Description of Major Muslim Communities in India : Bhatti

In this fifth post of mine on Muslim communities in India, I shall stick with the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The state is home to 38,519,225, who make up 19.3% of the total population. This population is not only large, but very diverse, home to perhaps as much as two hundred odd groups, castes and sects, speaking various dialects, as well as standard Urdu. In this post, I shall look the Bhatti community, which has traditions of migration from the Punjab, in particular from the Sirsa Rania region that is now divided between Haryana and Indian Punjab. Several Bhatti groups claim that there migration to UP was the result of the Chalisa Famine of 1783-84, the affected the territories south of Sultjej river, which were prior to the famine rich grassland. As the Bhatti were pastoral groups relying heavily on cattle rearing, and the Chalisa effectively wiped out these grasslands. However, as I shall discuss in this post, various groups of Bhattis have different and complex origin myths.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Bhatti are an extremely diverse set of communities, many with quite different origin myths. I shall initially give a brief background to the origin myths of the Bhatti, the migration history of the some of these groups and finally look briefly the Bhatti Taluqdars of Bara Banki, who were perhaps the most prominent family among Bhattis of UP. Just a point of clarification, the name is pronounced as Bhatti in UP, Haryana and Punjab, and Bhati in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Sindh. In terms of distribution, the Bhatti are fairly widespread, but there main concentrations are in Bulandshahr, Budaun, Kasganj, Farrukhabad, Barreilly, Pratapgarh and Barabanki districts.

Origin

According to tribal legends, the Bhatis were initially Yadavas, claiming descent from Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu, and thus identify themselves as a Chandravanshi Kshatriya. The Yadava homeland was the territory of Braj, roughly what is now Agra, Mathura and the adjoining areas of Rajasthan such as Bharatpur, from they were driven out by Paras Ram and fled to the Thar desert area of Jangladesh. Jangladesh was infertile and there was a constant scarcity of water throughout this region. The people had to wander from one place to another in search of water and food. These people were known as the Bhati. The word “Bhati” is therefore derived from the Hindi word, ‘Bhatakna’ (“to wander”). What is interesting about this legend is that it makes oblique reference to the most desert dwellers of the Jangaldesh acquired the name Bhati, which probably suggest a mixed origin. It is also interesting most Bhati of this region, now divided between Rajasthan and Sindh, remain herdsmen.

James Todd the colonial historian makes reference to another origin myth, involving a Mamnenez, the king of Khorasan, who drove out King Shal Bahan from Ghazni. He then established his capital at Sialkot. One of his sons was Rao Bhati and his descendants came to be called Bhatis. In Punjab, Rajah Risalu, the founder of Sialkot is often said to a Bhatti, and in that province, at least a third of those who called themselves were of the Bhatti clan. In Punjab, the Bhatti story also talks about a period of exile to Ghazni, followed by their return.

I now return to the Jangaldesh, the present regions of Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Mallani (split now between Umerkot in Pakistan and Barmer) and an individual named Jaisal. Jaisal is said to have founded the city of Jaisalmer in 1156 AD. The new fort that he built was on a hill called Trikuta. The state of Jaisalmer was positioned right on the route from Afghanistan to Delhi. Taking advantage of this strategic position, the Bhatis levied taxes on the passing caravans. At the height of Bhati power, it covered a large part of what is now the Bahawalpur Division of Pakistan, Bikaner extending into southern Haryana. With the arrival of the Rathore in Bikaner in 1504, the traditional homeland of the Bhatti split, with the northern region becoming known as Bhatiana.

Bhatiana

Almost all the tribal traditions connect the Bhati Rajputs to Bhatnair or Bhatner (present-day Hanumangarh in northern Rajasthan. Bhatner was historically important as it was situated on the route of invaders from Central Asia to India. Whether the Bhati Rajputs initially spread from Bhatner and Bhattiana or these were their final abodes is unclear. It might be the case that the drying up of the Ghaggar forced them to migrate to the plains of Punjab. However, its worth pointing out that most Bhattiana Bhattis trace their history to the desert principality of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, in the border villages of Bikaner and some tehsils of Jodhpur (Osian and Shergarh). Sirsa in the heart of Bhattiana became home to a Muslim Bhatti principality, which survived until the arrival of the British in the 19th Century. Most of the local Rajput tribes, such as the Bhatti and Joiya had become Muslim with the arrival of the Mughals (early 16th Century) and led a pastoral life. However, with the Chalisa famine of 1783-84, almost the entire ecosystem was destroyed, forcing significant Bhatti migration into the Doaba region of Uttar Pradesh. The Awadh Bhattis have slightly different story to their migration, and I will look at that latter in the article.

Migration to UP – Traditions of the Bhatti of the Doab and Rohilkhand

Various groups of Bhatti in the Doab have different traditions as to their origin and migration. In terms of distribution, the Bhatti in the Doab are found mainly in Bullandshar, in Etah District mainly in Azamnagar tehsil, with Bhargain being their most important settlement, and in Kakrala in Badaun and Thriya Nizamat Khan in Bareilly. Most Bhatti settlements like along the banks of the Kali Nadi between Bullandshahr and Etah. Many of these Kali Nadi Bhattis have origin myths suggest that they predate the Chalisa migration. It is of course quite possible a number of waves of Bhatti arrived in UP over different times. They say they came to Bulandshahr under Kansal, or as others say, Deo and Kare, in the time of Prithivi Raj Chauhan (1149–1192 CE), and drove out or more likely subdued the Meos. The clan then divided into two branches, the Bhatti and Jaiswar. Interestingly, looking at colonial censuses of UP shows that most Jaiswars are Hindu, and Bhatti Muslim. It should also be noted that Hindu Jaiswar and Bhatti do not intermarry, under the rules of clan exogamy, considering themselves to be the same clan. Conversion to Islam is said to have taken place during the times of Qutubudin Aibak (1150–1210) and Alaudin Khilji (ruled 1296 to 1316). This would make them some of the earliest converts to Islam. In Bulandshahr, most Hindu Bhattis consider themselves as Gujjars, while the Muslims groups are now known as Ranghar, a term used to describe any Muslim Muslim Rajput. They are said to be over a 150 Bhatti villages in the Noida, Bulandshahr and Meerut region, most of whom are Muslim. Important villages include Til Begumpur, Hirnoti, Vellana, Vair ,Rabupura and Bakaswa.

The Bhatti of Til Begumpur

The most important Bhatti settlement in the Bullandshar / Greater Noida region is village of Til Begumpur. It was a site of an independent Bhatti Muslim principality until 1857. According to tribal traditions, the ancestors of the Bhattis are said to have come to Til Begumpur from Bbattiana, in the t.ime of Prithvi Raja of Dehli, and to settled here after expelling the Meos. The Bhatti are said to have founded two villages Ghodi Bachchera and Til Begumpur, now located on the outskirts of Greater Noida. The founders of these two villages were said to be two brothers. During 16th Century, Gujjars began immigrate from across the Yamuna, thereby reducing the Bhatti principality to a few villages. According to tribal tradition, Til was established by Rao Kasan Singh, who after defeat at the hands of a Allauddin Khilji was converted to Islamic . Kasan Singh was renamed himself Rao Qasim Ali Khan after conversion. While the village Ghodi was established by Kasan Singh’s younger brother Ranbir Singh who lived and died a Bhati Rajput. One of the brothers was also supposed to have fathered Bhati Gujjars after marriage with a Gujjar girl. The Bhattis in Til and other villages – Dhaula, Andhel, Mandpa, Kaumra and Jalalpur – all claim descent from Rao Qasim.

The Til Begumpur Bhatti’s played an important role in the 1857 War of Independence, and after the reestablishment of British rule, the estate was confiscated for their rebellion. The lands were handed over to the Skinner Estate, which was created by Colonel James Skinner CB (1778 – 4 December 1841) was an Anglo-Indian military adventurer in India, who became known as Sikandar Sahib later in life. The town of Sikanderabad near Tilla is named after Skinner. The Skinner family remain proprietors of Tilla until the independence of India in 1947.

The Bhatti of Bhargain

However, the Bhargain Bhattis have strong traditions of migration during the Chalisa, and as I have already said, this probably shows a steady flow of Bhatti migrants from the arid region of Bhattiana. According to the Bhargain tradition, two brothers named Khawaj Khan and Mehmood Khan came and settled in the region fertile region between the Bhurhi Ganga and Kali Nadi river. They are said to be fleeing the Chalisa famine and found the area occupied by Ahir groups, whom they displaced. The brothers are said to have founded the village of Bhargain during the later part of 18th century. From their various sons descend most of sub-clans of the Bhagain Bhattis. The region where the Bhattis settled was in a vacuum, and they became effectively independent, sometimes fighting with their neighbours the Pathans of Kasganj, and sometimes allied with them. Two descendants of Khawaj Khan, Dillu Khan and Sharabu Khan moved to Badaun and founded Kakrala. Most Kasganj, Badaun and Farrukhabad Bhattis claim some connection with the brothers Khawaj and Mahmood. Other then Bhargain, there are several villages in Azamnagar tehsil.

The Bhatti of Kakrala

The Kakrala Bhattis however have a slightly different story to their origin. According to one of their traditions in 1610 AD, the Bhattis were settled in Agra, when they seized Noorjahaan, the wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, as she was travelling from Bengal to Delhi. When Jehangir came to know of this, he sent a force against them, forcing them to flee to the country of the Meos, lying east of their homeland in Agra. Their the Bhattis converted to Islam, and remained until the death of Jahangir. Their circumstances changed, when Noorjahaan wanted her son-in-law to be enthroned. She needed allies and the Bhatti came in support. They were then granted lands that became settlement of Kakrala. If this legend is to be believed then, Kakrala was founded a century before Bhargain, and the connection between the two Bhatti communities becomes weaker. The Kakrala Bhatti state was absorbed into the Rohilla state in early 18th Century, and the Bhattis also played a part in 1857. Closely connected to the Kakrala Bhattis are those of the town of Thirya Nizamat Khan in Bareilly, which said to have been founded by migrants from Kakra. In additions, there are also several Bhatti villages near Baheri in Bareilly District.

The Bhatti Khanzada

I now move to Awadh, and look at the very interesting community of the Bhatti of Barabanki. The Bhatti Khanzada of Awadh are a sub-group within the larger Khanzada community of Awadh. However, unlike other Khanzadas, the Bhattis are now closely associated with the Qidwai Shaikhs, with whom they intermarry.
There is also a distinct community of Bhattis found in the village of Yahiapur in Pratapgarh district. The Awadh region covers most of the eastern areas of Uttar Pradesh, and is home to a distinct culture with the extensive use of the Awadhi language.

The Awadh Bhatti also claim to orignate from Bhatner in Haryana, and the Bhattis were some of the earliest converts of Islam. According to tribal traditons, there ancestors Zabar Khan and his brother, Mustafa Khan, accompanied the governor Tatar Khan to Awadh at the time of the first Muslim conquest. In return for his services Zabar Khan received the parganas
of Mawai and Basorhi. He and his brother were the disciple of the saint, Saiyid Shah Jalal, whose tomb is at Basorhi, and in consequence of an insult offered to the holy man they exterminated the Brahmans of Mawai. Zabar Khan’s descendants
held the land for several generations, and then Kale Khan and Munna Jan divided their estates, taking Basorhi and Mawai respectively.
From the former springs the Neora house, which takes its name from a village in the south of Basorhi.

The two Bhatti taluqdars of Barauli and Neora in Barabanki district, and are closely related to the Qidwai Shaikhs, a neighbouring Muslim community through intermarriage. Other then the taluqdar families, the majority of the Barabanki Bhatti are small to medium sized farmers. With the abolishment of zamindari system of feudal ownership, has had a strong impact on the large landowning families, as much of their land has been redistributed. Bhattis are found mainly in and around the town of Mawai, with important villages include Makhdumpur, Neora and Basorhi.


Bhatti of Yahyapur in District Pratapgarh

The village of Yahyapur in Pratapgarh District has quite a unique history. The village is located on the north bank of the river Sai, near its junction with the Paraya stream, about seven miles from Partapgarh city. Located within the village is the famous temple of Bilkhar Nath, which stands among the ruins of Kot Bilkhar, the ancient fort of Ghaibar Sah, a Dikhit Rajput of Bisauli in Banda District. This man was sent by the Emperor of Dehli to exterminate the Bhars, and settling here founded the family of Bilkharia Thakurs, who ruled the pargana till the days of Raja Ramdev Singh. Ramdev Singh was defeated and slain some 650 years ago by Bariar Singh, the ancestor of the Bachgoti clan. On the division of the Baohgoti property the fort fell to the lot of Dingur Singh, the ancestor of the present taluqdar of Dalippur. It was destroyed by the forces of the Nawab of Awadh in 1773 after the defeat of Rai Maharban Singh. The ruins stand on the river bank on a plateau surrounded on three sides by ravines and covered with scrub jungle. The Awadh rulers then settled a colony of Bhattis, who now make up the majority of the population. However the shrine of Bilkbar Nath in the village has remained an important site of Hindu pilgramage.

Distribution of Bhattis by District According to 1891 Census of India
 

District
Hindu Muslim
Barreilly 3,763
Bulandshahr 3,482 2,455
Etah 80 2,671
Pratabgarh 1,652
Barabanki 1,353
Farrukhabad 10 1,177
Ghazipur 854
Aligarh 5 576
Moradabad 514
Saharanpur 37 443
Muzaffarnagar 80 343
Bahraich 267
Hardoi 198
Lakhimpur Kheri 195
Sultanpur 127
Unao 112
Gorakhpur 125 66
Mathura 49
Badaun 587
Meerut 180
Total Population in UP 4,619 17,170

 

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