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A bhishti in India, 1870
Regions with significant populations
India • Pakistan
Bhesties, an 1838 illustration showing Bhishtis
A Bhishti in 1880

The Bhishti or Bahishti are a Muslim tribe or biradari found in North India, Pakistan and Nepal. They are also known as Abbasi, Bahishti Abbasi, Sheikh Abbasi and Saqqa. They often use the surnames Abbasi or Sheikh Abbasi. The Sheikh Abbasi belongs to the Arab tribe Banu Abbas. Bhistis traditionally served as water-carriers in the military.


The first recorded Bhisti in history was Bhisti "Hazrat Abbas" traced back to 680 AD. During the war being fought by Imam Husayn and his army in Damascus, Abbas died crossing the Furat river (Euphrates) to bring water to Husayn and his army.[1]

Bhishtis trace their ancestry to Hazrat Abbas, son of the fourth Rashidun Caliph, Imam Ali. Hazrat Abbas was known for his bravery and devotion to Islam, which earned him numerous titles. One of them was 'Saqqa' or water-carrier, a honorific bestowed after the battle of Karbala in Iraq (680 CE), in which he sacrificed his life to fetch water for his half-brother Imam Hussain's children. Lucknow is still home to Dargah Hazrat Abbas, built to honour the sacrifice of the original water-bearer. During the Uprising of 1857, the shrine provided assistance to the Indian sepoys and Begum Hazrat Mahal. True to their origin on the battlefields of Karbala, the bhishtis continued to play an important role in the Subcontinent's military history through the Mughal and British eras. The water-bearers were a critical part of every major army retinue. In 1539, at the battle of Chausa in present-day Bihar, a bhishti saved Mughal emperor Humayun’s life in the battle against Sher Shah Suri. This nameless hero inflated a mashak, so the Emperor crossed the Ganga on it and escaped to safety. He was rewarded with a day on the throne as imperial commendation for his bravery. The bhisti is believed to have been laid to rest in one of the many unmarked graves at Ajmer Sharif Dargah.[2]

The bahishti has become a tribe which involves different castes, such as Abbasi, Qureshi, Turk, Farooqi, '''Samri Chohan''', Behlim. Abbasi are well known as Bahishti. The reason is that a lot of Abbasids families came to India after the downfall of Baghdad, in which some families hid their identity and did different work while some families adopted the water-carrier profession into the Mughal Army and some families adopted this profession in the British Army.

Bhishtis in British Indian Army

The remarkable courage occasionally exhibited by bhistis under fire is well known. It is said that at the time of the distribution of Mutiny honors, a Colonel of English Cavalry was asked to select a man from his regiment who had specially distinguished himself, that he might be honored by the receipt of the V.C. The regimental bhisti was chosen as being the man who had exceeded every soldier in the regiment in his deeds of daring. On hearing that a bhisti could not be the recipient, the Commanding Officer refused to name anyone else. He based it on the grounds that, although many acts of bravery had been performed by his men, none could be compared with the heroism of the regimental water-carrier. So it was not awarded.[3]

Notable Bhishtis

In Popular Culture


  1. ^ "Docu on vanishing bhistis, their struggle for existence to hit Nandan screen on Aug 3". 31 July 2022 – via The Economic Times - The Times of India.
  2. ^ "Memories of a Water Bearer - A Short Story Of India's Bhistis".
  3. ^ Coleman, F. M. (15 December 1902). "Typical pictures of Indian natives : being reproductions from specially prepared hand-coloured photographs with descriptive letterpress". Bombay : Times of India Office – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ "Lessons in etiquette at Gwalior court : The Tribune India".
  5. ^ "A bhisti ruled an empire once". Vikalp Sangam. 6 August 2018.

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