Hanjis:Boatmen of Kashmir

Posted on August 13, 2010

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Hanjis People

Hanjis are the boatsmen of Kashmir, a hard-working race of people. The traveller to Kashmir gets to interact a lot with these Hanjis as they are the ones who take around the tourists on a scenic trip of the valley in their Shikharas.

Hanjis of Kashmir are the traditional boatsmen who live and make a living from the lakes of Kashmir. They are most often the people with whom the visitors to the Valley generally come in close contact. Though there is no unanimity among the scholars regarding their arrival in the valley of Kashmir, The Hanjis are believed to have descended from an ancient racial group, essentially the Nishads. Even the Rajatarangini often mentions the Nishads (boatmen) and boat bridges. Some of them even claim to have descended from Noah. There are historical evidences which show that Raja Pratap Sen introduced boatmen from Sangaldip (Sri Lanka). However, it is generally held that they were Kshatriyas before their conversion to Islam. It is interesting to note that many of them still disdainfully refer to a novice at boat craft as a Shudra.

The Hanjis are a group of muscular, hard-working and active people. They live a hard life cramped up in one or two small rooms in their boats. Their knowledge of boat craft is excellent and it is a pleasure to watch them punting or towing their boats up through strong and swift currents of the river. Small children start the work of towing or paddling at a very early age. The paddle is heart-shaped and the Kashmiri men by a turn of the wrist are able to steer the small shikhar boat without checking its way. There are many different classes of Hanjis according to the boats that they ply and live in and their social status. They are- (i) Demb- Hanji (vegetable growers), (ii) Gari-Hanji (water-nuts gatherers), (iii) Gad-Hanji (fishermen), (iv) Mata-Hanji (who deal in wood), (v) Dunga-Hanji (owners of passenger boats), (vi) Haka-Hanji (collectors of wood from water bodies), (vii) Bahatchi-Hanji (who live in Bahatch boats), (viii) Shikara-Hanji (who ply Shikara boats), and (ix) House- boat Hanji.

The various Hanji groups use boats of different types, shapes and sizes, e. g. Bahatch, Khoch, Demba-Nav, Kara Nav, War, Tchakawar, Parinda and Houseboat. The type of boat which a Hanji owns and uses for earning his livelihood or the product he deals with to a great extent denotes his class and social status. The bahts (barge) boatmen have recently taken to timber and grain trades and with the rise in their standard of life have acquired respectability over other Hanjis. The Dunga and house boat Hanji look cleaner and can speak English and Hindustani fairly well. They are intelligent and at a very short notice can perform the duties of an accomplished butler or an expert cook, a seasoned Shikari or an experienced guide.

The Hanjis are mostly found in the regions of the Dal Lake, Wular Lake, Anchar Lake and the Jhelum River, especially between Khanabal (Ananatnag District) and Chhatabal (Srinagar).

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Posted in: Kashmir