Mughal Rule, The Golden Period of Vanjaras
The term ‘Vanjaras’ or ‘Banjaras’ has been derived from word Vanik or banik, which means merchants. Some writers argue that the word Vanjara has been derived from the Persian word ‘Brinj’ which means rice and that they were rice carriers. According to Persian English Dictionary by Steingass the word ‘brinj’ means ‘rice’ but in view of the fact that Vanjaras were an ancient tribe, the word of Vanjaras has come from Vana a jungle and jara, jungle wanderer. This has been considered more appropriate.1
Modern writers use the word Vanjaras or Banjara, in the same sense. In Guru Granth Sahib, the word Vanjara has often been used with reference to man who has come into this world with capital advanced by God, who exhorts him to put his borrowed capital to good use and earn merit.2
In Punjab there had been salt mines. Vanjaras dealt with salt and salt in Sanskrit, was called ‘Lavan’. Therefore, it appears thatthe word Labana has come from Lavan as they mostly dealt with ‘Lavan’. Some Labana writers have recently interpreted the word Labana and Lobana, which implies very hard workers.
“The term Vanjara or Banjara was mainly applied to grain, salt and cattle merchants who lived in tents and moved about with their livestock and carts. They visited even the most remote and inaccessible regions to forage for grain and other commodities to sell in more popular areas.”3
The Vanjaras were divided into many branches and sub-branches and they were scattered all over India. They owned bullocks, bullock-carts, cows, horses, camels and tents and travelled in large parties consisting of mainly family groups and other tribal members. 4
In the medieval times there was no supply department for supplies of food material etc. to the army which was moving from place to place under the command of rulers or their Generals. The association of Vanjaras with the Muslim Imperial Army was first employed by Sikander Lodhi who took them with him for attacking Dholpur in 1504 A.D. From that time onwards they started to supply grains and provisions to every army attacking the South.
During Akbar’s time, the Vanjaras supplied provisions and other commodities to the army of Akbar, who much impressed with their work, exempted them from the toll and taxes. The Vanjaras had the reputation of being extremely reliable and honest businessmen. It is said that no instances have been recorded of the theft of goods entrusted in their custody. Therefore, they were paid cash in advance to ensure that there was no breakdown of supply to the army. During the war they were never attacked by either army. For supply of food provisions to the army, they sometimes used one lac bullocks or more. Not only bullocks but cows were also used to carry loads When Asif Khan, the Wazir of Shah Jahan, campaigned against Deccanis in 1630 A.D., two groups of Vanjara Tribes went with him. They were permitted to obtain grass and water from any where they wanted. The only condition was the availability of free grass and water with the army. This condition is inscribed in a copper plate which still exists in Hyderabad Deccan engraved in gold letters. Almost all contemporary observers agree that the Vanjaras owned large number of cattle. As the bullock was the main draught animal, the possession of so many indicates the extent of their prosperity and their competitive advantage over many other traders. Some of them owned up to 1000 bullocks. In Aurangzeb’s time, Tavernier saw a Vanjara caravan with ten to twelve thousand oxen laiden with all sorts of commodities going from one end of the country to the other. Impressed by their oxen he noted that a good pair costs about Rs. 600/-. Tavernier stated that the Vanjaras were divided into four tribes – each numbering about a lakh of souls – The first tribe had to do with corn only, the second with rice, the third with pulse, and the fourth with salts, etc.5
Role in Sikh History
In the Puratan Janam Sakhi, it has been stated that from Nanak Matta (Modern District Nainital) Guru Nanak went to ‘Vanjarian De Tande’ about sixty miles South of Nanak Matta. This place is situated on the road which goes from Moradabad to Nainital. According to Imperial Gazetteer of India, it is a very old town and was first founded by Vanjaras who used to live there.6 Usually Tanda was the place where Caravan used to stay. The Guru visited the place and he is said to have recited the follow hymn there:
ਪਹਿਲੇ ਪਹਰੈ ਰੈਣ ਕੈ ਵਣਜਾਰਿਆ ਮਿਤ੍ਰਾ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਪਾਆਿ ਗਰਭਾਸਿ |
ਉਰਧ ਤਪੁ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਕਰੇ ਵਣਜਾਰਿਆ ਮਿਤ੍ਰਾ ਖਸਮ ਸੇਤੀ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ |
ਸਾਈ ਵਸਤ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਹੋਈ ਜਿਸੁ ਸਿਉ ਲਾਇਆ ਹੇਤੁ |
ਕਹ ੁਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰਾਣੀ ਚਉਥੈ ਪਹਰੈ ਲਾਵੀ ਲੁਣਿਆ ਖੇਤ |7
It is very important to know how the Vanjaras were converted to Sikhism. During the Mughal rule Vanjaras used to carry food provisions for the military. Mostly they travelled in caravans for trading and they usually had very long caravans laiden with various commodities. Whenever the Sikh Gurus were with some horsemen they used to travel with the Vanjasras’ Caravan. Their association with the Guru for a number of months made them the devoted followers of the Gurus. In the history of Sikh Gurus, we find the following occasions when the Gurus were travelling with the Vanjaras’ carvans:
1. Guru Hargobiond Sahib travelled with Emperor Jahangir first to Gawallior and then to Kashmir with Vanjaras’ Caravan.
2. When Guru Hargobind Sahib, travelled to Nanak Matta, with some horsemen he travelled with the Vanjaras.
3. Guru Har Rai Sahib, the seventh Guru, travelled with Makhan Shah Lubana from Sialkot to Kashmir and back and lived with him at his village at Tanda Mota in District Jehlam now in Pakistan
Sikh Gurus' association with the Vanjaras made them devoted followers of the Gurus. Two of them played role in Sikh history viz. Makhan Shah and Lakhi Shah.8 According to Bhai Santokh Singh, Makhan Shah’s ship full of different commodities meant for trading caught up in a storm. His life and goods were in great danger. In this hour of difficulty, he prayed to God and Guru Nanak to help him to safety. He vowed that if he escaped the apprehended shipwreck, he would donate to the Guru one tenth of the profit of earnings from the ship. His prayer was answered and he was thankful for the divine mercy bestowed on him. He had first gone to Delhi, but on hearing that Guru Harkrishan had passed away and his successor was at Bakala, he went to Bakala. He was greatly bewildered to see many Gurus, each of them claiming that he was the true Guru and others were imposters. Makhan Shah decided to visit all the Gurus one by one and offered two Gold Mohars to each one of them. When in the end he made his offerings to Guru Teg Bahadur, he found that the Guru reminded him of his pledge. He was convinced that he was the real Guru. Immediately he made offerings in full to the Guru and ascended to the top of the house in shouted aloud, "I have found the Guru", (Guru Ladho Re), Makhan Shah’s presence with a number of his employees changed the situation. Dhir Mal was annoyed and his Masand Shihan attacked the Guru and aimed the bullet at Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib, but he missed the target. When the Sikhs heard about this, Shihan alongwith the property of Dhir Mal were forcibly brought before the Guru by Makhan Shah with the Sangat. The Guru asked them to return the property alongwith original copy of Sri Granth Sahib prepared by Guru Arjan Dev which was written by Bhai Gurdas. Shihan Masand apologized and was forgiven by the Guru. The original copy of Adi Granth was returned also.
Bhai Santokh Singh is of the view that Makhan Shah Lubana accompanied the Guru to Amritsar and remained with the Guru till the foundation of Chak Nanaki / Anandpur Sahib which was established by Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib. Makhan Shah contributed alongwith the Sangat for the purchase of land.9 Later on he took leave from the Guru. The Guru told him to remember the name of God and spread Sikhism at the places where he lived.
Lakhi Shah was the son of Godhu Ram of Khairpur in Muzfragarh district of Pakistan. He belonged to Vanjara tribe. Lakhi Shah was an affluent man. He was a devoted disciple of Sikh Gurus. He was resident of Village Raisina. Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib embraced Martrydom on 11th November, 1675. As the Guru’s body lay in Chandni Chowk (Delhi) after execution, Lakhi Shah accompanied by his son Nagahia passed by the site with his convoy of carts. He carried off the headless trunk of the Guru in one of the carts and took it to his village Raisina. Since cremation was impossible, he set his house in flames alongwith the body. When the Sikhs occupied Delhi, in 1783 A.D., surrounding land was attached to the Gurdwara.10
1.Roads & Communications in Mughal India Abul Khair Muhemmod Fasrooque, Idarah-i-Adaleiyat-i-, Delhi
2. Encyclopaedia of Sikhism abridged by Dharam Singh, 2013, page 704.
3. Roads and Communications in Mughal lndia, Page 66.
4. Roads and Communications in Mughal India, Page 66)
5. Roads and Communications in Mughal lIndia, Abul Khair Muhammod Fasrooque, Page 67-69
6. Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908, Vol. 230, Page 221.
7. Guru Granth Sahib, Page 74
8. Makhan Shah, Gurpartp Suraj Granth, Rass 11, Chapter
9. Gurpartap Suraj Granth, Ras 11, Chapters 3-17.
10. Encyclopaedia of Sikhism abridged by S. Dharam Singh vide Lakhi Shah.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All