A shared history - meet the Meo Muslims who trace their origins to Arjuna

4th Apr 2016
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Indian Muslims follow various forms of Islam depending on the region they hail from. For instance, just outside Delhi the Meo Muslims profess Islam but follow a fascinating composite culture that accommodates many Hindu customs. They trace their origins to Hindu figures such as Rama, Krishna and Arjuna and celebrate many Hindu festivals like Diwali, Dussehra and Holi.

Image: ( L ) Scroll ; ( R ) Two Circles
Image: ( L ) Scroll ; ( R ) Two Circles

In a report by Scroll, Meos are a 400,000- strong community found in the region known as Mewat, which is spread across the border areas of the three states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, they are found in the Chhata tehsil while in Haryana, the Meos occupy the Nuh and Ferozepur tehsils of Gurgaon district. But the area where the Meos dominate and have been able to preserve their unique culture is the Alwar district of Rajasthan, just a two-hour drive from Delhi.

The Meos are famous across the Mewat belt for their narration of folk epics and ballads. Their oral tradition is a rich source for studying and understanding the community’s history. Among the epics and ballads sung by the Meos, which are derived from Hindu lore, the most popular is the Pandun ka kada, the Mewati version of the Mahabharata. Many Meos also trace their origins through the epic which describes them as descendants of Arjuna.

The Meos have a distinct identity, separating them from both mainstream Hindu and Muslim society. Their marriages combine the Islamic nikaah ceremony with a number of Hindu rituals – like maintaining exhaustive gotras, a distinctly Hindu practice. One fascinating tradition still preserved by Meos is the tracing of their genealogy by Hindu genealogists known as jaggas. The jaggas are an essential part of any lifecycle ceremony in the Meo community.

The Meos are believed to have gradually converted to Islam between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries. Their Hindu origins are evident from their names, as most Meos still keep the title “Singh”, revealing the syncretic nature of the community. Ram Singh, Til Singh and Fateh Singh are typical Meo names. Fateh Singh and his fellow villagers firmly believe that they are Kshatriyas descending from Arjuna who gradually converted to Islam under the influence of Sufi Pirs.

Meos have still retained many of their old ways of life. They remain a fascinating testament to a shared history, a shared culture in the subcontinent. According to Scroll, the above is excerpted with permission from In Good Faith: A Journey In Search Of An Unknown India, Saba Naqvi, Rupa Rainlight.

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