BHĀṬṚĀS (the term bhāṭrā appears to be a diminutive of the Sanskrit bhaṭṭa, a bard), an endogamous and tightly-knit group among the Sikhs with peddling and fortune-telling as their principal occupations. More than one story is current about their origin. However, the Bhāṭṛās themselves trace it to Bābā Chaṅgā Rāi of Saṅglādīp (Ceylon), who was admitted as a disciple by Gurū Nānak during his journey to the South. His name figures in the old text Haqīqat Rāh Mukām Rāje Shivanābh Kī. Chaṅgā Rāi, himself a devout Sikh with a substantial following, added the suffix "Bhāṭṛā" to his name. His followers came to be known as Bhāṭṛās. Chaṅgā Bhāṭṛā established Sikh saṅgats in many parts. Since Bhāṭṛās were mostly itinerant missionaries, they did not take to settled life. Having no time to learn and practise skilled occupations, they were eventually drawn into the peddling profession. Their mobility led to the scattering of the community in several parts of the country and beyond. They are concentrated now mainly in Paṭiālā, Amritsar, Hoshiārpur, Gurdāspur and Bhaṭhiṇḍā districts of the Punjab and in some cities outside the state such as Delhi and Calcutta. Several migrated to the United Kingdom where they retailed from door to door clothes, jewellery and other articles. Their success lay in their spirit of enterprise, price manipulation and extension of credit. They were the first to get a gurdwārā registered in 1953 in Manchester, and many of the total number of Sikh gurdwārās in England are Bhāṭṛā gurdwārās. With a view to retaining their identity and forging a common platform for the community, a Bhāṭṛā conference convened in 1943 set up an All-India Bhāṭṛā Union. The community in the Punjab comprises both Hindu Bhāṭṛās and Sikh Bhāṭṛās though the former are numerically much fewer than the latter.
B. S. Nijjar