The Banjara (also called Gor, Lamans, Lambadi, Lambhani, Lambani and Gormati) are a community usually described as nomadic people with origins in Rajasthan. They spread into the Deccan region and Kashmir during the Medieval period, and are now found all over India.
Origin and history
The word Banjara is said to be derived from the Sanskrit word vana chara (wanderers in jungle). The word Lambani or Lamani is derived from the Sanskrit word lavana (salt), which was the principal product they transported across the country.
Banjaras were traditionally cattle and salt merchants. They also traded in grain and were known for long-distance commodity transport before the advent of the railways. During British rule Banjaras were forced to give up their traditional occupations. This led to some of them settling down as farmers near mountains and hilly regions, while others were driven into forests. The Banjaras of Maharashtra, called Laman Banjara /Lambani, are engaged in farming and many of them are highly educated.
Banjaras speak Gor Boli; also called Lambadi, it belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages. As Lambadi has no script, it is either written in Devnagri script or in the script of the local language such as Telugu or Kannada. 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 as well as folk and plastic arts such as rangoli, textile embroidery, tattooing and painting. 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. Sandur Lambani embroidery is a type of textile embroidery unique to the tribe in Sanduru, Bellary district, Karnataka. It has obtained a GI tag.
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. Banjaras celebrate all Hindu festivals such as Holi, Diwali.
Dance and Music
Fire dance and Chari dance are the traditional dance forms of the Banjaras. 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 religion of Banjara people is attributed through their social communities, hence we find majority of the Banjara people to profess Hinduism. They also worship gods like Balaji, Jagadamba Devi, Kankali . Lokamasand maharaj , Pandurang of pandharpur Bhavani of Tuljapur, Renuka Mata of Mahur, Mahadev, Khandoba and Hanuman. They also hold Guru Nanak in great respect.
Sevalal or Sevabhaya is the most important saint of the Banjaras. According to their 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 the 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 Rathor.
The Banjara people were transporters of goods such as salt, grains, firewood and cattle. During the 19th century, the British colonial authorities brought the community under the purview of Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and thus curbed their movement. The stigma attached to this continued until 1952 when the Act was abolished by the newly independent India.
The Banjara community has been listed as a Scheduled Tribe in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Orissa; as an Other Backward Class in Maharashtra; and as a Scheduled Caste in Karnataka.
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