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Bhat Vahis were scrolls or records maintained by Bhatts also known as Bhatra. The majority of Bhat Sikhs originate from Punjab and were amongst the first followers of Guru Nanak. Bhat tradition and Sikh text states their ancestors came from Punjab, where the Raja Shivnabh and his kingdom became the original 16th century followers of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The Raja's grandson Prince Baba Changa earned the title ‘Bhat Rai’ – the ‘Raja of Poets, and then settled himself and his followers all over India as missionaries to spread the word of Guru Nanak, where many northern Indians became Bhat Sikhs. The majority were from the northern Brahmin caste (Bhat clan),(Bhat (surname)) as the Prince Baba Changa shared the Brahmin heritage. The sangat also had many members from different areas of the Sikh caste spectrum, such as the Hindu Rajputs and Hindu Jats who joined due to Bhat sikh missionary efforts. The Bhats also contributed 123 compositions in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (pp.1389–1409), known as the "Bhata de Savaiyye". There hereditary occupations consisted of bards, poets, missionaries, astrologists, genealogists, salesmen. According to John Nesfield as quoted in William Crooke's The Tribes and Castes of the North Western India (1896), Bhatts frequently visited the courts of princes and the camps of warriors, recited their praises in public, and kept records of their genealogies.
Bardic tradition as a source of Sikh history
These bards constantly attended upon or visited their patron families reciting panegyrics to them and receiving customary rewards. They also collected information about births, deaths and marriages in the families and recorded it in their scrolls. These scrolls containing information going back to several past centuries formed the valued part of the bards` hereditary possessions. A group of Bhatts was introduced to Guru Arjan, Nanak V, by Bhatt Bhikha who had himself become a Sikh in the time of Guru Amar Das.
According to Bhai Gurdas, Varan, XI. 21, and Bhai Mani Singh, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala, he had once visited Guru Arjan with the sangat of Sultanpur Lodhi. Some of the Bhatts who came into the Sikh fold composed hymns in honour of the Gurus which were entered in the Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjan. These Bhatts and their successors too maintained their vahis in which they recorded information concerning the Gurus, their families and some of the eminent Sikhs. These old vahis are still preserved in the descendant families, now scattered mostly in Haryana state. Their script is bhattakshari, a kind of family code like lande or mahajani. During the late 1950s, a researcher, Giani Garja Singh, obtained Gurmukhi transcripts of some of the entries pertaining to the Guru period, from Guru Hargobind (15951644) to Guru Gobind singh ji. Some of these were published as footnotes to Shahid Bilas Bhai Mani Singh, edited by Giani Garja Singh and published by Punjabi Sahitya Akademi, Ludhiana, in 1961. The rest are still in manuscript form lying in the Department of Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala. These extracts provide valuable information regarding dates, places and events of the period.
Caution in use as historical source
As contemporary evidence, Bhat Vahis have to be used with caution however, for they are not diaries of the eyewitnesses. It was customary for the Bhatts to visit their hereditary patrons usually twice a year at harvest time to sing their praises and receive rewards or customary donations as well as to collect information for record in their vahfs. These records are, therefore, based on information gathered generally after the occurrence of events and, possibly, sometimes received at second hand. This may not apply to entries regarding the Gurus which were recorded by Bhatts who generally remained in attendance. For instance, an entry about the conferment of guruship upon the Guru Granth Sahib in 1708 is by Bhatt Narbud Singh (son of Keso Singh and grandson of Bhatt Kirat whose hymns are included in the Holy Book) who had accompanied Guru Gobind Singh to Nanded. On the whole, these Bhatt Vahis are a mine of information of historical and sociological value.
- Haqiqat Rah Muqam shivnabh raje ki page 624 [p.1248]khari
- The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Harbans Singh
- History of the Sikh gurus: a comprehensive study, Surjit Singh Gandhi