Saharia, Sahar, Sehariya, or Sahariya is an indigenous Munda-speaking tribe in the Madhya Pradesh province of India. The Saharias are mainly found in the districts of Morena, sheopur, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia, Shivpuri, Vidisha and Guna districts of Madhya Pradesh and Baran district of Rajasthan.
The etymology of " Saharia " is uncertain but many possibilities exist. Some believe that the tribe's name means "companion of the tiger", where SA means companion, and HARIA means tiger. The most common view is that the present designation of tribe name is said to given by some Muslim rulers (probably by Ruler of Shahbad) who found them residing in the jungle: the Arabic word 'sahara' means 'desert' or 'wilderness'.
The history of the Saharia tribe is dotted and in many places, completely lost. The older generations of known Saharia tribespeople fail to give any account of their history, and written records of ancestry are virtually nonexistent. Although traditionally they trace back their beginnings to the days of the Ramayana and even beyond. They trace their origin from Shabri of the Ramayan. Another theory suggests that 'Brahma, the creator was busy casting the Universe. He made out a place to seat all persons. In the centre of the place he placed one Sahariya who was a Simpleton. As others came, they also began to sit and gradually pushed the Sahariya to the further end of the square. By the time all had come, the Sahariya was pushed to an extreme corner or khoont...' The story goes on to say that an annoyed Brahma chided the Sahariya for his inability to cope with the pressure and decreed that he would henceforth live in forests and such other out of the way places. Others claim descent from Baiju Bheel, a worshiper of the Hindu god Shiva.
Their habitations are located outside the main villages, which is called Saharana. It is generally a cluster of houses. The housing reminds of prehistoric scenes. It is made of some stone boulders and roofing is also of stone slabs-locally called as Patore. In some villages mud structures are also constructed. Brick and concrete are very rare. They live in small joint families. The elder sons live separately after marriage and younger son bear the responsibilities of the parents and unmarried brothers-sisters.
The tribe members believe in Hinduism. They worship Goddess Tejaji, Dhakar Baba, Durga, Hanuman, Lalbai and Bejasan. Savni Amavasya, Janmashtami, Raksha Bandhan, Deepavali, Holi and Teja Dashmi are some among the major festivals celebrated by them.
Since they consider everyone in an endogamous group to be brother and sister, marriages have to be arranged from other clans. Totems drawn on paper as also made from floor are worshipped for the marriage ceremony. They do not favor child marriage and are performed after attaining the age of 15 years. Widow marriage called Nat is permitted but only to a widower or a divorcee, polygamy is permitted to a man but a woman can not take more than one husband. There are some arranged marriages and some in the ceremony in the fairs.
Every adult member of the Sahariya community is part of a council, headed by a patel. Patel's appointment is based on heredity criteria but can be removed if not fit or suitable. The council decides disputes by a consensus. It imposes fines and social boycotts on the offenders found guilty of committing rape, elopement and adultery. The inter-village dispute is referred to a Chokla Panchayat.
The Sahariyas in the matter of language, they speak the same Hindi dialects as the other people amongst whom they live.
The Sahariyas are expert woodsmen and forest produce gatherers. They are particularly skilled in making catechu from khair trees. The main business is gathering & selling of forest wood, Gum, Tendu leaf, Honey, Mahua and medicinal herbs. Their traditional occupations also include making baskets, mining and quarrying, and breaking stones. Basketry is also an important craft of the community. Other areas of activity include hunting and fishing.
Some Sahariyas are settled cultivators. Wheat, Pearl millet, maize are the main cereal crops. Gram and arhar are the main pulses. Agriculture is largely rain-dependent with merely 2% of the total land area being irrigated. The main sources of irrigation are wells and rivulets, which are seasonal. Others are landless labourers who were earlier bonded labours.
Health status of Sahariya tribe is very poor. There is long lasting mal-nutrition and prevalence of pulmonary tuberculosis among them. RNTCP-DOTS programme is working effectively to control the menace. The Centre for Genomics at Jiwaji University, Gwalior is carrying out active clinical and genetic research in order to identify the genetic and non-genetic reasons for their ailments.
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