Who are they?
The Khatri are a trading and mercantile community, who originated in Punjab and spread to the many states in which they now live. Numbering around 2.5 million, they live in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chandigarh. In all, they are distributed in over 132 districts in the country and have 241 segments.
The Khatri claim to be Rajput: the second highest class of warriors in the fourfold Hindu caste system. They believe that their name is a corrupt derivation of the Sanskrit word Kshatriya, which is a synonym of Rajput. During the British rule of the 19th century, the Khatri virtually had a monopoly over trade in Punjab and neighbouring Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the Khatri is an influential community of northwestern India; one that has emerged as one of the most progressive and dynamic in recent years. Before India’s independence and resultant partition in 1947 the Khatri were settled mainly in the western part of pre-partition Punjab (now in Pakistan) and shortly after began migrating to India.
There are many theories regarding their origin. One legend relates that Parashurama (Rama, 6th incarnation of Vishnu) wanted to massacre the Kshatriyas and caused every Kshatriya woman to miscarry. However, some women escaped and took shelter in Brahmin (highest priestly caste) houses. The Brahmin declared them to be Brahmin and even ate with them in order to show Parashurama that the Kshatriya women were from their caste, and thus saved them. According to this story, the children born of these women became the Khatri.
The language spoken by the Khatri people varies from state to state. In Punjab, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir, the Indo-Aryan language, Punjabi, is their first language and the Gurumukhi script is used to write it. However, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, they also speak Dogri and Bhadrawahi. Hindi is the primary language in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and it is written in the Devanagari script. They speak Maithili in Bihar, Mewari or Marwari in Rajasthan, Pahari in Himachal Pradesh and Kacchi in Gujarat. Most Khatri are also fluent in Hindi language and many educated Khatri speak English.
What are their lives like?
The Khatri are businessmen, traders, professional moneylenders and financiers. Their business pursuits range from owning and operating village shops to being major wholesale traders and industrialists. However, there are also some who practice agriculture and rear animals. Many are contractors and transporters, while a few are employed in government and private sectors. The Khatri of Gujarat are known for their cloth which they print and dye as well as the specialized art of bandhini (tying and dyeing fabrics), while in Maharashtra they are the traditional weavers of silk saris, especially the famous paithani saris.
The Khatri are also engineers, doctors, scientists, army, police, administrators, politicians and creative artists. Generally, they are highly literate. They encourage both sons and daughters to study and graduate.
The Khatri use modern medicine as well as indigenous medicines. They practice family planning. Official development programs have brought numerous opportunities to them and they make full use of the schemes offered relating to subsidized loans and irrigation facilities; and made optimum use of the Public Distribution System and national banks for personal savings and obtaining loans for commercial purposes.
This is an endogamous community – that is they do not marry outside their group. However they do marry between clans, and often, villages. The clan names are also often used as surnames. In Punjab (where they are largely concentrated in the districts of Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur, and Patiala), the Khatri have four subgroups, namely, Bahri, Bunjahi, Sariu and Khokhrar, which are further divided into a large number of clans.
In Haryana, large numbers live in the districts of Hissar, Ambala, Rohtak, Faridabad, and Yamunanagar, and have subgroups or sub castes like Bunjahi, Sarin, and Bahri Khokhrar, divided into clans. There are two main subgroups in Delhi – the Purbia, (eastern) and Pachhadha (western), who are divided into clans such as Mehra, Kapoor, Mehrotra, Khanna, Tandon and Seth. In the hill state of Himachal Pradesh their subgroups are Bari, Bunjahi and Sarin, of which the first and second have twelve sections each and the third has one hundred and fifty-two sections. Some clans here are Chaddha, Sethi, Ratwan, Chopra, Kaure, Mehta, Mehra, Verma, Jagota and Vaidya, which are also surnames.
The Khatri of Uttar Pradesh are divided into subgroups like Kakkar, Kapoor, Khanna, Lahauri, Seth and Tandon, as well as clans like Bhalla, Bhasin, Mehra, Mehrotra, Bedi and Sodhi. The Khatri of Bihar have six subgroups, namely the Charjati , Panchjati, Chhajati, Barajati, Bahannajati, while those of Rajasthan have two subgroups divided into eighty-four gotras such as Dodecha, Gaba, Saghia, Morgoja, Morbani, Kangra, Bagecha and Sada.
Marriages are arranged through negotiation between elders and parents. Adult marriages are preferred today. There are no symbols of marriage among the Sikh Khatri women, but among those who are Hindu, married women wear (sindur) the vermilion mark, glass bangles, a coloured dot on the forehead known as bindi, toe-rings and finger rings. Monogamy has been and remains the rule among them. Dowry is common among this community, given in both cash and kind.
Both Hindu and Sikh Khatri discourage divorce, but it is allowed in extreme cases of maladjustment or barrenness. Remarriage of widows, widowers, and divorcees is allowed. However, in states like Bihar widow remarriage is forbidden. Junior sororate prevails. Traditional extended families are found among the community, although they are becoming less common as young couples increasingly choose to set up new homes apart from the parents and in-laws. Only the sons inherit ancestral property. It is divided equally but the eldest son inherits the late father’s authority as head of the family. Daughters, traditionally, receive no share of the estate.
Khatri women care for their homes and do housework. They are given a specific role in the ritual, religious and social spheres of family and community life. In many cases, especially in urban settings, they also participate in economic activities and contribute to the family finances. They are proficient in embroidery and knitting. The Khatri have oral traditions in the form of folksongs and folklore. In Punjab and Haryana folksongs such as Ghori and Mahia are sung at the time of marriage. Dances such as the bhangra are performed by men and gidda, by women) at celebrations. Traditional musical instruments include the harmonium, chimta (tongs), dhol (drum), daphli (tambourine) and bansuri (flute).
The Khatri have informal councils headed by the elders who deal with issues relating to marriage, divorce and property. There are other organized societies for the welfare of the community like the All India Khatri Mahasabha in Uttar Pradesh.
What are their beliefs?
The Khatri are 69 % Hindu, 22 % Muslim or 11 % Sikh by faith and strictly adhere to the tenets of their respective religions. Some belong to the egalitarian Arya Samaj and the Guru-centric Radhasoami and Nirankari sects. Sikh Khatri hold the ten Gurus of their religion in high esteem. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, as well as Guru Govind Singh, the tenth guru was a Khatri. The Muslims among the Khatri live mainly in Gujarat and adhere to the tenets of the Islamic faith, and belong to the dominant Sunni sect.
The Hindus of this community devotedly worship all the deities of the Hindu pantheon. In addition, the Khatri of Maharashtra also worships a communal deity and a regional goddess. Sitala Mata (goddess of small pox) and Shrinathji are regional deities of the Khatri of Rajasthan.
Brahmin priests perform all rituals relating to births, marriages and deaths for the Hindu Khatri, while the granthi (Sikh priest) do so for the Sikh Khatri. The dead are cremated and the ashes immersed in a river, preferably the sacred Ganges River at Haridwar and a thirteen-day period of death pollution is observed. However, infants and young children are buried. Ancestor worship prevails among the Hindu Khatri. All major festivals and fairs are the same as those observed by other Hindu and Sikh. Muslims observe Id, Bara Wafat (Prophet Mohammed’s birthday) and others.