Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
Tracing thejourney ofThattai Bhatia
community throughtheir culinary identity
Navreet Kaur Rana*
The paper acknowledges the remarkable contribution of cookbooks which have always played an instrumental role
in researching the history of any community. However, it brings to light the fact that there are several reasons like
migration, small size of the community or the nomadic lifestyles when the culinary regime of the community could
not be documented. In such cases, the everyday food choices of an ethnic community can lead us to tracing its origin
and journey. The paper, thus, argues that in situations where there is paucity of literature documenting the culinary
system or foodways, culinary identity of the community can become an eﬀective method to trace the history of the
community. The same is proved with the help of a case study of the Thattai Bhatia community. Thattai Bhatia is a
small diaspora largely settled in the Persian Gulf, originally migrated from Rajasthan in India and later from Thatta in
Sindh, Pakistan. The research reveals the reasons behind their distinct foodways such as abstinence from consuming
liquor, meat, garlic and onion in particular, despite their intermingling with diﬀerent ethnicities due to migration. The
paper draws evidences from their regular foodways and traverses backwards to trace their origins, their history and
the reasons that have shaped their contemporary food choices. With limited availability of literature, the author had
to depend on the information provided during interviews by some of the community members about their food
practices. All the ﬁndings are substantiated with references from the historical literature available.
Keywords: Thattai Bhatia, Culinary identity, Food history, Pushtimarg, Sattvik
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History, in general, remains an endeavor to search the
truth of oblivion of past in contemporary light. It helps to
ﬁnd newer avenues by excavating the treasure trove of a
chronicled past. is also holds true for history of food, a
discipline of scholarly interest for the last few decades. A
surge in the number of monographs, cookbooks, infotain-
ment and documentary format of food history programs
has been noted recently. e roots of recording food his-
tory are nearly as old as writing history itself . In the
western tradition, Athenaeus of Naucratis documented
in detail, ancient food habits in Deipnosophistae in the
second century AD. Contemporarily, in the east, Meng
Shen of T’ang dynasty wrote records of food consumed
in court. In the South, Indian mythology records that the
oldest and ﬁrst ever book on cookery is Pakadarpanam
(meaning e Mirror of Culinary Skills), written by the
King Nala1 of the Nishada2 Kingdom. However, modern
academic studies are estimated to have evolved around
sixteenth century with Janus Cornarius’s De conviviis
veterum Graecorum (1548) and J. Guglielmus Stucki-
us’sAntiquitatum Convivialium(1583) following which,
food history began to exist as an academic subﬁeld.
Regardless of the timeline, culinary jottings and
cookbooks have always played an instrumental role in
Journal of Ethnic Foods
O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India
1 Nala is a character in the epic Mahabharata. e legend is that his wife
Damyanti was attracted to the smell of the kitchen that clung on to him and
masked the of smell fragrances worn by other men during the swayamwara
(an event in which a women chooses her husband among any men present)
and married him when he was a deployed as a cook in the kingdom of Ayod-
hya. https:// devdu tt. com/ artic les/ chef- nala/.
2 Tribal people who considered the hills and the forests their abode.
Page 2 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
establishing cooking as a research methodology to study
food-history . Scholars in the past also believed that
cookbooks have been a source of information not only
to understand the domestic, social, or gender speciﬁc
roles but also material factors such as trade and network
. Appadurai has considered cookbooks as humble lit-
erature of complex civilizations that publicizes particular
traditions guiding the journey of food . In the same
article, he also pointed out an important fact that cook-
books seem to have come from royal and aristocratic
milieus as they were the ones who could aﬀord complex
cuisines and had resources to record and document the
cuisine . e “resources” he mentions here need fur-
ther attention as they may not necessarily be restricted to
ﬁnancial facets. For the subaltern, the resource-worthy
reasons which could be responsible for the absence of
documented cuisine of common people could be non-
existence of a functional writing system, migration—both
circumstantial and trade related, small size of the com-
munity, priority to sustain themselves, nomadic nature
of their profession and geographical conditions among
In this paper, the question under research is that—in
cases where there is complete absence or paucity of doc-
umentation of any culinary regime due to one or several
reasons stated above, can the contemporary culinary
identity of the community becomes that method which
can lead to untangling the threads of historical events?
e study will establish that a backpedaled journey
from the food on the plate to the origin can help deﬁne
the culinary praxis of any community and can become
a method to study history of the community. An apt
example of one such community is the attai Bhatia
Community. e details and the reasons to choose this
community as a case study here are discussed in the next
The Thattai Bhatia community
e community derives its name from a place where
one of the most prosperous civilization once ﬂourished,
atta, on the banks of river Indus. atta, (located at
24° 45′ N and 67° 58′ E) means “river bank”3 was once
a ﬂourishing town but gradually declined by the end of
nineteenth century and today exists as a dusty provincial
e literature available on this community majorly
addresses their trade relations and considers them as
merchant diaspora  but is largely silent on their life-
style. One more reason why the community could not
mark a distinct presence was because of their small size.
(No proper census is done on the population of the com-
munity. As per the web portal Bhatia.org, the population
is estimated to be 5000.) ey were overshadowed with
either the Sindhi Hindu Community who also lived in
atta and adjoining regions during the same period or
with Lohana4 and Arora5 communities owing to the simi-
larity in the nature of their profession. is fact is clearly
visible in the works of Curtin , Dale  and Lala .
In the scholarly works of Curtin and Dale and the trav-
elogue of Lala, the Sindhis are either referred to as mer-
chants and Lohanas or baniyas.6 In fact, Schaﬂechner in
his book about a Hindu temple (Hinglaj Devi) in the pre-
sent-day Baluchistan clearly discusses the “absorption” of
many other groups and clans in the Lohana community
. He remarks that “Over the centuries, the Lohana
community absorbed many other castes from the west-
ern part of the subcontinent.”
It thus becomes diﬃcult to isolate the cultural details
of a smaller community in the recorded works. is
essentially becomes another reason to choose their food
and foodways to explore the history as Julia Darnton has
stated that foodways are the windows into the culture
and history of those who came before us .
e process of tracing the journey of a contemporary cui-
sine to its origin runs parallel to distinguishing a commu-
tative relationship between food habits and community
or region. is commutativity in relationship is achieved
through identiﬁcation. e food habits identify the com-
munity and this relationship exists vice-versa. However,
the notion of associating food with identity is not new.
Mintz and Du Bois , in their extensive work on the
anthropology of food and eating, have acknowledged
“Eating and Identities” as one of the seven topics that
illuminate symbolic value-creation and the social con-
struction of memory. ey state that “Like all culturally
deﬁned material substances used in the creation and
maintenance of social relationships, food serves both to
solidify group membership to set groups apart”. Just like
the constituent elements of food make an impact on our
physique, our constituent food habits make us recogniz-
able in our cultural system, thus becoming our identity.
3 Derived from Tat- means bank of a river. e Sindhi word for river bank is
atto. atta is also locally termed as Nagar ato or atta Nagar.
4 Sindhi Lohanas are further divided into Amils, Bhaibands, Sahitis and Ladii
Lohana based on their profession, Mark-Anthony Falzon, Cosmopolitan Con-
nections: e Sindhi Diaspora, 1860–2000 (Brill Academic Publishers 2004),
5 Belonging to a place called Aror also known as Arror, Alor or Arorkot
is the medieval name of the city of Rohri in modern day Pakistan. e city
once served as the capital of Sindh.
6 Baniya, derived from Sanskrit word vaniya or vanijya, meaning ﬁnance
or commerce. e Hindi word for traders is baniya.
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Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
What is there on our plate on a regular day, is nothing
but a symbolic representation of our food choices. Now,
if there is a pattern in the symbolic representation of the
food, it tends to become the identity of practitioner. e
more concrete the patterns are, stronger is the associa-
tion of the identity. Just as Geertz  considered culture
as “historically transmitted pattern of meanings embod-
ied in symbols”, our cuisine has also travelled to us his-
torically transmitting pattern of meaning embodied as
Scholars in the past have done remarkable work in
establishing a relationship between the foods people eat
and how others perceive them and how they see them-
selves [14, 15]. Anthropologists following Claude Lévi-
Strauss , Jack Goody  or Mary Douglas , and
sociologists following Pierre Bourdieu , rightly stress
how consumption decisions express the civilized state,
establish personal and collective identity, and mark cul-
tural and social diﬀerences.
Whether it is the judgement of taste, as Bourdieu 
stated identiﬁes a social order or the Culinary Triangle of
Strauss, which emphasizes that culinary habits are inter-
pretable, they both lead to identiﬁcation of some sort. On
the other hand, Mary Douglus  in her work “Deci-
phering a Meal” partly disapproves of the Culinary Tri-
angle but still continues to decipher a meal which means
for her, food choices carry a meaning. She writes “If food
is treated as a code, the messages it encodes will be found
in the pattern of social relations being expressed”. ere
is enough scholarly literature on the establishment of the
relationship of food and identity. e same identiﬁca-
tion also exists for the attai Bhatia community. ey
are recognized by their Sattvik food habits devoid of
meat, alcohol, and onion. But the history behind the food
choices remained in shadows. What has shaped their
food habits to this? Or have they always been following
these food choices? Why are their ethnic dishes similar
to both Sindhi community and Rajasthan and Gujarat
in India despite the fact they do not reside there? e
rest of the paper indulges in ﬁnding an answer to these
is research is a retrospective exploration of the causes,
the eﬀect of which have already occurred. e research
will explore the history of the attai Bhatia commu-
nity with the help of their food choices and establish that
in the absence the documentation of culinary regime,
culinary identity becomes the resource for historical
exploration. e population sample under review is the
contemporary members of the community who mostly
reside in modern day Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, Muscat and
Mumbai. Given the inadequacy of relevant literature, the
author had to depend upon the in-depth interview of the
e guiding questions behind the choice of inform-
ants were two—ﬁrst that they belong to the attai Bha-
tia community and second that they are informed, cook
or are involved in practicing their cuisine irrespective
of their age and gender. e informants were limited
in number because of the small size of the community,
their presence on social media and their knowledge and
interest in cooking. e members who whose responses
are captured in this paper are referred to as informants
henceforth. Since the informants were largely based out
of another country, I ﬁrst contacted them through social
media and then exchanged several messages know-
ing about their cuisine.7 Initially, the interviews of small
number (8) of participants were not leading to conclusive
outcomes but when all the informants who responded
directed me to a local book which one of the commu-
nity members had written, the research began to con-
verge at a point. ey also informed me that there is a
website,8 which is an adaptation of the book titled Panja
Khada (meaning Our Food in Sindhi language). I, then
contacted the author of the book, Mr. Bharat Chachara
, since one of my other informants had referred to
him as the “pioneer of the attai Bhatia community in
Dubai”. He shared many distinct insights on their cuisine
and foodways in an in-depth interview, which became
the guiding light during the course of the research. e
interview comprised of open-ended questions and was
not based on any assumptions. e interviews were con-
ducted in the ﬁrst quarter of 2021.
e key ﬁndings revealed that despite the fact that several
features of the cuisine derive inﬂuence from the events
in the history, the cuisine is actively practiced in at-
tai Bhatia households every day. On asking that “if this is
really the cuisine still practiced amongst the community
members”, one of the informants responded aﬃrmatively
and said “Yes, very much. Cooked every day in all Bha-
tia household”. Another ﬁnding was the size of the pop-
ulation which the informant revealed that and “it is not
more than 10,000 worldwide, however no formal count-
ing or census has been conducted till date.” Regarding
the literature available, he informed me that the physical
copy of the book is available in Dubai and Mumbai only,
but a digital copy is available on the website panjakhada.
7 e study was conducted during Covid-19 travel restrictions; thus, I had to
depend on the technology medium to conduct the interviews.
8 e Oﬃcial athai Bhatia Food Website (Panja Khada) http:// www.
panja khada. com.
Page 4 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
com and that it is a limited-edition book available only
for private circulation. e informant also told me about
a YouTube channel called “Buzzing Recipes”  run by
them that streams 3-min videos of the attai Bhatia
e informant revealed that the younger generations
today are accepting other “international cuisines like
Chinese, Italian and Mexican” but at the same time are
fond and aware of the Bhatia cuisine. Some of the houses
strictly practice the ritual of Bhog Dharanu (discussed
later) in their houses every day and annually celebrate the
festival of Annakut (discussed later).
e strength of this information lies in its source. e
information is coming from those who practice this cul-
ture in their day to day life as a primary chore. Another
factor that helped in converging the research is the uni-
formity in the responses. ey all directed me to refer
to PanjaKhada.com which became a deciding factor to
interview its author. On the basis of the information pro-
cured in the interviews, from the book and the videos,
I was able to understand the ingredients and recipes of
the food that makes it to their plates which was further
tracked back into the history of the community. All argu-
ments in the paper are supported with the historical facts
available in the literature.
In the following sections of the paper, the foodways
of the community are discussed, their resemblance and
dissimilarities from Sindhi and Indian (from Gujarat9
and Rajasthan10) cuisine and through food the historical
references are explored which have led to the formation
of attai Bhatia cuisine to what it is as of today. In the
later sections, the contemporary food choices of the com-
munity members are discussed, followed by a conclusion.
The cuisine ofThattai Bhatia community
e members of the community refer to their food as
“Panja Khada” which in Sindhi language means “Our
Food”. e cuisine uses Bengal gram ﬂour called besan in
generous quantities and many dishes revolve around it.
Also, many recipes such as muthia,11 mohan thaal,12 sev
tamatey curry,13 dhokra14 and churmo15 show remark-
able similarities with the food and terminology of Guja-
rat16 and Rajasthan in India. is led to the ﬁrst step of
enquiry as to—are the community members even dis-
tantly related to Gujarat or Rajasthan? Since they derive
their name from a place (atta) from undivided India,
the possibility of any connection could not be ruled out.
Tracing back the roots revealed that the community
ingeniously belonged to Jaisalmer which is in modern day
Rajasthan (India). ey belonged to the “Bhatti” clan who
migrated from Rajasthan to Sindh around fourteenth
century. e presence of Bhatti clan is mentioned in A
Gazetteer of e Territories under the Government of
the East-India Company . e record mentions that
the Bhutneer or Bhutnair (later renamed as Bhatner and
is now known as Hanumangarh district in Rajasthan)
was formally the principal place of Bhattis and that the
Bhattis were Rajputs who had migrated from Bhatner
approximately six centuries ago. Another noteworthy fact
stated in Vol II of the gazette about Bhattis is that “the
religious strictness of the Bhatti Rajpoots is relaxed in
consequence of their continual intercourse with the Mus-
salmans to the westward”. Similarly, Tod mentions how
the Bhatti tribe was accustomed to smoking opium in
hookas (pipe) and that “To ask a Bhatti for a whiﬀ of his
pipe would be deemed a direct insult” .
On the contrary, considering the Panja Khada of the
community, the present culinary habits did not seem to
be as “relaxed” as cited by Tod in the paragraph above.
e everyday food of the community members is devoid
of meat, eggs, onion, garlic and any intoxicating ingredi-
ents. ey cook simple recipes with local vegetables (like
eggplant, ridge-gourd and bitter gourd) mostly ﬁnished
with chopped coriander leaves. ough tempering with
cumin and high dose of asafetida in the form of vaghar
is an essential procedure, the cuisine makes minimal or
no use of whole spices. And to almost all the curries, a
slurry of roasted Bengal gram is poured in. It could be
done to add body to the curry in the absence of onion.
is fact was later validated by one of my informants. He
informed me that in the absence of egg or onion, a solu-
tion of Bengal gram (called Channe jo atto) and water is
added to the curry as a thickening agent. is solution is
known as Mayer.
e menu also shows striking similarities with that
of Sindhi cuisine while maintaining the restrictions on
onion, garlic and non-vegetarian products. e attai
9 Gujarat is a state on western coast of India.
10 Rajasthan is the largest state of India in terms of area and is bordered by
Gujarat in the southwest.
11 Steamed, sometimes fried dumplings made up of besan. e name
derives from the word “mutthi” meaning ﬁst. e dumpling is shaped by
tightly holding the ﬂoor in the hand giving it the shape of the ﬁst and is a
classic Gujarati snack.
12 Sweetmeat made up of besan, ghee, sugar and nuts.
13 Fried besan snack in tomato gravy, commonly made in Rajasthan.
14 Steamed savory cake made up of besan and curd and tempered with
curry leaves and mustard seeds.
15 Wheat-ﬂour crumble with nuts, a distinct Rajasthani food item.
16 Gujarati cuisine uses Bengal gram extensively and vaghar (tempering, in
hot oil and spices) is a common feature in Gujarati food.
Page 5 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
Bhatia cuisine shows extensive use of lotus-stem called
bhey or bhay in the form of curries (bhay gutter & bhay
batate jo saag17) (refer to image 1 (a)) and fritters (bhay
ja pakora), which is a Sindhi favorite. Other prepara-
tions like a refreshing drink made out of jasmine ﬂow-
ers (mogray jo sherbet), tuk,18 kari19 (Refer to Fig.1b), dal
pakwan20 and koki (wheat bread usually had for break-
fast) are quintessential to Sindhi cuisine. Despite adopt-
ing many Sindhi delicacies, the Bhatia cuisine has made a
complete distance from thoomro21 (garlic), pallo22 (illish/
hilsa/palla) and other ﬁsh and macroli (macaroni).23
Also, these dishes are known by the same name in Sindhi
e similarity of the attai Bhatia food with Gujarati-
Rajasthani food is established by the presence of Bhatti
clan in Jaisalmer. e similarity with Sindhi cuisine is
indicative from the name of the community which they
derived from atta, a town in Sindh. However, what let
the Bhatti tribesmen move to atta and their abstinence
from the use of non-vegetarian food, onion and garlic
guides the research further.
Evidence shows that the Bhatti tribe from Jaisalmer
(Rajasthan) migrated westwards to atta, a town in
Sindh province . is migration could be a circum-
stantial migration as the period of their migration over-
laps with the period of decline of Rajputs around early
fourteenth century after the Mughal invasion or it could
be with an intent of trade. e tribesmen later estab-
lished themselves as one of the oldest and strongest
trading communities in Sindh who had strong commer-
cial ties with the Portuguese and in the Gulf of Arabian
Sea, especially Masqat (modern day Muscat) . After
late eighteenth century, they were clearly referred to as
merchants as also classiﬁed by Scott Levi in his research
on Indian diaspora as “merchant diaspora” . Even so,
a sudden transition from being a warrior clan to being
traders doesn’t seem to be perceivably possible.24 A web
portal25 on Bhatias mentions that in the early 1400’s, they
Fig. 1 a Seyal bhey patata; b Sindhi kari. Source: Sindhi Rasoi: Sindhi Vegetarian & Vegan Recipes https:// sindh irasoi. com/
17 Both curries made up of potato and lotus stem. Sindhi have a special liking
for lotus-stem and lotus seed.
18 Twice fried and spiced potato, yam or taro root.
19 A curry of Bengal gram with vegetables like drumsticks, okra, banana
peels, lotus-stem soured with kokum (fruit used as souring agent). Sindhi
kari is an essential item on the menu during wedding ceremonies.
20 A combination of spiced and tempered Bengal gram curry and wheat or
reﬁned ﬂour crisps which serves as a breakfast recipe.
21 Several Sindhi dishes are based on garlic only for ﬂavour like thoom
ja vada meaning a patty made up of garlic greens, something completely
absent from Bhatia cuisine.
22 Palla or pallo (Tenualosa ilisha) also known as illish or hilsa. It is a Sin-
dhi delicacy and holds a sacred place in their lives. It was abundantly found
in Indus and was locally called Darya ka phool, meaning the ﬂower of the
river. Jhulelal, the deity of Sindhis is believed to ride on a palla (Fig.2). Palla
ﬁnds no place in the Bhatia cuisine.
23 Macroli or what we commonly known as macaroni has found a place
in Sindhi cuisine. Macroli phoolpatasha (macaroni and dried lotus seed/
fox nut) and macroli patata (macaroni and potato curry) are the dishes of
Sindhi cuisine. It is believed that Sindhi got introduced to macaroni during
their trade relations with Europeans. However, no account of this is found in
24 Burton has documented a mythological story which suggests that the
Pokarno, the priests of the Bhatiya Banyans (banias, traders) were cursed by
Goddess Parvati for refusing to eat ﬂesh, they had to migrate from Jaisalmer
to Sindh, Richard F Burton, Sindh, and the races that inhabit the valley of the
Indus; with notices of the topography and history of the Province (WH Allen
& Co. 1851) 317.
25 www. bhati as. org.
Page 6 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
were approached by the king of atta, who sought their
help in putting down a rebellion in his kingdom. e
Bhatias fought heroically and won back the king’s land.
Obliged for their help, the king asked them to settle in
atta itself. Yet, no historical evidence of this story is
found in the literature.
Nonetheless, the Bhatias settled in atta and as men-
tioned in the beginning of the paper, it is from atta in
Sindh, the community derived its name. Also, it is their
stay in atta and neighboring regions, the striking simi-
larity of their food with Sindhi cuisine is explained. How-
ever, their constraint from consuming animal products
and onion and garlic remains unanswered.
e answer was found in the scholarly works of Rich-
ardson  and Burton  that the community mem-
bers adopted Vaishnavism,26 a faith-inspired path of
life. In the ﬁfteenth century, Swami Vallabhacharya
(1473–1531), a philosopher of the Pushti sect27 of Vaish-
navism  visited Kutch, on the other side of Indus (on
the banks of which lies atta). e devotees from atta
crossed the river to hear the sermons and thereafter
became the followers of Pushtimarg.28 e recognition of
Narayan Sarovar (Refer to the map in Fig.3) in Kutch on
the other side of Indus, as one of the 84 seats (baithaks)
of Pushtimarg tradition in India  ascertains the fact
for the seats are sites where Vallabhacharya recited dis-
courses from sacred scriptures.
Richard Burton in his work on the races in Sindh (1851)
further writes that it was the followers of Vishnu who
are forbidden to drink spirituous liquor or to eat meat,
egg, ﬁsh, and onions . He also writes that the priest
of bhatias who worship Maharaja, an avatar of Vishnu is
Fig. 2 The map depicting the location of Narayan Sarovar in Kutch. Source: “Chapter XIII: Places of Interest” in Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency:
Cutch, Palanpur, and Mahi Kantha (Government Central Press 1880)
26 e followers of Lord Vishnu, the other contemporary sect being Shaivas,
the followers of Shiva.
27 Followers of Pushtimarg, also known as Pushti Sampraday or Vallabha
28 A path of spiritual nourishment, a Vaishnav tradition. e worship the
avatar of Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna in his childhood form
known by other names as Srinathji or Maharaj. One of the most important
shrines of SriNathji is in India known as Nathdwara.
Page 7 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
called pokarno and that he wears a tilak (mark on fore-
head) of horizontal lines distinguishing him as a Vaish-
nav, a practice followed by Vaishnavs throughout India
e fact that attai Bhatia are followers of Pushti-
marg, was also supported by the informants who were
also kind enough to share certain other foodways of their
community. ey informed that that are a “traditional
and conservative” community and not only abstain from
consuming meat, ﬁsh poultry, onion and garlic, but also
kidney beans and masoor (a kind of lentil). ey follow
a Sattvik (food with spiritual essence) diet and refrain
from foods which induce tamsik gun (food which induces
anger and laziness). Another reason they restrict them-
selves from eating meat and other products is that they
oﬀer their meals to the Lord (Shrinath or Maharaj, an
avatar of Vishnu,) before consuming it. e food is then
supposed to be blessed by the Lord and is consumed
as a Prasad (blessed food). ey call this ritual as Bhog
Dharanu. As per one of my informants, many families
still follow this ritual every day in their household. Some
community members also observe a fast every month on
the 11th day of the lunar calendar which they call as Igyas.
e person fasting consumes only one meal in a day
which is devoid of grains and legumes. Apart from fast-
ing, they also observe a ritual of feasting which is called
Annakut (meaning mountain of food) and prepare a meal
of 56 sattvik dishes. e meal is called chhappanbhog
(Chhapan means numeral 56 and bhog means oﬀering)
and is oﬀered on the day of Goverdhan Puja. Goverdhan
is the name of the mountain in Mathura, (northern India)
which Lord Krishna (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) lifted on
his little ﬁnger when he was just 7years old and held it
for 7 days to protect the natives from incessant rains.
To pay their homage to the lord, the villagers prepared
56 food items considering oﬀering 8 items per day for
7days. Toomey  has described, how signiﬁcant the
festival of Annakut is for Vaishnav followers and how it is
celebrated across various places.
With these foodways in sight, it can be supposed
that the faith of the community in Pushtimarg played a
crucial role in shaping their cuisine. e cuisine is still
meticulously practiced by the community despite their
small size and having migrated from their indigenous
Most of the attai Bhatias today live in the Gulf
countries, mainly Muscat and Bahrain. With the decline
of the port city of atta, Bhatias started moving to the
Gulf through waterways. ey had established intense
commercial relations at Muscat by then . Several
accounts of the decline of atta and Bhatia traders in
Muscat are available in literature. Although, the ﬁrst
mention of banias of Sind occurred in Arab and Por-
tuguese documents concerning Masqat at the end of
the ﬁfteenth century. atta is mentioned as `Masqat’s
most important Indian trading partner’, and its Hindu
Fig. 3 Map depicting important places and migration routes of the Thattai Bhatia community (Map created using Google My Map)
Page 8 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
merchants, the Bhatias, appear to have been the main
participants in the trade between Sind and Arabia .
Several historians [5, 30] and Gazetteers have
accounted the story of the decline of atta from once
town of commercial importance to ruins. Edward
ornton describes it in the mid-nineteenth cen-
tury as “a town formerly very famous, but now much
decayed… situated about three miles west of the right
or western bank of the Indus” and that its extensive
ruins are scattered to ten miles in the south and three
miles to the north-west. e population of atta in
1699 is estimated to be about 150,000 but after being
marred by a plague epidemic, in 1854 the population
is estimated to be less than 40,00029 and by the begin-
ning of nineteenth century, it was reduced to 20,000
. Pillaged and burned by Portuguese mercenaries30
in 1555, atta regained some of its prosperity with the
arrival of Dutch East India Company between 1652 and
1660, but its revival was short lived as theIndus River
silted in the later years of the seventeenth century .
It shifted its course further east which led to the aban-
donment of the city as a seaport .
Despite the abandonment of the port functions of
atta, its Bhatia merchants continued to play an impor-
tant role in trade, and began using their own ships rather
than relying on European ships for trade.Traders were
particularly active in the region aroundMasqat, in mod-
ernOman, and members of atta’sBhatiacaste estab-
lished Masqat’s ﬁrst Hindu temple during this period
. Both Marcovits and Allen also state that they have
extended their activities in the Gulf to new areas, such as
the Bahrain islands [24, 29] which is where some of the
informants who participated in this research are based
Contemporary food habits ofThattai Bhatia
As far as modern foodways are concerned, the everyday
household food strictly follows the religious restrictions.
In many households, the ritual of Bhog Dharanu is prac-
ticed every day, as described by our informant and the
author of the book Panja Khada discussed in the former
sections of the paper. e community still practices the
rituals of Chappanbhog and Annkut during Goverdhan
Puja. Many unsaid rules are also observed while con-
suming attai Bhatia meal like the diner must suck the
juices from the singhi (drumsticks), chew on the cubes of
potato, yam and banana, and leave out the curry leaves,
kokum phool (wild mangosteen) and kelay jo chilko
(banana peels) . Unlike other north Indian commu-
nities, the athai Bhatias begin the lunch with rice, and
follow it up with the roti, phulka and poori (types of ﬂat-
breads). Many non-alcoholic drinks called sherbet made
up of sandalwood, jasmine and rose are also a popular
feature of the attai Bhatia meal as the ingredients of
sherbet are refreshing in nature, they are more suitable
for a cuisine developed around deserts .
However, the younger generation is quiet ﬂexible in
and is evolving in terms of their food choices. My inform-
ant stated that the newer generation is less strict in their
food choices and do not refrain themselves from trying
other cuisines like “Chinese, Italian and Mexican” and
also consume alcohol socially as a personal preference.
It is nearly impossible to study the history of Jaisalmer
in Rajasthan without studying the valour stories of the
Bhatti clan and the Bhatner Fort  which is one of the
oldest forts in India. Likewise, the merchants of Sindh
and especially the city atta as a commercial hub has
been a subject of interest to many scholars (Marcovits,
Subhramanyam), atta being one of the richest cities of
the Orient as per the chronicles of Diego de Couto .
Similarly, the attai Bhatias are a theme of great interest
as a Hindu minority diaspora in the Muslim dominated
Gulf countries (Jain, Mathew, and Khalid). e three have
been prospective research topics in their own capac-
ity. However, it is their culinary identity, “what they eat”
made us see all three of them as chronologically depend-
ent events of history shaping the foodways of the com-
munity to what it is today. eir everyday food revealed
the answers to their similarity yet distinctness from both
Sindhi and Rajasthani cuisine. It also brought to light the
potential role, faith can play in shaping the cuisine. e
paper bared the history of the community by tracing back
the salient characteristics of the attai Bhatia cuisine.
us, culinary identity proved to be an eﬀective method
to study history of any community of which there is lit-
tle or no documentation of culinary regime. e method
may not necessarily always precisely converge at one
point but reserves the potential to streamline the course
of the research. e study has established the reasoning
behind the identiﬁcation which their ethnic cuisine pro-
e research revealed that the attai Bhatia com-
munity underwent several migrations and has very small
presence but with their exemplary eﬀorts, they have man-
aged to practice and maintain a distinct cuisine unde-
terred by their migrations. Despite its resemblance with
Sindhi and Gujarati cuisine both in terms of ingredients
and nomenclature, attai Bhatia cuisine is unique and
29 It is also recorded that; some have estimated the population to be below
2000, ornton (n 29).
30 Traders in atta were trading with the Portuguese colonizers in India in
the sixteenth century. Refer (Subhramanyam 1991).
Page 9 of 10
Rana J. Ethn. Food (2021) 8:32
discrete in many ways and clearly revolves around their
faith. e cuisine provides a spread of pre-planned veg-
etarian sattvik meals and is worthy of marking a presence
on the global map. e community is now assiduously
working towards recording their history under the name
of e Bhatia History Project  announced in 2020.
Historians from multiple nations will be working on it
to converge facts from India, Pakistan and the Persian
Gulf. Probably, it is now that they have all the “resources”,
which Appadurai  referred to in the context of cook-
books, to record and document the history. is research
may be a drop in the ocean, but I believe that e Bhatia
History Project will generously beneﬁt from it.
The author would like to thank Ms. Shruti Bhushan for her help in editing the
paper and Ms. Alka Keswani for providing the images from her blog (https://
sindh irasoi. com) and for sharing insightful information about Sindhi cuisine.
This paper would not have been possible without the information and con-
tacts the community members and Mr. Bharat Chachara have shared despite
being located in a diﬀerent country.
Availability of data and materials
The data from the interviews are available with the author.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Received: 17 August 2021 Accepted: 19 October 2021
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