Monday, October 21, 2013

HAANJIS OF KASHMIR BELONG TO ANCIENT NISHADA TRIBE OF THE SUBCONTINENT.


                                                                                   


 AUTUMN VIEW OF HOUSEBOATS  PARKED  IN THE WATER  CANAL NEAR  AIR STATION  (RADIO KASHMIR  )   IN SRINAGAR  CITY .
Photo Autar Mota

To this photo I am adding a story on Haanjis ( Boatmen ) of Kashmir .


HAANJIS  OF  KASHMIR BELONG TO ANCIENT NISHADA TRIBE.

 NISHAD is a Sanskrit word meaning  the seventh  and the last note in the   musical scale ( Indian Classical )  . The seven original notes are Shadja, Rishabha, Gandhara, Mahdhyama, Panchama, Dhaivata and Nishada.

  During my visit to Prayag in  Allahabad  , I found that  the boatmen ferrying people  to SANGAM from Ganga Ghaat  were also known as NISHADAS  . The Boatmen over there had a union    which formed a  component of the Akhil Bharitiya Nishad Sabha (the All India Nishad Association).

In other areas all along  river  GANGA and other navigable rivers in the country  ,  NISHADAS are  also  known as MALLAHS .  In UP one comes across Hindu and Muslim Mallahs. Everywhere in the subcontinent , MALLAH as caste owes its origin to NISHADAS . Be it Bengal ,  Odisha , Sindh ,Khyber Pakhtoonwala  or Punjab .

It shall be interesting to note that Phoolan Devi, the controversial dacoit and politician belonged to the NISHADA  ( Mallah ) Community . Again the well known Samajvadi Party leader  Vishamber Prasad Nishad ( Born 1962 )   belongs to Nishada ( fisherman )  community  .

HAANJIS  of Kashmir  also belong to this  ancient  NISHADA tribe of the country . NISHADAS find mention in Vedas , Manusmriti , Mahabaharta  , Kalhana’s Rajatarangini and scores of Articles and books that I came across . From all records , this tribe   was  distinct from other Tribes of kashmir in terms of  appearance and social customs.  This tribe maintained a separate identity and were not absorbed in to the mainstream Kashmirian society till the entry of Islam . Their origin and entry period to Kashmir is disputed . Many theories have been put forth . Some  anthropologists identify the Nishadas with the "Australoid" (Adivasi) people who inhabited India before the arrival of the proto-Indo-Aryans and the proto-Dravidians . Some Historians  inform us  that this tribe actually lived on the Banks of river Sarswati  and were engaged in ferrying  people across rivers  apart from collecting timber and  fuels from the forest . When the river dried , they too moved to different parts of the country for livelihood. Another group of historians traces their origin to SRI LANKA ( Sangal Dweep  ) where from they moved  and settled  at  various places in India. Some trace them to GYPSIES.  And  the Hanjis claim themselves  to be the descendents of Prophet Noah. 

Whatever be their origin  or  entry period in Kashmir ,  Haanjis of Kashmir  also belong to the ancient  NISHADA tribe.

MENTION OF NISHADAS IN MANUSMRITI .

Chapter X

(34. )A Nishada begets on the same a Margava or Dasa, who subsists by working as a boatman, and whom the inhabitants of Aryavarta call a Kaivarta.



NISHADA IN  MAHABHARATA


 MAHABHARATA informs us  that Nishadas ( an   outcast  tribe ) lived  near river Banks or in hills and forests close by. They were hardworking , Muscular and warrior like . Ekalavya belonged to  Nishada tribe . Ekalavya was the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas . He came to Hastinapura to join the military school  or Gurukula of Dronacharya . He was a young prince of the Nishadha tribe who achieved a skill level parallel to the  Arjuna, despite Guru  Dronacharya ‘s  rejection of him on account of his caste .  He attacked Dwaraka once, and was killed by Vasudeva Krishna in the battle .

 Nishadas were  also fighting  for Kauravas as well as  for Pandavas in the Mahabharata war.

Mahabharata also informs us that Arjuna had come to Nishada kingdom of Ekalavya, after the Kurukshetra War, to collect tribute for Yudhisthira's Ashwamedha sacrifice. Again King NALA and his wife Damayanti belonged to the Nishada tribe.

NISHADAS IN RAMAYANA

Valmiki’s Ramayana also makes mention of Nishadas . Shabri , an elderly woman  who meets lord Rama  in a forest  belonged to Nishada tribe .Shabri offered fruits to Lord Rama after first tasting each fruit herself . She only wanted to offer sweet fruits to  Lord Rama  who gladly ate them . Shabri  later also tells  Lord Rama to take the  help from Sugriva apart from  informing  his whereabouts  .  Ramayana treats Shabri as pious saint. Again it was Nishada king GUHAK who helped Lord Rama to cross over river Ganga during his exile .


MENTION OF NISHADA IN RAJATARANGINI  OF KALHANA

Kalhana makes  mention of Nishadas in kashmira  at many places .  His cantos easily identify them with   Boatmen or Hanjis of Kashmir . I quote

“ To this day are to be seen ancient trees , growing on the edges of old canals of the rivers , with marks of the boat ropes fastened by the Nishadas .”
Canto 101 Taranga V Rajatarangini of kalhana  translated by R S Pandit.

NISHADAS IN OTHER KINGDOMS OF INDIA AND

Nishadas have been mentioned as ancient tribes in the kingdoms of   Dandakas (Aurangabad, Maharashtra ). Manimat  kingdom of Nishadas  was visited by Bhima during his military campaign to the east, to collect tribute for Yudhisthira . This kingdom is possibly the   present day Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. A prince named KETUMET  is mentioned as battling along with the Kalingas  ( present day  Odisha ) against Bhima, in the Kurukshetra War. He was mentioned as the son of the Nishada king.

NISHADAS IN KASHMIR 

Nishadas living in Kashmir converted to Islam in early fourteenth centaury and most of them  started adopting   kashmirian nicknames as their castes   . As class or community , they came to be known as HAANJI or HAAENZ . The Haanjis are mostly found in and around areas of  Dal Lake, Wular Lake  and the Jhelum River right from  KHANNABAL  (Ananatnag District)  to CHATTABAL  in Kashmir   .
Walter Lawrence  in his book The valley of kashmir writes about them as under :-

´It is impossible to obtain any information as to their origin , but the profession is very ancient and history affirms that Raja Parbat Sen introduced Boatmen from *Sangaldeep. ”
*Present day Sri Lanka .

In Kashmir Haanjis  further segregated themselves into various sub sects depending upon the professions these sub sects adopted. These sub sects were primarily called

DEMB HAAENZ
This sect lived in or  close to lakes and canals and engaged itself in growing vegetables. Haak grown by them was called HAAENZ HAAK as  distinguished from Haak grown by other vegetable growers in mainland kashmir.

GAAERI HAAENZ
This sect lived in lakes in boats and was engaged in collection of  water chestnuts from lakes essentially DAL and  WULAR AND ANCHAAR .

GAADA HAAENZ
This is the fishermen sect . The  men  simply  collect the fish from lakes , rivers and canals  while entire marketing is done by women who labour hard in carrying these fish to city markets for ultimate sale .

MATA HAAENZ
This sect  would sell timber and firewood. They would  live near riverbanks  to  sell firewood and timber to people.  Quite often People would  complain about their dishonesty in weighing timber.

Hukkk HAAENZ
This sect would bring wooden scraps from rivers in boats and sell them to people as winter fuel.
DOONGA HAAENZ
They owned Doongas which they rented  out to people for picnics and other social get together . The family of the Haanji also lived in the Doonga which had a sitting space in its middle  for the guests . These doongas would move from place to place with groups of people  enjoying food and Kashmir music .

BAHAAETCH HAAENZ
 This sect would own  flat  bottomed large boat used for carrying heavy loads .These    boats were also used by food and supplies Department to store and carry Grains for public distribution in Srinagar city. Presently this sect is also  engaged in digging sand from river beds in Kashmir .

   SHIKAARI  HAAENZ

This sect owned shikaras or  the comfortable boats with roofs  used for going across the river or making a round of the lake. Presently a shikara is quite popular mode of transport  used by Tourists for  moving inside the DAL lake ,  Nigeen Lake and Manasbal Lake in Kashmir  .Kurr Naavi Haaenz ,who ferried  people across the rivers or canals  also fall in this sub category .

HOUSE BOAT HAAENZ

          This sect is economically better than all other sects  as they own very expensive houseboats that are parked  in the Dal or Nigeen lake .  A house Boat is a tourist attraction. Most of the Houseboats have three to four bed rooms with attached toilets . Inhouse pantry service is also available in these houseboats which are tastefully carved  .The  ‘Khatumband’ roof, walnut  furniture, Papier Mache  goods etc.  make them a royal retreat.

 So long so much. I end this post with a couplet of  Amir Khusro
  
  ”Gori soavay  seijj  pe -  mukh par daaray keish
  Chal khusro Ghar Aapnay -Raein bhayee Chahuun daeis ”

(    Autar Mota 20.10.2013 )


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3 comments:

  1. I quote from the your article:
    "This tribe maintained a separate identity and were not absorbed in to the mainstream Kashmirian society till the entry of Islam . Their origin and entry period to Kashmir is disputed".

    Today in 21st century I understand that we were more segregated from the casteist society of Kashmir post introduction of Islam.. and the discrimination has not ended till date..

    Hanji Yaseen Tuman.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely true broda... We must put an end to the evil practice of caste system as we are all the children of AADAM (peace be upon him)... ALLAH (SWT) has made all of us equal and without any discrimination then Who the hell are we people to judge mankind on the basis of caste...its ridiculous that even in this socialized period we are hurting sentiments of people through inferiority complex... Caste,color,creed, doesn't matter at all, rather its a person who should be kind hearted & a true mankind whether he belongs to any community... as we all know that upper caste people commit more sins by using it as a shields.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Absolutely true broda... We must put an end to the evil practice of caste system as we are all the children of AADAM (peace be upon him)... ALLAH (SWT) has made all of us equal and without any discrimination then Who the hell are we people to judge mankind on the basis of caste...its ridiculous that even in this socialized period we are hurting sentiments of people through inferiority complex... Caste,color,creed, doesn't matter at all, rather its a person who should be kind hearted & a true mankind whether he belongs to any community...

    ReplyDelete