Pathan of Bihar

Sher Shah Suri
Regions with significant populations
 Afghanistan Pakistan India
• Islam 100% •
Related ethnic groups
PashtunRohillaPathans of RajasthanPathans of GujaratPathans of Uttar PradeshPathans of Punjab30-35% of the Muhajir people

The Pathans of Bihar (Pashto: د بیهار پښتانه‎), have a large community of Pashtuns in the state of Bihar in India, who are said to have settled in the region from the 13th Century onwards. These Pashtun are known as Pathan, which is the Hindustani term for a Pashtun (Mian Khan Pashtuns). Another common name for the community is Khan, which also a common surname. The name Pathan in Bihar refers to two distinct but related communities, the Nasli (from the Arabic word nasl meaining racial or by birth) and Divani (from the Arabic word diwan meaning a royal court). The former are descendents of various Pashtun settlers in Bihar, while the latter are Rajput and Bhumihar converts to Islam.[1] They are indistinguishable now, with the latter in vast majority. The Pathans ruled Bihar for 5 years during Sher Shah Suri's rule. Khan title does not correspond with Pathan.

History and origin

The earliest account of the Pathans involve Trapusa and Bahalika, two Afghani merchants who are believed to be amongst the earliest disciple of Buddha.

The Muslim Pathan settlement in Bihar began during the period of Khilji rule, with the settlements of the Nuhani Afghans in the Bhojpur region. But the history of Pathans stretches much beyond that. Ashoka, the famed Buddhist ruler preached Buddhism in Afghanistan and gradually the whole population there became Buddhists. Thus, Pathans were Buddhists before their Islamisation. There have been many reports of Buddhists from Afghanistan vising Buddhist regions in Bihar and even settling here. Much later, Bahlol Lodhi, the first Lodhi Sultan of Delhi, settled his fellow Pashtuns in Bhojpur and Rohtas region, to control the rebellious Bhar chieftains. The early settlers belonged mainly to the Suri and Sherwani tribes. Sher Shah Suri, the last Afghan ruler of India was born in the town of Sasaram, in Rohtas district. This region remains home to several Pathan settlements.[2]

Pashtuns were predominately Buddhists before their Islamisation. Many Pashtuns visited and settled in Bihar to learn and promote Buddhism. Ethnographically the original Pashtuns comprise a small population of the Pathans of Bihar. After Islamisation, Pathans came to India. When the high caste Hindus converted to Islam, the Muslim elite usually assimilated them by removing Jijya and giving them their daughters in marriage. Many Khatiks, Ahirs and other agriculturists also used Khan titles and 'became' Pathans gradually. This happened as Islam supports egalitarianism and does not support casteism. Thus the modern Pathans of Bihar are an admixture of about 12 clans of different mixed origins.

They are now found throughout Bihar, especially in the districts nalanda district, Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad, Patna, Munger,Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Saran, Rohtas, Bhagalpur, Ranchi and Hazaribagh. In addition to the Pashtun, the term Pathan also covers a community of Rajput converts, known as the Diwani Pathans, who belong mainly to the Bisen, Bais and Ujainiya clans.[3]

Some of the family traditions are still followed strictly.

1. When a child is born, they shoot in the air. Three shots for a boy and two for a girl. 2. The family has kept some of the swords and shields safe although they were in a bad condition. 3. The men shout outside the door when they enter their own house, so that if there are any women guests, they could cover themselves. 4. The family is strictly religious and they kept the men and the women quarters separate from each other. 5. At the time of the wedding, demand is made for the Dowry and the boys family will always present two gold coins in a plate at the time of the Rukhsati (bride leaving her parent's house) to the bride's family. It is usually given to the bride now a days. 6. A lot of meat is cooked at the wedding feast. Special dish called "HANDA" are prepared with beef and less spices in earthenware on the Charcoal. But now a days this special dish is going to be extinct.

Present circumstances

The Pathan proper of Bihar belong to eleven sub-groups, the main ones being the Suri, Sherwani, Yousafzai, Durani, Bangash, Afridi, Khattak, Lodhi, Tanoli, Orakzai and Ghori, all of whom are well known Pashtun tribes. They now speak Hindustani as well as local dialects such as Awadhi and Bhojpuri. Like other communities in the region, the Pathan are endogamous, and tend to marry close kin. They practice both parallel cousin and cross cousin marriages. Those who live in the larger cities, such as Patna have begun to marry other Bihari Muslims, and a process of assimilation into the wider Bihari Muslim community has begun.[4] The pathan of Darbhanga belong to mainly two tribes Sherwani,and Yousufzai.There are more than 10 village of pashtun people in Darbhanga suc as Lahwar,Ahilwara,Sahu,Nainaghat,Pathan keabae and the culture of these pathans are very much similar to pashtun speaking people. The Bihar Pathan are still largely a rural community, and many are still small to medium scale farmers. Like other agrarian communities in Bihar, they too have seen a noticeable decline in their standard of living, as agriculture has suffered a decline. The land reforms carried at start of Indian independence have also affected the Pathan, as some were large jagirdars. In rural areas, most villages with large Pathan population have the Khan biradari committees, which are informal caste associations, These act as elements of social control, dealing with disputes within the community, but there is no statewide caste association. The urban Pathans have no such caste organizations. They belong to the Sunni sect, and have customs similar to other Bihari Muslims.[5]

In Sehsaram district, very few Pathans live and in fact none of the Sher Shah Suri's family members were ever traced successfully. However the villages at the vicinity about 100 km from Sehsaram have fragmented population of the Pathans who carry their family names with them. As far as the differences of the traditions, I could not spot many amongst the different clans e.g. Khattaks and Afridis or Yousafzais. However there were many subtle differences. Yousafzais were more educated and joined the government services. The Khattaks and Shiranis work on the land. Their women folk are usually from their own tribe and they hardly marry outside the family. The Afridis are more open and they marry with other families, although the education level amongst them is pathetic.

See also


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