Written by: Dr. R. Ramesh Arya SUMMARY: Banjaras are also known as Lambadis, Banjaris or Brinjaris, Sugalis are a wandering band of people found in many parts of India's Southern States. Generally believed to have migrated from north western parts of India during the regime of Mughals and assumed that these people had existed in these areas from about the 17th century. The social status of Banjaras varies from state to state. Among the banjaras, the joint family was the norm in the previous generations but now it is being weakened.
The Lambani-Banjara tribe of southern states of India is a Hinduised tribe and they believe alike other tribes that the world is protected by a multitude of spirits Benign and Malign. The important traditional festivals are Teej-Gangour and Seetla Puja etc. They regularly celebrate them. Seetla and her seven sister deities are considered as Goddesses of small pox and these rituals are performed to appease them, in order to protect themselves and cattle from all kinds of diseases e.g. "Blind Faith" is the most common disease among them. Thre are a number of Bhagats, Bhopas, Janyaas and priests who prey on such beliefs of ignorant Banjaras, whom ignorant Banjaras often consult, as they believe them to do have special powers who can speak to Gods or Goddesses. Whenever a person become sick or an unexpected calamity occurs, Banjaras consult these so called mediators.
HISTORY: History as the story of the past is essential a narration of change. We see changes occuring constantly around us. Over longer periods not only ways of life of the human beings, but also the patterns of their thought, beliefs, language and customs, have been constantly subjected to change. Detailed recordrd information on this colourful versatile Lambadi or Banjara tribe is not available in History, but there are facts which, to some extent, draw the origin and occuoation of Banjaras. The three appellations Lambadi, Sugali and Banjari are derived from Lam (Luskar) 'army' or Lavana 'salt', su-gwala 'good-cowherd' and Banijar 'traders' respectively. About the origin of this people G.A. Grierson (Linguistic Survey of India, Volume-IX, part III page 256) writes that, "the tribe has been known in India from centuries. It appeared to be a mixed race and to owe its origin and organization to the wars of the Delhi Emperors in southern India, where they carried the commissariat of the armies."
In A. Aiyappan's Report on the Socio Economic conditions of the aboriginal tribes of the province of Madras', (page 164-165) which enlightens as follows:
"The Brinjari division of this tribe living in the Nizam's dominions is called Lambada. They are divided into four main classes. There are the Vadtiya, Chavan, Pamwar and Bhukya classes. There were the 'Gotras' within each of the four classes." They orally communicate in Banjara Language among them. Banjara language also known as Banjari, Sugali, Lambadi, Lamani, Gourboli etc.
Lambadi community was engaged in the trade of salt, grain andother commodities in remote villages. Because of the fact that they were nomadic tribes, they used to travel to long distances for merchandise. They went to battlefields as warriors alongside English Military personnel in their war against the Sultan of Mysore. Lambadi's in Mysore State, as per records in the Mysore Census Report 1891, they carried out the occupation of transporting grain and other commodities on pack-bullocks (Ladeni), especially on the hill and forest tracts.
It has been noted in the Madras Census Report of 1891 that Lambadis and Sugalis are the same people. There is no legend of detailed information available, one which would illustrate the event and exact place from where Lambadi tribe migrated to other areas. Lambadis are found in southern parts of India, generally believe to have migrated from north western parts of India during the regime of Mughals, with the fear of conversion to Islam.
Presently Lambadis are found in the southern states of India, Andhra Pradesh, Karnatka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Goa. They were wandering type and were originally roaming all over southern part, but in recent time they have been made to settle down in above states. From what period Lambadis began settling down in these areas is not known, but it is assumed that these people have existed in these areas from about the 17th century. They are formed interspersed amidst tribal and non tribal population and tenaciously maintaining thier culture and ethnic identity. Generally the live in exclucive settlement of their own called Tandas named after headman of the group (Naik) but there social status varies from state to state. They are notified as scheduled tribes in Andhra Pradesh and scheduled castes in Karnatka.
Banjaras little prefer to mix with other people. They allways live in a village of their own. A Lambadi-Banjara's hut generally consists of only one small room, with no aperture except the door way. The cattle are generally tied up outside of hut.There are traditional Musicians and bards to Lambadas called 'Dhaliya'. Dhaliya depend mainly on the gifts presented by Lambadas-Banjaras on various occasions and also work as manual labourers. Bhats or Dhadi sing songs on family history by playing musical instruments called 'Jange' and 'Kinjri' during marriage ceremonies. There are traditional barbers to Lambadas Tribe called 'Navi' and 'Sonar' who manufacture silver and gold ornaments. All these groups are endogamous sub-divisions of main Lambada Tribe. Traditionally joint family was playing a dominant role in choosing the mates, determining the residence, controlling the property, watching the morals and managing the affairs of youngsters. Among the Banjaras, the joint family was the norm in previous generation but now it is being weekend gradually into nuclear type.
The Lambadi-Banjaras are a strong and virile race with tall stature with oval face, black and brown eyes, long flowing silky hair and straight nose and fair complexion. Both men and women are strong mucular and stalwart and are capable of much endurance.
The Lambadi-Banjaras men folk are very hard working and earn their bread with honesty. The illiterate Lambadi-Banjaras can relate the minutest details of their transactions by their sharp memory. Their ordinary dress is the Dhoti with short tousers and frequently guddy turbans and caps in which the indulge on festive occasions. The women folk wear a voluminous skirt or Ghagra (Phetiya) or brightly coloured cotton, richly embroidered and bordered with glass beads, mirror discs, couries and shells. Her covering cloth veil (Tukri) is also curiously embroidered. A short sleeved bodice (Kanchali) is gaudily embroidered in front and over the shoulders and is tied at the back. They wear various jewels characteristic of the people.
Beliefs: The Lambadi-Banjara tribe of southern states of India is a Hinduised Tribe. Universally they worship goddess Shakti in all her forms like (i) Durga, (ii) Kankaali, (iii) Tulja Bhavani, (iv) Maryamma, (v) Hingala, (vi) Amba or Masori and (vii) Mathral or Seetla. And they have a strong belief that the dead persons would also become gods and goddesses. Hence the practice of worshipping of ancestors is prevalent among them. They sacrifice an animal and offer cooked food with the meat preparation to the departed soul.
The Lambadi-Banjara tribe believe alike other tribes that the world is protected by a multitude of spirits Benign and Malign. Hence these malignant spirits are periodically appeased through sacrifice and supplication which form the contour of their festivals like Seetla Bhavani and Tulja Bhavani and Maryamma Yadi. Maryamma is believed to protect their females and children and preserve the fertility of their lands. They worship particularly Seetla and Mathral, a goddess for the welfare of the cattle on either Tuesday or Thursday and the time of festivals like Dasara and sacrifice goats to these deities. During the celebrations of Dasara the whole night the musical party of men will be singing and the ladies will be dancing and singing in praise of them in front of these goddesses. They also worship and pay reverence to Sathi who is believed to protect their children with Lapsi (rice-Jaggery sweet). They did not build temples for their gods and goddesses when they were nomadic. They carried the insignia of their gods and goddesses with them wherever they went, and followed their own method of worship and sacrifices to them on annual festival occasions.
The Banjara tribe also worship and pay reverence to the some of the Hindu benevolent Gods and Goddess and visit their temples such Lord Balaji, Lord Shiva, Krishna, Hanuman etc. are the family deities of a large number of Lambadi-Banjara families who visit their temples. Once a year they dig long pits called "Bhoger Chari" on which food is cooked. The cooked sweet food with rice-jaggery called 'Churmo' and 'Lapsi' etc. are also cooked there observing all cleanliness for the oblations to Gods. They put bits of 'Churmo' and other preparations on the embers of the fire and pour ghee and udha which goes in flames. While pouring ghee, they say, "Jai Bolo Balaji Maharaj" etc. and pray to bless them and to protect them and their cattle.
They celebrate the Hindu festivals like Ugadi, Dasara, Deepavali, Sankranti, Shivratri and Holi. In spite of the influence of the Hindu religion, they continue to worship their ancestors, their saints, Bhagats and Gurus, such as Seva Bhaya, Mithu Bhukiya, Hathi Ram Baba (Tirupati), Dema Guru, Naanu Saadh and Loka Masand etc. The important traditional festivals are Teej Gangaur and Seetla Pooja etc., they regularly celebrate them.
In the month of Shravana-Bhadrapada when the Monsoon rains drench the parched earth or in the months of Chaitra-Vaisakha, the Banjara tribe celebrated the traditional festival of Teej. Teej festival is celebrated by the Banjaras when the Tanda people are prosperous and happy with their conditions, and it is not absorbed as an annual feature like Holi or Deepawali. The Tanda Panchayat such as Naik, Kaarbhari and other elder persons of the Tanda decide weather this festival is to be performed in the Tanda during the year.
Teej festival is celebrated for 9 to 10 days with a day to day variation in the intensity of ritual performances. This festival of fertility is exclucively the festival of maidens. During festive celebrations Maryamma and Seva Bhaya propitiated. The maidens of the Tanda (village) bring new baskets and put manure and wheat seeds in the baskets. Every day they perform their traditional dance. On 10th day, the baskets are brought down from the Pooja Platform and all the villagers worship them. The boys and girls together prepare two dolls of human images called "GANGOUR". Gangour represent "Shiva" (Goura) and "Parvathi" (Gouri). All the men and women folk take samplings and fix each tender crop in the turban of men. If there is no good germination in any of baskets, that particularly family believes that they are not going to get good harvest during that season. At the end of the festival, the Gangour and baskets of Teej immersed in the tank.
Seetla is another important festival of Banjaras performed in the month of Ashada or Shravan. On the eve of Seetla festival, the Banjaras propitiate all the seven sisters' malevolent deities. Seetla being the youngest of them is propitiated first, apart from the seven sister deities.
"Lunkad" is the messenger of these seven sisters. This festival is celebrated on the outskirts of the Tanda. The Naik of the Tanda and other male members of the Tanda go to the outskirts of the Tanda and set up seven stones by the side of path through which their cattle go for grazing and called them Seetla. There will be another stone in front of them called 'Lunkad'. The Naik who acts as a priest necessarily fasts on the day of festival. Agoat is sacrificed and the blood is spilled before the seven deities. The intensive of the goat are spread on the ground and cattle are made to run over them helter shelter. Fowls are sacrificed by the Tanda people attending the ceremoney. Seetla and her seven sister deities are considered as goddesses of small pox and these rituals are performed to appease them, in order to protect themselves and cattle from all kinds of diseases. Unlike the festival of Seetla and Teej, Tulja is festival of sacrifices and offering by individual families of Banjara Tribe.
Blind Faith:There are a number of Bhagats, bhopas and Janyaas and priests of some God or goddesses whom ignorant Banjaras often consult them as Gods or Goddesses are supposed to speak through them. Whenever a person become sick or an unexpected calamity occurs. These Bhagats use "Chhumantar" magic method to convince the people thatthe evil spirit can be driven away or the disease can be cured. Many of them are exploiters of the ignorant Banjaras. They generally order sacrifice of Goat, Sheep, Hen or Fowls, Lemons etc. to appease the evil spirit or Goddess. These Bhagats, Janyaas and Bhopas which have dominant position in some Tandas. Even now they are being venerated by the ignorant and illiterate tribes. The spread of proper education among the the tribes, and intensive health care measures in their locality by government etc. the epidemic have practically disappeared and people are advised by doctors etc. to go to hospitals whenever they are sick. Thus people have gradually loosing faith in these Bhagats, Bhopas and Janyaas or miracle man in fact they are a hindrance in the implementation of social reforms.