VAṆJĀRĀ SIKHS or Baṇjārās, akin to Labāṇā Sikhs of the Punjab, are found scattered throughout Central and South India as well as in Uttar Pradesh and Rājasthān. Although vaṇjārā, from Sanskrit vāṇij (a merchant, trader), is now used as a generic term for peddlers in the Punjab, the Vaṇjārās during the medieval times formed a class of travelling traders and carriers of merchandise in Central India, the Deccan and Rājpūtānā (now Rājasthān). Organized in ṭāṇḍās or caravans, each headed by a naik or leader, they trekked between the Western ports and the trade centres of the interior. As the story of Makkhaṇ Shāh, a Labāṇā Sikh of Moṭā ṭaṇḍā village in Kashmīr, suggests, they were sufficiently armed for self-defence, and some of them were engaged also in maritime trade. Modern progress in rail and road communications destroyed their vocation reducing them to the status of peddlers selling bangles and trinkets.
Vaṇjārās came into the Sikh fold quite early during the time of the Gurūs. Gurū Nānak and other Gurūs whose compositions form part of the Gurū Granth Sāhib have often used the term vaṇjārā as referring to man who has come into this world with capital advanced by the sāhu, the financer, i.e. God. They call him vaṇjāriā mitrā (O, my merchant friend!) and exhort him to put his borrowed capital to good use and earn merit. Some of the prominent Vaṅjārā names in Sikh history are those of Makkhan Shāh who identified Gurū Tegh Bahādur at Bakālā in 1664 as the true successor to Gurū Har Krishan, Nānak VIII, Lakkhī Shāh who cremated at great personal risk the headless body of Gurū Tegh Bahādur at Delhi in 1675, and Manī Rām, son of Nāik Māī Dās, whose five sons, Ude Siṅgh, Bachittar Siṅgh and others took the Khālsā pāhul in 1699 and laid down their lives fighting for Gurū Gobind Siṅgh.
Vaṇjārās of Central and South India are, generally speaking, no longer Sikhs in external form, but most of them own the Gurūs and the Sikh tenets. They visit gurdwārās and are especially attached to Srī Takht Sachkhaṇḍ Abchalnagar Hazūr Sāhib, at Nāndeḍ. They eat jhaṭkā, meat of animal killed in the Sikh style with one blow, and hail other Sikhs with 'Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh'. At marriage the couple takes four circumambulations round the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Many of them pay dasvandh or one-tenth of their income at Srī Hazūr Sāhib. Measures are now in progress under the supervision of Gurdwārā Board of Takht Sachkhaṇḍ to integrate them more closely with the Sikh faith by spreading general and religious education among them, setting up Gurdwārā in their villages and administering to them amrit or the Khālsā initiation.
Nirvair Siṅgh Arshī