|Religions||Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism|
|Languages||Hindi, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Ahirwati, Haryanvi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kutch, Sindhi, Punjabi|
|Populated states||India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh|
|Subdivisions||Yaduvanshi, Nandvanshi and Gwalvanshi Ahir|
Ahir or Aheer is an Indian ethnic group, some members of which identify as being of the Yadav community because they consider the two terms to be synonymous. The Ahirs are variously described as a caste, a clan, a community, a race and a tribe. They ruled over different parts of India and Nepal.
The traditional occupation of Ahirs is cow-herding and agriculture. They are found throughout India but are particularly concentrated in the northern areas. They are known by numerous other names, including Gaoli, Ghosi in the north and Gaddi if converted to Islam. Some in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh are known as Dauwa.
Gaṅga Ram Garg considers the Ahir to be a tribe descended from the ancient Abhira community, whose precise location in India is the subject of various theories based mostly on interpretations of old texts such as the Mahabharata and the writings of Ptolemy. He believes the word Ahir to be the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word, Abhira, and he notes that the present term in the Bengali and Marathi languages is Abhir.
Garg distinguishes a Brahmin community who use the Abhira name and are found in the present-day states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. That usage, he says, is because that division of Brahmins were priests to the Abhira tribe.
Theories regarding the origins of the ancient Abhira — the putative ancestors of the Ahirs — are varied for the same reasons as are the theories regarding their location; that is, there is a reliance on interpretation of linguistic and factual analysis of old texts that are known to be unreliable and ambiguous. S. D. S. Yadava describes how this situation impacts on theories of origin for the modern Ahir community because
Their origin is shrouded in mystery and is immersed in controversy, with many theories, most of which link the Ahirs to a people known to the ancients as the Abhiras.
Some, such as A. P. Karmakar, consider the Abhira to be a Proto-Dravidian tribe who migrated to India and point to the Puranas as evidence. Others, such as Sunil Kumar Bhattacharya, dismiss this theory as anachronistic and say that the Abhira are recorded as being in India in the 1st-century CE work, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Bhattacharya considers the Abhira of old to be a race rather than a tribe.
Whether they were a race or a tribe, nomadic in tendency or displaced or part of a conquering wave, with origins in Indo-Scythia or Central Asia, Aryan or Dravidian — there is no academic consensus, and much in the differences of opinion relate to fundamental aspects of historiography, such as controversies regarding dating the writing of the Mahabharata and acceptance or otherwise of the Aryan invasion theory. Similarly, there is no certainty regarding the occupational status of the Abhira, with ancient texts sometimes referring to them as pastoral and cowherders but at other times as robber tribes.
Some princely states were ruled by Ahir dynasties, notably :
- Yaduvanshi Ahirs in Rewari (Hariyana or Ahirwal)
- Ahir Ranas of Junagadh
- Veersen Ahir of Nasik
The British rulers of India classified the Ahirs as an "agricultural tribe" in the 1920s, which was at that time synonymous with being a "martial race" or Kshatriya, literally "warriors." They had been recruited into the army from 1898. In that year, the British raised four Ahir companies, two of which were in the 95th Russell's Infantry. The involvement of a company of Ahirs from 13 Kumaon Regiment in a last stand at Rezang La in 1962 during the Sino-Indian War has been celebrated by Indian Army & Govt. and in remembrance of their bravery the war point memorial has been named as Ahir Dham.
The Ahirs have been one of the more militant Hindu groups, including in the modern era. For example, in 1930, about 200 Ahirs marched towards the shrine of Trilochan and performed puja in response to Islamic tanzeem processions. It was from the 1920s that some Ahirs began to adopt the name of Yadav and various mahasabhas were founded by ideologues such as Rajit Singh. Several caste histories and periodicals to trace a Kshatriya origin were written at the time, notably by Mannanlal Abhimanyu. These were part of the jostling among various castes for socio-economic status and ritual under the Raj and they invoked support for a zealous, martial Hindu ethos.
For centuries the Ahirs were eclipsed as a political power in Haryana until the time of the Pratihara dynasty. In time, they became independent rulers of southwest Haryana. They are majority in the region around Behror, Alwar, Rewari, Narnaul, Mahendragarh, Gurgaon and Jhajjar which is therefore known as Ahirwal or the abode of Ahirs.
Rajasthan and Gujarat
There are five main castes of Ahirs in Kutch: Pancholi, Paratharia, Machhoya, Boricha, and Sorathia and Vagadia. These communities are mainly of farmers who once sold milk and ghee but who now have diversified their businesses because of the irregularity of rain. The other community is the Bharwads, some of whom in Saurashtra use Ahir as a surname and consider themselves to be Nandvanshi Ahirs.
The anthropologist Kumar Suresh Singh noted that the Rajasthani Ahir are non-vegetarian, though cooking their vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods on separate hearths. Though they eat mutton, chicken, and fish, they do not eat beef or pork. Their staple is wheat, they eat millet in the winters, and rice on festive occasions. They drink alcohol, smoke biri and cigarettes, and chew betel. In Maharashtra, however, Singh states that the Ahir there are largely vegetarian, also eating wheat as a staple along with pulses and tubers, and eschewed liquor. Noor Mohammad noted in Uttar Pradesh that most Ahirs there were vegetarian, with some exceptions who engaged in fishing and raising poultry. In Gujarat, Rash Bihari Lal states that the Ahirs were largely vegetarian, ate Bajra and Jowar wheat with occasional rice, and that few drank alcohol, some smoked bidi, and some of the older generation smoked hookahs.
The oral epic of Veer Lorik, a mythical Ahir hero, had been sung by folk singers in North India for generations. Mulla Daud, a Sufi Muslim retold the romantic story in writing in the 14th century. Other Ahir folk traditions include those related to Kajri and Biraha.
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