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Who are they?
The Yadav are, at present, mostly a landowning community, with large sections being small-scale farmers. Their traditional and main occupations are animal husbandry (cattle and buffaloes) and agriculture, with the selling of milk and milk products forming an integral source of their livelihood. The Yadav is a relatively prosperous community occupying a respectably comfortable, middle position in social hierarchy. They have taken many steps to improve their circumstances since India’s independence.
The Yadav, or Yadava, people are considered to be Yaduvanshi (of the lineage of Yadu), and are celebrated as the community into which Krishna was born. They are said to have migrated from across the seas to Gujarat and as pastoralists, spread to the northern, central and eastern parts of India. As they mixed with local cattle-breeders, they gradually settled down, becoming peasants and continued farming and animal husbandry.
Over time the Yadav acquired political power and founded kingdoms that flourished in various parts of ancient and medieval India. During the colonial British rule, they were recognized as aristocrats. The Mahabharata, India’s greatest and oldest epic (dating to the third millennium BC, but more plausibly of the first millennium BC) illustrates the rise of the Yadav, led by Krishna, as a significant element in ancient Indian politics. After the legendary loss of Dwarka, a city in Gujarat, and Krishna’s tragic death, his noble cousins, the Pandavas, divided their kingdom into two. They gave one part of the kingdom to Krishna’s grandsons with the city of Mathura, located in present-day Uttar Pradesh, as its capital.
Today the Yadav are a large and interesting community distributed mainly in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh (10.2 million) and Bihar, and some southern states.
The Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh speak dialects of Hindi such as Awadhi, Bhojpuri or Braj as their mother tongue, while those residing in Bihar primarily speak the Maithili or Bhojpuri dialects. The common Devanagari script is used. They are also conversant with Hindi and many educated Yadav also speak English.
The Yadav are listed as an Other Backward Classes (OBC) community under the provisions of the Indian constitution. This grants them, along with other OBCs, a number of affirmative action privileges such as fixed quotas in government jobs and higher educational institutions and relaxed criteria in competitive exams. In Uttar Pradesh the Yadav are also known as the Ahir, while in the neighbouring state of Bihar Ahir, Goala, Rai, Sar-gope and Gope are their synonyms. Some of their surnames are Yadav, Rai, Ram, Singh and Gope. However, Yadav is the most commonly used surname.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The traditional and main occupations of the Yadav are animal husbandry (cattle and buffaloes) and agriculture. An integral source of their livelihood comes from the production and sale of dairy products. Most of the Yadav are a landowning community. Many of them are small-scale farmers with some with large holdings. In fact, much of the new legislation since India’s independence is land-related which has benefited the Yadav people immensely and a large number, who were once merely cultivators, have become landowners.
These days, many Yadav people are self employed with their own small business, while others work in the government or private sectors at various levels. There are a few landless among them who work as daily-wage, agricultural or industrial labour.
The Yadav have emerged as a dynamic community in politics and administration and are quite prominent in state and, even, national level politics. Two of India’s very well known politicians, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, are from this community. There are also doctors, engineers, lawyers, scholars, teachers, businessmen, creative artists, sportsmen and defence and police personnel among them.
Formal education is important to them. Many Yadav children study to graduate and post-graduate levels. The community makes full use of modern health facilities and has adopted family planning methods. They make full use of official development schemes related to self-employment and rural employment which contributes to their prosperity. Additionally, this community makes good use of the provision of electricity, drinking water, Public Distribution System (PDS), nationalized banking and other government services.
The Yadav do not marry outside their community but do so at the clan or lineage level and occasionally at the village level. In Uttar Pradesh, they claim to have no subgroups, hierarchy or differentiation, but in Bihar their subgroups are Kannaujiya, Kisnaut, Dandhor, Majhrot and Bhurihar. Some of their exogamous clans are Kashyap and Manu.
Among this community, marriages are arranged by parents and elders. Monogamy is the common practice, but in exceptional circumstances a second wife is allowed, for instance, if the first wife is barren. Sindur (vermilion mark), glass bangles, bindi (coloured dot on forehead), toe-rings, earrings and a nose-stud are the symbols of matrimony for women. Divorce is socially permitted, as is the remarriage of widows, widowers and divorcees. Junior levirate and junior sororate are prevalent.
Traditional extended families exist among the Yadav but they are moving towards a nuclear family, especially in urban settings. All sons equally inherit the paternal property and succession to the late father’s authority goes to the eldest son. Daughters have no right in the inheritance and do not claim any share. The status of women is secondary to the men in Yadav society, though they do have important roles in the religious and ritual spheres. In addition to doing all the domestic chores, they do menial farm work; feeding and tending to the animals and collecting fuel wood. A few educated women are in government and private jobs.
The Yadav do not have a traditional caste panchayat or council anymore. Instead they participate in the statutory village council and belong to a national organization called the All India Yadav Mahasabha, established in 1924, that strives for community’s welfare. It promotes education and social reform, as well as political mobilization in order to have power at the national level.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Yadav are Hindu by faith and worship all Hindu gods and goddesses. However, Krishna comes is especially revered and regarded as their community deity. His birthday, Janamashtami, is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion by the Yadav. Vrindavan, on the banks of the Yamuna River, near Mathura, is a very important pilgrimage center because of its legendary association with Krishna.
The Yadav celebrate all major Hindu festivals like Diwali (festival of lamps), Holi (festival of colours), Dussehra (festival celebrating Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana), Maha Sivaratri (great night of Shiva) and Ramnavmi (Rama’s birthday). Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Mathura, Gangotri and Yamunotri are some of their pilgrimage centers.
The Yadav request the services of a Brahmin priest to perform all their lifecycle rituals related to birth, marriage and death. The dead are cremated and the ashes immersed in a river, preferably the Ganges river at Haridwar or the Yamuna which are considered holy. Both birth and death pollutions for specific periods are observed. Ancestor worship is prevalent.