Meo



ETHNONYMS: Mewāti, Mina, Mina Meo


Representing the largest part of the Muslim population in Rajasthan, the Meos number approximately 600,000 (according to 1984 data). They are crowded into the Alwar and Bharatpur districts in the northeastern part of the state, as well as in the Gurgaon District of the adjacent state of Haryana. The areas of the three districts where they live are collectively called Mewat, a reference to their supremacy in the area. Meos speak Rajasthani, a language of the Indo-Iranian part of the Indo-European Family. The Meos pursue many different service occupations and are known as bangle sellers, dyers, butchers, water carriers, and musicians, among others.

Like most Indian Muslims, the Meos were originally Hindu; when and how their conversion to Islam came about is unclear. It seems probable they were converted in stages: first by Salar Masud in the eleventh century, by Balban in the thirteenth century, and then during Aurangzeb's rule in the seventeenth century. The Meos insist on Rajput descent for the entire community. For years the Meos blended both Hindu and Muslim customs in their culture. For example, the popular names for both males and females were Hindu, but Muslim names were given as well, and the Muslim title Khan was added to a Hindu name. Two major Islamic rituals observed by the Meos were male circumcision and burial of the dead. Most of the Hindu festivals and ceremonies were maintained. The Muslim festivals, such as the two Ids, Shab-e-barat, and Muharram, were practiced. Reading the Quran was less well liked than the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and Hindu shrines outnumbered the mosques in Mewat. Few Meos prayed in the Muslim manner but most worshiped at the shrines of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Since 1947, however, with the partition of India, a revival of Islamic tradition has forced many Meos to conform to Islamic norms. In addition, many Meos have emigrated to Pakistan.

Although the Meos today follow most Muslim customs, they still follow traditional Hindu marriage rituals and kinship patterns. Cousin marriage is still taboo among this group. Attempts to break this tradition have met strong opposition. In addition, Meos do not observe the Muslim tradition of secluding their women. Meo society is divided into at least 800 exogamous clans. Some of the clan organizations resemble those of the Rajputs, but others seem to have connections with Hindu castes such as Brahmans, Minas, Jats, and Bhatiaras. Apparently the Meos come from many Hindu castes and not just the Rajputs.


Bibliography

Aggarwal, Partap C. (1984). "Meos." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, 518-521. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.


Crooke, William (1896). "Meo." In The Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh. Vol. 3, 485-495. Calcutta: Government of India Central Printing Office.


Russell, R. V., and Hira Lal (1916). "Meo, Mewāti." In The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, edited by R. V. Russell and Hira Lal. Vol. 4, 233-235. Nagpur: Government Printing Press. Reprint. 1969. Oosterhout: Anthropological Publications.

JAY DiMAGGIO

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