Dogras of Jammu and Kashmir: Their Culture, History, & Traditions

by SAHF Team


The Dogras are a community of Hindu Rajputs who emigrated into the Jammu region from Rajasthan around the time of Alexander’s invasion. They are said to have moved into the area to help fight against the foreign armies.  They are Suryavanshi, meaning that they view themselves as descendents of the legendary king Ikshvaku, thus being distant relatives to Shri Ram.  As such, the kuldevta (family deity) for most Dogras, and especially for the ruling family, is Shri Ram.  Having emigrated into a small region around the Saroiensar and Mansar lakes, the Dogras held onto their kshatriya lineage ruling 22 small states around the lakes, and continued settling in surrounding areas.

While the Dogras come from a kshatriya lineage, and they worked to maintain their status as martial people, the rise of Dogras to noble status is inextricably linked to the Sikh Empire.  The burgeoning Sikh Confederacy took control of the Jammu and Kashmir valley in 1819 from Afghans.  Birbal Dhar, a Kashmiri noble, had been aghast at the sad state of Kashmir under Afghan tyranny.  To that end, Birbal Dhar saw an opportunity materialize when the erstwhile ruler of the area went abroad.  He invited the Sikhs to take Kashmir, offering to pay for any losses incurred should the Sikh campaign against the Afghans fail.  Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire sent a contingent of 30,000 troops to Kashmir, one section of which was commanded by Raja Gulab Singh.  Having suffered greatly under Afghan rule, the Dogras gladly joined the Sikh armies and rose in the ranks of the misls.  It should be noted that the Dogras had fought alongside Sikh warriors prior to this, one such example being Gulab Singh’s army.

Raja Gulab Singh was given the rule of Jammu in 1820 by Maharaja Ranjit shortly after the Sikh Empire annexed the valley — a reward for their faithful and valiant service in subduing the rebellious Afghani chiefs.  Singh had risen to the rank of misldar (equivalent to a commanding general) in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, and had helped secure the Sikh capital at Lahore.

Gulab Singh mounted many campaigns to bolster Jammu, all done under the name of the Sikh Empire (as he was still subservient to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore).  Military expeditions into Ladakh began in 1834.  Though initially defeated, the Ladakhis mustered their forces and attempted counter attacks, which subsequently failed.

In 1841, a Dogra force led by General Zorawar Singh attempted to annex Tibet.  Although they were successful for a short time, they were beaten back both by the Tibetan army and the cold climate.  Of the 5,000 troops that went to Tibet, 700 were taken as prisoners, and 25 returned to Jammu.  The Tibetan army then marched down to Ladakh and occupied it.  In 1842, a Dogra army commanded by Hari Chand won a victory against the Tibetans,, and annexed Leh into the Jammu kingdom again.

The Sikh Empire fell into disarray after Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death, and many squabbles and power plays ensued.  The crumbling of the Sikh Empire was hastened by British excursions into the land, and the Sikh forces suffered many defeats.  In 1846, Gulab Singh went to Lahore to negotiate a treaty between the Sikh Empire and the British.  For his help in restoring peace, the British agreed to recognize Gulab Singh as the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, also owing to the fact that he was independent of both the Sikh and British empires.

During the Dogra rule, many progressive and far-reaching social reforms were instituted. Examples of these include the abolition of Begar (enforced labour), the opening of all temples to Harijans/Dalits way back in 1929, the institution of jabri schools  (religious institutions Muslim girls were made to attend at a time when this was unknown elsewhere in India), and the institution of state-authored regulations that safeguarded land ownership and service employment for permanent residents of the state. 

Jammu Under The Rule Of Maharaja Ranbir Singh

Jammu’s legacy as the city of temples came about largely due to the efforts of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. 

It was during his reign that the renowned Dharmarth Trust was formed. His period also saw the construction of Ranbireshwar temple, a mandir in the middle of the city dedicated to Lord Shiva; the famous Mahamaya Temple which adjoins the Bahu Fort was built by him after the Goddess appeared to him in a dream. The construction of Raghunath Temple, a famous mandir commissioned by Maharaja Gulab Singh located in Jammu city, was also brought to completion by Ranbir Singh. [3]

Under his rule, Maharaja Ranbir Singh also made it a priority to educate and empower the weaker sections of the society, spreading awareness and prohibiting social evils like Sati and infanticide. He was an economic visionary, pioneering innovations like coin currency (called the chilki rupee) and paper currency (called shrikar). He introduced the first printing press within Jammu, and established a Department of Research and Publication under his rule. He was the driving force behind the effort to collect and store Sanskrit manuscripts within the Raghunath Temple Library, creating literary centres at Jammu, Srinagar, Uttar Behni and Purmandal. The Raghunath Mandir Sanskrit Sangrahalaya, one of the largest manuscript libraries in the world, was just one of the many scholarly centers and pathsalas built during his reign. [3]



The term Dogra is thought to derive from Durgara, the name of a kingdom mentioned in an eleventh century copper-plate inscription in Chamba. The inscription mentions the Raja of Chamba facing an attack by Kiras aided by the Lord of Durgara (durgāreśwara). In medieval times, the term Durgar is believed to have turned into Dugar, eventually transforming to “Dogra”. Kalhana’s Rajatarangini makes no mention of a kingdom by any of these names, but the kingdoms could have been referred to by their capital cities (such as Vallapura, modern Billawar, or Babbapura, modern Babor).[1]

Language and Script 

Dogras had their own language and script. The original script, popularly known as “Ganmat”, was prevalent throughout the region irrespective of caste or religion, and all Dogras used to correspond and maintain account books in this very script. Dogri is mentioned as one of the languages of India by the famous poet “Amir Khusro” in his “Nur Sepehr”, demonstrating that Dogri was recognized as one of the languages in India even before 1325 AD. [3] 

Fairs And Festival 

Each Dogra festival is unique in style, and is characterized by colour, gaiety, enthusiasm, feasts and rituals. Some of the common Dogra celebrations include Rarhe, Sakolare, Damdeh, Lohri Holi, and Diwali. Around the beginning of each year, on the fifth day of the Hindu month Magh, the feast of ” Basant panchami” is held in honour of the upcoming spring. 

Arshad Purnima, another celebration, is marked by a number of fairs. A prominent fair among these is the Sudh Mahadev Fair in North Chenani, which is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva. The Jhiri fair at Shamachak is another fair held on Kartik Purnima, during which large numbers of farmers come to pay their homage to Bawa Jitoo, the peasant martyr. It is said that the fair marks the return of people whose ancestors took his blood-stained grains, and involves devotees coming back to his Samadhi and paying respects. 

Among the local fairs, the Bahu Fort fair on the 8th and 9th of Navratri draws large crowds from Jammu and vicinity. There is a temple of Durga in the Fort. In addition, a large number of devotees of the city visit this shrine every Tuesday. Chetra Chaudashi is a sacred day for Hindus when they go take a dip in the ponds or rivers nearby. A dip in the holy river Devak at Purmandal is considered a virtue on this day. [3] 

Folklore Of Dogras

Dogri Folk Songs

Dogri folk songs are marked with variegated hues and shades. Their heroic refrain is equally balanced with a note of human sympathy, and their contents are as much chastened by the noble pride of self-sacrifice for others as they are drenched in the tears of unforeseen woes.

Similarly, the number of Ballads in Dogri is fairly large. Ballads comprises songs about chivalry in Dogri called “Kaarkaan” and “Baraan”, songs of valour and gallantry of heroes. Kaarkaan is held sacred to the memory of certain saints, warriors and martyrs. Kaarkaan may best be described as commemorations of noble-minded persons who command reverence for their blessed and edifying influence on the masses. It is a tale ballet narrated in singing form, sung by a separate class of ballad singers. In Duggar Desh, they are called ‘Jogies”. They narrate popular folk tales in their dance style, performed by three members with the accompaniment of a typical folk instrument called ‘Rabab’. The most famous among these ensembles are the Kaaraaks of Baba Jitoo, Raja Bahu and Baba Kaliveer.[3]

Dogri Geet (Music)

Ceremonial lyrics in Dogri are not mere ritualistic verses. They are sensitive and reflective, echoing back events and personalities with strict faithfulness. They also give analyses of the human reactions surrounding these ceremonies. Out of the many ceremonial songs, those of marriage and childbirth are very popular. “Biyain”, in particular, are songs sung to celebrate the birth of a child, which indirectly suggests the contrast between social norms according to a boy and a girl in Duggar. The birth of a female child casts an ominous gloom over the household, and is equated with bankruptcy and dishonour. “Chorian ” has no such critical strain. They only mark the matrimonial rituals which the bridegroom has to go to through. The affectionate lyrics sung at the marriage of a girl are called Suhag, and they convey the hopes and dreams of the bride’s family and friends for her success as a wife. [3]

Dogri Dances 

Dogras are a virile people full of vitality and gallantry, and their dances therefore showcase vivid expressions of their emotions. These dances are performed on special occasions like the advent of the spring season, the harvest time when the peasants reap the fruit of their labour, or wedding days.  Dogra folk dances are an expression of simplicity, gaiety and gallantry of the brave Dogras.

  1. Chhajja Dance: This folk dance is performed at the Lohri festival. Prior to Lohri festival, young boys prepare colourful and beautiful chhajjas using pieces of bamboo. 
  2. Dhamhachada: This folk dance is performed by women. This popular dance is performed on the occasions of marriage ceremonies of boys. 
  3. Phumnian: This folk-dance is also popular in lower hilly areas of Jammu region. It is performed after the harvest. Before people eat the new grain, this dance is performed and the grains are offered to God with devotion. 
  4. Kudd: Kudd is the dance of the higher regions of Jammu region. Bahderwah, Kishtwar and Ramnagar are known for their Kudd dances. The people of the village where this dance is organized invite their relatives and friends from other places to enjoy this dance.
  5. Raslila: Raslila is a folk representation commemorating  the dance between Lord Krishan and the Gopis. The dancers dance in two rows, with two small sticks in both hands of every dancer.

Dogra Jewellery 

Among Dogra women, jewellery forms an important part of the costume. Now in the modern times, jewellery designs have become quite elaborate and richly decorated with enamel, gems and pearls. Precious and semi-precious stones are set on the metal. Generally, the Dogras wear the following jewellery:

  1. Mangal Sutra: It is the symbol of wedlock, and therefore has great importance as an ornament among Hindu Dogra women.
  2. Tikka: It is worn over the forehead, and may be a triangular or round pendulum which is tied with a black thread that goes back through the centre of the head, secured into hair with a pin clip.
  3. Chumka: These are gold earrings, sometimes called balis, which hang from the ears of women. Each chumka weighs about one tola.
  4. Nathani: It is a large ring of tola which passes through a small hole in the nostril. It is round in shape.
  5. Necklace: It is worn around the neck and is generally made of five tolas of gold
  6. Kada: It consists of four tolas of gold worn in each arm
  7. Ring: These are rings for the fingers, generally studded with pearls, sapphire or any other jewel. 

Dogra Dress

  1. The Chudidar Pyjama: The typical Dogra dress consists of close fitting known as “chudidar pyjama (ghutana)with folds from ankle to calves. It is fastened by a skillfully made cord of cotton threads
  2. Kurta: The Kurta with narrow sleeves serves the purpose of underwear. It is made of hand-spun khadi.
  3. Khilka: It is made of fine, country-made khasa with broad sleeves and broad girth, and is worn over the underwear with a phatovie (jacket) of khadi in between. It is found around the neck with a thread clasp and thread hook. It is also fastened at the front with clasps or hooks.
  4. The Head wear: The traditional Dogri head wear consists of a muslin piece twenty-four yards long and about two inches wide, tightly bound to the head.


Dogra Women Dress

  1. Head Dress: An embroidery piece of cloth of six yards serves as the covering for the head which falls to the ankles.
  2. Salu: It is a covering made of a piece of khadi cloth dyed blood red and embroidered in beautiful design of flowers to be woven by the bride after marriage
  3. Chudidar Suthan: A loose flowing dress of linen or silk with numerous folds which is tied round the waist with a silken or cotton cord. It is worn over the tight fitting suthan. 

Dogra Dishes

Dogra food habits are simple. Although food is largely a matter of taste and nourishment, food habits are influenced also by the climatic and geographical conditions. Dogras living in plains are mostly vegetarian, whereas those living in mountainous regions consume meat. Dogras living in cities and villages, therefore, possess different eating habits. The typical Dogri food consists of the following dishes:

  1. Mithe Chawal: Rice fried in a small quantity of oil or ghee. Water equivalent to three times the weight of rice is added, along with edible yellow food coloring. Sugar is added according to the taste, and then it is allowed to cook at low intensity flame till the rice becomes soft
  2. Kheer or Shree Palov: This dish is a Dogri delicacy. Basmati rice, after washing, is fried in ghee and then boiled in milk in a narrow necked cooking vessel called Degchi. Cinnamon and Choti Elaychi are then added. It is allowed to remain on mild fire until it is properly cooked and is thick in consistency.
  3. Khamira and Pathoru: Wheat flour is kneaded and leavened with Khamir or yeast. It is put aside for some time for fermentation. 
  4. Charolian and Chilli: Both of these are special dishes eaten on rainy days during the monsoon season. Charolian is a preparation from bleached wheat flour or maida.
  5. Ambal: A common dish served during Dogri ceremonies, it is prepared with cut pieces of pumpkin.
  6. Kalari: A milk preparation which is a unique specialty of the Duggar province within the Udhampur district, this dish is relished and demanded worldover by the Jammu diaspora hailing from Duggar  (Wakhlu 1998, 97-98).

The Dogri language has also been included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and the Dogras, though numerically small, play a notable role in many spheres of public life. Their outstanding and ongoing contributions to the Indian Army, their cultural contributions through traditional dance, music, and pahari painting including the Basohli, Guler and the Kangra miniature styles, are just some of the attributes of Dogri culture that has added rich hues to the cultural mosaic of Jammu and India.


  2. . Pg [3]

Note 1: This article is a collaboration piece withThe American Hindu. SAHF does not endorse all of the views of The American Hindu, and The American Hindu does not endorse all views of SAHF.

Note 2: Most of this information in this piece comes from the volumes of “Culture and Political History of Kashmir” by PNK Bamzai, published in 1994. The many volumes of this book detail the history of ancient Kashmir all the way up till contemporary events, and they also discuss the role of the Dogras in the valley. 



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