Who are they?
The Darzi or Darji, are a community of tailors, numbering around 3,240,000 people. Darzi is derived from the Persian word darzan, meaning to sew or from darz, meaning seam. The Darzi are largely a landless community whose main occupation is tailoring.
The Darzi have various synonyms as well as legends about their community origins – the legends vary according to the states in which they reside. In Uttar Pradesh the Muslim Darji are also called Khayyat and have recently begun affixing the title Idrisi, thereby tracing their origin to Hazrat Idris. They believe that he was the real teacher from whom their forefathers learned the art of tailoring. In the desert state of Rajasthan the Darzi claim their origin from the Rajput (second highest caste of warriors), tracing their descent from their legendary heroes Peepaji and Namdeo.
There are both Hindu and Muslim Darzi; the latter largely concentrated in Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh the Darzi’s synonyms are Shimpi, Chippi, Suji (from the Hindi sui – needle) and Mavi. According to a legend narrated by ethnologists Russel and Hiralal (The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, 1916) when Parshurama (Rama with an axe, 6th incarnation of Vishnu) was destroying the Kshatriya (also known as the Rajput people), two brothers hid themselves in a temple and were protected by the priest. The priest ordered one brother, Chippi, to sew dresses for the idol and the other to dye and stamp them. Chippi is thought to be the progenitor of the Darzi, the name being corrupted to Shimpi.
In the southern state of Karnataka the Darzi are also referred to as Bhavsar Kshatriya, Chippi, Namdev Simpi and Shimpi, and have surnames like Pisse, Wade, Kakade and Sanyasi. In Orissa the Darzi are known as Maharana, Mahapatra and Darzi, the former two of which are also used as surnames.
Numbering a total of 3,240,000, the Darzi are distributed across the states of Uttar Pradesh (1 million), Rajasthan (70,000), Madhya Pradesh (280,000), Maharashtra (560,000), Bihar (96,000), Orissa (18,000) and Karnataka (210,000).
The Darzi have a varying number of endogamous divisions and exogamous clans in the different parts of the country they inhabit. In Rajasthan there are two main divisions, namely, Peepavanshi and Namdeovanshi. The latter is further divided into two endogamous subdivisions called Tak and Gole. Seven clans – Mathiya, Ruselwal, Gosaliya, Utwan, Jadav, Mangla and Ragi – have been identified among the Tak, and four clans, namely, Bhati, Gahlot, Solanki and Paripeer among the Gole. The Peepavanshi have nine clans – the Panwar, Solanki, Parmar, Daiya, Chauhan, Goyel, Rakercha, Parihar and Tak.
The Darzi mother tongue differs from region to region. In Uttar Pradesh they speak Urdu and use the Perso-Arabic script. In Rajasthan, Marwari is spoken and in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Hindi is the primary language. Both states use Devanagari script for writing. In Maharashtra and Karnataka, Marathi occupies that distinction, though in the latter state the local language Kannada with its own script is also used. In Orissa, the Oriya language and its script are used.
What Are Their Lives Like?
A Darzi works for himself or for other tailors. Clients usually come from within the locality or neighborhood. Some Darzi also sell ready-made clothes from their shops or at weekend markets. Jodhpur coats and riding pants were made by skilled Darzi tailors from Rajasthan. The Darzi are skilled at dyeing fabrics and Darzi women are expert at embroidery.
The Darzi’s profession is poorly regarded and held in some contempt: a village proverb runs, “Darzi ka put jab tak jita tab tak sita,” meaning, “the tailor’s boy will sew as long as he lives.” Nowadays, the educated among them choose to work in government or private service. Many in Madhya Pradesh work as schoolteachers. Agriculture and daily-wage labour are some of their subsidiary occupations. The community also has a number of designers, professionals and entrepreneurs.
Except in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Darzi are mostly non-vegetarian though they do not eat beef. Even Muslim Darzis abstain from eating beef, as they believe it to be injurious to health. Wheat, rice, millets, pulses, seasonal vegetables, fruits and dairy products form part of their daily diet. Alcoholic drinks are consumed occasionally, and tobacco is taken in varied forms like cigarettes and zarda (scented chewing tobacco.)
Although this community regards education as important, girls are not sent to school. They use both modern medicine and family planning initiatives. Official developmental programmes related to electricity, clean drinking water, communication and subsidised banking facilities have influenced and elicited a positive response from the Darzi. They also make good use of the Public Distribution System. In short, the Darzi community is making considerable progress.
The Darzi are monogamous and practice adult marriage, though there are some instances of child marriage. Marital alliances are negotiated by family elders. Earlier, bride-price in cash was given by the groom’s family to the bride’s father. However, a dowry – which is given in cash and kind by the bride’s parents, is prevalent today.
Lately, mass marriages have become popular in the state of Madhya Pradesh, through the initiation of an organisation called Namdev Samaj Vikas Parishad (Community Development Authority). In such marriages, a dowry is not given. Divorce is allowed and so is remarriage of widowers, widows, and divorcees. A widowed woman is prohibited from remarrying during the period of iddat, i.e. a specified restriction of three month and ten days observed by a Muslim widow or divorcee.
Among the Muslim Darzi of Uttar Pradesh marriages with cousins is prevalent and preferred. It is acceptable to marry a paternal or maternal aunt’s or uncle’s children.
Families live either both jointly or apart. Sons inherit the paternal property equally. However, among the Muslim Darzi, daughters do have the right to inherit a smaller share of parental property. The eldest son succeeds his father as head of the family. Women are poorly regarded though they carry out specific social and religious duties. At marriage ceremonies and on the birth of children they sing traditional songs celebrating these events.
Although they have some community councils to exercise social control – especially in rural areas – they are not common throughout all the regions in which the Darzi reside. Regional community associations like the Bhavasar Kshatriya Association in Karnataka and the Namdev Vikas Parishad in Madhya Pradesh work for the overall improvement of the community.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Darzi are mostly Hindu by faith, except those residing in Uttar Pradesh, who are Muslim. The Hindu Darzi are Vishnu followers. The Darzi also worship Shiva, Shakti (power), Kali, Durga (inaccessible, the military goddess with ten arms who rides a tiger), Chandi (fierce), Bhawani (mother of the earth). Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles and the god of auspicious beginnings, is also worshipped.
Many of them belong to the Namdev sect, originated by a 12th-13th century AD tailor called Namdev Sadhu who was a great poet and fervent devotee of Vithoba of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. His surviving sacred hymns are very popular and revered. Jagannatha (a form of Krishna, eighth incarnation of Vishnu) is also widely revered by the Darzi.
The Hindu Darzi, before beginning their day’s work in the morning commonly bow to their tools of the trade- scissors, sewing machine and needle- and pray to them for a bountiful livelihood.
The Hindu Darzi make pilgrimages to the temple of Brahma in Pushkar, near Ajmer in Rajasthan, Badrinath (mountain shrine sacred to Vishnu in the Himalayas), Puri (coastal city sacred to Jagannatha), and Haridwar.
The Hindu Darzi celebrates all major Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali (Festival of Lights) and Janamashtami (Krishna’s birthday.) The Muslim Darzi observes Islamic festivals like Id-ul-Fitr (Feast of Alms), Bakr-Id (Feast commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram) and Bara Wafat (Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday.)
The Hindu Darzis cremate their dead and immerse the ashes in a river, preferably the holy Ganges, while the Muslim ones bury their deceased. Both, birth and death pollution for specified time periods are observed. Brahmin priests conduct their life-cycle rituals connected with birth, marriage and death.
What Are Their Needs?
The 3.25 million Darzi are creative, hardworking people who use their skills to earn a living and utilize the assistance provided by government programs. They have access to education which should include girls.