Who are they?
The Saini is a community of traditional agriculturists and horticulturists distributed across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. According to the ethnologist Ibbetson (Punjab Castes: Races, Castes and Tribes of the People of Punjab, 1916), the Saini appears to be a subdivision of the Mali (gardener). In fact the Saini people are also referred to as Mali in many of the regions in which they live.
The legends regarding the origins of the Saini community vary from state to state. However, they all have in common the claim that they are descendants of the legendary king Maharaja Shoorsain (or Sursain) and hence the name Saini which they retain as their surname. Shoorsain was a Rajput (the second highest warrior class of rulers) so the Saini invariably claim to be Rajput in the traditional, four-fold Hindu caste system.
The Saini people speak the languages of the states they live in. In Haryana they speak a dialect of Haryanvi with an influence of the Marwari language; in Rajasthan they speak local dialects like Mewati or Braj. They use the Devanagari script to write the above languages.
In Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi, Punjabi is their first language and the Gurumukhi script is used. They are also conversant in Hindi and some speak Urdu.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The traditional and primary occupation of this people group is crop farming. Animal husbandry also forms a prominent part of their livelihood. In states like Delhi, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh the Saini people are gardeners. Some are very good at ikebana and flower decoration and make elaborate garlands. The majority owns their own land, except in Haryana where many lease their land for cultivation.
However, with an increase in education, and ever-diminishing landholdings due to population pressures, the Saini people have gradually diversified into trade (especially into grocery items and shops), small-scale manufacturing of plastic and electrical goods as well as salaried jobs in the government and private sectors.
Today there are many professionals among the Saini – some are well known scientists, professors and defense personnel. Nek Chand, creator of the rock garden in Chandigarh is a Saini. They are active in local and regional politics, and political leadership has emerged at the regional and national levels.
The literacy rate is quite high among the Saini. Many Saini children, both girls and boys study to tertiary level. The community has even opened several educational institutions on its own. Modern medicine and family planning measures are now accepted by the Saini, although they make use of indigenous medicines as well. Government development programmes and self-employment schemes have had a significant impact in bettering their lives.
The Saini have embraced every innovation offered in farming techniques, and use a variety of irrigation means, improved seeds, organic manure, chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides to improve their crop yields. They have also seen the benefits of personal savings and loans from banks and cooperatives for development. They also make good use of media and communication, electricity, drinking water and the Public Distribution System (PDS) for essential commodities provided by the government.
The Saini are endogamous at the community and subgroup level – that is, they only marry within those social boundaries. They do, however, marry between clans and often between villages. In states like Delhi and Haryana they avoid marriages in three gotras, namely, that of their father, mother and paternal grandmother. In Haryana the Saini have two subgroups: the Deshwale and the Bagri, with the former claiming to be the original residents of the area and the latter being migrants, mainly, from Rajasthan and also claiming a higher status. There are eleven important clans among them.
There are two main social divisions among the Saini of Chandigarh based on religion: the Hindu Saini and the Sikh Saini. They are further divided into a number of clans. In Rajasthan the Saini community is comprised of more than fifty clans, while in Himachal Pradesh, where the Hindu and Sikh Saini are the two divisions, there are clans such as Badwal, Chere, Ghugani, Masute, Mehta and Tambar. In Delhi there are various clans, based on territorial and social levels.
Child marriage and marriage by exchange were practiced in earlier times but adult marriage, settled by negotiation, is the norm among the Saini. Monogamy is practiced though polygamy, with the first wife’s consent, is allowed in case she is childless. Dowry is paid in cash and kind. Divorce is rare, but permitted. Widow, widower and divorcee remarriages are socially approved of and junior sororate and junior levirate are practiced.
Among the Saini both nuclear and joint families exist. Inheritance is patrilineal; ancestral property is inherited through the male line only and all the sons get equal shares, with the eldest succeeding to the late father’s authority.
The main duties of Saini women are household chores, but they also help by working on their family farms, animal husbandry, collection of fuel and other menial chores. However, the Bagri Saini women of Haryana are allowed to work as labourers in the fields of other local farms for extra family income. In some regions like Rajasthan they classify the flowers and clean them to make garlands. Educated women work in government and private organizations.
Additionally, the Saini women have specific roles in ritual, religious and social spheres. Generally, only women participate in singing folksongs and dancing for community festivities. They also do wall and floor paintings on certain social and religious occasions. Some women also tattoo their bodies.
The Saini community has its own local, regional and national level assemblies that look after the interests and welfare of the people. The Assemblies also exist to settle family and land disputes, cases of divorce, remarriage and adultery. There is a state level Haryana Saini Sabha located in Chandigarh and a Delhi-Haryana Saini Sabha in Delhi. In Rajasthan similar local community councils are presided over by a hereditary headman known as Patel. They also have a national level organization called located at Delhi which was established in 1920.
The All-India Saini Rajput Mahasabha and the Saini Housing Cooperative Society are headquartered at Delhi. The Saini Rajput Mahasabha was established in 1920. The office bearers of both these bodies are elected by a voice vote. The latter body provides loans to community members for housing construction. Saini Sabhas also exist in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, while in Chandigarh the Biradari (kin group) system similarly prevails to exert social control and to look after welfare.
What are Their Beliefs?
The majority of the Saini is Hindu and all the major gods and goddesses of Hinduism are worshipped. The remainder is Sikh. There is a belief in evil spirits and good and bad omens, and exorcism.
Like other Hindus the Saini celebrate festivals like Diwali (festival of lamps), Holi (festival of colours), Dussehra (festival celebrating Rama’s killing of the demon king Ravana), Janamashtami (Krishna’s birthday) and Ramanavmi (Rama’s birthday). They especially observe Shoorsain Jayanti (Birthday of king Shoorsain) on 22nd December every year. Ancestor worship is prevalent and each year in the Hindu calendar months of Bhadva-Ashvina (September- October) a feast called shradh is given in the memory of the dead.
They utilize the services of a Brahmin priest to perform their lifecycle rituals.. The dead are cremated and the ashes disposed off in a river, preferably the Ganges at Haridwar. The Sikh Saini reveres their holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, containing the teachings of their ten Gurus. They celebrate all Sikh festivals like Guru Nanak’s birthday, Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday, Baisakhi (a harvest festival) and Lohri. Some have joined sects like the Arya Samaj, Radhasoami and Nirankari.