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Who are they?
The Arakh are a small community of cultivators of about 250,000 in number. It is believed that they migrated from Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, which is one of seven sacred cities for Hindus. The Arakh have two endogamous subgroups, namely, Suryavanshi Arakh (of the sun’s lineage) and Mooti Arakh. The Mooti Arak, smaller in number, have traditionally been horse-trainers and horsemen.
According to ethnologists Russel and Hiralal (Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, 1916) the Arakh are thought to be an offshoot of the Pasi or Bahelia caste of hunters and fowlers. In fact, all their traditions connect them with the numerically large Pasi caste, and like them, occupy a low position in the Hindu caste system. To raise their social standing, they claim to have descended from a warrior class and affix Singh, which denotes warrior lineage, to their names as proof of this.
Various legends about the origins of their community exist. William Crooke (Tribes and Castes of the North-Western India, 1896) writes that Parshurama (warrior, sage and sixth incarnation of Vishnu) sent for persons of the Pasi community to help him in one of his wars but they ran away and hid in a lentil field and were called Arakh from then on. Another meaning of Arakh is a front-liner in the army.
Another story relates how a leech bit Parshurama’s foot while he was bathing in the sea, causing it to bleed. He divided the blood into two parts; one he made the Pasi and out of the other half, the first Arakh. The Arakh speak Awadhi, an Indo-Aryan language but are also familiar with Hindi. The Devanagari script is used for both. They have maintained traditional communal links with the Nai (barber), Dhobi (washer man), Dhanuk (cotton carder), Mali (gardener) and Kumhar (potter).
The Arakh reside mainly in the vast North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh They live in the fertile alluvial districts of Kanpur, Lucknow, Hardoi, Lakhimpur, Barabanki and Meerut of Uttar Pradesh. They are also found scattered in some areas of central India.
What Are Their Lives Like?
While the traditional occupation of the Arakh is cultivation, some are employed in both government and private sectors at various levels. Others earn a living as daily-wage labourers in agriculture and industry. A very small number are engaged in bird-catching, hunting small game and training horses while some educated Arakh are professionals.
The Arakh eat meat except for beef, which is not eaten by Hindus for religious reasons. Their diet consists of cereals like wheat and rice supplemented by pulses, seasonal vegetables, fruit and dairy products. The men consume alcohol occasionally.
Formal education is encouraged for sons but daughters are less likely to be given the same opportunity. The Arakh use both modern and traditional medicines and are generally in favor of family planning methods.
The Arakh marry only within the community and marital alliances are arranged by negotiation among family members. They do not marry their daughters into the same village from which a daughter-in-law is from. The main symbols of marriage for women are sindur (vermilion mark in the mid-head hair parting), bangles, toe-rings and anklets. Divorce is permissible and one silver article is given to a divorced woman as a symbol of divorce. Remarriage is socially acceptable for widows, widowers and divorcees.
In matters of inheritance, the Arakh follow the principle of male equigeniture by which all the sons get equal shares. Daughters receive no share of the inheritance. The eldest son succeeds his father as the head of the family. Though Arakh women are not considered equal to men, their opinions are considered when deciding family matters. In addition to domestic duties, the women also help men in the fields and work to earn a living.
The Arakh have a strong sense of being a distinct community and the first community convention was held in 1924 at Meerut where they began a movement for recognition as Suryavanshi Kshatriya (second highest class of warriors in the four-fold Hindu class system).
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Arakh are Hindu by faith. They worship all the major deities of the Hinduism – Vishnu, Shiva, Kali (wife of Shiva), Rama (king of Ayodhya – personifying righteousness), Durga (the ten-armed warrior goddess), Hanuman (the monkey god) and Parashurama, a community deity. They celebrate Hindu festivals of Holi (spring festival of colors), Diwali (festival of lights), Ramanavmi (birthday of Rama), Maha Sivaratri (great night of Shiva) and many others.
The Arakh observe pollution after the birth of a child and a ritual naming (namkaran) ceremony is held on the sixth day after birth. A mundan (when the newborn’s head is shaved) is also performed. Unlike other Hindus, they bury their dead and a ceremony known as juria is observed for three days during which grass, sesame and water are offered to the gods. This is followed by two more rituals performed on the tenth and thirteenth days.