|Regions with significant populations|
|• India • Pakistan|
|• Urdu • Punjabi • Rajasthani|
|• Islam • Sikhism• Hinduism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|• Charan • Naqqal • Shaikh|
The Mirasi community of India and Pakistan are the genealogists and traditional singers and dancers of a number of communities. The word "mirasi" is derived from the Arabic word (ميراث) miras, which means inheritance or sometimes heritage.
History and origin
In North India
Some Mirasi groups are Muslim converts from the Hindu caste, while others claim to have originally belonged to the Hindu Charan community. They are said to have converted to Islam at the hands of Amir Khusro, the 13th-century Sufi poet. The word mirasi is derived from the Arabic word miras (ميراث), which means inheritance or sometimes heritage. The North Indian Mirasi are divided into five main sub-groups, the Abbal, Posla, Bet, Kattu and Kalet. In customs, they are similar to the Muslim Raibhat, another community of genealogists. Also related to the Mirasi are the Kingharia, another community that once employed as musicians and entertainers.
They are also known Pakhwaji due to the pakhwaj, a timbrel that they play. The Mirasi maintained pedigrees of their patrons, and were often involved in the negotiations of marriages. As genealogists, the Mirasi were also styled Nasab khwan, or the keeps of the family tree.  The Mirasi are found throughout Northern India. In Punjab, the community were genealogists of the Jat communities. They were traditionally ballad singers, and would often sing at weddings. The community were also connected with the manufacture of paper flowers. They can be seen performing in fairs in the rural area of Punjab. As an urban community, found at the edges of towns, many are now employed as wage labourers. Some Mirasis have migrated from Punjab to the neighbouring states - Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh.
There is a concentration of the community in western Uttar Pradesh, found mainly in the districts of Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Bulandshahr. Historically, the Mirasi were the genealogists of the Rebari community, whom they accompanied from Rajasthan. They have a traditional caste council, headed by headman known as a mukhiya. The caste council deals with infringement of community rules, settle disputes and prevent immoral activity. They are Sunni Muslims, but also worship Sikh Gurus and Hindu gods. The Mirasi speak standard Urdu, although most can speak the various dialects of Hindi. The Naqqal of Lucknow are an important sub-group of the Mirasi of Uttar Pradesh.
In Bihar, the Mirasi claim to have come from Uttar Pradesh in the 16th century. Many were musicians at the court of the many zamindars of Bihar although these were courts of there ancestors. With the abolition of the zamindari system, the Mirasi have taken to farming that was something as return to nature. A few are still called to sing songs at special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Many Mirasi are now Shia, and play an important role in the Moharam festivities. They are found mainly in the districts of Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Gaya, Munger, Nalanda and Patna districts. The Mirasi speak Magadhi among themselves and Urdu with outsiders. Unlike other Mirasi communities, the Bihar Mirasi have never been genealogists. The Pamaria community are a major sub-division of the Mirasi of Bihar.
The Mirasi of Delhi claim descent caste. They are found in the localities of Seelampur, Shahdara, Bawana, and Narela. They affix the surnames Khan, Bobla, Posla and Mallick. The Delhi Mirasi are singers and musicians, and were associated with the Mughal court in Delhi. Many Mirasi khandans (families) attained great fame at the court of the emperors, while others were devotional singers (qawwals) at the various Sufi shrines, such as that of Niz'amuddin. Some are Saangi, such as the Raagni singers. Muslim communities in Delhi suffered at the time of independence, with many members emigrating to Pakistan. Many are now involved in petty businesses, like selling vegetables and repairing umbrellas.
The Mirasi of Rajasthan are found in the districts of Bikaner, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Chittorgarh, Ajmer and Jaisalmer. They are said to have converted to Islam about eight centuries ago, and said to have originally belonged to the Hindu Dhadi caste. The Mirasi have a number of exogamous gotras. Their traditional occupations is singing and a playing drums at weddings. They were also genealogists of the Chhipa and Jat communities. Many are now tenant farmers. They speak Bikaneri dialect of Rajasthani.
The Mirasi of Haryana are also known as Dom but this Dom caste has no link with the Posla or Veghwa of Muslims who were actually considered very respectable due to services at courts but sometime they were wrongly mixed with musicians or Doms of Hindu castes. They are found mainly in Mewat, Rohtak, Faridabad, Hissar, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Sonepat and Mahendergarh districts. The community speak Haryanvi, and many can also speak Urdu. They are mainly a landless community, and were traditionally employed as singers and entertainers, as well as serving as genealogists of the Jat community. Most have now abandoned their traditional occupation, and are employed as wage labourers. They are an extremely marginalised community. The community is endogamous, and practice clan exogamy, and consist of a number of clans, the main ones being the Bhat, Borda,Sanp,Nimbha, posla and Seol. Each of these is of equal status, and intermarry.
The Mirasi of Indian Punjab
The Mirasi in Indian Punjab are Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. They are the descendants of various communities of Jat and Rajput in the state. The community is divided into three groups, the Balmiki, Dom and Muslim Mirasi. The Balmiki Mirasi consist of a number of gotras, and marriage is forbidden within the gotra. While the Muslim Mirasi marry among close kin. The Mirasis of Punjab are a Punjabi speaking community, although most speak and understand Urdu. They consist of a number sub-groups, the main ones being the Rai Mirasi, Mir Mirasi, Rababis, Kamachis, Dhadi, Kumachi, Kulawant and Mir Mang. The Dhadi and Rababi are Sikh, while the other groups are Hindu and Muslim. They have produced a number of folk singers, and unlike their counterparts in West Punjab, the majority of the community are still involved in their traditional occupation.
The Rai Mirasi are the Jats, and claim to have converted from the Rai Bhat caste. They claim to have been Brahmin, and continued to compose and recite kabits after their conversion. The community are strictly endogamous, and are Shia Muslims.
The Mir Mirasi are said to have gotten their name on account of the fact that they were the wealthy inhabitants of the city of Ludhiana. They had a lot of villages Their sub-division, the Dhadi are Sikh, and their heredity occupation was singing praises of Sikh heroes.
The Kumachi Mirasi are the Brahmin community. According to their traditions, the community were Brahmins who converted to Islam on the condition that they would remain the genealogists of the Brahmin.
The Rababi are Mirasis who play a musical instrument known as a rabab. They trace their descent from Bhai Mardana, a Mirasi who used to play the rabab as an accompaniment to Guru Nanak. The Rababi are Sikh.
The Posla are Muslim Mirasis and consist of four sub-divisions, the Ghorian, Kharia, Malhar and Gurbal or veghwa, and were the heredity genealogists of the Sayyidas Arabic poslas were themselves having noble chain . Related to the Posla are the veghwa.poslas were also victim of dancing queens who left them as begger and they adopted petty jobs and almost lost there noble Arabic past.
The Naqqal Mirasis were a community of mimics, and were found mainly in Ludhiana. They were associated with the courts of the Mughal emperors, were they employed as entertainers. The community is strictly endogamous, and marry close kin.
Other sub-groups include the Kulawant, the genealogists of the Rajputs, Mir Mangs, who were a community of beggars, Naqarchi who played a musical instrument known as a naqqara, the Naqib and Mirzada.
The Mirasi of Pakistani Punjab
In Pakistani Punjab, the Mirasi are now mainly a community who participate in aashura activities recites nohas (mersaya), also they are good entertainers having provided many of the country's singers theater artists. Most Mirasi are now bilingual, speaking both Urdu and Punjabi. They are found throughout Punjab, and most villages contain their settlements. Some 'mirasis' in Northern and Central Punjab now call themselves as 'Bhatti', a fact deeply resented by the authentic Bhatti Rajputs of Pakistan.
- Taralocana Siṅgha Randhāwā (January 1996). The Last Wanderers: Nomads and Gypsies of India. Mapin Pub. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-944142-35-6.
- A Hasan & J C Das page 973
- People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 973
- Mirasi at page 142 in The last wanderers : nomads and gypsies of India ISBN 0-944142-35-4
- People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 974
- People of India Bihar Volume XVI Part Two edited by S Gopal & Hetukar Jha pages 683 to 685 Seagull Books
- People of India Delhi Volume XX edited by T. K Ghosh & S Nath pages 475 to 477 Manohar Publications
- People of India Rajasthan Volume XXXVIII Part Two edited by B.K Lavania, D. K Samanta, S K Mandal & N.N Vyas pages 657 to 659 Popular Prakashan
- People of India Haryana Volume XXIII Part edited by M.L Sharma and A.K Bhatia page 159 to 161 Manohar
- People of India Punjab Volume XXXVII edited by I.J.S Bansal and Swaran Singh pages 322 to 333 Manohar
- Fouzia Saeed (2002). Taboo!: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-579796-1.
- Dr M Riyasat Husain 'Caste and clan in Northern and Central Punjab and some patterns of shift: An analysis' in Journal of South Asian Study Vol 2, No 8, 1992, Lahore, pp 21-46