The Banjara (also called Lamani, Lambadi, Lambani) are a community usually described as nomadic people from the Indian state of Rajasthan, now spread out all over Indian subcontinent.
According to Burman the name Laman was popular long before the name Banjara, and Laman Banjaras originally came from Afghanistan before settling in Rajasthan and other parts of India. The Lamans, according to him, are originally from the independent province called Gor in Afghanistan.
Banjaras were traditionally suppliers of bullock and salt merchants. The word Banjara is said to be 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 good they transported across the country. About the Lambadis of the 19th century the historian Moor observed: they “associate chiefly together, seldom or never mixing with other tribes. They seem to have no home, nor character, but that of merchants, in which capacity they travel great distances to whatever part which is most in need of merchandise, which is the greatest part corn...”
Banjaras speak Banjari language; also called Gor Boli it belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages. According to Grierson, "Banjari falls into two main dialects--that of Punjab and Gujarat and that of elsewhere (of which we may take the Labhani of Berar as the standard). All these different dialects are ultimately to be referred to the language of Western Rajputana. The Labhani of Berar possesses the characteristics of an old form of speech, which has been preserved unchanged for some centuries. It may be said that it is based partly on Marwari and partly on Northern Gujarati." He also notes that the Banjari dialect of southern India is mixed with the surrounding Dravidian languages.
Most Banjaras today are bilingual or multilingual adopting the predominant language of their surroundings.
Banjara art is rich and includes performance arts such as dance and music to folk and plastic arts such as rangoli, textile embroidery, tattooing and painting. The Banjara embroidery and tattooing are especially prized and also form a significant aspect of the Banjara identity. Lambani women specialize in "lepo" embroidery which involves stitching pieces of mirror, decorative beads and coins onto clothes.
Banjara people celebrate the festival of Teej during Shravana (the month of August). In this festival young unmarried Banjara girls pray for a good groom.  They 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. During Teej the seedling-baskets are kept in the middle and girls sing and dance around them. Banjaras also celebrate the festival of Holi. Banjaras have a sister community of singers known as Dadhis or Gajugonia They are Muslim Banjaras who traditionally traveled from village to village singing songs to the accompaniment of sarangi.
The main deities of Banjara people are Sati and Saint Sevalal. They also worship Hindu gods like Balaji, Jagadamba Devi or Thulja Bhavani, Ganesh, Mahadev, Khandoba/Kanhoba and Hanuman. They also hold Guru Nanak in great respect.
Sevalal or Sevabhaya is the most important saint of the Banjaras. According to Banjara accounts he was born on 15 February 1739 in Sirsi, Karnataka, to Bhima Naik and Dharmini Bai, and died on 4 December 1806. A cattle merchant by profession he is said to have been a man of exemplary truthfulness, a great musician, a courageous warrior, a rationalist who fought against superstition and a devotee of Goddess Jagadamba. The colonial British administrators also quote his stories but they place him in the 19th century and identify his original name as Siva Rathode.
Some Banjaras also worship Banjara Devi represented by a heap of stones in the forest, as well as Peer and Mithu Bhukiya. Mithu Bhukhiya is said to have been an "expert dacoit"; he is worshiped in a hut built in front of the village with a white flag on top. But this practice is waning as the community is more engaged these days in agriculture, government employment and other forms of work. Members of the community are usually barred from sleeping in the special hut built for Mithu Bhukhiya (also spelled Mitthu Bhukhiya).
It is customary among Banjaras to have inter-gotra marriages; intra-gotra marriages are traditionally "proscribed."
The Rathod/Bhukya clan are known by 27 surnames. According to F.S. Mullaly, “the Bhukyas form the principal class among the Lambadis.” They are as follows:
- Aaloth, Bhaanaavath, Bhilavath, Degaavath, Depaavath, Devsoth, Dungaavath,
- Jhandavath, Kaanaavath, Karamtoth, Khaatroth, Khethaavath, Khilaavath,
- Kodaavath, Kumaavath, Meghaavath, Meraajoth, Meraavath, Nenaavath, Paathloth,
- Pithaavath, Raajavath, Raamavath, Raathla/Phulia, Ranasoth, Sangaavath and Sotki
The Pawar clan are known by 12 surnames, which are the following:
- Aamgoth, Aivath, Pammar, Baanni, Chaivoth
- Injraavath, Inloth, Jharapla, Lunsavath/Nunsavath
- Pamaadiyaa, Tarabaanni, Vankdoth and Vislaavath.
The Chavans or Chauhans have the following 6 surnames:
- Dumaavath/Kayloth, Korra, Mood
- Chauradiya, Paalthyaa and Sabavat.
The Vadithyas or Jadhavs have the following 52 surnames:
- Ajmera, Baadaavath, Barmaavath, Bhagvaandas
- Bharoth, Bodaa, Dhaaraavath, Dungaroth
- Gangaavath, Goraam, Gugloth, Halaavath
- Jaadhav, Jaloth, Jayt, Kagla
- Kunsoth, Lokaavath, Lonaavath, Loolaavath
- Maaloth, Mohandas, Pipaavath, Poosnamal
- Salaavath, Sejaavath, Tejaavath, Tepaavath
- Teraavath, Tuvar, Undaavath and VaderJhaad.
The Banoths or Aades have the following 15 surnames:
- Aadoth, Ade, Baanoth, Bhojaavath
- Daanaavath, Dharmasoth, Dheeravath, Jaatroth
- Karnaavath, Kuntaavath, Lavori, Mudavath
- Paanaavath, Rupavath and Sabdasoth.
The highest population of Banjara or Lambadi community is to be found in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states. Together these states have a population of 2.2 million Banjaras who speak the Banjara language along with Telugu. In Karnataka, they are spread in northern parts of the state and Karnataka has second largest Banjara population (1.1 million, as of 2012) in India.
In India, Banjara people were transporters of goods from one place another and the goods they transported included salt, grains, firewood and cattle. During 18th Century, the British colonial authorities brought the community under the purview 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 the state of Tamil Nadu they are Backward Classes (BC) and in Karnataka they are categorized as Scheduled Caste since 1977.
- Burman, J.J. Roy (2010). Ethnography of a Denotified Tribe: The Laman Banjara. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. ISBN 9788183243452.
- J.J Roy Burman, Ethnography of a Denotified Tribe The Laman Banjara A Mittal Publication
- B. G. Halbar, p.14
- Thurston, Edgar (1909). Castes and Tribes of Southern India Vol IV (K to M). Madras: Government Press. p. 210.
- Thurston, Edgar (1909). Castes and Tribes of Southern India Vol IV (K to M). Madras: Government Press. p. 208.
- B. G. Halbar, p.20
- Dhanasing B. Naik, p.132
- Dhanasing B. Naik, plate.26,27
- "Banjara tribe refuses to snap ties with its culture". The Hindu. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- "http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/they-come-together-to-celebrate-holi/article720242.ece". The Hindu. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Dhanasing B.Naik,p.70
- Dhanasing B. Naik, plate 50
- S.G.Deogaonkar and Shailaja S.Deogaonkar, p.42
- Naik, Lalitha (2009). Banjara Hejjegurutugalu. Bangalore: Karnataka Rajya Patragara Ilakhe. pp. 42–84. ISBN 978-8190843812.
- S.G.Deogaonkar and Shailaja S.Deogaonkar, p.43
- Crooke, William (1994). An introduction to the popular religion and folklore of Northern India. New Delhi [u.a.]: Asian Educational Services. p. 125. ISBN 9788120609709.
- Thurston, Edgar (1909). Castes and Tribes of Southern India Vol IV (K to M). Madras: Government Press. p. 209.
- Halbar p. 16
- Gowda, Aravind (27 February 2012). "Truly the forgotten people of Karnataka". India Today. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- Dr. Tanaji Rathode. "Socio-Economic Issues of Banjara Community:". Banjara Times. Banjara Times. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
- "Inclusion of Banjara language in 8th Schedule sought". The Hindu. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Halbar. p 19
- Halbar, B.G. (1986). Lamani Economy and Society in Change. Mittal Publications, Delhi.
- Shashishekhar Gopal Deogaonkar, Shailaja Shashishekhar Deogaonkar (1992). The Banjara. Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi.
- Naik, Dhanasing B (2000). The Art and Literature of Banjara Lambanis: A Socio-cultural Study. Abhinav Publications, New Delhi.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Banjara people.|