BHATRAS (the term bhatra appears to be a diminutive of the Sanskrit bhatta, a bard), an endogamous and tightly knit group among the Sikhs with peddling and fortunetelling as their principal occupations. More than one story is current about their origin. However, the Bhatras themselves trace it to Baba Changa Rai of Sangladip (Ceylon), who was admitted as a disciple by Guru Nanak during his journey to the South. His name figures in the old text Haqiqat Rah Mukam Raje Shivanabh Ki. Changa Rai, himself a devout Sikh with a substantial following, added the suffix “Bhatra” to his name.
His followers came to be known as Bhatras. Changa Bhatra established Sikh sangats in many parts. Since Bhatras were mostly itinerant missionaries, they did not take to settled life. Having no time to learn and practise skilled occupations, they were eventually drawn into the peddling profession. Their mobility led to the scattering of the community in several parts of the country and beyond. They are concentrated now mainly in Patiala, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Bhathinda districts of the Punjab and in some cities outside the state such as Delhi and Calcutta. Several migrated to the United Kingdom where they retailed from door to door clothes, jewellery and other articles.
Their success lay in their spirit of enterprise, price manipulation and extension of credit. They were the first to get a gurdwara registered in 1953 in Manchester, and many of the total number of Sikh gurddwaras in England are Bhatra gurdwaras. With a view to retaining their identity and forging a common platform for the community, a Bhatra conference convened in 1943 set up an AllIndia Bhatra Union. The community in the Punjab comprises both Hindu Bhatras and Sikh Bhatras though the former are numerically much fewer than the latter.
1. Rose, H.A., A Glossary of the Castes and Tribes of the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. Patiala, 1970
2. Mrigind, Makhan Singh, Jtihasak-Tribaim. Patiala, 1977