|Languages||Varies depending on region|
|Populated states||India and Nepal|
|Subdivisions||Yaduvanshi, Nandvanshi, and Gwalvanshi Ahir|
Ahir or Aheer are a community of traditionally non-elite pastoralists in India, most members of which identify as being of the Indian Yadav community because they consider the two terms to be synonymous. The Ahirs are variously described as a caste, a clan, a community, a race and a tribe.
The traditional occupations of Ahirs are cattle-herding and agriculture. Since late 19th century to early 20th century, Ahirs have adopted Yadav word for their community and have claimed descent from the mythological king Yadu as a part of a movement of social and political resurgence through Sanskritisation process under the influence of Arya Samaj. They are found throughout India but are particularly concentrated in the northern area. Apart from India, Ahirs have significant population in Nepal, Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa and the Caribbean especially Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname. In Mauritius and Caribbean they are mostly the descendants of settlers who arrived between the 19th and 20th centuries from the former pre-partitioned sub-continent of India during the time of the British Raj. Ahirs in India are known by numerous other names, including Gauli and Ghosi or Gop in North India. In Gujarat and South India as Ayar, Golla and Konar. Some in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh are known as Dauwa. The Ahirs have more than 20 sub-castes.[better source needed]
Gaṅga Ram Garg considers the Ahir to be a tribe descended from the ancient Abhira community, whose precise location in India is the subject of various theories based mostly on interpretations of old texts such as the Mahabharata and the writings of Ptolemy. He believes the word Ahir to be the Prakrit form of a Sanskrit word, Abhira, and he notes that the present term in the Bengali and Marathi languages is Abhir.
Garg distinguishes a Brahmin community who use the Abhira name and are found in the present-day states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. That usage, he says, is because that division of Brahmins were priests to the ancient Abhira tribe.
Theories regarding the origins of the ancient Abhira – the putative ancestors of the Ahirs – are varied for the same reasons as are the theories regarding their location; that is, there is a reliance on interpretation of linguistic and factual analysis of old texts that are known to be unreliable and ambiguous.
Some, such as A. P. Karmakar, consider the Abhira to be a Proto-Dravidian tribe who migrated to India and point to the Puranas as evidence. Others, such as Sunil Kumar Bhattacharya, say that the Abhira are recorded as being in India in the 1st-century CE work, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Bhattacharya considers the Abhira of old to be a race rather than a tribe. The sociologist M. S. A. Rao and historians such as P. M. Chandorkar and T. Padmaja say that epigraphical and historical evidence exists for equating the Ahirs with the ancient Yadava tribe.
Whether they were a race or a tribe, nomadic in tendency or displaced or part of a conquering wave, with origins in Indo-Scythia or Central Asia, Aryan or Dravidian – there is no academic consensus, and much in the differences of opinion relate to fundamental aspects of historiography, such as controversies regarding dating the writing of the Mahabharata and acceptance or otherwise of the Indo-Aryan migration (which is universally accepted in mainstream scholarship). Similarly, there is no certainty regarding the occupational status of the Abhira, with ancient texts sometimes referring to them as pastoral and cowherders but at other times as robber tribes.
- Asirgarh fort of Asa Ahir
- 13th or 14th century A.D. Bijagarh Fort of Bija, a Gauli Raja
- Thakur Laxman Singh, an Ahir ruler of Naigaon Ribai, Bundelkhand
- Rao Tula Ram, king of Rewari
- Veersen of Nasik
- Ahir dynasty in pre-12th century areas in present-day Nepal
- Ahir-Rajas of Sagar
- Bhandaria, Bodanones and Morchopna were some of the few villages ruled by Kamaliya clan of Ahirs.[dubious ]
The British rulers of India classified the Ahirs of Punjab as an "agricultural tribe" in the 1920s, which was at that time synonymous with being a "martial race". This was a designation created by administrators that classified each ethnic group as either "martial" or "non-martial": a "martial race" was typically considered brave and well built for fighting, whilst the remainder were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles. However, the martial races were also considered politically subservient, intellectually inferior, lacking the initiative or leadership qualities to command large military formations. The British had a policy of recruiting the martial Indians from those who has less access to education as they were easier to control. According to modern historian Jeffrey Greenhunt on military history, "The Martial Race theory had an elegant symmetry. Indians who were intelligent and educated were defined as cowards, while those defined as brave were uneducated and backward". According to Amiya Samanta, the marital race was chosen from people of mercenary spirit (a soldier who fights for any group or country that will pay him/her), as these groups lacked nationalism as a trait. Ahirs had been recruited into the army from 1898. In that year, the British raised four Ahir companies, two of which were in the 95th Russell's Infantry.[page needed] In post-independence India, some Ahir units have been involved in celebrated military actions, such as at Rezang La in the 1962 Sino-Indian War that saw the last stand of Charlie company, consisting of 114 Ahirs of 13 Kumaon, and in the 1965 India-Pakistan War.
Recreating the past for new identity
It was from the 1920s that some Ahirs began to adopt the name of Yadav and created the Yadav Mahasabha, founded by ideologues such as Rajit Singh. Several caste histories and periodicals to trace a Kshatriya origin were written at the time, notably by Mannanlal Abhimanyu. These were part of the jostling among various castes for socio-economic status and ritual under the Raj and they invoked support for a zealous, martial Hindu ethos. Arya Samaj, a Hindu reformist organization also played an important role in ritual purification of Ahir/Yadavs and many low castes in order to incorporate them into Vedic Hinduism. In U.P, it was through shastrarth debates and with the help of reform movements like Arya Samaj and Vaishnava Ramanandi order in public debates that the Ahirs defended their claims to a higher social status. At the same time Ahir/Yadav intelligentsia also emphasized the socio-economic backwardness faced by their community and in 1927, a petition was sent to the Simon Commission describing how the Ahirs suffers from the same social disabilities and discrimination as the Chamars. Despite explicitly expressing their commitment against untouchability, it has been observed that these movements by Yadav caste associations have not been egalitarian enough to include communities who are under Scheduled Castes and have claimed connection with Krishna.
Participation in reactionary communal conflicts
The Ahirs in certain region of UP had been one of the more militant Hindu groups during pre-independent India. In one of the instances before independence, Hindu shudra caste groups such as the Ahirs actively participated in a counter-reactionary communal conflict orchestrated by Arya Samaj. Some writers are also of the opinion that many low-castes (including Ahirs) took to cow protection for asserting higher status since cow already had symbolic importance in Hinduism. This view of cow protection was different from the UP's urban elites.
They have a significant population in the region around Behror, Alwar, Rewari, Narnaul, Mahendragarh, Gurgaon and Jhajjar[page needed] – the region is therefore known as Ahirwal or the abode of Ahirs.
Ahirs live in the Khandesh region of Maharashtra. The community has been influential in the history of the region. Inscriptions indicate that ancient Abhiras ruled this region and Abhira kings have made a significant contribution to the making of the region. Ahir ethnicity is visible among various castes in Khandesh, including Maratha and Brahmins.[better source needed] Ahirani dialect continues to be spoken today in the region and is widespread across Jalgaon, Dhule and Nashik. It is an admixture of Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, ancient Magadhi, Saurashtri, Sauraseni, Lati, Maharashtri, Prakrit and Paishachi.
In 1992, Noor Mohammad noted that most Ahirs in Uttar Pradesh were vegetarian, with some exceptions who were engaged in fishing and raising poultry.
Language and tradition
According to Alain Daniélou the Ahirs belong to the same culture as the dark skinned prominent figures of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Rama and Krishna. Ahirs of Benares speak a Hindi dialect which is different from one used normally. Ahirs usually speak language of the region in which they live. Some languages/dialects named after Ahirs are Ahirani, also known as Khandeshi, spoken in Khandesh region of Maharashtra, Ahirwati spoken in Ahirwal region of Haryana and Rajasthan. The Malwi spoken is Malwa region of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is also known as Ahiri. These dialects are named after Ahirs but not necessarily only spoken by Ahirs living in those areas or all Ahirs in those regions speak these dialects.
The Ahirs have three major classifications Yaduvanshi, Nandavanshi and Goallavanshi. Yaduvanshi claim descent from Yadu, Nandavansh claim descent from Nanda, the foster father of Krishna and Goallavanshi claim descent from gopi and gopas of Krishna's childhood.
The oral epic of Veer Lorik, a mythical Ahir hero, has been sung by folk singers in North India for generations. Mulla Daud, a Sufi Muslim, retold the romantic story in writing in the 14th century. Other Ahir folk traditions include those related to Kajri and Biraha.
- Berti, Daniela; Kanungo, Pralay; Jaoul, Nicolas (2011). Cultural Entrenchment of Hindutva Local Mediations and Forms of Convergence (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-138-65995-7.
Marginalised groups, often considered as Shudras, like the Ahirs (Yadavs), Kurmis and the Gujars, began to redefine their emerging political and economic role in society by fighting on the same ‘religious’ grounds. In so doing, they refashioned their status as warriors and kings who had played a special role in history as guardians of Hinduism (Gooptu 2001 : 195; see also Pinch 1996 : 118–38). Gyanendra Pandey (1990: 66–108) describes how, since the end of the 19th century, such processes of Sanskritisation (adoption of ‘higher’ forms of Hinduism) among lower castes have joined up with Hindu nationalist movements, such as the cow protection movement, and how these interrelations have been central to the formation of a Hindu and a Muslim community in northern India.
- Jaffrelot, Christophe (2003). India's silent revolution: the rise of the lower castes in North India. London: C. Hurst & Co. p. 189. ISBN 978-1-85065-670-8. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
Ahirs willingly subjected themselves to Sanskritisation because of their special relation to sacred cow but alas because the Arya Samaj exerted significant Sanskritising influence over the Yadav movement. As early as 1895, the ruler of Rewari, Rao Yudhishter Singh ( the father of Rao Bahadur Balbir Singh), invited Swami Dayananda to his state. Branches of the Arya Samaj flourished soon after and Rewari provided a base from which Arya Samaj updeshaks (itinerant preachers) operated in neighbouring areas.
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- Koenraad Elst (May 10, 2016), Koenraad Elst: "I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting distorted history", Swarajya Magazine
- Out of India aka Indigenous Aryans has no support:
- Romila Thapar (2006): "there is no scholar at this time seriously arguing for the indigenous origin of Aryans".
- Wendy Doniger (2017): "The opposing argument, that speakers of Indo-European languages were indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, is not supported by any reliable scholarship. It is now championed primarily by Hindu nationalists, whose religious sentiments have led them to regard the theory of Aryan migration with some asperity."
- Girish Shahane (September 14, 2019), in response to Narasimhan et al. (2019): "Hindutva activists, however, have kept the Aryan Invasion Theory alive, because it offers them the perfect strawman, 'an intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent's real argument' ... The Out of India hypothesis is a desperate attempt to reconcile linguistic, archaeological and genetic evidence with Hindutva sentiment and nationalistic pride, but it cannot reverse time's arrow ... The evidence keeps crushing Hindutva ideas of history."
- Koenraad Elst (May 10, 2016): "Of course it is a fringe theory, at least internationally, where the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is still the official paradigm. In India, though, it has the support of most archaeologists, who fail to find a trace of this Aryan influx and instead find cultural continuity."
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- Michelutti, Lucia (2002). "Sons of Krishna: the politics of Yadav community formation in a North Indian town" (PDF). PhD Thesis Social Anthropology. London School of Economics and Political Science. p. 83.
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Apart from their physique , the martial races were regarded as politically subservient or docile to authority
- Philippa Levine (2003). Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire. Psychology Press. pp. 284–285. ISBN 978-0-415-94447-2.
The Saturday review had made much the same argument a few years earlier in relation to the armies raised by Indian rulers in princely states. They lacked competent leadership and were uneven in quality. Commander in chief Roberts, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the martial race theory, though poorly of the native troops as a body. Many regarded such troops as childish and simple. The British, claims, David Omissi, believe martial Indians to be stupid. Certainly, the policy of recruiting among those without access to much education gave the British more semblance of control over their recruits.
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Dr . Jeffrey Greenhunt has observed that “ The Martial Race Theory had an elegant symmetry. Indians who were intelligent and educated were defined as cowards, while those defined as brave were uneducated and backward. Besides their mercenary spirit was primarily due to their lack of nationalism.
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One of the most politically active and vocal among the shudra castes was the ahirs or yadavs. In 1922, an ahir conference was held in Lucknow, followed by another ahir mahotsav (festival) in Allahabad in 1923, where a provincial Mahasabha was inaugurated, with the new name of Yadav Mahasabha. The term yadav, to denote the ahirs, gained currency from this period. Rajit Singh, a yadav born in the Deoria district in 1897, and educated at Gorakhpur and Shikohabad, was instrumental in the formation of the Yadav Mahasabha. He had briefly worked in the Excise Department in Kanpur, but had resigned from his job to devote himself to organising yadav associations from 1921. In 1925, Rajit Singh settled in Benares and inaugurated the Benares Yadav Mahasabha, which soon emerged as the centre of the yadav caste movement in UP. From Benares, Rajit Singh edited the journal Yadav, and also published a history of the yadav castes, entitled Yaduvamsa Prakash. Several other yadav histories were published in rapid succession in the 1920s, written by another younger yadav leader of Benares, Mannalal Abhimanyu, a lawyer who was the son of a school teacher. He wrote Ahir Vamsa Pradip (1925) and Yadukul Sarvasya (1928), in which he attempted to demonstrate the kshatriya origin of the yadavs, with extensive references from both religious texts and British ethnographic tracts.
- Michuletti, Lucia (2008). The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Politics, Caste, and Religion in India. Routledge. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-415-46732-2.
Hindu reformist organisations like the Arya Samaj which aimed to reform Hinduism and incorporate lower-caste groups within the fold of vedic Aryan Hinduism (see Rao 1979: 132-35), have a pivotal role in 'purifying' the customs of the Ahir/Yadavs and other lower castes through the adoption of Brahmanical Hindu practices. Brahmanical Hinduism emphasises vegetarianism, non-violence and ascetism (Fuller 1992: 88).
- Adcock, C.S. (2014). The Limits of Tolerance:Indian Secularism and the Politics of Religious Freedom. Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-19-999543-1.
In U.P., the Ahir/Yadav castes, whom elites deemed Shudras, also used shastrarth debates to defend their claims to elevated, Kshatriya status from at least the 1890s. In the eastern districts of U.P., monks of the Vaishnava Ramanandi order defended the Ahirs' claims in public debate; in western U.P., their champions in debate were often members of the Arya Samaj.
- Michuletti, Lucia (2008). The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Politics, Caste, and Religion in India. Routledge. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-415-46732-2.
This emphasis on number and on Yadavness versus 'status' is also evident in colonial petitions which portray the Ahirs as a 'backward/ depressed category' in an attempt to get benefits from the reservation provisions. It looks as if the Yadav intelligentsia not only learnt that Yadav social and economic progress or backwardness could be determined by measuring their share in the number of graduates, official appointments and parliamentary seats (Chakrabarty 1994: 150), but also that economic and social disabilities were not 'enough' and that 'ritual' disabilities had also to be proved. The political leaders invoked arguments about the historical deprivation of their communities' (see Gooptu 2001: 11). The following is an extract from a petition sent in 1927 to the Simon Commission, in which a member of the Ahir community illustrates how the community suffers from the same disabilities and discriminations as the Chamars (an untouchable caste).
- Michuletti, Lucia (2008). The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Politics, Caste, and Religion in India. Routledge. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-415-46732-2.
Although Yadav caste associations organise Other Backward Classes meetings and explicitly express their commitment against untouchability, I never met an SC member attending or delivering a speech at such events. A recent controversy showed how, in practice, Yadav caste associations are not willing to encompass in their social category members of SC communities who claim to descend from Krishna. At the AIYM meeting held in Gurgaon in 1998, a member of the committee raised the issue that Jatavs in Agra and Rajasthan had begun to adopt the Yadav title. A member of the audience pointed out that he had already written to the Mahasabha secretary to inform him that in Bharatpur (Rajasthan) the local Jatavs were calling themselves Yadavs. Another pointed out that in Udaipur, Jatavs who worked as builders and did casual labour were also calling themselves Yadavs and had adopted the Kadamb Yadav clan.
- Gooptu, Nandini (2001). The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early Twentieth-Century India. Cambridge University Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-521-44366-1.
The spread of the tanzeem movement in Benares further fuelled the religious expansion of Hindu organisations, and contributed to an escalation in local competition and communal conflict. Khalil Das' movement elicited a counter-reaction from the Arya Samaj and from such Hindu shudra caste groups as the ahirs, who were active participants in volunteer corps and akharas, and who, in Benares, were involved in an especially active yadav caste movement.... The Ahirs in particular who played an important role in militant Hinduism, retaliated strongly against the Tanzeem movement. In July,1930, about 200 Ahirs marched in procession to Trilochan, a sacred Hindu site and performed a religious ceremony in response to Tanzeem processions.
- Gould, William (2012). Religion and Conflict in Modern South Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-521-87949-1.
Gyan Pandey's detailed research on the cow protection riots in eastern UP and Bihar in 1893 and 1917 relates the conflict to specific registers of caste difference and status assertion, in a context where the popular view of cow protection from the point of view of low-caste Ahirs, Koeris and Kurmis was quite different to that of UP's urban elites. For both Freitag and Pandey, cow protection became a means for relatively low-status communities to assert higher status via association with something of symbolic importance to Hinduism as a whole: in this case, the cow.
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