Who are they?
The Manihar are a Muslim community who work with stones, glass and make tin foils. They migrated from the Sindh region of Pakistan about two hundred years ago. The ethnologist, William Crooke, states that the word manihar is derived from the Sanskrit words mani meaning a precious stone or gem and kara meaning maker. The Manihar occupy a middle position in the local hierarchy.
They are spread over the northern Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
They are also known as Shisgar in Rajasthan, where they inhabit the districts of Jaipur, Ajmer, Sikar, Churu and Jhunjhunu; as Maniar and Chudigar in Gujarat, where they inhabit the districts of Ahmedabad, Kutch and Kheda; and as Churihar in Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh they are mostly found in the central districts of Jabalpur, Sagar, Damoh, Narsinghpur, Seoni and Satna.
The Manihar speak the languages of the region in which they live. They speak Urdu in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, along with Hindi and use both the Persian-Arabic and Devnagari scripts. They speak the Kacchi dialect in Gujarat, but are also conversant with Urdu and Gujarati, and use both the Gujarati and Persian-Arabic scripts. In Rajasthan, Shekhawati is their first language while Marwari and Hindi are also used.
The Manihar accept food and water from other Muslim communities and from high-caste Hindus. They have cordial relations with other Muslim communities like the Dhobi (washer man), Hajjam (barber), Julaha (weaver) and others, whose services they employ. Patron-client relationships exist with members of wealthier Muslim and Hindu communities.
What are their lives like?
The Manihar are mostly engaged in their traditional business of making and selling glass and lac bangles known locally as churi or chuda. Alongside these standard wares, some of them also sell goods like cosmetics, tikli (forehead jewelry) and sealing wax. Theirs is a cottage industry, both men and women working together in their homes from where they sell directly to customers and to local shopkeepers. Some own small factories.
They are highly skilled at making bangles, creating intricate designs, of every color, shapes and sizes. In Gujarat, the Manihar used to make bangles from ivory, but due to international bans on elephant tusks they now make the ornately carved bangles from plastic as well as glass. Some of the Manihar, such as those in Uttar Pradesh have taken up tailoring as an occupation while some are self-employed as rickshaw drivers, poultry farmers, and vegetable sellers. A few of them are government employees while others are wage labourers. There are a few businessmen and office workers among them.
The Manihar are strictly prohibited from eating pork by their Islamic faith. Their staple food includes wheat, millet and rice, supplemented by lentils, vegetables and occasional seasonal fruit. They drink milk and dairy products but do not have alcohol or opium. Use of tobacco products like zarda (flavoured chewing tobacco), bidi (rolled tendu leaves) and paan (betel) is common among them. Fine vermicelli cooked in rich, sweetened milk is the traditional sweet served on festive occasions like the termination of the forty-day fast.
The Manihar do send their children, mostly boys, to school. Some may reach college level. Daughters finish at primary school due to socio-economic reasons. The literacy levels of some states like Gujarat, is very low.
They use both modern and traditional medicines, preferring indigenous cures. Family planning is not practiced by the Manihar and consequently they have large families. They use the Public Distribution System to buy subsidized food grains, cooking oil and kerosene. A majority remain dependent and in debt to local moneylenders and shopkeepers for credit.
The Manihar are an endogamous community, that is, they marry among their sub caste or subgroup only. In Madhya Pradesh, they have begun to intermarry with other Muslim communities. They are divided into a number of subgroups which are equal in status and thus are permitted to intermarry. In Rajasthan there are three subgroups, namely, Shisgar, Shekhawati and Pandya. In Gujarat the three subgroups are Ladani, Kachchani and Ishani. In Madhya Pradesh the two subgroups are Gangapati Manihar and Lakhere Manihar, while those of Uttar Pradesh are Lakhera and Kanchera. There is a further division into a number of which are also equal in status but exogamous, i.e. one has to compulsorily marry outside one’s own clan.
The Manihar are monogamous and marriages are arranged by negotiation although marriages by exchange (a type of marriage in which two families give brides to each other) also take place. Child marriage is prevalent among them. Residence after marriage is patrilocal, i.e. the couple resides with or near the husband’s family. Married women wear lac and glass bangles, earrings and a nose-ring as symbols of marriage. Dowry is given in both cash and kind, and a mutually decided future payment known as mehar is promised to the bride in case of divorce. This amount is specified in the marriage contract prepared by the Qazi who solemnizes the marriage. Divorce is permitted but the children remain the liability of the father. Remarriage of both divorcees and widow/widowers is socially sanctioned. The practices of junior levirate and junior sororate are prevalent.
The system of joint families still exists among the Manihar, though some choose to live separately. The parental property is divided equally only among the sons who share the responsibilities and liabilities left by the deceased father. In Madhya Pradesh one-eighth share of the inheritance traditionally goes to the daughters and the rest to the sons. Usually the eldest son shoulders the responsibility of any unmarried sisters and widowed mother.
The status of women is subordinate to men, but their opinions are given due consideration in family matters, and they participate in social, ritual and religious functions. In addition to doing housework the women directly contribute to the family income not only by helping in the production of bangles but also sell the bangles by going houses of their clients. On occasions of weddings and childbirth they receive generous gifts in cash and kind in lieu of the bangles supplied. The Manihar have their own oral traditions and dancing and singing are done by the women for celebrations.
The Manihar have a biradari panchayat (caste council) that settle intra-community disputes and exercises social control by levying of fines and excommunication. Permission for divorce is also granted by the council. In Gujarat the Kacchi Manihar Jamat is very influential, while in Madhya Pradesh there is a similar body based at Jabalpur.
What are their beliefs?
The Manihar are Muslims and belong to the Sunni sect. They worship Allah as the Almighty and revere the prophet Muhammad as his messenger to whom the Koran was revealed by the Archangel Gabriel. They have great faith in Muslim saints and visit their tombs to offer prayers and respect. They believe that these saints are mediators and can intercede to God on their behalf.
They observe all Muslim festivals like Bakr Id or Id Zuha (a feast when a goat or sheep is ritually slaughtered in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice), Id-ul-Fitr (feast of alms at the end of the holy Muslim ninth month of fasting, Ramzan or Ramadan), Shab-ibarat (the fifteenth night of the eighth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Shaban) and others. All those who can afford to do so undertake the Haj or holy pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. The Qazi, Maulavi (priest) and the Fakir (religious mendicant) are their sacred specialists who are of service during different lifecycle rituals and also impart religious preaching to them.
The Manihar observe birth pollution for one to one and a half months which terminates with the aqiqa (tonsure) ceremony. Sunnat (circumcision) is performed for boys in early childhood. These occasions are celebrated with a feast. The dead are buried and death pollution is observed for forty days. Tisra (third) and chalisma (fortieth) are the rituals observed on the third and fortieth days after a death. During chalisma, which marks the ending of the pollution period, relatives and friends are invited and given a lavish feast. They pray and read passages of scripture.