Description of Major Muslim Communities in India : Rautara or Zamindara

This is my fourth posting on a Muslim community in India, and like the previous one, it will focus on the state of the Uttar Pradesh (UP). I shall be looking at the interesting group called Zamindara, also known as Rautara, who extremely localized, found only in Azamgarh, Jaunpur and Mau districts. During the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, most Rautara insisted on calling Shaikhs, although this has now lessened. From the late 20th Century, the self-designation is now Azmi or Azmi Biradari or Azmi Qaum, which literally means a resident of Azamgarh District.

Like most communities, there are a number of traditions as to the origin of the Rautara. The word Zamindara is simply a corruption of the word zamin dar, meaning landowner or in many instances a cultivator. In the eastern most region of, it refers to a group of Muslim communities found mainly in villages who were traditionally associated with farming. They are also known as Rautara, which a corruption of the word ryot. I shall now further explore the term ryot as it can give a clue to the origin of the Rautara. Ryot and its alternative raiyat was a general economic term used throughout India for peasant cultivators but with variations in different provinces. During the Mughal Period (circa 16th onwards), a raiyat was defined as someone who has acquired a right to hold land for the purpose of cultivating it, whether alone or by members of his family, hired servants, or partners. It also referred to succession rights. Under the Mughal system of land control there were two types of raiyats: khudkasta and paikasta. The khudkasta raiyats were permanent resident cultivators of the village. Their rights in land were heritable, while other type of raiyats was called paikasta. They did not cultivate land on a permanent basis in any particular mauza (lowest revenue plus village settlement unit), but instead moved from mauza to mauza and engaged themselves for a crop season. In terms of revenue, the paikasta raiyats were generally paid a much lower rate of rent than the khudkashta raiyats.

Under the British, two system of land tenure were established. The Ryotwari (or ryotwary) tenure related to land revenue imposed on an individual or community owning an estate, and occupying a position analogous to that of a landlord..While under zamindari tenure, the land is held as independent property; while under ryotwari tenure it is held of the crown in a right of occupancy, which is under British rule both heritable and transferable by the ryots. It is therefore interesting how closely this community’s identity is closely connected with landownership, both zamindara and rautara referring to a type of landownership. The Rautara therefore a groups of people who held the land as cultivators and or landowners under the Mughals, and continued there position under the British. British writers such as Drake-Brockman writing the District Gazetteer of Azamgarh wrote favourably about them as cultivators.

As one would expect of a community defined by land tenure, the Rautara have a number of different origin myths. The Ain-i-Akbari, referred to them being the largest community in pargana Nizamabad a Mughal area of administration that roughly covers the present Azamgarh District. In early British colonial accounts, the Rautara were referred to in their words as a broken community of Brahmans and Rajputs, who had converted during the period of the Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526). However, the Rautara of Mohammadpur near Nizamabad had traditions of Afghan origin. There story runs like this, the village of Mohammadpur was founded during the rule of Jai Chand of Kannauj (1173 -1193). When area became part of the Delhi sultanate, the Afghans were joined by Arabs, and Moghals, who identified themselves as Sheikh, Mirza and Pathan respectively. These groups intermingled with each other each other but retained their individual identities as Pathan, Sheikh and Mirza. Incidentally, the Mohammadpur tradition accept that high caste Hindus such as Chattaris, Brehmins and Rajputs who adopted Islam, were also welcome incorporated into the community. By time of the rise of the Jaunpur Sultans, these communities referred to themselves as Ryot or in the Bhojpuri Rautara, based on their position as cultivators.

It was during the rule of the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605) the Afghans the people of the area including the people of Mohammadpur came under period of persecution. In the eyes of Akbar, the local Afghans had supported Sher Shah Suri, who briefly ended Mughal rule in North India. The Mohammadpur villagers, according to their stories, had to destroy all proofs of their being Afghan. They therefore emphasized their identity as ryots, and when the British arrived they noted a community of Brahman and Rajput converts, rather then Afghans or Turks. I feel that that as claims to Afghan or Arab identity are recent, while not denying that there may be some among them who are of Afghan or Mughal origin, by and large the late 19th Century and early 20th Century British writers were probably right. Incidentally, most Rautara had recorded themselves as Shaikhs, a term used through eastern UP and Bihar for recent converts to Islam. Imtiaz Ahmad has looked at the case of Kayastha Muslims in Allahabad changing their identity to Siddique Shaikhs as an attempt at raising there status. This process has been called Ashrafization, where groups start to claim an extra Indian identity to raise their social status. In Azamgarh, furthermore as communal relations between Hindus and Muslims have worsened, the insistence of Afghan and Central Asian identity has increased.

The Rautara speak a distinct dialect of Bhojpuri, although most also speak Urdu. Greater Ashrafization has meant that the Rautara have begun to call their Bhojpuri dialect Azmiat. Most Rautara sub-divide themselves into three groups, the Shaikh, Pathan or Khan and Turk. Azamgarh District remains the centre of the community, substantial number in neighbouring districts of Mau and Jaunpur, and in certain pockets of Gorakhpur and Sultanpur. In terms of major villages, starting with Shaikh sub-division include Sanjarpur (King Sanjar Shaikh) Amilo Khas, Saat Gao, Mangrawan Raipur, Kundanpur Kotila, Bindawal- Jairajpur, Bisham, Nandao, Anjan Shahed, Mahwara , Ashrafpur, Mande and Sarai Poohi. Among the Pathan sub-division, the main iinclude Mohammedpur (Ghazni), Fariha (Farah) Khandwari, Daudpur, Sherwaa, Surahi and Rajapur Sikrour. While the Turk sub-division villages include Muslim Patti, Manjeerpatti, Mirzapur, Hasanpur-Beenapara and Shahpur.

Description of Major Muslim Communities in India – Abdal, Arab (Chavuse), Arain, Arghon, Atishbaz and Attarwala

In this blog, I will look at some of larger Muslim communities or castes found in India. I will keep the description brief and I have added a bibliography at the end for people interested in further reading. This is my first posting and hopefully several more will follow time permitting. What I wish to show is the extraordinary diversity of the of Indian Muslim community.


The Abdal are one of a number of Muslim semi-nomadic community, traditionally associated with begging at shrines of Sufi saints. They are likely to be a division of the Domba community. The word Abdal is the plural form of the Arabic word Abdul, which means slave or follower. According to the traditions of the Abdal, they acquired this name on account of the fact that they were followers of various Sufi saints. As such, the Abdal is not a single community, but refers to groups that are traditionally associated with begging at shrines. The Abdal of Bihar, who speak the Maithili language, and are found mainly in the district of Purnea, while other Abdal communities speak the language of the region they reside in.I n Gujarat, the Abdal are a community of beggars, who are also known as Dafalis and Nagarchis. Their traditional occupation was beating drums at Muslim shrines. The community is found mainly in Ahmedabad city.
In West Bengal, according to the traditions of the community, the community is known as Abdal, as they are true slaves of God, and the word Abdal means a servant of God. Little is known when the community emerged in West Bengal, but presently form a distinct Muslim community.

Sectarian Affaliation

The Abdal belief incorporate several folk traditions, and follow several Sufi orders such as the Qadriya and Sarwariya.


In terms of distribution, the Abdal are found mainly in Bihar, Gujarat and West Bengal.


Arabs in Gujarat, also known as Chavuse

The Arabs community found in Gujarat, also known as the Chavuse, are descendents of Arabs soldiers who were in the employment of various rulers of states in Gujarat, Kathiawar and Kutch. They are said to have arrived in India in the 17th, 18 and 19th Century. According Satish Chandra Mishra, they are divided in 169 clans, but generally divided into groups, the Hejazi, originating from Saudi Arabia, and the Hadhramis from Yemen. With the collapse of Mughal authority in Gujarat in early 18th Century, a number of local feudal chieftains, both Hindu and Muslim became independent. Most of their armies were made up of mercenaries, and Arabs became the main source of soldiers. This was especially the case in Jamnagar, Junagadh and Bhavnagar. The Arabs who came were mainly men, very rarely bringing their families, and intermarriage with local Muslim as well as Koli women was common.

The present Arab community has kept a distinct identity, with many moving to the Gulf States, where they have acquired citizenship. They continue to speak a dialect of Gujarati with Arabic loanwords. The Arbs also continue to maintain distance from groups claiming Sayyid or Shaikh status. Arabs are subdivided into the following sub-groups, the Akvon, Acari, Ansari, Anuj, Kathiri, and Qureshi

Sectarian Affiliation
Sunni, many are now Salafi


Junagadh, Bhavnagar, Panchmahal and Surat. districts of Gujarat


The Arghons are a small community of descendants of immigrants from Yarkand (Xinjiang) and Kashmir that have intermingled with the local Ladakhi community. Most are said to have arrived in the 17th and 18th Century, although some Arghons descend from Kashmiri traders who arrived in the 19th Century. The distinction between the different lineages has disappeared; a new Arghon identity has come into being. Most Arghon are still concentrated in Leh city. The Arghon speak Ladakhi among themselves, but most understand Kashmiri and some also speak Urdu. They are essentially a community of traders and merchants.

Sectarian Affiliation

They are Sunni, and as such quite distinct from the Balti, another Tibetan speaking Muslim group, who are Shia.


In Leh District of Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir), mainly in Leh town.



The Arain in India are now two distinct communities, the Arain of Delhi, and those of Malerkotla. Historic, there were Arain communities in what is now Haryana and East Punjab, but most of these immigrated to Pakistan in 1947.

The Arain have a number of origin myths, including descent from Arabs soldiers that came to India with Mohammed bin Qasim. Among the Malerkotla Arains, the tradition of Arab descent is growing, although others still make reference to Raja Bhutta, ruler of Uchh in what is now Pakistan, who lost his kingdom and settled along the banks of the Sutlej. The Malerkotla Arain are Punjabi speaking, and remnants of much larger community in found in eastern Punjab that immigrated to Pakistan at partition.

Separate from the Punjab Arain are those of Delhi. They claim descent from Rai Jaj, grandson of Lara, the mythical founder of the city of Lahore. This Jaj was the ruler of Sirsa territory, and was thus called Rai, a title used by rulers in ancient Haryana. This was latter corrupted to Arain over time. They were converted to Islam during the rule of Mohammed Ghori. The Arain of Delhi are said to have emigrated from Sirsa, during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. A good many of the Delhi Arain emigrated to Pakistan, at the time of partition of India.

The community was traditionally involved in horticulture and the selling of vegetables. They had their gardens and agriculture lands in Kureni near Narela, Jharoda, Azadpur, Malikpur Chuni and Model Town localities. Malikpur Chuni was traditionally an Arain locality, getting its name from Malik, meaning chief, which is a common surname found among the Arain. From the 1960s onwards, the lands of the Arain have been taken over by the Delhi Development Authority. Many are involved in various trades and businesses.

Sectarian Affiliation

Entirely Sunni


Malerkotla in Punjab, and Delhi State


The Atishbaz are also known as Atishbaz Shaikh or sometimes just Shaikh.

The word atishbaz literally means a firework maker, from the Persian atish meaning fire, and baz meaning to play, and the community is said to have acquired the name on account of their traditional occupation, which was the manufacture of fireworks. According to the traditions of the community, they were originally brought over by the Mughals from Central Asia, as their ancestors were specialists in the manufacture of gunpowder. With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the community took to the manufacturing of fireworks.

Sectarian Affiliation
They are entirely Sunni.

In easternUttar Pradesh, in the districts of Mirzapur, Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Basti, Gonda and Varanasi. In Varanasi, they are found in the Kashipura, Aurangabad and Ram Nagar localities


The word attarwala simply means the manufacturer of perfumes. The Attarwala claim to be descended from a group of Hazara soldiers who were initially settled in Agra, during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. After the failure of 1857 uprising, the Attarwala moved to Gujarat. Once settled in Gujarat, the community took up the occupation of manufacturing of perfumes known locally as ittars.

The community is subdivided into biradari, literally meaning lineages, the larger ones being the Peer Baksh, Ammer Ali, Khorata, Mandusa, Hussainsa, Zahur Hussain, Mohammad Hussain, Khodar Baksh, Barkhan, Mashoob Khan and Ghulam Khan. They also differ from other Gujarati groups in that they still speak Urdu, although most also understand Gujarati.

Sectarian Affiliation
Ithna Ashri Shia

Mainly in Ahmadabad in Gujarat, a few also in Baroda