Bhāt is a "generic term" used to refer to a bard in India. The Bhats hail from Rajasthan and worked as genealogists for their patrons, however, they are viewed as mythographers. In India, the inception of Rajputization was followed by the emanation of two groups of bards with a group of them serving the society's influential communities and the other serving the communities with lower ranking in the social hierarchy.

Beginning from the 13th century and till the establishment of British rule in India, the bards serving the elites were at a higher position in the social hierarchy while the bards serving the non-elites were on a lower position with their social status parallelly experiencing directly proportional changes with the changes in the social standing of their patrons. From the 16th century, the role of Bhats became very important in cementing the political legitimacy of the rulers. During the British colonial era in India, the Bhats were removed from their "positions of authority".

The present social status of the Bhats of lower castes is viewed as low in the society, and they attempt to Sanskritize themselves for improving their social standing. With changing times, they are moving out of villages to capitalize on the new political and economic opportunities.


Jeffrey G. Snodgrass states that "'Bhat' is a generic term for 'bard', applied to a range of mythographers including those employed by village nobles".[1] Anastasia Piliavsky views the words Bhat and bard as synonymous.[2]

Occupation and divisionsEdit

The beginning of Rajputization gave rise to two groups of bards — "elite" and "lowly". The elite bards worked for the dominating social groups, including the Rajputs. They were composed of the Bhats and Charans who worked as genealogists and eulogists, respectively. The lowly bards were composed of the Bhats and Nats who worked for numerous lower castes. The low-status Bhats also worked as genealogists for their patrons while the Nats worked as entertainers for them.[3]

Piliavsky suggests that the "bardic work in itself was not in disrepute" and states,

...royal and low-caste bards did identical work: they wrote, performed, and recorded panegyrics and genealogies (bansāvalis and pidāvalis). [..] Patron and bard, each afforded the other a claim to a clear "origin" — one genealogical, the other patronage-based, but both existentially crucial.[4]

The social groups which had used the bardic services included the Bhils, Gurjars, Rajputs, Jats, and Rabaris.[5][4] According to Piliavsky, the Bhats who worked for the Rajputs "were the elite" and the Bhats who worked for the Bhils and Gurjars "were the riffraff".[4]

Snodgrass suggests that the Bhats who have traditionally worked for the Rajput princes as genealogical experts and privileged bards are an eponymous but different community from the Bhats who works as puppeteers and are also clienteles of the Bambhis.[6]:740 Snodgrass views the "high-status genealogists" of Rajputs and the "poets", "praise-singers" and "story-tellers" bards as "a very different group of people".[7]:268

Genealogy and political legitimacyEdit

Some scholars like Anastasia Piliavsky, Dirk H. A. Kolff, and Harald Tambs-Lyche claims that the bards played a key role in securing political legitimacy of the ruling elites. They suggest,

From the early medieval period, and increasingly with the elaboration of the Rajput "great tradition" from the sixteenth century onward, genealogy emerged as the cornerstone of good social standing and political legitimacy in Western and Central India (Kolff 1990: 72, 110). [..] From the sixteenth century onward, "every royal clan depended on a line of bards for its recognition" (Tambs-Lyche 1997: 61), and by the mid-seventeenth, when the Rajput model became entrenched as the benchmark of social status and political legitimacy, "genealogical orthodoxy" was firmly established as an essential aspect of respectable standing (Kolff 1990: 73).[2]

According to Piliavsky, to have the status of a Rajput, only having freehold over land and being safeguarded by a feudal lord were not enough. She notes that to have the Rajput status, a person also required "a pedigree, complete with sacred (purānic, or "epic") lineage, divine origins, and a patron deity".[2]

Snodgrass notes that the genealogies of Rajputs were linked to the ancient kshatriyas who are spoken of in the ancient Sanskrit writings, and several times, the Rajputs' genealogies were imaginarily connected to the sun and the moon which aided in instating the "Rajput and thus Hindu glory". He is of the view that the claims of descent from the ancient kshatriyas by the Rajputs also helped them in advancing their feudatory states' interests in the British Raj.[8]

Skillfulness and functions in societyEdit

Snodgrass notes that the bards could upgrade or degrade the reputation and honor of a king by their talented poetry and storytelling. He compares the role of the Bhats and kings in the society with that of the directors and actors in movies. According to Snodgrass, the Bhats casted kings like a sculptor sculpts a sculpture and "in the process, kings obtained their royal "caste" — that is, their name and social identity as well as their status, ranking, and position in society". During his field research in Rajasthan, Snodgrass was told by some Bhats that "bards had the power to make, or unmake, kings".[9] Snodgrass claims,

...Bhats understand, and indeed cleverly manipulate, the idea that modern caste identity can be diversely constructed or invented against the foil of tradition as imagined by elites as diverse as foreign tourists and Indian bureaucrats staging folklore festivals. Indeed, Bhats suggest that this skill was the very basis of bardic power — to imagine the names, reputations, and very identities of their lords and thus to "cast" and "caste" them in some important respect.[9]

Origin claims and demographicsEdit

During his fieldwork in Rajasthan, Snodgrass observed that the royal Bhats of Rajasthan typically view themselves as descendants of the Brahmins who "long ago composed Sanskrit verse in praise of kings" and also maintained genealogies of the royals.[7]:275–276

Snodgrass suggests that the Bhats, who according to him are eponymous but different people from the elite bards, also hail from Rajasthan.[6]:740 During his fieldwork, Snodgrass observed that the Bhats, who are "a community of low-status entertainers", consider the pir Mala Nur, a Muslim saint who is also venerated by them, as the progenitor of their community. He suggests that the majority of their populace originated from Rajasthan's Nagaur and Sikar. They live in these 2 districts in thousands of numbers.[1] They are also found in Jaipur and Udaipur.[6]:740 Some of them have originated from the Marwar region also.[7]:265 Snodgrass suggests that though these people call themselves Bhats, they "did not traditionally perform for nobility". He refers to them as the "low-caste Bhats".[7]:275–276

Social statusEdit

The social status of the Bhats had been dynamic, and it changed in direct proportion with the changes in the social status of their patrons. As their patrons moved up in the social hierarchy, their own social status also improved. Since the 13th century, the Bhats serving the royals held "some of the highest social positions" just beneath their patrons, while the ones serving the communities with lower social standing "remained on the periphery of social life".[3]

The bards serving the royals were "equal, or even superior, in status" in the society than the Brahmins serving them and were seen as "sacrosanct and inviolable". They were regarded as "the sacred brothers or sons of their patrons' clan goddesses" and were given an honorable place in the royal courts. During the British colonial era, the royal Bhats were removed from the "positions of authority".[3]

Sanskritization by low-status BhatsEdit

Giving an example of goat sacrifice as an offering to Bhaironji by low-status Bhats after the birth of a male child, Snodgrass states that they engage in Sanskritization of themselves by imitating "dominant Hindu ideals implicit to a kingly tradition of blood sacrifice".[1] He describes them as "low-status praise-singers".[7]:261

Present circumstancesEdit

Snodgrass observed that the low-status Bhats receive monetarily help from the people from Bhambi caste who give food and gifts to them. The Bhambis are perceived as impure and untouchables by a lot of Hindus because of their profession of making objects from leather which involves coming in touch with the decaying flesh of animals, something that is viewed as polluting by the caste Hindus, and because of their ties to the Bhambis, the Bhats are also seen with the same perception.[1] He points out that in order to benefit from the "new economic and political opportunities", they are leaving the villages and casting off their numerous long-term ties with the Bhambhis.[9]

The tourism in Rajasthan serves as the main source of their income.[10] In the recent times, they have started doing puppetry commingled with stories for the entertainment of tourists in 5-star hotels and during the folklore festivals.[11]:602–603 In their performances, they "celebrate" struggles of "Hindu warrior" against the "Muslim invaders". Carol Henderson claims that the palace–hotel owners of Rajasthan want to cater exoticism and nostalgia to their guests and Snodgrass says that they serve this purpose of the hotel owners. According to Snodgrass, they were not royal bards but they pose as "the once glorious, though now fallen, bards of royalty" to "exploit the romantic fantasies of tourists and folklore organizers". Snodgrass notes that they have significantly improved their economic condition by capitalizing on the influx of tourists in Rajasthan.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Snodgrass, Jeffrey G. (2004). "Hail to the Chief?: The Politics and Poetics of a Rajasthani 'Child Sacrifice'". Culture and Religion. 5 (1): 71–104. doi:10.1080/0143830042000200364. ISSN 1475-5629. OCLC 54683133. S2CID 144663317.
  2. ^ a b c Piliavsky 2020, p. 146, chapter 4: The Perils of Masterless People
  3. ^ a b c Piliavsky 2020, p. 147, chapter 4: The Perils of Masterless People
  4. ^ a b c Piliavsky 2020, p. 148, chapter 4: The Perils of Masterless People
  5. ^ Kothiyal 2016, p. 219, chapter 5: Narratives of Mobility and Mobility of Narratives
  6. ^ a b c Freitag, Jason (May 2008). George, Kenneth M.; Munger, Jennifer H.; Krause, Steven P. (eds.). "Reviewed Work: Casting Kings: Bards and Indian Modernity by Jeffrey G. Snodgrass". The Journal of Asian Studies. Association for Asian Studies. 67 (2): 740–742. JSTOR 20203414.
  7. ^ a b c d e Snodgrass, Jeffrey G. (June 2004). Bayly, Susan; De Neve, Geert (eds.). "The Centre Cannot Hold: Tales of Hierarchy and Poetic Composition from Modern Rajasthan". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 10 (2): 261–285. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2004.00189.x. ISSN 1359-0987. JSTOR 3804151.
  8. ^ Snodgrass 2006, p. 57, chapter 2: Cast of Characters: Setting the Rajasthani Stage
  9. ^ a b c Snodgrass 2006, p. 34, chapter 1: Introduction: Caste Fictions
  10. ^ a b Snodgrass, Jeffrey G. (2012) [First published 2007]. "Names, but not Homes, of Stones: Tourism Heritage and the Play of Memory in a Bhat Funeral Feast". In Weisgrau, Maxine; Henderson, Carol (eds.). Raj Rhapsodies: Tourism, Heritage and the Seduction of History. New Directions in Tourism Analysis. Dimitri Ioannides (revised ed.). Ashgate. p. 119. ISBN 978-1409487876.
  11. ^ Snodgrass, Jeffrey G. (August 2002). Greenhouse, Carol J.; Parnell, Philip C. (eds.). "A Tale of Goddesses, Money, and Other Terribly Wonderful Things: Spirit Possession, Commodity Fetishism, and the Narrative of Capitalism in Rajasthan, India". American Ethnologist. Wiley. 29 (3): 602–636. doi:10.1525/ae.2002.29.3.602. JSTOR 3805466.