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Who are they?

The generic term Shilpkar, or Shilpakar, is used for all of Indian people groups regarded as low castes. For generations they have produced ropes, fans and mats. A few are sweepers and scavengers (same as the low-caste Bhangi and Churha communities). The Shilpkar are also skilled artisans and performers.

The Indian leader and freedom fighter, Lala Lajpat Rai, was moved to see the terrible circumstances in which the Dom lived on his visit to the Kumaon hills in 1911. He found them to be highly skilled craftsmen and considered their exploitation by the high caste Hindus as extremely unjust. He declared that it was improper to call them Dom, therefore being identified with the outcastes such as the scavengers and sweepers, and thus named them Shilpkar – Hindi for craftsman. They were officially recognized as Shilpkar in 1925 by the British government. Today, they resent being called Dom, or Dum, hence this derogatory term is no longer used. They are synonymously referred to as Dom, Dum, Ram, Arya and Harijan. Ram, Arya, Tamta, Koli and Lohar are common surnames among this community.


The Shilpkar live mainly in the hilly areas of Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh, predominantly in the districts of Dehradun, Pauri Garhwal, Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Tehri Garhwal, Haridwar, Almora, Pithoragarh, Nainital, and Pilibhit. They number around 1.2 million.


Ethnologist, E.T. Atkinson (The Himalayan Gazetteer, 1882), wrote that the Shilpkar claim an exalted origin as descendants of a Brahmin (highest Hindu priestly caste) named Gorakhnath who was made an outcast because he ate ritually forbidden food. Atkinson writes that the Shilpkar are of an aboriginal, non-Aryan stock and were reduced to slavery by the Khasia and other immigrant high castes. He describes them as servants of the Khasia in the hilly regions of Kumaon, Garhwal and along the hills as far west as the Indus River valley.


They speak the language of regions that they live in, such as the Indo-Aryan languages Kumaoni, Garhwali and Jaunsari. Hindi is the common language of these regions.

Listed as a Scheduled Caste (SC) under the provisions of the Indian Constitution, the government grants them many privileges and benefits. These advantages, such as fixed quotas in government jobs and higher educational institutions, lower selection benchmarks in various competitive examinations, reserved seats in Parliament and the state legislatures are intended to assist the SC’s lift themselves out of the dismal life of poverty into which they are born.

The Shilpkar accept food and water from all higher castes but they in turn do not and treat them as a low caste, belonging to the ‘unclean’ Sudra – the lowest class of servants. They usually live on the outskirts of villages and hamlets, away from other communities.

What are their lives like?

Occupational subgroups of the Shilpkar still pursue their hereditary occupations like blacksmithing, coppersmith, basketry, bamboo mat-making, stone work, carpentry, masonry, oil-pressing, drum beating and leather work. They are also known for entertainment – dancing at weddings and religious functions for the upper castes, as well as making earthen or clay smoking pipes or wooden utensils, tailoring, weaving, pottery, woodcarving and wood-engraving and other crafts. Ferrying, fishing, making rope-bridges and washing gold dust out of sand are the traditional occupations of those Shilpkar who live near rivers.

Most are also simultaneously engaged in agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry or small-scale poultry farming to supplement their meager incomes. Some work as sharecroppers to higher caste farming families. Some peddle bangles, combs, mirrors, toys or firewood or do odd jobs. There are also some teachers, businessmen, pharmacists and defense personnel among them.

The literacy levels of the Shilpkar are quite low. The dropout rate after primary school is high, especially for girls. Slowly, due to the impact of government-sponsored development programs, their socio-economic condition is improving. They have benefited greatly from schemes to provide drinking water, electricity, irrigation, nutrition, rural employment and self-employment. Many landless Shilpkar families have been the beneficiaries of government subsidies for house construction and have received free land as well. The Shilpkar utilize both traditional and modern medical treatments. They are open to family planning methods. They do not use banks for loans and remain dependent and in debt to shopkeepers and private moneylenders.


The Shilpkar marry as adults although child marriages are common among some subgroups. A man acquires his wife through negotiation, exchange, mutual consent or even elopement. He may take a second wife in cases such as barrenness. Among the Kolta Shilpkar, polyandry- the practice of having more than one husband at one time is also acceptable. Vermilion (sindur), nose-rings and nose studs are the marriage symbols for women. Unlike other castes, traditionally it is the groom who pays a bride-price to the bride’s father. This is still practiced by many subgroups of the Shilpkar, though some have taken to the custom of getting a dowry.

Nuclear families now predominate over extended families. Parental property is divided among the sons with the firstborn son receiving a larger share than the others. He also succeeds his father as head of the family. Shilpkar women are better regarded and play a crucial role in economic activities, family management and decision-making in addition to domestic duties. However, in some subgroups like the Beda or Baddi, the women become prostitutes due to dire poverty. Social control among the Shilpkar is in the hands of an informal council. This council consists of respected community elders.

The Shilpkar have a rich oral tradition. Some of these subgroups such as the Damai, Dholi, Bajgi and Hurkiya possess a great repertoire of folklore and narrate stories in dramatic detail. The Dholi Shilpkar sing the jhora on religious occasions accompanied by frenzied beating of drums, which induces a state of demonic possession or trance. Men and women join in folksongs and folkdances accompanied by their traditional musical instruments like the large, single-membrane kettledrum, cymbal and flute.

What are their beliefs?

The Shilpkar are Hindus and worship numerous regional gods and goddesses. Some of these deities are Nag (king cobra), Bhairon (one of Shiva’s attributes – terrible or fearsome), Kali (goddess and wife of Shiva) and many others. There is a strong belief in the occult. The shaman or medicine man is sought to deal with sickness, evil spirits and to appease the gods and goddesses. Along with the fortune teller, he acts as an oracle and foretells future events in a trance. Sometimes women act as exorcists. Animal sacrifices are performed either routinely as an act of worship or on the instruction of a shaman. As a ritually unclean community, they are not permitted the services of a Brahmin priest. Their ceremonies are therefore performed by a relative who acts as a priest. The dead are cremated and a period of death pollution is observed. Ancestor worship is observed.

The Shilpkar celebrate Hindu festivals like Diwali (festival of lamps), Maha Shivaratri (great night of Shiva), Holi (festival of colours), Navratri (festival of nine nights) and Ghee Teohar (butter festival). The new moon and full moon days of each month are also celebrated. Major sacred centers for pilgrimage are Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Nandprayag and Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh.

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Sachin Panchal

Agar lohar aur tamta bhi dom hai to sunar bhi dom hi hue na… Kyu koi mai ka laal jawab jaroor de…

Harsh raj

Dear all I am a koli rajput and am pround to be. One thing i want to say to all of you that have noticed that hindus are reducing day by day? You nonsence people you are busy with proving you as upper and upper caste. Keep in mind if you keep fighting like your blody fool old rulers and people, there will not be a single hindu left to light a deepak at any temple. Open your eyes and see around the world. People are fighting for betterment and you fool are fighting for proving superior to your brothers… Read more »

manoj kumar

Sir ,

My self manoj Kumar Hai my surname is arya
hai jo ki shilpkar Caste mai aata hai
to aap muje or koi surname bataiye ki shilpakr caste mai kitne jaatiya hoti hai

rohit goyal

first of all no shilpkar were bhangi ,scavengers. infact they were people who used to make pots,dishes,sculptures etc, they were known as shilpkar for their skills in art by the rulers.
the are well respected people among sc or st.
And kindly edit your content ,first read all history clearly then post it on website.

Sachin Panchal

I am a lohar and I proud to be A lohar

hukam chandra

Bhai logo, Ye sab bakwas hai pandito/brahmino ne apne fayade ke liye or apne aiso aaram ke liye ! Kisi ko apni raksha karane wala to, kisi ko apni seva karne wala banaya !! Jo bhi thoda unke anti jaa sakta tha usako caste ke nam par humilate kiya/ moral down kiya/ shoshan kiya/ demoralise kiya/ or hindu dharam ki achhe se dhajiya uda kar rakh di. Jisaka khamiyaja aaj sare hindu bhai bahano ko har jagah bhugatana pad raha hai. kyoki aaj hindustan mai or dhramo ki jade itani majboot hai !! or Jinhano pahale insano ko batane ka… Read more »

sanjay mallick

main ek dom caste ka hu mere pas sab kuch hai phir bhi singh,brahmin caste aise treat karte hai mere gao me jaise hum insan nhi koi nali k kide hai hume shadi me invite to kiya jata hai ye bolkar k dom jat ko khanna nhi khilane se unka puja ya shadi safal nhi hoga aur ek taraf hume bulakar zameen aur logo se bahut door ek kone me le ja kar khanna diya jata hai,dal,roti,ya chawal 2 foot k uper se hi diya jata hai ……is duniya me jitne bhi vastu,insan,janwar sabhi ko bhagwan ne hi banaya… Read more »

Vinod Kumar

I have just visited Uttrakhand, Pauri Garhwal first time, I was very surprised to see that some Dum,dom or Shilpkar whatever you call them they are discriminated specially (Ojji cast). Even other castes like tomatta,Lohar etc. which I think is also SC castes but according to them they are better cast than Ojji cast. Moreover, Ojji’s cannot open a shop for their business, because they are untouchable. It is creating a problem for them to survive in garhwal.

So, in my view Ojji cast is the most discriminated cast in Uttrakhand


It happens only in so called culturally rich India where people take great pride in their caste and feel elated. Historically we have insignificant inventions and discoveries at our credit to show our so called superior brain and caste is masala and instrument to dehumanise and discriminate other human beings. In real sense Man made distinctions are false and artificial and would not last longer. Centuries are insgnificant term in time machine and logic prevails every where. No one is low or high only its illusion all are great. We are all human being and evolving.

Pawan Kumar Oad

Hey guys, do you know about the Oad people living in Uttrakhand please let me know, I am Oad from Nepal, Baitadi,situated next to Uttrakhand state of India in the border. Must have migrated from there. Our country has no record of our origins and cultural history.

Please explain our roots. I am eager to know about it.