent 8 percent of the total population. The Patidars, who belong to the middle strata of the caste hierarchy and were earlier known as the Kanbis, constitute around 12 percent of the population. Comprising about 24 percent of the population, the Kolis form the largest caste cluster among the Gujaratis and are distributed throughout the state. Broadly they can be divided into Kolis of the coastal and mainland belts. The latter prefer to be identified as Kshatriyas. The other low castes, such as the Bhois, Machhis, Kharvas, etc., together constitute about 7 percent of the Gujaratis. The Scheduled Tribes, generally known as the Adivasis, constitute 14 percent of the population and are mainly in the eastern belt. There are several tribal groups, some of the major ones being the Bhils, Dhodiyas, Gamits, and Chaudharis. The jatis have traditional panchayats, which are councils consisting of elders that regulate social customs and resolve conflicts. The importance of such panchayats in conflict resolution has declined over the last four decades.

Political Organization. Gujarat is one among twenty-one federal states of the Indian republic. It is governed by representatives elected by universal adult franchise who constitute a vidhan sabha (legislative assembly). A majority party forms the government. The head of the state is the governor, appointed by the president of India. The state government has very wide powers for maintaining law and order, levying taxes, and carrying out development work. It also shares resources with the union government. Gandhinagar is the capital city of the state. The state is divided into 19 districts, which are further subdivided into 184 talukas. Local self-government by elected representatives functions at village, taluka, and district level and also in towns and cities. The local government performs functions related to public amenities, education, and development. It raises resources by levying taxes and income from property and also receives aid grants from the state government. Industrial investment is strongly encouraged.

Social Control. Gujarat today has the usual institutions of a state police force and a hierarchy of law courts, ranging from the submagistrate's court to the state supreme court. In all courts the central writ is the Indian Penal Code. But in addition to these institutions, which were first developed under the British administration of the old Bombay Presidency, there is also an indigenous system of caste and village councils. The caste council is found in any village or small town where the numbers of any one caste or caste bloc are sufficient to warrant it. This council consists of the male heads of the most prominent families in the caste, and its function is to maintain equanimity with other castes by seeing that traditional patterns of behavior (the caste's dharma) are followed. Fines and minor physical punishment may be handed down to those who offend against these patterns. Public humiliation, such as a beating with sandals, is a usual punishment. There is also a village council (gram panchayat ) which is headed by the village headman (patel ) and contains leading representatives of each of the caste groups. Its function is partly to conduct formal community affairs, such as seasonal festivals, and partly to resolve intercaste disputes and offenses.

Conflict. Because there has been little labor unrest in recent times, Gujarat has become a relatively prosperous state. Public life has however been marred by several riots led by upper-caste students, in protest against the government policy of reserving places in the colleges for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Gujarati Hindus are divided into a large number of religious sects. There are two broad categories: those who worship one or a combination of some of the great Vedic deities or of the Puranic accretions to the orthodox pantheon; and those who deny the regular deities and prohibit idol worship. The former are the Shaivites, Shaktas or Devi Bhaktas, Vaishnavites, and the followers of minor deities. The latter belong to the Arya Samaj, Kabir Panthi, and other such fairly modern sects. These sects are not mutually exclusive.

Religious Beliefs. A Gujarati Hindu attaches the greatest importance to bathing. He or she observes fasts once a week and every eleventh day in a fortnight. A Gujarati Hindu believes in Heaven, Hell, and the transmigration of the soul. One hopes to better one's position in this and the life to come by one's devotion to God, by dan (charity), and by daya (mercy toward fellow human beings and cows, etc.). Gujarati Jains, though few in number, occupy an important place in Gujarati society and the economy. Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas and the spiritual supremacy of the Brahmans. The highest goal of Jainism is nirvana or moksha, the setting free of the individual from the sanskara, the cycle of birth and death. The Jains are divided into two sects, Digambaris and Svetambaris. The cow is worshiped and considered sacred by Hindus. Besides worshiping various idols, an average Hindu worships animals, trees, fire, etc. and believes in bhuts (possessing spirits). Belief in omens is also common. Hindus believe that the result of every undertaking is foreshadowed by certain signs and hints.

Religious Practitioners. The life-cycle ceremonies are performed by Brahmans. Wandering holy men, however, are revered irrespective of their caste, religion, or origin. Gujaratis also patronize men who have a reputation for being able to rid the individual of bhuts.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies are performed at birth, Marriage, and death when relatives are invited for feasts. Among the important festivals are: Diwali, the festival of lamps; Hindu new year's day, which is the next day after Diwali; Utran or Sankrant, a festival of the harvest; and Navratra, a festival of the "nine nights" involving a folk dance called Garba.

Arts. Ras and Garba are important folk dances performed by both males and females. Melas, fairs either at pilgrimage places or on the bank of a river during certain festivals, attract a large crowd where people dance, sing, and watch bullfights or cockfights. Bhavai is a popular folk drama, generally performed in open spaces in villages and towns. Wood and stone sculptures decorating temples, palaces, and private buildings are well known. Paintings called sathia and rangoli, done by using powdered chalk, are made by women at the threshold of their houses for festivals and other ceremonies. The calico printing of Gujarat is famous. Tattooing is common among certain castes in Saurashtra and north Gujarat.

Medicine. Traditionally, disease was believed to be caused by an imbalance of elements in the body, as well as by several supernatural causes such as the displeasure of a god or goddess or spirit possession. Although home remedies and concoctions of local herbs are still used, modern medicine has been increasingly accepted and used.

Death and Afterlife. Normally a corpse is not kept more than twelve hours. It is taken in a procession mainly of males to the cremation ground. There the body is laid upon the pyre with its head to the north. The chief mourner lights the pyre. The period of mourning varies from a fortnight to a year according to the age of the deceased and the closeness of the relationship. A caste dinner is given on the twelfth and thirteenth days afterward as a part of the death rites. Certain religious rituals are performed and Brahmans are given gifts according to what the mourners can afford.

See also Bhil; Bohra; Grasia; Jain; Kanbi; Khoja; Koli; Parsi


Desai, R. B. Govindbhai (1932). Hindu Families in Gujarat. Baroda: Baroda State Press.

Gujarat, Government of. Bureau of Economics and Statistics (1982). Statistical Atlas of Gujarat. Vols. 1-2. Gandhinagar: Government of Gujarat.

Majumdar, M. R. (1965). Cultural History of Gujarat. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.

Shah, Arvind M. (1973). The Household Dimension of the Family in India: A Field Study in a Gujarat Village and a Review of Other Studies. Berkeley: University of California Press; New Delhi: Orient Longman.

Shah, Ghanshyam (1989). "Caste Sentiments and Dominance in Gujarat." In Dominance and State Power in Modern India, edited by Francine Frankel and M. S. A. Rao. Delhi: Oxford University Press.



views updated May 21 2018

Gujarati (Gujerati) Modern language of n India, the official language of Gujarat. Belonging to the Indic branch of Indo-European languages, it began to evolve in 1000. More than 30 million inhabitants of Gujarat and other Asian communities worldwide speak Gujarati.