|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2011)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|• India * Pakistan|
|• Hindi • Awadhi • Bhojpuri • Marwari Punjabi|
|• Hinduism, Jainism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|• Muslim Halwai • Bania • Vaishya|
Halwai is a caste of Vaishya varna (community) with traditional primary occupation related to confectionary and sweet-making. The name is derived from an Arabic word Halwa, a popular sweet made of flour, clarified butter (ghee), sugar, almonds, raisins and pistachio nuts and also frequently saffron. They sell:
- Sweets: grain and/or milk based, dry (like laddus), moist (like barfis) or dipped in syrup (like gulabjamun)
- Savoury snacks: hot (like samosas or pakoras) or dry (like dal biji etc.).
What they sell is sometimes termed mishtanna, or sweetened grain based items).
Halwais are predominantly found in India and Pakistan. In India, Halwais are found mainly in North India. In different states of India, they are known by different names, like Mithaya in Madhya Pradesh, Gudia in Orissa, Mayara in West Bengal and other names in other regions.
Traditionally Indians ate food cooked at their own kitchen, although food cooked with ghee/oil by halwais was considered to be an acceptable exception.
Origins of the Halwai Caste
The Halwais have detailed and well-structured mythological account related to the origin of their community. Tradition has it that they have originated from Lord Brahma, and had a common lineage with Agarwals till Pranshu. Pranshu had two sons: Modan and Pramardan, From Modan, further descendants were Shri Yagnasen, Shri Ganinath and Shri Modansen, from whom the Halwais originated. Pramardan's descendant was Shri Agrasen, who the Agarwals followed.
In some parts of Uttar Pradesh, some believe that they have descended from a man by the name 'Bhalandan.' This Bhalandan came into being due to the will of the Hindu god Brahma. This individual married a woman named Marutwati. Their son was an individual who was named Vatsa Priti. One of the latter's descendents, an individual called Modan, took to making sweetmeats.
The Madhya Pradesh Halwais migrated from North-Western India - Rajasthan during the medieval period. They are traditional vaishyas who were involved in Business and agriculture. They enjoy high status in the society as they belong to Vaishya community i.e. third in varna system. Only Brahmins and Rajput (Kshatriya) enjoys higher status than them. They are considered as "Dwija" i.e. twice born and hence enjoys the right of "Upanayana sanskar".
In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and rest of Eastern India, Halwais migrated from North-Western India - Rajasthan, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh as well as Central India Madhya Pradesh during and after Gupta age. In Eastern India, those who migrated from Kannauj during Harsha's reign were called Kanyakubja or Kannaujiya, and those who migrated from Central India were called Madhyadeshiya or Madhesia.
The community is split into ten sub-groups, the Modanseni, Kanyakubja, Madhyadeshiya, Yagyaseni, Jaunpuri, Badshahi, Kanbo, Kaithiya, Nagri and Rawatputra. The Modanseni consider themselves superior to the other clans. Like other North Indian Hindu castes, they maintain gotra exogamy. To a substantial extent, the community belongs to the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism, although some members of the community have converted to Islam, and now form a separate community known as the Muslim Halwai.
The Halwais are held in respect socially as their services are of social and ritualistic significance. In Indian caste hierarchy, one of whose key attribute is dining restriction, Halwais enjoy high order of precedence. Generally speaking, no Indian caste, not even the Brahman/Brahmin (the highest Hindu priestly caste) considers itself too pure to eat what has been prepared by a Halwai. Considering that sweets are of special importance to religious rituals and social events, this community plays a very specific, well-defined role in all festivals and celebrations such as marriages and childbirths.
The Halwai are known by different names in different states. They are referred to as Mithaiha (meaning sweet) in Madhya Pradesh. Many of them belong to the Agarwal community. In Bihar/ Jharkhand, they are called Madhesia and Kannaujiya Vaisya and go by last names such as Sah, Madhesiya, Saw and Gupta. In Uttar Pradesh they are known as Yogyaseni, Modanwal, Halwai, and Gupta. In Orissa, the Halwai are known as Gudia (jaggery), whilst in West Bengal they are called Mayara, meaning confectioner.
There are large numbers living in the fertile eastern districts of Barabanki and Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh. They trace the origin of the term from the Hindi halwahi, or "one who ploughs".
Recently some of the Halwais have adopted modern manufacturing approaches and produce packaged sweets in large quantities, some of which are exported to other countries. They have often chosen to keep old-fashioned names from previous generations like Ghasitaram, Haldiram, Chandu etc.
Nowadays some Halwai prefer to identify themselves by the surname of SHAH.
- The tribes and castes of the Central Provinces of India By R V Russell, R.B.H. Lal, Volume III, 1916
- Ritual as Language: The Case of South Indian Food Offerings Gabriella Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi Current Anthropology, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Sep., 1977), pp. 507-514
- People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 597
- People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 601