The Banjaras were primarily a nomadic group. During the reign of Alauddin Khalji they were organized to collect grains from the country-side for smooth running of the market reforms. Later, they became an indispensable part of the Mughal economy and acquired a very important role as transporters for the empire and even continued with the same status under the East India Company. Banjaras were not only the suppliers, traders or transporters they also served as the commissariat for the Mughals and John Company. The main items they transported were non-perishable goods mainly; grains and salt.
Based on Chittiyat, Arzdasht and Arshatta documents archived at Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner and travelogues, this volume focuses not only on the role and organization of Banjaras and Tanda but also on the shifting identity of Banjaras from nomadic to criminal over a period of time. The introduction of railways in India drastically changed the fate of these born transporters of the empire. The change of regime and the introduction of a new mode of transport led to the marginalization of the Banjaras and their practical elimination from the economic activities of the subcontinent.
Manisha Choudhary is Assistant Professor of Medieval Indian History at the Department of History, University of Delhi. The current theme of her research is based on the imperial documents pertaining to the regional history of Rajasthan. She is currently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and has just completed a project entitled The Bhiti-Chitrakari Havelis of Setho ka Ramgarh and Navalgarh'.
WRITING HISTORY INVOLVES the task of selecting a time frame. Subsequently, the theme needs to be planted firmly and elaborated, contextualizing with the main narrative. The source materials of a regional history is invariably scattered and a researcher has to navigate through various channels before arriving at a conclusion. The idea for this work came from an insight as to why the community of Banjaras have been refered in the state documents of Jaipur State so frequently? The nature of the Banjara community is that of wanderers who travelled long distance and had a large number of cattle (ox). Placing the Banjaras in Indian history helps us to understand that the huge and extensive canvas of Medieval India is incomplete without the discussion of various communities and groups, who were crucial for accomplishing various acts and events of their contemporary times. A few communities were connected to various empires directly or indirectly and were mainly guided by the economic motives or benefits to be drawn out from the many economic and political activities of the state.
The extent of historical evidence, selective archival factors, the knowledge of inscriptions, along with the idea of community and interest of historians have much to do, when the narrative of the communities and their diverse discourses are extracted out. The primary task while dealing with the history writing of communities, who maintained no written records of their own is to dig out information from diverse, often unlikely sources and local documents. Further-more, often there are no contemporary sources to cross check the information. The consideration about the community can be made not by looking at its character in isolation but by looking at the role it played, when it co-existed, modified, negotiated and contested with the state and the local populace. In course of time some communities or groups become prominent. Further, in order to assert their presence as unique and superior from the regular populace and groups, they did innovate and developed certain cultural performances and rituals. To all these activities the previous religious associations were working as prominent historical guides and were also authenticating their backgrounds silently. The invocation of new rituals and ceremonies was an essential feature to signify the uniqueness and highlight the distinct identity of their community. Similarly, the Banjaras invoked and developed certain rituals which were facts of their day to day activities and a few were for distinguishing their groups from the various other communities of the times. 'It must be borne in mind that the discussion of community and state is not a synopsis of the history to follow, it is intended merely as a description of political context....'1 Even today, Banjaras are maintaining their unique and distinct lifestyle and cultural activities. Similarly, one more community emerged during medieval times. The community is popularly known as that of Lohars. Lohars are also widely distinguishable due to their lifestyle (constantly on move with carts), rituals and the cultural beliefs.
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