Banjara woman in traditional dress
|Andhra Pradesh & Telangana||3.2 million|
The Banjara, also called Lamani, Lambani, Banjara Lambani are a class of usually described as nomadic people from the Indian state of Rajasthan, now spread out all over Indian subcontinent. Like many nomadic castes, they claim to be descended from Rajputs, and are also known as Lakha Banjara means Lakhapati, Banjari, Pindari, Bangala, Banjori, Banjuri, Brinjari, Lamani, Lamadi, Lambani, Labhani, Lambara, Lavani, Lemadi, Lumadale, Labhani Muka, Goola, Gurmarti,dhadi, Gormati, Kora, Sugali, Sukali, Tanda, Vanjari, Vanzara, and Wanji. Together with the Domba, they are sometimes called the "gypsies of India". They are known for coloured dress, folk ornaments and bangles.Their traditional living place, called Tanda, is usually located outside a village (in India).
They are divided in two tribes, Maturia, and Labana.
According to J.J Roy Burman, in his book titled, “Ethnography of a Denotified Tribe The Laman Banjara”, The name Laman is popular long before the name Banjara and the Laman Banjaras originally came from Afghanistan before settling in Rajasthan and other parts of India. He states that according to Motiraj Rethod, the Lamans were originally from Afghanistan and there is an independent province and village called Gor in that country.
Banjaras are traditionally known as suppliers and pack bullock carriers and Banjara word is derived from Sanskrit word vana chara (wanderers in jungle). The word Lambani or Lamani is derived from Sanskrit word lavana (salt) which was the principal goods they transported across the country.
Banjara people celebrate Teej festival in a grand scale and even in 21st century, they continue to give lot of importance to Teej festival. The festival, which is celebrated during Sharavan month (August), is generally considered as a festival of unmarried girls who pray for better groom. Girls sow seeds in bamboo bowls and water it three times a day, for nine days and if the sprouts grow thick and high, it is considered as good omen for future groom. The bowls with seedlings are kept in prominent place and girls sing and dance circling the bowl. Holi festival is also celebrated in large scale by Banjara people. Professional singers of the community are called Dadhis who call themselves as Gajugonia and they use musical stringed instrument sarangi.
Folk art of Banjara people include 1.Dance 2.Rangoli 3. Embroidery 4. Tattooing 5. Music 6. Painting, of which embroidery and tattooing has special significance in the community. Lambani women specialise in preparing lepo embroidery on clothes by inter vowing glass pieces in colourful clothes. The craft known as Sandur Lambani Craft made by Lambani people has got Registered Geographic Indication tag in India, enabling the community people to exclusively market them in that name.
Banjara people are generally classified as Hindu. They worship Hindu gods like Krishna, Balaji, Jagadamba Devi, Hanuman etc. also Sati Aayi, Seva Bhayya or Sevalal, Mithu Bhukhiya which are specific to community. They also worship peer and Banjara Devi of which the prayer place of Banjara Devi is located usually in forest in the form of a heap of stones. Of these, Mithu Bhukhiya was known as an expert decoit of the tribe and the community pays high respect to him who is worshipped in a hut built in front of Tanda or village with a white flag on top and this practice is gradually losing its importance, mainly because nowadays the people are more engaged in agriculture, government employment and other type labour-intensive work. Nobody sleeps in the special hut built for Mithu Bhukhiya, also spelled Mitthu Bhukhiya. Seva Bhaya or Seva Lal is another historic person who draws high respect from Banjara people. He became a saint and protector of women of the community and his story is quoted by British administrators who tagged his period around 1857 A.D. with his original name as Siva Rathode.
They speak Banjari language which is also called as Goar-boli which belongs to Indo-Aryan group of languages and the language has no script and recorded history. The community as a whole is learning local Indian languages in schools and gradually they are losing the original dialect and most of them have become bi-lingual or multi-lingual, adopting the predominant language of their surroundings. Efforts are being put to include Banjara language in 8th Schedule of Constitution of India, which may give the language better status to get more funds for research and development.
The most numerous Banjara or Lambadi community is in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states at 2.2 million where they speak their own dialect along with Telugu. In Karnataka, they are spread in northern parts of the state and Karnataka has second largest population (1.1 million, as of 2012) in India.
In India, Banjara people were transporters of goods from one place to other and the goods they transported included salt, grains, firewood and cattle. During 18th Century, the British colonial authorities brought the community under the preview of Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. By enforcing this act, the British Raj curbed the movement of Banjara people. The stigma attached to this continued until 1952 when the Act was abolished by the newly Independent India.
In some states of India, they are considered as Scheduled Caste while in other states they are categorized as Scheduled Tribe. In the state Rajasthan, they are Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. In Karnataka, they are categorised as Scheduled Tribes since 1977. There has been continuous efforts by Government agencies to improve the conditions of community by activities such as building 8622 houses for them during 2009-10.
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