In this post, I shall look at five tribes, namely the Arbi, Bodla, Jhandir, Khagga and Nekokara, all of which have traditions of Arab origin. These claims are not uncontested, for example, 19th Century British writers such Sir Denzil Ibbetson claimed that the Bodla were in fact a clan of Wattu Rajputs. In this post, I will try to simply look at the tribal legends, and not discuss the veracity. All these tribes are found in southern Punjab, and were in fact Hitharis, i.e. those tribes who lived on or near the river banks, until the arrival of the British. In this they differed from the Bar nomads such as the Chadhar or Kathia, who lived in the uplands. The homeland of these tribes is now the region stretching from Jhang to Bahawalpur. They also have legends the connect them to the Quresh, the tribe of the Prophet, with the Jhandir, Khagga and Nekokara also claiming to be Hashmi, or Hashemi, which is the clan of the Quraysh to which the Prophet belonged to.
I shall start of by looking at Arbi, or sometimes spelt Aarbi, who are found mainly along the banks of the Sultlej, in Lodhran, Vehari, and Bahawalpur districts. The word Arbi is simply the Saraiki version of Arab, hence the Arbi are simply Arab. According to their tribal traditions, they descend from a group of Arab families which were in Mughal times, given several villages round Multan, and for a short time were independent. However with the rise of the states of Multan and Bahawalpur in the early 18th Century, their principality was extinguished, and many ended up becoming tenants. All the Arbi claim descent of two persons, namely Bhikhu and Shadi Khan who are said to have come from Arabia around the 15th Century. They are a small tribe, almost a large extended family, and are perceived to be Jat. The Arbi have long intermarried with neighbouring Jat tribes, and they are now perceived to be Jat, which in Multan/ Bahawalpur means any tribe that is engaged in agriculture.In terms of distribution, they are found in a few villages near Dunyapur in Lodhran, such as Tahir Bhutta. In Bahawalpur District, they are found in the Ahmedpur East tehsil (sub-district).
Distribution of Arbi/Arab in Punjab by District According to 1901 Census of India
Unlike the Arbis, who have no definite origin myth connecting them to any of the companions of the Prophet, the other tribes in this post all connect themselves with either the Hashmi clan, or at least the Quresh tribe of the Prophet. I start off with the Bodla, who claim to be Siddique Shaikhs, which means that they claim descent from Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam.
The Bodla are found in the lower and middle Sutlej valley in Punjab. They were at one time an entirely pastoral tribe, and are said to have come from Multan through Bahawalpur to Sahiwal, and claim to have originally settled in Multan, at the time of Bahauddin Zakariya , the famous Sufi saint. From Sahiwal, the Bodla spread to Sirsa, where they occupied the Bahak parganna, as a jagir. Historically, they were also found in Firozpur in addition to Sirsa, districts in modern day Indian Punjab and Haryana. In what became Pakistani territory, they were found in Sahiwal, Pakpattan and Vehari districts. The Bodlas of the Punjab in India and Haryana moved to Pakistan, at the time of the Partition of India.
Among the tribes of the Sultej, there is a tradition that the Bodla had the power of curing disease by exorcism, especially snake bites and hydrophobia. Their power of curing snake bites is associated with a historic fact. When the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakar left Makkah, for Madinah, they concealed themselves in a cave. Abu Bakar is said to have tore his turban into rags and closed the holes with the pieces. One hole he stopped with his toe, and it was bitten by a snake. When the Prophet learned what had occurred, he cured it by sucking the wound. There is a tradition among the tribes of the Sutlej valley that the Shaikh Siddiqui have the power to cure snakebite.According some traditions present among the Bodla, the word bodla is derived from the Persian word bou-e-dil which literally means “fragrance of the heart”, a title given to their ancestor Shahabulmulik Quraishi Siddiqui. The Shaikh was to be descended from to Abdul Rehman, the son of Abu Bakar Siddiqe, the first Caliph of Islam. However, British colonial ethnographers were critical of this claim to Siddiqui ancestry, and considered that the Bodla were originally a branch of the Wattu Rajputs. This may have some credence, as the Bodla have historically intermarried with the Wattu Rajputs, with him they share many of their villages and customs. In Sirsa, the Bodla were entirely pastoral, until the arrival of the British in mid 19th Century.
Important Bodla villages include Arifabad, Bodla, Chak 61 4/R Bodla Wala, Chak 41/SP Tibah Bodla, Ghulla, Kot Bodla, Jamo Bodla, Kartarpur, Nathain Bodla, Nausher Bodla, Naghpal and Salim Shah Bodla, in Pakpattan District, Kakku Bodla and Chak Shah Bodla in Okara District. Other villages include Ghumandpur in Bahawalnagar District.
Distribution of Bodla in Punjab by District According to 1901 Census of India
at the beginning of the 20th Century, most the Bodla population resided in or near Sutlej valley, half of their territory lies within Indian Punjab, stretching from Khanewal in the west to Hisar in what is now Haryana, in the east.
I shall next look at the Jhandir, which like all the other tribes claims to be Qureshi Arabs. A more recent claim is now being made to Hashemi ancestry, through Al-‘Abbās ibn ‘Ali, the half-brother of Imam Hussain, and the son of the Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam. Abbas was the flag bearer at the Battle of Karbala. The word jhanda in various South Asian languages means a flag and jhanda gir means a flag bearer. This according to tribal traditions was shortened to jhandir, on the account of their descent from Abbas the flag bearer. Late 19th Century British colonial ethnologists such Sir Denzil Ibbetson accepted that the Jhandir had sacred status among the Hitharis and Bar nomads of the Shorkot region. But unlike their neighbours, the Qureshis of Shorkot, the Jhandir did not produce any faqirs or holymen. They were Hithari pastoralists, living near the Chenab, until the process of canal colonization begun by the British in the 19th Century, led to their enforced settlement.
The Jhandir are found mainly in Shorkot Tehsil of Jhang District, with a few villages in Bahawlpur, Muzaffargarh, Khanewal, Lodhran, Multan and Vehari. Starting with Shorkot Tehsil, their main villages are Sadiq Mohammed Jhandir, Jhandir Niaziwala, Kotli Jhandiran, Basti Jhandir, and Tibbah Jhandir.
In Khanewal District, Jhandir, Mohri Jhandir and Jhangal Mardyala 157/10R
In Lodhran District, Jhandir
In Multan District Basti Sahu
In Vehari District Sardarpur Jhandir
Moving now on the Khagga, who also claim a Hashmi Qureshi background. According to their traditions, they are descended from Khawaja Shah Jalal Din Muhammad Awais Jaafri Quraishi Hashm also known as Khawaja Awais Khagga. He was a disciple of Shaikh Muhammad Iraqi, a saint of Awaisi chain of Sufis. He is believed to have arrived in Multan during the times of Hazrat Sadruddin (son of famous Sufi Hazrat Baha-ud-Din Zakariya) and died in the year 700AH/1300AD.
Khagga is said to mean a particular kind of fish; and the name was given to Shah Jalal-ud-Din by his spiritual teacher on the occasion of his rescuing a boat overtaken by a storm. There is also a traditions, that during the period of Sikh rule (late 18th and early 19th Century), if anyone was distressed they could take refuge in the home of any Khagga. One has to understand that this was a time of great number of tribal feuds, and it was almost necessary to have someone who could be brought in as an arbitrator.
The Khagga are mostly found in south-west Punjab, with concentrations in Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Vehari, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Khanewal, Sahiwal and Pakpattan districts. In Sahiwal and Pakpattan districts are said to have come from Multan in the 19th century after the invasion of Ranjit Singh.
Important Khagga villages include Moza Ahmad Shah Khagga, Moza Akbar Shah and Moza Noor Shah Khagga in Sahiwal, Chak Shahana, Bherowal, Pakka Majeed (near Mian Channu) and Vehniwal in Khanewal. Other Khaga villages include Moza Allam Shah Khagga in Faisalabad District, Chak 418 TDA in Layyah District, Chak Shah Khagga in Pakpatan District and Basti Patal, Bastti Kot Saleemwala and Basti Shahwala, all near the town of Kot Addu in Muzaffargarh District.
The Nekokara are tribe that claims descent from the Banu Hashim clan (the clan of the Prophet) of the Quraish. According some traditions, the word nekokara in the local Jhangochi dialect of Punjabi means the “doer of good”, and was given to ancestor of the tribe on account of some good deed. However, most Nekokara now claim that they are descended from Uqeel Bin Abu Talib, the cousin of the Prophet, who was giving the name Nekokara by the Prophet. My understanding is that no such word exists in the Arabic language, which does not mean that I am denying their claim to be Hashmi Arabs. Significantly, unlike other groups of claimed Arab descent, the Nekokara are not associated with any saints. It seems more likely that they may have Arab ancestry, but for most the last two centuries, they have been settled along the banks of the Chenab in Chiniot and Sargodha districts, raising livestock, until the arrival of the Sikhs. In culture and language, they have much in common with the Chadhars and Sipras, their neighbours, and as such are a quasi-Jat tribe.
The Nekokara are concenterated in the Chiniot and Sargodha districts with a few holding lands in Hafizabad and Jhang districts. In Chiniot, their main villages are is Hersa Sheikh, Chauntrewala,Thatta Karam Shah, Taliyal and Zakhera. Other Nekokara villages include Chak 262 and Nekokara in Jhang District, Sheikh Wahan in Bahawalpur District, Sagharpur in Jhelum District and Nekokara is in the Vehari District.