Who are they?
The Lodha are an important agricultural community of 3.2 million who live in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. They also call themselves Banbate, Kisan, Lodh, Lodh Rajput or Tomar.
According to William Crooke, the word Lodha in Sanskrit is the bark of a tree used in dyeing, or could be derived from another Sanskrit word lubdhake, meaning a hunter. Crooke further adds “under the name of Lodhi they are found widely spread throughout the Central Provinces (Madhya Pradesh). They seem to be comparatively recent immigrants from the direction of Bundelkhand (a region that is in the northern Madhya Pradesh and southern Uttar Pradesh)”. In fact, the Lodha residing in Uttar Pradesh claim Narwar in the Jhansi district of the Bundelkhand region as their original habitat.
The Lodha claim Rajput ancestry – the second highest Hindu caste of warriors, by declaring that they are descended from Lav. In Hindu mythology, Lav is the eldest of the two sons of Rama, warrior king of Ayodhya, hero of the mythological Hindu religious epic, the Ramayana, and the seventh incarnation of Vishnu (the Preserver in the Hindu trinity). Those living in Rajasthan, assert that the legendary Rani Aeniti Bai, who was known for her heroic acts, belonged to their community.
The Lodha are a ‘backward peasant’ caste that is gradually rising in economic, political and even social status. Under the provisions of the Indian Constitution the Lodha have been listed in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, a listing that provides them with many benefits like reserved quotas in government jobs and higher education, relaxed qualifying standards in competitive examinations and other such assistance.
The Lodha of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi speak Hindi as their mother tongue and write in the Devnagari script, while those of Rajasthan and Gujarat, although they use the same script, speak the Braj dialect of Hindi as their first language. In Maharashtra the mother tongue is Marathi, the local language.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Lodha are a community whose main traditional occupation is agriculture. However, their involvement in this occupation is on the decline. In Delhi, in the past forty to fifty years many have been engaged in the processing of lentils and looking after fruit orchards on contract. They also work in offices, rear cattle, sell vegetables, make ropes and wooden boxes and run petty businesses like groceries shops. In Gujarat they cut and sell grass. Some are in the transport business.
Political leadership has emerged at the regional level. In Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, a Lodha, was the Chief Minister for quite some time and is still very influential in the state. This political involvement has led to better relations with other communities and a rise in status.
All Lodha eat meat except those living in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, who are vegetarians. They do not eat pork or beef. Wheat and rice are their staple cereals, supplemented by pulses, seasonal vegetables and fruit. Liquor is not common but tobacco is popular with the men.
This community takes advantage of development programs and have benefitted through self-employment schemes, irrigation, electricity, subsidised loans and improved seeds and fertilizers. The Lodha like to send their children to school but do not educate their daughters beyond the lower levels. They use modern medicines and practice family welfare to restrict their family size.
The Lodha are an endogamous community, i.e. marriage alliances are conducted only within the Lodha community. They have a number of subgroups in the numerous regions they inhabit which have specific names. In Uttar Pradesh there are two subgroups, Jaria and Patharia, which are territorial in nature, while in Delhi there are four – Maharia, Mathuria, Jaria and Patharia. In Rajasthan, the Lodha have four subgroups, which arranged in descending order are – Mathuria, Patharia, Narbania and Jaina. Previously these subgroups were also endogamous but inter-group marriages are now tolerated. There are also a number of exogamous clans. The Lodha of Rajasthan are very proud of the existence of 84 clans – believed to be a legendary number. The Jati Purana (caste text) of the Lodha of Madhya Pradesh mentions about 515 clan names.
Marriages are between adults and are settled through negotiations between elders of both sides. Monogamy is common, although a second spouse is allowed if the first wife remains childless. Lac and glass bangles, toe-rings, vermilion in the hair parting and coloured dot on the forehead are worn by women to indicate that they are married. Dowry is demanded in both cash and goods. Divorce is permitted and so is the remarriage of widows, widowers and divorcees. Marriages between a man and his deceased wife’s younger sister or between a woman and her deceased husband’s younger brother are permitted and in many cases preferred. In Uttar Pradesh, however, only men are allowed to remarry.
They live in both extended and nuclear families. Ancestral property is inherited equally by all the sons. Though modern laws give the daughters this right too, they often do not claim their share in order to maintain good relations with their brothers. The eldest son succeeds as the head of the family.
The status of women is low. Many of them, in addition to doing all the housework, also help in the work that the men do to earn a living except in conservative Rajasthan where they are confined to domestic work only. Only women can sing and dance to the accompaniment of the dholak (indigenous, barrel-shaped, double-sided drum) on special occasions.
The Lodha have a caste council at the village level to maintain social control and settle disputes. They also have larger associations at regional levels called ‘the Assembly’ in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi Regional Friends Association in Delhi, Lodheswar Society in Gujarat and the Lodhi Kshatriya Rajput Society in Maharashtra. These associations actively promote the welfare and economic improvement of the community as well as function as lobby groups. Additionally, they provide a sense of identity to its members.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Lodha are Hindu by faith and worship all Hindu gods and goddesses. They also worship Shakti (power) in the form of Durga, another militant goddess, Chandi (angry or fierce) and Kali, the black goddess. The head of the family makes daily offerings to the clan goddess who is also an aspect of Shakti. In Maharashtra their family deity is the goddess Sharda and the village deity is Hanuman, the monkey god. The worship of Krishna, (eighth incarnation of Vishnu) is also prevalent among the Lodha of Rajasthan from the Braj area in Mathura district, where the Krishna legend originated.
In Madhya Pradesh regional deities like Goraiya (deity of tombs) and Masan (invisible demon who hates children) are propitiated. A few follow the Arya Samaj and Radhasoami movements. The Arya Samaj followers believe in the simpler version of Hinduism, dating back to 1500-500 BC, AD have given up practices like idol worship and do not eat meat. The Radhasoami followers are also Hindu but the role of the Guru is all encompassing and very influential in a devotee’s life. This movement has seen phenomenal growth in North India.
The Lodha celebrate all major Hindu festivals like Holi (spring festival of colours), Mahasivaratri (Great night of Shiva), Dussehra (festival celebrating the victory of Rama over the demon king Ravana) and Janamashatmi (Krishna’s birthday). They make pilgrimages to their sacred place like Hardwar, Mathura, Allahabad and Pushkar. Lifecycle rituals are performed by a Brahmin priest. The dead are cremated and the ashes immersed in a river, preferably the Ganges River. Ancestor worship is also performed.