On the origin of the Punjabi Khatris


Rajesh Kochhar

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This essay first describes how the question of Punjabi Khatri identity arose as part of colonial ethnology. It then briefly reviews the structure and the legends. Finally a hypothesis is  proposed to explain the origin of the Khatri caste and its relationships:


i.                    Persons of Greek extraction who had already been  Persianized and were located in the north-west India were absorbed by the   ( upper) Punjab Kshatriya clans. Khatri, Arora and Sood are products of this alliance. 

ii.                  These Greeks  carried a taint because  they  were of mixed pedigree,ate beef and otherwise also did not submit themselves to Brahminical discipline. 

iii.               The taint was transferred to the  Punjab Kshatriya clans who accepted them in marriage.

iv.               Khatris in Punjab were able to enlist Brahmin support for themselves and self-consciously insisted on calling themselves Khatri. 

v.                 Their brethren who migrated to Punjab hills were not so fortunate. Since the dominant position there was held by the Rajputs, and since Brahmin orthodoxy was strong , they were pushed down in the hierarchy and dubbed Sood. Note that both Khatri and Sood are  derived from varna names. 

vi.               For some reason, Aroras split from the Khatris and  established matrimonial alliances in lower Punjab and Sind. 

vii.             In course of time, structure appeared within the Khatri caste, which loosely split into Char-ghar and Bunjai. From among the later,  Sarin and Khukhrain became autonomous. 

It should be possible to test or refine the hypothesis by carrying out DNA tests on carefully selected population samples drawn from various castes, sub-castes  and clans



Punjabi Khatris are a numerically small but otherwise successful and influential caste group.  Many students of current affairs probably know that the community has contributed two prime ministers to India: Inder Kumar Gujral and Dr Manmohan Singh who does not use his Kohli surname. 

Though their caste appellation is obviously derived from Kshatriya, denoting the ancient Indian warrior class, the Khatris have traditionally been engaged in professions associated elsewhere with Banias and Kayasthas. They have thus been predominantly though not exclusively traders, merchants and bankers as well as administrative and revenue officials. 

From their original habitat in (the undivided) Punjab, the Khatris spread eastwards as far as West Bengal and Orissa and southwards into Gujarat.  One of the biggest landowners in the erstwhile Bengal presidency was the Raja of Burdwan, a Punjabi Khatri from the Kapur clan whose ancestor had come over in the mid 17th century as a petty revenue official. The Mahtabs of Orissa are also believed to be of Khatri extraction. 


Colonial ethnology

Punjabi Khatris became conscious of their caste identity about 125 years ago. The British with their fetish for categorization and documentation felt that all extant Indian castes should be fit into the Vedic framework of the four varnas. “It was decided by the Government of India in 1885 to make a comprehensive field survey for precise information about the way of life, manners and customs, rituals, marriage practices etc. of the tribes, castes, sub-castes of the country for better administration and ethnographic research.” The task was assigned to a Bengal Indian Civil Service Officer, Herbert Hope Risley, who in 1891-92 published his The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, after “six years of intensive study and survey”. Much to the chagrin of the Khatris through out north India, Risley declared that “If then, it is at all necessary to connect the Khatris with the ancient fourfold system of castes, the only group to which we can affiliate them is the Vaisyas” ( quoted in Seth 1905:iii). 

This was unacceptable to the Khatris for whom the villain of the piece was   “One Babu Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya, M.A., of Bengal”. Risley had based his conclusion on the study by Bhattacharya who in turn was alleged to have   deliberately degraded the Khatris “ under the influence of a personal grudge against the Burdwan Raj, publicly attributed by the Honourable Raja Banbihari Kapur, Manager of the State, in his speech delivered before the Khatri Conference at Bareilly, in June 1901” ( Seth 1905:i).      

                                          The Khatris marshalled a whole lot of evidence in favour of their higher social status and, wishing to be suitably classified in the 1901 census, submitted a “manuscript volume of about 300 pages of foolscap, dealing with the question in detail” to the census superintendent for North West Province and Oudh (corresponding to the present Uttar Pradesh). The response of the authorities was rather unexpected. It was now proposed to  classify “the Khattris, the Kurmis and the Kayasthas”  all in a new group called “Castes allied to Kshatriyas who are considered to be of high social standing , though their claim is not universally admitted” (Seth 1905:viii). This “night-mare of impending social degradation” propelled Khatris into concerted action. A three-day conference of “more than four hundred representatives of the numerous Khattri Sabhas, Committees and Associations scattered over the country” was held in Bareilly in June 1901 under the chairmanship of Raja Banbihari Kapur (referred to above).The Khatri leadership was eventually able to convince the British authorities that “the Khattris are generally believed to be the modern representatives of the Kshatriyas of Hindu tradition” (Seth 1905: xiv). 

It is noteworthy that the debate centred on the position of  Khatris vis-à-vis  Vaishyas , Kayasthas and other castes in Bengal and ( what is now ) Uttar Pradesh rather than in the original Khatri habitat, Punjab. 

The results of the campaign were summarized in a 1905 book “A Brief Ethnological Survey of the Khattris” written by Moti Lal Seth, deputy inspector of schools and member Khattri Hitkari Association, Agra. This remains one of the primary sources of information on Khatris. A valuable additional and more general  source is the three-volume Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province, compiled by a British  civil servant  Horace Arthur Rose, superintendent of Punjab census operations. The Glossary is based on Punjab  census  reports of 1881 and 1891 prepared  by Denzil  Charles Jeff Ibbetson and   Edward  Douglas Maclagen respectively .  It also “embodies some of the materials collected in the Ethnological Survey of India which was begun in 1900, under the scheme initiated by Sir Herbert Risley”. 

It must be stated at the outset that  in the following, the  cultural and geographical setting, rules of endogamy and exogamy as well as hierarchical ordering,    etc.,  that are described here  are   as  they  obtained a century ago, even though present tense is  employed . There is no implicit approval or disapproval of any practice that is reported. Needless to say, various social groups are far more flexible now than they were in the past. The changes have been particularly rapid after the partition.   


General Remarks 

A caste is defined by rules of endogamy. It comprises a number of sub-castes or clans which practice exogamy.  People do not marry within their clan; they marry into other clans within the caste. The social and ritual status of a caste is assigned by the priestly class. Non-acceptance by the Brahmins of uncooked food and drinking water from a caste group would place it way down on the hierarchical ladder. (Since food is grown by castes ranked low, uncooked food can be accepted.) One of the principal arguments proffered by the Khatris in support of their claim for a high social status was that the Sarasvat Brahmins accepted cooked food from them. 

Within related castes, daughters are not given in marriage to clans deemed lower. There is a reason for that. Socially, the girl’s side ranks lower than the boy’s. Marrying a girl from a lower- ranking clan re-enforces this pattern. But if a higher-ranking girl was married off beneath her level, the rules of hierarchy would become fuzzy. (It is noteworthy that the two daughters of Emperor Shah Jahan, Roshan Ara and Jahan Ara, remained unmarried. Shah Jahan is probably the only Mughal Emperor whose all children are from the same mother.)

The varna system that prevailed in very ancient times was a simple one.  The current caste system is far too complex to be related to the varna system in any straight forward manner. Brahmins and Banias  are probably the only two  caste groups that conform to the ancient varna categories.

Perusal of a Sanskrit dictionary would reveal that many castes formed through intermarriages between various varnas. Thus Modak is described as a “ mixed tribe” that “ sprung from a Kshatriya father and Sudra mother” ( Apte 1970:449 ). Also people who came into India from outside at different times  were  obviously accommodated into the caste system.  Castes have split; new castes have been created; and there are examples of vertical mobility. People have migrated within the country and carried their caste identity with them. But the status assigned to them in their new setting depended on the extant power structure and availability of slots. While we try to created the big picture, we should keep in mind caste equations were primarily local.

It is not possible to construct socio-history of any caste group, because of total absence of authenticated source material. There are a large number of legends. It is difficult to say when these legends were created and what factual information they contain.  Many legends are a recent creation. When communities prosper and become influential, they seek to upgrade their status retrospectively. There is a widespread tendency to trace the origin of castes, sub-castes and family names to ancient texts. Nobody has ever attributed the origin of their family or clan name to a dishonorable act  by their ancestors!

If a group was alienated from the main body, it must necessarily have been small to begin with. It would however grow through marriage alliances elsewhere. Since a caste is endogamous, it must attain a certain minimum size for maintaining its identity. If it becomes too big it must split. 

It is ironical that the quest for a higher social status within Indian society required approval   from the colonial rulers. Since the Europeans were obsessed with the Sanskrit India, upper-caste Indian themselves went overboard in linking themselves to ancient India, as if there were no intermediary evolutionary stages between the remote antiquity and the colonial present. 

The remaining part of this essay is organized as follows. We first review the structure within the Khatri caste and then examine its relationship to other castes (Arora, Bhatia and Sood) which are, or claim to be, related. Aroras are recognized as coming from the same ethnic stock as Khatris but are ranked lower, while Bhatias have always been considered to be separate. Soods, residing in Punjab hills, have not figured in the reckoning. I shall however argue that they are probably closer to Khatri-Arora than hitherto conceded.

I shall then present my own hypothesis on the origin of the Khatri caste and also suggest some specific DNA tests to test the hypothesis.


Aroras like the Khatris are urbanite and engaged in similar professions. The Aroras are far more numerous than the Khatris and spread over much larger territory. The Khatris were confined to upper Punjab while the Aroras inhabited not only upper Punjab but also lower Punjab and Sind. In the upper Punjab, the Aroras were more concentrated towards the west while the   major Khatri concentration was between the rivers Ravi and Beas. Satluj was the eastern boundary for both. Interestingly, the Bania concentration lay towards the east of Satluj.  The absence of Banias in Punjab proper  and made it possible for Khatris and Aroras to take up the former’s profession. It may be noted in passing that the upper Punjab Aroras are largely Sikh while their southern counterparts are Hindu. The Khatris however are mostly Hindus. This is interesting in view of the  fact that Sikh Gurus were all Khatri ( see below).


Structure within  the caste 

The  primary division among the Khatris is between Char-ghar or Char-jati ( four-clans)  and Bavanjai or Bunjai  ( from bavinja, 52 in  Punjabi). The sub – castes comprising the Char-ghar are Kapoor, Khanna, Malhotra or Mehra, and Seth. In Uttar Pradesh , Malhotra is known as Mehrotra and Seth and   Tandon are equivalent. The total number of Bunjai sub-castes is of course much higher than 52.  The relationship between these two groups is non-symmetrical. The Char-ghars marry their daughters among themselves but condescendingly accept daughters-in–law from among the Bunjai. Since the Bunjai are a party to this custom, this means that they accept a lower position vis–a-vis the Char-ghar on the social totem pole. 

Normally while arranging the marriage of a boy or a girl, the partner should not be  chosen from the clan of either the  father or  the mother. However the Char-ghars, because of the small number of constituent clans, do not follow this dictum in entirety. While the father’s clan is kept out in toto, only the closely related part of mother’s clan is excluded so that two and a half clans are available for striking a matrimonial alliance within the group. For this reason, Char-ghar are also known as Dhai-ghar (Dhai means two and a half) (Ibbetson quoted in Seth 1905:175). It would  thus be erroneous  to  consider  Dhai-ghar  and  Char-ghar as  distinct entities as is sometimes done. 

There are in addition groups known as 5-jati, 6-jati or 12-jati ( Sometimes the word jati is replaced by ghar). They seem to represent marriage – driven clustering among contiguously placed clans. They have no other significance.  The  Khatri structure as  recorded by Seth ( 1905) and Rose (1911) is over-constructed. 

 It is a matter of immense  proud  for the Khatri community that the Sikh Gurus were all Khatris.   Guru Nanak was a Bedi;  Guru Angad Trehan; and  Guru Amar Das Bhalla. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Guru Ram Das,  a Sodhi. All the subsequent  Gurus came from the same family. Bichitra Natak  names  Rama’s sons Lava and Kush as ancestors of Sodhi and Bedi clans respectively ( Seth 1905: 61-62). 

There are two offshoots of the Bunjai, namely  Khukhrain (spelt variously) and Sarin. The Khukhrain are said to be  descendents of Khatris  who  “joined the Khokhars in rebellion and whom other Khatris were afraid  to marry” ( Rose 1911:513). “This group  consisted of  8 sections originally”: Anand, Bhasin, Chaddha,  Kohli, Sabharwal, Sahni, Sethi and Suri. To these “Chandok have been affiliated in Peshawar, and in Patiala the Kannan section is said to belong to this group” ( Rose 1911 II:509). Seth ( 1905: 215-216) inserts Kari (?) into  the list, which is difficult to identify. Ghai are also said to be Khukhrain. According to  Wikipedia and web sites maintained by  the Khukhrains, they were predominantly located in the  area between  rivers Jhelum and Chenab with the town of Bhera as their main centre. Interestingly Mohyal Brahmins, rather than  the Sarasvats,  officiated as their priests.While the isolation of the Khukhrain was  at least in part due to  geography, the  separation of Sarin  came about for reasons of social orthodoxy.


Allaudin Khalji 

It is said that the “ entire organization” of the Khatris  “ underwent a complete change” in the time of  Sultan Allauddin Khalji ( r. 1296-1316)  on the question of widow remarriage ( Seth 1905 :171).  On the death of a large number of Khatri soldiers, a royal proposal was  made for remarrying the young war widows. The proposal was eventually abandoned because of  vehement opposition from within the community. A small band of Khatris who had supported the proposal were isolated as Sarins. For the rest,  the agitation created a social hierarchy was created ; the stronger the opposition  the higher the status.


Interestingly, Seth’s account   (Seth 1905: 171-175) is couched in modern idiom. One gets the distinct impression that he is backdating his own campaign against the colonial ethnologists! Sample the following: “The subject became the common topic of the day in all Khatri households…monstrous Khattri meetings were held in all parts of the country; and party after party began to pour into the capital”. “Crowded meetings were held at Delhi to submit protests against the proposal to the Emperor; a deputation waited on the Durbar to represent the case… The excitement became a mania and the mania a frenzy”. The royal supporters “could only get a limited number of signatures to what we may call The Khattri Widow Remarriage Bill” (Seth 1905:171-173). 

According to Seth, this is when hierarchical ordering within the Khatris was created. “The primary movers of the agitation were considered to be the brightest jewels of their race and given the now proud title of dhai ghars”. They were followed by the Char- ghar, 12-ghar and the  Bunjai ( Seth 1905:174).

There are many problems with this story.  While the episode may well explain the isolation of the Sarins, it cannot explain the structure within the community in a satisfactory manner. As we have already seen, Dhai-ghar do not have an identity distinct from the Char-ghar, and 12-ghar.etc.,  do not  have a separate  entity. It is not clear why social leadership in the hands of the Char-ghar should lead to their refusing to marry their daughters into the Bunjai. Significantly, there does not appear to be any mention of the episode in the Sultanate chronicles of the time. One wonders whether it was an historical event at all.


Kochhars: a case study 

It may be instructive to narrate the story of birth of a clan preserved as oral history by the clan itself. A girl  was married into the  Nanda family . A disaster struck her parents’ family which killed all its members except for  her little brother. This  orphaned boy was brought up in his married  sister’s household . The boy became the progenitor of a new clan, which was named Kochhar for the following reason. The little boy was carried  by his sister on her side lap ( called kuchhad in Punjabi).The rescue took place on Baisakhi day which is celebrated as the founders’ day by  the Kochhars. As part of the commemoration, Dadi svaad da poorha is cooked, as a homage to a holy man who fed the brother-sister duo on their foot journey. Since now the Nandas became the foster parents of the Kochhars, they would not intermarry. Notably, the Nandas do have an assigned Gotra as can be expected from an old clan, but Kochhar have none. 

Although the Kochhars do not carry any living memory of the   original sub-caste of  their progenitor, according to Rose ( 1911 II:522),  he was a Seth. If this be true, it is a remarkable piece of information. The Kochhar as also the Nanda  now belong to the lower-ranking Bunjai while the Seth are from the Char-ghar. The creation of the Kochhar clan thus belongs to an era when a Seth girl could be married to a Nanda.    Beri  are  said to be an off-shoot of Chopra ( Rose 1911:517), although details are not  known.


Khatri – Arora divide

Khatris claim that they are the survivors of Parshuram’s anti-Kshatriya campaigns. Their ancestors took shelter with a Vaishya friend while their purohits, the  Sarasvat Brahmins, interceded on their behalf with Parshuram who in turn spared their life on the condition that they  give up arms and take to trade ( Seth 1905:53). 

There is another version of the story. After exterminating the Kshatriyas, Parshuram came looking for pregnant women who had taken shelter with Sarasvat Brahmins. The hosts declared the Kshatriya women to be their own daughters and as a proof thereof partook food cooked by the Khatri women ( Seth 1905:64).


This  legend is hard to accept at face value. Parshuram belonged to the Bhrigu clan and  is said to have lived some 30 generations before Rama and 60 generations before Krishna. According to the Puranas,  the target of his wrath were not all Kshatriyas but a specific section  called the  Haihaya.   Accounts of Parshuram’s battles are grossly exaggerated. Surely there were Kshatriyas, including the Haihaya, in the post-Parshuram period (See Pargiter (1922) for details). As far as the Khatri community is considered, if it  had taken to trade that early , it is unimaginable that  the Kshatriya label would have stuck to it. This legend runs counter to the one cited above which makes the Sodhi and the Bedi direct descendents of Rama. It is very likely that the Parshuram legend is a back formation consistent with known Khatri attributes. 

While the Khatris escaped Parshuram’s wrath through the intervention of their purohits, allegedly the would-be Aroras saved their skin by claiming that they were not   Kshatriyas    but some others (Aur in Hindi).They were accordingly dubbed Aroras and made to constitute a separate endogamous group. 

The legend must have been influential in its time because it succeeded in putting the Aroras on the back foot. The Aroras also trace their origin to Parshuram’s time, but  claim that their eponymous king Arur truthfully told Parshuram that he indeed was a Kshatriya. The sage was pleased to spare and bless him. The logic here seems to be rather convoluted. If Parshuram could spare Arur for telling the truth, why did  he exterminate   the others? 

No matter when and why the Khatri – Arora split occurred, it must have  taken place in the upper Punjab  where the Khatris lived. Once the Aroras were refused matrimonial alliances by the Khatris, lower Punjab and Sind were probably added to the Arora  fold through marriages. The legend, no matter how unhistorical, does convey the important information that the Aroras and Khatris are accepted as being ethnically  the same people, and that they separated before structure  developed  among the Khatri caste. 

I  now propose a hypothesis to explain their origin. It would seem that the insistence of the Punjabi Khatris to flaunt their Kshatriya antecedents was a defensive act, whose purpose was to  divert attention from an un-Kshatriya taint they carried, This taint , I would like to suggest , was an alliance with the settlers of Greek extraction.  It should be kept in mind that what have been  called Indo-Greeks had already been  Persianized.



Contrary to general perception, north-west India’s acquaintance with Greek elements began not with the Macedonian king Alexander’s invasion ( 326 BC)  but  two centuries previously during   the Achaemenid empire of Iran which  at its peak extended from Indus in the east to the Aegean Sea in the west. During the period 546-448 BC, the Persians made repeated efforts to annex Greece. While they were thwarted in their attempts to capture the mainland, they were able to subjugate the Greek states in Asia Minor, including Ionia (from which the Sanskrit term Yavana is believed to come). 

One of the consequences of the intermittent Greco-Persian wars was the establishment of Greek settlements in  the eastern parts of the Achaemenid empire that is in and to the north of the Hindu Kush region. There were two type of settlers. For some, Hindu Kush was a safe haven. They had earned  the wrath of their compatriots by collaborating with the invaders and therefore had to be shifted out for their own safety. For others, Hindu Kush was a Siberia. They had valiantly raised the banner of revolt against the invaders and were consequently deported. In course of time  both these  types of settlers   married locally and   partially de-Hellenized themselves. 

When Alexander encountered them, he judged them by the actions of their ancestors. Thus  citizens of  the small hill state of Nysa ( between rivers Kabul and Indus) were treated with consideration , while the Branchidae`( located  probably between Balkh and Samarqand)  were  said to be  massacred  because their ancestors had yielded up the treasure of the  temple of  Apollo at Didyma near Miletus  to Xerxes ( Narain 1957: 3). 

There were pockets of Greek influence in the Punjab plains as well. Greek historians mention Alexander’s friendly encounter with a petty king Sophytes, who either ruled the territory between  rivers Indus and Jhelum or, what is more likely, between  Jhelum and Chenab. Direct proof of Sophytes’ Greek extraction/ connection   has come from the discovery of a silver drachma. 

A notable feature of the kingdom of Sophytes was that it attached “uncommon value” to physical beauty. While contracting marriage, the people “did not seek an alliance with high birth but made their choice by the looks, for beauty in the children was highly appreciated”. The love for beauty was carried to an extreme. If “the officers entrusted with the medical inspection of the infants” noticed “any thing deformed or defective” , the children were ordered to be killed (Raychaudhuri 1972 :222). 

Greek historians also mention  a people called Kathaians who lived to the east of river  Ravi and gave a tough fight to Alexander’s army. They also valued beauty very much to the extent that the “handsomest man was chosen  as king” (Raychaudhuri 1972 :222). 

As is well known Alexander’s invasion was followed by  the establishment of an empire by Chandragupta Maurya. His grandson Ashoka (304-232 BC) in his edicts refers to Yavana and Kamboja on his north-western frontier.  ( Similarly, there are numerous literary references as well.) Within 25 years of Ashoka’s  death, the  Greeks  from Bactria ( Balkh) came down to the Punjab plains. Demetrios (early 2nd century BC) appears to have held Punjab, as well as lower Indus, Malwa, Gujarat and probably also Kashmir. He was the first one to introduce bilingual coinage with inscriptions in Greek and Kharoshthi. After him the kingdom split into two warring parts with Jhelum as the dividing line. The most prominent later king was Menander ( c. 150 BC) who decoupled himself from Bactria and  is known to Buddhist literature as Milind.  His capital has been identified with Sialkot. The Indo-Greek rule  lingered on till  about 50BC, when its last king Hermaeus was dethroned by the Pahlava who also came from the north-west. 

The Indo-Greeks were unable to expand into mid-India. They and their early internecine wars were duly taken note of by the Puranas: “There will be Yavanas here by reason of religious feeling or ambition or plunder; they will not be kings solemnly anointed but will follow evil customs by reason of the corruption of the age. Massacring women and children and killing one another, kings will enjoy the earth at the end of the Kali age”. Similarly, Gargi Samhita states that “there will be a cruel, dreadful war in their own kingdom, caused between themselves” (Raychaudhuri 1972:343). 

Dharma-sastras do not think much of  the Greeks. Atreya  Dharma- sastra , which is quoted by Manu-smrti,  mentions Yavanas among non-Aryan tribes ( Kane 1990 : 261). Manu-smrti classifies Yavanas as dasyus who speak mleccha language ( Kane 1990 : 326) and forbids Brahmins to dwell in the kingdom of a sudra ( Kane 1990 : 335).  

Gautama Dharma-sastra quotes the widely held view that the offspring of a Kshatriya male and a Sudra female was  designated a Yavana ( Kane 1990 : 35). It is noteworthy that Gautama forbids beef eating while Apastamba “seems to allow it and cites the Vajasaneyka for support” (Kane 1990 : 1990 :73). Significantly the latter does not mention Yavanas ( Kane 1990 : 73). It is recorded that a   Damodara  made the  Yavanas of Mulsthana ( modern Multan) give up cow slaughter ( Kane 1990 : 806).  It would thus seem that the Persianized Greeks, or Yavanas, were looked down upon for their mixed pedigree, for eating beef,  and  more generally for not subjecting themselves to the Brahminical discipline. 

What happened to the Yavanas? It is noteworthy that while the name Kamboja survives as a Punjab caste group, there is no preservation of Yavana in any contemporary caste or ethnic group. I would like to suggest that the Yavanas were absorbed by the Punjabi Kshatriya clans through intermarriage. Product of this alliance was the Khatri caste. Since the Yavanas had been dubbed  outsiders or half-castes by the Dharma-sastras , the Khatris deliberately shoved their Greek connection under the carpet, tenaciously stuck to the Kshatriya label, and emphasized their ancient lineage. 

I would like to further suggest that the Sood of Punjab hills are the same people. It is noteworthy that the Khatri could claim and obtain high-caste status because their claim was supported by the Sarasvat Brahmins. Since the dominant slot in the hills was already occupied by the Rajputs, Sood were pushed down the hierarchy. It is significant that both the terms Khatri and Sood are derived from the ancient Varna names Kshatriya and Shudra; they  are probably  two sides of the same coin. 

It was stated in the Khatri claims for a high-caste status that their rituals are in accordance with Manusmriti. Going strictly by the book seems to be a deliberate attempt at Sanskritization. It is noteworthy that Brahmins do not have much of a hold in Punjab  unlike in  the Madhyadesh, for example. The Khatri community is clan-driven rather than gotra-driven. Some of the clans  have two gotras instead of one. In some cases, more than one clan share the same gotra. In addition there are cases where the clans do not have any gotra at all. 

While a Khatri’s notions about his own handsomeness may be exaggerated, the incidence of fair complexion and sharp features among Khatris seems to be higher than the national average. This may be due to the Greek strain in them. Another contributing factor may have been the beauty-enhancing selective breeding prevalent among the subjects of Sophytes and probably also among the Kathaians, as noticed earlier. The name Sophytes seems to be cognate with Sobti , a Punjabi Khatri clan name. Iran also has a similar sounding surname, Sabouti. 



To sum up our discussion so far, we have made the following  points.


i.                    Persons of Greek extraction who had already been Persianized and were located in the north-west India were absorbed by the   (upper) Punjab Kshatriya clans. Khatri, Arora and Sood are products of this alliance. 

ii.                   These Greeks  carried a taint because  they ate beef and otherwise also did not submit themselves to Brahminical discipline. The taint  was transferred to the Kshatriya clans which accepted then in marriagel. 

iii.                 Khatris in Punjab were able to enlist Brahmin support for themselves and self-consciously insisted on calling themselves Khatri. 

iv.                Their brethren who migrated to Punjab hills were not so fortunate. Since the dominant position there was held by the Rajputs, and since Brahmin orthodoxy was strong , they were pushed down in the hierarchy and dubbed Sood. Note that both Khatri and Sood are derived from varna names. 

v.                 For some reason, Aroras split from the Khatris and established matrimonial alliances in lower Punjab and Sind. 

vi.                In course of time, structure appeared within the Khatri caste, which loosely split into Char-ghar and Bunjai. From among the later, Sarin and Khukhrain became autonomous. 


DNA tests 

The above  discussion is admittedly speculative. There is no reliable source material on the subject and it is not possible to establish any chronology. Fortunately, recent developments in biology can be combined with social anthropology to obtain valuable clues on questions such as  the history of Khatris and their relationship with other castes. We can take blood samples from volunteers drawn from different well- defined social groups  like Char-ghar; Bunjai ; Sarin; Khukhrain ; Aroras from upper Punjab and from lower Punjab; Soods,  Bhatias,  etc., and  study the results of DNA fingerprinting. What results can be expected from such a study? 

The separation between Khatris and Soods should be small. Since because of geographical isolation the Soods have been tightly endogamous, their genetic study can be expected to provide valuable information. 

The separation between Khatris and  the Aroras from upper Punjab should be less than that between Khatris and  the Aroras from lower Punjab. 

Given the lack of any worthwhile material on the history of Indian castes, sub-castes and clans , it is time new biology was listed as an aid. The old advice to a young researcher is very relevant here: Try something and see what happens.



Apte, Vaman Shivram ( 1970) The Student’s Sanskrit – English Dictionary ( Delhi : Motilal Banarasidass) 

Kane, P.V. (1990) History of Dharmasastra, Vol. I, 2nd ed. (Pune : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute) 

Narain , A. K. ( 1980) The Indo-Greeks ( Delhi : Oxford University Press)

Pargiter, F. E. (1922) Ancient Indian Historical Tradition (Reprint, New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass) 

Raychaudhuri, Hemchandra (1972) Political History of Ancient India,  7th ed. ( Calcutta : University of Calcutta) 

Rose, Horace Arthur (1911) Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province ( Reprinted) 

Seth , Moti Lal ( 1905)  A Brief Ethnological Survey of the Khattris ( Agra: Khattri Hitkari Association)//













13 Replies to “On the origin of the Punjabi Khatris”

  1. Dear Rajesh ji,

    I didn’t know that my roots are so deep, thanks for sharing your valuable study on this subject. You wonderful work may not get recognition form all, but to even to few it will make a mark on them.

    With my deepest regards

    Naresh Malhotra

  2. Thats some great work Kocchar saahib, thank to you for enlightening us Khatris about all this. Certianly we Khatris dont belong to vaish varna as whined by some mischevious people on various forums and websites, i personally beleive that nobody can stop us from serving our great motherland ‘Bharata” and we Khatris should keep on moving forward on this path to transform our nation to acheive its lost glory, thanks.


  3. Can you please let me know some similarity between punjabi Khatri (Kapoor) and Rajput’s (Dhakarey). I wanted to know couple positive points between them if possible… Please help!!!

  4. Dear Rajeshji,
    Spectacular work-hats off.
    I have got the answer to the spectacular success of Khatris in Bollywood, which has an overwhelming presence of Khatris.
    The impressive personalities and European looks of Khatris have stood out always.
    The martial approach to all aspects of life is evident as Khatris excel in business, defence, corporates, films,research, etc-the result of forays in all fields being success.
    Regards-pl carry on the good work.

  5. Dear Dr. Kochhar,
    You have interesting insights on Khatris. I would keenly look forward to DNA result, and it would be great if I am included in a mailing list for alerts when your conclusions are out.
    PS: I am sure you would control for the possibility that the graeco-persian connection may be intrinsic to the brahminical stream as a whole, such as is evident in the pan-indian preferences of feature and complexion.
    Arun P Sinha
    Professor of Strategy
    IIT Kanpur

  6. Dear Prof. Sinha-Thanks for your letter. I have suggested that DNA fingerprinting can resolve many issues in Indian social anthropology (as well as ancient history). Caste system is a valuable genetic lab. If we choose our samples carefully and carry out our research in a detached manner, valuable insights, and valuable scientific results, can emerge. But geneticists with a well-equipped .lab will have to come forward.I would like to suggest this to biologists stationed abroad. Of course they will require help from social scientists in formulating the problem. I am sure genetic comparison of Punjabi Khatris and Himachal Soods will be very rewarding. Similarly it will be interesting to see how closely Parsis, Kashmiri Pandits and Pushtoon s or Balochs are related. Any takers?

  7. Dear Dr Kochhar

    Truely a facinating and scholarly piece of work. Congratulations! I agree that DNA based research offers opportunties to test out your thesis.
    It may interest you to know that the National Geographic is currently doing a large scale study thru its Genographic Project. Although the sample it will draw may largely be of residents of North America, it may attract others. Please see the link – nationalgeographic.com/genographic

    It provides extensive info on the nature of the study.

    I would be interested in further work that you are likely to undertake in relation to the Soods.

  8. Dear Mr. Kochhar,
    Your study on Khatri Gives ample opportunity to understand some context of origin of words. Being a student of Ancient History, spritualism, anthropology and sociology the research work done on some very important management areas, undoubtedly your simple messages on concepts have given inner concsciousness to the readers. To understand word “Khatri” I tell you the words of my ancestors – ” We hold the sword in hands and it would be better to die than holding a tarazu (tarakrhi) in hands”. Secondly, “Paisa te Kanjaran kol vi honda hai, Izzar jyada zaruri hai, Paisa hi jyada zaruri hove te log Kanjaran naal rishte kar lain”. I think being punjabi Khatri, everybody could understand what a KHATRI means. My ancestors assumed Khatri far higher than Rajputs etc. They were absolutely Khatriya. I could not understand why the people are giving more importance to word “Kshatriya” than “Khatri”. My ancestors were very literate and rulers of “Shah” of Punjab of their time were more eager to call themselve Khatri than word ‘Kshatriya’. They always explained that ‘Kshatriya’ and “Khatri” is synonymous. I have alot to add in your write-up and very interesting knowledge about Khatris since mythological Ramayana,Purana period/Mahabaharata time and more….. Best of luck to all of the reader !

    With lots of regards.
    Ashwani kumar Gulla

  9. Dear Sir, brilliant analysis. At last a sane voice rising above political correctness.I will like to give you my own personal observations.
    Noting at physical features an complexion I have always felt Punjabis as a whole look closer to Arabs. Now I understand Jats of Punjab look closer to Arabs.Khatris do indeed look a lot like Greeks.While other Punjabis look a lot Indian.But as someone has pointed out Brahmins all over India also stand out from the overwhelming majority of Indians.An as you will expect from a much older community they look a lot mixed( darker) than the average Jat or Khatri. But I will add while Khatris and Jats look to have come from the west,perhaps 10% or so Brahmins retain considerable European features. I am amazed how many dark haired Russians from the south of that country resemble so much to Brahmins. Just as pre politically adjusted history will tell you.Particularly notice the high forehead as opposed to the Mediterranean forehead of the upper class Khatri.Really if you approach things from a common sensical perspective how easy it all becomes. I too have noted the different ness of Punjabis from the rest of India. They culturally are closer to Pakistanis and MID easterners. Perhaps that i the reason they take up western culture so easily as traditional bahmin culture was never too strong on them. I am myself a Maharahtrian Brahmin. You might be aware we are the most European looking Brahmin community in India. It will be interesting to o some DNA sampling on Maharashtrian Brahmins as well. Anyway I will like to add off topic India is so diverse but it’s soul seems to reside on the ghats of the Ganges. This coming from a Maharashtrian Brahmin but I think it’s true. anyway.

  10. I have read many of your articles but have just found this one which I would be going through today.

    At this stage let me only say, Thank you Sir, India is proud to have a scholar-scientist like you.

  11. its a very nice article…i want to ask one question srivastav belong to which punjabi community.plz reply.
    thanks with regards,

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