Qalandar - History and Cultural Relations

It is very likely that nomadic specialists such as the Qalandar may be as ancient as settled communities themselves. However, it is not until the late Vedic era (ca. 1000-700 B . C .) that we find historical confirmation of nomadic entertainers with performing bears and monkeys. Qalandar figure in sedentary folklore, traditions, and history. Their nomadic activities and pride in ethnic identity largely govern Qalandar relations with other communities. Qalandar prefer to limit relations with client communities to specific interactions and settings related to entertainment routines. Outside these situations they try to maintain a nondescript or "invisible" posture. This enables them unobtrusively to observe and gather information about community activities in order to adjust routines and determine their stay in an area. Practically every village and urban settlement is visited at least twice annually. Their relations with client communities are essentially those of professional strangers, people who are not "organically connected" to the membership of host settlements through traditional bonds of kinship, propinquity, or occupation. Thus, unlike nomadic populations of smiths, basket makers, or genealogists who benefit from regular bonds with clients, Qalandar understand that novelty rather than predictability is the key to their success. Thus groups vary their travel routes in order to maximize the productivity of established entertainment routines. Whereas Qalandar know a great deal about the structure and social organization of host settlements, clients understand very little about Qalandar life and cultural habits. Consequently members of the sedentary world tend to address and refer to Qalandar by names associated with entertainment skills or nomadic activities. For example, they are most often called Bandarwālā (monkey leaders) or Bhaluwālā (bear leaders). Today individuals, as well as cursory government census records, tend to classify Qalandar under these occupational designations and often impute separate domains of ethnic or cultural membership to each category. Qalandar are also lumped under the more inclusive and culturally nebulous ethnic rubric Khānābādōsh. An ancient Persian construct incorporated into Hindi and Urdu, Khānābādōsh glosses as "house-on-shoulder" and is comparable to English use of the terms "nomad" or "Gypsy." In dealing with the external world Qalandar also identify themselves by these ubiquitous but ethnically nebulous terms. They use this strategy in order to focus outsiders' attention on specific activities and to promote ambiguity about their private domains and actual group resources. This method of public posturing inhibits collection of accurate census, income, or other information sought by government, police, social service agencies, and others desiring access to, or control over, their private affairs or nomadic activities. Qalandar also realize that promoting ambiguous information about themselves neutralizes knowledge as an external source of power that might be used to curtail their freedom and cultural flexibility. Toward this end they actively cultivate inaccurate information about their income, traditions, origins, values, religion, and other cultural habits. To share valid information or otherwise involve outsiders with internal matters is a major source of shame and loss of pride for Qalandar. The nature of their peripatetic life-style and subsistence activities places Qalandar outside normative rules regulating caste and class interactions in the communities they service. Throughout South Asia, Qalandar and a few other populations of Peripatetic specialists are the only groups that enjoy equal access to all levels of local social systems.

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