A Khattri nobleman, in Kitab-i tasrih al-aqvam by Col. James Skinner, aka Sikandar (1778–1841)
|Religions||Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam|
|Languages||Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Kutchi, Gujarati, Sindhi|
|Country||Primarily India and Pakistan|
|Region||Punjab, Sindh, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat|
According to Bichitra Natak, said to be the autobiography of the last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, the Bedi sub-caste of the Khatris derives its lineage from Kush, the son of Rama (according to Hindu epic Ramayana). 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.
According to Ancient Greek sources, "The people that held the territory comprised between the Hydrastes (Ravi) and the Hyphasis (Beas) were the Khatriaioi, whose capital was Sangala". Sangala find mention in Mahabharata and Pali Buddhist texts as the capital of Madra Kingdom. J. W. McCrindle, the translator and writer adds that the name is found in the modern era, spread across a vast region in the northwest of India, from Hindukush to Bengal and from Nepal to Gujarat, in slightly variant forms, including the term Khatris and others.
Having gained the patronage of the Mughal nobles, 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.
Author Suresh Kumar described Khatris as silk weavers. Author Purnima Dhawan described that together with 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 khatris 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."
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. 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. Author McLeod mentions the employment of khatris as soldiers by Mughal emperors but notes 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. In the 19th-century 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) occupation rather than in Kshatriya (military) pursuits. 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.
The Khatris of Gujarat and Rajasthan are said to have tailoring skills like "Darji" (tailor) caste. In the case of those Khatris who avow Sikhism, 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 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:
D.L.Sheth, the former director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in India(CSDS), lists Indian upper castes that constituted the middle class and were traditionally "urban and professional" (following professions like doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, etc.) immediately after Independence in 1947. This list included the Khatris from Punjab, Kashmiri Pandits, Nagar Brahmin and the South Indian Brahmins; Chitpawans and CKPs(Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus) from Maharashtra; Kayasthas from northern India; the Probasi and the Bhadralok Bengalis, the Parsis and the upper crusts of Muslim and Christian communities. According to P.K.Verma, "Education was a common thread that bound together with this pan Indian elite" and almost all the members of these communities could read and write English and were educated beyond school.
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.
...its main adherents came from those in government service, qualified professionals such as doctors, engineers, and lawyers, business entrepreneurs, teachers in schools in the bigger cities and in the institutes of higher education, journalists[etc]...The upper castes dominated the Indian middle class. Prominent among its members were Punjabi Khatris, Kashmiri Pandits, and South Indian brahmins. Then there were the 'traditional urban-oriented professional castes such as the Nagars of Gujarat, the Chitpawans and the Ckps (Chandrasenya Kayastha Prabhus)s of Maharashtra and the Kayasthas of North India. Also included were the old elite groups that emerged during the colonial rule: the Probasi and the Bhadralok Bengalis, the Parsis, and the upper crusts of Muslim and Christian communities. Education was a common thread that bound together with this pan Indian elite...But almost all its members spoke and wrote English and had had some education beyond school
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