Who are they?
The Bhar, also known as Rajbhar, Bharat and Bharpatwa, is a community of more than 1.7 million people residing mainly in Uttar Pradesh. The name Rajbhar, according to ethnologists Russel and Hiralal (Tribes and Castes of the Central provinces of India, 1916), signifies a landowning Bhar. They practice agriculture and grow crops on someone else’s fields and are paid for half of the crop that is harvested. In the forested areas some of them collect grass and wood for sale, and propagate the insect that secretes a resin from which shellac is made.
In Uttar Pradesh, where they number around 1.6 million, they live in the fertile eastern districts of Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Gonda, Varanasi, Balia, Deoria, Faizabad, Basti, Mau and Maharajganj. In Bihar, there are about 120,000 and West Bengal has 21,000.
H.M. Elliot, in his authoritative work, Encyclopedia of Castes, Customs, Rites and Superstitions of Races of Northern India, 1870, writes that the Bhar are one of the aboriginal races of India and that the town of Bhadhoi (formerly known as Bhardai) in Varanasi district is called after the Bhar.
The Bhar were once known as Bhaar Shiva as they followed the Shaivite doctrine, i.e. the doctrine of the Hindu sect devoted to Shiva. As the story goes, their king was a sincere devotee of Shiva, who carried the Shiva Linga (the phallic symbol by which Shiva is most commonly depicted and worshipped) on his shoulder as an act of devotion. His descendants thus came to be known as Bhaar Shiva (weight Shiva). Later, the affix Shiva was dropped.
The Bhar are also believed to be the descendants of Arya who ruled north India long ago. Ethnologist Shiv Mangal Singh’s paper (The Ancient Bhar and their Ruined Settlements in Ganga-Ghagara Doab, 1962), informs us that the Bhar formed small principalities in the areas of Mathura, Allahabad, Jaunpur, Faizabad, Mirzapur and Varanasi and ruled over them for centuries. Subsequently, they were deposed by the invading Rajput and by Muslim conquerors from the end of the eleventh century AD onwards. Their struggle continued nearly two hundred years at the end of which Ibrahim Shah Waarli of Jaunpur killed the last Bhar ruler in the Sudmanpur battle of Rae Bareilly district.
The Bhar speak Bhojpuri, an Indo-Aryan language, as their mother tongue, but they are also conversant with Hindi and use the standard Devanagari script to write both languages. In West Bengal they also speak Bengali, which is written in the Bengali script.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Bhar are cultivators and also work in the fields owned by Muslims, Thakurs (synonym of Rajput, second highest caste of warriors) and Ahirs (herdsman and milkman). Some own shops, rear and sell pigs and a few serve in the government and private sectors
The Bhar eat all meat except beef due to religious reasons. Their staple diet consists of cereals like wheat and rice supplemented by a variety of pulses, vegetables, some fruit, milk and dairy products. Alcohol is freely consumed. Literacy levels are low. They use the facilities provided by government hospitals in their areas, and also use herbal remedies for minor ailments.
The Bhar are traditionally endogamous, i.e. they marry only within their own community. Marriages are arranged by negotiations between family elders on both sides. Child marriages are still prevalent among the Bhar; however the trend towards adult marriage is increasing. Bride price is paid to the bride’s father. After marriage, the couple lives with or near the husband’s family.
Monogamy is the usual practice though a man may take a second wife during the lifetime of the first, but with her consent. Remarriage of widows and widowers is socially sanctioned, but a widow cannot marry an unmarried man while a widower can take an unmarried girl as his new bride. Divorce is permitted. The Bhar do not condemn sexual immorality.
Parental property is divided equally among all the sons only, while daughters do not receive a share. The eldest son also succeeds to the late father’s authority as the head of the family. The status of women among the Bhar is secondary to that of the men.
The Bhar have a strong caste council, which is presided over by a hereditary chairman known as Chaudhari. This council deals with community issues relating to marriage, divorce, caste regulations, land disputes and levies fines on those found guilty.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Bhar are Hindus worship all the major gods and goddesses of the Hinduism like Shiva, Vishnu, Kali (wife of Shiva), Bhawani (Mother of the World, a form of Kali) and others. They worship lesser-known regional and local deities like Agwan Deva (fire god), Phulmati (flower goddess), Deeh Baba and Burhao Baba (aged sage) and offer sacrifices to them. There is a belief in evil spirits. A pig is sacrificed to an evil spirit who lives in old fig trees. The Bhar celebrate Hindu festivals like Diwali (Festival of lights), Holi (Festival of Colours), Teej (a festival for the daughters of the family) and Maha Shivaratri.
The Bhar bury their dead with the head pointing to the west. Both, birth and death pollution are observed for specific periods.