The Bharwad name may derive from the Gujarati word badawad, constructed from bada (sheep) and wada (a compound or enclosure). Gadaria is another word that may have the same origin. In the Saurashtra region of western Gujarat they exist as two endogamous groups, known as the Mota Bhai (Motabhai) and the Nana Bhai (Nanabhai).
The Bharwads consider themselves to be descended from the mythological Nandvanshi line that began with Nanda, the foster-father of Krishna. Legend has it that Nanda came from Gokul, in Mathura district, and passed through Saurashtra on his way to Dwarka. According to their traditions, the Bharwads were at some time based around Mathura and migrated to Mewar before later spreading out in Gujarat. Sudipta Mitra considers their move to Gujarat to have been predicated by a desire to keep away from the Muslim invasion of Sind. They arrived in the northern town of Banaskantha in 961 CE and later spread out to Saurashtra and other areas.
There are other theories of origin. These include that they are an offshoot of the Bharude cattle-herders of Madhya Pradesh and that they are descendents of Anavil Bharwad, who helped a Chavda prince regain his kingdom.
The Bharwads have numerous subgroups known as ataks or guls (clans) whose main purpose is to determine eligibility for marriage. A constrained exogamy is practised between clans[a] but endogamy exists between the two Saurashtrian divisions despite there being no other social constraints on mixing. The Saurashtra Bharwads also hold a higher status than those in the south and thus marriage between the two regional groups operates in one direction only: daughters of southern Bharwads can marry into the family of those from Saurashtra.
Clans of the Mota Bhai Bharwads include the Babha, Bathela, Colthar, Dabi, Dhangia, Dharangia, Garia, Gomara, Jadav, Kathodi, Ker, Lambari, Matia, Mundhva, Pancha, Rathadia, Sania, Sasda, Tota and Yadav.
Among the Bharwad of south Gujarat, their main clans are the Chandulka, Dahika, Gundarya, Jodika, Kalwamia, Khohadya, Kuhadiya and Rokadka.
Varna and socio-economic status
The varna system of Hinduism is a traditional ritual ranking system based on levels of purported religious purity. Within this four-fold scheme, the Bharwads consider themselves to be Vaishya but they also believe themselves to be equal to Rajput communities that are generally considered to be of the more pure Kshatriya varna. They also believe themselves to be of a higher ritual status than artisan groups such as the Lohars and Suthars.
Despite their own beliefs, the Bharwads are generally treated within regional society as being somewhat below the Brahmin, Vania, Lohana, Patel, Charan and Dharjee communities. Mitra notes that they are generally considered to be among the lowest of the pastoral castes, being engaged primarily in the herding of goats and sheep.[b] However, although one of the Maldhari nomadic communities, they are also among the most urbanised of the region and, combined with their niche position in the supply of milk, which forms their main source of income, this has enabled them to improve their traditional social position.
The Bharwad are Hindu, and like other Hindu pastoral communities pay special reverence to Krishna. Each clan also has its own deity, while their chief goddess is Masai Mata. Their most sacred place is at Morvi and they also make pilgrimages to place such as Dwarka. Some Bharwads in the south have become vegetarian as a consequence of outside influences.
Members of the community practice monogamy and arranged marriages are traditional, usually accompanied by a ritualised exchange of gifts between the partners. There is a sagai (engagement) ceremony when children are aged 2-3 and the marriage age is usually between 18-20 for women and 20-22 for men. Remarriage in situations where the couple are childless requires the consent of the wife, and divorce is not usually tolerated except in this situation and that of mental infirmity. Remarriage upon widowhood is also accepted but men are expected generally to prefer a younger unmarried sister of their late wife.
Married couples live in a patrilocal arrangement. The Bharwads practice male equigeniture, meaning that property is inherited equally by the male children, and it is the eldest son who becomes head of household on the death of the father. Women have no rights of inheritance over property. Although consulted, they also have no final say in the making of significant decisions.
Bharwads are rarely educated beyond primary level and literacy rates are poor, Many of them live in and around the Gir Forest National Park, where they tend to keep away from the forest itself when grazing their livestock due to the danger of attacks by Asiatic lions. Aside from their involvement with livestock, the main source of income is agricultural labouring; few of them own land.
There is a hierarchy of nyat panchayats (community councils) for the resolution of disputes. These are headed by chiefs and comprise several other members. The lowest tier of this are those that operate at the level of a single village or of a group of villages if the Bharwad population is small. Matters that cannot be settled at that level are referred upwards to a regional panchayat and thereafter to a central body based at Rajkot. If matters are still not resolved after referral to Rajkot then the parties will seek intervention form law enforcement agencies, although this is rare.