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|Regions with significant populations|
|• India • Pakistan|
The Meghwal (Megh or Meghwar) people live primarily in northwest India, with a small population in Pakistan. They were classified as untouchable community under Hindu ritual ranking system and are now classified as a Scheduled Caste under India's system of positive discrimination. As untouchables, they were traditionally considered outside the Hindu ritual ranking system of castes known as varna. Their traditional occupation was weaving. Most are Hindu by religion, with Rishi Megh, Kabir, Ram Devji and Bankar Mataji their chief gods.
According to a 2013 study based on genetics, it is claimed that basically Meghwals belong to the same Indo-European group to which Brahman, Rajput and other upper caste people belong. They claim to have descended from Rishi Megh, a saint who had the power to bring rain from the clouds (Megh) through his prayer. The word Meghwar is derived from the Sanskrit words megh, meaning clouds and rain, and war (Hindi: वार), meaning a group, son and child. (Sanskrit: वार:) Literally, then, the words Meghwal and Meghwar connote a people who belong to Megh lineage.
Some Meghwals are associated with other social groups. Shyam Lal Rawat refers to the Meghwals of Rajasthan as "one of the dominating low untouchable castes ... earlier known as Chamars", and the Balali and Bunkar communities have also begun using the Meghwal name.
The Meghwal are from Marwar in Rajasthan. In the 1981 Census for Rajasthan, the combined population of people notified as Megh, Meghwal, Menghvar was 889,300. They also live in western Gujarat near the Pakistan border and in other parts of India such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. The Meghs, Kabir Panthi or Bhagat are from Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh and known as Megh, Arya Megh and Bhagat. In some places they are known as Ganeshia, Meghbansi, Mihagh, Rakhesar, Rakhia, Rikhia, Rishia and other names. Some of the Mahashas also claim to be belonging to Meghs.:p.214 After Partition of India in the year 1947, the Meghs who had become converts to the Hinduism, had to migrate to Indian territory.:p.225 Most of them migrated from Sialkot and settled in camps established for them in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
In Pakistan, the word Meghwar is used in place of Meghwal. As of 1991, the population of Meghs in Punjab (India) was estimated at 105,157.
Meghvanshis had weaving and agriculture as their profession but specially they were cobblers with an honest lifestyle. They used to take two crops a year. Rest of the time they were busy with allied activities. In the countryside of Rajasthan, many of the people of this community still reside in small hamlets of round, mud-brick huts painted on the outside with colourful geometric designs and decorated with detailed mirror inlays. In earlier days the main occupation of the Meghwal community was agricultural labour, weaving, specially Khadi and woodcarving, and these are still the main occupations. The women are famous for their embroidery work and are master wool and cotton weavers.
Increasing numbers of the Meghwal today are educated and are obtaining government jobs. In Punjab, especially in the cities like Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana a good number of them is engaged as workers in factories producing sports, hosiery, surgical and metal goods. Very few of them have their own business or a small scale industry. Tiny business and service units are their main support for livelihood.
Their staple diet includes rice, wheat and maize, and pulses such as moong, urad and channa. They are not vegetarian but eat egg, fish, chicken and mutton when available, although they abstain from pork, beef and buffalo meat.
Women have low status in traditional Meghwal society. Marriages are arranged through negotiation between the families before puberty. After marriage, the wife moves to the husband's house, except for the period of childbirth. However, divorce is allowed, with the father retaining liability for the children and compensation paid to the wife.
The Meghwal women in Rajasthan are renowned for their exuberantly detailed costumes and jewellery. Married women are often spotted wearing gold nose ring, earrings and neckpieces. They were given to the bride as a "bride wealth" dowry by her soon-to-be husband's mother. Nose rings and earrings are often decorated with precious stones of ruby, sapphire and emerald. The Meghwal women's embroidery is avidly sought after. Their work is distinguished by their primary use of red, which comes from a local pigment produced from crushed insects. The Meghwal women artisans of Thar desert in Sindh and Balochistan, and in Gujarat are considered master of the traditional embroidery and Ralli making. Exotic hand-embroidered items form part of dowry of Meghwal woman.
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