ETHNONYMS: Patel, Patidar
The Kanbi are a large endogamous caste living in the Kheda District of Gujarat State, India. They are the most numerous of the high castes (e.g., Brahman, Bania, and Patidar) in this district. The name "Kanbi" is said to be derived from katumbi (householder). In 1931 the caste name was changed from Kanbi to Patidar in recognition of an elevation in overall caste status. The information in this summary has been drawn from David F. Pocock's 1972 study of the Patidar in Gujarat. The Kanbi call their homeland Charotar (the pleasant land). The area is a flat alluvial plain of some 65 square kilometers within the Kheda District of Gujarat. In 1971 the Kheda District had a total population of slightly under 2 million. The lingua franca of this region is Gujarati, an Indo-Aryan language.
History and Cultural Relations
In the nineteenth century, the Leva Kanbi (one of the two large divisions of the Kanbi) were appointed by the Moguls and Marathas as revenue-collection officers. Some of these Kanbi had attained patidari rights (i.e., ownership of cultivable strips of land, known as pati, that could be sublet for profit). Generally when revenue was being collected, an assessment was charged to a particular village. This assessment was divided according to the lineal divisions of the village, each of which paid a certain proportion of the fee. Senior members of divisions kept some land that was owned jointly by members of the division. The remainder was sublet as pati. Two classes of individuals rented these lands: tenants at will and hereditary tenants. Many of these hereditary tenants also had patidari rights. By the middle of the nineteenth century, some twenty-seven Kanbi villages had attained considerable wealth; of these, fifteen had an aristocracy of large landowners with developing interests in foreign commerce. These were considered to be Patidar; the remainder were considered to be Kanbi. These villages retained their wealth well into the twentieth century; they benefited extensively from British efforts to increase productivity in land yield through cultivation. In addition, twentieth-century foreign trade with east Africa brought an increase in revenue that was invested in land and property development in the Kheda District.
Castes are assigned respective living areas within a typical Kanbi village, each of which has individual access to agricultural fields. Villages do not adhere to an established urban plan. A village square (containing temples, shrines, and offices for government officials) is located near the village entrance. A talav (tank) containing the water supply is located near the square. A typical house is constructed of mud, wood, and thatch. The home of a more affluent landowner is similarly constructed, but a superior grade of wood is used. Brick and iron are also used in the construction of homes for wealthy Kanbi.
Some Kanbi own land as shareholders while others work as tenant farmers. Agriculture is the major subsistence activity. Crops grown include several varieties of millet (including spiked millet), pigeon peas, rice, cluster beans, sesame, castor, chilies, and spices. Other vegetables are purchased from vendors locally and beyond the village confines. Cotton and tobacco are also cultivated. The more wealthy Kanbi supplement their income through investment, trade, industry, and commercial activities. The Kanbi have a cash economy and produce few implements. Wealthy Kanbi families engage in a variety of professional, industrial, and trade-related activities (foreign and domestic). In exchange for services rendered by several servant and specialized castes, the Kanbi settle their accounts in cash or by means of barter (e.g., with grain). Occupational specialization obtains in Kanbi villages. Specialized castes (e.g., Brahmans, barbers, washers, potters, carpenters, tailors, and shopkeepers) provide important services. Men work agricultural fields and women prepare meals, handle household chores, and care for domestic animals.
The village, village division, and natal group are the most basic social units in Kanbi society. In leading Kanbi villages, the Kanbi are descendants of one man (a founding ancestor); in some villages, a minority lineage that predates the founding ancestor may also exist. In large villages, the descendants of a common ancestor build a compound (chok or khadaki ) together. In wealthy villages, all members of the compound are agnatically related. At one time, these compounds may have served as home to several generations. By 1972, they housed little more than joint families of two generations' depth. Secession (and lineal segmentation) may take place; however, this is a rare occurrence. Compounds of this sort are not usually found in smaller Kanbi villages. The bhayat (small division consisting of four or five generations) also figures prominently in Kanbi social structure. It is the closest group of mutual cooperation outside the family. Patrilineal descent is the Kanbi norm.
Monogamous unions are normative. Extramarital liaisons of male and female spouses are not unusual. Hypergamy is practiced and ekuda (marriage circles) exist whose members must intermarry. The father of the bride is ceremonially and financially the inferior party in marital negotiations and is required to pay an exorbitant fee in order to secure a son-in-law of suit able social standing. Postmarital residence is patrilocal. The joint family, consisting of either a couple together with their children or a large group extending five or more generations, is the basic domestic unit. Male children inherit the parental estate. During his lifetime, a father is the manager of the ancestral estate, but no part of this estate may be encumbered without the consent of his sons. By birth they are entitled to be coparceners with their father. If the ancestral estate remains undivided after the death of the father, the eldest son becomes its manager and all family members have a right to maintenance from its proceeds. The responsibility for the raising of children is assumed largely by the mother, but it is shared to some extent by all members of the joint family.
Gujarati society is rigidly stratified. The Kanbi are the most influential caste (below the Brahmans) in the Kheda District. Within the caste, social inequities obtain. These are based chiefly on wealth. In addition, the marital obligations enforced by the ekuda serve as the foundation for yet another level of social distinction within Kanbi culture. Regulations governing the nature and extent of social relations internally and between castes provide the basis upon which social control is maintained.
Religion and Expressive Culture
The Kanbi are adherents of Hinduism. Brahmans function in a sacerdotal capacity for the Kanbi family. They function as marriage priests and also officiate at ceremonies marking the beginning of the new year, etc. The nature of Kanbi religious ceremonies remains a mystery. It has been suggested by some that the origin of these rites is Vedic. Others believe them to be of syncretic origin. The confusion is due in part to the fact that the Kanbi are not served by a single Brahman caste. Whatever the case may be, it is likely that these ceremonies do contain a Brahmanic core to which additional elements have been added.
Pocock, David F. (1972). Kanbi and Patidar: A Study of the Patidar Community of Gujarat. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
HUGH R. PAGE, JR.