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People of Haryana - Meos: Meos inhabit a territorial region that falls between the important urban centers of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Mewat, consisting of some adjoining parts of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where the Meos have lived for a millennium, was a terrain of peasant radicalism in the pre-independence period. It saw intensive work by the communist leaders such as the historian-activist Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf and others then working with the Indian National Congress. There was a close inter community relationship between the Meos and other peasant-pastoral castes such as the Jats, the Ahirs and the Gujars. In Haryana the Mewat region falls in the districts of Gurgaon and Faridabad.

Meo men are tall and dark, with ponderous turbans woven around their heads, dressed in long flowing robes. The Meos are about a million-strong tribe, a Muslim Rajput community living in southern Haryana and north eastern Rajasthan known for its admixture of Hindu and Islamic customs, practices and beliefs. Only one in ten Meos is able to properly read and write. The Meos have two identities, both of which they are equally proud of. On the one hand, they claim to be Muslims, tracing their conversion to various Sufi saints who began settling in their territory from the eleventh century onwards, and whose shrines or 'dargahs' today dot the entire Mewati countryside. On the other hand, they also claim to be Rajputs, and believe that they are direct descendants of Krishna and Rama. These Hindu deities are respectfully referred to by the Meos as 'dada' or grandfather'.

Almost every Meo village has a mosque, but in many places Meos also worship at Hindu temples. Many Rajasthani Meos still retain mixed Hindu-Muslim names. Names such as Ram Khan or Shankar Khan are not unusual in the Meo tracts in Alwar. The Muslim community of Meos is highly Hinduised. They celebrate Diwali and Holi as they celebrate Ids. They do not marry within ones Gotras like Hindus of the North though Islam permits marriage with cousins. Solemnization of marriage among Meos is not complete without both nikah as in Islam and circling of fire as among Hindus. People with double identities, Meos believe that they are direct descendants of Krishna and Rama even as they claim to be among the unnamed prophets of God referred to in the Holy Quran.

Who is a Meo? Try and insult the Pandun Ka Kara before the Meos, see the angry result and you will get the answer. The Meo version of the Mahabharat called the Pandun Ka Kara, is performed by Mirasis or Jogis to an audience comprised of Meo Muslims, as also non-Meos. The authors, performers and audience are, thus, all Muslim. The Meos regard the Mahabharata clans as the ancestors of their own lineage. The folk epic then is far more than mere "myth" and is central to the cultural identity of the Meo Muslims.  It is important to understand what the great epic means to them, how they remake, modify and recreate it and also how in the process they both draw upon, modify and critique the so-called "great tradition" of Vedic and Puranic Hinduism.

Muslim musicians, called Mirasis, dressed in flowing white Kurtas and dhotis and bright crimson turbans. They play a musical rendering of the 'Pandun Ke Kara', the Meo Muslim version of the famous Hindu epic, the Mahabharat, after a brief ode in praise of the Prophet Muhammad and the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. The entire epic in its Meo form, rendered in the Mewati dialect, consists of some 800 verses or 'dohas', and takes more than three hours to recite. It relates the story of the five Pandava brothers, whom it describes as ancestors of the Meos. Finally, it ends with verses in praise of its composer, an early eighteenth century Meo Muslim called Sadullah Khan. 'Pandun Ke Kada' is the only Muslim form of the Mahabharat that exists. Sadullah Khan is regarded by the Meos as their 'national poet' ('qaumi shair'). Today, barring a few Mirasis, no one else can recite the Pandun Ke Kada.


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