Bhatra

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Hakikat-Rah-Muqaam-Shivnabh-Raje-Ki, description of the meeting of Guru nanak and Raja Shivnabh [p.1248] of an early 18th Century handwritten copy of Bhai Bannu’s Bir, the start of the Sikh Bhat Sangat.
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Sikhism

Bhat Sikhs

The Bhat, Bhatt, Bhatta, Bhatra, Bhatrai community, refers to a priest, bard, scribe in Sanskrit, a title given to learned Hindu Brahmins, Sikhs and Muslims with Saraswat Brahmin heritage. This community are also known as the Sangat community and are comprised majorly of Sikh, there is also a size able Muslim community (Bhat clan). Today in the United Kingdom there are significant numbers of Sikhs with Bhat ancestry, as there are in India. The majority Bhat Sikhs originate from Punjab and were among the first followers of Guru Nanak. In the Punjab most Bhat Sikhs are now in Patiala, Amritsar, Nawanshahr, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur or Bhathinda districts, or in Jalandhar or Chandigarh; they also dwell in other parts of India such as Delhi.


Bhat Brahmin priests were engaged in attaining the highest 'spiritual' knowledge (brahmavidya) of Brahman and adhered to different branches (shakhas) of the Vedas. The Brahmin priest was responsible for religious rituals in temples and homes of Hindus. They were authorised (after rigorous training in vedas and 'sacred' rituals) as liaisons between humans and God. In general, as family vocations and businesses are inherited, priesthood is also inherited among Brahmin priestly families. Brahmins are located at the top of the caste pyramid and were followed by the Khastriya (Kings, Warriors), Vaishyas (Merchants, Landlords), Shudras (Servants) and finally the untouchables (street cleaners, leather workers etc).

The arrival of Islamic invaders in the north of India saw a large scale upheaval for the Hindu Bhat Brahmin's, as many Hindu temples were destroyed leading to the unsettled lives for the fleeing Hindu Bhats. The birth of Sikhism in the north of India caused many Hindu Bhats and some other types of Hindus to embrace the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, becoming Sikh Bhats or Bhatras, etc. The Bhat Sikhs were devoted followers of the Sikh Gurus, where they used there hereditary skills as priests and scribes to recite poetry, write down events, take part in religious discussions and as missionaries. As religious intolerance continued the Bhat Sikh took part in many of the Gurus campaigns against persecution on and intolerance. The Bhats contributed 123 compositions in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (pp.1389–1409), known as the "Bhata de Savaiyye".[1] They also wrote the Bhat Vahis, which were scrolls or records on the Gurus and Sikhism maintained by the Bhat Sikhs.

In recent times the Bhat Sikhs went on to travel and establish Sikh temples, around the globe mainly in the UK, Canada and the USA. Todays Bhat Sikhs have varied professions.

Introduction to the Bhatra Sikhs[edit]

The Bhatra Sikhs were originally northern hindu Saraswat Brahmins who eventually became Sikhs, these Brahmins were autochthonous inhabitants who helped found the Indus-Saraswati civilization during 4000-2000BC. They lived in the 700+ archeological sites discovered along the former Saraswati River that once flowed parallel to the Indus in present day Kashmir, Himachal, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan regions. As the intellectual and priestly class of that ancient civilization, they are highly respected and honored for creating the world's oldest literary and religious traditions. They were the original propagators (some argue composers too) of the revered texts such as the Vedas and the Upanishads and took these texts into other parts of South Asia. They are considered to be the descendants of the revered Brahmin, Sage Saraswat Muni, who lived on the banks of the ancient river Saraswati.[2] Around 1900 BC, the river Saraswati started vanishing under ground and the people on its banks started migrating to other parts of South Asia thus forming sub-communities. During the Islamic invasions of modern day Pakistan and india, many Saraswat Brahmins were forced to flee due to religious oppression. Such as the saraswat Brahmin Kashmiri Pandit.

Sikhism[edit]

The destruction of Hindu temples in India during the Islamic conquest of India occurred from the beginning of the Muslim conquest until the end the Mughal Empire throughout the Indian subcontinent. In the book "Hindu Temples - What Happened to Them", Sita Ram Goel produced a politically contentious list of 2000 mosques that it is claimed were built on Hindu temples.[3] During the 14th to 16th century many Saraswat Brahmins were forced to lead unsettled lifes, unable to practice their hereditary profession as Hindu priests, artists, teachers, scribes, technicians class (varna). They used their academia in there unsettled life travelling as scribes, genealogies, bards and astrologists. In the 15th century the religion of Sikhism was born causing many to follow the word of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Further conversions of the Saraswat Brahmins Bhats to Sikhism were induced by a royal preacher by the name of Prince Baba Changa Bhat Rai.

Bhatra tradition and Sikh text states their ancestors came from Punjab, where the Raja Shivnabh and his kingdom became the original 16th century followers of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The Raja's grandson Prince Baba Changa after studying and competing in competition for 14 years under the high Pandit Chetan Gir earned the title ‘Bhat Rai’ – the ‘Raja of Poets, and then settled himself and his followers all over India as missionaries to spread the word of Guru Nanak, where most of northern Saraswat Brahmin Bhat became Bhat Sikhs. The Bhats also contributed 123 compositions in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (pp.1389–1409), known as the "Bhata de Savaiyye".[4] They also wrote the Bhat Vahis, which were scrolls or records on the Gurus and Sikhism maintained by the Bhat Sikhs. As Guru Nanak and Sikhism do not support the caste system, the Bhat people do not consider themselves as a caste in the typical sense due to the message of Guru Nanak, but a clan within Sikhism linked by Guru Nanak which is not shackled by the caste system. The majority were from the northern Saraswat Brahmin caste (Bhat clan),(Bhat (surname)) as the Prince Baba Changa Bhat Rai although a kshatriya, trained under Brahmins scholars and shared the Bhat Brahmin heritage due to his passion for religion, many continued to be called the Bhat/Bhat-rai sikhs, eventually leading to the name Bhat-ra Sikh. The sangat also had many members from different areas of the Sikh caste spectrum, such as the Hindu Rajputs and Hindu Jats who joined due to Bhat sikh missionary efforts. The Ramaiya community of Uttar Pradesh is said to be a sub-clan of Bhatra origin.[5] Currently there are many Hindus and Muslims that share the Brahmin Bhat heritage.[6] Today modern Bhat sikhs are commonly known to have pioneered many of the first Gurdwaras outside of India and have donated to various Gurdwaras.

Sacrifice of Bhai Mati Das for the Sikh faith, being brutually killed by the Mughals, this image is from a Sikh History museum being run single handedly by one person in a small tin shed on way from Mohali to Sirhind in Punjab, India

In the 17th century Bhats Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das were Saraswat Mohyal Brahmin[7][8] and were disciples of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621–1675). They were executed along with the Guru at the Kotwali (police-station) near the Sunehri Masjid in the Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi, under the express orders of emperor Aurangzeb. Bhat Bhai Sati Das was wrapped in cotton wool and set on fire by the Mughal authorities for refusing to denounce his faith. His brother Bhat Bhai Mati Das was also tortured to death, by having his head sawn in two.

On 16 December 1634 the Sikh forces under the command of Rai Jodh and Kirt Bhat waged a guerrilla attack on Mughal forces at night, whereby the Sikhs routed and defeated the enemy. Guru Sahib lost 1200 Saint Soldiers including Kirat Bhat Ji. On the other side Sameer Beg and his two sons Shams Beg and Qasim Beg were also killed. The Mughal forces fled to Lahore leaving behind the dead and wounded.

After the Battle of Kartarpur, Guru Hargobind Sahib moved towards Kiratpur Sahib, which was under the rule of Raja Tara Chand (a hill state chief). Guru Sahib's entourage was suddenly ambushed by a contingent of royal forces under the command of Ahmed Khan in the village Palahi near Phagwara town on 29 April 1635. It caused considerable loss on the Guru's soldiers. In which Bhai Dasa Ji and Bhai Sohela Ji (sons of Ballu Bhat, and grandsons of Mula Bhat) sacrificed their lives.[9]

Many Religious Bhats also went to fight as "warrior-saints" against Mughal persecution in the Khalsa campaign inspired by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Since many Bhat lived as travelling missionaries, their mobility led them to depend on occupations which did not require a settled life.[10]

Bhat Kirat’s grandson Bhat Narbadh (son of Keso Singh) was in attendance to Guru Gobind Singh and accompanied him to Nanded (now Sachkand Hazur Sahib) where Guru Ji spent his last days. In the Bhat-Vahis, Bhat Narbadh records an entry, of the conferment of Guruship upon the Guru Granth Sahib in 1708 upon the death of Guru Gobind Singh.[9]

By the 19th century Bhat was the name of a caste or jati within the Indian tradition of social classes, each with its own occupation. Even though Sikhism itself does not support separation by caste, the social system meant that the Bhat followed a hereditary profession of missionaries, bards,scribes, poets and genealogists while some also foretold the future,[11] if they were considered to have clairvoyant or astrological ability's, most of which were from a Brahmin heritage, eventually becoming salesman due to economic change however it is not uncommon to see Bhats in other professions such as farming and retail. According to Nesfield as quoted in W. Crooke, The Tribes and Castes of the North Western India, 1896, Bhats frequently visited the courts of princes and the camps of warriors, recited their praises in public, and kept records of their genealogies. They have been praised for business acumen, described as people with "a spirit of enterprise".[12] They were a small clan compared to others and many people in india did not know of them.[13] Though some lived in Lahore, many Bhat can trace their roots to villages around Sialkot and Gurdaspur Districts.[13]

In the 21st century due to the changing world and new opportunities which are available, Bhats have almost completely left their missionary and hereditary professions, to pursue careers in Engineering, Medicine, Law, Banking, Politics, Music etc.

Origins[edit]

According to the Sikh Encyclopedia, Bhat is related to the Sanskrit word bhatta, a bard or poet.

Raja Shivnabh and Prince Baba Changa Rai[edit]

Guru Nanak visited Sri Lanka during 1574 and met Raja Shivnabh, who was the grandfather of Changa Rai. The Guru bestowed the title of sangat on the Raja and his people, united seven kingdoms and made the Raja Shivnabh leader of them all.[14] Some scholars consider the Raja was the ruler of Batticaloa.[15]

Theafter the grandson of Raja Shivnabh, Changa Rai or Changa Bhat, a disciple of Guru Nanak's mentioned in the Janamsakhis. Earned the title ‘Bhat Rai’ – the ‘Raja of Poets, and then settled himself and his few followers all over India as missionaries, where many Sikhs and general Indians became Bhat Sikhs., A congregation led by a teacher called Baba Changa Rai is described in an old document called the Haqiqat Rah Muqam.[16] The Sikh Encyclopedia discusses the link between Bhat Sikhs,Raja Shivnabh and Prince Changa Bhat, who became a disciple of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Due to the Princes title ‘Bhat Rai’ he added Bhat to his name and spread the word of Guru Nanak to his followers, who also became known as Bhats or Bhatras.[10]

Bhatra Sikhs are said to have a mixed ancestry, the mass majority of Bhats were Punjabi saraswat Brahmin. The Northern traveling Saraswat Hindu Brahmins joined Sikhism due to the message of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the preaching efforts of the Sikh prince Baba changa Bhat Rai. However, as by the commandment of Guru Nanak, caste discrimination was deemed as blasphemy and so the Sikh Bhats also have a mixed ancestry due to the missionary work of the Bhat prince and his followers to spread the message of Sikhism. Some Kambojas, Tarkhan, Jat, Rajput, Khatri, Gujjars and others also joined. Many Bhats are apart of the Khalsa and Nihang of Sikhism.

M.S. Ahluwalia, a Senior Fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, offers historical evidence for Guru Nanak's presence in Sri Lanka, probably in the year 1510.[17] A place called Singaldeep or Sangladeep is often mentioned in 'Hakikat-Rah-Mukaam-Shivnabh-Raje-Ki' and is stated to be in Sri Lanka.

Bhat Sikhs in the United Kingdom[edit]

Bhat Sikhs started to arrive in the United Kingdom in the 1920s, but most immigrated in the late 1940s or 1950s.

In the 1920s some men travelled to Britain to work as door-to-door salesmen, most leaving their families in the Punjab to begin with. By the time of the Second World War there were a few hundred Sikhs clustered in British seaports like Cardiff, Bristol, and Southampton and Hull. Some returned to India when war broke out, but others stayed on and used contacts with Punjabi merchant seamen to import scarce goods.

Partition[edit]

The Partition of India in 1947 led many Sikhs to emigrate, and the Bhat population in the UK was greatly enlarged. Later arrivals tended to join relatives, friends and neighbours from the Punjab, so that some British Bhat communities have links to one or two particular villages.[18] Difficult journeys following Partition are not forgotten. The Edinburgh Sikh women's group (Sikh Sanjog) has exhibited artwork telling the story of leaving the Punjab and arriving in a strange land. A 2001 obituary of a senior figure in the Cardiff Bhat community described the trials of leaving northern India in turbulent times.[19]

Jobs[edit]

The traditional Bhat profession of itinerant salesman and taxi drivers was useful to those arriving in the UK, and was "a skill with considerable potential".[13] At first most Bhat, like some other Sikhs, worked either as doorstep or market traders (working with the Khatri community), but some settled in big cities like Leeds or Birmingham, gave up self-employment and took waged jobs in industry. (At this time many educated immigrants to Britain had difficulty finding employment suited to their qualifications and experience, because of racial and/or cultural prejudice.)

Bhat traders gradually moved into other roles as self-employed businessmen, often specialising in retailing. By the end of the 1950s selling door-to-door was less common and many British Bhat Sikhs moved towards commercial enterprises like market stalls, shops, supermarkets and wholesale warehouses.[13]

‘One group of Sikhs who kept their turbans were a group called Bhartedas (sic)’.[20]

Gurdwaras[edit]

When possible the Bhat community have established Gurdwaras (temples). The first of which was opened in Manchester in 1953.[10] As of 2006 there are more than 30 Bhat or Bhat Sikh temples in the UK, the newest being the one opened in Peterborough in 2004. In some British towns Bhats are a small proportion of the overall Sikh population (in Glasgow 5%); elsewhere, as in Edinburgh, they are in the majority. Many Bhats took the role of Gyanis in the newer established Gurdwara, especially in Luton and Leicester.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Kaw, M.K. (2008). Kashmiri Pandits: Looking to the future. 5, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi: APH Publishing House. p. 32. ISBN 8176482366. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  3. ^ [2] Hindu temples- What happened to them
  4. ^ [3]
  5. ^ Sikh Encyclopedia
  6. ^ [^ https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=QpjKpK7ywPIC&pg=PA365&lpg=PA365&dq=History+of+kashmir+and+its+people&source=bl&ots=-RI_8tLrab&sig=8d9tzPeeB5lAjaq9RZqzYO8QydA&hl=en&ei=ab9pSobcB46PkAXutZW4Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6]
  7. ^ O. P. Ralhan (1997). The Great Gurus of the Sikhs. Anmol Publications. p. 16. ISBN 978-81-7488-479-4. His life-long companion Bhai Mati Das, a Mohyal Brahmin of village Karyala in Jehlam district... 
  8. ^ Hari Ram Gupta - Sikhs (1978). History of the Sikhs. Munshiram Manoharlal. p. 211. The Guru's companions included Mati Das, a Mohyal Brahmin... 
  9. ^ a b http://www.bhatra.co.uk
  10. ^ a b c Sikh Encyclopaedia
  11. ^ HA Rose, Glossary of Tribes and Castes of the Punjab (Lahore 1883), quoted by Pradesh
  12. ^ Sikh Encyclopedia
  13. ^ a b c d Pradesh
  14. ^ Haqiqat Rah Muqam shivnabh raje ki page 624 [p.1248]khari
  15. ^ For more on Guru Nanak's journey to Batticaloa/Batticola see: Kirpal Singh, Janamsakhi Tradition (Amritsar 2004)
  16. ^ Haqiqat Rah Muqam "included in Bhai Banno's "bir", according to the Sikh Encyclopedia and others.
  17. ^ M.S. Ahluwalia, Guru Nanak in Ceylon (Sikh Spectrum Quarterly 2004) Archived 4 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Nye
  19. ^ Western Mail, 13 December 2001
  20. ^ The Irish Raj, 1997, p.174

External links[edit]