NAT Also spelt as Nut, the Nat name of the community is derived from die Sanskrit word nata, meaning dancer, a term popularly associated with their acrobatic skills. Earlier most of them were professional dancers, singers and acrobats, who were in close association with the then Rajput rulers.
Enthoven ‘ (1922) states that the name Nat came from Vajai Mata. Their oral traditions trace their ancestry to a Rajput lineage. Crooke (1896) refers to them as ‘a tribe of so-called gypsy dancers, acrobats and prostitutes who are found scattered all over the province’. He adds, ‘The real fact seems to be diar die name Nat is an occupational term which includes a number of different clans who have been grouped together merely on account of their common occupation of dancing, prostitution, and performance of various primitive industries’.
Rose (1919) opines that the Nat were a typical gypsy caste of Punjab. It is possible diat there may be some distinctions between the Nat and the Bazigar, but the two are synonymous in general parlance. Risley (1891) describes the Nar, Nat, Nartak, or Natak as a dancing and musician caste from East Bengal whom Or Wise identifies with the Brahmanical Kathak of Hindustan, mainly on the basis of a tradition that they first came to Dacca during the day s of the Nawabs.
Another theory of their origin makes them out to be the same as rhe Nuri who manufacture lac bracelets. They are spread over a number of states including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh’, and the union territories of Delhi and Chandigarh with their separate regional identities. In some states they are notified as a scheduled caste under various names.
The Nat (SC) in Rajasthan prefer to call themselves Raj Nat because of their traditional linkage with the erstwhile Rajput rulers. Sometimes other communities refer to them as Bhanmati. Their total population in Rajasthan, according to the 1981 census, is 23,225 (returned as Nat or Nut). They speak Nati, their own language which is an unclassified language according to the 1961 census and they are also conversant with Marwari and Hindi, the local languages.
The Nat are non-vegetarian and their staple food is roti prepared out of wheat or bajra. The three broad social divisions amongst the Nat are: Mala, Bidu, and Chaddi, each one of these is divided into a number of clans (got), such as Tophavat, Madhani, Chaddi, Bhatu, Abhua, Ragha, and Nagria. The Chaddi are given a higher social position, whereas the other clans enjoy equal status. They generally marry among themselves. But any alliance with the Rajput are allowed. Women actively participate in economic activities and contribute to die family income.
Earlier, the Nat depended on the patronage of Rajput rulers. Now they mainly subsist on wage labour. A few ofthem still pursue die traditional profession ofacrobatic display. However, these days many ofthem are engaged in cultivation.
They profess Hinduism, and worship Hindu gods and goddesses like Lord Shiva and Lakshmi. The Nat maintain relationship (brit) with the Rajput and Jat. Traditionally the Rajput, Brahman, Bania and other communities do not accept water from them, and at the same time the Nat do not accept water and food from the Dhobi, Bhangi, etc. They have a low literacy level. According to the 1981 census, their literacy rate is only 8.14 per cent.
The Nat (SC) living in Madhya Pradesh are believed to have migrated from Uttar Pradesh. They use Prasad as their surname. Their separate population figures are not available as they are clubbed with many other subgroups, such as Kalbelia, Sapera, etc. According to the 1981 census, their total population including all the subgroups, is 44,127. They speak Baghelkhandi.
The Nat of Madhya Pradesh are divided into different clans. They have given up their traditional occupation and are engaged in various other occupations, like agricultural labour, petty services and metal work. Various develop ment programmes launched by the government have made some impact on their life. Their literacy rate, according to the 1981 census, is only 6.69 per cent.
The Nat (SC) of Bihar are also known as Bazigar, Sapera or Gulgulia. Their population in Bihar is 24,897 (1981 census). Their mother tongue is Magahi, an Indo-Aryan language, and they also speak Hindi. The Nat are non-vegetarian.
Their staple food comprises rice and wheat. The Nat community of Bihar is divided into fourteen hierarchical endogamous groups, which regulate marriages and indicate social status. Their subgroups are: Nituria, Rarhi, Chhabhayia, Tikulhara, Tirkuta, Pusthia, Rathor, Kazarhatia, Kathbhangi, Kanwaria, Kongarh, Lodhra, Kororhia, and Gulgulia.
The entire community belongs to only one gotra, i.e. Bharadwaj. Earlier, the term Nat was used as a surname, but now diey have adopted Gandharva, Rathor, Prasad, Lai, etc. as their surnames. Traditionally, the Nat were acrobats, dancers and musicians, but in Bihar diey have switched over to the occupations like selling herbal medicines, agriculture, business and wage-labour. They profess Hinduism. Their main deity is Dack and their regional deity is Goraiababa. Intercommunity marriages are permissible.
Their literacy rate, according to the 1981 census, is only 8.53 per cent. The Nat (SC) in West Bengal are also known as Natta who are proficient in dance and music. They migrated to West Bengal long ago. The Nat are divided into four different subgroups, namely Bratya Kshatriya, Karwal Nat, Manch Rang Nat, and Gawar Nat. Their total population in West Bengal is 3376 (1981 census). They speak Bengali and use the Bengali script. Natta is their surname, but at present a good number of them have adopted several other surnames, like Nandy, Sarkar, Barman and Ray. They belong to Kashyap, Aliman, and Bharadwaj gotras. Women participate in economic spheres and earn through employment. Performing music, dance, street drama, etc. are their traditional occupations. Subsidiary income is derived from rickshaw-pulling, wage-labour, repairing things like torch, watch and radio. The Nat are Hindu by religion and many of them follow Vaishnavism. Radha Krishna and Lakshmi are worshipped by them. The Nat share water resources and crematoria with other communities. Both modern and traditional medicines are used. Their literacy rate, as per the 1981 census, is 31.25 per cent.
The Nat (SC) who live in Faridabad, Gurgaon and Rohtak districts of Haryana claim their ancestry to Ahi Ravan. Some believe that they were originally Brahmans of Marwar. The Bazigar are also considered to be from the Nat stock (Rose 1914). Their population in Haryana, according to the 1981 census, is 3991 (2125 males and 1866 females). Haryanvi, a language belonging to the Indo-Aryan family, is spoken.
They claim as many as 206 clans (got) like Dagriya, Sarsebar, Baraike, Paharike, Nangariya, Palike, Jirmichhiya, Rasidiya, and Badamke, to mention a few. Women also contribute to the family income and work as wage labourers.
Most of the Nat are labourers; some play music, and some band-baja. Even today some are acrobats. But presently the Nat are gradually giving up their traditional occupation of acrobatics, rope-dancing, etc. as it fails to meet their economic demands. Their literacy rate, according to the 1981 census, is 16.84 per cent.
They make use of both indigenous and modern medicare, and show favourable attitude to family planning for their women prefer to go for tubectomy. The Nat (SC) in Punjab are sporadically distributed in the district of Ferozpur and Patiala; and their population is 466 (245 males and 221 females), according to the 1981 census. They are conscious about their kinship ties with their counterparts living in Haryana and Rajasthan states. Bagri, an Indo-Aryan language, is spoken as the mother tongue. They are also conversant with Punjabi.
Most of them have given up their traditional profession of rope-dancing as they consider it degrades their social status. Besides, it does not help them earn enough to fulfill their needs. The Nat work as daily-wage labourers in various fields. Their literacy rate is merely 13.95 per cent. The Nat are also notified as a scheduled caste in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh and their total population figures in the union territory and the state, according to the 1981 census, are 21 and 232, respectively.
The Nat in Gujarat are also known as Nut, Nat-Bajania or Bajania. They are nomadic rope dancers and gymnasts. Nat or bajania means person who dances and plays here and there. They migrated from Rajasthan during the Muslim invasion and settled first at Viramgam taluk of Ahmedabad district in Gujarat. Enthoven (1922) attests that the Nat were a wandering tribe of tumblers and acrobats from Marwar. At present their concentration is in north Gujarat and Saurashtra. Gujarati is spoken and the same script used. Some of them are conversant with Hindi language also. They are non-vegetarian. Their staple cereals are jowar and wheat.
There are no subgroups amongst the Nat of Gujarat, but they have different clans (sakh); like Solanki, Rathod, and Parmar. They call themselves Rajputs. Caste endogamy and clan exogamy are the marriage rules. Cross-cousin marriages are prevalent. Generally, marriage is settled through negotiation. They practise monogamy with patrilocal residence. Betrothal (sagai) generally takes place in the childhood. Females use vermilion in the hair parting as a symbol of marriage. Divorce is permissible and either party can divorce. Widow and widower remarriages, and levirate and sororate forms of remarriages are allowed.
Vertically extended families are common in the community. Male equigeniture is the rule of inheritance while succession is by the eldest son. Marriage has to be performed with the consent of and in the presence of the caste council. Seemanth is performed in the seventh month of pregnancy. Name-giving ceremony is performed after one month and seven days of birth followed by tonsure (bal utarana) at the age of one year. Marriage rituals include sagai, haldipitti, chaklapujan, four circumambulation (phera) round the sacred fire, and hast-milap. They bury their dead. Barmi is observed on the twelfth day after death with the shardh and bathsi every year as annual shardh malina.
The Nat pursue their traditional occupation and are nomadic by nature. Rope-tricks and dancing serves as the main source of income in the villages. But masonry work and industrial labour have attracted quite a number of them.
Their traditional caste council at regional and local levels is very strict in the enforcement of rules and regulations. A sacred specialist is mostly from their own community. The Nat are Hindu by religion. Because of their nomadic nature they do not settle in one place enough to form permanent relations with other castes. The Nat in Gujarat show a low literacy rate. Most of the members of the community favour modern medicines and family planning. Government schemes are not being utilized by them.
See also: BAZIGAR, KALABAZ, KANJARD
Crooke, W., The Tribes and Castes ofthe North-Western India (Calcutta: Government Printing Press, 1896; rpt. 1975, Delhi: Cosmo Publications), vol. IV, pp. 56-7.
Enthoven, R.E., The Tribes and Castes ofBombay (Bombay: Government Central Press, 1922; rpt. 1975, Delhi: Cosmo Publications), vol. HI, p. 126.
Risley, H.H., The Tribes and Castes of’Bengal(Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press, 1891; rpt. 1981, Calcutta: Firma Mukhopadhyay), vol. 11, pp. 129-30.
Rose, HA, Glossary ofthe Tribes and Castes ofthe Punjab attdN. W.F. Province (Lahore: Civil & Military Gazette Press, 1919; rpt. 1980; Delhi: Amar Prakashan), vol. HI, pp. 163-5.
Russell, R.V. and Hiralal, The Tribes and Castes ofthe CentralProvinces ofIndia (London: Macmillan and Company, 1916; rpt. 1975, Delhi: Cosmo Publications), pp. 286-94.