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A Khattri nobleman, in Kitab-i tasrih al-aqvam by Col. James Skinner, aka Sikandar (1778–1841)
|Religions||Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism|
|Languages||Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Kutchi, Gujarati, Sindhi|
|Country||Primarily India and Pakistan|
|Region||Punjab, Sindh, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat|
The position of the Khatris as important traders during the period of the Mughal Empire may have been a development from their original occupation as silk weavers. They played an important role in India's trans-regional trade during the Mughal era, when they also adopted administrative and military roles outside the Punjab region. According to a legend recounted by them from the 19th century, their military role was later lost when their community leaders refused to obey an order from Aurangzeb, a Mughal emperor; however, at least one modern academic regards this as fanciful.
According to Bichitra Natak, said to be the autobiography of the last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, but whose authenticity is a matter of ongoing dispute, the Bedi sub-caste of the Khatris derives its lineage from Kush, the son of Rama in the Hindu mythology. The descendants of Kush, according to the disputed Bachitar Natak legend, learned the Vedas at Benares, and were thus called Bedis (Vedis). Similarly, according to the same legend, the Sodhi sub-caste claims descent from Lav, the other son of Rama.
Khatris were historically weavers of silk saris, some of whom subsequently became merchants. Together with peasants and rural landowners of the Jat community, the Khatris gained considerably from the expansion of the Mughal empire, although both groups supported Guru Hargobind in his campaign for Sikh self-government in the Punjab plains. The merchants played an important role in India's trans-regional trade during the period, being described by Scott Cameron Levi as among the "most important merchant communities of early modern India."
Having gained the patronage of Mughal nobles through trade, the Khatris then adopted administrative and military roles outside the Punjab region. According to a Khatri legend of the 19th century, they continued their military service until the time of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, when the death of many of their number during the emperor's Deccan Campaign caused him to order their widows to be remarried. The order was made out of sympathy for the widows but when the Khatri community leaders refused to obey it, Aurangzeb terminated their military service and said that they should be shopkeepers and brokers. This legend is probably fanciful: John McLane notes that a more likely explanation for their revised position was that a Sikh rebellion against the Mughals in the early 1700s severely compromised the Khatri's ability to trade and forced them to take sides. Those who were primarily dependent on the Mughals went to significant lengths to assert that allegiance in the face of accusations that they were in fact favouring the rebel Jat Sikhs, led by Banda. The outcome of their assertions - which included providing financial support to the Mughals and shaving their beards - was that the Khatris became still more important to the Mughal rulers as administrators at various levels, in particular because of their skills in financial management and their historic connections with bankers.
Khatris consider themselves to be of pure Vedic descent and thus superior to the Rajputs who, like them, claim the Kshatriya status of the Hindu varna system. In the case of those Khatris who avow Sikism, their Kshatriya claim reflects the confusing, even seemingly contradictory, attitude towards the traditional Hindu caste system that is evident in Sikh texts such as the Guru Granth Sahib, which on the one hand renounces the Hindu caste paradigm and on the other seeks to portray the gurus as a group of warrior-defenders of their faith, just as with the Kshatriya varna.
The Khatri's standards of literacy and caste status were such during the early years of Sikhism that, according to W. H. McLeod, they dominated it. Their claim to be warriors who took to trade was supported by their employment as soldiers by Mughal emperors but by the time of British arrival in India they were mostly merchants and scribes. Kenneth W. Jones says "the Khatris claimed with some justice and increasing insistence, the status of Rajputs, or Kshatriyas, a claim not granted by those above but illustrative of their ambiguous position on the great varna scale of class divisions". Purnima Dhavan sees the claim as originating from a conflation of the words khatri and kshatriya, which are phonetically similar. The 19th-century Indians and the British administrators failed to agree whether the Khatri claim of Kshatriya status should be accepted, since the overwhelming majority of them were engaged in Vaishya (mercantile) occupations. Dasharatha Sharma described Khatris as a mixed pratiloma caste of low ritual status but suggested that they could be a mixed caste born of Kshatriya fathers and Brahmin mothers.
There are Khatris that are found in other states of India and they follow different professions in each region. The Khatris of Gujarat and Rajasthan are said to have tailoring skills like "Darji" (tailor) caste.
The vast majority of Khatris are Hindu. Most Hindu Khatris migrated to India after partition and settled in urban areas across India. They were estimated to constitute 9% of the total population of Delhi in 2003.
All the ten Sikh Gurus were Khatris: Guru Nanak was a Bedi, Guru Angad was a Trehan, Guru Amar Das was a Bhalla, and the remainder were Sodhis. During the lifetime of the Gurus, most of their major supporters were Khatris. A list of these is provided by a contemporary of the Sikh Gurus, Bhai Gurdas, in his Varan Bhai Gurdas.[need quotation to verify] However, many of the more successful Khatri traders opposed the strictures of the Khalsa movement, introduced by Guru Gobind Singh to end the concept of caste in Sikhism by removing traditional rituals and identities.
Aside from the gurus, other Khatris influential in the history of Sikhism include:
The Muslim Khatris are originally from Hindu Khatri community who had converted to Islam. In western districts of the Punjab (Sargodha, Mianwali, Multan, Jhang, Chakwal, Rawalpindi and Faislabad), converted Khatri traders called themselves Khawaja. Some times they are called Khawaja Sheikh.
The Khatris were a Punjabi mercantile caste who claimed to be Kshatriyas. Nineteenth-century Indians and British administrators failed to agree whether that claim should be accepted. The fact that overwhelming majority were engaged in Vaishya (mercantile), not Kshatriya (military), pursuits was balanced against the Khatri origin myths...
Conversion was negligible from the higher castes such as Brahmins, Aroras, Khatris and Aggarwals.
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