The Banjara (also called Lambani, Vanjara and Gormati) 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.
Banjaras speak Gor Boli; also called Lambadi it belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages. Gor Boli is as similar as a Gujarati dialect with maximum Sanskrit words. 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. Major population they Celiebrate Nammi (Krishna Janmastmi) 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 Shri Krishna 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.
Banjaras can be found all over India but their population is concentrated in the states of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telangana. As of 2012 there are 1.1 million Banjaras in Karnataka.
In Maharashtra, where they are known as Vanjaras, the Banjaras are mainly involved in the cultivation of rice. Vanjari community in Palghar and Nashik District is economically and socially advanced and has sound standing in cultural arena. Most of population of Vanjari caste in Maharashtra is in Palghar, Beed, Parbhani, Latur, Satara, Sangali, Jalna, Aurangabad, Buldhana, Akola and Ahmednagar districts.
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 listed as OBC while in other states they are categorised as Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. In the state Rajasthan and Maharashtra, 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.
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