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The Dhanka ( धानका ) soldiers are indigenous tribesmen, one of the aboriginal archer groups in India. They are a sub division of the Bhil tribe . Dhanka do craft work on bamboo and prepare different items of basketry, winnowing fans, bow-arrows, sticks,Guns etc. Dhanka females make strings and ropes of forest grass, jute etc.
Historically, Dhanka were soldiers and forest hunters of northwestern part of India. Since they used to prepare bow (Dhanush) they are called Dhanka. Another interpretation about its origin is that the word Dhanka consists of 'Dhan' which means ‘Paddy’ and the person who grows paddy is known as ‘Dhanka’. In the pre-independence period, some Dhanka were engaged in the services of jagirdars / landowners as farmers and cultivators in paddy fields. They used to do agricultural activities and cattle breeding. Some were soldiers too.
In the past, some Dhanka were associated with the royal families of erstwhile Princely States and Britishers and used to take care of their horses like a bodyguards. They are placed in the middle strata in the social hierarchy as a forest tribe. Since the Dhanka meet the yardsticks and fulfill the parameters of tribe laid down by social anthropologists and the Government of India for being a tribal community ( जनजाति ), they were placed in the category of Scheduled Tribes in five states of India. These parameters are as under:
Geographical Isolation – Dhanka used to live in forests and hilly areas, even today they live outside the periphery of the villages. They have separate wells, hydrants and other water resources, also separate crematoriums. Dhanka collect bamboos and grass from the forests and do craft work, make basketry, rope, string etc. for their livelihood.
Distinctive Culture – They wash their clothes with riverbank salt; clean their utensils with fire dust and sand.
These days Dhanka live in almost every part of India and many have migrated to foreign countries also yet the main concentration of this tribe is there in 7 – 8 states and union territories. The Dhanka tribe is there in the lists of Scheduled Tribes of the following five states of India as per order of the Legislative Department of Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.
Rajasthan Gujarat Maharastra Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh
Serial No. 4 Serial No. 8 Serial No.13 Serial No.35 Serial No.33
Dhanka, Tadvi, Dhanka, Tadvi, Dhanka, Tadvi, Oraon, Dhanka, Oraon,Dhanka
Tetaria, Valvi Tetaria, Valvi Tetaria, Valvi Dhangad Dhangad
The Dhanka are spread across the country mainly in forest and hilly regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Rajasthan the major concentration is in the districts of Alwar, Jaipur, Ajmer and Sirohi. Other districts have comparatively low density of Dhanka population.
Dhanka regard Raja Prithu as their ancestor. Raja Prithu always used to keep bow-arrows with him and he was the first one who sowed paddy which literally means 'Dhan'. (Lok Nath Soni, K.S. Singh (1998) People of India, Rajasthan, Part –I, Volume XXXVIII).
According to mythological belief, Raja Prithu wanted to destroy the Earth because there was no production on the Earth and consequently there were no grains. The Earth requested him not to kill her and advised him to level the land and to grow crops.
According to Hindu mythology, Prithu is a sovereign (chakravarti), named in the Vedic scriptures and considered an Avatar (incarnation) of the preserver god—Vishnu. He is also called Pruthu, Prithi and Prithu Vainya, literally, Prithu the son of Vena. Prithu is celebrated as the first consecrated king from whom the Earth received her name Prithvi. He is mainly associated with the legend of his chasing the Earth goddess, Prithvi, who fled in the form of a cow and eventually agreed to yield her milk as the world's grain and vegetation. The epic Mahabharata and text Vishnu Purana describe him as a part Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
The Vayu Purana records that when Raja Prithu was born, he stood with a bow, arrows and an armour, ready to destroy the Earth which was devoid of Vedic rituals. Terrified, the Earth fled in form of a cow and finally submitted to Prithu's demands earning him the title chakravarti (sovereign). Prithu is the first king recorded to earn the title. The creator-god Brahma is described to have recognized Prithu as an avatar of Vishnu, as one of Prithu's birthmark was Vishnu's chakram (discus) on his hand and thus Prithu was "numbered amongst the human gods”.
Before Prithu's reign, there was ‘no cultivation, no pasture, no agriculture, no highway for merchants’, all civilization emerged in Prithu's rule. By granting life to the Earth and being her protector, Prithu became Earth's father and she accepted the patronymic name "Prithvi".
The Atharvaveda credits him of the invention of ploughing and thus, agriculture. He is also described as one who flattened the Earth's rocky surface, thus encouraging agriculture, cattle-breeding, commerce and development of new cities on the Earth.
The Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana tells the story of Prithu: To end the famine by slaying the Earth and getting her fruits, Prithu chased the Earth (Prithvi) who fled as a cow. Finally, cornered by Prithu, the Earth states that killing her would mean end of his subjects too. So, Prithu lowered his weapons and reasoned with the Earth and promised her to be her guardian. Finally, Prithu milked her using Manu as a calf and received all vegetation and grain as her milk in his hands for welfare of humanity.
Shriman Narayan, one of the protagonists of Indian Panchayati Raj movement, tracing its origin writes: "It is believed that the Panchayati System was first introduced by King Prithu while colonizing the Doab between the Ganges and Jamuna."
Dhanka are spread across the country mainly in forest and hilly regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Rajasthan the major concentration is in the districts of Alwar, Jaipur, Ajmer and Sirohi. Other districts have comparatively low density of Dhanka population.
As per the 2001 census, the Scheduled Tribe population of Rajasthan state was 7,097,706 constituting 8.4 percent of the total ST population of India. The Scheduled Tribes of the state constitute 12.6 percent of the total population (56,507,188) of the state. It holds 12th position among all States and Union Territories in respect of the percentage share of ST population to total population. The ST population has registered a growth rate of 29.6 per cent during 1991-2001 which is 1.2 per cent higher than the growth of the total population. Out of twelve (12) tribes scheduled for the state of Rajasthan, Meena is the most populous tribe, having a population of 3,799,971 constituting 53.5 per cent of the total ST population followed by Bhil (2,805,948). Garasia, Damor, Dhanka and Saharia combine to form 6.6 per cent of the total scheduled tribe population. Six tribes, Bhil Meena, Naikda, Kathodi, Patelia, Kokna and Koli Dhor along with the generic tribes constitute the residual 0.3 per cent of the total tribal population. Among the twelve Scheduled Tribes, Koli Dhor is the smallest tribe with a population below 100 preceded by Kokna (405), Patelia(1,045), Kathodi (2,922).
Traditional and Alternative Sources of Income
Both males and females of Dhanka community work to get their living. Children also get engaged in subsistence activities from a very young age. The traditional occupation of Dhanka is to prepare bow & arrows, different items of basketry, winnowing fans, sticks, strings and ropes. Dhanka women look after the household affairs in their families. They collect firewood from nearby forests and sell it to support their families. They also contribute to their family income through making strings and ropes of forest grass and jute. Some of the Dhanka women work as mid-wife, they visit the pregnant women regularly and suggest precautionary measures. After the abolishing of jagirdari and also owing to scarcity of bamboo nearly 70% of the Dhanka migrated to cities by 1960 in search for new openings and better sources of livelihood. Some started to earn their livelihood as daily wage laboures. They no longer have any land for agriculture and after migrating to the cities, many of them no longer have farming skills as well.
- People of India – Rajasthan Part One Volume XXXVIII- General Editor : K.S. Singh
- Modern Hindu Law, Dr. Paras Dewan 1972 Allahabad Law Agency
- The Constitution of India PM Bakshi 1998 Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt Ltd.
- Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf (1982) -Tribes of India -The Struggle for Survival
- Muthuswamy and Brinda (2008) – Reservations and Concessions, Swamy Publishers
- The Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, New Delhi-110011
- Website of Rajasthan Government
- Website of Mariekesartofliving Scheduled Tribes in Rajasthan