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Reconstructing Identity and Contesting History: The Meenas of Jaipur-I

Admin December 30, 2020

A study of the Meenas of Eastern Rajasthan clearly proves the importance of  oral traditions as sources of history in reconstructing identity movement among a major tribal social group of Wetern India. Prof. Nandini Sinha Kapur


This chapter is based on oral traditions of the Meenas (the largest tribal community of Rajasthan) of Jaipur region, recorded in early nineteenth-century bardic traditions Koormavilása Vamsavali of the Kachwaha royal family NainsiKayd rural records and exploration records These oral traditions continued to be reaffirmed through the twentieth century, for the Meenas lend themselves a respectable presence by giving themselves glorious past The chapter consists of three sections The first. section discusses the importance of oral traditions as Source of history and the elite perception of the Meenas from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The second section focuses on the general context of regional state formation in which construction of history and inventions and adaptations underlying these legends are discussed. The third section highlights the territorial process of state formation in medieval Jaipur to situate the Kachwaha-Meena relationship in this historical context This section also focuses on the political and economic importance of the Meenas for the early Kachwaha state (sixteenth century) and marginalization of the Meccas by the eighteenth century In conclusion we briefly introduce important aspects of Rajputization of the Meenas of Jaipur and sum up the results of the study.

The importance of oral traditions in reconstructing identity has been highlighted by historians and sociologists For instance one of the chief functions at oral traditions is protest against injustice exploitation and oppression, it helps retrieve the image of the community Since social protests have always to be contextualized oral traditions have mostly been conceived as invented’ Alan Dundes, while explaining his theory of Nationalistic Inferiority Complexes and the Fabrication of Folklore quotes instances of Scotland, Germany. Finland and twentieth-century America. which undoubtedly had a need to invent traditions These countries were suffering from a severe case of an inferiority complex and “folklore apparently fills national psychic need, namely to assert one especially in time of crisis, and to instil pride national that identity But Indian experience whether bardic of different communities or national folklore, questions such a perspective and calls for a critique of such generalizations. The opinion that folklore is always fake has also been questioned. In the context of making of identity. Madan Sarup observes. The more recent view is that identity is fabricated, constructed in process, and that we have to consider both psychological and sociological factors It cannot fully explain what most people experience.

Jan Vansina rightly points out that oral traditions are re presentations of the past in the present One cannot deny either the past or the present in them To attribute their whole content to the evanescent present as some sociologists do is to mutilate tradition, it is reductionistic To the impact of the present as some historians have done is equally reductionistic Traditions must always by understood as reflecting both past and present in a single breath. Hence, existing situations prompt explanation as to why they exist Such explanations arise ex post facto and are therefore, newly created messages .

Writing on tribals David Hardiman in his work on the Dangis of southern Gujarat, opines that it is wrong to believe in an absence of history among adivasis because it is hardly recorded The fact that they are known to have migrated from one area to another, and that they were in some cases a regionally dominant power-all indicate that their history is as full as that of the rulers whose deeds fill medieval ballads and chronicles. 

The history of the Meenas has also remained beyond record Persian chroniclers. like ZiyauddinBarani and Yahya bin Ahmad refer to the Mewatis, or Meos and hot the Meenas in their description of crimes committed around Delhi and the Gurgaon Alwar belt. For instance, Barani in his Tuck-1. FirozShal. describes the Meos of Mathura, Gurgaon, Alwa,” and Bharatpur as dacoits who frequently attack Delhi Darani writes.

At night they were accustomed to come prowling into the city of Delhi, giving all kinds of trouble and depriving people of their rest, and they plundered the country houses in the neighbourhood of the city. Their daring was carried to such an extent that the western gates of the au were shut at afternoon prayers and no one dared to leave it after that hour. In turn they were treated by the Mohammedan rulers with the most merciless cruelty.

Meenavati or Meena territory is supposed to have comprised the regions of Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur and Udaipur. The presence of Meenas is also reported from the state of Bundi as early as the seventeenth century Nainstri Khyat, and Mindesh also consisted of most of the eastern part of Rajasthan-Alwar, Bharatpur, Dholpur and Karauli. Fluidity of ethnic population in historic times does not make it an easy task to extricate the Meenas from the Mewatis of eastern Rajasthan. Mayaram opines, “Now it is certainly possible, as suggested earlier, that the Meos were a combination of many groups. Local population must have been far more fluid than they are today. Finally this section does not deal with the problem of colonial construction of Meo-Meena equivalence but with the elite perception of such ethnic groups as Meos and Meenas. Even ir we grant the distinction between Meos and Mers, did the Rajasthani elite perceive the Meenas differently from the colonial rulers.

In Amuralavyam, seventeenth-century Sanskrit text from the court of Mewar (southern Rajasthan), the Meenas are clubbed together with the Bails a viclena social group In other words the Menna continued to be portrayed act only as an ethnic community along with other tribal population but  also as anti-social elements  well into the seventh century. 

Author is a Ph D Programme Coordinator, SOITS, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi

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