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Title: The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume IV of IV

Author: R.V. Russell

Release Date: February 25, 2007 [EBook #20668]

Language: English

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The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India

Published Under the Orders of the Central Provinces Administration
In Four Volumes
Vol. IV.
Macmillan and Co., Limited St. Martin’s Street, London.


Contents of Volume IV

Articles on Castes and Tribes of the Central Provinces in Alphabetical Order

The articles which are considered to be of most general interest are shown in capitals



Illustrations in Volume IV



a, has the sound of u in but or murmur.
ā has the sound of a in bath or tar.
e has the sound of é in écarté or ai in maid.
i has the sound of i in bit, or (as a final letter) of y in sulky.
ī has the sound of ee in beet.
o has the sound of o in bore or bowl.
u has the sound of u in put or bull.
ū has the sound of oo in poor or boot

The plural of caste names and a few common Hindustāni words is formed by adding s in the English manner according to ordinary usage, though this is not, of course, the Hindustāni plural.

Note.—The rupee contains 16 annas, and an anna is of the same value as a penny. A pice is a quarter of an anna, or a farthing. Rs. 1–8 signifies one rupee and eight annas. A lakh is a hundred thousand, and a krore ten million.

Part II

Articles on Castes and Tribes


Vol. IV



List of Paragraphs

1. Traditions of origin

Kumhār, Kumbhār.—The caste of potters, the name being derived from the Sanskrit kumbh, a water-pot. The Kumhārs numbered nearly 120,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911 and were most numerous in the northern and eastern or Hindustāni-speaking Districts, where earthen vessels have a greater vogue than in the south. The caste is of course an ancient one, vessels of earthenware having probably been in use at a very early period, and the old Hindu scriptures consequently give various accounts of its origin from mixed marriages between the four classical castes. “Concerning the traditional parentage of the caste,” Sir H. Risley writes,1 “there seems to be a wide difference of opinion among the recognised authorities on the subject. Thus the Brahma Vaivārtta Purāna says that the Kumbhakār or maker of water-jars (kumbka), is born of a Vaishya woman by a Brāhman father; the Parāsara Samhita makes the father a Mālākār (gardener) and the mother a Chamār; while the Parāsara Padhati holds that the ancestor of the caste was begotten of a Tili woman by a Pattikār or weaver of silk cloth. Sir Monier Williams again, in his Sanskrit Dictionary, describes them as the offspring of a Kshatriya woman by a Brāhman. No importance can of course be attached to [4]such statements as the above from the point of view of actual fact, but they are interesting as showing the view taken of the formation of castes by the old Brāhman writers, and also the position given to the Kumhār at the time when they wrote. This varies from a moderately respectable to a very humble one according to the different accounts of his lineage. The caste themselves have a legend of the usual Brāhmanical type: “In the Kritayuga, when Maheshwar (Siva) intended to marry the daughter of Hemvanta, the Devas and Asuras2 assembled at Kailās (Heaven). Then a question arose as to who should furnish the vessels required for the ceremony, and one Kulālaka, a Brāhman, was ordered to make them. Then Kulālaka stood before the assembly with folded hands, and prayed that materials might be given to him for making the pots. So Vishnu gave his Sudarsana (discus) to be used as a wheel, and the mountain of Mandāra was fixed as a pivot beneath it to hold it up. The scraper was Adi Kūrma the tortoise, and a rain-cloud was used for the water-tub. So Kulālaka made the pots and gave them to Maheshwar for his marriage, and ever since his descendants have been known as Kumbhakār or maker of water-jars.”

Potter and his wheel

Potter and his wheel

2. Caste sub-divisions

The Kumhārs have a number of subcastes, many of which, as might be expected, are of the territorial type and indicate the different localities from which they migrated to the Central Provinces. Such are the Mālwi from Mālwa, the Telenga from the Telugu country in Hyderābād, the Pardeshi from northern India and the Marātha from the Marātha Districts. Other divisions are the Lingāyats who belong to the sect of this name, the Gadhewāl or Gadhere who make tiles and carry them about on donkeys (gadha), the Bardia who use bullocks for transport and the Sungaria who keep pigs (suar). Certain endogamous groups have arisen simply from differences in the method of working. Thus the Hāthgarhia3 mould vessels with their hands only without using the wheel; the Goria4 make white or red pots only and not black ones; the Kurere mould their vessels on a stone slab revolving on a stick and not on a wheel; while the Chakere are Kumhārs who use the wheel (chāk) in [5]localities where other Kumhārs do not use it. The Chhutakia and Rakhotia are illegitimate sections, being the offspring of kept women.

3. Social Customs

Girls are married at an early age when their parents can afford it, the matches being usually arranged at caste feasts. In Chānda parents who allow a daughter to become adolescent while still unwed are put out of caste, but elsewhere the rule is by no means so strict. The ceremony is of the normal type and a Brāhman usually officiates, but in Betūl it is performed by the Sawāsa or husband of the bride’s paternal aunt. After the wedding the couple are given kneaded flour to hold in their hands and snatch from each other as an emblem of their trade. In Mandla a bride price of Rs. 50 is paid.

The Kumhārs recognise divorce and the remarriage of widows. If an unmarried girl is detected in criminal intimacy with a member of the caste, she has to give a feast to the caste-fellows and pay a fine of Rs. 1–4 and five locks of her hair are also cut off by way of purification. The caste usually burn the dead, but the Lingāyat Kumhārs always bury them in accordance with the practice of their sect. They worship the ordinary Hindu deities and make an offering to the implements of their trade on the festival of Deothān Igāras. The village Brāhman serves as their priest. In Bālāghāt a Kumhār is put out of caste if a dead cat is found in his house. At the census of 1901 the Kumhār was ranked with the impure castes, but his status is not really so low. Sir D. Ibbetson said of him: “He is a true village menial; his social standing is very low, far below that of the Lohār and not much above the Chamār. His association with that impure beast, the donkey, the animal sacred to Sitala, the smallpox goddess, pollutes him and also his readiness to carry manure and sweepings.” As already seen there are in the Central Provinces Sungaria and Gadheria subcastes which keep donkeys and pigs, and these are regarded as impure. But in most Districts the Kumhār ranks not much below the Barhai and Lohār, that is in what I have designated the grade of village menials above the impure and below the cultivating castes. In Bengal the Kumhārs have a much higher status and Brāhmans will [6]take water from their hands. But the gradation of caste in Bengal differs very greatly from that of other parts of India.

4. The Kumhār as a village menial

The Kumhār is not now paid regularly by dues from the cultivators like other village menials, as the ordinary system of sale has no doubt been found more convenient in his case. But he sometimes takes the soiled grass from the stalls of the cattle and gives pots free to the cultivator in exchange. On Akti day, at the beginning of the agricultural year, the village Kumhār of Saugor presents five pots with covers on them to each cultivator and receives 2½ lbs. of grain in exchange. One of these the tenant fills with water and presents to a Brāhman and the rest he reserves for his own purposes. On the occasion of a wedding also the bridegroom’s party take the bride to the Kumhārin’s house as part of the sohāg ceremony for making the marriage propitious. The Kumhār seats the bride on his wheel and turns it round with her seven times. The Kumhārin presents her with seven new pots, which are taken back to the house and used at the wedding. They are filled with water and are supposed to represent the seven seas. If any two of these pots accidentally clash together it is supposed that the bride and bridegroom will quarrel during their married life. In return for this the Kumhārin receives a present of clothes. At a funeral also the Kumhār must supply thirteen vessels which are known as ghāts, and must also replace the broken earthenware. Like the other village menials at the harvest he takes a new vessel to the cultivator in his field and receives a present of grain. These customs appear to indicate his old position as one of the menials or general servants of the village ranking below the cultivators. Grant-Duff also includes the potter in his list of village menials in the Marātha villages.5

5. Occupation

The potter is not particular as to the clay he uses and does not go far afield for the finer qualities, but digs it from the nearest place in the neighbourhood where he can get it free of cost. Red and black clay are employed, the former being obtained near the base of hills or on high-lying land, probably of the laterite formation, and the latter in the beds of tanks or streams. When the clay is thoroughly kneaded [7]and ready for use a lump of it is placed on the centre of the wheel. The potter seats himself in front of the wheel and fixes his stick or chakrait into the slanting hole in its upper surface. With this stick the wheel is made to revolve very rapidly, and sufficient impetus is given to it to keep it in motion for several minutes. The potter then lays aside the stick and with his hands moulds the lump of clay into the shape required, stopping every now and then to give the wheel a fresh spin as it loses its momentum. When satisfied with the shape of his vessel he separates it from the lump with a piece of string, and places it on a bed of ashes to prevent it sticking to the ground. The wheel is either a circular disc cut out of a single piece of stone about a yard in diameter, or an ordinary wooden wheel with spokes forming two diameters at right angles. The rim is then thickened with the addition of a coating of mud strengthened with fibre.6 The articles made by the potter are ordinary circular vessels or gharas used for storing and collecting water, larger ones for keeping grain, flour and vegetables, and surāhis or amphoras for drinking-water. In the manufacture of these last salt and saltpetre are mixed with the clay to make them more porous and so increase their cooling capacity. A very useful thing is the small saucer which serves as a lamp, being filled with oil on which a lighted wick is floated. These saucers resemble those found in the excavations of Roman remains. Earthen vessels are more commonly used, both for cooking and eating purposes among the people of northern India, and especially by Muhammadans, than among the Marāthas, and, as already noticed, the Kumhār caste musters strong in the north of the Province. An earthen vessel is polluted if any one of another caste takes food or drink from it and is at once discarded. On the occasion of a death all the vessels in the house are thrown away and a new set obtained, and the same measure is adopted at the Holi festival and on the occasion of an eclipse, and at various other ceremonial purifications, such as that entailed if a member of the household has had maggots in a wound. On this account cheapness is an indispensable quality in pottery, and there is [8]no opening for the Kumhār to improve his art. Another product of the Kumhār’s industry is the chilam or pipe-bowl. This has the usual opening for inhaling the smoke but no stem, an impromptu stem being made by the hands and the smoke inhaled through it. As the chilam is not touched by the mouth, Hindus of all except the impure castes can smoke it together, passing it round, and Hindus can also smoke it with Muhammadans.

It is a local belief that, if an earthen pot is filled with salt and plastered over, the rains will stop until it is opened. This device is adopted when the fall is excessive, but, on the other hand, if there is drought, the people sometimes think that the potter has used it to keep off the rain, because he cannot pursue his calling when the clay is very wet. And on occasions of a long break in the rains, they have been known to attack his shop and break all his vessels under the influence of this belief. The potter is sometimes known as Prājapati or the ‘The Creator,’ in accordance with the favourite comparison made by ancient writers of the moulding of his pots with the creation of human beings, the justice of which will be recognised by any one who watches the masses of mud on a whirling wheel growing into shapely vessels in the potter’s creating hands.

6. Breeding pigs for sacrifices

Certain Kumhārs as well as the Dhīmars make the breeding of pigs a means of subsistence, and they sell these pigs for sacrifices at prices varying from eight annas (8d.) to a rupee. The pigs are sacrificed by the Gonds to their god Bura Deo and by Hindus to the deity Bhainsāsur, or the buffalo demon, for the protection of the crops. Bhainsāsur is represented by a stone in the fields, and when crops are beaten down at night by the wind it is supposed that Bhainsāsur has passed over them and trampled them down. Hindus, usually of the lower castes, offer pigs to Bhainsāsur to propitiate him and preserve their crops from his ravages, but they cannot touch the impure pig themselves. What they have to do, therefore, is to pay the Kumhār the price of the pig and get him to offer it to Bhainsāsur on their behalf. The Kumhār goes to the god and sacrifices the pig and then takes the body home and eats it, so that his trade is a profitable one, while conversely to sacrifice a pig without partaking [9]of its flesh must necessarily be bitter to the frugal Hindu mind, and this indicates the importance of the deity who is to be propitiated by the offering. The first question which arises in connection with this curious custom is why pigs should be sacrificed for the preservation of the crops; and the reason appears to be that the wild pig is the animal which, at present, mainly damages the crops.

7. The goddess Demeter

In ancient Greece pigs were offered to Demeter, the corn-goddess, for the protection of the crops, and there is good reason to suppose that the conceptions of Demeter herself and the lovely Proserpine grew out of the worship of the pig, and that both goddesses were in the beginning merely the deified pig. The highly instructive passage in which Sir J. G. Frazer advances this theory is reproduced almost in full7: “Passing next to the corn-goddess Demeter, and remembering that in European folklore the pig is a common embodiment of the corn-spirit, we may now ask whether the pig, which was so closely associated with Demeter, may not originally have been the goddess herself in animal form? The pig was sacred to her; in art she was portrayed carrying or accompanied by a pig; and the pig was regularly sacrificed in her mysteries, the reason assigned being that the pig injures the corn and is therefore an enemy of the goddess. But after an animal has been conceived as a god, or a god as an animal, it sometimes happens, as we have seen, that the god sloughs off his animal form and becomes purely anthropomorphic; and that then the animal which at first had been slain in the character of the god, comes to be viewed as a victim offered to the god on the ground of its hostility to the deity; in short, that the god is sacrificed to himself on the ground that he is his own enemy. This happened to Dionysus and it may have happened to Demeter also. And in fact the rites of one of her festivals, the Thesmophoria, bear out the view that originally the pig was an embodiment of the corn-goddess herself, either Demeter or her daughter and double Proserpine. The Thesmophoria was an autumn festival celebrated by women alone in October, and appears to have represented with mourning rites the descent of Proserpine (or Demeter) into the lower world, and with joy her return [10]from the dead. Hence the name Descent or Ascent variously applied to the first, and the name Kalligeneia (fair-born) applied to the third day of the festival. Now from an old scholium on Lucian we learn some details about the mode of celebrating the Thesmophoria, which shed important light on the part of the festival called the Descent or the Ascent. The scholiast tells us that it was customary at the Thesmophoria to throw pigs, cakes of dough, and branches of pine-trees into ‘the chasms of Demeter and Proserpine,’ which appear to have been sacred caverns or vaults.

“In these caverns or vaults there were said to be serpents, which guarded the caverns and consumed most of the flesh of the pigs and dough-cakes which were thrown in. Afterwards—apparently at the next annual festival—the decayed remains of the pigs, the cakes, and the pine-branches were fetched by women called ‘drawers,’ who, after observing, rules of ceremonial purity for three days, descended into the caverns, and, frightening away the serpents by clapping their hands, brought up the remains and placed them on the altar. Whoever got a piece of the decayed flesh and cakes, and sowed it with the seed-corn in his field, was believed to be sure of a good crop.

“To explain this rude and ancient rite the following legend was told. At the moment when Pluto carried off Proserpine, a swineherd called Eubuleus chanced to be herding his swine on the spot, and his herd was engulfed in the chasm down which Pluto vanished with Proserpine. Accordingly, at the Thesmophoria pigs were annually thrown into caverns to commemorate the disappearance of the swine of Eubuleus. It follows from this that the casting of the pigs into the vaults at the Thesmophoria formed part of the dramatic representation of Proserpine’s descent into the lower world; and as no image of Proserpine appears to have been thrown in, we may infer that the descent of the pigs was not so much an accompaniment of her descent as the descent itself, in short, that the pigs were Proserpine. Afterwards, when Proserpine or Demeter (for the two are equivalent) became anthropomorphic, a reason had to be found for the custom of throwing pigs into caverns at her festival; and this was done by saying that when Pluto carried off Proserpine, [11]there happened to be some swine browsing near, which were swallowed up along with her. The story is obviously a forced and awkward attempt to bridge over the gulf between the old conception of the corn-spirit as a pig and the new conception of her as an anthropomorphic goddess. A trace of the older conception survived in the legend that when the sad mother was searching for traces of the vanished Proserpine, the footprints of the lost one were obliterated by the footprints of a pig; originally, we may conjecture, the footprints of the pig were the footprints of Proserpine and of Demeter herself. A consciousness of the intimate connection of the pig with the corn lurks in the legend that the swineherd Eubuleus was a brother of Triptolemus, to whom Demeter first imparted the secret of the corn. Indeed, according to one version of the story, Eubuleus himself received, jointly with his brother Triptolemus, the gift of the corn from Demeter as a reward for revealing to her the fate of Proserpine. Further, it is to be noted that at the Thesmophoria the women appear to have eaten swine’s flesh. The meal, if I am right, must have been a solemn sacrament or communion, the worshippers partaking of the body of the god.”

8. Estimation of the pig in India

We thus see how the pig in ancient Greece was worshipped as a corn-deity because it damaged the crops and subsequently became an anthropomorphic goddess. It is suggested that pigs are offered to Bhainsāsur by the Hindus for the same reason. But there is no Hindu deity representing the pig, this animal on the contrary being regarded as impure. It seems doubtful, however, whether this was always so. In Rājputāna on the stone which the Regent of Kotah set up to commemorate the abolition of forced taxes were carved the effigies of the sun, the moon, the cow and the hog, with an imprecation on whoever should revoke the edict.8 Colonel Tod says that the pig was included as being execrated by all classes, but this seems very doubtful. It would scarcely occur to any Hindu nowadays to associate the image of the impure pig with those of the sun, moon and cow, the representations of three of his greatest deities. Rather it gives some reason for [12]supposing that the pig was once worshipped, and the Rājpūts still do not hold the wild boar impure, as they hunt it and eat its flesh. Moreover, Vishnu in his fourth incarnation was a boar. The Gonds regularly offer pigs to their great god Bura Deo, and though they now offer goats as well, this seems to be a later innovation. The principal sacrifice of the early Romans was the Suovetaurilia or the sacrifice of a pig, a ram and a bull. The order of the words, M. Reinach remarks,9 is significant as showing the importance formerly attached to the pig or boar. Since the pig was the principal sacrificial animal of the primitive tribes, the Gonds and Baigas, its connection with the ritual of an alien and at one time hostile religion may have strengthened the feeling of aversion for it among the Hindus, which would naturally be engendered by its own dirty habits.

9. The buffalo as a corn-god

It seems possible then that the Hindus reverenced the wild boar in the past as one of the strongest and fiercest animals of the forest and also as a destroyer of the crops. And they still make sacrifices of the pig to guard their fields from his ravages. These sacrifices, however, are not offered to any deity who can represent a deified pig but to Bhainsāsur, the deified buffalo. The explanation seems to be that in former times, when forests extended over most of the country, the cultivator had in the wild buffalo a direr foe than the wild pig. And one can well understand how the peasant, winning a scanty subsistence from his poor fields near the forest, and seeing his harvest destroyed in a night by the trampling of a herd of these great brutes against whom his puny weapons were powerless, looked on them as terrible and malignant deities. The sacrifice of a buffalo would be beyond the means of a single man, and the animal is now more or less sacred as one of the cow tribe. But the annual joint sacrifice of one or more buffaloes is a regular feature of the Dasahra festival and extends over a great part of India. In Betūl and other districts the procedure is that on the Dasahra day, or a day before, the Māng and Kotwār, two of the lowest village menials, take a buffalo bull and bring it to the village proprietor, who makes a cut on its nose and draws blood. Then it is taken all round the village and to the shrines of [13]the gods, and in the evening it is killed and the Māng and Kotwār eat the flesh. It is now believed that if the blood of a buffalo does not fall at Dasahra some epidemic will attack the village, but as there are no longer any wild buffaloes except in the denser forests of one or two Districts, the original meaning of the rite might naturally have been forgotten.10

10. The Dasahra festival

The Dasahra festival probably marks the autumnal equinox and also the time when the sowing of wheat and other spring crops begins. Many Hindus still postpone sowing the wheat until after Dasahra, even though it might be convenient to begin before, especially as the festival goes by the lunar month and its date varies in different years by more than a fortnight. The name signifies the tenth day, and prior to the festival a fast of nine days is observed, when the pots of wheat corresponding to the gardens of Adonis are sown and quickly sprout up. This is an imitation of the sowing and growth of the real crop and is meant to ensure its success. During these nine days it is said that the goddess Devi was engaged in mortal combat with the buffalo demon Mahisāsur or Bhainsāsur, and on the tenth day or the Dasahra she slew him. The fast is explained as being observed in order to help her to victory, but it is really perhaps a fast in connection with the growing of the crops. A similar nine daysfast for the crops was observed by the Greeks.11

11. The goddess Devi

Devi signifies ‘the goddess’ par excellence. She is often the tutelary goddess of the village and of the family, and is held to have been originally Mother Earth, which may be supposed to be correct. In tracts where the people of northern and southern India meet she is identified with Anna Pūrna, the corn-goddess of the Telugu country; and in her form of Gauri or ‘the Yellow One’ she is perhaps herself the yellow corn. As Gauri she is worshipped at weddings in conjunction with Ganesh or Ganpati, the god of Good Fortune; and it is probably in honour of the harvest colour that Hindus of the upper castes wear yellow at [14]their weddings and consider it lucky. A Brahman also prefers to wear yellow when eating his food. It has been seen12 that red is the lucky colour of the lower castes of Hindus, and the reason probably is that the shrines of their gods are stained red with the blood of the animals sacrificed. High-caste Hindus no longer make animal sacrifices, and their offerings to Siva, Vishnu and Devi consist of food, flowers and blades of corn. Thus yellow would be similarly associated with the shrines of the gods. All Hindu brides have their bodies rubbed with yellow turmeric, and the principal religious flower, the marigold, is orange-yellow. Yellow is, however, also lucky as being the colour of Vishnu or the Sun, and a yellow flag is waved above his great temple at Rāmtek on the occasion of the fair. Thus Devi as the corn-goddess perhaps corresponds to Demeter, but she is not in this form an animal goddess. The Hindus worshipping Mother Earth, as all races do in the early stage of religion, may by a natural and proper analogy have ascribed the gift of the corn to her from whom it really comes, and have identified her with the corn-goddess. This is by no means a full explanation of the goddess Devi, who has many forms. As Pārvati, the hill-maiden, and Durga, the inaccessible one, she is the consort of Siva in his character of the mountain-god of the Himalayas; as Kāli, the devourer of human flesh, she is perhaps the deified tiger; and she may have assimilated yet more objects of worship into her wide divinity. But there seems no special reason to hold that she is anywhere believed to be the deified buffalo; and the probable explanation of the Dasahra rite would therefore seem to be that the buffalo was at first venerated as the corn-god because, like the pig in Greece, he was most destructive to the crops, and a buffalo was originally slaughtered and eaten sacramentally as an act of worship. At a later period the divinity attaching to the corn was transferred to Devi, an anthropomorphic deity of a higher class, and in order to explain the customary slaughter of the buffalo, which had to be retained, the story became current that the beneficent goddess fought and slew the buffalo-demon which injured the crops, for the benefit of her worshippers, and the fast was observed and the [15]buffalo sacrificed in commemoration of this event. It is possible that the sacrifice of the buffalo may have been a non-Aryan rite, as the Mundas still offer a buffalo to Deswāli, their forest god, in the sacred grove; and the Korwas of Sargūja nave periodical sacrifices to Kāli in which many buffaloes are slaughtered. In the pictures of her fight with Bhainsāsur, Devi is shown as riding on a tiger, and the uneducated might imagine the struggle to have resembled that between a tiger and a buffalo. As the destroyer of buffaloes and deer which graze on the crops the tiger may even be considered the cultivator’s friend. But in the rural tracts Bhainsāsur himself is still venerated in the guise of a corn-deity, and pig are perhaps offered to him as the animals which nowadays do most harm to the crops. [16]

1 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Kumhār.

2 Gods and demons.

3 Hāth, hand and garhna to make or mould.

4 Gora, white or red, applied to Europeans.

5 History of the Marāthas, edition 1878, vol. i. p. 26.

6 The above description is taken from the Central Provinces Monograph on Pottery and Glassware by Mr. Jowers, p. 4.

7 Golden Bough, ii. pp. 299, 301.

8 Rājasthān, ii. p. 524.

9 Orphèus, p. 152.

10 The sacrifice is now falling into abeyance, as landowners refuse to supply the buffalo.

11 Dr. Jevons, Introduction to the History of Religion, p. 368.

12 Vide article on Lakhera.



[This article is based on the information collected for the District Gazetteers of the Central Provinces, manuscript notes furnished by Mr. A.K. Smith, C.S., and from papers by Pandit Pyāre Lāl Misra and Munshi Kanhya Lāl. The Kunbis are treated in the Poona and Khāndesh volumes of the Bombay Gazetteer. The caste has been taken as typical of the Marāthi-speaking Districts, and a fairly full description of the marriage and other ceremonies has therefore been given, some information on houses, dress and food being also reproduced from the Wardha and Yeotmal District Gazetteers.]

List of Paragraphs

1. Distribution of the caste and origin of name

Kunbi—The great agricultural caste of the Marātha country. In the Central Provinces and Berār the Kunbis numbered nearly 1,400,000 persons in 1911; they belong to the Nāgpur, Chānda, Bhandāra, Wardha, Nimār and Betūl Districts of the Central Provinces. In Berār their strength was 800,000, or nearly a third of the total population. Here they form the principal cultivating class over the whole area except in the jungles of the north and south, but muster most strongly in the Buldāna District to the west, where in some tāluks nearly half the population [17]belongs to the Kunbi caste. In the combined Province they are the most numerous caste except the Gonds. The name has various forms in Bombay, being Kunbi or Kulambi in the Deccan, Kulwādi in the south Konkan, Kanbi in Gujarāt, and Kulbi in Belgaum. In Sanskrit inscriptions it is given as Kutumbika (householder), and hence it has been derived from kutumba, a family. A chronicle of the eleventh century quoted by Forbes speaks of the Kutumbiks or cultivators of the grāms, or small villages.1 Another writer describing the early Rājpūt dynasties says:2 “The villagers were Koutombiks (householders) or husbandmen (Karshuks); the village headmen were Putkeels (patels).” Another suggested derivation is from a Dravidian root kul a husbandman or labourer; while that favoured by the caste and their neighbours is from kun, a root, or kan grain, and bi, seed; but this is too ingenious to be probable.

Group of Kunbis

Group of Kunbis

2. Settlement in the Central Provinces

It is stated that the Kunbis entered Khāndesh from Gujarāt in the eleventh century, being forced to leave Gujarāt by the encroachments of Rājpūt tribes, driven south before the early Muhammadan invaders of northern India.3 From Khāndesh they probably spread into Berār and the adjoining Nāgpur and Wardha Districts. It seems probable that their first settlement in Nāgpur and Wardha took place not later than the fourteenth century, because during the subsequent period of Gond rule we find the offices of Deshmukh and Deshpāndia in existence in this area. The Deshmukh was the manager or headman of a circle of villages and was responsible for apportioning and collecting the land revenue, while the Deshpāndia was a head patwari or accountant. The Deshmukhs were usually the leading Kunbis, and the titles are still borne by many families in Wardha and Nāgpur. These offices4 belong to the Marātha country, and it seems necessary to suppose that their introduction into Wardha and Berār dates from a period at least as early as the fourteenth century, when these territories were included in the dominions of the Bahmani kings of Bījapur. A subsequent large influx of Kunbis into Wardha [18]and Nāgpur took place in the eighteenth century with the conquest of Raghūji Bhonsla and the establishment of the Marātha kingdom of Nāgpur. Traces of these separate immigrations survive in the subdivisions of the caste, which will now be mentioned.

3. Subcastes

The internal structure of the Kunbi caste in the Central Provinces shows that it is a mixed occupational body recruited from different classes of the population. The Jhāre or jungly5 Kunbis are the oldest immigrants and have no doubt an admixture of Gond blood. They do not break their earthen vessels after a death in the house. With them may be classed the Mānwa Kunbis of the Nāgpur District; these appear to be a group recruited from the Mānas, a primitive tribe who were dominant in Chānda perhaps even before the advent of the Gonds. The Mānwa Kunbi women wear their cloths drawn up so as to expose the thigh like the Gonds, and have some other primitive practices. They do not employ Brāhmans at their marriages, but consult a Mahār Mohtūria or soothsayer to fix the date of the ceremony. Other Kunbis will not eat with the Mānwas, and the latter retaliate in the usual manner by refusing to accept food from them; and say that they are superior to other Kunbis because they always use brass vessels for cooking and not earthen ones. Among the other subcastes in the Central Provinces are the Khaire, who take their name from the khaīr6 or catechu tree, presumably because they formerly prepared catechu; this is a regular occupation of the forest tribes, with whom it may be supposed that the Khaire have some affinity. The Dhanoje are those who took to the occupation of tending dhan7 or small stock, and they are probably an offshoot of the Dhangar or shepherd caste whose name is similarly derived. Like the Dhangar women they wear cocoanut-shell bangles, and the Mānwa Kunbis also do this; these bangles are not broken when a child is born, and hence the Dhanojes and Mānwas are looked down on by the other subcastes, who refuse to remove their leaf-plates after a feast. The name of the [19]Khedule subcaste may be derived from kheda a village, while another version given by Mr. Kitts8 is that it signifies ‘A beardless youth.’ The highest subcaste in the Central Provinces are the Tirole or Tilole, who now claim to be Rājpūts. They say that their ancestors came from Therol in Rājputāna, and, taking to agriculture, gradually became merged with the Kunbis. Another more probable derivation of the name is from the til or sesamum plant. The families who held the hereditary office of Deshmukh, which conferred a considerable local position, were usually members of the Tirole subcaste, and they have now developed into a sort of aristocratic branch of the caste, and marry among themselves when matches can be arranged. They do not allow the remarriage of widows nor permit their women to accompany the wedding procession. The Wāndhekars are another group which also includes some Deshmukh families, and ranks next to the Tiroles in position. Mr. Kitts records a large number of subcastes in Berār.9 Among them are some groups from northern India, as the Hindustāni, Pardesi, Dholewār, Jaiswār and Singrore; these are probably Kurmis who have settled in Berār and become amalgamated with the Kunbis. Similarly the Tailanges and Munurwārs appear to be an offshoot of the great Kāpu caste of cultivators in the Telugu country. The Wanjāri subcaste is a fairly large one and almost certainly represents a branch of the Banjāra caste of carriers, who have taken to agriculture and been promoted into the Kunbi community. The Lonhāre take their name from Lonār Mehkar, the well-known bitter lake of the Buldāna District, whose salt they may formerly have refined. The Ghātole are those who dwelt above the ghāts or passes of the Saihadri range to the south of the Berār plain. The Baone are an important subcaste both in Berār and the Central Provinces, and take their name from the phrase Bāwan Berār,10 a term applied to the province by the Mughals because it paid fifty-two lakhs of revenue, as against only eight lakhs realised from the adjoining Jhādi or hill country in the Central Provinces. In Chhindwāra is found a small local [20]subcaste called Gādhao because they formerly kept donkeys, though they no longer do so; they are looked down on by the others who will not even take water from their hands. In Nimār is a group of Gujarāti Kunbis who are considered to have been originally Gūjars.11 Their local subdivisions are Leve and Karwa and many of them are also known as Dālia, because they made the dāl or pulse of Burhānpur, which had a great reputation under native rule. It is said that it was formerly despatched daily to Sindhia’s kitchen.

4. The cultivating status

It appears then that a Kunbi has in the past been synonymous with a cultivator, and that large groups from other castes have taken to agriculture, have been admitted into the community and usually obtained a rise in rank. In many villages Kunbis are the only ryots, while below them are the village menials and artisans, several of whom perform functions at weddings or on other occasions denoting their recognition of the Kunbi as their master or employer; and beneath these again are the impure Mahārs or labourers. Thus at a Kunbi betrothal the services of the barber and washerman must be requisitioned; the barber washes the feet of the boy and girl and places vermilion on the foreheads of the guests. The washerman spreads a sheet on the ground on which the boy and girl sit. At the end of the ceremony the barber and washerman take the bride and bridegroom on their shoulders and dance to music in the marriage-shed; for this they receive small presents. After a death has occurred at a Kunbi’s house the impurity is not removed until the barber and washerman have eaten in it. At a Kunbi’s wedding the Gurao or village priest brings the leafy branches of five trees, the mango, jāmun12 umar13 and two others and deposits them at Māroti’s temple, whence they are removed by the parents of the bride. Before a wedding again a Kunbi bride must go to the potter’s house and be seated on his wheel while it is turned round seven times for good luck. At seed-time and harvest all the village menials go to the cultivator’s field and present him with a specimen of their wares or make obeisance to him, receiving in return a small present of [21]grain. This state of things seems to represent the primitive form of Hindu society from which the present widely ramified system, of castes may have expanded, and even now the outlines of the original structure may be discernible under all subsequent accretions.

5. Exogamus septs

Each subcaste has a number of exogamous septs or clans which serve as a table of affinities in regulating marriage. The vernacular term for these is kul. Some of the septs are named after natural objects or animals, others from titles or nicknames borne by the reputed founder of the group, or from some other caste to which he may have belonged, while others again are derived from the names of villages which maybe taken to have been the original home of the sept or clan. The following are some septs of the Tirole subcaste: Kole, jackal; Wānkhede, a village; Kadu, bitter; Jagthāp, famous; Kadam, a tree; Meghe, a cloud; Lohekari, a worker in iron; Ughde, a child who has been exposed at birth; Shinde, a palm-tree; Hagre, one who suffers from diarrhoea; Aglāwe, an incendiary; Kalamkār, a writer; Wāni (Bania), a caste; Sutār, a carpenter, and so on, A few of the groups of the Bāone subcaste are:—Kāntode, one with a torn ear; Dokarmāre, a killer of pigs; Lūte, a plunderer; Titarmāre, a pigeon-killer; and of the Khedule: Patre, a leaf-plate; Ghoremāre, one who killed a horse; Bāgmare, a tiger-slayer; Gadhe, a donkey; Burāde, one of the Burud or Basor caste; Nāktode, one with a broken nose, and so on. Each subcaste has a number of septs, a total of 66 being recorded for the Tiroles alone. The names of the septs confirm the hypothesis arrived at from a scrutiny of the subcastes that the Kunbis are largely recruited from the pre-Aryan or aboriginal tribes. Conclusions as to the origin of the caste can better be made in its home in Bombay, but it may be noted that in Canara, according to the accomplished author of A Naturalist on the Prowl14 the Kunbi is quite a primitive forest-dweller, who only a few years back lived by scattering his seed on patches of land burnt clear of vegetation, collecting myrobalans and other fruits, and snaring and trapping animals exactly like the Gonds and Baigas of the Central Provinces. Similarly in Nāsik it is stated that a large proportion of the Kunbi [22]caste are probably derived from the primitive tribes15. Yet in the cultivated plains which he has so largely occupied, he is reckoned the equal in rank of the Kurmi and other cultivating castes of Hindustān, who in theory at any rate are of Aryan origin and of so high a grade of social purity that Brāhmans will take water from them. The only reasonable explanation of this rise in status appears to be that the Kunbi has taken possession of the land and has obtained the rank which from time immemorial belongs to the hereditary cultivator as a member and citizen of the village community. It is interesting to note that the Wanjāri Kunbis of Berār, who, being as already seen Banjāras, are of Rājpūt descent at any rate, now strenuously disclaim all connection with the Banjāra caste and regard their reception into the Kunbi community as a gain in status. At the same time the refusal of the Marātha Brāhmans to take water to drink from Kunbis may perhaps have been due to the recognition of their non-Aryan origin. Most of the Kunbis also eat fowls, which the cultivating castes of northern India would not usually do.

6. Restrictions on marriage of relatives

A man is forbidden to marry within his own sept or kul, or in that of his mother or either of his grandmothers. He may marry his wife’s younger sister but not her elder sister. Alliances between first and second cousins are also prohibited except that a sister’s son may be married to a brother’s daughter. Such marriages are also favoured by the Marātha Brāhmans and other castes, and the suitability of the match is expressed in the saying Ato ghari bhāsi sūn, or ‘At a sister’s house her brother’s daughter is a daughter-in-law.’ The sister claims it as a right and not unfrequently there are quarrels if the brother decides to give his daughter to somebody else, while the general feeling is so strongly in favour of these marriages that the caste committee sometimes imposes a fine on fathers who wish to break through the rule. The fact that in this single case the marriage of near relatives is not only permitted but considered almost as an obligation, while in all other instances it is strictly prohibited, probably points to the conclusion that the custom is a survival of the matriarchate, when a brother’s property would pass to his sister’s son. Under such a law of inheritance [23]he would naturally desire that his heir should be united to his own daughter, and this union might gradually become customary and at length almost obligatory. The custom in this case may survive when the reasons which justified it have entirely vanished. And while formerly it was the brother who would have had reason to desire the match for his daughter, it is now the sister who insists on it for her son, the explanation being that among the Kunbis as with other agricultural castes, to whom a wife’s labour is a valuable asset, girls are expensive and a considerable price has to be paid for a bride.

7. Betrothal and marriage

Girls are usually married between the ages of five and eleven and boys between ten and twenty. The Kunbis still think it a mark of social distinction to have their daughters married as young as possible. The recognised bride-price is about twenty rupees, but much larger sums are often paid. The boy’s father goes in search of a girl to be married to his son, and when the bride-price has been settled and the match arranged the ceremony of Māngni or betrothal takes place. In the first place the boy’s father proceeds to his future daughter-in-law’s house, where he washes her feet, smears her forehead with red powder and gives her a present of a rupee and some sweetmeats. All the party then eat together. This is followed by a visit of the girl’s father to the boy’s house where a similar ceremony is enacted and the boy is presented with a cocoanut, a pagri and cloth, and a silver or gold ring. Again the boy’s relatives go to the girl’s house and give her more valuable presents of jewellery and clothing. A Brāhman is afterwards consulted to fix the date of the marriage, but the poorer Kunbis dispense with his services as he charges two or three rupees. Prior to the ceremony the bodies of the bride and bridegroom are well massaged with vegetable oil and turmeric in their respective houses, partly with a view to enhance their beauty and also perhaps to protect them during the trying period of the ceremony when maleficent spirits are particularly on the alert. The marriage-shed is made of eleven poles festooned with leaves, and inside it are placed two posts of the sāleh (Boswellia serrata) or umar (Ficus glomerata) tree, one longer than the other, to represent the bride and bridegroom. Two jars [24]filled with water are set near the posts, and a small earthen platform called baola is made. The bridegroom wears a yellow or white dress, and has a triangular frame of bamboo covered with tinsel over his forehead, which is known as bāsing and is a substitute for the maur or marriage-crown of the Hindustāni castes. Over his shoulder he carries a pickaxe as the representative implement of husbandry with one or two wheaten cakes tied to it. This is placed on the top of the marriage-shed and at the end of the five days’ ceremonies the members of the families eat the dried cakes with milk, no outsider being allowed to participate. The barāt or wedding procession sets out for the bride’s village, the women of the bridegroom’s family accompanying it except among the Tirole Kunbis, who forbid the practice in order to demonstrate their higher social position. It is received on the border of the girl’s village by her father and his friends and relatives, and conducted to the janwāsa or temporary lodging prepared for it, with the exception of the bridegroom, who is left alone before the shrine of Māroti or Hanumān. The bridegroom’s father goes to the marriage-shed where he washes the bride’s feet and gives her another present of clothes, and her relatives then proceed to Māroti’s temple where they worship and make offerings, and return bringing the bridegroom with them. As he arrives at the marriage pavilion he touches it with a stick, on which the bride’s brother who is seated above the shed pours down some water and is given a present of money by the bridegroom. The bridegroom’s feet are then washed by his father-in-law and he is given a yellow cloth which he wears. The couple are made to stand on two wooden planks opposite each other with a curtain between them, the bridegroom facing east and the bride west, holding some Akshata or rice covered with saffron in their hands. As the sun sets the officiating Brāhman gets on to the roof of the house and repeats the marriage texts from there. At his signal the couple throw the rice over each other, the curtain between them is withdrawn, and they change their seats. The assembled party applaud and the marriage proper is over. The Brāhman marks their foreheads with rice and turmeric and presses them together. He then seats them on the earthen platform or baola, and ties their [25]clothes together, this being known as the Brahma Gānthi or Brāhman’s knot. The wedding usually takes place on the day after the arrival of the marriage procession and another two days are consumed in feasting and worshipping the deities. When the bride and bridegroom return home after the wedding one of the party waves a pot of water round their heads and throws it away at a little distance on the ground, and after this some grain in the same manner. This is a provision of food and drink to any evil spirits who may be hovering round the couple, so that they may stop to consume it and refrain from entering the house. The expenses of the bride’s family may vary from Rs. 60 to Rs. 100 and those of the bridegroom’s from Rs. 160 to Rs. 600. A wedding carried out on a lavish scale by a well-to-do man is known as Lāl Biāh or a red marriage, but when the parties are poor the expenses are curtailed and it is then called Safed Biāh or a white marriage. In this case the bridegroom’s mother does not accompany the wedding procession and the proceedings last only two days. The bride goes back with the wedding procession for a few days to her husband’s house and then returns home. When she arrives at maturity her parents give a feast to the caste and send her to her husband’s house, this occasion being known as Bolvan (the calling). The Karwa Kunbis of Nimār have a peculiar rule for the celebration of marriages. They have a guru or priest in Gujarāt who sends them a notice once in every ten or twelve years, and in this year only marriages can be performed. It is called Singhast ki sāl and is the year in which the planet Guru (Jupiter) comes into conjunction with the constellation Sinh (Leo). But the Karwas themselves think that there is a large temple in Gujarāt with a locked door to which there is no key. But once in ten or twelve years the door unlocks of itself, and in that year their marriages are celebrated. A certain day is fixed and all the weddings are held on it together. On this occasion children from infants in arms to ten or twelve years are married, and if a match cannot be arranged for them they will have to wait another ten or twelve years. A girl child who is born on the day fixed for weddings may, however, be married twelve days afterwards, the twelfth night being called Māndo Rāt, and on this [26]occasion any other weddings which may have been unavoidably postponed owing to a death or illness in the families may also be completed. The rule affords a loophole of escape for the victims of any such contretemps and also insures that every girl shall be married before she is fully twelve years old. Rather than not marry their daughter in the Singhast ki sāl before she is twelve the parents will accept any bridegroom, even though he be very poor or younger than the bride. This is the same year in which the celebration of marriages is forbidden among the Hindus generally. The other Kunbis have the general Hindu rule that weddings are forbidden during the four months from the 11th Asārh Sudi (June) to the 11th Kārtik Sudi (October). This is the period of the rains, when the crops are growing and the gods are said to go to sleep, and it is observed more or less as a time of abstinence and fasting. The Hindus should properly abstain from eating sugarcane, brinjals, onions, garlic and other vegetables for the whole four months. On the 12th of Kārtik the marriage of Tulsi or the basil plant with the Sāligrām or ammonite representing Vishnu is performed and all these vegetables are offered to her and afterwards generally consumed. Two days afterwards, beginning from the 14th of Kārtik, comes the Diwāli festival. In Betūl the bridal couple are seated in the centre of a square made of four plough yokes, while a leaf of the pīpal tree and a piece of turmeric are tied by a string round both their wrists. The untying of the string by the local Brāhman constitutes the essential and binding portion of the marriage. Among the Lonhāre subcaste a curious ceremony is performed after the wedding. A swing is made, and a round pestle, which is supposed to represent a child, is placed on it and swung to and fro. It is then taken off and placed in the lap of the bride, and the effect of performing this symbolical ceremony is supposed to be that she will soon become a mother.

8. Polygamy and divorce

Polygamy is permitted but rarely practised, a second wife being only taken if the first be childless or of bad character, or destitute of attractions. Divorce is allowed, but in some localities at any rate a divorced woman cannot marry again unless she is permitted to do so in writing by her first [27]husband. If a girl be seduced before marriage a fine is imposed on both parties and they are readmitted to social intercourse, but are not married to each other. Curiously enough, in the Tirole and Wāndhekar, the highest subcastes, the keeping of a woman is not an offence entailing temporary exclusion from caste, whereas among the lower subcastes it is.16

9. Widow-marriage

The Kunbis permit the remarriage of widows, with the exception of the Deshmukh families of the Tirole subcaste who have forbidden it. If a woman’s husband dies she returns to her father’s house and he arranges her second marriage, which is called choli-pātal, or giving her new clothes. He takes a price for her which may vary from twenty-five to five hundred rupees according to the age and attractions of the woman. A widow may marry any one outside the family of her deceased husband, but she may not marry his younger brother. This union, which among the Hindustāni castes is looked upon as most suitable if not obligatory, is strictly forbidden among the Marātha castes, the reason assigned being that a wife stands in the position of a mother to her husband’s younger brothers. The contrast is curious. The ceremony of widow-marriage is largely governed by the idea of escaping or placating the wrath of the first husband’s ghost, and also of its being something to be ashamed of and contrary to orthodox Hinduism. It always takes place in the dark fortnight of the month and always at night. Sometimes no women are present, and if any do attend they must be widows, as it would be the worst of omens for a married woman or unmarried girl to witness the ceremony. This, it is thought, would lead to her shortly becoming a widow herself. The bridegroom goes to the widow’s house with his male friends and two wooden seats are set side by side. On one of these a betel-nut is placed which represents the deceased husband of the widow. The new bridegroom advances with a small wooden sword, touches the nut with its tip, and then kicks it off the seat with his right toe. The barber picks up the nut and burns it. This is supposed to lay the deceased husband’s spirit and prevent his interference with the new union. [28]The bridegroom then takes the seat from which the nut has been displaced and the woman sits on the other side to his left. He puts a necklace of beads round her neck and the couple leave the house in a stealthy fashion and go to the husband’s village. It is considered unlucky to see them as they go away because the second husband is regarded in the light of a robber. Sometimes they stop by a stream on the way home, and, taking off the woman’s clothes and bangles, bury them by the side of the stream. An exorcist may also be called in, who will confine the late husband’s spirit in a horn by putting in some grains of wheat, and after sealing up the horn deposit it with the clothes. When a widower or widow marries a second time and is afterwards attacked by illness, it is ascribed to the illwill of their former partner’s spirit. The metal image of the first husband or wife is then made and worn as an amulet on the arm or round the neck. A bachelor who wishes to marry a widow must first go through a mock ceremony with an ākra or swallow-wort plant, as the widow-marriage is not considered a real one, and it is inauspicious for any one to die without having been properly married once. A similar ceremony must be gone through when a man is married for the third time, as it is held that if he marries a woman for the third time he will quickly die. The ākra or swallow-wort (Calotropis gigantea) is a very common plant growing on waste land with mauve or purple flowers. When cut or broken a copious milky juice exudes from the stem, and in some places parents are said to poison children whom they do not desire to keep alive by rubbing this on their lips.

10. Customs at birth

During her monthly impurity a woman stays apart and may not cook for herself nor touch anybody nor sleep on a bed made of cotton thread. As soon as she is in this condition she will untie the cotton threads confining her hair and throw them away, letting her hair hang down. This is because they have become impure. But if there is no other woman in the house and she must continue to do the household work herself, she does not throw them away until the last day.17 Similarly she must not sleep on [29]a cotton sheet or mattress during this time because she would defile it, but she may sleep on a woollen blanket as wool is a holy material and is not defiled. At the end of the period she proceeds to a stream and purifies herself by bathing and washing her head with earth. When a woman is with child for the first time her women friends come and give her new green clothes and bangles in the seventh month; they then put her into a swing and sing songs. While she is pregnant she is made to work in the house so as not to be inactive. After the birth of a child the mother remains impure for twelve days. A woman of the Māng or Mahār caste acts as midwife, and always breaks her bangles and puts on new ones after she has assisted at a birth. If delivery is prolonged the woman is given hot water and sugar or camphor wrapped in a betel-leaf, or they put a few grains of gram into her hand and then someone takes and feeds them to a mare, as it is thought that the woman’s pregnancy has been prolonged by her having walked behind the tethering-ropes of a mare, which is twelve months in foal. Or she is given water to drink in which a Sulaimāni onyx or a rupee of Akbar’s time has been washed; in the former case the idea is perhaps that a passage will be made for the child like the hole through the bead, while the virtue of the rupee probably consists in its being a silver coin and having the image or device of a powerful king like Akbar. Or it may be thought that as the coin has passed from hand to hand for so long, it will facilitate the passage of the child from the womb. A pregnant woman must not look on a dead body or her child may be still-born, and she must not see an eclipse or the child may be born maimed. Some believe that if a child is born during an eclipse it will suffer from lung-disease; so they make a silver model of the moon while the eclipse lasts and hang it round the child’s neck as a charm. Sometimes when delivery is delayed they take a folded flower and place it in a pot of water and believe that as its petals unfold so the womb will be opened and the child born; or they seat the woman on a wooden bench and pour oil on her head, her forehead being afterwards rubbed with it in the belief that as the oil falls so the child will be born. If a child is a long time before [30]learning to speak they give it leaves of the pīpal tree to eat, because the leaves of this tree make a noise by rustling in the wind; or a root which is very light in weight, because they think that the tongue is heavy and the quality of lightness will thus be communicated to it. Or the mother, when she has kneaded dough and washed her hands afterwards, will pour a drop or two of the water down the child’s throat. And the water which made her hands clean and smooth will similarly clear the child’s throat of the obstruction which prevented it from speaking. If a child’s neck is weak and its head rolls about they make it look at a crow perching on the house and think this will make its neck strong like the crow’s. If he cannot walk they make a little triangle on wheels with a pole called ghurghuri, and make him walk holding on to the pole. The first teeth of the child are thrown on to the roof of the house, because the rats, who have especially good and sharp teeth, live there, and it is hoped that the child’s second teeth may grow like theirs. A few grains of rice are also thrown so that the teeth may be hard and pointed like the rice; the same word, kani, being used for the end of a grain of rice and the tip of a tooth. Or the teeth are placed under a water-pot in the hope that the child’s second teeth may grow as fast as the grass does under water-pots. If a child is lean some people take it to a place where asses have lain down and rolled in ashes; they roll the child in the ashes similarly and believe that it will get fat like the asses are. Or they may lay the child in a pigsty with the same idea. People who want to injure a child get hold of its coat and lay it out in the sun to dry, in the belief that the child’s body will dry up in a similar manner. In order to avert the evil eye they burn some turmeric and juāri flour and hold the newly-born child in the smoke. It is also branded on the stomach with a burning piece of turmeric, perhaps to keep off cold. For the first day or two after birth a child is given cow’s milk mixed with water or honey and a little castor oil, and after this it is suckled by the mother. But if she is unable to nourish it a wet-nurse is called in, who may be a woman of low caste or even a Muhammadan. The mother is given no [31]regular food for the first two days, but only some sugar and spices. Until the child is six months old its head and body are oiled every second or third day and the body is well hand-rubbed and bathed. The rubbing is meant to make the limbs supple and the oil to render the child less susceptible to cold. If a child when sitting soon after birth looks down through its legs they think it is looking for its companions whom it has left behind and that more children will be born. It is considered a bad sign if a child bites its upper teeth on its underlip; this is thought to prognosticate illness and the child is prevented from doing so as far as possible.

11. Sixth and twelfth day ceremonies

On the sixth day after birth they believe that Chhathi or Satwai Devi, the Sixth-day Goddess, comes at midnight and writes on the child’s forehead its fate in life, which writing, it is said, may be seen on a man’s skull when the flesh has come off it after death. On this night the women of the family stay awake all night singing songs and eating sweetmeats. A picture of the goddess is drawn with turmeric and vermilion over the mother’s bed. The door of the birth-room is left open, and at midnight she comes. Sometimes a Sunār is employed to make a small image of Chhathi Devi, for which he is paid Rs. 1–4, and it is hung round the child’s neck. On this day the mother is given to eat all kinds of grain, and among flesh-eating castes the soup of fish and meat, because it is thought that every kind of food which the mother eats this day will be easily digested by the child throughout its life. On this day the mother is given a second bath, the first being on the day of the birth, and she must not bathe in between. Sometimes after childbirth a woman buys several bottles of liquor and has a bath in it; the stimulating effect of the spirit is supposed to remedy the distension of the body caused by the birth. If the child is a boy it is named on the twelfth and if a girl on the thirteenth day. On the twelfth day the mother’s bangles are thrown away and new ones put on. The Kunbis are very kind to their children, and never harsh or quick-tempered, but this may perhaps be partly due to their constitutional lethargy. They seldom refuse a child anything, but taking advantage of its innocence will by dissimulation make it [32]forget what it wanted. The time arrives when this course of conduct is useless, and then the child learns to mistrust the word of its parents. Minute quantities of opium are generally administered to children as a narcotic.

12. Devices for procuring children

If a woman is barren and has no children one of the remedies prescribed by the Sarodis or wandering soothsayers is that she should set fire to somebody’s house, going alone and at night to perform the deed. So long as some small part of the house is burnt it does not matter if the fire be extinguished, but the woman should not give the alarm herself. It is supposed that the spirit of some insect which is burnt will enter her womb and be born as a child. Perhaps she sets fire to someone else’s house so as to obtain the spirit of one of the family’s dead children, which may be supposed to have entered the insects dwelling on the house. Some years ago at Bhāndak in Chānda complaints were made of houses being set on fire. The police officer18 sent to investigate found that other small fires continued to occur. He searched the roofs of the houses, and on two or three found little smouldering balls of rolled-up cloth. Knowing of the superstition he called all the childless married women of the place together and admonished them severely, and the fires stopped. On another occasion the same officer’s wife was ill, and his little son, having fever, was sent daily to the dispensary for medicine in charge of a maid. One morning he noticed on one of the soles of the boy’s feet a stain of the juice of the bhilawa19 or marking-nut tree, which raises blisters on the skin. On looking at the other foot he found six similar marks, and on inquiry he learned that these were made by a childless woman in the expectation that the boy would soon die and be born again as her child. The boy suffered no harm, but his mother, being in bad health, nearly died of shock on learning of the magic practised against her son.

Another device is to make a pradakshana or pilgrimage round a pīpal tree, going naked at midnight after worshipping Māroti or Hanumān, and holding a necklace of tulsi beads in the hand. The pīpal is of course a sacred tree, and is the abode of Brahma, the original creator of the world. [33]Brahma has no consort, and it is believed that while all other trees are both male and female the pīpal is only male, and is capable of impregnating a woman and rendering her fertile. A variation of this belief is that pīpal trees are inhabited by the spirits of unmarried Brāhman boys, and hence a woman sometimes takes a piece of new thread and winds it round the tree, perhaps with the idea of investing the spirit of the boy with the sacred thread. She will then walk round the tree as a symbol of the wedding ceremony of walking round the sacred post, and hopes that the boy, being thus brought to man’s estate and married, will cause her to bear a son. But modest women do not go naked round the tree. The Amawas or New Moon day, if it falls on a Monday, is specially observed by married women. On this day they will walk 108 times round a pīpal tree, and then give 108 mangoes or other fruits to a Brahman, choosing a different fruit every time. The number 108 means a hundred and a little more to show there is no stint, ‘Full measure and flowing over,’ like the customary present of Rs. 1–4 instead of a rupee. This is also no doubt a birth-charm, fruit being given so that the woman may become fruitful. Or a childless woman will pray to Hanumān or Mahābir. Every morning she will go to his shrine with an offering of fruit or flowers, and every evening will set a lamp burning there; and morning and evening, prostrating herself, she makes her continuous prayer to the god: ‘Oh, Mahābīr, Mahārāj! hamko ek batcha do, sirf ek batcha do.’20 Then, after many days, Mahābir, as might be anticipated, appears to her in a dream and promises her a child. It does not seem that they believe that Mahabir himself directly renders the woman fertile, because similar prayers are made to the River Nerbudda, a goddess. But perhaps he, being the god of strength, lends virile power to her husband. Another prescription is to go to the burying-ground, and, after worshipping it, to take some of the bone-ash of a burnt corpse and wear this wrapped up in an amulet on the body. Occasionally, if a woman can get no children she will go to the father of a large family and let him beget a child upon her, with or without the connivance of her husband. But only the more immodest women do this. Or [34]she cuts a piece off the breast-cloth of a woman who has children, and, after burning incense on it, wears it as an amulet For a stronger charm she will take a piece of such a woman’s cloth and a lock of her hair and some earth which her feet have pressed and bury these in a pot before Devi’s shrine, sometimes fashioning an image of the woman out of them. Then, as they rot away, the child-bearing power of the fertile woman will be transferred to her. If a woman’s first children have died and she wishes to preserve a later one, she sometimes weighs the child against sugar or copper and distributes the amount in charity. Or she gives the child a bad name, such as Dagharia (a stone), Kachria (sweepings), Ukandia (a dunghill).

13. Love charms

If a woman’s husband is not in love with her, a prescription of a Mohani or love-charm given by the wise women is that she should kill an owl and serve some of its flesh to her husband as a charm. “It has not occurred,” Mr. Kipling writes, “to the oriental jester to speak of a boiled owl in connection with intoxication, but when a husband is abjectly submissive to his wife her friends say that she has given him boiled owl’s flesh to eat.”21 If a man is in love with some woman and wishes to kindle a similar sentiment in her the following method is given: On a Saturday night he should go to a graveyard and call out, ‘I am giving a dinner tomorrow night, and I invite you all to attend.’ Then on the Sunday night he takes cocoanuts, sweetmeats, liquor and flowers to the cemetery and sets them all out, and all the spirits or Shaitans come and partake. The host chooses a particularly big Shaitan and calls to him to come near and says to him, ‘Will you go with me and do what I ask you.’ If the spirit assents he follows the man home. Next night the man again offers cocoanuts and incense to the Shaitan, whom he can see by night but not by day, and tells him to go to the woman’s house and call her. Then the spirit goes and troubles her heart, so that she falls in love with the man and has no rest till she goes to him. If the man afterwards gets tired of her he will again secretly worship and call up the Shaitan and order him to turn the woman’s inclination [35]away. Another method is to fetch a skull from a graveyard and go to a banyan tree at midnight. There, divesting himself of his clothes, the operator partially cooks some rice in the skull, and then throws it against the tree; he gathers all the grains that stick to the trunk in one box and those that fall to the ground in another box, and the first rice given to the woman to eat will turn her inclination towards him, while the second will turn it away from him. This is a sympathetic charm, the rice which sticks to the tree having the property of attracting the woman.

14. Disposal of the dead

The Kunbis either bury or burn the dead. In Berār sepulture is the more common method of disposal, perhaps in imitation of the Muhammadans. Here the village has usually a field set apart for the disposal of corpses, which is known as Smashān. Hindus fill up the earth practically level with the ground after burial and erect no monument, so that after a few years another corpse can be buried in the same place. When a Kunbi dies the body is washed in warm water and placed on a bier made of bamboos, with a network of san-hemp.22 Ordinary rope must not be used. The mourners then take it to the grave, scattering almonds, sandalwood, dates, betel-leaf and small coins as they go. These are picked up by the menial Mahārs or labourers. Halfway to the grave the corpse is set down and the bearers change their positions, those behind going in front. Here a little wheat and pulse which have been tied in the cloth covering the corpse are left by the way. On the journey to the grave the body is covered with a new unwashed cloth. The grave is dug three or four feet deep, and the corpse is buried naked, lying on its back with the head to the south. After the burial one of the mourners is sent to get an earthen pot from the Kurnhār; this is filled with water at a river or stream, and a small piece is broken out of it with a stone; one of the mourners then takes the pot and walks round the corpse with it, dropping a stream of water all the way. Having done this, he throws the pot behind him over his shoulder without looking round, and then all the mourners go home without looking behind them. The stone with which the hole has been made in the earthen pot is held to represent [36]the spirit of the deceased. It is placed under a tree or on the bank of a stream, and for ten days the mourners come and offer it pindas or balls of rice, one ball being offered on the first day, two on the second, and so on, up to ten on the tenth. On this last day a little mound of earth is made, which is considered to represent Mahādeo. Four miniature flags are planted round, and three cakes of rice are laid on it; and all the mourners sit round the mound until a crow comes and eats some of the cake. Then they say that the dead man’s spirit has been freed from troubling about his household and mundane affairs and has departed to the other world. But if no real crow comes to eat the cake, they make a representation of one out of the sacred kusha grass, and touch the cake with it and consider that a crow has eaten it. After this the mourners go to a stream and put a little cow’s urine on their bodies, and dip ten times in the water or throw it over them. The officiating Brāhman sprinkles them with holy water in which he has dipped the toe of his right foot, and they present to the Brāhman the vessels in which the funeral cakes have been cooked and the clothes which the chief mourner has worn for ten days. On coming home they also give him a stick, umbrella, shoes, a bed and anything else which they think the dead man will want in the next world. On the thirteenth day they feed the caste-fellows and the head of the caste ties a new pagri on the chief mourner’s head backside foremost; and the chief mourner breaking an areca-nut on the threshold places it in his mouth and spits it out of the door, signifying the final ejectment of the deceased’s spirit from the house. Finally, the chief mourner goes to worship at Maroti’s shrine, and the household resumes its ordinary life. The different relatives of the deceased man usually invite the bereaved family to their house for a day and give them a feast, and if they have many relations this may go on for a considerable time. The complete procedure as detailed above is observed only in the case of the head of the household, and for less important members is considerably abbreviated. The position of chief mourner is occupied by a man’s eldest son, or in the absence of sons by his younger brother, or failing him by the eldest son of an elder brother, or failing male relations [37]by the widow. The chief mourner is considered to have a special claim to the property. He has the whole of his head and face shaved, and the hair is tied up in a corner of the grave-cloth. If the widow is chief mourner a small lock of her hair is cut off and tied up in the cloth. When the corpse is being carried out for burial the widow breaks her mangalsūtram or marriage necklace, and wipes off the kunku or vermilion from her forehead. This necklace consists of a string of black glass beads with a piece of gold, and is always placed on the bride’s neck at the wedding. The widow does not break her glass bangles at all, but on the eleventh day changes them for new ones.

15. Mourning

The period of mourning for adults of the family is ten days, and for children three, while in the case of distant relatives it is sufficient to take a bath as a mark of respect for them. The male mourners shave their heads, the walls of the house are whitewashed and the floor spread with cowdung. The chief mourner avoids social intercourse and abstains from ordinary work and from all kinds of amusements. He debars himself from such luxuries as betel-leaf and from visiting his wife. Oblations are offered to the dead on the third day of the light fortnight of Baisākh (June) and on the last day of Bhādrapad (September). The Kunbi is a firm believer in the action of ghosts and spirits, and never omits the attentions due to his ancestors. On the appointed day he diligently calls on the crows, who represent the spirits of ancestors, to come and eat the food which he places ready for them; and if no crow turns up, he is disturbed at having incurred the displeasure of the dead. He changes the food and goes on calling until a crow comes, and then concludes that their previous failure to appear was due to the fact that his ancestors were not pleased with the kind of food he first offered. In future years, therefore, he changes it, and puts out that which was eaten, until a similar contretemps of the non-appearance of crows again occurs. The belief that the spirits of the dead pass into crows is no doubt connected with that of the crow’s longevity. Many Hindus think that a crow lives a thousand years, and others that it never dies of disease, but only when killed by violence. Tennyson’s ‘many-wintered crow’ may indicate some similar [38]idea in Europe. Similarly if the Gonds find a crow’s nest they give the nestlings to young children to eat, and think that this will make them long-lived. If a crow perches in the house when a woman’s husband or other relative is away, she says, ‘Fly away, crow; fly away and I will feed you’; and if the crow then flies away she thinks that the absent one will return. Here the idea is no doubt that if he had been killed his spirit might have come home in the shape of the crow perching on the house. If a married woman sees two crows breeding it is considered a very bad omen, the effect being that her husband will soon die. It is probably supposed that his spirit will pass into the young crow which is born as a result of the meeting which she has seen.

Mr. A. K. Smith states that the omen applies to men also, and relates a story of a young advocate who saw two crows thus engaged on alighting from the train at some station. In order to avert the consequences he ran to the telegraph office and sent messages to all his relatives and friends announcing his own death, the idea being that this fictitious death would fulfil the omen, and the real death would thus become unnecessary. In this case the belief would be that the man’s own spirit would pass into the young crow.

16. Religion

The principal deities of the caste are Māroti or Hanumān, Mahādeo or Siva, Devi, Satwai and Khandoba. Māroti is worshipped principally on Saturdays, so that he may counteract the evil influences exercised by the planet Saturn on that day. When a new village is founded Māroti must first be brought and placed in the village and worshipped, and after this houses are built. The name Māroti is derived from Marut, the Vedic god of the wind, and he is considered to be the son of Vāyu, the wind, and Anjini. Khandoba is an incarnation of Siva as a warrior, and is the favourite deity of the Marāthas. Devi is usually venerated in her Incarnation of Marhai Māta, the goddess of smallpox and cholera—the most dreaded scourges of the Hindu villager. They offer goats and fowls to Marhai Devi, cutting the throat of the animal and letting its blood drop over the stone, which represents the goddess; after this they cut off a leg and hang it to the tree above her shrine, and eat the [39]remainder. Sometimes also they offer wooden images of human beings, which are buried before the shrine of the goddess and are obviously substitutes for a human sacrifice; and the lower castes offer pigs. If a man dies of snake-bite they make a little silver image of a snake, and then kill a real snake, and make a platform outside the village and place the image on it, which is afterwards regularly worshipped as Nāgoba Deo. They may perhaps think that the spirit of the snake which is killed passes into the silver image. Somebody afterwards steals the image, but this does not matter. Similarly if a man is killed by a tiger he is deified and worshipped as Bāghoba Deo, though they cannot kill a tiger as a preliminary. The Kunbis make images of their ancestors in silver or brass, and keep them in a basket with their other household deities. But when these get too numerous they take them on a pilgrimage to some sacred river and deposit them in it. A man who has lost both parents will invite some man and woman on Akshaya Tritiya,23 and call them by the names of his parents, and give them a feast. Among the mythological stories known to the caste is one of some interest, explaining how the dark spots came on the face of the moon. They say that once all the gods were going to a dinner-party, each riding on his favourite animal or vāhan (conveyance). But the vāhan of Ganpati, the fat god with the head of an elephant, was a rat, and the rat naturally could not go as fast as the other animals, and as it was very far from being up to Ganpati’s weight, it tripped and fell, and Ganpati came off. The moon was looking on, and laughed so much that Ganpati was enraged, and cursed it, saying, ‘Thy face shall be black for laughing at me.’ Accordingly the moon turned quite black; but the other gods interfered, and said that the curse was too hard, so Ganpati agreed that only a part of the moon’s face should be blackened in revenge for the insult. This happened on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of Bhādon (September), and on that day it is said that nobody should look at the moon, as if he does, his reputation will probably be lowered by some false charge or [40]libel being promulgated against him. As already stated, the Kunbi firmly believes in the influence exercised by spirits, and a proverb has it, ‘Brāhmans die of indigestion, Sunārs from bile, and Kunbis from ghosts’; because the Brāhman is always feasted as an act of charity and given the best food, so that he over-eats himself, while the Sunār gets bilious from sitting all day before a furnace. When somebody falls ill his family get a Brāhman’s cast-off sacred thread, and folding it to hold a little lamp, will wave this to and fro. If it moves in a straight line they say that the patient is possessed by a spirit, but if in a circle that his illness is due to natural causes. In the former case they promise an offering to the spirit to induce it to depart from the patient. The Brāhmans, it is said, try to prevent the Kunbis from getting hold of their sacred threads, because they think that by waving the lamp in them, all the virtue which they have obtained by their repetitions of the Gāyatri or sacred prayer is transferred to the sick Kunbi. They therefore tear up their cast-off threads or sew them into clothes.

17. The Pola festival

The principal festival of the Kunbis is the Pola, falling at about the middle of the rainy season, when they have a procession of plough-bullocks. An old bullock goes first, and on his horns is tied the makhar, a wooden frame with pegs to which torches are affixed. They make a rope of mango-leaves stretched between two posts, and the makhar bullock is made to break this and stampede back to the village, followed by all the other cattle. It is said that the makhar bullock will die within three years. Behind him come the bullocks of the proprietors and then those of the tenants in the order, not so much of their wealth, but of their standing in the village and of the traditional position held by their families. A Kunbi feels it very bitterly if he is not given what he considers to be his proper rank in this procession. It has often been remarked that the feudal feeling of reverence for hereditary rights and position is as strong among the Marātha people as anywhere in the world.

Figures of animals made for Pola festival

Figures of animals made for Pola festival

18. Muhammadan tendencies of Berār Kunbis

In Wardha and Berār the customs of the Kunbis show in several respects the influence of Islām, due no doubt to the long period of Muhammadan dominance in the country. To this may perhaps be attributed the prevalence of burial [41]of the dead instead of cremation, the more respectable method according to Hindu ideas. The Dhanoje Kunbis commonly revere Dāwal Mālik, a Muhammadan saint, whose tomb is at Uprai in Amraoti District. An urus or fair is held here on Thursdays, the day commonly sacred to Muhammadan saints, and on this account the Kunbis will not be shaved on Thursdays. They also make vows of mendicancy at the Muharram festival, and go round begging for rice and pulse; they give a little of what they obtain to Muhammadan beggars and eat the rest. At the Muharram they tie a red thread on their necks and dance round the alāwa, a small hole in which fire is kindled in front of the tāsias or tombs of Hussain. At the Muharram24 they also carry horseshoes of silver or gilt tinsel on the top of a stick decorated with peacock’s feathers. The horseshoe is a model of that of the horse of Hussain. The men who carry these horseshoes are supposed to be possessed by the spirit of the saint, and people make prayers to them for anything they want. If one of the horseshoes is dropped the finder will keep it in his house, and next year if he feels that the spirit moves him will carry it himself. In Wardha the Kunbis worship Khwāja Sheikh Farīd of Girar, and occasionally Sheikh Farīd appears to a Kunbi in a dream and places him under a vow. Then he and all his household make little imitation beggars’ wallets of cloth and dye them with red ochre, and little hoes on the model of those which saises use to drag out horses’ dung, this hoe being the badge of Sheikh Farīd. Then they go round begging to all the houses in the village, saying, ‘Dam,25 Sāhib, dam.’ With the alms given them they make cakes of malīda, wheat, sugar and butter, and give them to the priest of the shrine. Sometimes Sheikh Farīd tells the Kunbi in the dream that he must buy a goat of a certain Dhangar (shepherd), naming the price, while the Dhangar is similarly warned to sell it at the same price, and the goat is then purchased and sacrificed without any haggling: At the end of the sacrifice the priest releases the Kunbi from his vow, and he must then shave the whole of his head and distribute liquor to the caste-fellows in order to [42]be received back into the community. The water of the well at Sheikh Farīd’s shrine at Girar is considered to preserve the crops against insects, and for this purpose it is carried to considerable distances to be sprinkled on them.

Hindu boys on stilts

Hindu boys on stilts

19. Villages and houses

An ordinary Kunbi village26 contains between 70 and 80 houses or some 400 souls. The village generally lies on a slight eminence near a nullah or stream, and is often nicely planted with tamarind or pīpal trees. The houses are now generally tiled for fear of fire, and their red roofs may be seen from a distance forming a little cluster on high lying ground, an elevated site being selected so as to keep the roads fairly dry, as the surface tracks in black-soil country become almost impassable sloughs of mud as soon as the rains have broken. The better houses stand round an old mud fort, a relic of the Pindāri raids, when, on the first alarm of the approach of these marauding bands, the whole population hurried within its walls. The village proprietor’s house is now often built inside the fort. It is an oblong building surrounded by a compound wall of unbaked bricks, and with a gateway through which a cart can drive. Adjoining the entrance on each side are rooms for the reception of guests, in which constables, chuprāssies and others are lodged when they stay at night in the village. Kothas or sheds for keeping cattle and grain stand against the walls, and the dwelling-house is at the back. Substantial tenants have a house like the proprietor’s, of well-laid mud, whitewashed and with tiled roof; but the ordinary cultivator’s house is one-roomed, with an angan or small yard in front and a little space for a garden behind, in which vegetables are grown during the rains. The walls are of bamboo matting plastered over with mud. The married couples sleep inside, the room being partitioned off if there are two or more in the family, and the older persons sleep in the verandahs. In the middle of the village by the biggest temple will be an old pīpal tree, the trunk encircled by an earthen or stone platform, which answers to the village club. The respectable inhabitants will meet here while the lower classes go to the liquor-shop nearly every [43]night to smoke and chat. The blacksmith’s and carpenter’s shops are also places of common resort for the cultivators. Hither they wend in the morning and evening, often taking with them some implement which has to be mended, and stay to talk. The blacksmith in particular is said to be a great gossip, and will often waste much of his customer’s time, plying him for news and retailing it, before he repairs and hands back the tool brought to him. The village is sure to contain two or three little temples of Māroti or Mahādeo. The stones which do duty for the images are daily oiled with butter or ghī, and a miscellaneous store of offerings will accumulate round the buildings. Outside the village will be a temple of Devi or Māta Mai (Smallpox Goddess) with a heap of little earthen horses and a string of hens’ feet and feathers hung up on the wall. The little platforms which are the shrines of the other village gods will be found in the fields or near groves. In the evening the elders often meet at Māroti’s temple and pay their respects to the deity, bowing or prostrating themselves before him. A lamp before the temple is fed by contributions of oil from the women, and is kept burning usually up to midnight. Once a year in the month, of Shrāwan (July) the villagers subscribe and have a feast, the Kunbis eating first and the menial and labouring castes after them. In this month also all the village deities are worshipped by the Joshi or priest and the villagers. In summer the cultivators usually live in their fields, where they erect temporary sheds of bamboo matting roofed with juāri stalks. In these most of the household furniture is stored, while at a little distance in another funnel-shaped erection of bamboo matting is kept the owner’s grain. This system of camping out is mainly adopted for fear of fire in the village, when the cultivator’s whole stock of grain and his household goods might be destroyed in a few minutes without possibility of saving them. The women stay in the village, and the men and boys go there for their midday and evening meals.

20. Furniture

Ordinary cultivators have earthen pots for cooking purposes and brass ones for eating from, while the well-to-do have all their vessels of brass. The furniture consists of a few stools and cots. No Kunbi will lie on the ground, [44]probably because a dying man is always laid on the ground to breathe his last; and so every one has a cot consisting of a wooden frame with a bed made of hempen string or of the root-fibres of the palās tree (Butea frondosa). These cots are always too short for a man to lie on them at full length, and are in consequence supremely uncomfortable. The reason may perhaps be found in the belief that a man should always lie on a bed a little shorter than himself so that his feet project over the end. Because if the bed is longer than he is, it resembles a bier, and if he lies on a bier once he may soon die and lie on it a second time. For bathing they make a little enclosure in the compound with mats, and place two or three flat stones in it. Hot water is generally used and they rub the perspiration off their bodies with a flat stone called Jhāwar. Most Kunbis bathe daily. On days when they are shaved they plaster the head with soft black earth, and then wash it off and rub their bodies with a little linseed or sesamum oil, or, if they can afford it, with cocoanut oil.

21. Food

The Kunbis eat three times a day, at about eight in the morning, at midday and after dark. The morning meal is commonly eaten in the field and the two others at home. At midday the cultivator comes home from work, bathes and takes his meal, having a rest for about two hours in all. After finishing work he again comes home and has his evening meal, and then, after a rest, at about ten o’clock he goes again to the fields, if the crops are on the ground, and sleeps on the mara or small elevated platform erected in the field to protect the grain from birds and wild animals; occasionally waking and emitting long-drawn howls or pulling the strings which connect with clappers in various parts of the field. Thus for nearly eight months of the year the Kunbi sleeps in his fields, and only during the remaining period at home. Juāri is the staple food of the caste, and is eaten both raw and cooked. The raw pods of juāri were the provision carried with them on their saddles by the marauding Marātha horsemen, and the description of Sivaji getting his sustenance from gnawing at one of these as he rode along is said to have struck fear into the heart of the Nizām. It is a common custom among well-to-do [45]tenants and proprietors to invite their friends to a picnic in the fields when the crop is ripe to eat hurda or the pods of juāri roasted in hot ashes. For cooking purposes juāri is ground in an ordinary handmill and then passed through a sieve, which separates the finer from the coarser particles. The finer flour is made into dough with hot water and baked into thick flat chapātis or cakes, weighing more than half a pound each; while the coarse flour is boiled in water like rice. The boiled pulse of arhar (Cajanus indicus) is commonly eaten with juāri, and the chapātis are either dipped into cold linseed oil or consumed dry. The sameness of this diet is varied by a number of green vegetables, generally with very little savour to a European palate. These are usually boiled and then mixed into a salad with linseed or sesamum oil and flavoured with salt or powdered chillies, these last being the Kunbi’s indispensable condiment. He is also very fond of onions and garlic, which are either chopped and boiled, or eaten raw. Butter-milk when available is mixed with the boiled juāri after it is cooked, while wheat and rice, butter and sugar are delicacies reserved for festivals. As a rule only water is drunk, but the caste indulge in country liquor on festive occasions. Tobacco is commonly chewed after each meal or smoked in leaf cigarettes, or in chilams or clay pipe-bowls without a stem. Men also take snuff, and a few women chew tobacco and take snuff, though they do not smoke. It is noticeable that different subdivisions of the caste will commonly take food from each other in Berār, whereas in the Central Provinces they refuse to do so. The more liberal usage in Berār is possibly another case of Muhammadan influence. Small children eat with their father and brothers, but the women always wait on the men, and take their own food afterwards. Among the Dālia Kunbis of Nimār, however, women eat before men at caste feasts in opposition to the usual practice. It is stated in explanation that on one occasion when the men had finished their meal first and gone home, the women on returning were waylaid in the dark and robbed of their ornaments. And hence it was decided that they should always eat first and go home before nightfall. The Kunbi is fairly liberal in the matter of food. He will eat the flesh [46]of goats, sheep and deer, all kinds of fish and fowls, and will drink liquor. In Hoshangābād and Nimār the higher subcastes abstain from flesh and wine. The caste will take food cooked without water from Brāhmans, Banias and Sunārs, and that mixed with water only from Marātha Brāhmans. All castes except Marātha Brāhmans will take water from the hands of a Kunbi.

Throwing stilts into the water at the Pola festival

Throwing stilts into the water at the Pola festival

22. Clothes and ornaments

The dress of the ordinary cultivator is most common-place and consists only of a loin-cloth, another cloth thrown over the shoulders and upper part of the body, which except for this is often bare, and a third rough cloth wound loosely round the head. All these, originally white, soon assume a very dingy hue. There is thus no colour in a man’s everyday attire, but the gala dress for holidays consists of a red pagri or turban, a black, coloured or white coat, and a white loin-cloth with red silk borders if he can afford it. The Kunbi is seldom or never seen with his head bare; this being considered a bad omen because every one bares his head when a death occurs. Women wear lugras, or a single long cloth of red, blue or black cotton, and under this the choli, or small breast-cloth. They have one silk-bordered cloth for special occasions. A woman having a husband alive must not wear a white cloth with no colour in it, as this is the dress of widows. A white cloth with a coloured border may be worn. The men generally wear shoes which are open at the back of the heel, and clatter as they move along. Women do not, as a rule, wear shoes unless these are necessary for field work, or if they go out just after their confinement. But they have now begun to do so in towns. Women have the usual collection of ornaments on all parts of the person. The head ornaments should be of gold when this metal can be afforded. On the finger they have a miniature mirror set in a ring; as a rule not more than one ring is worn, so that the hands may be free for work. For a similar reason glass bangles, being fragile, are worn only on the left wrist and metal ones on the right. But the Dhanoje Kunbis, as already stated, have cocoanut shell bangles on both wrists. They smear a mark of red powder on the forehead or have a spangle there. Girls are generally tattooed in childhood when the skin is tender, and the [47]operation is consequently less painful. They usually have a small crescent and circle between the brows, small circles or dots on each temple and on the nose, cheeks and chin, and five small marks on the back of the hands to represent flies. Some of the Deshmukh families have now adopted the sacred thread; they also put caste marks on the forehead, and wear the shape of pagri or turban formerly distinctive of Marātha Brāhmans.

23. The Kunbi as cultivator

The Kunbi has the stolidity, conservative instincts, dulness and patience of the typical agriculturist. Sir R. Craddock describes him as follows27: “Of the purely agricultural classes the Kunbis claim first notice. They are divided into several sections or classes, and are of Marātha origin, the Jhāri Kunbis (the Kunbis of the wild country) being the oldest settlers, and the Deshkar (the Kunbis from the Deccan) the most recent. The Kunbi is certainly a most plodding, patient mortal, with a cat-like affection for his land, and the proprietary and cultivating communities, of both of which Kunbis are the most numerous members, are unlikely to fail so long as he keeps these characteristics. Some of the more intelligent and affluent of the caste, who have risen to be among the most prosperous members of the community, are as shrewd men of business in their way as any section of the people, though lacking in education. I remember one of these, a member of the Local Board, who believed that the land revenue of the country was remitted to England annually to form part of the private purse of the Queen Empress. But of the general body of the Kunbi caste it is true to say that in the matter of enterprise, capacity to hold their own with the moneylender, determination to improve their standard of comfort, or their style of agriculture, they lag far behind such cultivating classes as the Kirār, the Rāghvi and the Lodhi. While, however, the Kunbi yields to these classes in some of the more showy attributes which lead to success in life, he is much their superior in endurance under adversity, he is more law-abiding, and he commands, both by reason of his character and his caste, greater social respect among the people at large. The wealthy Kunbi proprietor is occasionally rather [48]spoilt by good fortune, or, if he continues a keen cultivator, is apt to be too fond of land-grabbing. But these are the exceptional cases, and there is generally no such pleasing spectacle as that afforded by a village in which the cultivators and the proprietors are all Kunbis living in harmony together.” The feeling28 of the Kunbi towards agricultural improvements has hitherto probably been something the same as that of the Sussex farmer who said, ‘Our old land, it likes our old ploughs’ to the agent who was vainly trying to demonstrate to him the advantages of the modern two-horse iron plough over the great wooden local tool; and the emblem ascribed to old Sussex—a pig couchant with the motto ‘I wun’t be druv’—would suit the Kunbi equally well. But the Kunbi, too, though he could not express it, knows something of the pleasure of the simple outdoor life, the fresh smell of the soil after rain, the joy of the yearly miracle when the earth is again carpeted with green from the bursting into life of the seed which he has sown, and the pleasure of watching the harvest of his labours come to fruition. He, too, as has been seen, feels something corresponding to “That inarticulate love of the English farmer for his land, his mute enjoyment of the furrow crumbling from the ploughshare or the elastic tread of his best pastures under his heel, his ever-fresh satisfaction at the sight of the bullocks stretching themselves as they rise from the soft grass.”

Carrying out the dead

Carrying out the dead

24. Social and moral characteristics

Some characteristics of the Marātha people are noticed by Sir R. Jenkins as follows29: “The most remarkable feature perhaps in the character of the Marāthas of all descriptions is the little regard they pay to show or ceremony in the common intercourse of life. A peasant or mechanic of the lowest order, appearing before his superiors, will sit down of his own accord, tell his story without ceremony, and converse more like an equal than an inferior; and if he has a petition he talks in a loud and boisterous tone and fearlessly sets forth his claims. Both the peasantry and the better classes are often coarse and indelicate in their [49]language, and many of the proverbs, which they are fond of introducing into conversation, are extremely gross. In general the Marāthas, and particularly the cultivators, are not possessed of much activity or energy of character, but they have quick perception of their own interest, though their ignorance of writing and accounts often renders them the dupes of the artful Brāhmans.” “The Kunbi,” Mr. Forbes remarks,30 “though frequently all submission and prostration when he makes his appearance in a revenue office, is sturdy and bold enough among his own people. He is fond of asserting his independence and the helplessness of others without his aid, on which subject he has several proverbs, as: ‘Wherever it thunders there the Kunbi is a landholder,’ and ‘Tens of millions are dependent on the Kunbi, but the Kunbi depends on no man.’” This sense of his own importance, which has also been noticed among the Jāts, may perhaps be ascribed to the Kunbi’s ancient status as a free and full member of the village community. “The Kunbi and his bullocks are inseparable, and in speaking of the one it is difficult to dissociate the other. His pride in these animals is excusable, for they are most admirably suited to the circumstances in which nature has placed them, and possess a very wide-extended fame. But the Kunbi frequently exhibits his fondness for them in the somewhat peculiar form of unmeasured abuse. ‘May the Kāthis31 seize you!’ is his objurgation if in the peninsula of Surat; if in the Idar district or among the mountains it is there ‘May the tiger kill you!’ and all over Gujarāt, ‘May your master die!’ However, he means by this the animal’s former owner, not himself; and when more than usually cautious he will word his chiding thus—‘May the fellow that sold you to me perish.’” But now the Kāthis raid no more and the tiger, though still taking good toll of cattle in the Central Provinces, is not the ever-present terror that once he was. But the bullock himself is no longer so sacrosanct in the Kunbi’s eyes, and cannot look forward with the same certainty to an old age of idleness, threatened only by starvation in the hot weather or death by surfeit of the new [50]moist grass in the rains; and when therefore the Kunbi’s patience is exhausted by these aggravating animals, his favourite threat at present is, ‘I will sell you to the Kasais’ (butchers); and not so very infrequently he ends by doing so. It may be noted that with the development of the cotton industry the Kunbi of Wardha is becoming much sharper and more capable of protecting his own interests, while with the assistance and teaching which he now receives from the Agricultural Department, a rapid and decided improvement is taking place in his skill as a cultivator.

1 Rāsmāla, i. p. 100.

2 Ibidem, p. 241.

3 Khāndesh Gazetteer, p. 62.

4 Bombay Gazetteer, vol. i. part ii. p. 34.

5 From jihār, a tree or shrub.

6 Acacia catechu.

7 Dhan properly means wealth, cf. the two meanings of the word stock in English.

8 Berār Census Report (1881), para. 180.

9 Ibidem.

10 Bāwan = fifty-two.

11 Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarāt p. 490, App. B, Gūjar.

12 Eugenia jambolana.

13 Ficus glomerata.

14 See the article entitled ‘An Anthropoid.’

15 Bombay Gazetteer; Nāsik p. 26.

16 This is the rule in the Nāgpur District.

17 From a note by Mr. A. K. Smith, C.S.

18 Circle Inspector Ganesh Prasād.

19 Semicarpus anacardium.

20 ‘Oh, Lord Mahābīr, give me a child, only one child.’

21 Beast and Man in India, p. 44. But, according to the same writer, the Hindus do say, ‘Drunk as an owl’ and also ‘Stupid as an owl.’

22 Crotalaria juncea.

23 The 3rd Baisākh (May) Sudi, the commencement of the agricultural year. The name means, ‘The day of immortality.’

24 Furnished by Inspector Ganesh Prasād.

25 Dam: breath or life.

26 These paragraphs are largely based on a description of a Wardha village by Mr. A.K. Smith, C.S.

27 Nāgpur Settlement Report, para. 45.

28 The references to English farming in this paragraph are taken from an article in the Saturday Review of 22nd August 1908.

29 Report on the Territories of the Rāja of Nāgpur.

30 Rāsmālā, ii. 242.

31 A freebooting tribe who gave their name to Kāthiawār.



Kunjra.1—A caste of greengrocers, who sell country vegetables and fruit and are classed as Muhammadans. Mr. Crooke derives the name from the Sanskrit kunj, ‘a bower or arbour.’ They numbered about 1600 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911, principally in the Jubbulpore Division. The customs of the Kunjras appear to combine Hindu and Muhammadan rites in an indiscriminate medley. It is reported that marriage is barred only between real brothers and sisters and foster brothers and sisters, the latter rule being known as Dudh bachāna, or ‘Observing the tie of the milk.’ At their betrothal presents are given to the parties, and after this a powder of henna leaves is sent to the boy, who rubs it on his fingers and returns it to the girl that she may do the same. As among the Hindus, the bodies of the bridal couple are anointed with oil and turmeric at their respective houses before the wedding. A marriage-shed is made and the bridegroom goes to the bride’s house wearing a cotton quilt and riding on a bullock. The barber holds the umbrella over his head and must be given a present before he will fold it, but the wedding is performed by the Kāzi according to the Nikāh ceremony by the repetition of verses from the Korān. The wedding is held at four o’clock in the morning, and as a preliminary to it the bride is presented with some money by the boy’s father, which is known as the Meher or dowry. On its conclusion a cup of sherbet is given to the bridegroom, of which he drinks [51]half and hands the remainder to the bride. The gift of the Meher is considered to seal the marriage contract. When a widow is married the Kāzi is also employed, and he simply recites the Kalama or Muhammadan profession of belief, and the ceremony is completed by the distribution of dates to the elders of the caste. Divorce is permitted and is known as talāq. The caste observe the Muhammadan festivals, and have some favourite saints of their own to whom they make offerings of gulgula a kind of pudding, with sacrifices of goats and fowls. Participation in these rites is confined to members of the family. Children are named on the day of their birth, the Muhammadan Kāzi or a Hindu Brāhman being employed indifferently to select the name. If the parents lose one or more children, in order to preserve the lives of those subsequently born, they will allow the choti or scalp-lock to grow on their heads in the Hindu fashion, dedicating it to one of their Muhammadan saints. Others will put a hasli or silver circlet round the neck of the child and add a ring to this every year; a strip of leather is sometimes also tied round the neck. When the child reaches the age of twelve years the scalp-lock is shaved, the leather band thrown into a river and the silver necklet sold. Offerings are made to the saints and a feast is given to the friends of the family. The dead are buried, camphor and attar of roses being applied to the corpse. On the Tīja and Chālisa, or third and fortieth days after a death, a feast is given to the caste-fellows, but no mourning is observed, neither do the mourners bathe nor perform ceremonies of purification. On the Tīja the Korān is also read and fried grain is distributed to children. For the death of a child the ordinary feasts need not be given, but prayers are offered for their souls with those of the other dead once a year on the night of Shab-i-Barāt or the fifteenth day of the month Shabān,2 which is observed as a vigil with prayer, feasts [52]and illuminations and offerings to the ancestors. Kunjra men are usually clean-shaven with the exception of the beard, which is allowed to grow long below the chin. Their women are not tattooed. In the cities, Mr. Crooke remarks,3 their women have an equivocal reputation, as the better-looking girls who sit in the shops are said to use considerable freedom of manners to attract customers. They are also very quarrelsome and abusive when bargaining for the sale of their wares or arguing with each other. This is so much the case that men who become very abusive are said to be behaving like Kunjras; while in Dacca Sir H. Risley states4 that the word Kunjra has become a term of abuse, so that the caste are ashamed to be known by it, and call themselves Mewa-farosh, Sabzi-farosh or Bepāri. When two women are having an altercation, their husbands and other male relatives are forbidden to interfere on pain of social degradation. The women never sit on the ground, but on small wooden stools or pīrhis. The Kunjras belong chiefly to the north of the Province, and in the south their place is taken by the Marārs and Mālis who carry their own produce for sale to the markets. The Kunjras sell sugarcane, potatoes, onions and all kinds of vegetables, and others deal in the dried fruits imported by Kābuli merchants.

1 This article is partly based on papers by Nanhe Khān, Sub-Inspector of Police, Khurai, Saugor, and Kesho Rao, Headmaster, Middle School, Seoni-Chhapāra.

2 Literally ‘The Month of Separatica.’ It is the eighth month of the Muhammadan year and is said to be so called because in this month the Arabs broke up their encampments and scattered in search of water. On the night of Shab-i-Barāt God registers all the actions of men which they are to perform during the year; and all the children of men who are to be born and die in the year are recorded. Though properly a fast, it is generally observed with rejoicings and a display of fireworks. Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam, p. 570.

3 Tribes and Castes of the N.W.P., art. Kunjra.

4 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, ibidem.



Kuramwār.1—The shepherd caste of southern India, who are identical with the Tamil Kurumba and the Telugu Kuruba. The caste is an important one in Madras, but in the Central Provinces is confined to the Chānda District where it numbered some 4000 persons in 1911. The Kuramwārs are considered to be the modern representatives of the ancient Pallava tribe whose kings were powerful in southern India in the seventh century.2

The marriage rules of the Kuramwārs are interesting. If a girl reaches adolescence while still single, she is finally expelled from the caste, her parents being also subjected to a penalty for readmission. Formerly it is said that such a girl was sacrificed to the river-goddess by being placed in a small hut on the river-bank till a flood came and swept [53]her away. Now she is taken to the river and kept in a hut, while offerings are made to the river-goddess, and she may then return and live in the village though she is out of caste. In Madras, as a preliminary to the marriage, the bridegroom’s father observes certain marks or ‘curls’ on the head or hair of the bride proposed. Some of these are believed to forecast prosperity and others misery to the family into which she enters. They are therefore very cautious in selecting only such girls as possess curls (sūli) of good fortune. The writer of the North Arcot Manual3 after recording the above particulars, remarks: “This curious custom obtaining among this primitive tribe is observed by others only in the case of the purchase of cows, bulls and horses.” In the Central Provinces, however, at least one parallel instance can be given from the northern Districts where any mark resembling the V on the head of a cobra is considered to be very inauspicious. And it is told that a girl who married into one well-known family bore it, and to this fact the remarkable succession of misfortunes which has attended the family is locally attributed. Among the Kuramwārs marriages can be celebrated only on four days in the year, the fifth day of both fortnights of Phāgun (February), the tenth day of the second fortnight of the same month and the third day of Baisākh (April). At the marriage the bride and bridegroom are seated together under the canopy, with the shuttle which is used for weaving blankets between them, and they throw coloured rice at each other. After this a miniature swing is put up and a doll is placed in it in imitation of a child and swung to and fro. The bride then takes the doll out and gives it to the bridegroom, saying: ‘Here, take care of it, I am now going to cook food’; while after a time the boy returns the doll to the girl, saying, ‘I must now weave the blanket and go to tend the flock.’ The proceeding seems a symbolic enactment of the cares of married life and the joint tending of the baby, this sort of symbolism being particularly noticeable in the marriage ceremonies of the people of Madras. Divorce is not permitted even though the wife be guilty of adultery, and if she runs away to her father’s house her husband cannot use force to bring her back if she refuses to [54]return to him. The Kuramwārs worship the implements of their calling at the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, and if any family fails to do this it is put out of caste. They also revere annually Mallana Deva and Mallani Devi who guard their flocks respectively from attacks of tigers and epidemics of murrain. The shrines of these deities are generally built under a banyan tree and open to the east. The caste are shepherds and graziers and also make blankets. They are poor and ignorant, and the Abbé Dubois4 says of them: “Being confined to the society of their woolly charge, they seem to have contracted the stupid nature of the animal, and from the rudeness of their nature they are as much beneath the other castes of Hindus as the sheep by their simplicity and imperfect instruction are beneath the other quadrupeds.” Hence the proverbial comparison ‘As stupid as a Kuramwār.’ When out of doors the Kuramwār retains the most primitive method of eating and drinking; he takes his food in a leaf and licks it up with his tongue, and sucks up water from a tank or river with his mouth. They justify this custom by saying that on one occasion their god had taken his food out of the house on a leaf-plate and was proceeding to eat it with his hands when his sheep ran away and he had to go and fetch them back. In the meantime a crow came and pecked at the food and so spoilt it. It was therefore ordained that all the caste should eat their food straight off the leaf, in order to do which they would have to take it from the cooking-pot in small quantities and there would be no chance of leaving any for the crows to spoil. The story is interesting as showing how very completely the deity of the Kuramwārs is imagined on the principle that god made man in his own image. Or, as a Frenchman has expressed the idea, ‘Dieu a fait l’homme à son image, mais l’homme le lui a bein rendu.’ The caste are dark in colour and may be distinguished by their caps made from pieces of blankets, and by their wearing a woollen cord round the waist over the loin-cloth. They speak a dialect of Canarese. [55]

1 This article is compiled from notes taken by Mr. Hīra Lāl and by Pyāre Lāl Misra, Ethnographic clerk.

2 North Arcot Manual, vol. i. p. 220.

3 Vol. i. p. 224.

4 Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies.



List of Paragraphs

1. Numbers and derivation of name

Kurmi.1—The representative cultivating caste of Hindustān or the country comprised roughly in the United Provinces, Bihār arid the Central Provinces north of the [56]Nerbudda. In 1911 the Kurmis numbered about 300,000 persons in the Central Provinces, of whom half belonged to the Chhattīsgarh Division and a third to the Jubbulpore Division; the Districts in which they were most numerous being Saugor, Damoh, Jubbulpore, Hoshangābād, Raipur, Bilāspur and Drūg. The name is considered to be derived from the Sanskrit krishi, cultivation, or from kurma, the tortoise incarnation of Vishnu, whether because it is the totem of the caste or because, as suggested by one writer, the Kurmi supports the population of India as the tortoise supports the earth. It is true that many Kurmis say they belong to the Kashyap gotra, Kashyap being the name of a Rishi, which seems to have been derived from kachhap, the tortoise; but many other castes also say they belong to the Kashyap gotra or worship the tortoise, and if this has any connection with the name of the caste it is probable that the caste-name suggested the gotra-name and not the reverse. It is highly improbable that a large occupational caste should be named after an animal, and the metaphorical similitude can safely be rejected. The name seems therefore either to come from krishi, cultivation, or from some other unknown source.

2. Functional character of the caste

There seems little reason to doubt that the Kurmis, like the Kunbis, are a functional caste. In Bihār they show traces of Aryan blood, and are a fine-looking race. But in Chota Nāgpur Sir H. Risley states: “Short, sturdy and of very dark complexion, the Kurmis closely resemble in feature the Dravidian tribes around them. It is difficult to distinguish a Kurmi from a Bhumij or Santāl, and the Santāls will take cooked food from them.”2 In the Central Provinces they are fairly dark in complexion and of moderate height, and no doubt of very mixed blood. Where the Kurmis and Kunbis meet the castes sometimes amalgamate, and there is little doubt that various groups of Kurmis settling in the Marātha country have become Kunbis, and Kunbis migrating to northern India have become Kurmis. Each caste has certain subdivisions whose names belong to the other. It has been seen in the article on Kunbi that this caste is of very diverse origin, having assimilated large bodies of persons [57]from several other castes, and is probably to a considerable extent recruited from the local non-Aryan tribes; if then the Kurmis mix so readily with the Kunbis, the presumption is that they are of a similar mixed origin, as otherwise they should consider themselves superior. Mr. Crooke gives several names of subcastes showing the diverse constitution of the Kurmis. Thus three, Gaharwār, Jādon and Chandel are the names of Rājpūt clans; the Kori subcaste must be a branch of the low weaver caste of that name; and in the Central Provinces the names of such subcastes as the Agaria or iron-workers, the Lonhāre or salt-refiners, and the Khaira or catechu-collectors indicate that these Kurmis are derived from low Hindu castes or the aboriginal tribes.

3. Subcastes

The caste has a large number of subdivisions. The Usrete belonged to Bundelkhand, where this name is found in several castes; they are also known as Havelia, because they live in the rich level tract of the Jubbulpore Haveli, covered like a chessboard with large embanked wheat-fields. The name Haveli seems to have signified a palace or headquarters of a ruler, and hence was applied to the tract surrounding it, which was usually of special fertility, and provided for the maintenance of the chief’s establishment and household troops. Thus in Jubbulpore, Mandia and Betūl we find the forts of the old Gond rulers dominating an expanse of rich plain-country. The Usrete Kurmis abstain from meat and liquor, and may be considered as one of the highest subcastes. Their name may be derived from a-sreshtha, or not the best, and its significance would be that formerly they were considered to be of mixed origin, like most castes in Bundelkhand. The group of Sreshtha or best-born Kurmis has now, however, died out if it ever existed, and the Usretes have succeeded in establishing themselves in its place. The Chandnāhes of Jubbulpore or Chandnāhus of Chhattīsgarh are another large subdivision. The name may be derived from the village Chandnoha in Bundelkhand, but the Chandnāhus of Chhattīsgarh say that three or four centuries ago a Rājpūt general of the Rāja of Ratanpur had been so successful in war that the king allowed him to appear in Durbār in his uniform with his forehead marked with sandalwood, as a special honour. [58]When he died his son continued to do the same, and on the king’s attention being drawn to it he forbade him. But the son did not obey, and hence the king ordered the sandalwood to be rubbed from his forehead in open Durbār. But when this was done the mark miraculously reappeared through the agency of the goddess Devi, whose favourite he was. Three times the king had the mark rubbed out and three times it came again. So he was allowed to wear it thereafter, and was called Chandan Singh from chandan, sandalwood; and his descendants are the Chandnāhu Kurmis. Another derivation is from Chandra, the moon. In Jubbulpore these Chandnāhes sometimes kill a pig under the palanquin of a newly married bride. In Bilāspur they are prosperous and capable cultivators, but are generally reputed to be stingy, and therefore are not very popular. Here they are divided into the Ekbahinyas and Dobahinyas, or those who wear glass bangles on one or both arms respectively. The Chandrāha Kurmis of Raipur are probably a branch of the Chandnāhus. They sprinkle with water the wood with which they are about to cook their food in order to purify it, and will eat food only in the chauka or sanctified place in the house. At harvest when they must take meals in the fields, one of them prepares a patch of ground, cleaning and watering it, and there cooks food for them all.

The Singrore Kurmis derive their name from Singror, a place near Allahābād. Singror is said to have once been a very important town, and the Lodhis and other castes have subdivisions of this name. The Desha Kurmis are a group of the Mungeli tahsīl of Bilāspur. Desh means one’s native country, but in this case the name probably refers to Bundelkhand. Mr. Gordon states3 that they do not rear poultry and avoid residing in villages in which their neighbours keep poultry. The Santore Kurmis are a group found in several Districts, who grow san-hemp,4 and are hence looked down upon by the remainder of the caste. In Raipur the Mānwa Kurmis will also do this; Māna is a word sometimes applied to a loom, and the Mānwa Kurmis may be so called because they grow hemp and weave sacking from the fibres. The [59]Pataria are an inferior group in Bilāspur, who are similarly despised because they grow hemp and will take their food in the fields in patris or leaf-plates. The Gohbaiyān are considered to be an illegitimate group; the name is said to signify ‘holding the arm.’ The Bāhargaiyan, or ‘those who live outside the town,’ are another subcaste to which children born out of wedlock are relegated. The Palkiha subcaste of Jubbulpore are said to be so named because their ancestors were in the service of a certain Rāja and spread his bedding for him; hence they are somewhat looked down on by the others. The name may really be derived from palal, a kind of vegetable, and they may originally have been despised for growing this vegetable, and thus placing themselves on a level with the gardening castes. The Masūria take their name from the masūr or lentil, a common cold-weather crop in the northern Districts, which is, however, grown by all Kurmis and other cultivators; and the Agaria or iron-workers, the Kharia or catechu-makers, and the Lonhāre or salt-makers, have already been mentioned. There are also numerous local or territorial subcastes, as the Chaurasia or those living in a Chaurāsi5 estate of eighty-four villages, the Pardeshi or foreigners, the Bundelkhandi or those who came from Bundelkhand, the Kanaujias from Oudh, the Gaur from northern India, and the Marāthe and Telenge or Marāthas and Telugus; these are probably Kunbis who have been taken into the caste. The Gabel are a small subcaste in Sakti State, who now prefer to drop the name Kurmi and call themselves simply Gabel. The reason apparently is that the other Kurmis about them sow san-hemp, and as they have ceased doing this they try to separate themselves and rank above the rest. But they call the bastard group of their community Rakhaut Kurmis, and other people speak of all of them as Gabel Kurmis, so that there is no doubt that they belong to the caste. It is said that formerly they were pack-carriers, but have now abandoned this calling in favour of cultivation.

4. Exogamous groups

Each subcaste has a number of exogamous divisions and these present a large variety of all types. Some groups have [60]the names of Brāhman saints as Sāndil, Bhāradwaj, Kausil and Kashyap; others are called after Rājpūt septs, as Chauhān, Rāthor, Panwār and Solanki; other names are of villages, as Khairagarhi from Khairagarh, Pandariha from Pandaria, Bhadaria, and Harkotia from Harkoti; others are titular, as Sondeha, gold-bodied, Sonkharchi, spender of gold, Bimba Lohir, stick-carrier, Banhpagar, one wearing a thread on the arm, Bhandāri, a store-keeper, Kumaria, a potter, and Shikaria, a hunter; and a large number are totemistic, named after plants, animals or natural objects, as Sadāphal, a fruit; Kathail from kath or catechu; Dhorha, from dhor, cattle; Kānsia, the kāns grass; Karaiya, a frying-pan; Sarang, a peacock; Samundha, the ocean; Sindia, the date-palm tree; Dudhua from dudh, milk, and so on. Some sections are subdivided; thus the Tidha section, supposed to be named after a village, is divided into three subsections named Ghurepake, a mound of cowdung, Dwarparke, door-jamb, and Jangi, a warrior, which are themselves exogamous. Similarly the Chaudhri section, named after the title of the caste headman, is divided into four subsections, two, Majhgawān Bamuria, named after villages, and two, Purwa Thok and Pascham Thok, signifying the eastern and western groups. Presumably when sections get so large as to bar the marriage of persons not really related to each other at all, relief is obtained by subdividing them in this manner. A list of the sections of certain subcastes so far as they have been obtained is given at the end of the article.

Pounding rice

Pounding rice

5. Marriage rules. Betrothal

Marriage is prohibited between members of the same section and between first and second cousins on the mother’s side. But the Chandnāhe Kurmis permit the wedding of a brother’s daughter to a sister’s son. Most Kurmis forbid a man to marry his wife’s sister during her lifetime. The Chhattīsgarh Kurmis have the practice of exchanging girls between two families. There is usually no objection to marriage on account of religious differences within the pale of Hinduism, but the difficulty of a union between a member of a Vaishnava sect who abstains from flesh and liquor, and a partner who does not, is felt and expressed in the following saying: [61]

Vaishnava purush avaishnava nāri

Unt beil ki jot bichāri,

or ‘A Vaishnava husband with a non-Vaishnava wife is like a camel yoked with a bullock.’ Muhammadans and Christians are not retained in the caste. Girls are usually wedded between nine and eleven, but well-to-do Kurmis like other agriculturists, sometimes marry their daughters when only a few months old. The people say that when a Kurmi gets rich he will do three things: marry his daughters very young and with great display, build a fine house, and buy the best bullocks he can afford. The second and third methods of spending his money are very sensible, whatever may be thought of the first. No penalty is imposed for allowing a girl to exceed the age of puberty before marriage. Boys are married between nine and fifteen years, but the tendency is towards the postponement of the ceremony. The boy’s father goes and asks for a bride and says to the girl’s father, ‘I have placed my son with you,’ that is, given him in adoption; if the match be acceptable the girl’s father replies, ‘Yes, I will give my daughter to collect cowdung for you’; to which the boy’s father responds, ‘I will hold her as the apple of my eye.’ Then the girl’s father sends the barber and the Brāhman to the boy’s house, carrying a rupee and a cocoanut. The boy’s relatives return the visit and perform the ‘God bharna,’ or ‘Filling the lap of the girl.’ They take some sweetmeats, a rupee and a cocoanut, and place them in the girl’s lap, this being meant to induce fertility. The ceremony of betrothal succeeds, when the couple are seated together on a wooden plank and touch the feet of the guests and are blessed by them. The auspicious date of the wedding is fixed by the Brāhman and intimation is given to the boy’s family through the lagan or formal invitation, which is sent on a paper coloured yellow with powdered rice and turmeric. A bride-price is paid, which in the case of well-to-do families may amount to as much as Rs. 100 to Rs. 400.

6. The marriage-shed or pavilion

Before the wedding the women of the family go out and fetch new earth for making the stoves on which the marriage feast will be cooked. When about to dig they worship the earth by sprinkling water over it and offering [62]flowers and rice. The marriage-shed is made of the wood of the sāleh tree,6 because this wood is considered to be alive. If a pole of sāleh is cut and planted in the ground it takes root and sprouts, though otherwise the wood is quite useless. The wood of the kekar tree has similar properties and may also be used. The shed is covered with leaves of the mango or jāmun7 trees, because these trees are evergreen and hence typify perpetual life. The marriage-post in the centre of the shed is called Magrohan or Khām; the women go and worship it at the carpenter’s house; two pice, a piece of turmeric and an areca-nut are buried below it in the earth and a new thread and a toran or string of mango-leaves is wound round it. Oil and turmeric are also rubbed on the marriage-post at the same time as on the bride and bridegroom. In Saugor the marriage-post is often a four-sided wooden frame or a pillar with four pieces of wood suspended from it. The larger the marriage-shed is made the greater honour accrues to the host, even though the guests may be insufficient to fill it. In towns it has often to be made in the street and is an obstacle to traffic. There may be eight or ten posts besides the centre one.

7. The marriage-cakes

Another preliminary ceremony is the family sacrament of the Meher or marriage-cakes. Small balls of wheat-flour are kneaded and fried in an earthen pan with sesamum oil by the eldest woman of the family. No metal vessel may be used to hold the water, flour or oil required for these cakes, probably because earthen vessels were employed before metal ones and are therefore considered more sacred. In measuring the ingredients a quarter of a measure is always taken in excess, such as a seer8 and a quarter for a seer of wheat, to foreshadow the perpetual increase of the family. When made the cakes are offered to the Kul Deo or household god. The god is worshipped and the bride and bridegroom then first partake of the cakes and after them all members of the family and relatives. Married daughters and daughters-in-law may eat of the cakes, but not widows, who are probably too impure to join in a sacred sacrament Every person admitted to partake of the marriage-cakes is held to belong to the family, so that all other members of [63]it have to observe impurity for ten days after a birth or death has occurred in his house and shave their heads for a death. When the family is so large that this becomes irksome it is cut down by not inviting persons beyond seven degrees of relationship to the Meher sacrament This exclusion has sometimes led to bitter quarrels and actions for defamation. It seems likely that the Meher may be a kind of substitute for the sacrificial meal, at which all the members of the clan ate the body of the totem or divine animal, and some similar significance perhaps once attached to the wedding-cake in England, pieces of which are sent to relatives unable to be present at the wedding.

8. Customs at the wedding

Before the wedding the women of each party go and anoint the village gods with oil and turmeric, worshipping them, and then similarly anoint the bride and bridegroom at their respective houses for three days. The bridegroom’s head is shaved except for his scalp-lock; he wears a silver necklet on his neck, puts lamp-black on his eyes, and is dressed in new yellow and white clothes. Thus attired he goes round and worships all the village gods and visits the houses of his relatives and friends, who mark his forehead with rice and turmeric and give him a silver piece. A list of the money thus received is made and similar presents are returned to the donors when they have weddings. The bridegroom goes to the wedding either in a litter or on a horse, and must not look behind him. After being received at the bride’s village and conducted to his lodging, he proceeds to the bride’s house and strikes a grass mat hung before the house seven times with a reed-stick. On entering the bride’s house the bridegroom is taken to worship her family gods, the men of the party usually remaining outside. Then, as he goes through the room, one of the women who has tied a long thread round her toe gets behind him and measures his height with the thread without his seeing. She breaks off the thread at his height and doubling it once or twice sews it round the top of the bride’s skirt, and they think that as long as the bride wears this thread she will be able to make her husband do as she likes. If the girls wish to have a joke they take one of the bridegroom’s shoes which he has left [64]outside the house, wrap it up in a piece of cloth, and place it on a shelf or in a cupboard, where the family god would be kept, with two lamps burning before it. Then they say to the bridegroom, ‘Come and worship our household god’; and if he goes and does reverence to it they unwrap the cloth and show him his own shoe and laugh at him. But if he has been to one or two weddings and knows the joke he just gives it a kick. The bride’s younger brother steals the bridegroom’s other shoe and hides it, and will not give it back without a present of a rupee or two. The bride and bridegroom are seated on wooden seats, and while the Brāhman recites texts, they make the following promises. The bridegroom covenants to live with his wife and her children, to support them and tell her all his concerns, consult her, make her a partner of his religious worship and almsgiving, and be with her on the night following the termination of her monthly impurity. The bride promises to remain faithful to her husband, to obey his wishes and orders, to perform her household duties as well as she can, and not to go anywhere without his permission. The last promise of the bridegroom has reference to the general rule among Hindus that a man should always sleep with his wife on the night following the termination of her menses because at this time she is most likely to conceive and the prospect of a child being born must not be lost. The Shāstras lay it down that a man should not visit his wife before going into battle, this being no doubt an instance of the common custom of abstinence from conjugal intercourse prior to some important business or undertaking; but it is stated that if on such an occasion she should have just completed a period of impurity and have bathed and should desire him to come in to her, he should do so, even with his armour on, because by refusing, in the event of his being killed in battle, the chance of a child being born would be finally lost. To Hindu ideas the neglect to produce life is a sin of the same character, though in a minor degree, as that of destroying life; and it is to be feared that it will be some time before this ingrained superstition gives way to any considerations of prudential restraint Some people say that for a man [65]not to visit his wife at this time is as great a sin as murder.

9. Walking round the sacred post

The binding ceremony of the marriage is the walking seven times round the marriage-post in the direction of the sun. The post probably represents the sun and the walk of the bridal couple round it may be an imitation of the movement of the planets round the sun. The reverence paid to the marriage-post has already been noticed. During the procession the bride leads and the bridegroom puts his left hand on her left shoulder. The household pounding-slab is near the post and on it are placed seven little heaps of rice, turmeric, areca-nut, and a small winnowing-fan. Each time the bride passes the slab the bridegroom catches her right foot and with it makes her brush one of the little heaps off the slab. These seven heaps represent the seven Rishis or saints who are the seven large stars of the constellation of the Great Bear.

10. Other ceremonies

After the wedding the bride and bridegroom resume their seats and the parents of the bride wash their feet in a brass tray, marking their foreheads with rice and turmeric. They put some silver in the tray, and other relations and friends do the same. The presents thus collected go to the bridegroom. The Chandnāhu Kurmis then have a ceremony known as palkachār. The bride’s father provides a bed on which a mattress and quilt are laid and the bride and bridegroom are seated on it, while their brother and sister sprinkle parched rice round them. This is supposed to typify the consummation of the marriage, but the ceremony is purely formal as the bridal couple are children. The bridegroom is given two lamps and he has to mix their flames, probably to symbolise the mixing of the spirits of his wife and himself. He requires a present of a rupee or two before he consents to do so. During the wedding the bride is bathed in the same water as the bridegroom, the joint use of the sacred element being perhaps another symbolic mark of their union. At the feasts the bride eats rice and milk with her husband from one dish, once at her own house and once after she goes to her husband’s house. Subsequently she never eats with her husband but always after him. She also sits and eats at the wedding-feasts with her husband’s [66]relations. This is perhaps meant to mark her admission into her husband’s clan. After the wedding the Brāhmans on either side recite Sanskrit verses, praising their respective families and displaying their own learning. The competition often becomes bitter and would end in a quarrel, but that the elders of the party interfere and stop it.

The expenses of an ordinary wedding on the bridegroom’s side may be Rs. 100 in addition to the bride-price, and on the bride’s Rs. 200. The bride goes home for a day or two with the bridegroom’s party in Chhattīsgarh but not in the northern Districts, as women accompany the wedding procession in the former but not in the latter locality. If she is too small to go, her shoes and marriage-crown are sent to represent her. When she attains maturity the chauk or gauna ceremony is performed, her husband going to fetch her with a few friends. At this time her parents give her clothes, food and ornaments in a basket called jhanpi or tipara specially prepared for the occasion.

11. Polygamy widow-marriage and divorce

A girl who becomes pregnant by a man of the caste before marriage is wedded to him by the rite used for widows. If the man is an outsider she is expelled from the community. Women are much valued for the sake of their labour in the fields, and the transgressions of a wife are viewed with a lenient eye. In Damoh it is said that a man readily condones his wife’s adultery with another Kurmi, and if it becomes known and she is put out of caste, he will give the penalty feasts himself for her admission. If she is detected in a liaison with an outsider she is usually discarded, but the offence may be condoned should the man be a Brāhman. And one instance is mentioned of a mālguzār’s wife who had gone wrong with a Gond, and was forgiven and taken back by her husband and the caste. But the leniency was misplaced as she subsequently eloped with an Ahīr. Polygamy is usual with those who can afford to pay for several wives, as a wife’s labour is more efficient and she is a more profitable investment than a hired servant. An instance is on record of a blind Kurmi in Jubbulpore, who had nine wives. A man who is faithful to one wife, and does not visit her on fast-days, is called a Brahmachari or saint and it is thought that he will go to heaven. The [67]remarriage of widows is permitted and is usual. The widow goes to a well on some night in the dark fortnight, and leaving her old clothes there puts on new ones which are given to her by the barber’s wife. She then fills a pitcher with water and takes it to her new husband’s house. He meets her on the threshold and lifts it from her head, and she goes into the house and puts bangles on her wrists. The following saying shows that the second marriage of widows is looked upon as quite natural and normal by the cultivating castes:

“If the clouds are like partridge feathers it will rain, and if a widow puts lamp-black on her eyes she will marry again; these things are certain.”9

A bachelor marrying a widow must first go through the ceremony with a ring which he thereafter wears on his finger, and if it is lost he must perform a funeral ceremony as if a wife had died. If a widower marries a girl she must wear round her neck an image of his first wife. A girl who is twice married by going round the sacred post is called Chandelia and is most unlucky. She is considered as bad or worse than a widow, and the people sometimes make her live outside the village and forbid her to show them her face. Divorce is open to either party, to a wife on account of the impotency or ill-treatment of her husband, and to a husband for the bad character, ill-health or quarrelsome disposition of his wife. A deed of divorce is executed and delivered before the caste committee.

12. Impurity of women

During her periodical impurity, which lasts for four or five days, a woman should not sleep on a cot. She must not walk across the shadow of any man not her husband, because it is thought that if she does so her next child will be like that man. Formerly she did not see her husband’s face for all these days, but this rule was too irksome and has been abandoned. She should eat the same kind of food for the whole period, and therefore must take nothing special on one day which she cannot get on other days. At this time she will let her hair hang loose, taking out all the cotton strings by which it is tied up.10 These strings, being cotton, have become [68]impure, and must be thrown away. But if there is no other woman to do the household work and she has to do it herself, she will keep her hair tied up for convenience, and only throw away the strings on the last day when she bathes. All cotton things are rendered impure by her at this time, and any cloth or other article which she touches must be washed before it can be touched by anybody else; but woollen cloth, being sacred, is not rendered impure, and she can sleep on a woollen blanket without its thereby becoming a defilement to other persons. When bathing at the end of the period a woman should see no other face but her husband’s; but as her husband is usually not present, she wears a ring with a tiny mirror and looks at her own face in this as a substitute.

If a woman desires to procure a miscarriage she eats a raw papāya fruit, and drinks a mixture of ginger, sugar, bamboo leaves and milk boiled together. She then has her abdomen well rubbed by a professional masseuse, who comes at a time when she can escape observation. After a prolonged course of this treatment it is said that a miscarriage is obtained. It would seem that the rubbing is the only treatment which is directly effective. The papāya, which is a very digestible fruit, can hardly be of assistance, but may be eaten from some magical idea of its resemblance to a foetus. The mixture drunk is perhaps designed to be a tonic to the stomach against the painful effects of the massage.

13. Pregnancy rites

As regards pregnancy Mr. Marten writes as follows:11 “A woman in pregnancy is in a state of taboo and is peculiarly liable to the influence of magic and in some respects dangerous to others. She is exempt from the observance of fasts, is allowed any food she fancies, and is fed with sweets and all sorts of rich food, especially in the fifth month. She should not visit her neighbour’s houses nor sleep in any open place. Her clothes are kept separate from others. She is subject to a large number of restrictions in her ordinary life with a view of avoiding everything that might prejudice or retard her delivery. She should eschew all red clothes or red things of any sort, such as suggest blood, till the third or [69]fourth month, when conception is certain. She will be careful not to touch the dress of any woman who has had a miscarriage. She will not cross running water, as it might cause premature delivery, nor go near a she-buffalo or a mare lest delivery be retarded, since a mare is twelve months in foal. If she does by chance approach these animals she must propitiate them by offerings of grain. Nor in some cases will she light a lamp, for fear the flame in some way may hurt the child. She should not finish any sowing, previously begun, during pregnancy, nor should her husband thatch the house or repair his axe. An eclipse is particularly dangerous to the unborn child and she must not leave the house during its continuance, but must sit still with a stone pestle in her lap and anoint her womb with cowdung. Under no circumstances must she touch any cutting instrument as it might cause her child to be born mutilated.

“During the fifth month of pregnancy the family gods are worshipped to avoid generally any difficulties in her labour. Towards the end of that month and sometimes in the seventh month she rubs her body with a preparation of gram-flour, castor-oil and turmeric, bathes herself, and is clothed with new garments and seated on a wooden stool in a space freshly cleaned and spread with cowdung. Her lap is then filled with sweets called pakwān made of cocoanut. A similar ceremony called Boha Jewan is sometimes performed in the seventh or eighth month, when a new sāri is given to her and grain is thrown into her lap. Another special rite is the Pansavan ceremony, performed to remove all defects in the child, give it a male form, increase its size and beauty, give it wisdom and avert the influence of evil spirits.”

14. Earth-eating

Pregnant women sometimes have a craving for eating earth. They eat the earth which has been mixed with wheat on the threshing-floor, or the ashes of cowdung cakes which have been used for cooking. They consider it as a sort of medicine which will prevent them from vomiting. Children also sometimes get the taste for eating earth, licking it up from the floor, or taking pieces of lime-plaster from the walls. Possibly they may be attracted by the saltish taste, but the result is that they get ill and their stomachs are distended. The Panwar women of Bālāghāt eat red and [70]white clay in order that their children may be born with red and white complexions.

15. Customs at birth

During the period of labour the barber’s wife watches over the case, but as delivery approaches hands it over to a recognised midwife, usually the Basorin or Chamārin, who remains in the lying-in room till about the tenth day after delivery. “If delivery is retarded,” Mr. Marten continues,12 “pressure and massage are used, but coffee and other herbal decoctions are given, and various means, mostly depending on sympathetic magic, are employed to avert the adverse spirits and hasten and ease the labour. She may be given water to drink in which the feet of her husband13 or her mother-in-law or a young unmarried girl have been dipped, or she is shown the swastik or some other lucky sign, or the chakra-vyuha, a spiral figure showing the arrangement of the armies of the Pāndavas and Kauravas which resembles the intestines with the exit at the lower end.”

The menstrual blood of the mother during child-birth is efficacious as a charm for fertility. The Nāin or Basorin will sometimes try and dip her big toe into it and go to her house. There she will wash her toe and give the water to a barren woman, who by drinking it will transfer to herself the fertility of the woman whose blood it is. The women of the family are in the lying-in room and they watch her carefully, while some of the men stand about outside. If they see the midwife coming out they examine her, and if they find any blood exclaim, ‘You have eaten of our salt and will you play us this trick’; and they force her back into the room where the blood is washed off. All the stained clothes are washed in the birth-room, and the water as well as that in which the mother and child are bathed is poured into a hole dug inside the room, so that none of it may be used as a charm.

16. Treatment of mother and child

The great object of the treatment after birth is to prevent the mother and child from catching cold. They appear to confuse the symptoms of pneumonia and infantile lockjaw in a disease called sanpāt, to the prevention of which their efforts are directed. A sigri or stove is kept alight under the bed, and in this the seeds of ajwāin or coriander are [71]burnt. The mother eats the seeds, and the child is waved over the stove in the smoke of the burning ajwāin. Raw asafoetida is put in the woman’s ears wrapped in cotton-wool, and she eats a little half-cooked. A freshly-dried piece of cowdung is also picked up from the ground and half-burnt and put in water, and some of this water is given to her to drink, the process being repeated every day for a month. Other details of the treatment of the mother and child after birth are given in the articles on Mehtar and Kunbi. For the first five days after birth the child is given a little honey and calf’s urine mixed. If the child coughs it is given bans-lochan, which is said to be some kind of silicate found in bamboos. The mother does not suckle the child for three days, and for that period she is not washed and nobody goes near her, at least in Mandla. On the third day after the birth of a girl, or the fourth after that of a boy, the mother is washed and the child is then suckled by her for the first time, at an auspicious moment pointed out by the astrologer. Generally speaking the whole treatment of child-birth is directed towards the avoidance of various imaginary magical dangers, while the real sanitary precautions and other assistance which should be given to the mother are not only totally neglected, but the treatment employed greatly aggravates the ordinary risks which a woman has to take, especially in the middle and higher castes.

17. Ceremonies after birth

When a boy is born the father’s younger brother or one of his friends lets off a gun and beats a brass plate to proclaim the event The women often announce the birth of a boy by saying that it is a one-eyed girl. This is in case any enemy should hear the mention of the boy’s birth, and the envy felt by him should injure the child. On the sixth day after the birth the Chhathi ceremony is performed and the mother is given ordinary food to eat, as described in the article on Kunbi. The twelfth day is known as Barhon or Chauk. On this day the father is shaved for the first time after the child’s birth. The mother bathes and cuts the nails of her hands and feet; if she is living by a river she throws them into it, otherwise on to the roof of the house. The father and mother sit in the chauk or space marked out [72]for worship with cowdung and flour; the woman is on the man’s left side, a woman being known as Bāmangi or the left limb, either because the left limb is weak or because woman is supposed to have been made from man’s left side, as in Genesis. The household god is brought into the chauk and they worship it. The Bua or husband’s sister brings presents to the mother known as bharti, for filling her lap: silver or gold bangles if she can afford them, a coat and cap for the boy; dates, rice and a breast-cloth for the mother; for the father a rupee and a cocoanut. These things are placed in the mother’s lap as a charm to sustain her fertility. The father gives his sister back double the value of the presents if he can afford it. He gives her husband a head-cloth and shoulder-cloth; he waves two or three pice round his wife’s head and gives them to the barber’s wife. The latter and the midwife take the clothes worn by the mother at child-birth, and the father gives them each a new cloth if he can afford it. The part of the navel-string which falls off the child’s body is believed to have the power of rendering a barren woman fertile, and is also intimately connected with the child’s destiny. It is therefore carefully preserved and buried in some auspicious place, as by the bank of a river.

In the sixth month the Pasni ceremony is performed, when the child is given grain for the first time, consisting of rice and milk. Brāhmans or religious mendicants are invited and fed. The child’s hair and nails are cut for the first time on the Shivrātri or Akti festival following the birth, and are wrapped up in a ball of dough and thrown into a sacred river. If a child is born during an eclipse they think that it will suffer from lung disease; so a silver model of the moon is made immediately during the eclipse, and hung round the child’s neck, and this is supposed to preserve it from harm.

18. Suckling children

A Hindu woman will normally suckle her child for two to three years after its birth, and even beyond this up to six years if it sleeps with her. But they think that the child becomes short of breath if suckled for so long, and advise the mother to wean it. And if she becomes pregnant again, when she has been three or four months in this condition, [73]she will wean the child by putting nīm leaves or some other bitter thing on her breasts. A Hindu should not visit his wife for the last six months of her pregnancy nor until the child has been fed with grain for the first time six months after its birth. During the former period such action is thought to be a sin, while during the latter it may have the effect of rendering the mother pregnant again too quickly, and hence may not allow her a sufficiently long period to suckle the first child.

19. Beliefs about twins

Twins, Mr. Marten states, are not usually considered to be inauspicious.14 “It is held that if they are of the same sex they will survive, and if they are of a different sex one of them will die. Boy twins are called Rāma and Lachhman, a boy and a girl Mahādeo and Pārvati, and two girls Ganga and Jamuni or Sīta and Konda. They should always be kept separate so as to break the essential connection which exists between them and may cause any misfortune which happens to the one to extend to the other. Thus the mother always sleeps between them in bed and never carries both of them nor suckles both at the same time. Again, among some castes in Chhattīsgarh, when the twins are of different sex, they are considered to be pāp (sinful) and are called Pāpi and Pāpin, an allusion to the horror of a brother and sister sharing the same bed (the mother’s womb).” Hindus think that if two people comb their hair with the same comb they will lose their affection for each other. Hence the hair of twins is combed with the same comb to weaken the tie which exists between them, and may cause the illness or death of either to follow on that of the other.

20. Disposal of the dead

The dead are usually burnt with the head to the north. Children whose ears have not been bored and adults who die of smallpox or leprosy are buried, and members of poor families who cannot afford firewood. If a person has died by hanging or drowning or from the bite of a snake, his body is burnt without any rites, but in order that his soul may be saved, the hom sacrifice is performed subsequently to the cremation. Those who live near the Nerbudda and Mahānadi sometimes throw the bodies of the dead into these rivers and think that this will make them go to heaven. [74]The following account of a funeral ceremony among the middle and higher castes in Saugor is mainly furnished by Major W. D. Sutherland, I.M.S., with some additions from Mandla, and from material furnished by the Rev. E. M. Gordon:15 “When a man is near his end, gifts to Brāhmans are made by him, or by his son on his behalf. These, if he is a rich man, consist of five cows with their calves, marked on the forehead and hoofs with turmeric, and with garlands of flowers round their necks. Ordinary people give the price of one calf, which is fictitiously taken at Rs. 3–4, Rs. 1–4, ten annas or five annas according to their means. By holding on to the tail of this calf the dead man will be able to swim across the dreadful river Vaitarni, the Hindu Styx. This calf is called Bachra Sānkal or ‘the chain-calf,’ as it furnishes a chain across the river, and it may be given three times, once before the death and twice afterwards. When near his end the dying man is taken down from his cot and laid on a woollen blanket spread on the ground, perhaps with the idea that he should at death be in contact with the earth and not suspended in mid-air as a man on a cot is held to be. In his mouth are placed a piece of gold, some leaves of the tulsi or basil plant, or Ganges water, or rice cooked in Jagannāth’s temple. The dying man keeps on repeating ‘Rām, Rām, Sitārām.’”

21. Funeral rites

As soon as death occurs the corpse is bathed, clothed and smeared with a mixture of powdered sandalwood, camphor and spices. A bier is constructed of planks, or if this cannot be afforded the man’s cot is turned upside down and the body is carried out for burial on it in this fashion, with the legs of the cot pointing upwards. Straw is laid on the bier, and the corpse, covered with fine white cloth, is tied securely on to it, the hands being crossed on the breast, with the thumbs and great toes tied together. When a married woman dies she is covered with a red cloth which reaches only to the neck, and her face is left open to the view of everybody, whether she went abroad unveiled in her life or not. It is considered a highly auspicious thing for a woman to die in the lifetime of her husband and children, and the corpse is sometimes dressed like a bride and [75]ornaments put on it. The corpse of a widow or girl is wrapped in a white cloth with the head covered. At the head of the funeral procession walks the son of the deceased, or other chief mourner, and in his hand he takes smouldering cowdung cakes in an earthen pot, from which the pyre will be kindled. This fire is brought from the hearth of the house by the barber, and he sometimes also carries it to the pyre. On the way the mourners change places so that each may assist in bearing the bier, and once they set the bier on the ground and leave two pice and some grain where it lay, before taking it up again. After the funeral each person who has helped to carry it takes up a clod of earth and with it touches successively the place on his shoulder where the bier rested, his waist and his knee, afterwards dropping the clod on the ground. It is believed that by so doing he removes from his shoulder the weight of the corpse, which would otherwise press on it for some time.

22. Burning the dead

At the cremation-ground the corpse is taken from the bier and placed on the pyre. The cloth which covered it and that on which it lay are given to a sweeper, who is always present to receive this perquisite. To the corpse’s mouth, eyes, ears, nostrils and throat is applied a mixture of barley-flour, butter, sesamum seeds and powdered sandalwood. Logs of wood and cowdung cakes are then piled on the body and the pyre is fired by the son, who first holds a burning stick to the mouth of the corpse as if to inform it that he is about to apply the fire. The pyre of a man is fired at the head and of a woman at the foot. Rich people burn the corpse with sandalwood, and others have a little of this, and incense and sweet-smelling gum. Nowadays if the rain comes on and the pyre will not burn they use kerosine oil. When the body is half-consumed the son takes up a piece of wood and with it strikes the skull seven times, to break it and give exit to the soul. This, however, is not always done. The son then takes up on his right shoulder an earthen pot full of water, at the bottom of which is a small hole. He walks round the pyre three times in the direction of the sun’s course and stands facing to the south, and dashes the pot on the ground, crying out in his grief, ‘Oh, my father.’ While this is going on mantras or [76]sacred verses are recited by the officiating Brāhman. When the corpse is partly consumed each member of the assembly throws the Pānch lakariya (five pieces of wood or sprigs of basil) on to the pyre, making obeisance to the deceased and saying, ‘Swarg ko jao,’ or ‘Ascend to heaven.’ Or they may say, ‘Go, become incarnate in some human being.’ They stay by the corpse for 1¼ pahars or watches or some four hours, until either the skull is broken by the chief mourner or breaks of itself with a crack. Then they bathe and come home and after some hours again return to the corpse, to see that it is properly burnt. If the pyre should go out and a dog or other animal should get hold of the corpse when it is half-burnt, all the relatives are put out of caste, and have to give a feast to all the caste, costing for a rich family about Rs. 50 and for a poor one Rs. 10 to Rs. 15. Then they return home and chew nīm leaves, which are bitter and purifying, and spit them out of their mouth, thus severing their connection with the corpse. When the mourners have left the deceased’s house the women of the family bathe, the bangles of the widow are broken, the vermilion on the parting of her hair and the glass ornament (tikli) on her forehead are removed, and she is clad in white clothing of coarse texture to show that henceforth she is only a widow.

On the third day the mourners go again and collect the ashes and throw them into the nearest river. The bones are placed in a silken bag or an earthen pot or a leaf basket, and taken to the Ganges or Nerbudda within ten days if possible, or otherwise after a longer interval, being buried meantime. Some milk, salt and calfs urine are sprinkled over the place where the corpse was burnt. These will cool the place, and the soul of the dead will similarly be cooled, and a cow will probably come and lick up the salt, and this will sanctify the place and also the soul. When the bones are to be taken to a sacred river they are tied up in a little piece of cloth and carried at the end of a stick by the chief mourner, who is usually accompanied by several caste-fellows. At night during the journey this stick is planted in the ground, so that the bones may not touch the earth.

23. Burial

Graves are always dug from north to south. Some people say that heaven is to the north, being situated in the [77]Himalayas, and others that In the Satyug or Golden Age the sun rose to the north. The digging of the grave only commences on the arrival of the funeral party, so there is of necessity a delay of several hours at the site, and all who attend a funeral are supposed to help in digging. It is considered to be meritorious to assist at a burial, and there is a saying that a man who has himself conducted a hundred funerals will become a Rāja in his next birth. When the grave has been filled in and a mound raised to mark the spot, each person present makes five small balls of earth and places them in a heap at the head of the grave. This custom is also known as Pānch lakariya, and must therefore be an imitation of the placing of the five sticks on the pyre; its original meaning in the latter case may have been that the mourners should assist the family by bringing a contribution of wood to the pyre. As adopted in burial it seems to have no special significance, but somewhat resembles the European custom of the mourners throwing a little dust into the grave.

24. Return of the soul

On the third day the pindas or sacrificial cakes are offered and this goes on till the tenth day. These cakes are not eaten by the priest or Mahā-Brāhman, but are thrown into a river. On the evening of the third day the son goes, accompanied by a Brāhman and a barber, and carrying a key to avert evil, to a pīpal16 tree, on whose branches he hangs two earthen pots: one containing water, which trickles out through a hole in the bottom, and the other a lamp. On each succeeding night the son replenishes the contents of these pots, which are intended to refresh the spirit of the deceased and to light it on its way to the lower world. In some localities on the evening of the third day the ashes of the cooking-place are sifted, and laid out on a tray at night on the spot where the deceased died, or near the cooking-place. In the morning the layer of ashes is inspected, and if what appears to be a hand- or footprint is seen, it is held that the spirit of the deceased has visited the house. Some people look for handprints, some for footprints, and some for both, and the Nais look for the print of a cow’s hoof, which when seen is held to prove that the deceased in consideration of his singular merits has been reborn a cow. If [78]a woman has died in child-birth, or after the birth of a child and before the performance of the sixth-day ceremony of purification, her hands are tied with a cotton thread when she is buried, in order that her spirit may be unable to rise and trouble the living. It is believed that the souls of such women become evil spirits or Churels. Thorns are also placed over her grave for the same purpose.

25. Mourning

During the days of mourning the chief mourner sits apart and does no work. The others do their work but do not touch any one else, as they are impure. They leave their hair unkempt, do not worship the gods nor sleep on cots, and abjure betel, milk, butter, curds, meat, the wearing of shoes, new clothes and other luxuries. In these days the friends of the family come and comfort the mourners with conversation on the shortness and uncertainty of human life and kindred topics. During the period of mourning when the family go to bathe they march one behind the other in Indian file. And on the last day all the people of the village accompany them, the men first and after they have returned the women, all marching one behind the other. They also come back in this manner from the actual funeral, and the idea is perhaps to prevent the dead man’s spirit from following them. He would probably feel impelled to adopt the same formation and fall in behind the last of the line, and then some means is devised, such as spreading thorns in the path, for leaving him behind.

26. Shaving, and presents to Brahmans

On the ninth, tenth or eleventh day the males of the family have the front of the head from the crown, and the beard and moustaches, shaved in token of mourning. The Mahā-Brāhman who receives the gifts for the dead is shaved with them. This must be done for an elder relation, but a man need not be shaved on the death of his wife, sister or children. The day is the end of mourning and is called Gauri Ganesh, Gauri being Pārvati or the wife of Siva, and Ganesh the god of good fortune. On the occasion the family give to the Mahā-Brāhman17 a new cot and bedding with a cloth, an umbrella to shield the spirit from the sun’s rays, a copper vessel full of water to quench its thirst, a brass lamp to guide it on its journey, and if the family is well-to-do a [79]horse and a cow, All these things are meant to be for the use of the dead man in the other world. It is also the Brāhman’s business to eat a quantity of cooked food, which will form the dead man’s food. It is of great spiritual importance to the dead man’s soul that the Brāhman should finish the dish set before him, and if he does not do so the soul will fare badly. He takes advantage of this by stopping in the middle of the meal, saying that he has eaten all he is capable of and cannot go on, so that the relations have to give him large presents to induce him to finish the food. These Mahā-Brāhmans are utterly despised and looked down on by all other Brāhmans and by the community generally, and are sometimes made to live outside the village. The regular priest, the Malai or Purohit, can accept no gifts from the time of the death to the end of the period of mourning. Afterwards he also receives presents in money according to the means of his clients, which it is supposed will benefit the dead man’s soul in the next world; but no disgrace attaches to the acceptance of these.

27. End of mourning

When the mourning is complete on the Gauri-Ganesh day all the relatives take their food at the chief mourner’s house, and afterwards the panchāyat invest him with a new turban provided by a relative. On the next bazār day the members of the panchāyat take him to the bazār and tell him to take up his regular occupation and earn his livelihood. Thereafter all his relatives and friends invite him to take food at their houses, probably to mark his accession to the position of head of the family.

28. Anniversaries of the dead

Three months, six months and twelve months after the death presents are made to a Brāhman, consisting of Sīdha, or butter, wheat and rice for a day’s food. The anniversaries of the dead are celebrated during Pitripaksh or the dark fortnight of Kunwār (September-October). If a man died on the third day of any fortnight in the year, his anniversary is celebrated on the third day of this fortnight and so on. On that day it is supposed that his spirit will visit his earthly house where his relatives reside. But the souls of women all return to their homes on the ninth day of the fortnight, and on the thirteenth day come the souls of all those who have met with a violent death, as by a fall, or have been [80]killed by wild animals or snakes. The spirits of such persons are supposed, on account of their untimely end, to entertain a special grudge against the living.

29. Beliefs in the hereafter

As regards the belief in the hereafter Mr. Gordon writes:18 “That they have the idea of hell as a place of punishment may be gathered from the belief that when salt is spilt the one who does this will in Pātāl or the infernal region have to gather up each grain of salt with his eyelids. Salt is for this reason handed round with great care, and it is considered unlucky to receive it in the palm of the hand; it is therefore invariably taken in a cloth or vessel. There is a belief that the spirit of the deceased hovers round familiar scenes and places, and on this account, whenever possible, a house in which any one has died is destroyed or deserted. After the spirit has wandered round restlessly for a certain time it is said that it will again become incarnate and take the form either of man or of one of the lower animals.” In Mandla they think that the soul after death is arraigned and judged before Yama, and is then chained to a flaming pillar for a longer or shorter period according to its sins. The gifts made to Brāhmans for the dead somewhat shorten the period. After that time it is born again with a good or bad body and human or animal according to its deserts.

30. Religion. Village gods

The caste worship the principal Hindu deities. Either Bhagwān or Parmeshwar is usually referred to as the supreme deity, as we speak of God. Bhagwān appears to be Vishnu or the Sun, and Parmeshwar is Siva or Mahādeo. There are few temples to Vishnu in villages, but none are required as the sun is daily visible. Sunday or Raviwār is the day sacred to him, and some people fast in his honour on Sundays, eating only one meal without salt. A man salutes the sun after he gets up by joining his hands and looking towards it, again when he has washed his face, and a third time when he has bathed, by throwing a little water in the sun’s direction. He must not spit in front of the sun nor perform the lower functions of the body in its sight. Others say that the sun and moon are the eyes of God, and the light of the sun is the effulgence of God, because by its light and heat all moving and immobile creatures sustain their life and all [81]corn and other products of the earth grow. In his incarnations of Rāma and Krishna there are temples to Vishnu in large villages and towns. Khermāta, the mother of the village, is the local form of Devi or the earth-goddess. She has a small hut and an image of Devi, either black or red. She is worshipped by a priest called Panda, who may be of any caste except the impure castes. The earth is worshipped in various ways. A man taking medicine for the first time in an illness sprinkles a few drops on the earth in its honour. Similarly for the first three or four times that a cow is milked after the birth of a calf the stream is allowed to fall on the ground. A man who is travelling offers a little food to the earth before eating himself. Devi is sometimes considered to be one of seven sisters, but of the others only two are known, Marhai Devi, the goddess of cholera, and Sitala Devi, the goddess of smallpox. When an epidemic of cholera breaks out the Panda performs the following ceremony to avert it. He takes a kid and a small pig or chicken, and some cloth, cakes, glass bangles, vermilion, an earthen lamp, and some country liquor, which is sprinkled all along the way from where he starts to where he stops. He proceeds in this manner to the boundary of the village at a place where there are cross-roads, and leaves all the things there. Sometimes the animals are sacrificed and eaten. While the Panda is doing this every one collects the sweepings of his house in a winnowing-fan and throws them outside the village boundary, at the same time ringing a bell continuously. The Panda must perform his ceremony at night and, if possible, on the day of the new moon. He is accompanied by a few other low-caste persons called Gunias. A Gunia is one who can be possessed by a spirit in the temple of Khermāta. When possessed he shakes his head up and down violently and foams at the mouth, and sometimes strikes his head on the ground. Another favourite godling is Hardaul, who was the brother of Jujhār Singh, Rāja of Orchha, and was suspected by Jujhār Singh of loving the latter’s wife, and poisoned in consequence by his orders. Hardaul has a platform and sometimes a hut with an image of a man on horseback carrying a spear in his hand. His shrine is outside the village, and two days before a marriage the [82]women of the family visit his shrine and cook and eat their food there and invite him to the wedding. Clay horses are offered to him, and he is supposed to be able to keep off rain and storms during the ceremony. Hardaul is perhaps the deified Rājpūt horseman. Hanumān or Mahābīr is represented by an image of a monkey coloured with vermilion, with a club in his hand and a slain man beneath his feet. He is principally worshipped on Saturdays so that he may counteract the evil influences exercised by the planet Saturn on that day. His image is painted with oil mixed with vermilion and has a wreath of flowers of the cotton tree; and gugal or incense made of resin, sandalwood and other ingredients is burnt before him. He is the deified ape, and is the god of strength and swiftness, owing to the exploits performed by him during Rāma’s invasion of Ceylon. Dūlha Deo is another godling whose shrine is in every village. He was a young bridegroom who was carried off by a tiger on his way to his wedding, or, according to another account, was turned into a stone pillar by a flash of lightning. Before the starting of a wedding procession the members go to Dūlha Deo and offer a pair of shoes and a miniature post and marriage-crown. On their return they offer a cocoanut. Dūlha Deo has a stone and platform to the east of the village, or occasionally an image of a man on horseback like Hardaul. Mirohia is the god of the field boundary. There is no sign of him, but every tenant, when he begins sowing and cutting the crops, offers a little curds and rice and a cocoanut and lays them on the boundary of the field, saying the name of Mirohia Deo. It is believed among agriculturists that if this godling is neglected he will flatten the corn by a wind, or cause the cart to break on its way to the threshing-floor.

31. Sowing the Jawaras or Gardens of Adonis

The sowing of the Jawaras, corresponding to the gardens of Adonis, takes place during the first nine days of the months of Kunwār and Chait (September and March). The former is a nine days’ fast preceding the Dasahra festival, and it is supposed that the goddess Devi was during this time employed In fighting the buffalo-demon (Bhainsāsur), whom she slew on the tenth day. The latter is a nine days’ fast at the new year, preceding [83]the triumphant entry of Rāma into Ajodhia on the tenth day on his return from Ceylon. The first period comes before the sowing of the spring crop of wheat and other grains, and the second is at the commencement of the harvest of the same crop. In some localities the Jawaras are also grown a third time in the rains, probably as a preparation for the juāri sowings,19 as juāri is planted in the baskets or ‘gardens’ at this time. On the first day a small room is cleared and whitewashed, and is known as the diwāla or temple. Some earth is brought from the fields and mixed with manure in a basket, and a male member of the family sows wheat in it, bathing before he does so. The basket is kept in the diwāla and the same man attends on it throughout the nine days, fasting all day and eating only milk and fruit at night. A similar nine days’ fast was observed by the Eleusinians before the sacramental eating of corn and the worship of the Corn Goddess, which constituted the Eleusinian mysteries.20 During the period of nine days, called the Naorātra, the plants are watered, and long stalks spring up. On the eighth day the hom or fire offering is performed, and the Gunias or devotees are possessed by Devi. On the evening of the ninth day the women, putting on their best clothes, walk out of the houses with the pots of grain on their heads, singing songs in praise of Devi. The men accompany them beating drums and cymbals. The devotees pierce their cheeks with long iron needles and walk in the procession. High-caste women, who cannot go themselves, hire the barber’s or waterman’s wife to go for them. The pots are taken to a tank and thrown in, the stalks of grain being kept and distributed as a mark of amity. The wheat which is sown in Kunwār gives a forecast of the spring crops. A plant is pulled out, and the return of the crop will be the same number of times the seed as it has roots. The woman who gets to the tank first counts the number of plants in her pot, and this gives the price of wheat in rupees per māni.21 Sometimes marks of red rust appear on the plants, and this shows that the crop will suffer from rust. The ceremony performed in Chait is said to be a sort of [84]harvest thanksgiving. On the ninth day of the autumn ceremony another celebration called ‘Jhinjhia’ or ‘Norta’ takes place in large villages. A number of young unmarried girls take earthen pots and, making holes in them and placing lamps inside, carry them on their heads through the village, singing and dancing. They receive presents from the villagers, with which they hold a feast. At this a small platform is erected and two earthen dolls, male and female, are placed on it; rice and flowers are offered to them and their marriage is celebrated.



The following observances in connection with the crops are practised by the agricultural castes in Chhattīsgarh:

32. Rites connected with the crops. Customs of cultivation

The agricultural year begins on Akti or the 3rd day of Baisākh (April-May). On that day a cup made of palās22 leaves and filled with rice is offered to Thākur Deo. In some villages the boys sow rice seeds before Thākur Deo’s shrine with little toy ploughs. The cultivator then goes to his field, and covering his hand with wheat-flour and turmeric, stamps it five times on the plough. The mālguzār takes five handfuls of the seed consecrated to Thākur Deo and sows it, and each of the cultivators also sows a little. After this regular cultivation may begin on any day, though Monday and Friday are considered auspicious days for the commencement of sowing. On the Hareli, or festival of the fresh verdure, which falls on the 15th day of Shrāwan (July-August), balls of flour mixed with salt are given to the cattle. The plough and all the implements of agriculture are taken to a tank and washed, and are then set up in the courtyard of the house and plastered with cowdung. The plough is set facing towards the sun, and butter and sugar are offered to it. An earthen pot is whitewashed and human figures are drawn on it with charcoal, one upside down. It is then hung over the entrance to the house and is believed to avert the evil eye. All the holes in the cattle-sheds and courtyards are filled and levelled with gravel. While the rice is growing, holidays are observed on five Sundays and no work is done. Before harvest Thākur Deo must be propitiated with an offering of a white goat or a black fowl. Any one who begins to cut his crop before this [85]offering has been made to Thākur Deo is fined the price of a goat by the village community. Before threshing his corn each cultivator offers a separate sacrifice to Thākur Deo of a goat, a fowl or a broken cocoanut. Each evening, on the conclusion of a day’s threshing, a wisp of straw is rubbed on the forehead of each bullock, and a hair is then pulled from its tail, and the hairs and straw made into a bundle are tied to the pole of the threshing-floor. The cultivator prays, ‘O God of plenty! enter here full and go out empty.’ Before leaving the threshing-floor for the night some straw is burnt and three circles are drawn with the ashes, one round the heap of grain and the others round the pole. Outside the circles are drawn pictures of the sun, the moon, a lion and a monkey, or of a cart and a pair of bullocks. Next morning before sunrise the ashes are swept away by waving a winnowing-fan over them. This ceremony is called anjan chadhāna or placing lamp-black on the face of the threshing-floor to avert the evil eye, as women put it on their eyes. Before the grain is measured it must be stacked in the form of a trapezium with the shorter end to the south, and not in that of a square or oblong heap. The measurer stands facing the east, and having the shorter end of the heap on his left hand. On the larger side of the heap are laid the kalara or hook, a winnowing-fan, the dauri, a rope by which the bullocks are tied to the threshing-pole, one or three branches of the ber or wild plum tree, and the twisted bundle of straw and hair of the bullocks which had been tied to the pole. On the top of the heap are placed five balls of cowdung, and the hom or fire sacrifice is offered to it. The first kātha23 of rice measured is also laid by the heap. The measurer never quite empties his measure while the work is going on, as it is feared that if he does this the god of abundance will leave the threshing-floor. While measuring he should always wear a turban. It is considered unlucky for any one who has ridden on an elephant to enter the threshing-floor, but a person who has ridden on a tiger brings luck. Consequently the Gonds and Baigas, if they capture a young tiger and tame it, will take it round [86]the country, and the cultivators pay them a little to give their children a ride on it. To enter a threshing-floor with shod feet is also unlucky. Grain is not usually measured at noon but in the morning or evening.



33. Agricultural superstitions

The cultivators think that each grain should bear a hundredfold, but they do not get this as Kuvera, the treasurer of the gods, or Bhainsāsur, the buffalo demon who lives in the fields, takes it. Bhainsāsur is worshipped when the rice is coming into ear, and if they think he is likely to be mischievous they give him a pig, but otherwise a smaller offering. When the standing corn in the fields is beaten down at night they think that Bhainsāsur has been passing over it. He also steals the crop while it is being cut and is lying on the ground. Once Bhainsāsur was absent while the particular field in the village from which he stole his supply of grain was cut and the crop removed, and afterwards he was heard crying that all his provision for the year had been lost. Sometimes the oldest man in the house cuts the first five bundles of the crop, and they are afterwards left in the field for the birds to eat. And at the end of harvest the last one or two sheaves are left standing in the field, and any one who likes can cut and carry them away. In some localities the last stalks are left standing in the field and are known as barhona or the giver of increase. Then all the labourers rush together at this last patch of corn and tear it up by the roots; everybody seizes as much as he can and keeps it, the master having no share in this patch. After the barhona has been torn up all the labourers fall on their faces to the ground and worship the field. In other places the barhona is left standing for the birds to eat. This custom, arises from the belief demonstrated by Sir J. G. Frazer in The Golden Bough that the corn-spirit takes refuge in the last patch of grain, and that when it is cut he flies away or his life is extinguished. And the idea is supported by the fact that the rats and other vermin, who have been living in the field, seek shelter in the last patch of corn, and when this is cut have to dart out in front of the reapers. In some countries it is thought, as shown by Sir J. G. Frazer, that the corn-spirit takes refuge in the body of one of these animals. [87]

34. Houses

The house of a mālguzār or good tenant stands in a courtyard or angan 45 to 60 feet square and surrounded by a brick or mud wall. The plan of a typical house is shown below:—

The dālān or hall is for the reception of visitors. One of the living-rooms is set apart for storing grain. Those who keep their women secluded have a door at the back of the courtyard for their use. Cooking is done in one of the rooms, and there are no chimneys, the smoke escaping through the tiles. They bathe either in the chauk or central courtyard, or go out and bathe in a tank or river or at a well. The family usually sleep inside the house in the winter and outside in the hot weather. A poor mālguzār or tenant has only two rooms with a veranda in front, one of which is used by the family, while cattle are kept in the other; while the small tenants and labourers have only one room in which both men and cattle reside. The walls are of bamboo matting plastered on both sides with mud, and the roof usually consists of single small tiles roughly baked in an improvised kiln. The house is surrounded by a mud wall or hedge, and sometimes has a garden behind in which [88]tobacco, maize or vegetables are grown. The interior is dark, for light is admitted only by the low door, and the smoke-stained ceiling contributes to the gloom. The floor is of beaten earth well plastered with cowdung, the plastering being repeated weekly.



35. Superstitions about houses

The following are some superstitious beliefs and customs about houses. A house should face north or east and not south or west, as the south is the region of Yama, the god of death, who lives in Ceylon, and the west the quarter of the setting sun. A Muhammadan’s house, on the other hand, should face south or west because Mecca lies to the south-west. A house may have verandas front and back, or on the front and two sides, but not on all four sides. The front of a house should be lower than the back, this shape being known as gai-mukh or cow-mouthed, and not higher than the back, which is singh-mukh or tiger-mouthed. The front and back doors should not be in a straight line, which would enable one to look right through the house. The angan or compound of a house should be a little longer than it is wide, no matter how little. Conversely the building itself should be a little wider along the front than it is long from front to rear. The kitchen should always be on the right side if there is a veranda, or else behind. When an astrologer is about to found a house he calculates the direction in which Shesh Nāg, the snake on whom the world reposes, is holding his head at that time, and plants the first brick or stone to the left of that direction, because snakes and elephants do not turn to the left but always to the right. Consequently the house will be more secure and less likely to be shaken down by Shesh Nāg’s movements, which cause the phenomenon known to us as an earthquake. Below the foundation-stone or brick are buried a pice, an areca-nut and a grain of rice, and it is lucky if the stone be laid by a man who has been faithful to his wife. There should be no echo in a house, as an echo is considered to be the voice of evil spirits. The main beam should be placed in position on a lucky day, and the carpenter breaks a cocoanut against it and receives a present. The width of the rooms along the front of a house should be five cubits each, and if there is a staircase it must have an uneven [89]number of steps. The door should be low so that a man must bend his head on entering and thus show respect to the household god. The floor of the verandas should be lower than that of the room inside; the Hindus say that the compound should not see the veranda nor the veranda the house. But this rule has of course also the advantage of keeping the house-floor dry. If the main beam of a house breaks it is a very bad omen, as also for a vulture or kite to perch on the roof; if this should happen seven days running the house will inevitably be left empty by sickness or other misfortune. A dog howling in front of the house is very unlucky, and if, as may occasionally happen, a dog should get on to the roof of the house and bark, the omen is of the worst kind. Neither the pīpal nor banyan trees should be planted in the yard of a house, because the leavings of food might fall upon them, and this would be an insult to the deities who inhabit the sacred trees. Neither is it well to plant the nīm tree, because the nīm is the tree of anchorites, and the frequent contemplation of it will take away from a man the desire of offspring and lead to the extinction of his family. Bananas should not be grown close to the house, because the sound of this fruit bursting the pod is said to be audible, and to hear it is most unlucky. It is a good thing to have a gular24 tree in the yard, but at a little distance from the house so that the leavings of food may not fall upon it; this is the tree of the saint Dattatreya, and will cause wealth to increase in the house. A plant of the sacred tulsi or basil is usually kept in the yard, and every morning the householder pours a vessel of water over it as he bathes, and in the evening places a lamp beside it. This holy plant sanctifies the air which passes over it to the house.

No one should ever sit on the threshold of a house; this is the seat of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and to sit on it is disrespectful to her. A house should never be swept at twilight, because it is then that Lakshmi makes her rounds, and she would curse it and pass by. At this time a lamp should be lighted, no one should be allowed to sleep, and even if a man is sick he should sit up on his bed. At [90]this time the grinding-mill should not be turned nor grain be husked, but reverence should be paid to ancestors and to the household deities. No one must sit on the grinding-mill; it is regarded as a mother because it gives out the flour by which the family is fed. No one must sit on cowdung cakes because they are the seat of Saturn, the Evil One, and their smell is called Sanīchar ke bās. No one must step on the chūlka or cooking-hearth nor jar it with his foot. At the midday meal, when food is freshly cooked, each man will take a little fire from the hearth and place it in front of him, and will throw a little of everything he eats on to the fire, and some ghī as an offering to Agni, the god of fire. And he will also walk round the hearth, taking water in his hand and then throwing it on the ground as an offering to Agni. A man should not sleep with his feet to the south, because a corpse is always laid in that direction. He should not sleep with his feet to the east, nor spit out water from his mouth in the direction of the east.

Women grinding wheat and husking rice

Women grinding wheat and husking rice

36. Furniture

Of furniture there is very little. Carefully arranged in their places are the brass cooking-pots, water-pots and plates, well polished with mud and water applied with plenty of elbow-grease by the careful housewife. Poor tenants frequently only have one or two brass plates and cups and an iron girdle, while all the rest of their vessels are of earthenware. Each house has several chūlhas or small horseshoe erections of earth for cooking. Each person in the house has a sleeping-cot if the family is comfortably off, and a spare one is also kept. These must be put out and exposed to the sun at least once a week to clear them of fleas and bugs. It is said that the Jains cannot adopt this method of disinfecting their beds owing to the sacrifice of insect life thereby involved; and that there are persons in Calcutta who make it their profession to go round and offer to lie on these cots for a time; they lie on them for some hours, and the little denizens being surfeited with their blood subsequently allow the owner of the cot to have a quiet night. A cot should always be shorter than a man’s length, so that his legs project over the end; if it is so long as to contain his whole length it is like a bier, and it is feared that lying on a cot of this kind will cause him shortly to lie [91]on a bier. Poor tenants do not usually have cots, but sleep on the ground, spreading kodon-straw on it for warmth. They have no bedding except a gudri or mattress made of old rags and clothes sewn together. In winter they put it over them, and sleep on it in summer. They will have a wooden log to rest their heads on when sleeping, and this will also serve as a seat for a guest. Mālguzārs have a razai or quilt, and a doria or thick cloth like those used for covering carts. Clothes and other things are kept in jhāmpis or round bamboo baskets. For sitting on there are machnīs or four-legged stools about a foot high with seats of grass rope or pīrhis, little wooden stools only an inch or two from the ground. For lighting, wicks are set afloat in little earthen saucers filled with oil.

37. Clothes

Landowners usually have a long coat known as angarkha reaching to the knees, with flaps folding over the breasts and tied with strings. The bandi is a short coat like this but coming only to the hips, and is more popular with cultivators. In the cold weather it is frequently stuffed with cotton and dyed dark green or dark blue so as not to show the dirt. For visits of ceremony a pair of paijāmas are kept, but otherwise the dhoti or loin-cloth is commonly worn. Wearing the dhoti pulled half-way up to the thighs is called ‘cultivator’s fashion.’ A shirt may be worn under the coat; but cultivators usually have only one garment, nowadays often a sleeveless coat with buttons in front. The proper head-dress is the pagri, a piece of coloured cloth perhaps 30 feet long and a foot wide, twisted tightly into folds, which is lifted on and off the head and is only rarely undone. Twisting the pagri is an art, and a man is usually hired to do it and paid four annas. The pagris have different shapes in different parts of the country, and a Hindu can tell by the shape of a man’s pagri where he comes from. But nowadays cultivators usually wear a dupatta or short piece of cloth tied, loosely round the head. The tenant arranges his head-cloth with a large projection on one side, and in it he carries his chilam or pipe-bowl, and also small quantities of vegetables, salt or condiments purchased at the bazār. In case of necessity he can transform it into a loin-cloth, or tie up a bundle of grass with it, or tie his lota to it to draw water from a well. [92]‘What can the washerman do in a village where the people live naked?’ is a Chhattīsgarhi proverb which aptly indicates that scantiness is the most prominent feature of the local apparel. Here a cloth round the loins, and this usually of meagre dimensions, constituted, until recently, the full dress of a cultivator. Those who have progressed a stage farther throw a cloth loosely over one shoulder, covering the chest, and assume an apology for a turban by wrapping another small rag carelessly round the head, leaving the crown generally bare, as if this part of the person required special sunning and ventilation. Hindus will not be seen out-of-doors with the head bare, though the Gonds and other tribes only begin to wear head-cloths when they are adopting Hinduism. The Gondi fashion was formerly prevalent in Chhattīsgarh. Some sanctity attaches to the turban, probably because it is the covering of the head. To knock off a man’s turban is a great insult, and if it drops off or he lets it fall, it is a very bad omen.

Group of women in Hindustāni dress

Group of women in Hindustāni dress

38. Women’s clothes

Women, in the northern Districts wear a skirt made of coarse cloth, usually red or blue, and a shoulder-cloth of the same material. Hand-woven cloth is still commonly used in the interior. The skirt is sometimes drawn up through the legs behind so as to give it a divided appearance; this is called kachhota. On the upper part of the body they wear an angia or breast-cloth, that is a short, tight, sleeveless jacket reaching only to below the breasts. The angia is tied behind, while the Marātha choli, which is the same thing, is buttoned or tied in front. High-caste women draw their shoulder-cloth right over the head so that the face cannot be seen. When a woman goes before a person of position she covers her head, as it is considered immodest to leave it bare. Women of respectable families wear a sheet of fine white, yellow, or red cloth drawn over the head and reaching to the ankles when they go on a journey, this being known as pichhora. In Chhattīsgarh all the requirements of fashion among women are satisfied by one cloth from 8 to 12 yards long and about a yard wide, which envelops the person in one fold from the waist to below the knee, hanging somewhat loosely. It is tied at the waist, and the remaining half is spread over the breast and drawn across the right shoulder, [93]the end covering the head like a sheet and falling over the left shoulder. The simplicity of this solitary garment displays a graceful figure to advantage, especially on festival days, when those who can afford it are arrayed in tasar silk. When a girl is married the bridegroom’s family give her expensive clothes to wear at festivals and her own people give her ordinary clothes, but usually not more than will last a year. Whenever she goes back to her father’s house after her marriage, he gives her one or two cloths if he can afford it. Women of the middle and lower classes wear ornaments of bell-metal, a mixture of copper and zinc, which are very popular. Some women wear brass and zinc ornaments, and well-to-do persons have them of silver or gold.

39. Bathing

Hot water is not used for bathing in Saugor, except by invalids, but is customary in Betūl and other Districts. The bathing-place in the courtyard is usually a large square stone on which the bather sits; he has a big circular brass vessel by him called gangāl,25 and from this he takes water either in a cup or with his hands and throws it over himself, rubbing his body. Where there is a tank or stream people go to bathe in it, and if there is none the poorer classes sometimes bathe at the village well. Each man or woman has two body-or loin-cloths, and they change the cloth whenever they bathe—going into the water in the one which they have worn from the previous day, and changing into the other when they come out; long practice enables them to do this in public without any undue exposure of the body. A good tank or a river is a great amenity to a village, especially if it has a ghāt or flight of stone steps. Many people will spend an hour or so here daily, disporting themselves in the water or on the bank, and wedding and funeral parties are held by it, owing to the facilities for ceremonial bathing.

40. Food

People who do not cultivate with their own hands have only two daily meals, one at midday and the other at eight or nine in the evening. Agriculturists require a third meal in the early morning before going out to the fields. Wheat and the millets juāri and kodon are the staple foods of the cultivating classes in the northern Districts, and rice is kept for festivals. The millets are made into thick chapātis or [94]cakes, their flour not being sufficiently adhesive for thin ones, and are eaten with the pulses, lentils, arhar,26 mung27 and urad.28 The pulses are split into half and boiled in water, and when they get soft, chillies, salt and turmeric are mixed with them. Pieces of chapāti are broken off and dipped into this mixture. Various vegetables are also eaten. When pulse is not available the chapātis are simply dipped into buttermilk. If chapātis cannot be afforded at both meals, ghorna or the flour of kodon or juār boiled into a paste with water is substituted for them, a smaller quantity of this being sufficient to allay hunger. Wheat-cakes are fried in ghī (clarified butter) as a luxury, and at other times in sesamum oil. Rice or ground gram boiled in buttermilk are other favourite foods.

In Chhattīsgarh rice is the common food: it is eaten with pulses at midday and with vegetables cooked in ghī in the evening. In the morning they drink a rice-gruel, called bāsi> which consists of the previous night’s repast mixed with water and taken cold. On festivals rice is boiled in milk. Milk is often drunk at night, and there is a saying, “He who drinks water in the morning and milk at night and takes harra before he sleeps will never need a doctor.” A little powdered harra or myrobalan acts as an aperient. The food of landowners and tenants is much the same, except that the former have more butter and vegetables, according to the saying, ‘Rāja praja ka ekhi khāna’ or ‘The king and peasant eat the same food.’ Those who eat flesh have an occasional change of food, but most Kurmis abstain from it. Farmservants eat the gruel of rice or kodon boiled in water when they can afford it, and if not they eat mahua flowers. These are sometimes boiled in water, and the juice is then strained off and mixed with half-ground flour, and they are also pounded and made into chapātis with flour and water. The leaves of the young gram-plants make a very favourite vegetable and are eaten raw, either moist or dried. In times of scarcity the poorer classes eat tamarind leaves, the pith of the banyan tree, the seeds of the bamboo, the bark of the semar tree,29 the fruit of the babūl,30 and other articles. A [95]cultivator will eat 2 lbs. of grain a day if he can get it, or more in the case of rice. Their stomachs get distended owing to the large quantities of boiled rice eaten at one time. The leaves of the chirota or chakora a little plant31 which grows thickly at the commencement of the rains near inhabited sites, are also a favourite vegetable, and a resource in famine time. The people call it ‘Gaon ka thākur,’ or ‘lord of the village,’ and have a saying:

Amarbel aur kamalgata,

Gaon ka thākur, gai ka matha,

Nagar sowāsan, unmen milai,

Khāj, dād, sehua mīt jāwe.

Amarbel is an endless creeper, with long yellow strings like stalks, which infests and destroys trees; it is called amarbel or the immortal, because it has no visible root. Kamalgata is the seed of the lotus; gai ka matha is buttermilk; nagar sowāsan, ‘the happiness of the town,’ is turmeric, because married women whose husbands are alive put turmeric on their foreheads every day; khāj, dād and sehua are itch, ringworm and some kind of rash, perhaps measles; and the verse therefore means:

“Eat amarbel, lotus seeds, chirota, buttermilk and turmeric mixed together, and you will keep off itch, ringworm and measles.” Chirota is good for the itch.

41. Caste-feasts

At the commencement of a marriage or other ceremonial feast the host must wash the feet of all the guests himself. If he does not do this they will be dissatisfied, and, though they will eat at his house, will consider they have not been properly welcomed. He takes a large brass plate and placing the feet of his guest on it, pours water over them and then rubs and dries them; the water is thrown away and fresh water poured out for the next guest unless they should be brothers. Little flat stools about three inches high are provided for the guests, and if there are not enough of them a carpet is spread; or baithkis or sitting-mats plaited from five or six large leaves are set out. These serve as a mark of attention, as it would be discourteous to make a man sit on the ground, and they also prevent the body-cloth [96]from getting wet. The guests sit in the chauk or yard of the house inside, or in the angan or outside yard, either in lines or in a circle; members of the same caste sit with their crossed knees actually touching those of the man on either side of them to emphasise their brotherhood; if a man sat even a few inches apart from his fellows people would say he was out of caste—and this is how a man who is put out of caste actually does sit. Before each guest may be set two plates of leaves and eight donas or leaf-cups. On the plates are heaped rice, cakes of wheat fried in butter, and of husked urad pulse cooked with tilli or sesamum oil, and the pulse of gram and lentils. In the cups will be sugar, ghī, dahi or curded milk, various vegetables, pumpkins, and besin or ground gram cooked with buttermilk. All the male members of the host’s family serve the food and they take it round, heaping and pouring it into each man’s plates or cups until he says enough; and they continue to give further helpings as required. All the food is served at once in the different plates and cups, but owing to the number of guests a considerable time elapses before all are fully served, and the dinner lasts about two hours. The guests eat all the different dishes together with their fingers, taking a little of each according to their fancy. Each man has his lota or vessel of water by him and drinks as he eats. When the meal is finished large brass plates are brought in, one being given to about ten guests, and they wash their hands over these, pouring water on them from their vessels. A fresh carpet is then spread in the yard and the guests sit on it, and betel-leaf and tobacco are distributed. The huqqa is passed round, and chilams and chongis (clay pipe-bowls and leaf-pipes) are provided for those who want them. The women do not appear at the feast but stay inside, sitting in the angan or inner court, which is behind the purda.

42. Hospitality

The people still show great hospitality, and it is the custom of many mālguzārs, at least in Chhattīsgarh, to afford food and a night’s rest to all travellers who may require it. When a Brāhman comes to the village such mālguzārs will give him one or two annas, and to a Pandit or learned man as much as a rupee. Formerly it is said that when any stranger came through the village he was at once offered a [97]cup of milk and told to drink it or throw it away. But this custom has died out in Chhattīsgarh, though one has met with it once or twice in Sambalpur. When District Officers go on tour, well-to-do landowners ask to be allowed to supply free provisions for the whole camp at least for a day, and it is difficult to refuse them gracefully. In Mandla, Banias and mālguzārs in villages near the Nerbudda sometimes undertake to give a pound of grain to every parikramawāsi or pilgrim perambulating the Nerbudda. And as the number of these steadily increases in consequence, they often become impoverished as a result of such indiscriminate charity.

43. Social customs. Tattooing

The Kurmis employ Brāhmans for their ceremonies. They have gurus or spiritual preceptors who may be Brāhmans or Bairāgis; the guru is given from 8 annas to Rs. 5 when he initiates a neophyte, as well as his food and a new white cloth. The guru is occasionally consulted on some religious question, but otherwise he does nothing for his disciple except to pay him an occasional visit, when he is hospitably entertained. The Kurmis of the northern Districts do not as a rule eat meat and also abstain from alcohol, but in Chhattīsgarh they eat the flesh of clean animals and fish, and also of fowls, and drink country liquor. Old men often give up flesh and wine as a mark of piety, when they are known as Bhagat or holy. They will take food cooked with water only from Brāhmans, and that cooked without water from Rājpūts, Banias and Kāyasths as well. Brāhmans and Rājpūts will take water from Kurmis in the northern Districts though not in Chhattīsgarh. Here the Kurmis do not object to eating cooked food which has been carried from the house to the fields. This is called rengai roti, and castes which will eat it are considered inferior to those who always take their food in the chauka or purified place in the house. They say ‘Rām, Rām’ to each other in greeting, and the Raipur Kurmis swear by a dog or a pig. Generally they do not plough on the new or full moon days. Their women are tattooed after marriage with dots on the cheeks, marks of flies on the fingers, scorpions on the arms, and other devices on the legs. [98]

44. Caste penalties

Permanent expulsion from caste is inflicted for a change of religion, taking food or having sexual intercourse with a member of an impure caste, and for eating beef. For killing a man, a cow, a buffalo, an ass, a horse, a squirrel, a cat or a monkey a man must purify himself by bathing in the Ganges at Allahābād or Benāres and giving a feast to the caste. It will be seen that all these are domestic animals except the monkey, who is the god Hanumān. The squirrel is counted as a domestic animal because it is always about the house, and the souls of children are believed to go into squirrels. One household animal, the dog, is omitted, and he appears to be less sacred than the others. For getting maggots in a wound the offender must bathe in a sacred river, such as the Nerbudda or Mahānadi, and give a feast to the caste. For eating or having intercourse with a member of any caste other than the impure ones, or for a liaison within the caste, or for divorcing a wife or marrying a widow, or in the case of a woman for breaking her bangles in a quarrel with her husband, a penalty feast must be given. If a man omits to feast the caste after a death in his family a second feast is imposed, and if he insults the panchāyat he is fined.

45. The cultivating status

The social status of the Kurmi appears to be that of the cultivator. He is above the menial and artisan castes of the village and the impure weaving and labouring castes; he is theoretically equal to the artisan castes of towns, but one or two of these, such as the Sunār or goldsmith and Kasār or brass-worker, have risen in the world owing to the prosperity or importance of their members, and now rank above the Kurmi. The Kurmi’s status appears to be that of the cultivator and member of the village community, but a large proportion of the Kurmis are recruited from the non-Aryan tribes, who have obtained land and been admitted into the caste, and this tends to lower the status of the caste as a whole. In the Punjab Kurmis apparently do not hold land and are employed in grass-cutting, weaving, and tending horses, and are even said to keep pigs.32 Here their status is necessarily very low as they follow the occupations of the impure castes. The reason why the [99]Kurmi as cultivator ranks above the village handicraftsmen may perhaps be that industrial pursuits were despised in early times and left to the impure Sūdras and to the castes of mixed descent; while agriculture and trade were the occupations of the Vaishya. Further, the village artisans and menials were supported before the general use of current coin by contributions of grain from the cultivators and by presents of grain at seed-time and harvest; and among the Hindus it is considered very derogatory to accept a gift, a man who does so being held to admit his social inferiority to the giver. Some exception to this is made in the case of Brāhmans, though even with them the rule partly applies. Of these two reasons for the cultivator’s superiority to the menial and artisan castes the former has to a large extent lost its force. The handicrafts are no longer considered despicable, and, as has been seen, some of the urban tradesmen, as the Sunār and Kasār, now rank above the Kurmi, or are at least equal to him. Perhaps even in ancient times these urban artificers were not despised like the village menials, as their skill was held in high repute. But the latter ground is still in full force and effect in the Central Provinces at least: the village artisans are still paid by contributions from the cultivator and receive presents from him at seed-time and harvest. The remuneration of the village menials, the blacksmith, carpenter, washerman, tanner, barber and waterman is paid at the rate of so much grain per plough of land according to the estimated value of the work done by them for the cultivators during the year. Other village tradesmen, as the potter, oilman and liquor-vendor, are no longer paid in grain, but since the introduction of currency sell their wares for cash; but there seems no reason to doubt that in former times when no money circulated in villages they were remunerated in the same manner. They still all receive presents, consisting of a sowing-basketful of grain at seed-time and one or two sheaves at harvest. The former are known as Bījphuti, or ‘the breaking of the seed,’ and the latter as Khanvār, or ‘that which is left.’ In Bilāspur the Kamias or village menials also receive as much grain as will fill a winnowing-fan when it has been threshed. When the [100]peasant has harvested his grain all come and beg from him. The Dhīmar brings waternut, the Kāchhi or market-gardener some chillies, the Teli oil and tobacco, the Kalār some liquor if he drinks it, the Bania some sugar, and all receive grain in excess of the value of their gifts. The village menials come for their customary dues, and the Brāhman, the Nat or acrobat, the Gosain or religious mendicant, and the Fakīr or Muhammadan beggar solicit alms. On that day the cultivator is like a little king in his fields, and it is said that sometimes a quarter of the crop may go in this way; but the reference must be only to the spring crop and not to the whole holding. In former times grain must have been the principal source of wealth, and this old custom gives us a reason for the status of the cultivator in Hindu society. There is also a saying:

Uttam kheti, madhyam bān,

Kanisht chākri, bhīk nidān,

or ‘Cultivation is the best calling, trade is respectable, service is menial, and begging is degraded.’

46. Occupation

The Kurmi is the typical cultivator. He loves his land, and to lose it is to break the mainspring of his life. His land gives him a freedom and independence of character which is not found among the English farm-labourers. He is industrious and plodding, and inured to hardship. In some Districts the excellent tilth of the Kurmi’s fields well portrays the result of his persevering labour, which he does not grudge to the land because it is his own. His wife is in no way behind him; the proverb says, “Good is the caste of the Kurmin; with a hoe in her hand she goes to the fields and works with her husband.” The Chandnāhu Kurmi women are said to be more enterprising than the men, keeping them up to their work, and managing the business of the farm as well as the household.


List of Exogamous Clans

Sections of the Chandnāhu subcaste:

Chānwar bambar Fly fan.
Sandil Name of a Rishi.[101]
Gaind Ball.
Sadāphal A fruit.
Sondeha Gold-bodied.
Sonkharchi Spender of gold.
Kathail Kath, wood, or kaththa, catechu.
Kāshi Benares. The Desha Kurmis are all of this gotra. It may also be a corruption of Kachhap, tortoise.
Dhorha Dhor, cattle.
Sumer A mountain.
Chatur Midalia Chatur, clever.
Bhāradwāj After the Rishi of that name; also a bird.
Kousil Name of a Rishi.
Ishwar God.
Samund Karkari A particle in an ocean.
Akālchuwa Akāl, famine.
Padel Fallow.
Bāghmār Tiger-slayer.
Hardūba Green grass.
Kānsia Kāns, a kind of grass.
Ghiu Sāgar Ocean of ghī
Dharam Dhurandar Most charitable.
Singnāha Singh, a lion.
Chimangarhia Belonging to Chimangarh.
Khairagarhia Belonging to Khairagarh.
Gotam A Rishi.
Kāskyap A Rishi.
Pandariha From Pandaria, a village.
Paipakhār One who washes feet.
Bānhpakhār One who washes arms.
Chauria Chaurai, a vegetable.
Sānd Sathi Sānd, bullock.
Singhi Singh, lion or horn.
Agra—Chandan Sandalwood.
Tek Sanichar Saturday.
Karaiya Frying-pan.
Pukharia Pond.
Dhubinha Dhobi, a caste.
Pāwanbare Pāwan, air.
Modganga Ganges.

Sections of the Gabel subcaste:

Gangajal Ganges water.
Bimba Lohir Bearer of a lāthi (stick).
Sarang Peacock.
Rāja Rāwat Royal prince.
Singūr Beauty.
Bānk pagar With a thread on the arm.
Samundha Ocean.
Parasrām, Rishi[102]
Katārmal Katār, dagger.
Chaultān Sept of Rājpūts.
Pātan Village.
Gajmani Elephant.
Deori Sumer Village.
Lahura Samudra Small sea.
Hansbimbraon Hans, goose.
Sunwāni Purifier.

Sections of the Santora subcaste:

Narvaria Narwar, a town in Gwalior State.
Mundharia Mundhra, a village.
Naigaiyan Naogaon, a town in Bundelkhand.
Pipraiya Piparia, a village.
Dindoria Dindori, a village in Mandla District.
Baheria A village.
Bāndha Bāndh, embankment.
Ktmūsar Wooden pestle.

Sections of the Tirole subcaste:

Baghele Bāgh, tiger, or a sept of Rājpūts.
Rāthor Clan of Rājpūts.
Panwār Clan of Rājpūts.
Solanki Clan of Rājpūts.
Aulia Aonla, a fruit-bearing tree.
Sindia Sindi, date-palm tree.
Khusia Khusi, happiness.
Sanoria San, hemp.
Gora Fair-coloured.
Bhākrya Bhākar, a thick bread.

Sections of the Gaur subcaste:

Bhandāri Storekeeper.
Dudhua Dūdh, milk.
Patele A headman.
Lonia Salt-maker.
Kumaria A potter.
Sionia Seoni town.
Chhaparia Chhapāra, a town.
Bijoria A tree.
Simra A village.
Ketharia Keth, a fruit.
Usarguiyan Perhaps a village.
Bhadoria Village.
Rurgaiyan Village.
Musrele Mūsar, a pestle.

Sections of the Usrete subcaste:

Shikāre Hunter.
Nāhar Tiger.[103]
Gursaraiyan Gursarai, a town.
Bardia A village.
Sandia Sānd, a bull.
Sirwaiyan Sirwai, a village.
Itguhān A village.
Sengaiyan or Singaiyan Sengai, a village.
Harkotia Harkoti, a village.
Noria Norai, a village.
Larent Lareti, a village.
Rabia Rabai, a village.
Lakhauria (Lakori village. It is said that whoever utters the name of this section early in the morning is sure to remain hungry the whole day, or at least will get into some trouble that day.)
Dhandkonya Dhandakna, to roll.
Badgaiyan Badagaon, a large village.
Kotia Kot, a fort
Bilwār Billi, cat
Thutha Stump of a tree.

Sections of the Kanaujia subcaste:

  • Tidha.—From Tidha, a village. This section is subdivided into (a) Ghureparke (of the cow-dung hill); (b) Dwārparke (of the door); and (c) Jangi (warrior).
  • Chamania—From Chamyani (village). This is also subdivided into:
    • (a) Gomarkya
    • (b) Mathuria (Muttra town).
  • Chaudhri (caste headman). This is divided as follows:
    • (a) Majhgawān A village.
    • (b) Purva thok Eastern group.
    • (c) Pashchim thok Western group.
    • (d) Bamurya A village.
  • Rāwat Title.
  • Malha Perhaps sailor or wrestler.
  • Chiloliān Chiloli, a village.
  • Dhanuiyan Dhanu Kheda, a village.


1 In this article some account of the houses, clothes and food of the Hindus generally of the northern Districts has been inserted, being mainly reproduced from the District Gazetteers.

2 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Kurmi.

3 Indian Folk Tales, p. 8.

4 Crotalaria juncea. See article on Lorha for a discussion of the Hindus’ prejudice against this crop.

5 There are several Chaurāsis, a grant of an estate of this special size being common under native rule.

6 Boswellia serrata.

7 Eugenia Jambolana.

8 2 lbs.

9 Elliot, Hoshangābād Settlement Report, p. 115.

10 The custom is pointed out by Mr. A. K. Smith, C.S.

11 Central Provinces Census Report (1911), p. 153.

12 C.P. Census Report (1911), p. 153.

13 Or his big toe.

14 C.P. Census Report (1911), p. 158.

15 In Indian Folk Tales.

16 Ficus R.

17 He is also known as Katia or Kattaha Brāhman and as Mahāpātra.

18 Indian Folk Tales, p. 54.

19 Sorghum vulgare, a large millet.

20 Dr. Jevons, Introduction to the History of Religion, p. 365.

21 A measure of 400 lbs.

22 Butea frondosa.

23 A measure containing 9 lb. 2 oz. of rice.

24 Ficus glomerata.

25 From Ganga, or the Ganges, and āla a pot.

26 Cajanus indicus.

27 Phaseolus mungo.

28 Phaseolus radiatus.

29 Bombax malabaricum.

30 Acacia arabica.

31 Cassia tora.

32 Punjab Census Report (1881), p. 340.



List of Paragraphs

1. General notice

Lakhera, Laheri.—The small caste whose members make bangles and other articles of lac. About 3000 persons were shown as belonging to the caste in the Central Provinces in 1911, being most numerous in the Jubbulpore, Chhīndwāra and Betūl Districts. From Berār 150 persons were returned, chiefly from Amraoti. The name is derived from the Sanskrit laksha-kara, a worker in lac. The caste are a mixed functional group closely connected with the Kacheras and Patwas; no distinction being recognised between the Patwas and Lakheras in some localities of the Central Provinces. Mr. Baillie gives the following notice of them in the Census Report of the North-Western Provinces (1891): “The accounts given by members of the caste of their origin are very various and sometimes ingenious. One story is that like the Patwas, with whom they are connected, they were originally Kāyasths. According to another account they were made from the dirt washed from Pārvati before her marriage with Siva, being created by the god to make bangles for his wife, and hence called Deobansi. Again, it is stated, they were created by Krishna to make bangles for the Gopis or milkmaids. The most elaborate account is that they were originally Yāduvansi Rājpūts, who assisted the Kurus to make a fort of lac, in which the Pāndavas were to be treacherously burned. For this [105]traitorous conduct they were degraded and compelled eternally to work in lac or glass.”

2. Social customs

The bulk of these artisan and manufacturing castes tell stories showing that their ancestors were Kāyasths and Rājpūts, but no importance can be attached to such legends, which are obviously manufactured by the family priests to minister to the harmless vanity of their clients. To support their claim the Lakheras have divided themselves like the Rājpūts into the Sūrajvansi and Somvansi subcastes or those who belong to the Solar and Lunar races. Other subdivisions are the Mārwāri or those coming from Mārwār in Rājpūtana, and the Tarkhera or makers of the large earrings which low-caste women wear. These consist of a circular piece of wood or fibre, nearly an inch across, which is worked through a large hole in the lobe of the ear. It is often the stalk of the ambāri fibre, and on the outer end is fixed a slab decorated with little pieces of glass. The exogamous sections of the Lakheras are generally named after animals, plants and natural objects, and indicate that the caste is recruited from the lower classes of the population. Their social customs resemble those of the middle and lower Hindustāni castes. Girls are married at an early age when the parents can afford the expense of the ceremony, but no penalty is incurred if the wedding is postponed for want of means. The remarriage of widows and divorce are permitted. They eat flesh, but not fowls or pork, and some of them drink liquor, while others abstain. Rājpūts and Banias will take water from them, but not Brāhmans. In Bombay, however, they are considered to rank above Kunbis.

3. The lac industry

The traditional occupation of the Lakheras is to make and sell bangles and other articles of lac. Lac is regarded with a certain degree of superstitious repugnance by the Hindus because of its red colour, resembling blood. On this account and also because of the sin committed in killing them, no Hindu caste will propagate the lac insect, and the calling is practised only by Gonds, Korkus and other primitive tribes. Even Gonds will often refuse employment in growing lac if they can make their living by cultivation. Various superstitions attach to the propagation of the insects to a fresh tree. This is done in Kunwār (September) and [106]always by men, the insects being carried in a leaf-cup and placed on a branch of an uninfected tree, usually the kusum.1 It is said that the work should be done at night and the man should be naked when he places the insects on the tree. The tree is fenced round and nobody is allowed to touch it, as it is considered that the crop would thus be spoiled. If a woman has lost her husband and has to sow lac, she takes her son in her arms and places the cup containing the insects on his head; on arriving at the tree she manages to apply the insects by means of a stick, not touching the cup with her own hands. All this ritual attaches simply to the infection of the first tree, and afterwards in January or February the insects are propagated on to other trees without ceremony. The juice of onions is dropped on to them to make them healthy. The stick-lac is collected by the Gonds and Korkus and sold to the Lakheras; they clear it of wood as far as possible and then place the incrusted twigs and bark in long cotton bags and heat them before a fire, squeezing out the gum, which is spread out on flat plates so as to congeal into the shape of a pancake. This is again heated and mixed with white clay and forms the material for the bangles. They are coloured with chapra, the pure gum prepared like sealing-wax, which is mixed with vermilion, or arsenic and turmeric for a yellow colour. In some localities at least only the Lakheras and Patwas and no higher caste will sell articles made of lac.

Examples of spangles worn by women on the forehead

Examples of spangles worn by women on the forehead

4. Lac bangles

The trade in lac bangles has now greatly declined, as they have been supplanted by the more ornamental glass bangles. They are thick and clumsy and five of them will cover a large part of the space between the elbow and the wrist. They may be observed on Banjāra women. Lac bangles are also still used by the Hindus, generally on ceremonial occasions, as at a marriage, when they are presented to and worn by the bride, and during the month of Shrāwan (July), when the Hindus observe a fast on behalf of the growing crops and the women wear bangles of lac. For these customs Mr. Hīra Lāl suggests the explanation that lac bangles were at one time generally worn by the [107]Hindus, while glass ones are a comparatively recent fashion introduced by the Muhammadans. In support of this it may be urged that glass bangles are largely made by the Muhammadan Turkāri or Sīsgar, and also that lac bangles must have been worn prior to glass ones, because if the latter had been known the clumsy and unornamental bracelet made of lac and clay could never have come into existence. The wearing of lac bangles on the above occasions would therefore be explained according to the common usage of adhering on religious and ceremonial occasions to the more ancient methods and accessories, which are sanctified by association and custom. Similarly the Holi pyre is often kindled with fire produced by the friction of wood, and temples are lighted with vegetable instead of mineral oil.

5. Red, a lucky colour

It may be noted, however, that lac bangles are not always worn by the bride at a wedding, the custom being unknown in some localities. Moreover, it appears that glass was known to the Hindus at a period prior to the Muhammadan invasions, though bangles may not have been made from it. Another reason for the use of lac bangles on the occasions noticed is that lac, as already seen, represents blood. Though blood itself is now repugnant to the Hindus, yet red is pre-eminently their lucky colour, being worn at weddings and generally preferred. It is suggested in the Bombay Gazetteer2 that blood was lucky as having been the first food of primitive man, who learnt to suck the blood of animals before he ate their flesh. But it does not seem necessary to go back quite so far as this. The earliest form of sacrifice, as shown by Professor Robertson Smith,3 was that in which the community of kinsmen ate together the flesh of their divine or totem animal god and drank its blood. When the god became separated from the animal and was represented by a stone at the place of worship and the people had ceased to eat raw flesh and drink blood, the blood was poured out over the stone as an offering to the god. This practice still obtains among the lower castes of Hindus and the primitive tribes, the blood of animals offered to Devi and other village deities being allowed to drop on to the stones representing them. But the higher [108]castes of Hindus have abandoned animal sacrifices, and hence cannot make the blood-offering. In place of it they smear the stone with vermilion, which seems obviously a substitute for blood, since it is used to colour the stones representing the deities in exactly the same manner. Even vermilion, however, is not offered to the highest deities of Neo-Hinduism, Siva or Mahādeo and Vishnu, to whom animal sacrifices would be abhorrent. It is offered to Hanumān, whose image is covered with it, and to Devi and Bhairon and to the many local and village deities. In past times animal sacrifices were offered to Bhairon, as they still are to Devi, and though it is not known that they were made to Hanumān, this is highly probable, as he is the god of strength and a mighty warrior. The Mānbhao mendicants, who abhor all forms of bloodshed like the Jains, never pass one of these stones painted with vermilion if they can avoid doing so, and if they are aware that there is one on their road will make a circuit so as not to see it.4 There seems, therefore, every reason to suppose that vermilion is a substitute for blood in offerings and hence probably on other occasions. As the places of the gods were thus always coloured red with blood, red would come to be the divine and therefore the propitious colour among the Hindus and other races.

6. Vermilion and spangles

Among the constituents of the Sohāg or lucky trousseau without which no Hindu girl of good caste can be married are sendur or vermilion, kunku or red powder or a spangle (tikli), and mahāwar or red balls of cotton-wool. In Chhattīsgarh and Bengal the principal marriage rite is usually the smearing of vermilion by the bridegroom on the parting of the bride’s hair, and elsewhere this is commonly done as a subsidiary ceremony. Here also there is little reason to doubt that vermilion is a substitute for blood; indeed, in some castes in Bengal, as noted by Sir H. Risley, the blood of the parties is actually mixed.5 This marking of the bride with blood is a result of the sacrifice and communal feast of kinsmen already described; only those who could join in the sacrificial meal and eat the flesh of the sacred animal god [109]were kin to it and to each other; but in quite early times the custom prevailed of taking wives from outside the clan; and consequently, to admit the wife into her husband’s kin, it was necessary that she also should drink or be marked with the blood of the god. The mixing of blood at marriage appears to be a relic of this, and the marking of the forehead with vermilion is a substitute for the anointing with blood. Kunku is a pink powder made of turmeric, lime-juice and borax, which last is called by the Hindus ‘the milk of Anjini,’ the mother of Hanumān. It seems to be a more agreeable substitute for vermilion, whose constant use has probably an injurious effect on the skin and hair. Kunku is used in the Marātha country in the same way as vermilion, and a married woman will smear a little patch on her forehead every day and never allow her husband to see her without it. She omits it only during the monthly period of impurity. The tikli or spangle is worn in the Hindustāni Districts and not in the south. It consists of a small piece of lac over which is smeared vermilion, while above it a piece of mica or thin glass is fixed for ornament. Other adornments may be added, and women from Rājputāna, such as the Mārwāri Banias and Banjāras, wear large spangles set in gold with a border of jewels if they can afford it. The spangle is made and sold by Lakheras and Patwas; it is part of the Sohāg at marriages and is affixed to the girl’s forehead on her wedding and thereafter always worn; as a rule, if a woman has a spangle it is said that she does not smear vermilion on her forehead, though both may occasionally be seen. The name tikli is simply a corruption of tīka, which means a mark of anointing or initiation on the forehead; as has been seen, the basis of the tikli is vermilion smeared on lac-clay, and it is made by Lakheras; and there is thus good reason to suppose that the spangle is also a more ornamental substitute for the smear of vermilion, the ancient blood-mark by which a married woman was admitted into her husband’s clan. At her marriage a bride must always receive the glass bangles and the vermilion, kunku, or spangle from her husband, the other ornaments of the Sohāg being usually given to her by her parents. Unmarried girls now also sometimes wear small ornamental spangles, and put kunku on their foreheads. [110]But before marriage it is optional and afterwards compulsory. A widow may not wear vermilion, kunku, or spangles.

7. Red dye on the feet

The Lakheras also sell balls of red cotton-wool known as māhur ki guleli or mahāwar. The cotton-wool is dipped in the melted lac-gum and is rubbed on to the feet of women to colour them red or pink at marriages and festivals. This is done by the barber’s wife, who will colour the feet of the whole party, at the same time drawing lines round the outside of the foot and inward from the toes. The mahāwar is also an essential part of the Sohāg of marriage. Instead of lac the Muhammadans use mehndi or henna, the henna-leaves being pounded with catechu and the mixture rubbed on to the feet and hands. After a little time it is washed off and a red dye remains on the skin. It is supposed that the similar custom which prevailed among the ancient Greeks is alluded to in the epithet of ‘rosy-fingered Aurora.’ The Hindus use henna dye only in the month Shrāwan (July), which is a period of fasting; the auspicious kunku and mahāwar are therefore perhaps not considered suitable at such a time, but as special protection is needed against evil spirits, the necessary red colouring is obtained from henna. When a married woman rubs henna on her hands, if the dye comes out a deep red tinge, the other women say that her husband is not in love with her; but if of a pale yellowish tinge, that he is very much in love.

8. Red threads

The Lakheras and Patwas also make the kardora or waist-band of red thread. This is worn by Hindu men and women, except Marātha Brāhmans. After he is married, if a man breaks this thread he must not take food until he has put on a fresh one, and the same rule applies to a woman all her life. Other threads are the rākhis tied round the wrists for protection against evil spirits on the day of Rakshābandhan, and the necklets of silk or cotton thread wound round with thin silver wire, which the Hindus put on at Anant Chaudas and frequently retain for the whole year. The colour of all these threads is generally red in the first place, but they soon get blackened by contact with the skin.

9. Lac toys

Toys of lac are especially made during the fast of Shrāwan (July). At this time for five years after her marriage a Hindu bride receives annually from her husband a [111]present called Shrāoni, or that which is given in Shrāwan. It consists of a chakri or reel, to which a string is attached, and the reel is thrown up into the air and wound and unwound on the string; a bhora or wooden top spun by a string; a bansuli or wooden flute; a stick and ball, lac bangles and a spangle, and cloth, usually of red chintz. All these toys are made by the carpenter and coloured red with lac by the Lakhera, with the exception of the bangles which may be yellow or green. For five years the bride plays with the toys, and then they are sent to her no longer as her childhood has passed. It is probable that some, if not all of them, are in a manner connected with the crops, and supposed to have a magical influence, because during the same period it is the custom for boys to walk on stilts and play at swinging themselves; and in these cases the original idea is to make the crops grow as high as the stilts or swing. As in the other cases, the red colour appears to have a protective influence against evil spirits, who are more than usually active at a time of fasting. [112]

1 Schleichera trijuga.

2 Hindus of Gujarat, App., art. Vaghri, footnote.

3 Religion of the Semites.

4 Mackintosh, Report on the Mānbhaos..

5 See articles on Khairwār and Kewat.



List of Paragraphs

1. Origin and traditions

Lodhi, Lodha.—An important agricultural caste residing principally in the Vindhyan Districts and Nerbudda valley, whence they have spread to the Wainganga valley and the Khairāgarh State of Chhattīsgarh. Their total strength in the Province is 300,000 persons. The Lodhis are immigrants from the United Provinces, in whose Gazetteers it is stated that they belonged originally to the Ludhiāna District and took their name from it. Their proper designation is Lodha, but it has become corrupted to Lodhi in the Central Provinces. A number of persons resident in the Harda tahsīl of Hoshangābād are called Lodha and say that they are distinct from the Lodhis. There is nothing to support their statement, however, and it is probable that they simply represent the separate wave of immigration which took place from Central India into the Hoshangābād and Betūl Districts in the fifteenth century. They spoke a different dialect of the group known as Rajasthāni, and hence perhaps the caste-name did not get corrupted. The Lodhis of the Jubbulpore Division probably came here at a later date from northern India. The Mandla Lodhis are said to have been brought to the District by Raja Hirde Sah of the Gond-Rājpūt dynasty of Garha-Mandla in the seventeenth [113]century, and they were given large grants of the waste land in the interior in order that they might clear it of forest.1 The Lodhis are a good instance of a caste who have obtained a great rise in social status on migrating to a new area. In northern India Mr. Nesfield places them lowest among the agricultural castes and states that they are little better than a forest tribe. He derives the name from lod, a clod, according to which Lodhi would mean clodhopper.2 Another suggestion is that the name is derived from the bark of the lodh tree,3 which is collected by the Lodhas in northern India and sold for use as a dyeing agent. In Bulandshahr they are described as “Of short stature and uncouth appearance, and from this as well as from their want of a tradition of immigration from other parts they appear to be a mixed class proceeding from aboriginal and Aryan parents. In the Districts below Agra they are considered so low that no one drinks water touched by them; but this is not the case in the Districts above Agra.”4 In Hamīrpur they appear to have some connection with the Kurmis, and a story told of them in Saugor is that the first Lodhi was created by Mahādeo from a scarecrow in a Kurmi woman’s field and given the vocation of a farmservant But the Lodhis themselves claim Rājpūt ancestry and say that they are descended from Lava, the eldest of the two sons of Rāja Rāmchandra of Ajodhya.

2. Position in the central Provinces

In the Central Provinces they have become landholders and are addressed by the honorific title of Thākur, ranking with the higher cultivating castes. Several Lodhi landholders in Damoh and Saugor formerly held a quasi-independent position under the Muhammadans, and subsequently acknowledged the Raja of Panna as their suzerain, who conferred on some families the titles of Rāja and Diwān. They kept up a certain amount of state, and small contingents of soldiery, attended by whom they went to pay their respects to the representative of the ruling power. “It would be difficult,” says Grant,5 “to recognise the descendants of the [114]peaceful cultivators of northern India in the strangely accoutred Rājas who support their style and title by a score of ragged matchlock-men and a ruined mud fort on a hill-side.” Sir B. Fuller’s Damoh Settlement Report says of them: “A considerable number of villages had been for long time past in the possession of certain important families, who held them by prescription or by a grant from the ruling power, on a right which approximated as nearly to the English idea of proprietorship as native custom permitted. The most prominent of these families were of the Lodhi caste. They have developed tastes for sport and freebooting and have become decidedly the most troublesome item in the population. During the Mutiny the Lodhis as a class were openly disaffected, and one of their proprietors, the Tālukdār of Hindoria, marched on the District headquarters and looted the treasury.” Similarly the Ramgarh family of Mandla took to arms and lost the large estates till then held by them. On the other hand the village of Imjhira in Narsinghpur belonging to a Lodhi mālguzār was gallantly defended against a band of marauding rebels from Saugor. Sir R. Craddock describes them as follows: “They are men of strong character, but their constant family feuds and love of faction militate against their prosperity. A cluster of Lodhi villages forms a hotbed of strife and the nearest relations are generally divided by bitter animosities. The Revenue Officer who visits them is beset by reckless charges and counter-charges and no communities are less amenable to conciliatory compromises. Agrarian outrages are only too common in some of the Lodhi villages.”6 The high status of the Lodhi caste in the Central Provinces as compared with their position in the country of their origin may be simply explained by the fact that they here became landholders and ruling chiefs.

3. Sub-divisions

In the northern Districts the landholding Lodhis are divided into a number of exogamous clans who marry with each other in imitation of the Rājpūts. These are the Mahdele, Kerbania, Dongaria, Narwaria, Bhadoria and others. The name of the Kerbanias is derived from Kerbana, a village in Damoh, and the Bālākote family of that District are the [115]head of the clan. The Mahdeles are the highest clan and have the titles of Rāja and Diwān, while the others hold those of Rao and Kunwar, the terms Diwān and Kunwar being always applied to the younger brother of the head of the house. These titles are still occasionally conferred by the Rāja of Panna, whom the Lodhi clans looked on as their suzerain. The name of the Mahdeles is said to be derived from the mehndi or henna plant. The above clans sometimes practise hypergamy among themselves and also with the other Lodhis, taking daughters from the latter on receipt of a large bridegroom-price for the honour conferred by the marriage. This custom is now, however, tending to die out. There are also several endogamous subcastes ranking below the clans, of whom the principal are the Singrore, Jarha, Jāngra and Mahālodhi. The Singrore take their name from the old town of Singraur or Shrengera in northern India, Singrore, like Kanaujia, being a common subcaste name among several castes. It is also connected more lately with the Singrām Ghat or ferry of the Ganges in Allahābād District, and the title of Rāwat is said to have been conferred on the Singrore Lodhis by the emperor Akbar on a visit there. The Jarha Lodhis belong to Mandla. The name is probably a form of Jharia or jungly, but since the leading members of the caste have become large landholders they repudiate this derivation. The Jāngra Lodhis are of Chhattīsgarh, and the Mahālodhis or ‘Great Lodhis’ are an inferior group to which the offspring of irregular unions are or were relegated. The Mahalodhis are said to condone adultery either by a man or woman on penalty of a feast to the caste. Other groups are the Hardiha, who grow turmeric (haldi), and the Gwālhare or cowherds. The Lodhas of Hoshangābād may also be considered a separate subcaste. They disclaim connection with the Lodhis, but the fact that the parent caste in the United Provinces is known as Lodha appears to establish their identity. They abstain from flesh and liquor, which most Lodhis consume.

This division of the superior branch of a caste into large exogamous clans and the lower one into endogamous subcastes is only found, so far as is known, among the Rājpūts [116]and one or two landholding castes who have imitated them. Its origin is discussed in the Introduction.

4. Exogamous groups

The subcastes are as usual divided into exogamous groups of the territorial, titular and totemistic classes. Among sections named after places may be mentioned the Chāndpuria from Chāndpur, the Kharpuria from Kharpur, and the Nāgpuriha, Raipuria, Dhamonia, Damauha and Shāhgariha from Nāgpur, Raipur, Dhamoni, Damoh and Shāhgarh. Two-thirds of the sections have the names of towns or villages. Among titular names are Saulākhia, owner of 100 lakhs, Bhainsmār, one who killed a buffalo, Kodonchor, one who stole kodon,7 Kumharha perhaps from Kumhār a potter, and Rājbhar and Barhai (carpenter), names of castes. Among totemistic names are Baghela, tiger, also the name of a Rājpūt sept; Kutria, a dog; Khajūria, the date-palm tree; Mirchaunia, chillies; Andwār, from the castor-oil plant; Bhainsaiya, a buffalo; and Nāk, the nose.

5. Marriage customs

A man must not marry in his own section nor in that of his mother. He may marry two sisters. The exchange of girls between families is only in force among the Bilāspur Lodhis, who say, ‘Eat with those who have eaten with you and marry with those who have married with you.’ Girls are usually wedded before puberty, but in the northern Districts the marriage is sometimes postponed from desire to marry into a good family or from want of funds to pay a bridegroom-price, and girls of twenty or more may be unmarried. A case is known of a man who had two daughters unmarried at twenty-two and twenty-three years old, because he had been waiting for good partis, with the result that one of them went and lived with a man and he then married off the other in the Singhast8 year, which is forbidden among the Lodhis, and was put out of caste. The marriage and other ceremonies of the Lodhis resemble those of the Kurmis, except in Chhattīsgarh where the Marātha fashion is followed. Here, at the wedding, the bride and bridegroom hold between them a doll made of dough with 21 cowries inside, and as the priest repeats the marriage texts they pull it apart like a cracker and see how many cowries each has got. It is [117]considered auspicious if the bridegroom has the larger number. The priest is on the roof of the house, and before the wedding he cries out:

‘Are the king and queen here?’ And a man below answers, ‘Yes.’

‘Have they shoes on their feet?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they bracelets on their hands?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they rings in their ears?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they crowns on their heads?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Has she glass beads round her neck?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they the doll in their hands?’ ‘Yes.’

And the priest then repeats the marriage texts and beats a brass dish while the doll is pulled apart In the northern Districts after the wedding the bridegroom must untie one of the festoons of the marriage-shed, and if he refuses to do this, it is an indelible disgrace on the bride’s party. Before doing so he requires a valuable present, such as a buffalo.

6. The gauna ceremoney. Fertility rites

When the girl becomes mature the Gauna or going-away ceremony is performed. In Chhattīsgarh before leaving her home the bride goes out with her sister and worships a palās tree.9 Her sister waves a lighted lamp seven times over it, and the bride goes seven times round it in imitation of the marriage ceremony. At her husband’s house seven pictures of the family gods are drawn on a wall inside the house and the bride worships these, placing a little sugar and bread on the mouth of each and bowing before them. She is then seated before the family god while an old woman brings a stone rolling-pin10 wrapped up in a piece of cloth, which is supposed to be a baby, and the old woman imitates a baby crying. She puts the roller in the bride’s lap saying, ‘Take this and give it milk.’ The bride is abashed and throws it aside. The old woman picks it up and shows it to the assembled women saying, ‘The bride has just had a baby,’ amid loud laughter. Then she gives the stone to the bridegroom who also throws it aside. This ceremony is meant to induce fertility, and it is supposed that by making believe that the bride has had a baby she will quickly have one.

7. Widow-marriage and puberty rite

The higher clans of Lodhis in Damoh and Saugor prohibit [118]the remarriage of widows, but instances of it occur. It is said that a man who marries a widow is relegated to the Mahālodhi subcaste or the Lahuri Sen, an illegitimate group, and the Lodhis of his clan no longer acknowledge his family. But if a girl’s husband dies before she has lived with him she may marry again. The other Lodhis freely permit widow-marriage and divorce. When a girl first becomes mature she is secluded, and though she may stay in the house cannot enter the cook-room. At the end of the period she is dressed in red cloth, and a present of cocoanuts stripped of their shells, sweetmeats, and a little money, is placed in her lap, while a few women are invited to a feast. This rite is also meant to induce fertility, the kernel of the cocoanut being held to resemble an unborn baby.

8. Mourning impurity

The higher clans consider themselves impure for a period of 12 days after a birth, and if the birth falls in the Mūl asterism or Nakshatra, for 27 days. After death they observe mourning for 10 days; on the 10th day they offer ten pindas or funeral cakes, and on the 11th day make one large pinda or cake and divide it into eleven parts; on the 12th day they make sixteen pindas and unite the spirit of the dead man with the ancestors; and on the 13th day they give a feast and feed Brāhmans and are clean. The lower subcastes only observe impurity for three days after a birth and a death. Their funeral rites are the same as those of the Kurmis.

9. Social customs

The caste employ Brāhmans for weddings, but not necessarily for birth and death ceremonies. They eat flesh and fish, and the bulk of the caste eat fowls and drink liquor, but the landowning section abjures these practices. They will take food cooked with water from Brāhmans, and that cooked without water also from Rājpūts, Kāyasths and Sunārs. In Narsinghpur they also accept cooked food from such a low caste as Rājjahrs,11 probably because the Rājjhars are commonly employed by them as farmservants, and hence have been accustomed to carry their master’s food. A similar relation has been found to exist between the Panwār Rājpūts and their Gond farmservants. The higher class Lodhis make an inordinate show of hospitality at their [119]weddings. The plates of the guests are piled up profusely with food, and these latter think it a point of honour never to refuse it or say enough. When melted butter is poured out into their cups the stream must never be broken as it passes from one guest to the other, or it is said that they will all get up and leave the feast. Apparently a lot of butter must be wasted on the ground. The higher clans seclude their women, and these when they go out must wear long clothes covering the head and reaching to the feet. The women are not allowed to wear ornaments of a cheaper metal than silver, except of course their glass bangles. The Mahālodhis will eat food cooked with water in the cook-room and carried to the fields, which the higher clans will not do. Their women wear the sāri drawn through the legs and knotted behind according to the Maratha fashion, but whenever they meet their husband’s elder brother or any other elder of the family they must undo the knot and let the cloth hang down round their legs as a mark of respect. They wear no breast-cloth. Girls are tattooed before adolescence with dots on the chin and forehead, and marks on one hand. Before she is tattooed the girl is given sweets to eat, and during the process the operator sings songs in order that her attention may be diverted and she may not feel the pain. After she has finished the operator mutters a charm to prevent evil spirits from troubling the girl and causing her pain.

10. Greetings and method of address

The caste have some strict taboos on names and on conversation between the sexes. A man will only address his wife, sister, daughter, paternal aunt or niece directly. If he has occasion to speak to some other woman he will take his daughter or other female relative with him and do his business through her. He will not speak even to his own women before a crowd. A woman will similarly only speak to her father, son or nephew, and father-, son- or younger brother-in-law. She will not speak to her elder brother-in-law, and she will not address her husband in the presence of his father, elder brother or any other relative whom he reveres. A wife will never call her husband by his name, but always address him as father of her son, and, if she has no son, will sometimes speak to him through his younger brother. Neither the father nor mother will call their eldest [120]son by his name, but will use some other name. Similarly a daughter-in-law is given a fresh name on coming into the house, and on her arrival her mother-in-law looks at her for the first time through a guna or ring of baked gram-flour. A man meeting his father or elder brother will touch his feet in silence. One meeting his sister’s husband, sister’s son or son-in-law, will touch his feet and say, ‘Sāhib, salaam.’

11. Sacred thread and social status

The higher clans invest boys with the sacred thread either when they are initiated by a Guru or spiritual preceptor, or when they are married. The thread is made by a Brāhman and has five knots. Recently a large landholder in Mandla, a Jarha Lodhi, has assumed the sacred thread himself for the first time and sent round a circular to his caste-men enjoining them also to wear it. His family priest has produced a legend of the usual type showing how the Jarha Lodhis are Rājpūts whose ancestors threw away their sacred threads in order to escape the vengeance of Parasurāma. Generally in social position the Lodhis may be considered to rank with, but slightly above, the ordinary cultivating castes, such as the Kurmis. This superiority in no way arises from their origin, since, as already seen, they are a very low caste in their home in northern India, but from the fact that they have become large landholders in the Central Provinces and in former times their leaders exercised quasi-sovereign powers. Many Lodhis are fine-looking men and have still some appearance of having been soldiers. They are passionate and quarrelsome, especially in the Jubbulpore District. This is put forcibly in the saying that ‘A Lodhi’s temper is as crooked as the stream of a bullock’s urine.’ They are generally cultivators, but the bulk of them are not very prosperous as they are inclined to extravagance and display at weddings and on other ceremonial occasions.

1 Colonel Ward’s Mandia Settlement Report p. 29.

2 Brief View of the Caste System, p. 14.

3 Symplocos racemosa.

4 Rāja Lachman Singh’s Bulandshahr Memo, p. 182, quoted in Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Lodha.

5 Narsinghpur Settlement Report (1866), p. 28.

6 Nagpur Settlement Report, p. 24.

7 A small millet.

8 Every twelfth year when the planet Jupiter is in conjunction with the constellation Sinh (Leo).

9 Butea Frondosa.

10 This is known as lodha.

11 The Rājjhars are a low caste of farmservants and labourers, probably an offshoot of the Bhar tribe.



1. Legends of the caste

Lohar, Khati, Ghantra, Ghisāri, Panchāl.—The occupational caste of blacksmiths. The name is derived from the Sanskrit Lauha-kara>, a worker in iron. In the Central Provinces the Loharhas in the past frequently combined the occupations of carpenter and blacksmith, and in such a capacity he is known as Khāti. The honorific designations applied to the caste are Karīgar, which means skilful, and [121]Mistri, a corruption of the English ‘Master’ or ‘Mister.’ In 1911 the Lohārs numbered about 180,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berār. The Lohār is indispensable to the village economy, and the caste is found over the whole rural area of the Province.

“Practically all the Lohārs,” Mr. Crooke writes1, “trace their origin to Visvakarma, who is the later representative of the Vedic Twashtri, the architect and handicraftsman of the gods, ‘The fashioner of all ornaments, the most eminent of artisans, who formed the celestial chariots of the deities, on whose craft men subsist, and whom, a great and immortal god, they continually worship,’ One2 tradition tells that Visvakarma was a Brāhman and married the daughter of an Ahīr, who in her previous birth had been a dancing-girl of the gods. By her he had nine sons, who became the ancestors of various artisan castes, such as the Lohār, Barhai, Sunār, and Kasera.”

The Lohārs of the Uriya country in the Central Provinces tell a similar story, according to which Kamar, the celestial architect, had twelve sons. The eldest son was accustomed to propitiate the family god with wine, and one day he drank some of the wine, thinking that it could not be sinful to do so as it was offered to the deity. But for this act his other brothers refused to live with him and left their home, adopting various professions; but the eldest brother became a worker in iron and laid a curse upon the others that they should not be able to practise their calling except with the implements which he had made. The second brother thus became a woodcutter (Barhai), the third a painter (Mahārana), the fourth learnt the science of vaccination and medicine and became a vaccinator (Suthiār), the fifth a goldsmith, the sixth a brass-smith, the seventh a coppersmith, and the eighth a carpenter, while the ninth brother was weak in the head and married his eldest sister, on account of which fact his descendants are known as Ghantra.3 The Ghantras are an inferior class of blacksmiths, [122]probably an offshoot from some of the forest tribes, who are looked down on by the others. It is said that even to the present day the Ghantra Lohārs have no objection to eating the leavings of food of their wives, whom they regard as their eldest sisters.

2. Social position of the Lohar

The above story is noticeable as indicating that the social position of the Lohār is somewhat below that of the other artisan castes, or at least of those who work in metals. This fact has been recorded in other localities, and has been explained by some stigma arising from his occupation, as in the following passage: “His social position is low even for a menial, and he is classed as an impure caste, in so far that Jāts and others of similar standing will have no social communion with him, though not as an outcast like the scavenger. His impurity, like that of the barber, washerman and dyer, springs solely from the nature of his employment; perhaps because it is a dirty one, but more probably because black is a colour of evil omen. It is not improbable that the necessity under which he labours of using bellows made of cowhide may have something to do with his impurity,”4

Mr. Nesfield also says: “It is owing to the ubiquitous industry of the Lohār that the stone knives, arrow-heads and hatchets of the indigenous tribes of Upper India have been so entirely superseded by iron-ores. The memory of the stone age has not survived even in tradition. In consequence of the evil associations which Hinduism has attached to the colour of black, the caste of Lohār has not been able to raise itself to the same social level as the three metallurgic castes which follow.” The following saying also indicates that the Lohār is of evil omen:

Ar, Dhār, Chuchkār

In tinon se bachāwe Kartār.

Here Ar means an iron goad and signifies the Lohār; Dhār represents the sound of the oil falling from the press and means a Teli or oilman; Chuchkār is an imitation of the sound of clothes being beaten against a stone and denotes the Dhobi or washerman; and the phrase thus runs, ‘My Friend, beware of the Lohār, Teli, and Dhobi, for they [123]are of evil omen.’ It is not quite clear why this disrepute should attach to the Lohār, because iron itself is lucky, though its colour, black, may be of bad omen. But the low status of the Lohār may partly arise from the fact of his being a village menial and a servant of the cultivators; whereas the trades of the goldsmith, brass-smith and carpenter are of later origin than the blacksmith’s, and are urban rather than rural industries; and thus these artisans do not commonly occupy the position of village menials. Another important consideration is that the iron industry is associated with the primitive tribes, who furnished the whole supply of the metal prior to its importation from Europe: and it is hence probable that the Lohār caste was originally constituted from these and would thus naturally be looked down upon by the Hindus. In Bengal, where few or no traces of the village community remain, the Lohār ranks as the equal of Koiris and Kurmis, and Brāhmans will take water from his hands;5 and this somewhat favours the argument that his lower status elsewhere is not due to incidents of his occupation.

3. Caste subdivisions

The constitution of the Lohār caste is of a heterogeneous nature. In some localities Gonds who work as blacksmiths are considered to belong to the caste and are known as Gondi Lohārs. But Hindus who work in Gond villages also sometimes bear this designation. Another subdivision returned consists of the Agarias, also an offshoot of the Gonds, who collect and smelt iron-ore in the Vindhyan and Satpūra hills. The Panchāls are a class of itinerant smiths in Berār. The Ghantras or inferior blacksmiths of the Uriya country have already been noticed. The Ghisāris are a similar low class of smiths in the southern Districts who do rough work only, but sometimes claim Rājpūt origin. Other subcastes are of the usual local or territorial type, as Mahūlia, from Māhul in Berār; Jhāde or Jhādia, those living in the jungles; Ojha, or those professing a Brāhmanical origin; Marātha, Kanaujia, Mathuria, and so on.

4. Marriage and other customs

Infant-marriage is the custom of the caste, and the ceremony is that prevalent among the agricultural castes of the locality. The remarriage of widows is permitted, and [124]they have the privilege of selecting their own husbands, or at least of refusing to accept any proposed suitor. A widow is always married from her father’s house, and never from that of her deceased husband. The first husband’s property is taken by his relatives, if there be any, and they also assume the custody of his children as soon as they are old enough to dispense with a mother’s care. The dead are both buried and burnt, and in the eastern Districts some water and a tooth-stick are daily placed at a cross-road for the use of the departed spirit during the customary period of mourning, which extends to ten days. On the eleventh day the relatives go and bathe, and the chief mourner puts on a new loin-cloth. Some rice is taken and seven persons pass it from hand to hand. They then pound the rice, and making from it a figure to represent a human being, they place some grain in its mouth and say to it, ‘Go and become incarnate in some human being,’ and throw the image into the water. After this the impurity caused by the death is removed, and they go home and feast with their friends. In the evening they make cakes of rice, and place them seven times on the shoulder of each person who has carried the corpse to the cemetery or pyre, to remove the impurity contracted from touching it. It is also said that if this be not done the shoulder will feel the weight of the coffin for a period of six months. The caste endeavour to ascertain whether the spirit of the dead person returns to join in the funeral feast, and in what shape it will be born again. For this purpose rice-flour is spread on the floor of the cooking-room and covered with a brass plate. The women retire and sit in an adjoining room while the chief mourner with a few companions goes outside the village, and sprinkles some more rice-flour on the ground. They call to the deceased person by name, saying, ‘Come, come,’ and then wait patiently till some worm or insect crawls on to the floor. Some dough is then applied to this and it is carried home and let loose in the house. The flour under the brass plate is examined, and it is said that they usually see the footprints of a person or animal, indicating the corporeal entity in which the deceased soul has found a resting-place. During the period of mourning members of [125]the bereaved family do not follow their ordinary business, nor eat flesh, sweets or other delicate food. They may not make offerings to their deities nor touch any persons outside the family, nor wear head-cloths or shoes. In the eastern Districts the principal deities of the Lohārs are Dūlha Deo and Somlai or Devi, the former being represented by a knife set in the ground inside the house, and the latter by the painting of a woman on the wall. Both deities are kept in the cooking-room, and here the head of the family offers to them rice soaked in milk, with sandal-paste, flowers, vermilion and lamp-black. He burns some melted butter in an earthen lamp and places incense upon it. If a man has been affected by the evil eye an exorcist will place some salt on his hand and burn it, muttering spells, and the evil influence is removed. They believe that a spell can be cast on a man by giving him to eat the bones of an owl, when he will become an idiot.

5. Occupation

In the rural area of the Province the Lohār is still a village menial, making and mending the iron implements of agriculture, such as the ploughshare, axe, sickle, goad and other articles. For doing this he is paid in Saugor a yearly contribution of twenty pounds of grain per plough of land6 held by each cultivator, together with a handful of grain at sowing-time and a sheaf at harvest from both the autumn and spring crops. In Wardha he gets fifty pounds of grain per plough of four bullocks or forty acres. For making new implements the Lohār is sometimes paid separately and is always supplied with the iron and charcoal. The hand-smelting iron industry has practically died out in the Province and the imported metal is used for nearly all purposes. The village Lohārs are usually very poor, their income seldom exceeding that of an unskilled labourer. In the towns, owing to the rapid extension of milling and factory industries, blacksmiths readily find employment and some of them earn very high wages. In the manufacture of cutlery, nails and other articles the capital is often found by a Bhātia or Bohra merchant, who acts as the capitalist and employs the Lohārs as his workmen. The women help their husbands by blowing the bellows and dragging the hot iron [126]from the furnace, while the men wield the hammer. The Panchāls of Berār are described as a wandering caste of smiths, living in grass mat-huts and using as fuel the roots of thorn bushes, which they batter out of the ground with the back of a short-handled axe peculiar to themselves. They move from place to place with buffaloes, donkeys and ponies to carry their kit.7 Another class of wandering smiths, the Ghisāris, are described by Mr. Crooke as follows: “Occasional camps of these most interesting people are to be met with in the Districts of the Meerut Division. They wander about with small carts and pack-animals, and, being more expert than the ordinary village Lohār, their services are in demand for the making of tools for carpenters, weavers and other craftsmen. They are known in the Punjab as Gādiya or those who have carts (gādi, gāri). Sir D. Ibbetson8 says that they come up from Rājputāna and the North-Western Provinces, but their real country is the Deccan. In the Punjab they travel about with their families and implements in carts from village to village, doing the finer kinds of iron-work, which are beyond the capacity of the village artisan. In the Deccan9 this class of wandering blacksmiths are called Saiqalgar, or knife-grinders, or Ghisāra, or grinders (Hindi, ghisāna ‘to rub’). They wander about grinding knives and tools.”

1 Tribes and Castes of the N.W.P. and Oudh, art. Lohār.

2 Dowson, Classical Dictionary, s.v.

3 In Uriya the term, Ghantrabela means a person who has illicit intercourse with another. The Ghantra Lohārs are thus probably of bastard origin, like the groups known as half-castes and others which are frequently found.

4 Punjab Census Report (1881), para. 624. (Ibbetson.)

5 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Lohār

6 About 15 acres.

7 Berār Census Report, 1881 (Kitts).

8 Punjāb Ethnography, para. 624.

9 Bombay Gazetteer, xvi. 82.



Lorha.1—A small caste of cultivators in the Hoshangābād and Nimār Districts, whose distinctive occupation is to grow san-hemp (Crotalaria juncea) and to make sacking and gunny-bags from the fibre. A very strong prejudice against this crop exists among the Hindus, and those who grow it are usually cut off from their parent caste and become a separate community. Thus we have the castes known as Kumrāwat, Patbīna and Dāngur in different parts of the Province, who are probably offshoots from the Kurmis and Kunbis, but now rank below them because they grow this crop; and in the Kurmi caste itself a subcaste of Santora (hemp-picking) Kurmis has grown up. In Bilāspur the [127]Pathāria Kurmis will grow san-hemp and ret it, but will not spin or weave the fibre; while the Athāria Kurmis will not grow the crop, but will spin the fibre and make sacking. The Saugor Kewats grow this fibre, and here Brāhmans and other high castes will not take water from Kewats, though in the eastern Districts they will do so. The Narsinghpur Mallāhs, a branch of the Kewats, have also adopted the cultivation of san-hemp as a regular profession. The basis of the prejudice against the san-hemp plant is not altogether clear. The Lorhas themselves say that they are looked down upon because they use wheat-starch (lapsi) for smoothing the fibre, and that their name is somehow derived from this fact. But the explanation does not seem satisfactory. Many of the country people appear to think that there is something uncanny about the plant because it grows so quickly, and they say that on one occasion a cultivator went out to sow hemp in the morning, and his wife was very late in bringing his dinner to the field. He grew hungry and angry, and at last the shoots of the hemp-seeds which he had sown in the morning began to appear above the ground. At this he was so enraged that when his wife finally came he said she had kept him waiting so long that the crop had come up in the meantime, and murdered her. Since then the Hindus have been forbidden to grow san-hemp lest they should lose their tempers in the same manner. This story makes a somewhat excessive demand on the hearer’s credulity. One probable cause of the taboo seems to be that the process of soaking and retting the stalks of the plant pollutes the water, and if carried on in a tank or in the pools of a stream might destroy the village supply of drinking-water. In former times it may have been thought that the desecration of their sacred element was an insult to the deities of rivers and streams, which would bring down retribution on the offender. It is also the case that the proper separation of the fibres requires a considerable degree of dexterity which can only be acquired by practice. Owing to the recent increase in the price of the fibre and the large profits which can now be obtained from hemp cultivation, the prejudice against it is gradually breaking down, and the Gonds, Korkus and lower Hindu castes have waived their religious scruples [128]and are glad to turn an honest penny by sowing hemp either on their own account or for hire. Other partially tabooed crops are turmeric and āl or Indian madder (Morinda citrifolia), while onions and garlic are generally eschewed by Hindu cultivators. For growing turmeric and āl special subcastes have been formed, as the Alia Kunbis and the Hardia Mālis and Kāchhis (from haldi, turmeric), just as in the case of san-hemp. The objection to these two crops is believed to lie in the fact that the roots which yield the commercial product have to be boiled, and by this process a number of insects contained in them are destroyed. But the preparation of the hemp-fibre does not seem to involve any such sacrifice of insect life. The Lorhas appear to be a mixed group, with a certain amount of Rājpūt blood in them, perhaps an offshoot of the Kirārs, with whose social customs their own are said to be identical. According to another account, they are a lower or illegitimate branch of the Lodha caste of cultivators, of whose name their own is said to be a corruption. The Nimār Gūjars have a subcaste named Lorha, and the Lorhas of Hoshangābād may be connected with these. They live in the Seoni and Harda tahsīls of Hoshangābād, the san-hemp crop being a favourite one in villages adjoining the forests, because it is not subject to the depredations of wild animals. Cultivators are often glad to sublet their fields for the purpose of having a crop of hemp grown upon them, because the stalks are left for manure and fertilise the ground. String and sacking are also made from the hemp-fibre by vagrant and criminal castes like the Banjāras and Bhāmtas, who formerly required the bags for carrying their goods and possessions about with them. [129]

1 This article is partly based on papers by Mr. P.B. Telang, Munsiff Seoni-Mālwa, and Mr. Wāman Rao Mandloi, nāib-tahsīldār, Harda.



List of Paragraphs

1. General Notice.

Mahār, Mehra, Dhed.—The impure caste of menials, labourers and village watchmen of the Marātha country, corresponding to the Chamārs and Koris of northern India. They numbered nearly 1,200,000 persons in the combined Province in 1911, and are most numerous in the Nāgpur, Bhandāra, Chānda and Wardha Districts of the Central Provinces, while considerable colonies are also found in Bālāghāt, Chhindwāra and Betūl. Their distribution thus follows largely that of the Marāthi language and the castes speaking it. Berār contained 400,000, distributed over the four Districts. In the whole Province this caste is third in point of numerical strength. In India the Mahārs number about three million persons, of whom a half belong to Bombay. I am not aware of any accepted derivation for the word Mahār, but the balance of opinion seems to be that the native name of Bombay, Mahārāshtra, is derived from that of the caste, as suggested by Wilson. Another derivation which holds it to be a corruption of Maha Rāstrakūta, and to be so called after the Rāshtrakūta Rājpūt dynasty of the eighth and ninth centuries, seems less probable because countries are very seldom named after ruling [130]dynasties.1 Whereas in support of Mahārāshtra as ‘The country of the Mahārs,’ we have Gujarāshtra or Gujarāt, ‘the country of the Gūjars,’ and Saurāshtra or Surat, ‘the country of the Sauras.’ According to Platts’ Dictionary, however, Mahārāshtra means ‘the great country,’ and this is what the Marātha Brāhmans themselves say. Mehra appears to be a variant of the name current in the Hindustāni Districts, while Dheda, or Dhada, is said to be a corruption of Dharadas or billmen.2 In the Punjab it is said to be a general term of contempt meaning ‘Any low fellow.’3

Wilson considers the Mahārs to be an aboriginal or pre-Aryan tribe, and all that is known of the caste seems to point to the correctness of this hypothesis. In the Bombay Gazetteer the writer of the interesting Gujarāt volume suggests that the Mahārs are fallen Rājpūts; but there seems little to support this opinion except their appearance and countenance, which is of the Hindu rather than the Dravidian type. In Gujarāt they have also some Rājpūt surnames, as Chauhān, Panwār, Rāthor, Solanki and so on, but these may have been adopted by imitation or may indicate a mixture of Rājpūt blood. Again, the Mahārs of Gujarāt are the farmservants and serfs of the Kunbis. “Each family is closely connected with the house of some landholder or pattidār (sharer). For his master he brings in loads from the fields and cleans out the stable, receiving in return daily allowances of buttermilk and the carcases of any cattle that die. This connection seems to show traces of a form of slavery. Rich pattidārs have always a certain number of Dheda families whom they speak of as ours (hamāra) and when a man dies he distributes along with his lands a certain number of Dheda families to each of his sons. An old tradition among Dhedas points to some relation between the Kunbis and Dhedas. Two brothers, Leva and Deva, were the ancestors, the former of the Kunbis, the latter of the Dhedas.” 4 Such a relation as this [131]in Hindu society would imply that many Mahār women held the position of concubines to their Kunbi masters, and would therefore account for the resemblance of the Mahār to Hindus rather than the forest tribes. But if this is to be regarded as evidence of Rājpūt descent, a similar claim would have to be allowed to many of the Chamārs and sweepers. Others of the lowest castes also have Rājpūt sept names, as the Pārdhis and Bhīls; but the fact can at most be taken, I venture to think, to indicate a connection of the ‘Droit de Seigneur’ type. On the other hand, the Mahārs occupy the debased and impure position which was the lot of those non-Aryan tribes who became subject to the Hindus and lived in their villages; they eat the flesh of dead cattle and this and other customs appear to point decisively to a non-Aryan origin.

2. Length of residence in the Central Provinces

Several circumstances indicate that the Mahār is recognised as the oldest resident of the plain country of Berār and Nāgpur. In Berār he is a village servant and is the referee on village boundaries and customs, a position implying that his knowledge of them is the most ancient. At the Holi festival the fire of the Mahārs is kindled first and that of the Kunbis is set alight from it. The Kāmdār Mahār, who acts as village watchman, also has the right of bringing the toran or rope of leaves which is placed on the marriage-shed of the Kunbis; and for this he receives a present of three annas. In Bhandrā the Telis, Lohārs, Dhimārs and several other castes employ a Mahār Mohturia or wise man to fix the date of their weddings. And most curious of all, when the Panwār Rājpūts of this tract celebrate the festival of Nārāyan Deo, they call a Mahār to their house and make him the first partaker of the feast before beginning to eat themselves. Again in Berār5 the Mahār officiates at the killing of the buffalo on Dasahra. On the day before the festival the chief Mahār of the village and his wife with their garments knotted together bring some earth from the jungle and fashioning two images set one on a clay elephant and the other on a clay bullock. The images are placed on a small platform outside the village site and worshipped; a young he-buffalo is bathed [132]and brought before the images as though for the same object. The Patel wounds the buffalo in the nose with a sword and it is then marched through the village. In the evening it is killed by the head Mahār, buried in the customary spot, and any evil that might happen during the coming year is thus deprecated and, it is hoped, averted. The claim to take the leading part in this ceremony is the occasion of many a quarrel and an occasional affray or riot Such customs tend to show that the Mahārs were the earliest immigrants from Bombay into the Berār and Nāgpur plain, excluding of course the Gonds and other tribes, who have practically been ousted from this tract. And if it is supposed that the Panwārs came here in the tenth century, as seems not improbable,6 the Mahārs, whom the Panwārs recognise as older residents than themselves, must have been earlier still, and were probably numbered among the subjects of the old Hindu kingdoms of Bhāndak and Nagardhan.

3. Legend of origin

The Mahārs say they are descended from Mahāmuni, who was a foundling picked up by the goddess Pārvati on the banks of the Ganges. At this time beef had not become a forbidden food; and when the divine cow, Tripād Gayatri, died, the gods determined to cook and eat her body and Mahāmuni was set to watch the pot boiling. He was as inattentive as King Alfred, and a piece of flesh fell out of the pot. Not wishing to return the dirty piece to the pot Mahāmuni ate it; but the gods discovered the delinquency, and doomed him and his descendants to live on the flesh of dead cows.7

4. Sub-castes

The caste have a number of subdivisions, generally of a local or territorial type, as Daharia, the residents of Dāhar or the Jubbulpore country, Baonia (52) of Berār, Nemādya or from Nimar, Khāndeshi from Khāndesh, and so on; the Katia group are probably derived from that caste, Katīa meaning a spinner; the Bārkias are another group whose name is supposed to mean spinners of fine thread; while the Lonārias are salt-makers. The highest division are the Somvansis or children of the moon; these claim to have taken part with the Pāndavas against the Kauravas in the [133]war of the Mahābhārata, and subsequently to have settled in Mahārāshtra.8 But the Somvansi Mahārs consent to groom horses, which the Baone and Kosaria subcastes will not do. Baone and Somvansi Mahārs will take food together, but will not intermarry. The Ladwān subcaste are supposed to be the offspring of kept women of the Somvansi Mahārs; and in Wardha the Dhārmik group are also the descendants of illicit unions and their name is satirical, meaning ‘virtuous.’ As has been seen, the caste have a subdivision named Katia, which is the name of a separate Hindustāni caste; and other subcastes have names belonging to northern India, as the Mahobia, from Mahoba in the United Provinces, the Kosaria or those from Chhattīsgarh, and the Kanaujia from Kanauj. This may perhaps be taken to indicate that bodies of the Kori and Katia weaving castes of northern India have been amalgamated with the Mahārs in Districts where they have come together along the Satpūra Hills and Nerbudda Valley.

5. Exogamous groups and marriage customs

The caste have also a large number of exogamous groups, the names of which are usually derived from plants, animals, and natural objects. A few may be given as examples out of fifty-seven recorded in the Central Provinces, though this is far from representing the real total; all the common animals have septs named after them, as the tiger, cobra, tortoise, peacock, jackal, lizard, elephant, lark, scorpion, calf, and so on; while more curious names are—Darpan, a mirror; Khānda Phari, sword and shield; Undrimāria, a rat-killer; Aglāvi, an incendiary; Andhāre, a blind man; Kutramāria, a dog-killer; Kodu Dūdh, sour milk; Khobragāde, cocoanut-kernel; Bhājikhai, a vegetable eater, and so on.

A man must not marry in his own sept, but may take a wife from his mother’s or grandmother’s. A sister’s son may marry a brother’s daughter, but not vice versa. A girl who is seduced before marriage by a man of her own caste or any higher one can be married as if she were a widow, but if she has a child she must first get some other family to take it off her hands. The custom of Lamjhana or serving for a wife is recognised, and the expectant bridegroom will live with his father-in-law and work for him for a period [134]varying from one to five years. The marriage ceremony follows the customary Hindustāni or Marātha ritual9 as the case may be. In Wardha the right foot of the bridegroom and the left one of the bride are placed together in a new basket, while they stand one on each side of the threshold. They throw five handfuls of coloured rice over each other, and each time, as he throws, the bridegroom presses his toe on the bride’s foot; at the end he catches the girl by the finger and the marriage is complete. In the Central Provinces the Mohtūria or caste priest officiates at weddings, but in Berār, Mr. Kitts states10 the caste employ the Brāhman Joshi or village priest. But as he will not come to their house they hold the wedding on the day that one takes place among the higher castes, and when the priest gives the signal the dividing cloth (Antarpat) between the couple is withdrawn, and the garments of the bride and bridegroom are knotted, while the bystanders clap their hands and pelt the couple with coloured grain. As the priest frequently takes up his position on the roof of the house for a wedding it is easy for the Mahārs to see him. In Mandla some of the lower class of Brāhmans will officiate at the weddings of Mahārs. In Chhindwāra the Mahārs seat the bride and bridegroom in the frame of a loom for the ceremony, and they worship the hide of a cow or bullock filled with water. They drink together ceremoniously, a pot of liquor being placed on a folded cloth and all the guests sitting round it in a circle. An elder man then lays a new piece of cloth on the pot and worships it. He takes a cup of the liquor himself and hands round a cupful to every person present.

In Mandla at a wedding the barber comes and cuts the bride’s nails, and the cuttings are rolled up in dough and placed in a little earthen pot beside the marriage-post. The bridegroom’s nails and hair are similarly cut in his own house and placed in another vessel. A month or two after the wedding the two little pots are taken out and thrown into the Nerbudda. A wedding costs the bridegroom’s party about Rs. 40 or Rs. 50 and the bride’s about Rs. 25. [135]They have no going-away ceremony, but the occasion of a girl’s coming to maturity is known as Bolāwan. She is kept apart for six days and given new clothes, and the caste-people are invited to a meal. When a woman’s husband dies the barber breaks her bangles, and her anklets are taken off and given to him as his perquisite. Her brother-in-law or other relative gives her a new white cloth, and she wears this at first, and afterwards white or coloured clothes at her pleasure. Her hair is not cut, and she may wear patelas or flat metal bangles on the forearm and armlets above the elbow, but not other ornaments. A widow is under no obligation to marry her first husband’s younger brother; when she marries a stranger he usually pays a sum of about Rs. 30 to her parents. When the price has been paid the couple exchange a ring and a bangle respectively in token of the agreement. When the woman is proceeding to her second husband’s house, her old clothes, necklace and bangles are thrown into a river or stream and she is given new ones to wear. This is done to lay the first husband’s spirit, which may be supposed to hang about the clothes she wore as his wife, and when they are thrown away or buried the exorcist mutters spells over them in order to lay the spirit. No music is allowed at the marriage of a widow except the crooked trumpet called singāra. A bachelor who marries a widow must first go through a mock ceremony with a cotton-plant, a sword or a ring. Divorce must be effected before the caste panchāyat or committee, and if a divorced woman marries again, her first husband performs funeral and mourning ceremonies as if she were dead. In Gujarāt the practice is much more lax and “divorce can be obtained almost to an indefinite extent. Before they finally settle down to wedded life most couples have more than once changed their partners.”11 But here also, before the change takes place, there must be a formal divorce recognised by the caste.

6. Funeral rites

The caste either burn or bury the dead and observe mourning for three days,12 having their houses whitewashed and their faces shaved. On the tenth day they give a feast [136]to the caste-fellows. On the Akshaya Tritia 13 and the 30th day of Kunwār (September) they offer rice and cakes to the crows in the names of their ancestors. In Berār Mr. Kitts writes:14 “If a Mahār’s child has died, he will on the third day place bread on the grave; if an infant, milk; if an adult, on the tenth day, with five pice in one hand and five betel-leaves in the other, he goes into the river, dips himself five times and throws these things away; he then places five lighted lamps on the tomb, and after these simple ceremonies gets himself shaved as though he were an orthodox Hindu.”

7. Childbirth

In Mandla the mother is secluded at childbirth in a separate house if one is available, and if not they fence in a part of the veranda for her use with bamboo screens. After the birth the mother must remain impure until the barber comes and colours her toe-nails and draws a line round her feet with red mahur powder. This is indispensable, and if the barber is not immediately available she must wait until his services can be obtained. When the navel-string drops it is buried in the place on which the mother sat while giving birth, and when this has been done the purification may be effected. The Dhobi is then called to wash the clothes of the household, and their earthen pots are thrown away. The head of the newborn child is shaved clean, as the birth-hair is considered to be impure, and the hair is wrapped up in dough and thrown into a river.

8. Names

A child is named on the seventh or twelfth day after its birth, the name being chosen by the Mohtūria or caste headman. The ordinary Hindu names of deities for men and sacred rivers or pious and faithful wives for women are employed; instances of the latter being Ganga, Godāvari, Jamuna, Sīta, Laxmi and Rādha. Opprobrious names are sometimes given to avert ill-luck, as Damdya (purchased for eight cowries), Kauria (a cowrie), Bhikāria (a beggar), Ghusia (from ghus, a mallet for stamping earth), Harchatt (refuse), Akāli (born in famine-time), Langra (lame), Lula (having an arm useless); or the name of another low caste is given, as Bhangi (sweeper), Domari (Dom sweeper), Chamra (tanner), Basori (basket-maker). Not infrequently children are named [137]after the month or day when they were born, as Pusau, born in Pus (December), Chaitu, born in Chait (March), Manglu (born on Tuesday), Buddhi (born on Wednesday), Sukka (born on Friday), Sanīchra (born on Saturday). One boy was called Mulua or ‘Sold’ (mol-dena). His mother had no other children, so sold him for one pice (farthing) to a Gond woman. After five or six months, as he did not get fat, his name was changed to Jhuma or ‘lean,’ probably as an additional means of averting ill-luck. Another boy was named Ghurka, from the noise he made when being suckled. A child born in the absence of its father is called Sonwa, or one born in an empty house.

9. Religion

The great body of the caste worship the ordinary deities Devi, Hanumān, Dūlha Deo, and others, though of course they are not allowed to enter Hindu temples. They principally observe the Holi and Dasahra festivals and the days of the new and full moon. On the festival of Nāg-Panchmi they make an image of a snake with flour and sugar and eat it. At the sacred Ambāla tank at Rāmtek the Mahārs have a special bathing-ghāt set apart for them, and they may enter the citadel and go as far as the lowest step leading up to the temples; here they worship the god and think that he accepts their offerings. They are thus permitted to traverse the outer enclosures of the citadel, which are also sacred. In Wardha the Mahārs may not touch the shrines of Mahādeo, but must stand before them with their hands joined. They may sometimes deposit offerings with their own hands on those of Bhīmsen, originally a Gond god, and Māta Devi, the goddess of smallpox.

10. Adoption of foreign religions

In Berār and Bombay the Mahārs have some curious forms of belief. “Of the confusion which obtains in the Mahār theogony the names of six of their gods will afford a striking example. While some Mahārs worship Vithoba, the god of Pandharpur, others revere Varuna’s twin sons, Meghoni and Deghoni, and his four messengers, Gabriel, Azrael, Michael and Anādin, all of whom they say hail from Pandharpur.”15 The names of archangels thus mixed up with Hindu deities may most probably have been obtained from the Muhammadans, as they include Azrael; [138]but in Gujarāt their religion appears to have been borrowed from Christianity. “The Karia Dhedas have some rather remarkable beliefs. In the Satya Yug the Dhedas say they were called Satyas; in the Dvāpar Yug they were called Meghas; in the Treta Yug, Elias; and in the Kāli Yug, Dhedas. The name Elias came, they say, from a prophet Elia, and of him their religious men have vague stories; some of them especially about a famine that lasted for three years and a half, easily fitting into the accounts of Elijah in the Jewish Scriptures. They have also prophecies of a high future in store for their tribe. The king or leader of the new era, Kuyām Rai by name, will marry a Dheda woman and will raise the caste to the position of Brāhmans. They hold religious meetings or ochhavas, and at these with great excitement sing songs full of hope of the good things in store for them. When a man wishes to hold an ochhava he invites the whole caste, and beginning about eight in the evening they often spend the night in singing. Except perhaps for a few sweetmeats there is no eating or drinking, and the excitement is altogether religious and musical. The singers are chiefly religious Dhedas or Bhagats, and the people join in a refrain ‘Avore Kuyām Rai Rāja’, ‘Oh! come Kuyām Rai, our king.’”16 It seems that the attraction which outside faiths exercise on the Mahārs is the hope held out of ameliorating the social degradation under which they labour, itself an outcome of the Hindu theory of caste. Hence they turn to Islām, or to what is possibly a degraded version of the Christian story, because these religions do not recognise caste, and hold out a promise to the Mahār of equality with his co-religionists, and in the case of Christianity of a recompense in the world to come for the sufferings which he has to endure in this one. Similarly, the Mahārs are the warmest adherents of the Muhammadan saint Sheikh Farīd, and flock to the fairs held in his honour at Girar in Wardha and Partāpgarh in Bhandāra, where he is supposed to have slain a couple of giants.17 [139]In Berār18 also they revere Muhammadan tombs. The remains of the Muhammadan fort and tank on Pimpardol hill in Jalgaon tāluk are now one of the sacred places of the Mahārs, though to the Muhammadans they have no religious associations. Even at present Mahārs are inclined to adopt Islām, and a case was recently reported when a body of twenty of them set out to do so, but turned back on being told that they would not be admitted to the mosque.19 A large proportion of the Mahārs are also adherents of the Kabīrpanthi sect, one of the main tenets of whose founder was the abolition of caste. And it is from the same point of view that Christianity appeals to them, enabling European missionaries to draw a large number of converts from this caste. But even the Hindu attitude towards the Mahārs is not one of unmixed intolerance. Once in three or four years in the southern Districts, the Panwārs, Mahārs, Pankas and other castes celebrate the worship of Nārāyan Deo or Vishnu, the officiating priest being a Mahār. Members of all castes come to the Panwār’s house at night for the ceremony, and a vessel of water is placed at the door in which they wash their feet and hands as they enter; and when inside they are all considered to be equal, and they sit in a line and eat the same food, and bind wreaths of flowers round their heads. After the cock crows the equality of status is ended, and no one who goes out of the house can enter again. At present also many educated Brāhmans recognise fully the social evils resulting from the degraded position of the Mahārs, and are doing their best to remove the caste prejudices against them.

11. Superstitions

They have various spells to cure a man possessed of an evil spirit, or stung by a snake or scorpion, or likely to be in danger from tigers or wild bears; and in the Morsi tāluk of Berār it is stated that they so greatly fear the effect of an enemy [140]writing their name on a piece of paper and tying it to a sweeper’s broom that the threat to do this can be used with great effect by their creditors.20 To drive out the evil eye they make a small human image of powdered turmeric and throw it into boiled water, mentioning as they do so the names of any persons whom they suspect of having cast the evil eye upon them. Then the pot of water is taken out at midnight of a Wednesday or a Sunday and placed upside down on some cross-roads with a shoe over it, and the sufferer should be cured. Their belief about the sun and moon is that an old woman had two sons who were invited by the gods to dinner. Before they left she said to them that as they were going out there would be no one to cook, so they must remember to bring back something for her. The elder brother forgot what his mother had said and took nothing away with him; but the younger remembered her and brought back something from the feast. So when they came back the old woman cursed the elder brother and said that as he had forgotten her he should be the sun and scorch and dry up all vegetation with his beams; but the younger brother should be the moon and make the world cool and pleasant at night. The story is so puerile that it is only worth reproduction as a specimen of the level of a Mahār’s intelligence. The belief in evil spirits appears to be on the decline, as a result of education and accumulated experience. Mr. C. Brown states that in Malkāpur of Berār the Mahārs say that there are no wandering spirits in the hills by night of such a nature that people need fear them. There are only tiny pari or fairies, small creatures in human form, but with the power of changing their appearance, who do no harm to any one.

12. Social rules

When an outsider is to be received into the community all the hair on his face is shaved, being wetted with the urine of a boy belonging to the group to which he seeks admission. Mahārs will eat all kinds of food including the flesh of crocodiles and rats, but some of them abstain from beef. There is nothing peculiar in their dress except that the men wear a black woollen thread round their necks.21 The women may be recognised by their bold carriage, the [141]absence of nose-rings and the large irregular dabs of vermilion on the forehead. Mahār women do not, as a rule, wear the choli or breast-cloth. An unmarried girl does not put on vermilion nor draw her cloth over her head. Women must be tattooed with dots on the face, representations of scorpions, flowers and snakes on the arms and legs, and some dots to represent flies on the hands. It is the custom for a girl’s father or mother or father-in-law to have her tattooed in one place on the hand or arm immediately on her marriage. Then when girls are sitting together they will show this mark and say, ‘My mother or father-in-law had this done,’ as the case may be. Afterwards if a woman so desires she gets herself tattooed on her other limbs. If an unmarried girl or widow becomes with child by a man of the Mahār caste or any higher one she is subjected after delivery to a semblance of the purification by fire known as Agnikāsht. She is taken to the bank of a river and there five stalks of juāri are placed round her and burnt. Having fasted all day, at night she gives a feast to the caste-men and eats with them. If she offends with a man of lower caste she is finally expelled. Temporary exclusion from caste is imposed for taking food or drink from the hands of a Māng or Chamār or for being imprisoned in jail, or on a Mahār man if he lives with a woman of any higher caste; the penalty being the shaving of a man’s face or cutting off a lock of a woman’s hair, together with a feast to the caste. In the last case it is said that the man is not readmitted until he has put the woman away. If a man touches a dead dog, cat, pony or donkey, he has to be shaved and give a feast to the caste. And if a dog or cat dies in his house, or a litter of puppies or kittens is born, the house is considered to be defiled; all the earthen pots must be thrown away, the whole house washed and cleaned and a caste feast given. The most solemn oath of a Mahār is by a cat or dog and in Yeotmāl by a black dog.22 In Berār, the same paper states, the pig is the only animal regarded as unclean, and they must on no account touch it. This is probably owing to Muhammadan influence. The worst social sin which a Mahār can commit is to get vermin in a wound, which is [142]known as Deogan or being smitten by God. While the affliction continues he is quite ostracised, no one going to his house or giving him food or water; and when it is cured the Mahārs of ten or twelve surrounding villages assemble and he must give a feast to the whole community. The reason for this calamity being looked upon with such peculiar abhorrence is obscure, but the feeling about it is general among Hindus.

Weaving: sizing the warp

Weaving: sizing the warp

13. Social subjection

The social position of the Mahārs is one of distressing degradation. Their touch is considered to defile and they live in a quarter by themselves outside the village. They usually have a separate well assigned to them from which to draw water, and if the village has only one well the Mahārs and Hindus take water from different sides of it. Mahār boys were not until recently allowed to attend school with Hindu boys, and when they could not be refused admission to Government schools, they were allotted a small corner of the veranda and separately taught. When Dher boys were first received into the Chānda High School a mutiny took place and the school was boycotted for some time. The people say, ‘Mahār sarva jātīcha bāhar’ or ‘The Mahār is outside all castes.’ Having a bad name, they are also given unwarrantably a bad character; and ‘Mahār jātīchā’ is a phrase used for a man with no moral or kindly feelings. But in theory at least, as conforming to Hinduism, they were supposed to be better than Muhammadans and other unbelievers, as shown by the following story from the Rāsmāla:23 A Muhammadan sovereign asked his Hindu minister which was the lowest caste. The minister begged for leisure to consider his reply and, having obtained it, went to where the Dhedas lived and said to them: “You have given offence to the Pādishāh. It is his intention to deprive you of caste and make you Muhammadans.” The Dhedas, in the greatest terror, pushed off in a body to the sovereign’s palace, and standing at a respectful distance shouted at the top of their lungs: “If we’ve offended your majesty, punish us in some other way than that. Beat us, fine us, hang us if you like, but don’t make us Muhammadans.” The Pādishāh smiled, and turning to his minister who sat by him affecting to hear [143]nothing, said, ‘So the lowest caste is that to which I belong.’ But of course this cannot be said to represent the general view of the position of Muhammadans in Hindu eyes; they, like the English, are regarded as distinguished foreigners, who, if they consented to be proselytised, would probably in time become Brāhmans or at least Rājpūts. A repartee of a Mahār to a Brāhman abusing him is: The Brāhman, ‘Jāre Mahārya’ or ‘Avaunt, ye Mahār’; the Mahār, ‘Kona dīushi neīn tumchi goburya’ or ‘Some day I shall carry cowdung cakes for you (at his funeral)’; as in the Marātha Districts the Mahār is commonly engaged for carrying fuel to the funeral pyre. Under native rule the Mahār was subjected to painful degradations. He might not spit on the ground lest a Hindu should be polluted by touching it with his foot, but had to hang an earthen pot round his neck to hold his spittle.24 He was made to drag a thorny branch with him to brush out his footsteps, and when a Brahman came by had to lie at a distance on his face lest his shadow might fall on the Brāhman. In Gujarāt25 they were not allowed to tuck up the loin-cloth but had to trail it along the ground. Even quite recently in Bombay a Mahār was not allowed to talk loudly in the street while a well-to-do Brāhman or his wife was dining in one of the houses. In the reign of Sidhrāj, the great Solanki Rāja of Gujarāt, the Dheras were for a time at any rate freed from such disabilities by the sacrifice of one of their number.26 The great tank at Anhilvāda Pātan in Gujarāt had been built by the Ods (navvies), but Sidhrāj desired Jusma Odni, one of their wives, and sought to possess her. But the Ods fled with her and when he pursued her she plunged a dagger into her stomach, cursing Sidhrāj and saying that his tank should never hold water. The Rāja, returning to Anhilvada, found the tank dry, and asked his minister what should be done that water might remain in the tank. The Pardhān, after consulting the astrologers, said that if a man’s life were sacrificed the curse might be removed. At that time the Dhers or outcastes were compelled to live at a distance from [144]the towns; they wore untwisted cotton round their heads and a stag’s horn as a mark hanging from their waists so that people might be able to avoid touching them. The Rāja commanded that a Dher named Māyo should be beheaded in the tank that water might remain. Māyo died, singing the praises of Vishnu, and the water after that began to remain in the tank. At the time of his death Māyo had begged as a reward for his sacrifice that the Dhers should not in future be compelled to live at a distance from the towns nor wear a distinctive dress. The Rāja assented and these privileges were afterwards permitted to the Dhers for the sake of Māyo.

Winding thread

Winding thread

14. Their position improving

From the painful state of degradation described above the Mahārs are gradually being rescued by the levelling and liberalising tendency of British rule, which must be to these depressed classes an untold blessing. With the right of acquiring property they have begun to assert themselves, and the extension of railways more especially has a great effect in abolishing caste distinctions. The Brāhman who cannot afford a second-class fare must either not travel or take the risk of rubbing shoulders with a Mahār in a third-class carriage, and if he chooses to consider himself defiled will have to go hungry and thirsty until he gets the opportunity of bathing at his journey’s end. The observance of the rules of impurity thus becomes so irksome that they are gradually falling into abeyance.

15. Occupation

The principal occupations of the Mahārs are the weaving of coarse country cloth and general labour. They formerly spun their own yarn, and their fabrics were preferred by the cultivators for their durability. But practically all thread is now bought from the mills; and the weaving industry is also in a depressed condition. Many Mahārs have now taken to working in the mills, and earn better wages than they could at home. In Bombay a number of them are employed as police-constables.27 They are usually the village watchmen of the Marātha Districts, and in this capacity were remunerated by contributions of grain from the tenants, the hides and flesh of animals dying in the village, and plots of rent-free land. For these have now been substituted in [145]the Central Provinces a cash payment fixed by Government. In Berār the corresponding official is known as the Kāmdār Mahār. Mr. Kitts writes of him:28 As fourth balutedār on the village establishment the Mahār holds a post of great importance to himself and convenience to the village. To the patel (headman), patwāri and big men of the village, he acts often as a personal servant and errand-runner; for a smaller cultivator he will also at times carry a torch or act as escort. He had formerly to clean the horses of travellers, and was also obliged, if required, to carry their baggage.29 For the services which he thus renders as pāndhewār the Mahār receives from the cultivators certain grain-dues. When the cut juāri is lying in the field the Mahārs go round and beg for a measure of the ears (bhīk payāli). But the regular payment is made when the grain has been threshed. Another duty performed by the Mahār is the removal of the carcases of dead animals. The flesh is eaten and the skin retained as wage for the work. The patel and his relatives, however, usually claim to have the skins of their own animals returned; and in some places where half the agriculturists of the village claim kinship with the patel, the Mahārs feel and resent the loss. A third duty is the opening of grain-pits, the noxious gas from which sometimes produces asphyxia. For this the Mahārs receive the tainted grain. They also get the clothes from a corpse which is laid on the pyre, and the pieces of the burnt wood which remain when the body has been consumed. Recent observations in the Nāgpur country show that the position of the Mahārs is improving. In Nāgpur it is stated:30 “Looked down upon as outcastes by the Hindus they are hampered by no sense of dignity or family prejudice. They are fond of drink, but are also hard workers. They turn their hands to anything and everything, but the great majority are agricultural labourers. At present the rural Mahār is in the background. If there is only one well in the village he may not use it, but has to get his water where he can. His sons are consigned to a corner in the village school, and [146]the schoolmaster, if not superior to caste prejudices, discourages their attendance. Nevertheless, Mahārs will not remain for years downtrodden in this fashion, and are already pushing themselves up from this state of degradation. In some places they have combined to dig wells, and in Nāgpur have opened a school for members of their own community. Occasionally a Mahār is the most prosperous man in the village. Several of them are moneylenders in a small way, and a few are mālguzārs.” Similarly in Bhandāra Mr. Napier writes that a new class of small creditors has arisen from the Mahār caste. These people have given up drinking, and lead an abstemious life, wishing to raise themselves in social estimation. Twenty or more village kotwārs were found to be carrying on moneylending transactions on a small scale, and in addition many of the Mahārs in towns were exceedingly well off.

1 This derivation is also negatived by the fact that the name Mahāratta was known in the third century B.C., or long before the Rāstrakūtas became prominent.

2 Bombay Gazetteer; Gujarāt Hindus, p. 338.

3 Ibbetson, Punjab Census Report (1881).

4 Bombay Gazetteer, l.c. text and footnote by R. v. J. S. Taylor.

5 Kitts’ Berār Census Report (1881), p. 143.

6 See article on Panwār Rājpūt.

7 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 144.

8 Kitts’ Berār Census Report p. 144.

9 Described in the articles on Kurmi and Kunbi.

10 Loc. cit.

11 Bombay Gazetteer, Gujarāt Hindus, loc. cit.

12 In Berār for ten days—Kitts’ Berār Census Report, l.c.

13 3rd Baisākh (April) Sudi, commencement of agricultural year.

14 Berār Census Report, l.c.

15 Berār Census Report, l.c.

16 Bombay Gazetteer, Gujarat Hindus.

17 It was formerly suggested that the fact of the Mahars being the chief worshippers at the shrines of Sheikh Farīd indicated that the places themselves had been previously held sacred, and had been annexed by the Muhammadan priests; and the legend of the giant, who might represent the demonolatry of the aboriginal faith, being slain by the saint might be a parable, so to say, expressing this process. But in [148n]view of the way in which the Mehtars worship Musalmān saints, it seems quite likely that the Mahārs might do so for the same reason, that is, because Islām partly frees them from the utter degradation imposed by Hinduism. Both views may have some truth. As regards the legends themselves, it is highly improbable that Sheikh Farid, a well-known saint of northern India, can ever have been within several hundred miles of either of the places with which they connect him.

18 From Mr. C. Brown’s notes.

19 C.P. Police Gazette.

20 Kitts, l.c.

21 Ibidem.

22 Stated by Mr. C. Brown.

23 Vol. ii. p. 237.

24 Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xii. p. 175.

25 Rev. A. Taylor in Bombay Gazetteer, Gujarāt Hindus, p. 341 f.

26 The following passage is taken from Forbes, Rāsmāla, i. p. 112.

27 Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xi p. 73.

28 Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xi. p. 73.

29 Grant Duff; History of the Marāthas, vol. i. p. 24.

30 Nāgpur Settlement Report (1899), p. 29.



1. Origin of the caste

Mahli, Mahili.1—A small caste of labourers, palanquin-bearers and workers in bamboo belonging to Chota Nāgpur. In 1911 about 300 Mahlis were returned from the Feudatory States in this tract. They are divided into five subcastes: the Bānsphor-Mahli, who make baskets and do all kinds of bamboo-work; the Pāhar-Mahli, basket-makers and cultivators; the Sulunkhi, cultivators and labourers; the Tānti who carry litters; and the Mahli-Munda, who belong to Lohardaga. Sir H. Risley states that a comparison of the totemistic sections of the Mahlis given in the Appendix to his Tribes and Castes with those of the Santāls seems to warrant the conjecture that the main body of the caste are merely a branch of the Santāls. Four or five septs, Hansda a wild goose, Hemron, Murmu the nilgai, Saren or Sarihin, and perhaps Tudu or Turu are common to the two tribes. The Mahlis are also closely connected with the Mundas. Seven septs of the main body of the Mahlis, Dumriār the wild fig, Gundli a kind of grain, Kerketa a bird, Mahukal a bird (long-tail), Tirki, Tunduār and Turu are also Munda septs; and the three septs given of the Mahli-Munda subcaste, Bhuktuār, Lāng Chenre, and Sānga are all found [147]among the Mundas; while four septs, Hansda a wild goose, Induār a kind of eel, as well as Kerketa and Tirki, already mentioned, are common to the Mahlis and Turis who are also recognised by Sir H. Risley as an offshoot of the Munda tribe with the same occupation as the Mahlis, of making baskets.2 The Santāls and Mundas were no doubt originally one tribe, and it seems that the Mahlis are derived from both of them, and have become a separate caste owing to their having settled in villages more or less of the open country, and worked as labourers, palanquin-bearers and bamboo-workers much in the same manner as the Turis. Probably they work for hire for Hindus, and hence their status may have fallen lower than that of the parent tribe, who remained in their own villages in the jungles. Colonel Dalton notes3 that the gipsy Berias use Mānjhi and Mahali as titles, and it is possible that some of the Mahlis may have joined the Beria community.

2. Social customs

Only a very few points from Sir H. Risley’s account of the caste need be recorded here, and for further details the reader may be referred to his article in the Tribes and Castes of Bengal. A bride-price of Rs. 5 is customary, but it varies according to the means of the parties. On the wedding day, before the usual procession starts to escort the bridegroom to the bride’s house, he is formally married to a mango tree, while the bride goes through the same ceremony with a mahua. At the entrance to the bride’s house the bridegroom, riding on the shoulders of some male relation and bearing on his head a vessel of water, is received by the bride’s brother, equipped in similar fashion, and the two cavaliers sprinkle one another with water. At the wedding the bridegroom touches the bride’s forehead five times with vermilion and presents her with an iron armlet. The remarriage of widows and divorce are permitted. When a man divorces his wife he gives her a rupee and takes away the iron armlet which was given her at her wedding. The Mahlis will admit members of any higher caste into the community. The candidate for admission must pay a small sum to the caste headman, and give a [148]feast to the Mahlis of the neighbourhood, at which he must eat a little of the leavings of food left by each guest on his leaf-plate. After this humiliating rite he could not, of course, be taken back into his own caste, and is bound to remain a Mahli. [149]

1 This article consists of extracts from Sir H. Risley’s account of the caste in the Tribes and Castes of Bengal.

2 See lists of exogamous septs of Mahli, Sandāl, Munda and Puri in Appendix to Tribes and Castes cf Bengal.

3 Ethnology of Bengal, p. 326.



List of Paragraphs

1. Origin of the tribe

Majhwār, Mānjhi, Mājhia.1—A small mixed tribe who have apparently originated from the Gonds, Mundas and Kawars. About 14,000 Majhwārs were returned in 1911 from the Raigarh, Sargūja and Udaipur States. The word Mānjhi means the headman of a tribal subdivision, being derived from the Sanskrit madhya, or he who is in the centre.2 In Bengal Mānjhi has the meaning of the steersman of a boat or a ferryman, and this may have been its original application, as the steersman might well be he who sat in the centre.3 When a tribal party makes an expedition by boat, the leader would naturally occupy the position of steersman, and hence it is easy to see how the term Mānjhi came to be applied to the leader or head of the clan and to be retained as a title for general use. Sir H. Risley gives it as a title of the Kewats or fishermen and many other castes and tribes in Bengal. But it is also the name for a village headman among the Santāls, and whether this meaning is derived from the prior signification of steersman or is of independent origin is, uncertain. In Raigarh Mr. Hīra Lāl states that the Mānjhis or Mājhias are fishermen and are sometimes classed, with the Kewats. They appear to be Kols who [150]have taken to fishing and, being looked down on by the other Kols on this account, took the name of Mājhia or Mānjhi, which they now derive from Machh, a fish. “The appearance of the Mājhias whom I saw and examined was typically aboriginal and their language was a curious mixture of Mundāri, Santāl and Korwa, though they stoutly repudiated connection with any of these tribes. They could count only up to three in their own language, using the Santāl words mit, baria, pia. Most of their terms for parts of the body were derived from Mundāri, but they also used some Santāli and Korwa words. In their own language they called themselves Hor, which means a man, and is the tribal name of the Mundas.”

2. The Mīrzāpur Majhwārs derived from the Gonds

On the other hand the Majhwārs of Mīrzāpur, of whom Mr. Crooke gives a detailed and interesting account, clearly appear to be derived from the Gonds. They have five subdivisions, which they say are descended from the five sons of their first Gond ancestor. These are Poiya, Tekām, Marai, Chika and Oiku. Four of these names are those of Gond clans, and each of the five subtribes is further divided into a number of exogamous septs, of which a large proportion bear typical Gond names, as Markām, Netām, Tekām, Mashām, Sindrām and so on. The Majhwārs of Mīrzāpur also, like the Gonds, employ Pathāris or Pardhāns as their priests, and there can thus be no doubt that they are mainly derived from the Gonds. They would appear to have come to Mīrzāpur from Sargūja and the Vindhyan and Satpūra hills, as they say that their ancestors ruled from the forts of Mandla, Garha in Jubbulpore, Sārangarh, Raigarh and other places in the Central Provinces.4 They worship a deified Ahīr, whose legs were cut off in a fight with some Rāja, since when he has become a troublesome ghost. “He now lives on the Ahlor hill in Sargūja, where his petrified body may still be seen, and the Mānjhis go there to worship him. His wife lives on the Jhoba hill in Sargūja. Nobody but a Baiga dares to ascend the hill, and even the Rāja of Sargūja when he visits the neighbourhood sacrifices a black goat. Mānjhis believe that if these two deities are duly propitiated they can give anything they need.” The story makes it [151]probable that the ancestors of these Mānjhis dwelt in Sargūja. The Mānjhis of Mīrzāpur are not boatmen or fishermen and have no traditions of having ever been so. They are a backward tribe and practise shifting cultivation on burnt-out patches of forest. It is possible that they may have abandoned their former aquatic profession on leaving the neighbourhood of the rivers, or they may have simply adopted the name, especially since it has the meaning of a village headman and is used as a title by the Santāls and other castes and tribes. Similarly the term Munda, which at first meant the headman of a Kol village, is now the common name for the Kol tribe in Chota Nāgpur.

3. Connection with the Kawars

Again the Mānjhis appear to be connected with the Kawar tribe. Mr. Hīra Lāl states that in Raigarh they will take food with Kewats, Gonds, Kawars and Rāwats or Ahīrs, but they will not eat rice and pulse, the most important and sacred food, with any outsiders except Kawars; and this they explain by the statement that their ancestors and those of the Kawars were connected. In Mirzāpur the Kaurai Ahirs will take food and water from the Majhwārs, and these Ahīrs are not improbably derived from the Kawars.5 Here the Majhwārs also hold an oath taken when touching a broadsword as most binding, and the Kawars of the Central Provinces worship a sword as one of their principal deities.6 Not improbably the Mānjhis may include some Kewats, as this caste also use Mānjhi for a title; and Mānjhi is both a subcaste and title of the Khairwārs. The general conclusion from the above evidence appears to be that the caste is a very heterogeneous group whose most important constituents come from the Gond, Munda, Santāl and Kawar tribes. Whether the original bond of connection among the various people who call themselves Mānjhi was the common occupation of boating and fishing is a doubtful point.

4. Exogamy and totemism

The Mānjhis of Sargūja, like those of Raigarh, appear to be of Munda and Santāl rather than of Gond origin. They have no subdivisions, but a number of totemistic septs. Those of the Bhainsa or buffalo sept are split into the Lotan and Singhan subsepts, lotan meaning a place where buffaloes [152]wallow and singh a horn. The Lotan Bhainsa sept say that their ancestor was born in a place where a buffalo had wallowed, and the Singhan Bhainsa that their ancestor was born while his mother was holding the horn of a buffalo. These septs consider the buffalo sacred and will not yoke it to a plough or cart, though they will drink its milk. They think that if one of them killed a buffalo their clan would become extinct. The Bāghani Majhwārs, named after the bāgh or tiger, think that a tiger will not attack any member of their sept unless he has committed an offence entailing temporary excommunication from caste. Until this offence has been expiated his relationship with the tiger as head of his sept is in abeyance and the tiger will eat him as he would any other stranger. If a tiger meets a member of the sept who is free from sin, he will run away. When the Bāghani sept hear that any Majhwār has killed a tiger they purify their houses by washing them with cowdung and water. Members of the Khoba or peg sept will not make a peg or drive one into the ground. Those of the Dūmar7 or fig-tree sept say that their first ancestor was born under this tree. They consider the tree to be sacred and never eat its fruit, and worship it once a year. Members of the sept named after the shiroti tree worship the tree every Sunday.

5. Marriage customs.

Marriage within the sept is prohibited and for three generations between persons related through females. Marriage is adult, but matches are arranged by the parents of the parties. At betrothal the elders of the caste must be regaled with cheora or parched rice and liquor. A bride-price of Rs. 10 is paid, but a suitor who cannot afford this may do service to his father-in-law for one or two years in lieu of it. At the wedding the bridegroom puts a copper ring on the bride’s finger and marks her forehead with vermilion. The couple walk seven times round the sacred post, and seven little heaps of rice and pieces of turmeric are arranged so that they may touch one of them with their big toes at each round. The bride’s mother and seven other women place some rice in the skirts of their cloths and the bridegroom throws this over his shoulder. After this he [153]picks up the rice and distributes it to all the women present, and the bride goes through the same ceremony. The rice is no doubt an emblem of fertility, and its presentation to the women may perhaps be expected to render them fertile.

6. Birth and funeral rites

On the birth of a child the navel-string is buried in front of the house. When a man is at the point of death they place a little cooked rice and curds in his mouth so that he may not go hungry to the other world, in view of the fact that he has probably eaten very little during his illness. Some cotton and rice are also placed near the head of the corpse in the grave so that he may have food and clothing in the next world. Mourning is observed for five days, and at the end of this period the mourners should have their hair cut, but if they cannot get it done on this day, the rite may be performed on the same day in the following year.

7. Religious dance

The tribe worship Dūlha Deo, the bridegroom god, and also make offerings to their ploughs at the time of eating the new rice and at the Holi and Dasahra festivals. They dance the karma dance in the months of Asārh and Kunwār or at the beginning and end of the rains. When the time has come the Gaontia headman or the Baiga priest fetches a branch of the karma tree from the forest and sets it up in his yard as a notice and invitation to the village. After sunset all the people, men, women and children, assemble and dance round the tree, to the accompaniment of a drum known as Māndar. The dancing continues all night, and in the morning the host plucks up the branch of the karma tree and consigns it to a stream, at the same time regaling the dancers with rice, pulse and a goat. This dance is a religious rite in honour of Karam Rāja, and is believed to keep sickness from the village and bring it prosperity. The tribe eat flesh, but abstain from beef and pork. Girls are tattooed on arrival at puberty with representations of the tulsi or basil, four arrow-heads in the form of a cross, and the foot-ornament known as pairi.

1 This article is based on papers by Mr. Hīra Lāl and Suraj Baksh Singh, Assistant Superintendent, Udaipur State, with references to Mr. Crooke’s exhaustive article on the Majhwārs in his Tribes and Castes.

2 Crooke, art Majhwār, para. 1.

3 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Mānjhi.

4 Crooke, Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Mānjhi, para. 4.

5 Crooke, Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Mānjhi, para. 63.

6 Ibidem, para. 54.

7 Ficus glomerata.



Māl, Māle, Māler, Māl Pahāria.1—A tribe of the Rājmahal hills, who may be an isolated branch of the [154]Savars. In 1911 about 1700 Māls were returned from the Chota Nāgpur Feudatory States recently transferred to the Central Provinces. The customs of the Māls resemble those of the other hill tribes of Chota Nāgpur. Sir H. Risley states that the average stature is low, the complexion dark and the figure short and sturdy. The following particulars are reproduced from Colonel Dalton’s account of the tribe:

“The hill lads and lasses are represented as forming very romantic attachments, exhibiting the spectacle of real lovers ‘sighing like furnaces,’ and the cockney expression of ‘keeping company’ is peculiarly applicable to their courtship. If separated only for an hour they are miserable, but there are apparently few obstacles to the enjoyment of each other’s society, as they work together, go to market together, eat together, and sleep together! But if it be found that they have overstepped the prescribed limits of billing and cooing, the elders declare them to be out of the pale, and the blood of animals must be shed at their expense to wash away the indiscretion and obtain their readmission into society.

“On the day fixed for a marriage the bridegroom with his relations proceeds to the bride’s father’s house, where they are seated on cots and mats, and after a repast the bride’s father takes his daughter’s hand and places it in that of the bridegroom, and exhorts him to be loving and kind to the girl that he thus makes over to him. The groom then with the little finger of his right hand marks the girl on the forehead with vermilion, and then, linking the same finger with the little finger of her right hand, he leads her away to his own house.

“The god of hunting is called Autga, and at the close of every successful expedition a thank-offering is made to him. This is the favourite pastime, and one of the chief occupations of the Mālers, and they have their game laws, which are strictly enforced. If a man, losing an animal which he has killed or wounded, seeks for assistance to find it, those who aid are entitled to one-half of the animal when found. Another person accidentally coming on dead or wounded game and appropriating it, is subjected to a severe [155]fine. The Mānjhi or headman of the village is entitled to a share of all game killed by any of his people. Any one who kills a hunting dog is fined twelve rupees. Certain parts of an animal are tabooed to females as food, and if they infringe this law Autga is offended and game becomes scarce. When the hunters are unsuccessful it is often assumed that this is the cause, and the augur never fails to point out the transgressing female, who must provide a propitiatory offering. The Mālers use poisoned arrows, and when they kill game the flesh round the wound is cut off and thrown away as unfit for food. Cats are under the protection of the game laws, and a person found guilty of killing one is made to give a small quantity of salt to every child in the village.

“I nowhere find any description of the dances and songs of the Pahārias. Mr. Atkinson found the Mālers extremely reticent on the subject, and with difficulty elicited that they had a dancing-place in every village, but it is only when under the influence of God Bacchus that they indulge in the amusement. All accounts agree in ascribing to the Pahārias an immoderate devotion to strong drink, and Buchanan tells us that when they are dancing a person goes round with a pitcher of the home-brew and, without disarranging the performers, who are probably linked together by circling or entwining arms, pours into the mouth of each, male and female, a refreshing and invigorating draught. The beverage is the universal pachwai, that is, fermented grain. The grain, either maize, rice or janera (Holcus sorghum), is boiled and spread out on a mat to cool. It is then mixed with a ferment of vegetables called takar, and kept in a large earthen vessel for some days; warm water may at any time be mixed with it, and in a few hours it ferments and is ready for use.”

When the attention of English officers was first drawn to them in 1770 the Māles of the Rājmahal hills were a tribe of predatory freebooters, raiding and terrorising the plain country from the foot of the hills to the Ganges. It was Mr. Augustus Cleveland, Collector of Bhāgalpur, who reduced them to order by entering into engagements with the chiefs for the prevention and punishment of offences among their own tribesmen, confirming them in their estates [156]and jurisdiction, and enrolling a corps of Māles, which became the Bhāgalpur Hill Rangers, and was not disbanded till the Mutiny. Mr. Cleveland died at the age of 29, having successfully demonstrated the correct method of dealing with the wild forest tribes, and the Governor-General in Council erected a tomb and inscription to his memory, which was the original of that described by Mr. Kipling in The Tomb of his Ancestors, though the character of the first John Chinn in the story was copied from Outram.2

1 Based entirely on Colonel Dalton’s account in the Ethnology of Bengal, and Sir H. Risley’s in the Tribes and Castes of Bengal.

2 See The Khāndesh Bhīl Corps, by Mr. A. H. A. Simcox, p. 62.



Mala.—A low Telugu caste of labourers and cotton-weavers. They numbered nearly 14,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911, belonging mainly to the Chānda, Nāgpur, Jubbulpore, and Yeotmāl Districts, and the Bastar State. The Marāthas commonly call them Telugu Dhers, but they themselves prefer to be known as ‘Telangi Sadar Bhoi,’ which sounds a more respectable designation. They are also known as Mannepuwār and Netkāni. They are the Pariahs of the Telugu country, and are regarded as impure and degraded. They may be distinguished by their manner of tying the head-cloth more or less in a square shape, and by their loin-cloths, which are worn very loose and not knotted. Those who worship Narsinghswāmi, the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu, are called Namaddār, while the followers of Mahādeo are known as Lingadārs. The former paint their foreheads with vertical lines of sandal-paste, and the latter with horizontal ones. The Mālas were formerly zealous partisans of the right-handed sect in Madras, and the description of this curious system of faction given by the Abbé Dubois more than a century ago may be reproduced:1

“Most castes belong either to the left-hand or right-hand faction. The former comprises the Vaishyas or trading classes, the Panchālas or artisan classes and some of the low Sūdra castes. It also contains the lowest caste, viz. the Chaklas or leather-workers, who are looked upon as its chief support. To the right-hand faction belong most of the higher castes of Sūdras. The Pariahs (Mālas) are also its [157]great support, as a proof of which they glory in the title of Valangai Maugattar or Friends of the Right Hand. In the disputes and conflicts which so often take place between the two factions it is always the Pariahs who make the most disturbance and do the most damage. The Brāhmans, Rājas and several classes of Sūdras are content to remain neutral and take no part in these quarrels. The opposition between the two factions arises from certain exclusive privileges to which both lay claim. But as these alleged privileges are nowhere clearly defined and recognised, they result in confusion and uncertainty, and are with difficulty capable of settlement. When one faction trespasses on the so-called right of the other, tumults arise which spread gradually over large tracts of territory, afford opportunity for excesses of all kinds, and generally end in bloody conflicts. The Hindu, ordinarily so timid and gentle in all other circumstances of life, seems to change his nature completely on occasions like these. There is no danger that he will not brave in maintaining what he calls his rights, and rather than sacrifice a little of them he will expose himself without fear to the risk of losing his life. The rights and privileges for which the Hindus are ready to fight such sanguinary battles appear highly ridiculous, especially to a European. Perhaps the sole cause of the contest is the right to wear slippers or to ride through the streets in a palanquin or on horseback during marriage festivals. Sometimes it is the privilege of being escorted on certain occasions by armed retainers, sometimes that of having a trumpet sounded in front of a procession, or of being accompanied by native musicians at public ceremonies.” The writer of the Madras Census Report of 1871 states:2 “It is curious that the females of two of the inferior castes should take different sides to their husbands in these disputes. The wives of the agricultural labourers side with the left hand, while their husbands help in fighting the battles of the right, and the shoemakers’ wives also take the side opposed to their husbands. During these festival disturbances, the ladies who hold political views opposed to those of their husbands deny to the latter all the privileges [158]of the connubial state.” The same writer states that the right-hand castes claimed the prerogative of riding on horseback in processions, of appearing with standards bearing certain devices, and of erecting twelve pillars to sustain their marriage booths; while the left-hand castes might not have more than eleven pillars, nor use the same standards as the right. The quarrels arising out of these small differences of opinion were so frequent and serious in the seventeenth century that in the town of Madras it was found necessary to mark the respective boundaries of the right- and left-hand castes, and to forbid the right-hand castes in their processions from occupying the streets of the left hand and vice versa. These disturbances have gradually tended to disappear under the influence of education and good government, and no instance of them is known to have occurred in the Central Provinces. The division appears to have originated among the members of the Sākta sect or the worshippers of Sakti as the female principle of life in nature. Dr. L. D. Barnett writes:3—“The followers of the sect are of two schools. The ‘Walkers in the Right Way’ (Dakshināchāri) pay a service of devotion to the deity in both male and female aspects, and except in their more pronounced tendency to dwell upon the horrific aspects of the deity (as Kāli, Durga, etc.), they differ little from ordinary Saivas and Vaishnavas. The ‘Walkers in the Left Way’ (Vāmachāri), on the other hand, concentrate their thought upon the godhead in its sexually maternal aspect, and follow rites of senseless magic and—theoretically at least—promiscuous debauchery.” As has been seen, the religious differences subsequently gave rise to political factions. [159]

1 Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, ed. 1897, pp. 25, 26.

2 Page 130.

3 Hinduism, in ‘Religions Ancient and Modern’ Series, p. 26.



List of Paragraphs

1. General notice of the caste, and its social position

Māli, Marār, Marāl.1—The functional caste of vegetable and flower-gardeners. The terms Māli and Marār appear to be used indifferently for the same caste, the former being more common in the west of the Province and the latter in the eastern Satpūra Districts and the Chhattīsgarh plain. In the Nerbudda valley and on the Vindhyan plateau the place of both Māli and Marār is taken by the Kāchhi of Upper India.2 Marār appears to be a Marāthi name, the original term, as pointed out by Mr. Hira Lāl, being Malāl, or one who grows garden-crops in a field; but the caste is often called Māli in the Marātha country and Marār in the Hindi Districts. The word Māli is derived from the Sanskrit māla, a garland. In 1911 the Mālis numbered nearly 360,000 persons in the present area of the Central Provinces, and 200,000 in Berār. A German writer remarks of the caste3 that: “It cannot be considered to be a very ancient one. Generally speaking, it may be said that flowers have scarcely a place in the Veda. Wreaths of flowers, of [160]course, are used as decorations, but the separate flowers and their beauty are not yet appreciated. That lesson was first learned later by the Hindus when surrounded by another flora. Amongst the Homeric Greeks, too, in spite of their extensive gardening and different flowers, not a trace of horticulture is yet to be found.” It seems probable that the first Mālis were not included among the regular cultivators of the village but were a lower group permitted to take up the small waste plots of land adjoining the inhabited area and fertilised by its drainage, and the sandy stretches in the beds of rivers, on which they were able to raise the flowers required for offerings and such vegetables as were known. They still hold a lower rank than the ordinary cultivator. Sir D. Ibbetson writes4 of the gardening castes: “The group now to be discussed very generally hold an inferior position among the agricultural community and seldom if ever occupy the position of the dominant tribe in any considerable tract of country. The cultivation of vegetables is looked upon as degrading by the agricultural classes, why I know not, unless it be that night-soil is generally used for their fertilisation; and a Rājpūt would say: ‘What! Do you take me for an Arāin?’ if anything was proposed which he considered derogatory.” But since most Mālis in the Central Provinces strenuously object to using night-soil as a manure the explanation that this practice has caused them to rank below the agricultural castes does not seem sufficient. And if the use of night-soil were the real circumstance which determined their social position, it seems certain that Brāhmans would not take water from their hands as they do. Elsewhere Sir D. Ibbetson remarks:5 “The Mālis and Sainis, like all vegetable growers, occupy a very inferior position among the agricultural castes; but of the two the Sainis are probably the higher, as they more often own land or even whole villages, and are less generally mere market-gardeners than are the Mālis.” Here is given what may perhaps be the true reason for the status of the Māli caste as a whole. Again Sir C. Elliot wrote in the Hoshangābād Settlement Report: “Garden crops are considered as a kind of fancy agriculture and the true cultivator, the Kisān, looks on them with [161]contempt as little peddling matters; what stirs his ambition is a fine large wheat-field eighty or a hundred acres in extent, as flat as a billiard-table and as black as a Gond.” Similarly Mr. Low6 states that in Bālāghāt the Panwārs, the principal agricultural caste, look down on the Marārs as growers of petty crops like sama and kutki. In Wardha the Dāngris, a small caste of melon and vegetable growers, are an offshoot of the Kunbis; and they will take food from the Kunbis, though these will not accept it from them, their social status being thus distinctly lower than that of the parent caste. Again the Kohlis of Bhandāra, who grow sugarcane with irrigation, are probably derived from an aboriginal tribe, the Kols, and, though they possess a number of villages, rank lower than the regular cultivating castes. It is also worth noting that they do not admit tenant-right in their villages among their own caste, and allot the sugarcane plots among the cultivators at pleasure.7 In Nimār the Mālis rank below the Kunbis and Gūjars, the good agricultural castes, and it is said that they grow the crops which the cultivators proper do not care to grow. The Kāchhis, the gardening caste of the northern Districts, have a very low status, markedly inferior to that of the Lodhis and Kurmis and little if any better than the menial Dhīmars. Similarly, as will be seen later, the Marārs themselves have customs pointing clearly to a non-Aryan origin. The Bhoyars of Betūl, who grow sugarcane, are probably of mixed origin from Rājpūt fathers and mothers of the indigenous tribes; they eat fowls and are much addicted to liquor and rank below the cultivating castes. The explanation seems to be that the gardening castes are not considered as landholders, and have not therefore the position which attaches to the holding of land among all early agricultural peoples, and which in India consisted in the status of a constituent member of the village community. So far as ceremonial purity goes there is no difference between the Mālis and the cultivating castes, as Brāhmans will take water from both. It may be surmised that this privilege has been given to the Mālis because they grow the flowers required for offerings to the gods, and [162]sometimes officiate as village priests and temple servants; and their occupation, though not on a level with regular agriculture, is still respectable. But the fact that Brāhmans will take water from them does not place the Mālis on an equality with the cultivating castes, any more than it does the Nais (barbers) and Dhīmars (watermen), the condemned menial servants of the cultivators, from whom Brāhmans will also take water from motives of convenience.

2. Caste legend

The Mālis have a Brāhmanical legend of the usual type indicating that their hereditary calling was conferred and ratified by divine authority.8 This is to the effect that the first Māli was a garland-maker attached to the household of Rāja Kānsa of Mathura. One day he met with Krishna, and, on being asked by him for a chaplet of flowers, at once gave it. On being told to fasten it with string, he, for want of any other, took off his sacred thread and tied it, on which Krishna most ungenerously rebuked him for his simplicity in parting with his paīta, and announced that for the future his caste would be ranked among the Sūdras.

The above story, combined with the derivation of Māli from māla, a garland, makes it a plausible hypothesis that the calling of the first Mālis was to grow flowers for the adornment of the gods, and especially for making the garlands with which their images were and still are decorated. Thus the Mālis were intimately connected with the gods and naturally became priests of the village temples, in which capacity they are often employed. Mr. Nesfield remarks of the Māli:9 “To Hindus of all ranks, including even the Brāhmans, he acts as a priest of Mahādeo in places where no Gosain is to be found, and lays the flower offerings on the lingam by which the deity is symbolised. As the Māli is believed to have some influence with the god to whose temple he is attached, none objects to his appropriating the fee which is nominally presented to the god himself. In the worship of those village godlings whom the Brāhmans disdain to recognise and whom the Gosain is not permitted to honour the Māli is sometimes employed to present the offering. He [163]is thus the recognised hereditary priest of the lower and more ignorant classes of the population.” In the Central Provinces Mālis are commonly employed in the temples of Devi because goats are offered to the goddess and hence the worship cannot be conducted by Brāhmans. They also work as servants in Jain temples under the priest. They sweep the temple, clean the utensils, and do other menial business. This service, however, does not affect their religion and they continue to be Hindus.

His services in providing flowers for the gods would be remunerated by contributions of grain from the cultivators, the acceptance of which would place the Māli below them in the rank of a village menial, though higher than most of the class owing to the purity of his occupation. His status was probably much the same as that of the Guraos or village priests of Mahādeo in the Marātha country. And though he has now become a cultivator, his position has not improved to the level of other cultivating castes for the reasons already given. It was probably the necessity of regularly watering his plants in order to obtain a longer and more constant supply of blooms which first taught the Māli the uses of irrigation.

3. Flowers offered to the gods

Flowers are par excellence suited for the offerings and adornment of the gods, and many Hindus have rose or other plants in their houses whose flowers are destined to the household god. There is little reason to doubt that this was the purpose for which cultivated flowers were first grown. The marigold, lotus and champak are favourite religious flowers, while the tulsi or basil is itself worshipped as the consort of Vishnu; in this case, however, the scent is perhaps the more valued feature. In many Hindu households all flowers brought into the house are offered to the household god before being put to any other use. A Brāhman school-boy to whom I had given some flowers to copy in drawing said that his mother had offered them to the god Krishna before he used them. When faded or done with they should be consigned to the sacred element, water, in any stream or river. The statues of the gods are adorned with sculptured garlands or hold them in their hands. A similar state of things prevailed in classical antiquity: [164]

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?


Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,

Nor altar decked with flowers,

Nor virgin choir to make delicious moan

Upon the midnight hours.

M. Fustel de Coulanges describes the custom of wearing crowns or garlands of flowers in ancient Rome and Greece as follows: “It is clear that the communal feasts were religious ceremonies. Each guest had a crown on the head; it was an ancient custom to crown oneself with leaves or flowers for any solemn religious act.” “The more a man is adorned with flowers,” they said, “the more pleasing he is to the gods; but they turn away from him who wears no crown at his sacrifice.” And again, ‘A crown is the auspicious herald which announces a prayer to the gods.’10

Among the Persians the flowers themselves are worshipped:11 “When a pure Iranian sauntered through (the Victoria Gardens in Bombay) ... he would stand awhile and meditate over every flower in his path, and always as in a vision; and when at last the vision was fulfilled, and the ideal flower found, he would spread his mat or carpet before it, and sit before it to the going down of the sun, when he would arise and pray before it, and then refold his mat or carpet and go home; and the next night, and night after night, until that bright particular flower faded away, he would return to it, bringing his friends with him in ever-increasing numbers, and sit and sing and play the guitar or lute before it—and anon they all would arise together and pray before it; and after prayers, still sit on, sipping sherbet and talking the most hilarious and shocking scandal, late into the moonlight.”

4. Custom of wearing garlands

From the custom of placing garlands on the gods as a mark of honour has no doubt arisen that of garlanding guests. This is not confined to India but obtained in [165]Rome and probably in other countries. The word ‘chaplet’12 originally meant a garland or wreath to be worn on the head; and a garland of leaves with four flowers at equal distances. Dryden says, ‘With chaplets green upon their foreheads placed.’ The word māla originally meant a garland, and subsequently a rosary or string of beads. From this it seems a legitimate deduction that rosaries or strings of beads of a sacred wood were substituted for flower-garlands as ornaments for the gods in view of their more permanent nature. Having been thus sanctified they may have come to be worn as a mark of holiness by saints or priests in imitation of the divine images, this being a common or universal fashion of Hindu ascetics. Subsequently they were found to serve as a useful means of counting the continuous repetition of prayers, whence arose the phrase ‘telling one’s beads.’ Like the Sanskrit māla, the English word rosary at first meant a garland of roses and subsequently a string of beads, probably made from rose-wood, on which prayers were counted. From this it may perhaps be concluded that the images of the deities were decorated with garlands of roses in Europe, and the development of the rosary was the same as the Indian māla. If the rose was a sacred flower we can more easily understand its importance as a badge in the Wars of the Roses.

5. Sub-castes

The caste has numerous endogamous groups, varying in different localities. The Phūlmālis, who derive their name from their occupation of growing and selling flowers (phūl), usually rank as the highest. The Ghāse Mālis are the only subcaste which will grow and prepare turmeric in Wardha; but they will not sell milk or curds, an occupation to which the Phūlmālis, though the highest subcaste, have no objection. In Chānda the Kosaria Mālis, who take their name from Kosala, the classical designation of the Chhattīsgarh country, are the sole growers of turmeric, while in Berār the Halde subcaste, named after the plant, occupy the same position. The Kosaria or Kosre subcaste abstain from liquor, and their women wear glass bangles only on one hand and silver ones on the other. The objection entertained to the cultivation of turmeric by Hindus generally is said to be based on the fact that when the roots are boiled numbers of small insects are necessarily [166]destroyed; but the other Mālis relate that one of the ancestors of the caste had a calf called Hardulia, and one day he said to his daughter, Haldi pakā, or ‘Cook turmeric.’ But the daughter thought that he said ‘cook Hardulia,’ so she killed and roasted the calf, and in consequence of this her father was expelled from the caste, and his descendants are the Ghāse or Halde subcaste. Ever since this happened the shape of a calf may be seen in the flower of turmeric. This legend has, however, no real value and the meaning of the superstition attaching to the plant is obscure. Though the growing of turmeric is tabooed yet it is a sacred plant, and no Hindu girl, at least in the Central Provinces, can be married without having turmeric powder rubbed on her body. Mr. Gordon remarks in Indian Folk-Tales: “I was once speaking to a Hindu gardener of the possibility of turmeric and garlic being stolen from his garden. ‘These two vegetables are never stolen,’ he replied, ‘for we Hindus believe that he who steals turmeric and garlic will appear with six fingers in the next birth, and this deformity is always considered the birth-mark of a thief.’” The Jīre Mālis are so named because they were formerly the only subcaste who would grow cumin (jira), but this distinction no longer exists as other Mālis, except perhaps the Phūlmālis, now grow it. Other subcastes have territorial names, as Baone from Berār, Jaipuria, Kanaujia, and so on. The caste have also exogamous septs or bargas, with designations taken from villages, titles or nicknames or inanimate objects.

Bride and bridegroom with marriage crowns

Bride and bridegroom with marriage crowns

6. Marriage

Marriage is forbidden between members of the same sept and between first and second cousins. Girls are generally betrothed in childhood and should be married before maturity. In the Uriya country if no suitable husband can be found for a girl she is sometimes made to go through the marriage ceremony with a peg of mahua wood driven into the ground and covered over with a cloth. She is then tied to a tree in the forest and any member of the caste may go and release her, when she becomes his wife. The Marārs of Bālāghāt and Bhandāra have the lamjhana form of marriage, in which the prospective husband serves for his wife; this is a Dravidian custom and shows their connection with the forest tribes. The marriage ceremony follows the standard form prevalent in [167]the locality. In Betūl the couple go seven times round a slab on which a stone roller is placed, with their clothes knotted together and holding in their hands a lighted lamp. The slab and roller may be the implements used in powdering turmeric. “Among the Marārs of Bālāghāt13 the maternal uncle of the bridegroom goes to the village of the bride and brings back with him the bridal party. The bride’s party do not at once cross the boundary of the bridegroom’s village, but will stay outside it for a few hours. Word is sent and the bridegroom’s party will bring out cooked food, which they eat with the bride’s party. This done, they go to the house of the bridegroom and the bride forthwith walks five times round a pounding-stone. Next day turmeric is applied to the couple, and the caste people are given a feast. The essential portion of the ceremony consists in the rubbing of vermilion on the foreheads of the couple under the cover of a cloth. The caste permit the practice of ralla-palla or exchanging sisters in marriage. They are said to have a custom at weddings known as kondia, according to which a young man of the bridegroom’s party, called the Sānd or bull, is shut up in a house at night with all the women of the bride’s party; he is at liberty to seize and have intercourse with any of them he can catch, while they are allowed to beat him as much as they like. It is said that he seldom has much cause to congratulate himself.” But the caste have now become ashamed of this custom and it is being abandoned. In Chhattīsgarh the Marārs, like other castes, have the forms of marriage known as the Badi Shādi and Chhoti Shādi or great and small weddings. The former is an elaborate form of marriage, taking place at the house of the bride. Those who cannot afford the expense of this have a ‘Small Wedding’ at the house of the bridegroom, at which the rites are curtailed and the expenditure considerably reduced.

7. Widow-marriage, divorce and polygamy

Widow-marriage is permitted. The widower, accompanied by his relatives and a horn-blower, goes to the house of the widow, and here a space is plastered with cowdung and the couple sit on two wooden boards while their clothes are knotted together. In Bālāghāt14 the bridegroom and bride [168]bathe in a tank and on emerging the widow throws away her old cloth and puts on a new one. After this they walk five times round a spear planted in the ground. Divorce is permitted and can be effected by mutual consent of the parties. Like other castes practising intensive cultivation the Mālis marry several wives when they can afford it, in order to obtain the benefit of their labour in the vegetable garden; a wife being more industrious and honest than a hired labourer. But this practice results in large families and household dissensions, leading to excessive subdivision of property, and wealthy members of the caste are rare. The standard of sexual morality is low, and if an unmarried girl goes wrong her family conceal the fact and sometimes try to procure an abortion. If these efforts are unsuccessful a feast must be given to the caste and a lock of the woman’s hair is cut off by way of punishment. A young hard-working wife is never divorced, however bad her character may be, but an old woman is sometimes abandoned for very little cause.

8. Disposal of the dead

The dead may be either buried or burnt; in the former case the corpse is laid with the feet to the north. Mourning is observed only for three days and propitiatory offerings are made to the spirits of the dead. If a man is killed by a tiger his family make a wooden image of a tiger and worship it.

9. Religion

Devi is the principal deity of the Mālis. Weddings are celebrated before her temple and large numbers of goats are sacrificed to the favourite goddess at her festival in the month of Māgh (January). Many of the Marārs of Bālāghāt are Kabīrpanthis and wear the necklace of that sect; but they appear none the less to intermarry freely with their Hindu caste-fellows.15 After the birth of a child it is stated that all the members of the sept to which the parents belong remain impure for five days, and no one will take food or water from them.

10. Occupation

The Māli combines the callings of a gardener and nurseryman. “In laying out a flower-garden and in arranging beds,” Mr. Shearing remarks,16 “the Māli is exceedingly [169]expert. His powers in this respect are hardly surpassed by gardeners in England. He lacks of course the excellent botanical knowledge of many English gardeners, and also the peculiar skill displayed by them in grafting and crossing, and in watching the habits of plants. Yet in manipulative labour, especially when superintended by a European, he is, though much slower in execution, almost if not quite equal to gardeners at home.” They are excellent and very laborious cultivators, and show much skill in intensive cultivation and the use of water. Mālis are the best sugarcane growers of Betūl and their holdings usually pay a higher rental than those of other castes. “In Bālāghāt,” Mr. Low remarks,17 “they are great growers of tobacco and sugarcane, favouring the alluvial land on the banks of rivers. They mostly irrigate by a dhekli or dipping lift, from temporary wells or from water-holes in rivers. The pole of the lift has a weight at one end and a kerosene tin suspended from the other. Another form of lift is a hollowed tree trunk worked on a fulcrum, but this only raises the water a foot or two. The Marārs do general cultivation as well; but as a class are not considered skilled agriculturists. The proverb about their cultivating status is:

Marār, Māli jote tāli

Tāli margayi, dhare kudāli

or, ‘The Marār yokes cows; if the cow dies he takes to the pickaxe’; implying that he is not usually rich enough to keep bullocks.” The saying has also a derogatory sense, as no good Hindu would yoke a cow to the plough. Another form of lift used by the Kāchhis is the Persian wheel. In this two wheels are fixed above the well or tank and long looped ropes pass over them and down into the well, between which a line of earthen pots is secured. As the ropes move on the wheels the pots descend into the well, are filled with water, brought up, and just after they reach the apex of the wheel and turn to descend again, the water pours out to a hollow open tree-trunk, from which a channel conveys it to the field. The wheel which turns the rope is worked by a man pedalling, but he cannot do more than about three hours [170]a day. The common lift for gardens is the mot or bag made of the hide of a bullock or buffalo. This is usually worked by a pair of bullocks moving forwards down a slope to raise the mot from the well and backwards up the slope to let it down when empty.

Bullocks drawing water with mot

Bullocks drawing water with mot

11. Traits and character

“It is necessary,” the account continues, “for the Marār’s business for one member at least of his family to go to market with his vegetables; and the Marārin is a noteworthy feature in all bazārs, sitting with her basket or garment spread on the ground, full of white onions and garlic, purple brinjals and scarlet chillies, with a few handfuls of strongly flavoured green stuff. Whether from the publicity which it entails on their women or from whatever cause, the Marārin does not bear the best of reputations for chastity; and is usually considered rather a bold, coarse creature. The distinctive feature of her attire is the way in which she ties up her body-cloth so as to leave a tail sticking up behind; whence the proverb shouted after her by rude little boys: ‘Jump from roof to roof, Monkey. Pull the tail of the Marārin, Monkey,’ She also rejoices in a very large tikli or spangle on her forehead and in a peculiar kind of angia (waistcoat). The caste are usually considered rather clannish and morose. They live in communities by themselves, and nearly always inhabit a separate hamlet of the village. The Marārs of a certain place are said to have boycotted a village carpenter who lost an axe belonging to one of their number, so that he had to leave the neighbourhood for lack of custom.”

12. Other functions of the Māli

Many Mālis live in the towns and keep vegetable- or flower-gardens just outside. They sell flowers, and the Māli girls are very good flower-sellers, Major Sutherland says, being famous for their coquetry. A saying about them is: “The crow among birds, the jackal among beasts, the barber among men and the Mālin among women; all these are much too clever.” The Māli also prepares the maur or marriage-crown, made from the leaves of the date-palm, both for the bride and bridegroom at marriages. In return he gets a present of a rupee, a piece of cloth and a day’s food. He also makes the garlands which are used for presentation at entertainments, and supplies the daily bunches of flowers which are required as offerings for [171]Mahādeo. The Māli keeps garlands for sale in the bazār, and when a well-to-do person passes he goes up and puts a garland round his neck and expects a present of a pice or two.

13. Physical appearance

“Physically,” Mr. Low states, “the Marār is rather a poor-looking creature, dark and undersized; but the women are often not bad looking, and dressed up in their best at a wedding, rattling their castanets and waving light-coloured silk handkerchiefs, give a very graceful dance. The caste are not as a rule celebrated for their cleanliness. A polite way of addressing a Marār is to call him Patel.”

1 This article is based principally on Mr. Low’s description of the Marārs in the Bālāghāt District Gazetteer and on a paper by Major Sutherland, I.M.S.

2 C.P. Census Report (1891), para. 180.

3 Schröder, Prehistoric Antiquities, 121, quoted in Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Māli.

4 Punjab Census Report (1881), para. 483.

5 Ibidem, para. 484.

6 Bālāghāt District Gazetteer, para. 59.

7 Mr. Napier’s Bhandara Settlement Report, quoted in article on Kohli.

8 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Māli.

9 Brief View of the Caste System, p. 15.

10 La Cité antique, 21st ed., p. 181.

11 The Antiquity of Oriental Carpets, Sir G. Birdwood (Society of Arts, 6th November 1908).

12 The derivations of chaplet and rosary are taken from Ogilvy’s Dictionary.

13 Bālāghāt District Gazetteer (C.E. Low), para. 59.

14 Ibidem, loc. cit.

15 Bālāghāt District Gazetteer, para. 59.

16 Hindu Castes, vol. i. p. 327.

17 Bālāghāt District Gazetteer, loc. cit.



Mallāh, Malha.1—A small caste of boatmen and fishermen in the Jubbulpore and Narsinghpur Districts, which numbered about 5000 persons in 1911. It is scarcely correct to designate the Mallāhs as a distinct caste, as in both these Districts it appears from inquiry that the term is synonymous with Kewat. Apparently, however, the Mallāhs do form a separate endogamous group, and owing to many of them having adopted the profession of growing hemp, a crop which respectable Hindu castes usually refuse to cultivate, it is probable that they would not be allowed to intermarry with the Kewats of other Districts. In the United Provinces Mr. Crooke states that the Mallāhs, though, as their Arabic name indicates, of recent origin, have matured into a definite social group, including a number of endogamous tribes. The term Mallāh has nothing to do with the Mulla or Muhammadan priest among the frontier tribes, but comes from an Arabic word meaning ‘to be salt,’ or, according to another derivation, ‘to move the wings as a bird.’2 The Mallāhs of the Central Provinces are also, in spite of their Arabic name, a purely Hindu caste. In Narsinghpur they say that their original ancestor was one Bali or Balirām, who was a boatman and was so strong that he could carry his boat to the river and back under his armpit. On one occasion he ferried Rāma across the Ganges in Benāres, and it is said [172]that Rāma gave him a horse to show his gratitude; but Balirām was so ignorant that he placed the bridle on the horse’s tail instead of the head. And from this act of Balirām’s arose the custom of having the rudder of a boat at the stern instead of at the bow. The Mallāhs in the Central Provinces appear from their family names to be immigrants from Bundelkhand. Their customs resemble those of lower-class Hindus. Girls are usually married under the age of twelve years, and the remarriage of widows is permitted, while divorce may be effected in the presence of the panchāyat or caste committee by the husband and wife breaking a straw between them. They are scantily clothed and are generally poor. A proverb about them says:

Jahān bethen Malao

Tahan lage alao,

or, ‘Where Mallāhs sit, there is always a fire.’ This refers to their custom of kindling fires on the river-bank to protect themselves from cold. In Narsinghpur the Mallāhs have found a profitable opening in the cultivation of hemp, a crop which other Hindu castes until recently tabooed on account probably of the dirty nature of the process of cleaning out the fibre and the pollution necessarily caused to the water-supply. They sow and cut hemp on Sundays and Wednesdays, which are regarded as auspicious days. They also grow melons, and will not enter a melon-field with their shoes on or allow a woman during her periodical impurity to approach it. The Mallāhs are poor and illiterate, but rank with Dhīmars and Kewats, and Brāhmans will take water from their hands.

1 This article is based on papers by Mr. Shyāmācharan, B.A., B.L., Pleader, Narsinghpur, and Pyāre Lāl Misra, Ethnographic clerk.

2 Crooke’s Tribes and Castes of the N. W. P. and Oudh, art. Mallāh.



Māna.1—A Dravidian caste of cultivators and labourers belonging to the Chānda District, from which they have spread to Nāgpur, Bhandāra and Bālāghāt. In 1911 they numbered nearly 50,000 persons, of whom 34,000 belonged to Chānda. The origin of the caste is obscure. In the Chānda Settlement Report of 1869 Major Lucie Smith wrote of them: “Tradition asserts that prior to the Gond [173]conquest the Mānas reigned over the country, having their strongholds at Surajgarh in Ahiri and at Mānikgarh in the Mānikgarh hills, now of Hyderābād, and that after a troubled rule of two hundred years they fell before the Gonds. In appearance they are of the Gond type, and are strongly and stoutly made; while in character they are hardy, industrious and truthful. Many warlike traditions still linger among them, and doubtless in days gone by they did their duty as good soldiers, but they have long since hung up sword and shield and now rank among the best cultivators of rice in Chānda.” Another local tradition states that a line of Māna princes ruled at Wairāgarh. The names of three princes are remembered: Kurumpruhoda, the founder of the line; Surjāt Badwāik, who fortified Surjāgarh; and Gahilu, who built Mānikgarh. As regards the name Mānikgarh, it may be mentioned that the tutelary deity of the Nāgvansi kings of Bastar, who ruled there before the accession of the present Rāj-Gond dynasty in the fourteenth century, was Mānikya Devi, and it is possible that the chiefs of Wairāgarh were connected with the Bastar kings. Some of the Mānas say that they, as well as the Gowāris, are offshoots of the Gond tribe; and a local saying to the effect that ‘The Gond, the Gowāri and the Māna eat boiled juāri or beans on leaf-plates’ shows that they are associated together in the popular mind. Hislop states that the Ojhas, or soothsayers and minstrels of the Gonds, have a subdivision of Māna Ojhas, who lay claim to special sanctity, refusing to take food from any other caste.2 The Gonds have a subdivision called Mannewār, and as wār is only a Telugu suffix for the plural, the proper name Manne closely resembles Māna. It is shown in the article on the Parja tribe that the Parjas were a class of Gonds or a tribe akin to them, who were dominant in Bastar prior to the later immigration under the ancestors of the present Bastar dynasty. And the most plausible hypothesis as to the past history of the Mānas is that they were also the rulers of some tracts of Chānda, and were displaced like the Parjas by a Gond invasion from the south.

In Bhandāra, where the Mānas hold land, it is related [174]that in former times a gigantic kite lived on the hill of Ghurkundi, near Sākoli, and devoured the crops of the surrounding country by whole fields at a time. The king of Chānda proclaimed that whoever killed the kite would be granted the adjoining lands. A Māna shot the kite with an arrow and its remains were taken to Chānda in eight carts, and as his reward he received the grant of a zamīndāri. In appearance the Mānas, or at least some of them, are rather fine men, nor do their complexion and features show more noticeable traces of aboriginal descent than those of the local Hindus. But their neighbours in Chānda and Bastar, the Māria Gonds, are also taller and of a better physical type than the average Dravidian, so that their physical appearance need not militate against the above hypothesis. They retained their taste for fighting until within quite recent times, and in Kātol and other towns below the Satpūra hills, Mānas were regularly enlisted as a town guard for repelling the Pindāri raids. Their descendants still retain the ancestral matchlocks, and several of them make good use of these as professional shikāris or hunters. Many of them are employed as servants by landowners and moneylenders for the collection of debts or the protection of crops, and others are proprietors, cultivators and labourers, while a few even lend money on their own account. Mānas hold three zamīndāri estates in Bhandāra and a few villages in Chānda; here they are considered to be good cultivators, but have the reputation as a caste of being very miserly, and though possessed of plenty, living only on the poorest and coarsest food.3 The Māna women are proverbial for the assistance which they render to their husbands in the work of cultivation.

Owing to their general adoption of Marātha customs, the Mānas are now commonly regarded as a caste and not a forest tribe, and this view may be accepted. They have two subcastes, the Badwāik Mānas, or soldiers, and the Khād Mānas, who live in the plains and are considered to be of impure descent. Badwāik or ‘The Great Ones’ is a titular term applied to a person carrying arms, and assumed by certain Rājpūts and also by some of the lower castes. [175]A third group of Mānas are now amalgamated with the Kunbis as a regular subdivision of that caste, though they are regarded as somewhat lower than the others. They have also a number of exogamous septs of the usual titular and totemistic types, the few recognisable names being Marāthi. It is worth noticing that several pairs of these septs, as Jamāre and Gazbe, Narnari and Chudri, Wāgh and Rāwat, and others are prohibited from intermarriage. And this may be a relic of some wider scheme of division of the type common among the Australian aborigines. The social customs of the Mānas are the same as those of the other lower Marātha castes, as described in the articles on Kunbi, Kohli and Mahār. A bride-price of Rs. 12–8 is usually paid, and if the bridegroom’s father has the money, he takes it with him on going to arrange for the match. Only one married woman of the bridegroom’s family accompanies him to the wedding, and she throws rice over him five times. Four days in the year are appointed for the celebration of weddings, the festivals of Shivrātri and of Akhātij, and a day each in the months of Māgh (January) and Phāgun (February). This rule, however, is not universal. Brāhmans do not usually officiate at their ceremonies, but they employ a Brāhman to prepare the rice which is thrown over the couples. Marriage within the sept is forbidden, as well as the union of the children of two sisters. But the practice of marrying a brother’s daughter to a sister’s son is a very favourite one, being known as Māhunchār, and in this respect the Mānas resemble the Gonds. When a widow is to be remarried, she stops on the way by the bank of a stream as she is proceeding to her new husband’s house, and here her clothes are taken off and buried by an exorcist with a view to laying the first husband’s spirit and preventing it from troubling the new household. If a woman goes wrong with a man of another caste she is not finally cast out, but if she has a child she must first dispose of it to somebody else after it is weaned. She may then be re-admitted into caste by having her hair shaved off and giving three feasts; the first is prepared by the caste and eaten outside her house, the second is prepared by her relatives and eaten within her house, and at the third the caste [176]reinstate her by partaking of food cooked by herself. The dead are either buried or burnt; in the former case a feast is given immediately after the burial and no further mourning is observed; in the latter the period of mourning is three days. As among the Gonds, the dead are laid with feet to the north. A woman is impure for seven days after child-birth.

The Mānas have Bhāts or genealogists of their own caste, a separate one being appointed for each sept. The Bhāt of any sept can only accept gifts from members of that sept, though he may take food from any one of the caste. The Bhāts are in the position of beggars, and the other Mānas will not take food from them. Every man must have a Bhāt for his family under penalty of being temporarily put out of caste. It is said that the Bhāts formerly had books showing the pedigrees of the different families, but that once in a spirit of arrogance they placed their shoes upon the books; and the other Mānas, not brooking this insolence, burnt the books. The gravity of such an act may be realised when it is stated that if anybody even threatens to hit a Māna with a shoe, the indignity put upon him is so great that he is temporarily excluded from caste and penalised for readmission. Since this incident the Bhāts have to address the Mānas as ‘Brahma,’ to show their respect, the Māna replying ‘Rām, Rām.’ Their women wear short loin-cloths, exposing part of the thigh, like the Gonds. They eat pork and drink liquor, but will take cooked food only from Brāhmans.

1 This article is based on papers by Mr. Hīra Lāl and G. Padaya Naidu of the Gazetteer Office.

2 Papers on the Aboriginal Tribes of the Central Provinces, p. 6.

3 Rev. A. Wood in Chānda District Gazetteer, para. 96.



1. History and nature of the sect

Mānbhao.1—A religious sect or order, which has now become a caste, belonging to the Marātha Districts of the Central Provinces and to Berār. Their total strength in India in 1911 was 10,000 persons, of whom the Central Provinces and Berār contained 4000. The name would appear to have some such meaning as ‘The reverend brothers.’ The Mānbhaos are stated to be a Vaishnavite [177]order founded in Berār some two centuries ago.2 They themselves say that their order is a thousand years old and that it was founded by one Arjun Bhat, who lived at Domegaon, near Ahmadnagar. He was a great Sanskrit scholar and a devotee of Krishna, and preached his doctrines to all except the Impure castes. Ridhpur, in Berār, is the present headquarters of the order, and contains a monastery and three temples, dedicated to Krishna and Dattātreya,3 the only deities recognised by the Mānbhaos. Each temple is named after a village, and is presided over by a Mahant elected from the celibate Mānbhaos. There are other Mahants, also known after the names of villages or towns in which the monasteries over which they preside are located. Among these are Sheone, from the village near Chāndur in Amraoti District; Akulne, a village near Ahmadnagar; Lāsorkar, from Lāsor, near Aurangābād; Mehkarkar, from Mehkar in Buldāna; and others. The order thus belongs to Berār and the adjoining parts of India. Colonel Mackenzie describes Ridhpur as follows: “The name is said to be derived from ridh, meaning blood, a Rākshas or demon having been killed there by Parasurāma, and it owes its sanctity to the fact that the god lived there. Black stones innumerable scattered about the town show where the god’s footsteps became visible. At Ridhpur Krishna is represented by an ever-open, sleeplessly watching eye, and some Mānbhaos carry about a small black stone disk with an eye painted on it as an amulet.” Frequently their shrines contain no images, but are simply chabutras or platforms built over the place where Krishna or Dattātreya left marks of their footprints. Over the platform is a small veranda, which the Mānbhaos kiss, calling upon the name of the god. Sukli, in Bhandāra, is also a headquarters of the caste, and contains many Mānbhao tombs. Here they burn camphor in honour of Dattātreya and make offerings of cocoanuts. They make pilgrimages to the different shrines at the full moons of Chait (March) and Kārtik (October). They pay reverence to no deities except Krishna and Dattātreya, and observe [178]the festivals of Gokul Ashtami in August and Datta-Jayantri in December. They consider the month of Aghan (November) as holy, because Krishna called it so in the Bhāgavat-Gīta. This is their sacred book, and they reject the other Hindu scriptures. Their conception of Krishna is based on his description of himself to Arjun in the Bhāgavat-Gīta as follows: “‘Behold things wonderful, never seen before, behold in this my body the whole world, animate and inanimate. But as thou art unable to see with these thy natural eyes, I will give thee a heavenly eye, with which behold my divine connection.’

“The son of Pandu then beheld within the body of the god of gods standing together the whole universe divided forth into its vast variety. He was overwhelmed with wonder and every hair was raised on end. ‘But I am not to be seen as thou hast seen me even by the assistance of the Vedas, by mortification, by sacrifices, by charitable gifts: but I am to be seen, to be known in truth, and to be obtained by that worship which is offered up to me alone: and he goeth unto me whose works are done for me: who esteemeth me supreme: who is my servant only: who hath abandoned all consequences, and who liveth amongst all men without hatred.’”

Again: “He my servant is dear to me who is free from enmity, the friend of all nature, merciful, exempt from all pride and selfishness, the same in pain and in pleasure, patient of wrong, contented, constantly devout, of subdued passions and firm resolves, and whose mind and understanding are fixed on me alone.”

2. Divisions of the order

The Mānbhaos are now divided into three classes: the Brahmachāri; the Gharbāri; and the Bhope. The Brahmachāri are the ascetic members of the sect who subsist by begging and devote their lives to meditation, prayer and spiritual instruction. The Gharbāri are those who, while leading a mendicant life, wearing the distinctive black dress of the order and having their heads shaved, are permitted to get married with the permission of their Mahant or guru. The ceremony is performed in strict privacy inside a temple. A man sometimes signifies his choice of a spouse by putting his jholi or beggar’s wallet upon hers; if she lets it remain [179]there, the betrothal is complete. A woman may show her preference for a man by bringing a pair of garlands and placing one on his head and the other on that of the image of Krishna. The marriage is celebrated according to the custom of the Kunbis, but without feasting or music. Widows are permitted to marry again. Married women do not wear bangles nor toe-rings nor the customary necklace of beads; they put on no jewellery, and have no choli or bodice. The Bhope or Bhoall, the third division of the caste, are wholly secular and wear no distinctive dress, except sometimes a black head-cloth. They may engage in any occupation that pleases them, and sometimes act as servants in the temples of the caste. In Berār they are divided into thirteen bas or orders, named after the disciples of Arjun Bhat, who founded the various shrines. The Mānbhaos are recruited by initiation of both men and women from any except the impure castes. Young children who have been vowed by their parents to a religious life or are left without relations, are taken into the order. Women usually join it either as children or late in life. The celibate members, male or female, live separately in companies like monks and nuns. They do not travel together, and hold services in their temples at different times. A woman admitted into the order is henceforward the disciple of the woman who initiated her by whispering the guru mantra or sacred verse into her ear. She addresses her preceptress as mother and the other women as sisters. The Mānbhaos are intelligent and generally literate, and they lead a simple and pure life. They are respectable and are respected by the people, and a guru or spiritual teacher is often taken from them in place of a Brāhman or Gosain. They often act as priests or gurus to the Mahārs, for whom Brāhmans will not perform these services. Their honesty and humility are proverbial among the Kunbis, and are in pleasing contrast to the character of many of the Hindu mendicant orders. They consider it essential that all their converts should be able to read the Bhāgavat-Gīta or a commentary on it, and for this purpose teach them to read and write during the rainy season when they are assembled at one of their monasteries. [180]

3. Religious observances and customs

One of the leading tenets of the Mānbhaos is a respect for all forms of animal and even vegetable life, much on a par with that of the Jains. They strain water through a cloth before drinking it, and then delicately wipe the cloth to preserve any insects that may be upon it. They should not drink water in, and hence cannot reside in, any village where animal sacrifices are offered to a deity. They will not cut down a tree nor break off a branch, or even a blade of grass, nor pluck a fruit or an ear of corn. Some, it is said, will not even bathe in tanks for fear of destroying insect-life. For this reason also they readily accept cooked food as alms, so that they may avoid the risk of the destruction of life involved in cooking. The Mānbhaos dislike the din and noise of towns, and live generally in secluded places, coming into the towns only to beg. Except in the rains they wander about from place to place. They beg in the morning, and then return home and, after bathing and taking their food, read their religious books. They must always worship Krishna before taking food, and for this purpose when travelling they carry an image of the deity about with them. They will take food and water from the higher castes, but they must not do so from persons of low caste on pain of temporary excommunication. They neither smoke nor chew tobacco. Both men and women shave the head clean, and men also the face. This is first done on initiation by the village barber. But the sendhi or scalp-lock and moustaches of the novice must be cut off by his guru, this being the special mark of his renunciation of the world. The scalp-locks of the various candidates are preserved until a sufficient quantity of hair has been collected, when ropes are made of it, which they fasten round their loins. This may be because Hindus attach a special efficacy to the scalp-lock, perhaps as being the seat of a man’s strength or power. The nuns also shave their heads, and generally eschew every kind of personal adornment. Both monks and nuns usually dress in black or ashen-grey clothes as a mark of humility, though some have discarded black in favour of the usual Hindu mendicant colour of red ochre. The black colour is in keeping with the complexion of Krishna, their chief god. They dye their cloths with [181]lamp-black mixed with a little water and oil. They usually sleep on the ground, with the exception of those who are Mahants, and they sometimes have no metal vessels, but use bags made of strong cloth for holding food and water. Men’s names have the suffix Boa, as Datto Boa, Kesho Boa, while those of boys end in da, as Manoda, Raojīda, and those of women in Bai, as Gopa Bai, Som Bai. The dead are buried, not in the common burial-grounds, but in some waste place. The corpse is laid on its side, facing the east, with head to the north and feet to the south. A piece of silk or other valuable cloth is placed on it, on which salt is sprinkled, and the earth is then filled in and the ground levelled so as to leave no trace of the grave. No memorial is erected over a Mānbhao tomb, and no mourning nor ceremony of purification is observed, nor are oblations offered to the spirits of the dead. If the dead man leaves any property, it is expended on feeding the brotherhood for ten days; and if not, the Mahant of his order usually does this in his name.

4. Hostility between Mānbhaos and Brāhmans

The Mānbhaos are dissenters from orthodox Hinduism, and have thus naturally incurred the hostility of the Brāhmans. Mr. Kitts remarks of them:4 “The Brāhmans hate the Mānbhaos, who have not only thrown off the Brāhmanical yoke themselves, but do much to oppose the influence of Brāhmans among the agriculturists. The Brāhmans represent them as descended from one Krishna Bhat, a Brāhman who was outcasted for keeping a beautiful Māng woman as his mistress. His four sons were called the Māng-bhaos or Māng brothers.” This is an excellent instance of the Brāhman talent for pressing etymology into their service as an argument, in which respect they resemble the Jesuits. By asserting that the Mānbhaos are descended from a Māng woman, one of the most despised castes, they attempt to dispose of these enemies of a Brāhman hegemony without further ado.

Another story about their wearing black or ashen-coloured clothes related by Colonel Mackenzie is that Krishna Bhat’s followers, refusing to believe the aspersions cast on their leader by the Brāhmans, but knowing that [182]some one among them had been guilty of the sin imputed to him, determined to decide the matter by the ordeal of fire. Having made a fire, they cast into it their own clothes and those of their guru, each man having previously written his name on his garments. The sacred fire made short work of all the clothes except those of Krishna Bhat, which it rejected and refused to burn, thereby forcing the unwilling disciples to believe that the finger of God pointed to their revered guru as the sinner. In spite of the shock of thus discovering that their idol had feet of very human clay, they still continued to regard Krishna Bhat’s precepts as good and worthy of being followed, only stipulating that for all time Mānbhaos should wear clothes the colour of ashes, in memory of the sacred fire which had disclosed to them their guru’s sin.

Captain Mackintosh also relates that “About A.D. 1780, a Brāhman named Anand Rishi, an inhabitant of Paithan on the Godāvari, maltreated a Mānbhao, who came to ask for alms at his door. This Mānbhao, after being beaten, proceeded to his friends in the vicinity, and they collected a large number of brethren and went to the Brāhman to demand satisfaction; Anand Rishi assembled a number of Gosains and his friends, and pursued and attacked the Mānbhaos, who fled and asked Ahalya Bai, Rāni of Indore, to protect them; she endeavoured to pacify Anand Rishi by telling him that the Mānbhaos were her gurus; he said that they were Māngs, but declared that if they agreed to his proposals he would forgive them; one of them was that they were not to go to a Brāhman’s house to ask for alms, and another that if any Brāhman repeated Anand Rishi’s name and drew a line across the road when a Mānbhao was advancing, the Mānbhao, without saying a word, must return the road he came. Notwithstanding this attempt to prevent their approaching a Brāhman’s house, they continue to ask alms of the Brāhmans, and some Brāhmans make a point of supplying them with provisions.”

This story endeavours to explain a superstition still observed by the caste. This is that when a Mānbhao is proceeding along a road, if any one draws a line across the road with a stick in front of him the Mānbhao will wait [183]without passing the line until some one else comes up and crosses it before him. In reality this is probably a primitive superstition similar to that which makes a man stop when a snake has crossed the road in front of him and efface its track before proceeding. It is said that the members of the order also carry their sticks upside down, and a saying is repeated about them:

Mānbhao hokar kāle kapre dārhi mūchi mundhāta hai,

Ulti lakri hāth men pakri woh kya Sāhib milta hai;

or, “The Mānbhao wears black clothes, shaves his face and holds his stick upside down, and thinks he will find God that way.”

This saying is attributed to Kabīr. [184]

1 This article is compiled from notes on the caste drawn up by Colonel Mackenzie and contributed to the Pioneer newspaper by Mrs. Horsburgh; Captain Mackintosh’s Account of the Manbhaos (India Office Tracts); and a paper by Pyāre Lāl Misra, Ethnographic clerk.

2 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 62.

3 Dattātreya was a celebrated Sivite devotee who has been deified as an incarnation of Siva.

4 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 62.



List of Paragraphs

1. Origin and traditions

Māng.1—A low impure caste of the Marātha Districts, who act as village musicians and castrate bullocks, while their women serve as midwives. The Māngs are also sometimes known as Vājantri or musician. They numbered more than 90,000 persons in 1911, of whom 30,000 belonged to the Nāgpur and Nerbudda Divisions of the Central Provinces, and 60,000 to Berār. The real origin of the Māngs is obscure, but they probably originated from the subject tribes and became a caste through the adoption of the menial services which constitute their profession. In a Marātha book called the Shūdra Kamlākar2, it is stated that the Māng was the offspring of the union of a Vaideh man and an Ambashtha woman. A Vaideh was the illegitimate child of a Vaishya father and a Brāhman mother, and an Ambashtha of a Brāhman father and a Vaishya mother. The business of the Māng was to play on the flute and to make known the wishes of the Rāja to his subjects by beat of drum. He was to live in the forest or outside the village, and was not to enter it except with the Rāja’s permission. He was to remove the dead bodies of strangers, to hang criminals, and to take away and appropriate the clothes and bedding of the dead. The Māngs themselves relate the following legend of their origin as given by Mr. Sāthe: Long ago before cattle were used for [185]ploughing, there was so terrible a famine upon the earth that all the grain was eaten up, and there was none left for seed. Mahādeo took pity on the few men who were left alive, and gave them some grain for sowing. In those days men used to drag the plough through the earth themselves. But when a Kunbi, to whom Mahādeo had given some seed, went to try and sow it, he and his family were so emaciated by hunger that they were unable, in spite of their united efforts, to get the plough through the ground. In this pitiable case the Kunbi besought Mahādeo to give him some further assistance, and Mahādeo then appeared, and, bringing with him the bull Nandi, upon which he rode, told the Kunbi to yoke it to the plough. This was done, and so long as Mahādeo remained present, Nandi dragged the plough peaceably and successfully. But as soon as the god disappeared, the bull became restive and refused to work any longer. The Kunbi being helpless, again complained to Mahādeo, when the god appeared, and in his wrath at the conduct of the bull, great drops of perspiration stood upon his brow. One of these fell to the ground, and immediately a coal-black man sprang up and stood ready to do Mahādeo’s bidding. He was ordered to bring the bull to reason, and he went and castrated it, after which it worked well and quietly; and since then the Kunbis have always used bullocks for ploughing, and the descendants of the man, who was the first Māng, are employed in the office for which he was created. It is further related that Nandi, the bull, cursed the Māng in his pain, saying that he and his descendants should never derive any profit from ploughing with cattle. And the Māngs say that to this day none of them prosper by taking to cultivation, and quote the following proverb: ‘Keli kheti, Zhāli mati,’ or, ‘If a Māng sows grain he will only reap dust.’

2. Subdivisions

The caste is divided into the following subcastes: Dakhne, Khāndeshe and Berārya, or those belonging to the Deccan, Khāndesh and Berār; Ghodke, those who tend horses; Dafle, tom-tom players; Uchle, pickpockets; Pindāri, descendants of the old freebooters; Kakarkādhe, stone-diggers; Holer, hide-curers; and Garori. The Garoris3 [186]are a sept of vagrant snake-charmers and jugglers. Many are professional criminals.

Māng musicians with drums

Māng musicians with drums

3. Marriage

The caste is divided into exogamous family groups named after animals or other objects, or of a titular nature. One or two have the names of other castes. Members of the same group may not intermarry. Those who are well-to-do marry their daughters very young for the sake of social estimation, but there is no compulsion in this matter. In families which are particularly friendly, Mr. Sāthe remarks, children may be betrothed before birth if the two mothers are with child together. Betel is distributed, and a definite contract is made, on the supposition that a boy and girl will be born. Sometimes the abdomen of each woman is marked with red vermilion. A grown-up girl should not be allowed to see her husband’s face before marriage. The wedding is held at the bride’s house, but if it is more convenient that it should be in the bridegroom’s village, a temporary house is found for the bride’s party, and the marriage-shed is built in front of it. The bride must wear a yellow bodice and cloth, yellow and red being generally considered among Hindus as the auspicious colours for weddings. When she leaves for her husband’s house she puts on another or going-away dress, which should be as fine as the family can afford, and thereafter she may wear any colour except white. The distinguishing marks of a married woman are the mangal-sūtram or holy thread, which her husband ties on her neck at marriage; the garsoli or string of black beads round the neck; the silver toe-rings and glass bangles. If any one of these is lost, it must be replaced at once, or she is likely soon to be a widow. The food served at the wedding-feast consists of rice and pulse, but more essential than these is an ample provision of liquor. It is a necessary feature of a Māng wedding that the bridegroom should go to it riding on a horse. The Mahārs, another low caste of the Marātha Districts, worship the horse, and between them and the Māngs there exists a long-standing feud, so that they do not, if they can help it, drink of the same well. The sight of a Māng riding on a horse is thus gall and wormwood to the Mahārs, who consider it a terrible degradation to the noble animal, and this fact [187]inflaming their natural enmity, formerly led to riots between the castes. Under native rule the Māngs were public executioners, and it was said to be the proudest moment of Māng’s life when he could perform his office on a Mahār.

The bride proceeds to her husband’s house for a short visit immediately after the marriage, and then goes home again. Thereafter, till such time as she finally goes to live with him, she makes brief visits for festivals or on other social occasions, or to help her mother-in-law, if her assistance is required. If the mother-in-law is ill and requires somebody to wait on her, or if she is a shrew and wants some one to bully, or if she has strict ideas of discipline and wishes personally to conduct the bride’s training for married life, she makes the girl come more frequently and stay longer.

4. Widow marriage

The remarriage of widows is permitted, and a widow may marry any one except persons of her own family group or her husband’s elder brother, who stands to her in the light of a father. She is permitted, but not obliged, to marry her husband’s younger brother, but if he has performed the dead man’s obsequies, she may not marry him, as this act has placed him in the relation of a son to her deceased husband. More usually the widow marries some one in another village, because the remarriage is always held in some slight disrepute, and she prefers to be at a distance from her first husband’s family. Divorce is said to be permitted only for persistent misconduct on the part of the wife.

5. Burial

The caste always bury the dead and observe mourning only for three days. On returning from a burial they all get drunk, and then go to the house of the deceased and chew the bitter leaves of the nīm tree (Melia indica). These they then spit out of their mouths to indicate their complete severance from the dead man.

6. Occupation

The caste beat drums at village festivals, and castrate cattle, and they also make brooms and mats of date-palm and keep leeches for blood-letting. Some of them are village watchmen and their women act as midwives. As soon as a baby is born, the midwife blows into its mouth, [188]ears and nose in order to clear them of any impediments. When a man is initiated by a guru or spiritual preceptor, the latter blows into his ear, and the Māngs therefore say that on account of this act of the midwife they are the gurus of all Hindus. During an eclipse the Māngs beg, because the demons Rāhu and Ketu, who are believed to swallow the sun and moon on such occasions, were both Māngs, and devout Hindus give alms to their fellow-castemen in order to appease them. Those of them who are thieves are said not to steal from the persons of a woman, a bangle-seller, a Lingāyat Māli or another Māng.4 In Marātha villages they sometimes take the place of Chamārs, and work in leather, and one writer says of them: “The Māng is a village menial in the Marātha villages, making all leather ropes, thongs and whips, which are used by the cultivators; he frequently acts as watchman; he is by profession a thief and executioner; he readily hires himself as an assassin, and when he commits a robbery he also frequently murders.” In his menial capacity he receives presents at seed-time and harvest, and it is said that the Kunbi will never send the Māng empty away, because he represents the wrath of Mahādeo, being made from the god’s sweat when he was angry.

7. Religion and social status

The caste especially venerate the goddess Devi. They apparently identify Devi with Sāraswati, the goddess of wisdom, and they have a story to the effect that once Brahma wished to ravish his daughter Sāraswati. She fled from him and went to all the gods, but none of them would protect her for fear of Brahma. At last in despair she came to a Māng’s house, and the Māng stood in the door and kept off Brahma with a wooden club. In return for this Sāraswati blessed him and said that he and his descendants should never lack for food. They also revere Mahādeo, and on every Monday they worship the cow, placing vermilion on her forehead and washing her feet. The cat is regarded as a sacred animal, and a Māng’s most solemn oath is sworn on a cat. A house is defiled if a cat or a dog dies or a cat has kittens in it, and all the earthen pots must be broken. If a man accidentally kills a cat or a dog a heavy penance is [189]exacted, and two feasts must be given to the caste. To kill an ass or a monkey is a sin only less heinous. A man is also put out of caste if kicked or beaten with a shoe by any one of another caste, even a Brāhman, or if he is struck with the kathri or mattress made of rags which the villagers put on their sleeping-cots. Mr. Gayer remarks5 that “The Māngs show great respect for the bamboo; and at a marriage the bridal couple are made to stand in a bamboo basket. They also reverence the nīm tree, and the Māngs of Sholapur spread hariāli6 grass and nīm leaves on the spot where one of their caste dies.” The social status of the Māngs is of the lowest. They usually live in a separate quarter of the village and have a well for their own use. They may not enter temples. It is recorded that under native rule the Mahārs and Māngs were not allowed within the gates of Poona between 3 P.M. and 9 A.M., because before nine and after three their bodies cast too long a shadow; and whenever their shadow fell upon a Brāhman it polluted him, so that he dare not taste food or water until he had bathed and washed the impurity away. So also no low-caste man was allowed to live in a walled town; cattle and dogs could freely enter and remain but not the Mahār or Māng.7 The caste will eat the flesh of pigs, rats, crocodiles and jackals and the leavings of others, and some of them will eat beef. Men may be distinguished by the senai flute which they carry and by a large ring of gold or brass worn in the lobe of the ear. A Māng’s sign-manual is a representation of his bhall-singāra or castration-knife. Women are tattooed before marriage, with dots on the forehead, nose, cheeks and chin, and with figures of a date-palm on the forearm, a scorpion on the palm of the hand, and flies on the fingers. The caste do not bear a good character, and it is said of a cruel man, ‘Māng-Nirdayi,’ or ‘Hardhearted as a Māng.’

1 This article is based partly on a paper by Mr. Achyut Sitārām Sāthe, Extra Assistant Commissioner.

2 P. 389.

3 See also separate article Māng-Garori.

4 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 147.

5 Lectures on the Criminal Tribes of the Central Provinces, p. 79.

6 Cynodon dactylon.

7 Dr, Murray Mitchell’s Great Religions of India, p. 63.



Māng-Garori.—This is a criminal subdivision of the Māng caste, residing principally in Berār. They were not [190]separately recorded at the census. The name Garori appears to be a corruption of Garūdi, and signifies a snake-charmer.1 Garūda, the Brahminy kite, the bird on which Vishnu rides, was the great subduer of snakes, and hence probably snake-charmers are called Garūdi. Some of the Māng-Garoris are snake-charmers, and this may have been the original occupation of the caste, though the bulk of them now appear to live by dealing in cattle and thieving. The following notice of them is abstracted from Major Gunthorpe’s Notes on Criminal Tribes.2 They usually travel about with small pāls or tents, taking their wives, children, buffaloes and dogs with them. The men are well set up and tall. Their costume is something like that worn by professional gymnasts, consisting of light and short reddish-brown drawers (chaddi), a waistband with fringe at either end (katchhe), and a sheet thrown over the shoulders. The Nāik or headman of the camp may be recognised by his wearing some red woollen cloth about his person or a red shawl over his shoulders. The women have short sāris (body-cloths), usually of blue, and tied in the Telugu fashion. They are generally very violent when any attempt is made to search an encampment, especially if there is stolen property concealed in it. Instances have been known of their seizing their infants by the ankles and swinging them round their heads, declaring they would continue doing so till the children died, if the police did not leave the camp. Sometimes also the women of a gang have been known to throw off all their clothing and appear in a perfect state of nudity, declaring they would charge the police with violating their modesty. Men of this tribe are expert cattle-lifters, but confine themselves chiefly to buffaloes, which they steal while out grazing and very dexterously disguise by trimming the horns and firing, so as to avoid recognition by their rightful owners. To steal goats and sheep is also one of their favourite occupations, and they will either carry the animals off from their pens at night or kill them while out grazing, in the following manner: having marked a sheep or goat which is feeding farthest away from the flock, the thief awaits his opportunity till the shepherd’s back is turned, [191]when the animal is quickly captured. Placing his foot on the back of the neck near the head, and seizing it under the chin with his right hand, the thief breaks the animal’s neck by a sudden jerk; he then throws the body into a bush or in some dip in the ground to hide it, and walks away, watching from a distance. The shepherd, ignorant of the loss of one of his animals, goes on leisurely driving his flock before him, and when he is well out of sight the Māng-Garori removes the captured carcase to his encampment. Great care is taken that the skin, horns and hoofs should be immediately burnt so as to avoid detection. Their ostensible occupation is to trade in barren half-starved buffaloes and buffalo calves, or in country ponies. They also purchase from Gaoli herdsmen barren buffaloes, which they profess to be able to make fertile; if successful they return them for double the purchase-money, but if not, having obtained if possible some earnest-money, they abscond and sell the animals at a distance.3 Like the Bhāmtas, the Māng-Garoris, Major Gunthorpe states, make it a rule not to give a girl in marriage until the intended husband has proved himself an efficient thief. Mr. Gayer4 writes as follows of the caste: “I do not think Major Gunthorpe lays sufficient emphasis on the part taken by the women in crimes, for they apparently do by far the major part of the thieving, Sherring says the men never commit house-breaking and very seldom rob on the highway: he calls them ‘wanderers, showmen, jugglers and conjurors,’ and describes them as robbers who get their information by performing before the houses of rich bankers and others. Māng-Gārori5 women steal in markets and other places of public resort. They wait to see somebody put down his clothes or bag of rupees and watch till his attention is attracted elsewhere, when, walking up quietly between the article and its owner, they drop their petticoat either over or by it, and manage to transfer the stolen property into their basket while picking up the petticoat. If an unfavourable omen occurs on the way when the women set out to pilfer they place a stone on the ground and dash [192]another on to it saying, ‘If the obstacle is removed, break’; if the stone struck is broken, they consider that the obstacle portended by the unfavourable omen is removed from their path, and proceed on their way; but if not, they return. Stolen articles are often bartered at liquor-shops for drink, and the Kalārs act as receivers of stolen property for the Māng-Gāroris.”

The following are some particulars taken from an old account of the criminal Māngs;6 Their leader or headman was called the nāik and was elected by a majority of votes, though considerable regard was paid to heredity. The nāik’s person and property were alike inviolable; after a successful foray each of the gang contributed a quarter of his share to the nāik, and from the fund thus made up were defrayed the expenses of preparation, religious offerings and the triumphal feast. A pair of shoes were usually given to a Brāhman and alms to the poor. To each band was attached an informer, who was also receiver of the stolen goods. These persons were usually bangle- or perfume-sellers or jewellers. In this capacity they were admitted into the women’s apartments and so enabled to form a correct notion of the topography of a house and a shrewd guess as to the wealth of its inmates. Like all barbarous tribes and all persons addicted to criminal practices the Māngs were extremely superstitious. They never set out on an expedition on a Friday. After the birth of a child the mother and another woman stood on opposite sides of the cradle, and the former tossed her child to the other, commending it to the mercy of Jai Gopāl, and waited to receive it back in like manner in the name of Jai Govind. Both Gopāl and Govind are names of Krishna, The Māngs usually married young in life. If a girl happened to hang heavy on hand she was married at the age of puberty to the deity. In other words, she was attached as a prostitute to the temple of the god Khandoba or the goddess Yellama. Those belonging to the service of the latter were wont in the month of February to parade the streets in a state of utter nudity. When a bachelor wished to marry a widow [193]he was first united to a swallow-wort plant, and this was immediately dug up and transplanted, and withering away left him at liberty to marry the widow. If a lady survived the sorrow caused by the death of two or three husbands she could not again enter the holy state unless she consented to be married with a fowl under her armpit; the unfortunate bird being afterwards killed to appease the manes of her former consorts.

1 From a note by Mr. Hīra Lāl.

2 Times Press, Bombay, 1882.

3 Kennedy, Criminal Classes of the Bombay Presidency, p. 122.

4 Lectures on some Criminal Tribes of India.

5 This passage is quoted by Mr. Gayer from the Supplement to the Central Provinces Police Gazette of 24th January 1905.

6 Hutton’s Thugs, Dacoits and Gang-robbers of India (1857), pp. 164–168, quoting an account by Captain Barr.



Manihār.1—A small caste of pedlars and hawkers. In northern India the Manihārs are makers of glass bangles, and correspond to the Kachera caste of the Central Provinces. Mr. Nesfield remarks2 that the special industry of the Manihārs of the United Provinces is the making of glass bangles or bracelets. These are an indispensable adjunct to the domestic life of the Hindu woman; for the glass bangle is not worn for personal ornament, but as the badge of the matrimonial state, like the wedding-ring in Europe. But in the Central Provinces glass bangles are made by the Kacheras and the Muhammadan Turkāris or Sīsgars, and the Manihārs are petty hawkers of stationery and articles for the toilet, such as miniature looking-glasses, boxes, stockings, needles and thread, spangles, and imitation jewellery; and Hindu Jogis and others who take to this occupation are accustomed to give their caste as Manihār. In 1911 nearly 700 persons belonging to the caste were returned from the northern Districts of the Central Provinces. The Manihārs are nominally Muhammadans, but they retain many Hindu customs. At their weddings they erect a marriage-tent, anoint the couple with oil and turmeric and make them wear a kankan or wrist-band, to which is attached a small purse containing a little mustard-seed and a silver ring. The mustard is intended to scare away the evil spirits. When the marriage procession reaches the bride’s village it is met by her people, one of whom holds a bamboo in his hands and bars the advance of the procession. The bridegroom’s father thereupon makes a present of a rupee [194]to the village panchāyat, and his people are allowed to proceed. When the bridegroom reaches the bride’s house he finds her younger sister carrying a kalās or pot of water on her head; he drops a rupee into it and enters the house. The bride’s sister then comes holding above her head a small frame like a tāzia3 with a cocoanut core hanging inside. She raises the frame as high as she can to prevent the bridegroom from plucking out the cocoanut core, which, however, he succeeds in doing in the end. The girl applies powdered mehndi or henna to the little finger of the boy’s right hand, in return for which she receives a rupee and a piece of cloth. The Kāzi then recites verses from the Korān which the bridegroom repeats after him, and the bride does the same in her turn. This is the Nikāh or marriage proper, and before it takes place the bridegroom’s father must present a nose-ring to the bride. The parents also fix the Meher or dowry, which, however, is not a dowry proper, but a stipulation that if the bridegroom should put away his wife after marriage he will pay her a certain agreed sum. After the Nikāh the bridegroom is given some spices, which he grinds on a slab with a roller. He must do the grinding very slowly and gently so as to make no noise, or it is believed that the married life of the couple will be broken by quarrels. A widow is permitted to marry the younger brother of her deceased husband, but not his elder brother. The caste bury their dead with the head to the north. The corpse is first bathed and wrapped in a new white sheet, with another sheet over it, and is then laid on a cot or in a janāza or coffin. While it is being carried to the cemetery the bearers are changed every few steps, so that every man who accompanies the funeral may carry the corpse for a short distance. When it is lowered into the grave the sheet is taken off and given to a Fakīr or beggar. When the body is covered with earth the priest reads the funeral verses at a distance of forty steps from the grave. Feasts are given to the caste-fellows on the third, tenth, twentieth and fortieth days after the death. The Manihārs observe the Shabrāt festival by distributing to the caste-fellows [195]halua or a mixture of melted butter and flour. The Shabrāt is the middle night of the month Shabān, and Muhammad declared that on this night God registers the actions which every man will perform during the following year, and all those who are fated to die and the children who are to be born. Like Hindu widows the Manihār women break their bangles when their husband’s corpse is removed to the burial-ground. The Manihārs eat flesh, but not beef or pork; and they also abstain from alcoholic liquor. If a girl is seduced and made pregnant before marriage either by a man of the caste or an outsider, she remains in her father’s house until her child has been born, and may then be married either to her paramour or any other man of the caste by the simple repetition of the Nikāh or marriage verses, omitting all other ceremonies. The Manihārs will admit into their community converted Hindus belonging even to the lowest castes.

1 This article is based on papers by Rai Sāhib Nānakchand, B.A., Headmaster, Saugor High School, and Munshi Pyāre Lāl Misra of the Gazetteer office.

2 Brief View, p. 30.

3 The tāzias are ornamental representations of the tomb of Hussain, which the Muhammadans make at the Muharram festival.



Mannewār.1—A small tribe belonging to the south or Telugu-speaking portion of the Chānda District, where they mustered about 1600 persons in 1911. The home of the tribe is the Hyderābād State, where it numbers 22,000 persons, and the Mannewārs are said to have once been dominant over a part of that territory. The name is derived from a Telugu word mannem, meaning forest, while wār is the plural termination in Telugu, Mannewār thus signifying ‘the people of the forest.’ The tribe appear to be the inferior branch of the Koya Gonds, and they are commonly called Mannewār Koyas as opposed to the Koya Doras or the superior branch, Dora meaning ‘lord’ or master. The Koya Doras thus correspond to the Rāj-Gonds of the north of the Province and the Mannewār Koyas to the Dhur or ‘dust’ Gonds.2 The tribe is divided into three exogamous groups: the Nalugu Velpulu worshipping four gods, the Ayidu Velpulu worshipping five, and the Anu Velpulu six. A man must marry a woman of one of the divisions worshipping a different number of gods from his [196]own, but the Mannewārs do not appear to know the names of these gods, and consequently no veneration can be paid to them at present, and they survive solely for the purpose of regulating marriage. When a betrothal is made a day is fixed for taking an omen. In the early morning the boy who is to be married has his face washed and turmeric smeared on his feet, and is seated on a wooden seat inside the house. The elders of the village then proceed outside it towards the rising sun and watch for any omen given by an animal or bird crossing their path. If this is good the marriage is celebrated, and if bad the match is broken off. In the former case five of the elders take their food on returning from the search for the omen and immediately proceed to the bride’s village. Here they are met by the Pesāmuda or village priest, and stay for three days, when the amount of the dowry is settled and a date fixed for the wedding. The marriage ceremony resembles that of the low Telugu castes. The couple are seated on a plough-yoke, and coloured rice is thrown on to their heads, and the bridegroom ties the mangalya or bead necklace, which is the sign of marriage, round the neck of the bride. If a girl is deformed, or has some other drawback which prevents her from being sought in marriage, she is given away with her sister to a first cousin3 or some other near relative, the two sisters being married to him together. A widow may marry any man of the tribe except her first husband’s brothers. If a man takes a widow to his house without marrying her he is fined three rupees, while for adultery with a married woman the penalty is twenty rupees. A divorce can always be obtained, but if the husband demands it he is mulcted of twenty rupees by the caste committee, while a wife who seeks a divorce must pay ten rupees. The Mannewārs make an offering of a fowl and some liquor to the ploughshare on the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. After the picking of the flowers of the mahua4 they worship that tree, offering to it some of the liquor distilled from the new flowers, with a fowl and a goat. This is known as the Burri festival. At the Holi feast the Mannewārs make two human figures to represent Kāmi and Rati, or the god of [197]love and his wife. The male figure is then thrown on to the Holi fire with a live chicken or an egg. This may be a reminiscence of a former human sacrifice, which was a common custom in many parts of the world at the spring festival. The caste usually bury the dead, but are beginning to adopt cremation. They do not employ Brāhmans for their ceremonies and eat all kinds of food, including the flesh of pigs, fowls and crocodiles, but in view of their having nominally adopted Hinduism, they abstain from beef. [198]

1 This article is based on a note furnished by Mr. M. Aziz, Officiating Nāib-Tahsīldār, Sironcha.

2 From a glossary published by Mr. Gupta, Assistant Director of Ethnology for India.

3 Generally the paternal aunt’s son.

4 Bassia latifolia.



List of Paragraphs

1. Numerical statistics

Marātha, Mahrātta.—The military caste of southern India which manned the armies of Sivaji, and of the Peshwa and other princes of the Marātha confederacy. In the Central Provinces the Marāthas numbered 34,000 persons in 1911, of whom Nāgpur contained 9000 and Wardha 8000, while the remainder were distributed over Raipur, Hoshangābād and Nimār. In Berār their strength was 60,000 persons, the total for the combined province being thus 94,000. The caste is found in large numbers in Bombay and Hyderābād, and in 1901 the India Census tables show a total of not less than five million persons belonging to it.

2. Double meaning of the term Marātha

It is difficult to avoid confusion in the use of the term Marātha, which signifies both an inhabitant of the area in which the Marāthi language is spoken, and a member of the caste to which the general name has in view of their historical importance been specifically applied. The native name for the Marāthi-speaking country is Mahārāshtra, which has been variously interpreted as ‘The great country’ or ‘The country of the Mahārs.’1 A third explanation of the name [199]is from the Rāshtrakūta dynasty which was dominant in this area for some centuries after A.D. 750. The name Rāshtrakūta was contracted into Rattha, and with the prefix of Mahā or Great might evolve into the term Marātha. The Rāshtrakūtas have been conjecturally identified with the Rāthor Rājpūts. The Nāsik Gazetteer2 states that in 246 B.C. Mahāratta is mentioned as one of the places to which Asoka sent an embassy, and Mahārashtraka is recorded in a Chālukyan inscription of A.D. 580 as including three provinces and 99,000 villages. Several other references are given in Sir J. Campbell’s erudite note, and the name is therefore without doubt ancient. But the Marāthas as a people do not seem to be mentioned before the thirteenth or fourteenth century.3 The antiquity of the name would appear to militate against the derivation from the Rāshtrakūta dynasty, which did not become prominent till much later, and the most probable meaning of Mahārāshtra would therefore seem to be ‘The country of the Mahārs.’ Mahāratta and Marātha are presumably derivatives from Mahārāshtra.

3. Origin and position of the caste

The Marāthas are a caste formed from military service, and it seems probable that they sprang mainly from the peasant population of Kunbis, though at what period they were formed into a separate caste has not yet been determined. Grant-Duff mentions several of their leading families as holding offices under the Muhammadan rulers of Bījapur and Ahmadnagar in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as the Nimbhālkar, Ghārpure and Bhonsla;4 and presumably their clansmen served in the armies of those states. But whether or no the designation of Marātha had been previously used by them, it first became prominent during the period of Sivaji’s guerilla warfare against Aurāngzeb. The Marāthas claim a Rājpūt origin, and several of their clans have the names of Rājpūt tribes, as Chauhān, Panwār, Solanki and Suryavansi. In 1836 Mr. Enthoven states,5 the Sesodia Rāna of Udaipur, the head of the purest Rājpūt house, was satisfied from inquiries conducted by an [200]agent that the Bhonslas and certain other families had a right to be recognised as Rājpūts. Colonel Tod states that Sivaji was descended from a Rājpūt prince Sujunsi, who was expelled from Mewār to avoid a dispute about the succession about A.D. 1300. Sivaji is shown as 13th in descent from Sujunsi. Similarly the Bhonslas of Nāgpur were said to derive their origin from one Bunbir, who was expelled from Udaipur about 1541, having attempted to usurp the kingdom.6 As Rājpūt dynasties ruled in the Deccan for some centuries before the Muhammadan conquest, it seems reasonable to suppose that a Rājpūt aristocracy may have taken root there. This was Colonel Tod’s opinion, who wrote: “These kingdoms of the south as well as the north were held by Rājpūt sovereigns, whose offspring, blending with the original population, produced that mixed race of Marāthas inheriting with the names the warlike propensities of their ancestors, but who assume the names of their abodes as titles, as the Nimalkars, the Phalkias, the Patunkars, instead of their tribes of Jādon, Tüār, Püār, etc.”7 This statement would, however, apply only to the leading houses and not to the bulk of the Marātha caste, who appear to be mainly derived from the Kunbis. In Sholāpur the Marāthas and Kunbis eat together, and the Kunbis are said to be bastard Marāthas.8 In Satāra the Kunbis have the same division into 96 clans as the Marāthas have, and many of the same surnames.9 The writer of the Satara Gazetteer says:10 “The census of 1851 included the Marāthas with the Kunbis, from whom they do not form a separate caste. Some Marātha families may have a larger strain of northern or Rājpūt blood than the Kunbis, but this is not always the case. The distinction between Kunbis and Marāthas is almost entirely social, the Marāthas as a rule being better off, and preferring even service as a constable or messenger to husbandry.” Exactly the same state of affairs prevails in the Central Provinces and Berār, where the body of the caste are commonly known as Marātha Kunbis. In Bombay the Marāthas will take daughters from the Kunbis in marriage for their sons, though they will not give their daughters [201]in return. But a Kunbi who has got on in the world and become wealthy may by sufficient payment get his sons married into Marātha families, and even be adopted as a member of the caste.11 In 1798 Colonel Tone, who commanded a regiment of the Peshwa’s army, wrote12 of the Marāthas: “The three great tribes which compose the Marātha caste are the Kunbi or farmer, the Dhangar or shepherd, and the Goāla or cowherd; to this original cause may perhaps be ascribed that great simplicity of manner which distinguishes the Marātha people.”

Statue of Marātha leader, Bīmbāji Bhonsla, in armour

Statue of Marātha leader, Bīmbāji Bhonsla, in armour

It seems then most probable that, as already stated, the Marātha caste was of purely military origin, constituted from the various castes of Mahārāshtra who adopted military service, though some of the leading families may have had Rājpūts for their ancestors. Sir D. Ibbetson thought that a similar relation existed in past times between the Rājpūts and Jāts, the landed aristocracy of the Jāt caste being gradually admitted to Rājpūt rank. The Khandaits or swordsmen of Orissa are a caste formed in the same manner from military service. In the Imperial Gazetteer Sir H. Risley suggests that the Marātha people were of Scythian origin:

“The physical type of the people of this region accords fairly well with this theory, while the arguments derived from language and religion do not seem to conflict with it.... On this view the wide-ranging forays of the Marāthas, their guerilla methods of warfare, their unscrupulous dealings with friend and foe, their genius for intrigue and their consequent failure to build up an enduring dominion, might well be regarded as inherited from their Scythian ancestors.”

4. Exogamous clans

In the Central Provinces the Marāthas are divided into 96 exogamous clans, known as the Chhānava Kule, which marry with one another. During the period when the Bhonsla family were rulers of Nāgpur they constituted a sort of inner circle, consisting of seven of the leading clans, with whom alone they intermarried; these are known as the Sātghare or Seven Houses, and consist of the Bhonsla, Gūjar, Ahirrao, Mahādik, Sirke, Palke and Mohte clans. [202]These houses at one time formed an endogamous group, marrying only among themselves, but recently the restriction has been relaxed, and they have arranged marriages with other Marātha families. It may be noted that the present representatives of the Bhonsla family are of the Gūjar clan to which the last Rāja of Nāgpur, Raghūji III., belonged prior to his adoption. Several of the clans, as already noted, have Rājpūt sept names; and some are considered to be derived from those of former ruling dynasties; as Chālke, from the Chālukya Rājpūt kings of the Deccan and Carnatic; More, who may represent a branch of the great Maurya dynasty of northern India; Sālunke, perhaps derived from the Solanki kings of Gujarāt; and Yādav, the name of the kings of Deogiri or Daulatābād.13 Others appear to be named after animals or natural objects, as Sinde from sindi the date-palm tree, Ghorpade from ghorpad the iguana; or to be of a titular nature, as Kāle black, Pāndhre white, Bhāgore a renegade, Jagthāp renowned, and so on. The More, Nimbhālkar, Ghātge, Māne, Ghorpade, Dafle, Jādav and Bhonsla clans are the oldest, and held prominent positions in the old Muhammadan kingdoms of Bījapur and Ahmadnagar. The Nimbhālkar family were formerly Panwār Rājpūts, and took the name of Nimbhālkar from their ancestral village Nimbālik. The Ghorpade family are an offshoot of the Bhonslas, and obtained their present name from the exploit of one of their ancestors, who scaled a fort in the Konkan, previously deemed impregnable, by passing a cord round the body of a ghorpad or iguana.14 A noticeable trait of these Marātha houses is the fondness with which they clung to the small estates or villages in the Deccan in which they had originally held the office of a patel or village headman as a watan or hereditary right, even after they had carved out for themselves principalities and states in other parts of India. The present Bhonsla Rāja takes his title from the village of Deor in the Poona country. In former times we read of the Rāja of Satāra clinging to the watans he had inherited from Sivaji after he had lost his crown in all but the name; Sindhia was always termed [203]patel or village headman in the revenue accounts of the villages he acquired in Nimār; while it is said that Holkar and the Panwār of Dhār fought desperately after the British conquest to recover the pateli rights of Deccan villages which had belonged to their ancestors.15

5. Other subdivisions

Besides the 96 clans there are now in the Central Provinces some local subcastes who occupy a lower position and do not intermarry with the Marāthas proper. Among these are the Deshkar or ‘Residents of the country’; the Waindesha or those of Berār and Khāndesh; the Gangthade or those dwelling on the banks of the Godāvari and Wainganga; and the Ghātmāthe or residents of the Mahādeo plateau in Berār. It is also stated that the Marāthas are divided into the Khāsi or ‘pure’ and the Kharchi or the descendants of handmaids. In Bombay the latter are known as the Akarmāshes or 11 māshas, meaning that as twelve māshas make a tola, a twelfth part of them is alloy.

6. Social customs

A man must not marry in his own clan or that of his mother. A sister’s son may be married to a brother’s daughter, but not vice versa. Girls are commonly married between five and twelve years of age, and the ceremony resembles that of the Kunbis. The bridegroom goes to the bride’s house riding on horseback and covered with a black blanket When a girl first becomes mature, usually after marriage, the Marathas perform the Shāntik ceremony. The girl is secluded for four days, after which she is bathed and puts on new clothes and dresses her hair and a feast is given to the caste-fellows. Sometimes the bridegroom comes and is asked whether he has visited his wife before she became mature, and if he confesses that he has done so a small fine is imposed on him. Such cases are, however, believed to be rare. The Marāthas proper forbid widow-marriage, but the lower groups allow it. If a maiden is seduced by one of the caste she may be married to him as if she were a widow, a fine being imposed on her family; but if she goes wrong with an outsider she is finally expelled. Divorce is not ostensibly allowed but may be concluded by agreement between the parties. A wife who commits adultery is cast off and expelled from the caste. The caste burn their [204]dead when they can afford it and perform the shrāddh ceremony in the month of Kunwār (September), when oblations are offered to the dead and a feast is given to the caste-fellows. Sometimes a tomb is erected as a memorial to the dead, but without his name, and is surmounted usually by an image of Mahādeo. The caste eat the flesh of clean animals and of fowls and wild pig, and drink liquor. Their rules about food are liberal like those of the Rājpūts, a too great stringency being no doubt in both cases incompatible with the exigencies of military service. They make no difference between food cooked with or without water, and will accept either from a Brāhman, Rājpūt, Tirole Kunbi, Lingāyat Bania or Phūlmāli.

The Marāthas proper observe the parda system with regard to their women, and will go to the well and draw water themselves rather than permit their wives to do so. The women wear ornaments only of gold or glass and not of silver or any baser metal. They are not permitted to spin cotton as being an occupation of the lower classes. The women are tattooed in the centre of the forehead with a device resembling a trident. The men commonly wear a turban made of many folds of cloth twisted into a narrow rope and large gold rings with pearls in the upper part of the ear. Like the Rājpūts they often have their hair long and wear beards and whiskers. They assume the sacred thread and invest a boy with it when he is seven or eight years old or on his marriage. Till then they let the hair grow on the front of his head, and when the thread ceremony is performed they cut this off and let the choti or scalp-lock grow at the back. In appearance the men are often tall and well-built and of a light wheat-coloured complexion.

7. Religion

The principal deity of the Marāthas is Khandoba, a warrior incarnation of Mahādeo. He is supposed to have been born in a field of millet near Poona and to have led the people against the Muhammadans in early times. He had a watch-dog who warned him of the approach of his enemies, and he is named after the khanda or sword which he always carried. In Bombay16 he is represented on horseback with [205]two women, one of the Bania caste, his wedded wife, in front of him, and another, a Dhangarin, his kept mistress, behind. He is considered the tutelary deity of the Marātha country, and his symbol is a bag of turmeric powder known as bhandār. The caste worship Khandoba on Sundays with rice, flowers and incense, and also on the 21st day of Māgh (January), which is called Champa Sashthi and is his special festival. On this day they will catch hold of any dog, and after adorning him with flowers and turmeric give him a good feed and let him go again. The Marāthas are generally kind to dogs and will not injure them. At the Dasahra festival the caste worship their horses and swords and go out into the field to see a blue-jay in memory of the fact that the Marātha marauding expeditions started on Dasahra. On coming back they distribute to each other leaves of the shami tree (Bauhinia racemosa) as a substitute for gold. It was formerly held to be fitting among the Hindus that the warrior should ride a horse (geldings being unknown) and the zamīndār or landowner a mare, as more suitable to a man of peace. The warriors celebrated their Dasahra, and worshipped their horses on the tenth day of the light fortnight of Kunwār (September), while the cultivators held their festival and worshipped their mares on the ninth day. It is recorded that the great Rāghuji Bhonsla, the first Rāja of Nāgpur, held his Dasahra on the ninth day, in order to proclaim the fact that he was by family an agriculturist and only incidentally a man of arms.17

8. Present position of the caste

The Marāthas present the somewhat melancholy spectacle of an impoverished aristocratic class attempting to maintain some semblance of their former position, though they no longer have the means to do so. They flourished during two or three centuries of almost continuous war, and became a wealthy and powerful caste, but they find a difficulty in turning their hands to the arts of peace. Sir R. Craddock writes of them in Nāgpur:

“Among the Marāthas a large number represent connections of the Bhonsla family, related by marriage or by illegitimate descent to that house. A considerable proportion of the Government political pensioners are Marāthas. [206]Many of them own villages or hold tenant land, but as a rule they are extravagant in their living; and several of the old Marātha nobility have fallen very much in the world. Pensions diminish with each generation, but the expenditure shows no corresponding decrease. The sons are brought up to no employment and the daughters are married with lavish pomp and show. The native army does not much attract them, and but few are educated well enough for the dignified posts in the civil employ of Government. It is a question whether their pride of race will give way before the necessity of earning their livelihood soon enough for them to maintain or regain some of their former position. Otherwise those with the largest landed estates may be saved by the intervention of Government, but the rest must gradually deteriorate till the dignities of their class have become a mere memory. The humbler members of the caste find their employment as petty contractors or traders, private servants, Government peons, sowārs and hangers-on in the retinue of the more important families.

“What18 little display his means afford a Marātha still tries to maintain. Though he may be clad in rags at home, he has a spare dress which he himself washes and keeps with great care and puts on when he goes to pay a visit. He will hire a boy to attend him with a lantern at night, or to take care of his shoes when he goes to a friend’s house and hold them before him when he comes out. Well-to-do Marāthas have usually in their service a Brāhman clerk known as divānji or minister, who often takes advantage of his master’s want of education to defraud him. A Marātha seldom rises early or goes out in the morning. He will get up at seven or eight o’clock, a late hour for a Hindu, and attend to business if he has any or simply idle about chewing or smoking tobacco and talking till ten o’clock. He will then bathe and dress in a freshly-washed cloth and bow before the family gods which the priest has already worshipped. He will dine, chew betel and smoke tobacco and enjoy a short midday rest. Rising at three, he will play cards, dice or chess, and in the evening will go out walking or riding or [207]pay a visit to a friend. He will come back at eight or nine and go to bed at ten or eleven. But Marāthas who have estates to manage lead regular, fairly busy lives.”

9. Nature of the Marātha insurrection

Sir D. Ibbetson drew attention to the fact that the rising of the Marāthas against the Muhammadans was almost the only instance in Indian history of what might correctly be called a really national movement. In other cases, as that of the Sikhs, though the essential motive was perhaps of the same nature, it was obscured by the fact that its ostensible tendency was religious. The gurus of the Sikhs did not call on their followers to fight for their country but for a new religion. This was only in accordance with the Hindu intellect, to which the idea of nationality has hitherto been foreign, while its protests against both alien and domestic tyrannies tend to take the shape of a religious revolt. A similar tendency is observable even in the case of the Marāthas, for the rising was from its inception largely engineered by the Marātha Brāhmans, who on its success hastened to annex for themselves a leading position in the new Poona state. And it has been recorded that in calling his countrymen to arms, Sivaji did not ask them to defend their hearths and homes or wives and children, but to rally for the protection of the sacred persons of Brāhmans and cows.

10. Marātha women in past times

Although the Marāthas have now in imitation of the Rājpūts and Muhammadans adopted the parda system, this is not a native custom, and women have played quite an important part in their history. The women of the household have also exercised a considerable influence and their opinions are treated with respect by the men. Several instances occur in which women of high rank have successfully acted as governors and administrators. In the Bhonsla family the Princess Bāka Bāi, widow of Raghūji II., is a conspicuous instance, while the famous or notorious Rāni of Jhānsi is another case of a Marātha lady who led her troops in person, and was called the best man on the native side in the Mutiny.

11. The Marātha horseman

This article may conclude with one or two extracts to give an idea of the way in which the Marātha soldiery took the field. Grant Duff describes the troopers as follows: [208]

“The Marātha horsemen are commonly dressed in a pair of light breeches covering the knee, a turban which many of them fasten by passing a fold of it under the chin, a frock of quilted cotton, and a cloth round the waist, with which they generally gird on their swords in preference to securing them with their belts. The horseman is armed with a sword and shield; a proportion in each body carry matchlocks, but the great national weapon is the spear, in the use of which and the management of their horse they evince both grace and dexterity. The spearmen have generally a sword, and sometimes a shield; but the latter is unwieldy and only carried in case the spear should be broken. The trained spearmen may always be known by their riding very long, the ball of the toe touching the stirrup; some of the matchlockmen and most of the Brāhmans ride very short and ungracefully. The bridle consists of a single headstall of cotton-rope, with a small but very severe flexible bit”

12. Cavalry in the field

The following account of the Marātha cavalry is given in General Hislop’s Summary of the Marātha and Pindāri Campaigns of 1817–1819:

“The Marāthas possess extraordinary skill in horsemanship, and so intimate an acquaintance with their horses, that they can make their animals do anything, even in full speed, in halting, wheeling, etc.; they likewise use the spear with remarkable dexterity, sometimes in full gallop, grasping their spears short and quickly sticking the point in the ground; still holding the handles, they turn their horse suddenly round it, thus performing on the point of a spear as on a pivot the same circle round and round again. Their horses likewise never leave the particular class or body to which they belong; so that if the rider should be knocked off, away gallops the animal after its fellows, never separating itself from the main body. Every Marātha brings his own horse and his own arms with him to the field, and possibly in the interest they possess in this private equipment we shall find their usual shyness to expose themselves or even to make a bold vigorous attack. But if armies or troops could be frightened by appearances these horses of the Marāthas would dishearten the bravest, actually darkening the plains with their numbers and clouding the horizon with [209]dust for miles and miles around. A little fighting, however, goes a great way with them, as with most others of the native powers in India.”

On this account the Marāthas were called razāh-bazān or lance-wielders. One Muhammadan historian says: “They so use the lance that no cavalry can cope with them. Some 20,000 or 30,000 lances are held up against their enemy so close together as not to leave a span between their heads. If horsemen try to ride them down the points of the spears are levelled at the assailants and they are unhorsed. While cavalry are charging them they strike their lances against each other and the noise so frightens the horses of the enemy that they turn round and bolt.”19 The battle-cries of the Marāthas were, ‘Har, Har Mahādeo,’ and ‘Gopāl, Gopāl.’20

13. Military administration

An interesting description of the internal administration of the Marātha cavalry is contained in the letter on the Marāthas by Colonel Tone already quoted. But his account must refer to a period of declining efficiency and cannot represent the military system at its best:

“In the great scale of rank and eminence which is one peculiar feature of Hindu institutions the Marātha holds a very inferior situation, being just removed one degree above those castes which are considered absolutely unclean. He is happily free from the rigorous observances as regards food which fetter the actions of the higher castes. He can eat of all kinds of food with the exception of beef; can dress his meal at all times and seasons; can partake of all victuals dressed by any caste superior to his own; washing and praying are not indispensable in his order and may be practised or omitted at pleasure. The three great tribes which compose the Marātha caste are the Kunbi or farmer, the Dhangar or shepherd and the Goāla or cowherd; to this original cause may perhaps be ascribed that great simplicity of manner which distinguishes the Marātha people. Homer mentions princesses going in person to the fountain to wash their household linen. I can affirm having seen the daughters of a prince who was able to bring an army into the field much larger than the whole Greek confederacy, [210]making bread with their own hands and otherwise employed in the ordinary business of domestic housewifery. I have seen one of the most powerful chiefs of the Empire, after a day of action, assisting in kindling a fire to keep himself warm during the night, and sitting on the ground on a spread saddle-cloth dictating to his secretaries.

“The chief military force of the Marāthas consists in their cavalry, which may be divided into four distinct classes: First the Khāsi Pagah or household forces of the prince; these are always a fine well-appointed body, the horses excellent, being the property of the Sirkār, who gives a monthly allowance to each trooper of the value of about eight rupees. The second class are the cavalry furnished by the Sillādārs,21 who contract to supply a certain number of horse on specified terms, generally about Rs. 35 a month, including the trooper’s pay. The third and most numerous description are volunteers, who join the camp bringing with them their own horse and accoutrements; their pay is generally from Rs. 40 to Rs. 50 a month in proportion to the value of their horse. There is a fourth kind of native cavalry called Pindāris, who are mere marauders, serve without any pay and subsist but by plunder, a fourth part of which they give to the Sirkār; but these are so very licentious a body that they are not employed but in one or two of the Marātha services.

“The troops collected in this manner are under no discipline whatever and engage for no specific period, but quit the army whenever they please; with the exception of furnishing a picquet while in camp, they do no duty but in the day of battle.

“The Marātha cavalry is always irregularly and badly paid; the household troops scarcely ever receive money, but are furnished with a daily allowance of coarse flour and some other ingredients from the bazār which just enable them to exist. The Sillādār is very nearly as badly [211]situated. In his arrangements with the State he has allotted to him a certain proportion of jungle where he pastures his cattle; here he and his family reside, and his sole occupation when not on actual service is increasing his Pagah or troop by breeding out of his mares, of which the Marātha cavalry almost entirely consist. There are no people in the world who understand the method of rearing and multiplying the breed of cattle equal to the Marāthas. It is by no means uncommon for a Sillādār to enter a service with one mare and in a few years be able to muster a very respectable Pagah. They have many methods of rendering the animal prolific; they back their colts much earlier than we do and they are consequently more valuable as they come sooner on the effective strength.

“When called upon for actual service the Sillādār is obliged to give muster. Upon this occasion it is always necessary that the Brāhman who takes it should have a bribe; and indeed the Hāzri, as the muster is termed, is of such a nature that it could not pass by any fair or honourable means. Not only any despicable tattus are substituted in the place of horses but animals are borrowed to fill up the complement. Heel-ropes and grain-bags are produced as belonging to cattle supposed to be at grass; in short every mode is practised to impose on the Sirkār, which in turn reimburses itself by irregular and bad payments; for it is always considered if the Sillādārs receive six months’ arrears out of the year that they are exceedingly well paid. The Volunteers who join the camp are still worse situated, as they have no collective force, and money is very seldom given in a Marātha State without being extorted. In one word, the native cavalry are the worst-paid body of troops in the world. But there is another grand error in this mode of raising troops which is productive of the worst effects. Every man in a Marātha camp is totally independent; he is the proprietor of the horse he rides, which he is never inclined to risk, since without it he can get no service. This single circumstance destroys all enterprise and spirit in the soldier, whose sole business, instead of being desirous of distinguishing himself, is to keep out of the way of danger; for notwithstanding [212]every horseman on entering a service has a certain value put upon his horse, yet should he lose it even in action he never receives any compensation or at least none proportioned to his loss. If at any time a Sillādār is disgusted with the service he can go away without meeting any molestation even though in the face of an enemy. In fact the pay is in general so shamefully irregular that a man is justified in resorting to any measure, however apparently unbecoming, to attain it. It is also another very curious circumstance attending this service that many great Sillādārs have troops in the pay of two or three chiefs at the same time, who are frequently at open war with each other.

14. Sitting Dharna

“To recover an arrear of pay there is but one known mode which is universally adopted in all native services, the Mughal as well as the Marātha; this is called Dharna,22 which consists in putting the debtor, be he who he will, into a state of restraint or imprisonment, until satisfaction be given or the money actually obtained. Any person in the Sirkār’s service has a right to demand his pay of the Prince or his minister, and to sit in Dharna if it be not given; nor will he meet with the least hindrance in doing so; for none would obey an order that interfered with the Dharna, as it is a common cause; nor does the soldier incur the slightest charge of mutiny for his conduct, or suffer in the smallest manner in the opinion of his Chief, so universal is the custom. The Dharna is sometimes carried to very violent lengths and may either be executed on the Prince or his minister indifferently, with the same effect; as the Chief always makes it a point of honour not to eat or drink while his Diwān is in duress; sometimes the Dharna lasts for many days, during which time the party upon whom it is exercised is not suffered to eat or drink or wash or pray, or in short is not permitted to move from the spot where he sits, which is frequently bare-headed in the sun, until the money or security be given; so general is this mode of recovery that I suppose the Marātha Chiefs may be said to be nearly one-half of their time in a state of Dharna. [213]

15. The infantry

“In the various Marātha services there are very little more than a bare majority who are Marāthas by caste, and very few instances occur of their ever entering into the infantry at all. The sepoys in the pay of the different princes are recruited in Hindustān, and principally of the Rājpūt and Pūrbia caste; these are perhaps the finest race of men in the world for figure and appearance; of lofty stature, strong, graceful and athletic; of acute feelings, high military pride, quick, apprehensive, brave, prudent and economic; at the same time it must be confessed they are impatient of discipline, and naturally inclined to mutiny. They are mere soldiers of fortune and serve only for their pay. There are also a great number of Musalmāns who serve in the different Marātha armies, some of whom have very great commands.

16. Character of the Marātha armies

“The Marātha cavalry at times make very long and rapid marches, in which they do not suffer themselves to be interrupted by the monsoon or any violence of weather. In very pressing exigencies it is incredible the fatigue a Marātha horseman will endure; frequently many days pass without his enjoying one regular meal, but he depends entirely for subsistence on the different corn-fields through which the army passes: a few heads of juāri, which he chafes in his hands while on horseback, will serve him for the day; his horse subsists on the same fare, and with the addition of opium, which the Marāthas frequently administer to their cattle, is enabled to perform incredible marches.”

The above analysis of the Marātha troops indicates that their real character was that of freebooting cavalry, largely of the same type as, though no doubt greatly superior in tone and discipline to the Pindāris. Like them they lived by plundering the country. “The Marāthas,” Elphinstone remarked, “are excellent foragers. Every morning at daybreak long lines of men on small horses and ponies are seen issuing from their camps in all directions, who return before night loaded with fodder for the cattle, with firewood torn down from houses, and grain dug up from the pits where it had been concealed by the villagers; while other detachments go to a distance for some days and collect proportionately [214]larger supplies of the same kind.”23 They could thus dispense with a commissariat, and being nearly all mounted were able to make extraordinarily long marches, and consequently to carry out effectively surprise attacks and when repulsed to escape injury in the retreat. Even at Pānīpat where their largest regular force took the field under Sadāsheo Rao Bhao, he had 70,000 regular and irregular cavalry and only 15,000 infantry, of whom 9000 were hired sepoys under a Muhammadan leader. The Marāthas were at their best in attacking the slow-moving and effeminate Mughal armies, while during their period of national ascendancy under the Peshwa there was no strong military power in India which could oppose their forays. When they were by the skill of their opponents at length brought to a set battle, their fighting qualities usually proved to be distinctly poor. At Pānīpat they lost the day by a sudden panic and flight after Ibrahīm Khān Gārdi had obtained for them a decided advantage; while at Argaon and Assaye their performances were contemptible. After the recovery from Pānīpat and the rise of the independent Marātha states, the assistance of European officers was invoked to discipline and train the soldiery.24 [215]

1 Sir H. Risley’s India Census Report (1901), Ethnographic Appendices, p. 93.

2 P. 48, footnote.

3 Nāsik Gazetteer, ibidem. Elphinstone’s History, p. 246.

4 The proper spelling is Bhosle, but Bhonsla is adopted in deference to established usage.

5 Bombay Census Report (1901), pp. 184–185.

6 Rājasthān, i. 269.

7 Ibidem, ii. 420.

8 Sholapur Gazetteer, p. 87.

9 Satāra Gazetteer, p. 64.

10 Ibidem, p. 75.

11 Bombay Census Report (1907), ibidem.

12 Letter on the Marāthas (India Office Tracts).

13 Satāra Gazetteer, p. 75.

14 Grant-Duff, 4th edition (1878), vol. i. pp. 70–72.

15 Forsyth, Nimār Settlement Report.

16 Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xviii. part i. pp. 413–414.

17 Elliott, Hoshangābād Settlement Report.

18 The following description is taken from the Ethnographic Appendices to Sir H.H. Risley’s India Census Report of 1901.

19 Irvine’s Army of the Mughals, p. 82.

20 Ibidem, p. 232. Gopāl is a name of Krishna.

21 Lit. armour-bearers. Colonel Tone writes: “I apprehend from the meaning of this term that it was formerly the custom of this nation, as was the case in Europe, to appear in armour. I have frequently seen a kind of coat-of-mail worn by the Marātha horsemen, known as a beuta, which resembles our ancient hauberk; it is made of chain work, interlinked throughout, fits close to the body and adapts itself to all its motions.”

22 In order to obtain redress by Dharna the creditor or injured person would sit starving himself outside his debtor’s door, and if he died the latter would be held to have committed a mortal sin and would be haunted by his ghost; see also article on Bhāt. The account here given must be exaggerated.

23 Elphinstone’s History, 7th ed. p. 748.

24 Ibidem, p. 753.



[Bibliography: Mr. R. Greeven’s Knights of the Broom, Benāres 1894 (pamphlet); Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Bhangi; Sir H. Risley’s Tribes and Castes, art. Hari; Sir E. Maclagan’s Punjab Census Report, 1891 (Sweeper Sects); Sir D. Ibbetson’s Punjab Census Report, 1881 (art. Chuhra); Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarāt, Mr. Bhimbhai Kirparam.]

List of Paragraphs

1. Introductory notice

Mehtar, Bhangi, Hari,1 Dom, Lālbegi.—The caste of sweepers and scavengers. In 1911 persons returning themselves as Mehtar, Bhangi and Dom were separately classified, and the total of all three was only 30,000. In this Province they generally confine themselves to their hereditary occupation of scavenging, and are rarely met with outside the towns and large villages. In most localities the supply of sweepers does not meet the demand. The case is quite different in northern India, where the sweeper castes—the Chuhra in the Punjab, the Bhangi in the United Provinces and the Dom in Bengal—are all of them of great numerical strength. With these castes only a small proportion are employed on scavengers’ work and the rest are labourers [216]like the Chamārs and Mahārs of the Central Provinces. The present sweeper caste is made up of diverse elements, and the name Mehtar, generally applied to it, is a title meaning a prince or leader. Its application to the caste, the most abject and despised in the Hindu community, is perhaps partly ironical; but all the low castes have honorific titles, which are used as a method of address either from ordinary politeness or by those requiring some service, on the principle, as the Hindus say, that you may call an ass your uncle if you want him to do something for you. The regular caste of sweepers in northern India are the Bhangis, whose name is derived by Mr. Crooke from the Sanskrit bhanga, hemp, in allusion to the drunken habits of the caste. In support of this derivation he advances the Beria custom of calling their leaders Bhangi or hemp-drinker as a title of honour.2 In Mr. Greeven’s account also, Lālbeg, the patron saint of the sweepers, is described as intoxicated with the hemp drug on two occasions.3 Mr. Bhīmbhai Kirpārām suggests4 that Bhangia means broken, and is applied to the sweepers because they split bamboos. In Kaira, he states, the regular trade of the Bhangias is the plaiting of baskets and other articles of split bamboo, and in that part of Gujarāt if a Koli is asked to split a bamboo he will say, ‘Am I to do Bhangia’s work?’ The derivation from the hemp-plant is, however, the more probable. In the Punjab, sweepers are known as Chuhra, and this, name has been derived from their business of collecting and sweeping up scraps (chūra-jhārna) Similarly, in Bombay they are known as Olganas or scrap-eaters. The Bengal name Hāri is supposed to come from haddi, a bone; the Hāri is the bone-gatherer, and was familiar to early settlers of Calcutta under the quaint designation of the ‘harry-wench,’5 In the Central Provinces sections of the Ghasia, Mahār and Dom castes will do sweepers’ work, and are therefore amalgamated with the Mehtars. The caste is thus of mixed constitution, and also forms a refuge for persons expelled from their own societies for social offences. But though called by different names, [217]the sweeper community in most provinces appears to have the same stock of traditions and legends. The name of Mehtar is now generally employed, and has therefore been taken as the designation of the caste.

2. Caste subdivisions

Mr. Greeven gives seven main subdivisions, of which the Lālbegis or the followers of Lālbeg, the patron saint of sweepers, are the most important. The Rāwats appear to be an aristocratic subdivision of the Lālbegis, their name being a corruption of the Sanskrit Rājpūtra, a prince. The Shaikh Mehtars are the only real Muhammadan branch, for though the Lālbegis worship a Musalmān saint they remain Hindus. The Hāris or bone-gatherers, as already stated, are the sweepers of Bengal. The Helas may either be those who carry baskets of sweepings, or may derive their name from hela, a cry; and in that case they are so called as performing the office of town-criers, a function which the Bhangi usually still discharges in northern India6. The other subcastes in his list are the Dhānuks or bowmen and the Bānsphors or cleavers of bamboos. In the Central Provinces the Shaikh Mehtars belong principally to Nāgpur, and another subcaste, the Makhia, is also found in the Marātha Districts and in Berar; those branches of the Ghasia and Dom castes who consent to do scavengers’ work now form separate subcastes of Mehtars in the same locality, and another group are called Narnolia, being said to take their name from a place called Narnol in the Punjab. The Lālbegis are often considered here as Muhammadans rather than Hindus, and bury their dead. In Saugor the sweepers are said to be divided into Lālbegis or Muhammadans and Doms or Hindus. The Lālbegi, Dom or Dumar and the Hela are the principal subcastes of the north of the Province, and Chuhra Mehtars are found in Chhattīsgarh. Each subcaste is divided into a number of exogamous sections named after plants and animals.

3. Social organisation

In Benāres each subdivision, Mr. Greeven states, has an elaborate and quasi-military organisation. Thus the Lālbegi sweepers have eight companies or berhas, consisting of the sweepers working in different localities; these are the Sadar, or those employed by private residents in cantonments; [218]the Kāli Paltan, who serve the Bengal Infantry; the Lāl Kurti, or Red-coats, who are employed by the British Infantry; the Teshan (station), or those engaged at the three railway stations of the town; the Shahar, or those of the city; the Rāmnagar, taking their name from the residence of the Mahārāja of Benāres, whom they serve; the Kothīwāl, or Bungalow men, who belong to residents in the civil lines; and lastly the Genereli, who are the descendants of sweepers employed at the military headquarters when Benāres was commanded by a General of Division. This special organisation is obviously copied from that of the garrison and is not found in other localities, but deserves mention for its own interest. All the eight companies are commanded by a Brigadier, the local head of the caste, whose office is now almost hereditary; his principal duty is to give two dinners to the whole caste on election, with sweetmeats to the value of fourteen rupees. Each company has four officers—a Jamādār or president, a Munsif or spokesman, a Chaudhari or treasurer and a Nāib or summoner. These offices are also practically hereditary, if the candidate entitled by birth can afford to give a dinner to the whole subcaste and a turban to each President of a company. All the other members of the company are designated as Sipāhis or soldiers. A caste dispute is first considered by the inferior officers of each company, who report their view to the President; he confers with the other Presidents, and when an agreement has been reached the sentence is formally confirmed by the Brigadier. When any dispute arises, the aggrieved party, depositing a process-fee of a rupee and a quarter, addresses the officers of his company. Unless the question is so trivial that it can be settled without caste punishments, the President fixes a time and place, of which notice is given to the messengers of the other companies; each of these receives a fee of one and a quarter annas and informs all the Sipāhis in his company.

4. Caste punishments

Only worthy members of the caste, Mr. Greeven continues, are allowed to sit on the tribal matting and smoke the tribal pipe (huqqa). The proceedings begin with the outspreading (usually symbolic) of a carpet and the smoking of [219]a water-pipe handed in turn to each clansman. For this purpose the members sit on the carpet in three lines, the officers in front and the private soldiers behind. The parties and their witnesses are heard and examined, and a decision is pronounced. The punishments imposed consist of fines, compulsory dinners and expulsion from the caste; expulsion being inflicted for failure to comply with an order of fine or entertainment. The formal method of outcasting consists in seating the culprit on the ground and drawing the tribal mat over his head, from which the turban is removed; after this the messengers of the eight companies inflict a few taps with slippers and birch brooms. It is alleged that unfaithful women were formerly tied naked to trees and flogged with birch brooms, but that owing to the fatal results that occasionally followed such punishment, as in the case of the five kicks among Chamārs (tanners) and the scourging with the clothes line which used to prevail among Dhobis (washer men), the caste has now found it expedient to abandon these practices. When an outcaste is readmitted on submission, whether by paying a fine or giving a dinner, he is seated apart from the tribal mat and does penance by holding his ears with his hands and confessing his offence. A new huqqa, which he supplies, is carried round by the messenger, and a few whiffs are taken by all the officers and Sipāhis in turn. The messenger repeats to the culprit the council’s order, and informs him that should he again offend his punishment will be doubled. With this warning he hands him the water-pipe, and after smoking this the offender is admitted to the carpet and all is forgotten in a banquet at his expense.

5. Admission of outsiders

The sweepers will freely admit outsiders into their community, and the caste forms a refuge for persons expelled from their own societies for sexual or moral offences. Various methods are employed for the initiation of a neophyte; in some places he, or more frequently she, is beaten with a broom made of wood taken from a bier, and has to give a feast to the caste; in others a slight wound is made in his body and the blood of another sweeper is allowed to flow on to it so that they mix; and a glass of sherbet and sugar, known as the cup of nectar, is prepared [220]by the priest and all the members of the committee put their fingers into it, after which it is given to the candidate to drink; or he has to drink water mixed with cowdung into which the caste-people have dipped their little fingers, and a lock of his hair is cut off. Or he fasts all day at the shrine of Lālbeg and in the evening drinks sherbet after burning incense at the shrine; and gives three feasts, the first on the bank of a tank, the second in his courtyard and the third in his house, representing his gradual purification for membership; at this last he puts a little water into every man’s cup and receives from him a piece of bread, and so becomes a fully qualified caste-man. Owing to this reinforcement from higher castes, and perhaps also to their flesh diet, the sweepers are not infrequently taller and stronger as well as lighter in colour than the average Hindu.

6. Marriage customs

The marriage ceremony in the Central Provinces follows the ordinary Hindu ritual. The lagan or paper fixing the date of the wedding is written by a Brāhman, who seats himself at some distance from the sweeper’s house and composes the letter. This paper must not be seen by the bride or bridegroom, nor may its contents be read to them, as it is believed that to do so would cause them to fall ill during the ceremony. Before the bridegroom starts for the wedding his mother waves a wooden pestle five times over his head, passing it between his legs and shoulders. After this the bridegroom breaks two lamp-saucers with his right foot, steps over the rice-pounder and departs for the bride’s house without looking behind him. The sawāsas or relatives of the parties usually officiate at the ceremony, but the well-to-do sometimes engage a Brāhman, who sits at a distance from the house and calls out his instructions. When a man wishes to marry a widow he must pay six rupees to the caste committee and give a feast to the community. Divorce is permitted for incompatibility of temper, or immorality on the part of the wife, or if the husband suffers from leprosy or impotence. Among the Lālbegis, when a man wishes to get rid of his wife he assembles the brethren and in their presence says to her, ‘You are as my sister,’ and she answers, ‘You are as my father and brother.’7 [221]

7. Disposal of the dead

The dead are usually buried, but the well-to-do sometimes cremate them. In Benāres the face or hand of the corpse is scorched with fire to symbolise cremation and it is then buried. In the Punjab the ghosts of sweepers are considered to be malevolent and are much dreaded; and their bodies are therefore always buried or burnt face downwards to prevent the spirit escaping; and riots have taken place and the magistrates have been appealed to to prevent a Chuhra from being buried face upwards.8 In Benāres as the body is lowered into the grave the sheet is withdrawn for a moment from the features of the departed to afford him one last glimpse of the heavens, while with Muhammadans the face is turned towards Mecca. Each clansman flings a handful of dust over the corpse, and after the earth is filled in crumbles a little bread and sugar-cake and sprinkles water upon the grave. A provision of bread, sweetmeats and water is also left upon it for the soul of the departed.9 In the Central Provinces the body of a man is covered with a white winding-sheet and that of a woman with a red one. If the death occurs during the lunar conjunction known as Panchak, four human images of flour are made and buried with the dead man, as they think that if this is not done four more deaths will occur in the family.

8. Devices for procuring children

If a woman greatly desires a child she will go to a shrine and lay a stone on it which she calls the dharna or deposit or pledge. Then she thinks that she has put the god under an obligation to give her a child. She vows that if she becomes pregnant within a certain period, six or nine months, she will make an offering of a certain value. If the pregnancy comes she goes to the temple, makes the offering and removes the stone. If the desired result does not happen, however, she considers that the god has broken his obligation and ceases to worship him. If a barren woman desires a child she should steal on a Sunday or a Wednesday a strip from the body-cloth of a fertile woman when it is hung out to dry; or she may steal a piece of rope from the bed in which a woman has been delivered of a child, or a piece of the baby’s soiled swaddling clothes or a [222]piece of cloth stained with the blood of a fertile woman. This last she will take and bury in a cemetery and the others wear round her waist; then she will become fertile and the fertile woman will become barren. Another device is to obtain from the midwife a piece of the navel-string of a newborn child and swallow it. For this reason the navel-string is always carefully guarded and its disposal seen to.

9. Divination of sex

If a pregnant woman is thin and ailing they think a boy will be born; but if fat and well that it will be a girl. In order to divine the sex of a coming child they pour a little oil on the stomach of the woman; if the oil flows straight down it is thought that a boy will be born and if crooked a girl. Similarly if the hair on the front of her body grows straight they think the child will be a boy, but if crooked a girl; and if the swelling of pregnancy is more apparent on the right side a boy is portended, but if on the left side a girl. If delivery is retarded they go to a gunmaker and obtain from him a gun which has been discharged and the soiling of the barrel left uncleaned; some water is put into the barrel and shaken up and then poured into a vessel and given to the woman to drink, and it is thought that the quality of swift movement appertaining to the bullet which soiled the barrel will be communicated to the woman and cause the swift expulsion of the child from her womb.

10. Childbirth

When a woman is in labour she squats down with her legs apart holding to the bed in front of her, while the midwife rubs her back. If delivery is retarded the midwife gets a broom and sitting behind the woman presses it on her stomach, at the same time drawing back the upper part of her body. By this means they think the child will be forced from the womb. Or the mother of the woman in labour will take a grinding-stone and stand holding it on her head so long as the child is not born. She says to her daughter, ‘Take my name,’ and the daughter repeats her mother’s name aloud. Here the idea is apparently that the mother takes on herself some of the pain which has to be endured by the daughter, and the repetition of her name by the daughter will cause the goddess of childbirth to hasten the period of delivery in order to terminate the unjust sufferings of the mother for which the goddess has [223]become responsible. The mother’s name exerts pressure or influence on the goddess who is at the time occupied with the daughter or perhaps sojourning in her body.

11. Treatment of the mother

If a child is born in the morning they will give the mother a little sugar and cocoanut to eat in the evening, but if it is born in the evening they will give her nothing till next morning. Milk is given only sparingly as it is supposed to produce coughing. The main idea of treatment in childbirth is to prevent either the mother or child from taking cold or chill, this being the principal danger to which they are thought to be exposed. The door of the birth chamber is therefore kept shut and a fire is continually burning in it night and day. The woman is not bathed for several days, and the atmosphere and general insanitary conditions can better be imagined than described. With the same end of preventing cold they feed the mother on a hot liquid produced by cooking thirty-six ingredients together. Most of these are considered to have the quality of producing heat or warmth in the body, and the following are a few of them: Pepper, ginger, azgan (a condiment), turmeric, nutmeg, ajwāin (aniseed), dates, almonds, raisins, cocoanut, wild singāra or water-nut, cumin, chironji,10 the gum of the babūl11 or khair,12 asafoetida, borax, saffron, clarified butter and sugar. The mixture cannot be prepared for less than two rupees and the woman is fed on it for five days beginning from the second day after birth, if the family can afford the expense.

12. Protecting the lives of children

If the mother’s milk runs dry, they use the dried bodies of the little fish caught in the shallow water of fields and tanks, and sometimes supposed to have fallen down with the rain. They are boiled in a little water and the fish and water are given to the woman to consume. Here the idea is apparently that as the fish has the quality of liquidness because it lives in water, so by eating it this will be communicated to the breasts and the milk will flow again. If a woman’s children die, then the next time she is in labour they bring a goat all of one colour. When the birth of the child takes place and it falls from the womb on to the [224]ground no one must touch it, but the goat, which should if possible be of the same sex as the child, is taken and passed over the child twenty-one times. Then they take the goat and the after-birth to a cemetery and here cut the goat’s throat by the halāl rite and bury it with the after-birth. The idea is thus that the goat’s life is a substitute for that of the child. By being passed over the child it takes the child’s evil destiny upon itself, and the burial in a cemetery causes the goat to resemble a human being, while the after-birth communicates to it some part of the life of the child. If a mother is afraid her child will die, she sells it for a few cowries to another woman. Of course the sale is only nominal, but the woman who has purchased the child takes a special interest in it, and at the naming or other ceremony she will give it a jewel or such other present as she can afford. Thus she considers that the fictitious sale has had some effect and that she has acquired a certain interest in the child.

13. Infantile diseases

If a baby, especially a girl, has much hair on its body, they make a cake of gram-flour and rub it with sesamum oil all over the body, and this is supposed to remove the hair.

If a child’s skin dries up and it pines away, they think that an owl has taken away a cloth stained by the child when it was hung out to dry. The remedy is to obtain the liver of an owl and hang it round the child’s neck.

For jaundice they get the flesh of a yellow snake which appears in the rains, and of the rohu fish which has yellowish scales, and hang them to its neck; or they get a verse of the Korān written out by a Maulvi or Muhammadan priest and use this as an amulet; or they catch a small frog alive, tie it up in a yellow cloth and hang it to the child’s neck by a blue thread until it dies. For tetanus the jaws are branded outside and a little musk is placed on the mother’s breast so that the child may drink it with the milk. When the child begins to cut its teeth they put honey on the gums and think that this will make the teeth slip out early as the honey is smooth and slippery. But as the child licks the gums when the honey is on them they fear that this may cause the teeth to grow broad and crooked like the tongue. Another device is to pass a piece of gold [225]round the child’s gums. If they want the child to have pretty teeth its maternal uncle threads a number of grains of rice on a piece of string and hangs them round its neck, so that the teeth may grow like the rice. If the child’s navel is swollen, the maternal uncle will go out for a walk and on his return place his turban over the navel. For averting the evil eye the liver of the Indian badger is worn in an amulet, this badger being supposed to haunt cemeteries and feed on corpses; some hairs of a bear also form a very favourite amulet, or a tiger’s claws set in silver, or the tail of a lizard enclosed in lac and made into a ring.

14. Religion. Vālmīki

The religion of the sweepers has been described at length by Mr. Greeven and Mr. Crooke. It centres round the worship of two saints, Lālbeg or Bale Shāh and Bālnek or Bālmīk, who is really the huntsman Vālmīki, the reputed author of the Rāmāyana. Bālmīk was originally a low-caste hunter called Ratnakār, and when he could not get game he was accustomed to rob and kill travellers. But one day he met Brahma and wished to kill him; but he could not raise his club against Brahma, and the god spoke and convinced him of his sins, directing him to repeat the name of Rāma until he should be purified of them. But the hunter’s heart was so evil that he could not pronounce the divine name, and instead he repeated ‘Māra, Māra’ (struck, struck), but in the end by repetition this came to the same thing. Mr. Greeven’s account continues: “As a small spark of fire burneth up a heap of cotton, so the word Rāma cleaneth a man of all his sins. So the words ‘Rām, Rām,’ were taught unto Ratnakār who ever repeated them for sixty thousand years at the self-same spot with a heart sincere. All his skin was eaten up by the white ants. Only the skeleton remained. Mud had been heaped over the body and grass had grown up, yet within the mound of mud the saint was still repeating the name of Rāma. After sixty thousand years Brahma returned. No man could he see, yet he heard the voice of Rām, Rām, rising from the mound of mud. Then Brahma bethought him that the saint was beneath. He besought Indra to pour down rain and to wash away the mud. Indra complied with his request and the rain washed away the mud. The saint came forth. Nought save [226]bones remained. Brahma called aloud to the saint. When the saint beheld him he prostrated himself and spake: ‘Thou hast taught me the words “Rām, Rām,” which have cleansed away all my sins.’ Then spake Brahma: ‘Hitherto thou wast Ratnakār. From to-day thy name shall be Vālmīki (from valmīk, an ant-hill). Now do thou compose a Rāmāyana in seven parts, containing the deeds and exploits of Rāma.’” Vālmīki had been or afterwards became a sweeper and was known as ‘cooker of dog’s food’ (Swapach), a name applied to sweepers13, who have adopted him as their eponymous ancestor and patron saint.

15. Lālbeg

Lālbeg, who is still more widely venerated, is considered to have been Ghāzi Miyān, the nephew of Sultān Muhammad of Ghazni, and a saint much worshipped in the Punjab. Many legends are told of Lālbeg, and his worship is described by Mr. Greeven as follows:14 “The ritual of Lālbeg is conducted in the presence of the whole brotherhood, as a rule at the festival of the Diwāli and on other occasions when special business arises. The time for worship is after sunset and if possible at midnight. His shrine consists of a mud platform surrounded by steps, with four little turrets at the corners and a spire in the centre, in which is placed a lamp filled with clarified butter and containing a wick of twisted tow. Incense is thrown into the flame and offerings of cakes and sweetmeats are made. A lighted huqqa is placed before the altar and as soon as the smoke rises it is understood that a whiff has been drawn by the hero.” A cock is offered to Lālbeg at the Dasahra festival. When a man is believed to have been affected by the evil eye they wave a broom in front of the sufferer muttering the name of the saint. In the Damoh District the guru or priest who is the successor of Lālbeg comes from the Punjab every year or two. He is richly clad and is followed by a sweeper carrying an umbrella. Other Hindus say that his teaching is that no one who is not a Lālbegi can go to heaven, but those on whom the dust raised by a Lālbegi sweeping settles acquire some modicum of virtue. Similarly Mr. Greeven [227]remarks:15 “Sweepers by no means endorse the humble opinion entertained with respect to them; for they allude to castes such as Kunbis and Chamārs as petty (chhota), while a common anecdote is related to the effect that a Lālbegi, when asked whether Muhammadans could obtain salvation, replied: ‘I never heard of it, but perhaps they might slip in behind Lālbeg.’”

16. Adoption of foreign religions

On the whole the religion of the Lālbegis appears to be monotheistic and of a sufficiently elevated character, resembling that of the Kabīrpanthis and other reforming sects. Its claim to the exclusive possession of the way of salvation is a method of revolt against the menial and debased position of the caste. Similarly many sweepers have become Muhammadans and Sikhs with the same end in view, as stated by Mr. Greeven:16 “As may be readily imagined, the scavengers are merely in name the disciples of Nānak Shāh, professing in fact to be his followers just as they are prepared at a moment’s notice to become Christians or Muhammadans. Their object is, of course, merely to acquire a status which may elevate them above the utter degradation of their caste. The acquaintance of most of them with the doctrines of Nānak Shāh is at zero. They know little and care less about his rules of life, habitually disregarding, for instance, the prohibitions against smoking and hair-cutting. In fact, a scavenger at Benāres no more becomes a Sikh by taking Nānak Shāh’s motto than he becomes a Christian by wearing a round hat and a pair of trousers.” It was probably with a similar leaning towards the more liberal religion that the Lālbegis, though themselves Hindus, adopted a Muhammadan for their tutelary saint. In the Punjab Muhammadan sweepers who have given up eating carrion and refuse to remove night-soil rank higher than the others, and are known as Musalli.17 And in Saugor the Muhammadans allow the sweepers to come into a mosque and to stand at the back, whereas, of course, they cannot approach a Hindu temple. Again in Bengal it is stated, “The Dom is regarded with both disgust and fear by all classes of Hindus, not only on [228]account of his habits being abhorrent and abominable, but also because he is believed to have no humane or kindly feelings”; and further, “It is universally believed that Doms do not bury or burn their dead, but dismember the corpse at night like the inhabitants of Thibet, placing the fragments in a pot and sinking them in the nearest river or reservoir. This horrid idea probably originated from the old Hindu law, which compelled the Doms to bury their dead at night.”18 It is not astonishing that the sweepers prefer a religion whose followers will treat them somewhat more kindly. Another Muhammadan saint revered by the sweepers of Saugor is one Zāhir Pīr. At the fasts in Chait and Kunwār (March and September) they tie cocoanuts wrapped in cloth to the top of a long bamboo, and marching to the tomb of Zāhir Pīr make offerings of cakes and sweetmeats. Before starting for his day’s work the sweeper does obeisance to his basket and broom.

17. Social status

The sweeper stands at the very bottom of the social ladder of Hinduism. He is considered to be the representative of the Chandāla of Manu,19 who was said to be descended of a Sūdra father and a Brāhman woman. “It was ordained that the Chandāla should live without the town; his sole wealth should be dogs and asses; his clothes should consist of the cerecloths of the dead; his dishes should be broken pots and his ornaments rusty iron. No one who regarded his duties should hold intercourse with the Chandālas and they should marry only among themselves. By day they might roam about for the purposes of work, but should be distinguished by the badges of the Rāja, and should carry out the corpse of any one who died without kindred. They should always be employed to slay those who by the law were sentenced to be put to death, and they might take the clothes of the slain, their beds and their ornaments.” Elsewhere the Chandāla is said to rank in impurity with the town boar, the dog, a woman during her monthly illness and a eunuch, none of whom must a Brāhman allow to see him when eating.20 Like the Chandāla, the sweeper cannot be touched, and he [229]himself acquiesces in this and walks apart. In large towns he sometimes carries a kite’s wing in his turban to show his caste, or goes aloof saying pois, which is equivalent to a warning. When the sweeper is in company he will efface himself as far as possible behind other people. He is known by his basket and broom, and men of other castes will not carry these articles lest they should be mistaken for a sweeper. The sweeper’s broom is made of bamboo, whereas the ordinary house-broom is made of date-palm leaves. The house-broom is considered sacred as the implement of Lakshmi used in cleaning the house. No one should tread upon or touch it with his foot. The sweeper’s broom is a powerful agent for curing the evil eye, and mothers get him to come and wave it up and down in front of a sick child for this purpose. Nevertheless it is lucky to see a sweeper in the morning, especially if he has his basket with him. In Gujarāt Mr. Bhīmbhai Kirpārām writes of him: “Though he is held to be lower and more unclean, the Bhangia is viewed with kindlier feelings than the Dhed (Mahār). To meet the basket-bearing Bhangia is lucky, and the Bhangia’s blessing is valued. Even now if a Government officer goes into a Bhangia hamlet the men with hands raised in blessing say: ‘May your rule last for ever.’” A sweeper will eat the leavings of other people, but he will not eat in their houses; he will take the food away to his own house. It is related that on one occasion a sweeper accompanied a marriage party of Lodhis (cultivators), and the Lodhi who was the host was anxious that all should share his hospitality and asked the sweeper to eat in his house;21 but he repeatedly refused, until finally the Lodhi gave him a she-buffalo to induce him to eat, so that it might not be said that any one had declined to share in his feast. No other caste, of course, will accept food or water from a sweeper, and only a Chamār (tanner) will take a chilam or clay pipe-bowl from his hand. The sweeper will eat carrion and the flesh of almost all animals, including snakes, lizards, crocodiles and tigers, and also the leavings of food of almost any caste. Mr. Greeven remarks:22 “Only [230]Lālbegis and Rāwats eat food left by Europeans, but all eat food left either by Hindus or Muhammadans; the Sheikh Mehtars as Muhammadans alone are circumcised and reject pig’s flesh. Each subcaste eats uncooked food with all the others, but cooked food alone.” From Betūl it is reported that the Mehtars there will not accept food, water or tobacco from a Kāyasth, and will not allow one to enter their houses.

18. Occupation

Sweeping and scavenging in the streets and in private houses are the traditional occupations of the caste, but they have others. In Bombay they serve as night watchmen, town-criers, drummers, trumpeters and hangmen. Formerly the office of hangman was confined to sweepers, but now many low-caste prisoners are willing to undertake it for the sake of the privilege of smoking tobacco in jail which it confers. In Mīrzāpur when a Dom hangman is tying a rope round the neck of a criminal he shouts out, ‘Dohai Mahārāni, Dohai Sarkār, Dohai Judge Sāhib,’ or ‘Hail Great Queen! Hail Government! Hail Judge Sahib!’ in order to shelter himself under their authority and escape any guilt attaching to the death.23 In the Central Provinces the hangman was accompanied by four or five other sweepers of the caste panchāyat the idea being perhaps that his act should be condoned by their presence and approval and he should escape guilt. In order to free the executioner from blame the prisoner would also say: “Dohai Sarkar ke, Dohai Kampani ke; jaisa maine khūn kiya waisa apne khūn ko pahunchha” or “Hail to the Government and the Company; since I caused the death of another, now I am come to my own death”; and all the Panches said, ‘Rām, Rām.’ The hangman received ten rupees as his fee, and of this five rupees were given to the caste for a feast and an offering to Lālbeg to expiate his sin. In Bundelkhand sweepers are employed as grooms by the Lodhis, and may put everything on to the horse except a saddle-cloth. They are also the village musicians, and some of them play on the rustic flute called shahnai at weddings, and receive their food all the time that the ceremony lasts. Sweepers are, as a rule, to be found only in large villages, as in small ones [231]there is no work for them. The caste is none too numerous in the Central Provinces, and in villages the sweeper is often not available when wanted for cleaning the streets. The Chamārs of Bundelkhand will not remove the corpses of a cat or a dog or a squirrel, and a sweeper must be obtained for the purpose. These three animals are in a manner holy, and it is considered a sin to kill any one of them. But their corpses are unclean. A Chamār also refuses to touch the corpse of a donkey, but a Kumhār (potter) will sometimes do this; if he declines a sweeper must be fetched. When a sweeper has to enter a house in order to take out the body of an animal, it is cleaned and whitewashed after he has been in. In Hoshangābād an objection appears to be felt to the entry of a sweeper by the door, as it is stated that a ladder is placed for him, so that he presumably climbs through a window. Or where there are no windows it is possible that the ladder may protect the sacred threshold from contact with his feet. The sweeper also attends at funerals and assists to prepare the pyre; he receives the winding-sheet when this is not burnt or buried with the corpse, and the copper coins which are left on the ground as purchase-money for the site of the grave. In Bombay in rich families the winding-sheet is often a worked shawl costing from fifty to a hundred rupees.24 When a Hindu widow breaks her bangles after her husband’s death, she gives them, including one or two whole ones, to a Bhangia woman.25 A letter announcing a death is always carried by a sweeper.26 In Bengal a funeral could not be held without the presence of a Dom, whose functions are described by Mr. Sherring27 as follows: “On the arrival of the dead body at the place of cremation, which in Benāres is at the basis of one of the steep stairs or ghāts, called the Burning-Ghāt, leading down from the streets above to the bed of the river Ganges, the Dom supplies five logs of wood, which he lays in order upon the ground, the rest of the wood being given by the family of the deceased. When the pile is ready for burning a handful of lighted straw is brought by [232]the Dom, and is taken from him and applied by one of the chief members of the family to the wood. The Dom is the only person who can furnish the light for the purpose; and if for any reason no Dom is available, great delay and inconvenience are apt to arise. The Dom exacts his fee for three things, namely, first for the five logs, secondly for the bunch of straw, and thirdly for the light.”

19. Occupation (continued)

During an eclipse the sweepers reap a good harvest; for it is believed that Rāhu, the demon who devours the sun and moon and thus causes an eclipse, was either a sweeper or the deity of the sweepers, and alms given to them at this time will appease him and cause him to let the luminaries go. Or, according to another account, the sun and moon are in Rāhu’s debt, and he comes and duns them, and this is the eclipse; and the alms given to sweepers are a means of paying the debt. In Gujarāt as soon as the darkening sets in the Bhangis go about shouting, ‘Garhandān, Vastradān, Rupādān,’ or ‘Gifts for the eclipse, gifts of clothes, gifts of silver.’28 The sweepers are no doubt derived from the primitive or Dravidian tribes, and, as has been seen, they also practise the art of making bamboo mats and baskets, being known as Bānsphor in Bombay on this account. In the Punjab the Chuhras are a very numerous caste, being exceeded only by the Jāts, Rājpūts and Brāhmans. Only a small proportion of them naturally find employment as scavengers, and the remainder are agricultural labourers, and together with the vagrants and gipsies are the hereditary workers in grass and reeds.29 They are closely connected with the Dhānuks, a caste of hunters, fowlers and village watchmen, being of nearly the same status.30 And Dhānuk, again, is in some localities a complimentary term for a Basor or bamboo-worker. It has been seen that Vālmīki, the patron saint of the sweepers, was a low-caste hunter, and this gives some reason for the supposition that the primary occupations of the Chūhras and Bhangis were hunting and working in grass and bamboo. In one of the legends of the sweeper saint Bālmīk or Vālmīki given by Mr. Greeven,31 Bālmīk was the youngest of the five Pāndava brothers, and [233]was persuaded by the others to remove the body of a calf which had died in their courtyard. But after he had done so they refused to touch him, so he went into the wilderness with the body; and when he did not know how to feed himself the carcase started into life and gave him milk until he was full grown, when it died again of its own accord. Bālmīk burst into tears, not knowing how he was to live henceforward, but a voice cried from heaven saying, “Of the sinews (of the calf’s body) do thou tie winnows (sūp), and of the caul do thou plait sieves (chalni).” Bālmīk obeyed, and by his handiwork gained the name of Sūpaj or the maker of winnowing-fans. These are natural occupations of the non-Aryan forest tribes, and are now practised by the Gonds.

1 Some information has been obtained from a paper by Mr. Harbans Rai, Clerk of Court, Damoh.

2 Rājendrā Lāl Mitra, quoted in art. on Beria.

3 Greeven, op. cit. pp. 29, 33.

4 Op. cit p. 334.

5 Greeven, p. 66, quoting from Echoes of Old Calcutta.

6 Crooke, op. cit.

7 Crooke, op. cit. para. 52.

8 Ibbetson, op. cit. para. 227.

9 Greeven, op. cit. p. 21.

10 The fruit of the achār (Buchanamia latifolia).

11 Acacia arabica.

12 Acacia catechu.

13 Some writers consider that Bālmik, the sweeper-saint, and Vālmīki, the author of the Rāmāyana, are not identical.

14 Page 38.

15 Page 8.

16 Page 54.

17 Punjab Census Report (1881), para. 599.

18 Sir H. Risley, l.c., art. Dom.

19 Institutes, x. 12–29–30.

20 Ibidem, iv. 239, quoted by Mr. Crooke, art. Dom.

21 Probably not within the house but in the veranda or courtyard.

22 Ibidem.

23 Crooke, Tribes and Castes, art. Dom, para. 34.

24 Bombay Gazetteer, l.c.

25 Ibidem.

26 Punjab Census Report (1881), and Bombay Gazetteer, l.c.

27 Hindu Tribes and Castes, quoted by Sir H. Risley, art. Dom.

28 Bombay Gazetteer, l.c.

29 Ibbetson, l.c. para. 596.

30 Ibidem, para. 601.

31 L.c. pp. 25, 26.



Meo, Mewāti.—The Muhammadan branch of the Mīna tribe belonging to the country of Mewāt in Rājputāna which is comprised in the Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur States and the British District of Gurgaon. A few Meos were returned from the Hoshangābād and Nimār Districts in 1911, but it is doubtful whether any are settled here, as they may be wandering criminals. The origin of the Meo is discussed in the article on the Mīna tribe, but some interesting remarks on them by Mr. Channing and Major Powlett in the Rājputāna Gazetteer may be reproduced here. Mr. Channing writes:1

“The tribe, which has been known in Hindustān according to the Kutub Tawārīkh for 850 years, was originally Hindu and became Muhammadan. Their origin is obscure. They themselves claim descent from the Rājpūt races of Jādon, Kachhwāha and Tuar, and they may possibly have some Rājpūt blood in their veins; but they are probably, like many other similar tribes, a combination from ruling and other various stocks and sources, and there is reason to believe them very nearly allied with the Mīnas, who are certainly a tribe of the same structure and species. The Meos have twelve clans or pāls, the first six of which are identical in name and claim the same descent as the first six clans of the Mīnas. Intermarriage between them both was [234]the rule until the time of Akbar, when owing to an affray at the marriage of a Meo with a Mīna the custom was discontinued. Finally, their mode of life is or was similar, as both tribes were once notoriously predatory. It is probable that the original Meos were supplemented by converts to Islām from other castes. It is said that the tribe were conquered and converted in the eleventh century by Māsūd, son of Amīr Sālār and grandson of Sultān Mahmūd Subaktagin on the mother’s side, the general of the forces of Mahmūd of Ghazni. Māsūd is still venerated by the Meos, and they swear by his name. They have a mixture of Hindu and Muhammadan customs. They practise circumcision, nikāh2 and the burial of the dead. They make pilgrimages to the tomb of Māsūd in Bahraich in Oudh, and consider the oath taken on his banner the most binding. They also make pilgrimages to Muhammadan shrines in India, but never perform the Haj. Of Hindu customs they observe the Holi or Diwāli; their marriages are never arranged in the same got or sept; and they permit daughters to inherit. They call their children indiscriminately by both Muhammadan and Hindu names. They are almost entirely uneducated, but have bards and musicians to whom they make large presents. These sing songs known as Rātwai, which are commonly on pastoral and agricultural subjects. The Meos are given to the use of intoxicating drinks, and are very superstitious and have great faith in omens. The dress of the men and women resembles that of the Hindus. Infanticide was formerly common among them, but it is said to have entirely died out. They were also formerly robbers by avocation; and though they have improved they are still noted cattle-lifters.”

In another description of them by Major Powlett it is stated that, besides worshipping Hindu gods and keeping Hindu festivals, they employ a Brāhman to write the Pīli Chhitthi or yellow note fixing the date of a marriage. They call themselves by Hindu names with the exception of Rām; and Singh is a frequent affix, though not so common as Khān. On the Amāwas or monthly conjunction of the sun and moon, Meos, in common with Hindu Ahīrs and Gūjars, cease from labour; and when they make a well the first proceeding [235]is to erect a chabūtra (platform) to Bhaironji or Hanumān. However, when plunder was to be obtained they have often shown little respect for Hindu shrines and temples; and when the sanctity of a threatened place has been urged, the retort has been, ‘Tum to Deo, Ham Meo’ or ‘You may be a Deo (God), but I am a Meo.’

Meos do not marry in their pāl or clan, but they are lax about forming connections with women of other castes, whose children they receive into the community. As already stated, Brāhmans take part in the formalities preceding a marriage, but the ceremony itself is performed by a Kāzi. As agriculturists Meos are inferior to their Hindu neighbours. The point in which they chiefly fail is in working their wells, for which they lack patience. Their women, whom they do not confine, will, it is said, do more field-work than the men; indeed, one often finds women at work in the crops when the men are lying down. Like the women of low Hindu castes they tattoo their bodies, a practice disapproved by Musalmāns in general. Abul Fazl writes that the Meos were in his time famous runners, and one thousand of them were employed by Akbar as carriers of the post.

1 Rājputāna Gazetteer, vol. i. p. 165.

2 A Muhammadan form of marriage.



1. The Mīnas locally termed Deswā

Mīna, Deswāli, Maina.—A well-known caste of Rājputāna which is found in the Central Provinces in the Hoshangābād, Nimār and Saugor Districts. About 8000 persons of the caste were returned in 1911. The proper name for them is Mīna, but here they are generally known as Deswāli, a term which they probably prefer, as that of Mīna is too notorious. A large part of the population of the northern Districts is recruited from Bundelkhand and Mārwār, and these tracts are therefore often known among them as ‘Desh’ or native country. The term Deswāli is applied to groups of many castes coming from Bundelkhand, and has apparently been specially appropriated as an alias by the Mīnas. The caste are sometimes known in Hoshangābād as Maina, which Colonel Tod states to be the name of the highest division of the Mīnas. The designation of Pardeshi or ‘foreigner’ is also given to them in some localities. The Deswālis came to Harda about A.D. 1750, being invited by the Marātha Amīl or governor, who gave one family a grant of three [236]villages. They thus gained a position of some dignity, and this reaching the ears of their brothers in Jaipur they also came and settled all over the District.1 In view of the history and character of the Mīnas, of which some account will be given, it should be first stated that under the régime of British law and order most of the Deswālis of Hoshangābād have settled down into steady and honest agriculturists.

2. Historical notice of the Mīna tribe

The Mīnas were a famous robber tribe of the country of Mewāt in Rājputāna, comprised in the Alwar and Bharatpur States and the British District of Gurgaon.2 They are also found in large numbers in Jaipur State, which was formerly held by them. The Meos and Mīnas are now considered to be branches of one tribe, the former being at least nominally Muhammadans by religion and the latter Hindus. A favourite story for recitation at their feasts is that of Darya Khān Meo and Sasibādani Mīni, a pair of lovers whose marriage led to a quarrel between the tribes to which they belonged, in the time of Akbar. This dispute caused the cessation of the practice of intermarriage between Meos and Mīnas which had formerly obtained. Both the Meos and Mīnas are divided into twelve large clans called pāl, the word pāl meaning, according to Colonel Tod, ‘a defile in a valley suitable for cultivation or defence.’ In a sandy desert like Rājputāna the valleys of streams might be expected to be the only favourable tracts for settlement, and the name perhaps therefore is a record of the process by which the colonies of Mīnas in these isolated patches of culturable land developed into exogamous clans marrying with each other. The Meos have similarly twelve pāls, and the names of six of these are identical with those of the Mīnas.3 The names of the pāls are taken from those of Rājpūt clans,4 but the recorded lists differ, and there are now many other gots or septs outside the pāls. The Mīnas seem originally to have been an aboriginal or pre-Aryan tribe of Rājputāna, where they [237]are still found in considerable numbers. The Rāja of Jaipur was formerly marked on the forehead with blood taken from the great toe of a Mīna on the occasion of his installation. Colonel Tod records that the Amber or Jaipur State was founded by one Dholesai in A.D. 967 after he had slaughtered large numbers of the Mīnas by treachery. And in his time the Mīnas still possessed large immunities and privileges in the Jaipur State. When the Rājpūts settled in force in Rājputāna, reducing the Mīnas to subjection, illicit connections would naturally arise on a large scale between the invaders and the women of the conquered country. For even when the Rājpūts only came as small isolated parties of adventurers, as into the Central Provinces, we find traces of such connections in the survival of castes or subcastes of mixed descent from them and the indigenous tribes. It follows therefore that where they occupied the country and settled on the soil the process would be still more common. Accordingly it is generally recognised that the Mīnas are a caste of the most mixed and impure descent, and it has sometimes been supposed that they were themselves a branch of the Rājpūts. In the Punjab when one woman accuses another of illicit intercourse she is said ‘Mīna dena,’ or to designate her as a Mīna.5 Further it is stated6 that “The Mīnas are of two classes, the Zamīndāri or agricultural and the Chaukīdāri or watchmen. These Chaukīdāri Mīnas are the famous marauders.” The office of village watchman was commonly held by members of the aboriginal tribes, and these too furnished the criminal classes. Another piece of evidence of the Dravidian origin of the tribe is the fact that there exists even now a group of Dhedia or impure Mīnas who do not refuse to eat cow’s flesh. The Chaukīdāri Mīnas, dispossessed of their land, resorted to the hills, and here they developed into a community of thieves and bandits recruited from all the outcastes of society. Sir A. Lyall wrote7 of the caste as “a Cave of Adullam which has stood open for centuries. With them a captured woman is solemnly admitted by a form of adoption [238]into one circle of affinity, in order that she may be lawfully married into another.” With the conquest of northern India by the Muhammadans, many of the Mīnas, being bound by no ties to Hinduism, might be expected to embrace the new and actively proselytising religion, while their robber bands would receive fugitive Muhammadans as recruits as well as Hindus. Thus probably arose a Musalmān branch of the community, who afterwards became separately designated as the Meos. As already seen, the Meos and Mīnas intermarried for a time, but subsequently ceased to do so. As might be expected, the form of Islām professed by the Meos is of a very bastard order, and Major Powlett’s account of it is reproduced in a short separate notice of that tribe.

3. Their robberies

The crimes and daring of the Mīnas have obtained for them a considerable place in history. A Muhammadan historian, Zia-ud-dīn Bāmi, wrote of the tribe:8 “At night they were accustomed to come prowling into the city of Delhi, giving all kinds of trouble and depriving people of their rest, and they plundered the country houses in the neighbourhood of the city. Their daring was carried to such an extent that the western gates of the city were shut at afternoon prayer and no one dared to leave it after that hour, whether he travelled as a pilgrim or with the display of a king. At afternoon prayer they would often come to the Sarhouy, and assaulting the water-carriers and girls who were fetching water they would strip them and carry off their clothes. In turn they were treated by the Muhammadan rulers with the most merciless cruelty. Some were thrown under the feet of elephants, others were cut in halves with knives, and others again were flayed alive from head to foot.” Regular campaigns against them were undertaken by the Muhammadans,9 as in later times British forces had to be despatched to subdue the Pindāris. Bābar on his arrival at Agra described the Mewāti leader Rāja Hasan Khān as ‘the chief agitator in all these confusions and insurrections’; and Firishta mentions two terrible slaughters of Mewātis in [239]A.D. 1259 and 1265. In 1857 Major Powlett records that in Alwar they assembled and burnt the State ricks and carried off cattle, though they did not succeed in plundering any towns or villages there. In British territory they sacked Firozpur and other villages, and when a British force came to restore order many were hanged. Sir D. Ibbetson wrote of them in the Punjab:10

“The Mīnas are the boldest of our criminal classes. Their headquarters so far as the Punjab is concerned are in the village of Shāhjahānpur, attached to the Gurgaon District but surrounded on all sides by Rājputāna territory. There they until lately defied our police and even resisted them with armed force. Their enterprises are on a large scale, and they are always prepared to use violence if necessary. In Mārwār they are armed with small bows which do considerable execution. They travel great distances in gangs of from twelve to twenty men, practising robbery and dacoity even as far as the Deccan. The gangs usually start off immediately after the Diwāli feast and often remain absent the whole year. They have agents in all the large cities of Rājputāna and the Deccan who give them information, and they are in league with the carrying castes of Mārwār. After a successful foray they offer one-tenth of the proceeds at the shrine of Kāli Devi.”

Like other criminals they were very superstitious, and Colonel Tod records that the partridge and the maloli or wagtail were their chief birds of omen. A partridge clamouring on the left when he commenced a foray was a certain presage of success to a Mīna. Similarly, Mr. Kennedy notes that the finding of a dried goatskin, either whole or in pieces, among the effects of a suspected criminal is said to be an infallible indication of his identity as a Mīna, the flesh of the goat’s tongue being indispensable in connection with the taking of omens. In Jaipur the Mīnas were employed as guards, as a method of protection against their fellows, for whose misdeeds they were held responsible. Rent-free lands were given to them, and they were always employed to escort treasure. Here they became the most faithful and trusted of the Rāja’s servants. It is related [240]that on one occasion a Mīna sentinel at the palace had received charge of a basket of oranges. A friend of the same tribe came to him and asked to be shown the palace, which he had never seen. The sentinel agreed and took him over the palace, but when his back was turned the friend stole one orange from the basket. Subsequently the sentinel counted the oranges and found one short; on this he ran after his friend and taxed him with the theft, which being admitted, the Mīna said that he had been made to betray his trust and had become dishonoured, and drawing his sword cut off his friend’s head. The ancient treasure of Jaipur or Amber was, according to tradition, kept in a secret cave in the hills under a body of Mīna guards who alone knew the hiding-place, and would only permit any part of it to be withdrawn for a great emergency. Nor would they accept the orders of the Rāja alone, but required the consent of the heads of the twelve principal noble families of Amber, branches of the royal house, before they would give up any part of the treasure. The criminal Mīnas are said to inhabit a tract of country about sixty-five miles long and forty broad, stretching from Shāhpur forty miles north of Jaipur to Guraora in Gurgaon on the Rohtak border. The popular idea of the Mīna, Mr. Crooke remarks,11 is quite in accordance with his historical character; his niggardliness is shown in the saying, ‘The Meo will not give his daughter in marriage till he gets a mortar full of silver’; his pugnacity is expressed in, ‘The Meo’s son begins to avenge his feuds when he is twelve years old’; and his toughness in, ‘Never be sure that a Meo is dead till you see the third-day funeral ceremony performed.’

4. The Deswālis of the Central Provinces

As already stated, the Deswālis of the Central Provinces have abandoned the wild life of their ancestors and settled down as respectable cultivators. Only a few particulars about them need be recorded. Girls are usually married before they are twelve years old and boys at sixteen to twenty. A sum of Rs. 24 is commonly paid for the bride, and a higher amount up to Rs. 71 may be given, but this is the maximum, and if the father of the girl takes more he will be fined by the caste and made to refund the [241]balance. A triangle with some wooden models of birds is placed on the marriage-shed and the bridegroom strikes at these with a stick; formerly he fired a gun at them to indicate that he was a hunter by profession. A Brāhman is employed to celebrate the marriage. A widow is usually taken by her late husband’s younger brother, but if there be none the elder brother may marry her, contrary to the general rule among Hindus. The object is to keep the woman in the family, as wives are costly. If she is unwilling to marry her brother-in-law, however, no compulsion is exercised and she may wed another man. Divorce is allowed, and in Rājputāna is very simply effected. If tempers do not assimilate or other causes prompt them to part, the husband tears a shred from his turban which he gives to his wife, and with this simple bill of divorce, placing two jars of water on her head, she takes whatever path she pleases, and the first man who chooses to ease her of her load becomes her future lord. ‘Jehur nikāla,’ ‘Took the jar and went forth,’ is a common saying among the mountaineers of Merwara.12

The dead are cremated, the corpse of a man being wrapped in a white and that of a woman in a coloured cloth. They have no shrāddh ceremony, but mourn for the dead only on the last day of Kārtik (October), when they offer water and burn incense. Deswālis employ the Parsai or village Brāhman to officiate at their ceremonies, but owing to their mixed origin they rank below the cultivating castes, and Brāhmans will not take water from them. In Jaipur, however, Major Powlett says, their position is higher. They are, as already seen, the trusted guards of the palace and treasury, and Rājpūts will accept food and water from their hands. This concession is no doubt due to the familiarity induced by living together for a long period, and parallel instances of it can be given, as that of the Panwārs and Gonds in the Central Provinces. The Deswālis eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from fowls and pork. When they are invited to a feast they do not take their own brass vessels with them, but drink out of earthen pots supplied by the host, having the liquor [242]poured on to their hands held to the mouth to avoid actual contact with the vessel. This is a Mārwāri custom and the Jāts also have it. Before the commencement of the feast the guests wait until food has been given to as many beggars as like to attend. In Saugor the food served consists only of rice and pulse without vegetables or other dishes. It is said that a Mīna will not eat salt in the house of another man, because he considers that to do so would establish the bond of Nimak-khai or salt-eating between them, and he would be debarred for ever from robbing that man or breaking into his house. The guests need not sit down together as among other Hindus, but may take their food in batches; so that the necessity of awaiting the arrival of every guest before commencing the feast is avoided. The Deswālis will not kill a black-buck nor eat the flesh of one, but they assign no reason for this and do not now worship the animal. The rule is probably, however, a totemistic survival. The men may be known by their manly gait and harsh tone of voice, as well as by a peculiar method of tying the turban; the women have a special ornament called rākhdi on the forehead and do not wear spangles or toe-rings. They are said also to despise ornaments of the baser metals as brass and pewter. They are tattooed with dots on the face to set off the fair-coloured skin by contrast, in the same manner as patches were carried on the face in Europe in the eighteenth century. A tattoo dot on a fair face is likened by a Hindu poet to a bee sitting on a half-opened mango.

1 Elliott’s Hoshangābād Settlement Report, p. 63.

2 Cunningham’s Archaeological Survey Reports, xx. p. 24.

3 Ibidem.

4 General Cunningham’s enumeration of the pāls is as follows: Five Jādon clans—Chhirkilta, Dalāt, Dermot, Nai, Pundelot; five Tuar clans—Balot, Darwār, Kalesa, Lundāvat, Rattāwat; one Kachhwāha clan—Dingāl; one Bargjūar clan—Singāl. Besides these there is one miscellaneous or half-blood clan, Palakra, making up the common total of 12½ clans.

5 Ibbetson’s Punjab Census Report, para. 582. Sir D. Ibbetson considered it doubtful, however, whether the expression referred to the Mīna caste.

6 Major Powlett, Gazetteer of Alwar.

7 Asiatic Studies, vol. i. p. 162.

8 Quoted in Dowson’s Elliott’s History of India, iii. p. 103.

9 Dowson’s Elliott, iv. pp. 60, 75, 283, quoted in Crooke’s Tribes and Castes.

10 Census Report (1881), para. 582.

11 Tribes and Castes of the N.W.P. art. Meo.

12 Rājasthān, i. p. 589.



Mirāsi.—A Muhammadan caste of singers, minstrels and genealogists, of which a few members are found in the Central Provinces. General Cunningham says that they are the bards and singers of the Meos or Mewātis at all their marriages and festivals.1 Mr. Crooke is of opinion that they are undoubtedly an offshoot of the great Dom caste who are little better than sweepers.2 The word Mirāsi is derived from the Arabic mirās, inheritance, and its signification is supposed to be that the Mirāsis are the hereditary bards and singers [243]of the lower castes, as the Bhāt is of the Rājpūts. Mirās as a word may, however, be used of any hereditary right, as that of the village headman or Karnam, or even those of the village watchman or temple dancing-girl, all of whom may have a mirāsi right to fees or perquisites or plots of land held as remuneration for service.3 The Mirāsis are also known as Pakhāwaji, from the pakhāwaj or timbrel which they play; as Kawwāl or one who speaks fluently, that is a professional, story-teller; and as Kalāwant or one possessed of art or skill. The Mirāsis are most numerous in the Punjab, where they number a quarter of a million. Sir D. Ibbetson says of them:4 “The social position of the Mirāsi as of all minstrel castes is exceedingly low, but he attends at weddings and similar occasions to recite genealogies. Moreover there are grades even among Mirāsis. The outcaste tribes have their Mirāsis, who though they do not eat with their clients and merely render their professional services are considered impure by the Mirāsis of the higher castes. The Mirāsi is generally a hereditary servant like the Bhāt, and is notorious for his exactions, which he makes under the threat of lampooning the ancestors of him from whom he demands fees. The Mirāsi is almost always a Muhammadan.” They are said to have been converted to Islām in response to the request of the poet Amīr Khusru, who lived in the reign of Ala-ud-dīn Khilji (A.D. 1295). The Mirāsi has two functions, the men being musicians, storytellers and genealogists, while the women dance and sing, but only before the ladies of the zenāna. Mr. Nesfield5 says that they are sometimes regularly entertained as jesters to help these ladies to kill time and reconcile them to their domestic prisons. As they do not dance before men they are reputed to be chaste, as no woman who is not a prostitute will dance in the presence of men, though singing and playing are not equally condemned. The implements of the Mirāsis are generally the small drum (dholak), the cymbals (majīra) and the gourd lute (kingri).6 [244]

1 Archaeological Reports. vol. xx. p. 26.

2 Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces, vol. iii. p. 496.

3 Baden Powell’s Land Systems of British India, vol. iii. p. 116.

4 Punjab Ethnography, p. 289.

5 Brief View, p. 43.

6 Crooke, loc. cit.



List of Paragraphs

1. General notice

Mochi, Muchi, Jīngar, Jirayat, Jīldgar, Chitrakār, Chitevari, Musabir.—The occupational caste of saddlers and cobblers. In 1911 about 4000 Mochis and 2000 Jīngars were returned from the Central Provinces and Berār, the former residing principally in the Hindustāni and the latter in the Marāthi-speaking Districts. The name is derived from the Sanskrit mochika and the Hindustāni mojna, to fold, and the common name mojah for socks and stockings is from the same root (Platts). By origin the Mochis are no doubt an offshoot of the Chamār caste, but they now generally disclaim the connection. Mr. Nesfield observes2 that, “The industry of tanning is preparatory to and lower than that of cobblery, and hence the caste of Chamār ranks decidedly below that of Mochi. The ordinary Hindu does not consider the touch of a Mochi so impure as that of the Chamār, and there is a Hindu proverb to the effect that ‘Dried or prepared hide is the same thing as cloth,’ whereas the touch of the raw hide before it has been tanned by the Chamār is considered a pollution. The Mochi does not eat carrion like the Chamār, nor does he eat swine’s flesh; nor does his wife ever practise the much-loathed art of midwifery.” In the Central Provinces, as in northern India, the caste may be considered to [245]have two branches, the lower one consisting of the Mochis who make and cobble shoes and are admittedly descended from Chamārs; while the better-class men either make saddles and harness, when they are known as Jīngar; or bind books, when they are called Jīldgar; or paint and make clay idols, when they are given the designation either of Chitrakār, Chitevari or Murtikār. In Berār some Jīngars have taken up the finer kinds of iron-work, such as mending guns, and are known as Jirāyat. All these are at great pains to dissociate themselves from the Chamār caste. They call themselves Thākur or Rājpūt and have exogamous sections the names of which are identical with those of the Rājpūt septs. The same people have assumed the name of Rishi in Bengal, and, according to a story related by Sir H. Risley, claim to be debased Brāhmans; while in the United Provinces Mr. Crooke considers them to be connected with the Srivāstab Kāyasths, with whom they intermarry and agree in manners and customs. The fact that in the three Provinces these workers in leather claim descent from three separate high castes is an interesting instance of the trouble which the lower-class Hindus will take to obtain a slight increase in social consideration; but the very diversity of the accounts given induces the belief that all Mochis were originally sprung from the Chamārs. In Bombay, again, Mr. Enthoven3 writes that the caste prefers to style itself Arya Somavansi Kshatriya or Aryan Kshatriyas of the Moon division; while they have all the regular Brāhmanical gotras as Bhāradwāja, Vasishtha, Gautam and so on.

2. Legends of origin

The following interesting legends as to the origin of the caste adduced by them in support of their Brāhmanical descent are related4 by Sir H. Risley: “One of the Prajā-pati, or mind-born sons of Brahma, was in the habit of providing the flesh of cows and clarified butter as a burnt-offering (Ahuti) to the gods. It was then the custom to eat a portion of the sacrifice, restore the victim to life, and drive it into the forest. On one occasion the Prajā-pati failed to resuscitate the sacrificial animal, owing to his wife, who was pregnant at the time, having clandestinely made away with a portion. [246]Alarmed at this he summoned all the other Prajā-patis, and they sought by divination to discover the cause of the failure. At last they ascertained what had occurred, and as a punishment the wife was cursed and expelled from their society. The child which she bore was the first Mochi or tanner, and from that time forth, mankind being deprived of the power of reanimating cattle slaughtered for food, the pious abandoned the practice of killing kine altogether. Another story is that Muchirām, the ancestor of the caste, was born from the sweat of Brahma while dancing. He chanced to offend the irritable sage Durvāsa, who sent a pretty Brāhman widow to allure him into a breach of chastity. Muchirām accosted the widow as mother, and refused to have anything to do with her; but Durvāsa used the miraculous power he had acquired by penance to render the widow pregnant so that the innocent Muchirām was made an outcaste on suspicion. From her two sons are descended the two main branches of the caste in Bengal.”

3. Art among the Hindus

In the Central Provinces the term Mochi is often used for the whole caste in the northern Districts, and Jīngar in the Marātha country; while the Chitrakārs or painters form a separate group. Though the trades of cobbler and book-binder are now widely separated in civilised countries, the connection between them is apparent since both work in leather. It is not at first sight clear why the painter should be of the same caste, but the reason is perhaps that his brushes are made of the hair of animals, and this is also regarded as impure, as being a part of the hide. If such be the case a senseless caste rule of ceremonial impurity has prevented the art of painting from being cultivated by the Hindus; and the comparatively poor development of their music may perhaps be ascribed to the same cause, since the use of the sinews of animals for stringed instruments would also prevent the educated classes from learning to play them. Thus no stringed instruments are permitted to be used in temples, but only the gong, cymbal, horn and conch-shell. And this rule would greatly discourage the cultivation of music, which art, like all the others, has usually served in its early period as an appanage to religious services. It has been held that instruments were originally employed at temples [247]and shrines in order to scare away evil spirits by their noise while the god was being fed or worshipped, and not for the purpose of calling the worshippers together; since noise is a recognised means of driving away spirits, probably in consequence of its effect in frightening wild animals. It is for the same end that music is essential at weddings, especially during the night when the spirits are more potent; and this is the primary object of the continuous discordant din which the Hindus consider a necessary accompaniment to a wedding.

Except for this ceremonial strictness Hinduism should have been favourable to the development of both painting and sculpture, as being a polytheistic religion. In the early stages of society religion and art are intimately connected, as is shown by the fact that images and paintings are at first nearly always of deities or sacred persons or animals, and it is only after a considerable period of development that secular subjects are treated. Similarly architecture is in its commencement found to be applied solely to sacred buildings, as temples and churches, and is only gradually diverted to secular buildings. The figures sculptured by the Mochis are usually images for temples, and those who practise this art are called Murtikar, from murti, an image or idol; and the pictures of the Chitrakārs were until recently all of deities or divine animals, though secular paintings may now occasionally be met with. And the uneducated believers in a polytheistic religion regularly take the image for the deity himself, at first scarcely conceiving of the one apart from the other. Thus some Bharewas or brass-workers say that they dare not make metal images of the gods, because they are afraid that the badness of their handiwork might arouse the wrath of the gods and move them to take revenge. The surmise might in fact be almost justifiable that the end to which figures of men and animals were first drawn or painted, or modelled in clay or metal was that they might be worshipped as images of the deities, the savage mind not distinguishing at all between an image of the god and the god himself. For this reason monotheistic religions would be severely antagonistic to the arts, and such is in fact the case. Thus the Muhammadan commentary, the Hadith, has a verse: “Woe to him [248]who has painted a living creature! At the day of the last judgment the persons represented by him will come out of the tomb and join themselves to him to demand of him a soul. Then that man, unable to give life to his work, will burn in eternal flames.” And in Judaism the familiar prohibition of the Second Commandment appears to be directed to the same end.

Image of the god Vishnu as Vithoba

Image of the god Vishnu as Vithoba

Hindu sculpture has indeed been fairly prolific, but is not generally considered to have attained to any degree of artistic merit. Since sculpture is mainly concerned with the human form it seems clear that an appreciation of the beauty of muscular strength and the symmetrical development of the limbs is an essential preliminary to success in this art; and such a feeling can only arise among a people who set much store on feats of bodily strength and agility. This has never been the character of the Hindus, whose religion encourages asceticism and mortification of the body, and points to mental self-absorption and detachment from worldly cares and exercises as the highest type of virtue.

4. Antagonism of Mochis and Chamārs

As a natural result of the pretensions to nobility made by the Mochis, there is no love lost between them and the Chamārs; and the latter allege that the Mochis have stolen their rāmpi, the knife with which they cut leather. On this account the Chamārs will neither take water to drink from the Mochis nor mend their shoes, and will not even permit them to try on a new pair of shoes until they have paid the price set on them; for they say that the Mochis are half-bred Chamārs and therefore cannot be permitted to defile the shoes of a true Chamār by trying them on; but when they have been paid for, the maker has severed connection with them, and the use to which they may be put no longer affects him.

5. Exogamous groups

In the Central Provinces the Mochis are said to have forty exogamous sections or gotras, of which the bulk are named after all the well-known Rājpūt clans, while two agree with those of the Chamārs. And they have also an equal number of kheras or groups named after villages. The limits of the two groups seem to be identical; thus members of the sept named after the Kachhwāha Rājpūts say that their khera or village name is Mungāvali in Gwālior; those of [249]the Ghangere sept give Chanderi as their khera, the Sitāwat sept Dhāmoni in Saugor, the Didoria Chhatarpur, the Narele Narwar, and so on. The names of the village groups have now been generally forgotten and they are said to have no influence on marriage, which is regulated by the Rājpūt sept names; but it seems probable that the kheras were the original divisions and the Rājpūt gotras have been more recently adopted in support of the claims already noticed.

6. Social customs

The Mochis have adopted the customs of the higher Hindu castes. A man may not take a wife from his own gotra, his mother’s gotra or from a family into which a girl from his own family has married. They usually marry their daughters in childhood and employ Brāhmans in their ceremonies, and no degradation attaches to these latter for serving as their priests. In minor domestic ceremonies for which the Brāhman is not engaged his place is taken by a relative, who is called sawāsa, and is either the sister’s husband, daughter’s husband, or father’s sister’s husband, of the head of the family. They permit widow-remarriage and divorce, and in the southern Districts effect a divorce by laying a pestle between the wife and husband. They burn their dead and observe mourning for the usual period. After a death they will not again put on a coloured head-cloth until some relative sets it on their heads for the first time on the expiry of the period of mourning. They revere the ordinary Hindu deities, and like the Chamārs they have a family god, known as Mair, whose representation in the shape of a lump of clay is enshrined within the house and worshipped at marriages and deaths. In Saugor he is said to be the collective representative of the spirits of their ancestors. In some localities they eat flesh and drink liquor, but in others abstain from both. Among the Hindus the Mochis rank considerably higher than the Chamārs; their touch does not defile and they are permitted to enter temples and take part in religious ceremonies. The name of a Saugor Mochi is remembered who became a good drawer and painter and was held in much esteem at the Peshwa’s court. In northern India about half the Mochis are Muhammadans, but in the Central Provinces they are all Hindus.

7. Shoes

In view of the fact that many of the Mochis were [250]Muhammadans and that slippers are mainly a Muhammadan article of attire Buchanan thought it probable that they were brought into India by the invaders, the Hindus having previously been content with sandals and wooden shoes. He wrote: “Many Hindus now use leather slippers, but some adhere to the proper custom of wearing sandals, which have wooden soles, a strap of leather to pass over the instep, and a wooden or horn peg with a button on its top. The foot is passed through the strap and the peg is placed between two of the toes.”5 It is certain, however, that leather shoes and slippers were known to the Hindus from a fairly early period: “The episode related in the Rāmāyana of Bhārata placing on the vacant throne of Ajodhya a pair of Rāma’s slippers, which he worshipped during the latter’s protracted exile, shows that shoes were important articles of wear and worthy of attention. In Manu and the Mahābhārata slippers are also mentioned and the time and mode of putting them on pointed out. The Vishnu Purāna enjoins all who wish to protect their persons never to be without leather shoes. Manu in one place expresses great repugnance to stepping into another’s shoes and peremptorily forbids it, and the Purānas recommend the use of shoes when walking out of the house, particularly in thorny places and on hot sand.”6 Thus shoes were certainly worn by the Hindus before Muhammadan times, though loose slippers may have been brought into fashion by the latter. And it seems possible that the Mochis may have adopted Islām, partly to obtain the patronage of the followers of the new religion, and also to escape from the degraded position to which their profession of leather-working was relegated by Hinduism and to dissociate themselves from the Chamārs.

1 This article is partly based on papers by Mr. Gopal Parmanand, Deputy Inspector of Schools, Saugor, and Mr. Shamsuddīn, Sub-Inspector, City Police, Saugor.

2 Brief View.

3 Bombay Ethnographic Survey Draft Monograph on Jīngar.

4 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Mochi.

5 Eastern India, vol. iii. p. 105.

6 Rājendra Lāl Mitra, Indo-Aryans, vol. i. pp. 222, 223.



Mowār.—A small caste of cultivators found in the Chhattīsgarh country, in the Raipur and Bilāspur Districts and the Raigarh State. They numbered 2500 persons in 1901. The derivation of the name is obscure, but they themselves say that it is derived from Mow or Mowagarh, [251]a town in the Jhānsi District of the United Provinces, and they also call themselves Mahuwār or the inhabitants of Mow. They say that the Rāja of Mowagarh, under whom they were serving, desired to marry the daughter of one of their Sirdārs (headmen), because she was extremely beautiful, but her father refused, and when the Rāja persisted in his desire they left the place in a body and came to Ratanpur in the time of Rāja Bīmbaji, in A.D. 1770. A Bilāspur writer states that the Mowārs are an offshoot from the Rajwār Rājpūts of Sargūja State. Colonel Dalton writes1 of the Rajwār Rājpūts of Sargūja and other adjoining States that they are peaceably disposed cultivators, who declare themselves to be fallen Kshatriyas; but he remarks later that they are probably aborigines, as they do not conform to Hindu customs, and they are skilled in a dance called Chailo, which he considers to be of Dravidian origin. In another place he remarks that the Rajwārs of Bengal admit that they are derived from the miscegenation of Kurmis and Kols. The fact that the Mowārs of Sārangarh make a representation of a bow and arrow on their documents, instead of signing their names, affords some support to the theory that they are probably a branch of one of the aboriginal tribes. The name may be derived from mowa, a radish, as the Mowārs of Bilāspur are engaged principally in garden cultivation.

The Mowārs have no subcastes, but are divided into a number of exogamous groups, principally of a totemistic nature. Those of the Sūrajha or sun sept throw away their earthen pots on the occasion of an eclipse, and those of the Hataia or elephant sept will not ride on an elephant and worship that animal at the Dasahra festival. Members of other septs named after the cobra, the crow, the monkey and the tiger will not kill their totem animal, and when they see the dead body of one of its species they throw away their earthen cooking-pots as a sign of mourning. The marriage of persons belonging to the same sept and also that of first cousins is prohibited. If an unmarried girl is seduced by a man of the caste she becomes his wife and is not expelled, but the caste will not eat food cooked by her. But a girl going wrong with an outsider is finally cast [252]out. The marriage and other social customs resemble those of the Kurmis. The caste employ Brāhmans at their ceremonies and have a great regard for them. Their gurus or spiritual preceptors are Bairāgis and Gosains. They eat the flesh of clean animals and a few drink liquor, but most of them abstain from it. Their women are tattooed on the arms and hands with figures intended to represent deer, flies and other animals and insects. The caste say that they were formerly employed as soldiers under the native chiefs, but they are now all cultivators. They grow all kinds of grain and vegetables, except turmeric and onions. A few of them are landowners, and the majority tenants. Very few are constrained to labour for hire. In appearance the men are generally strong and healthy, and of a dark complexion.

1 Ethnology of Bengal, p. 326.



1. Origin of the caste

Murha.—A Dravidian, caste of navvies and labourers found in Jubbulpore and the adjoining Districts, to the number of about 1500 persons. The name Murha has been held to show that the caste are connected with the Munda tribe. The Murhas, however, call themselves also Khare Bind Kewat and Lunia or Nunia (salt-maker), and in Jubbulpore they give these two names as subdivisions of the caste. And these names indicate that the caste are an offshoot of the large Bind tribe of Bengal and northern India, though in parts of the Central Provinces they have probably been recruited from the Kols or Mundas. Sir H. Risley1 records a story related by the Binds to the effect that they and the Nunias were formerly one, and that the existing Nunias are descended from a Bind who consented to dig a grave for a Muhammadan king and was put out of caste for doing so. And he remarks that the Binds may be a true primitive tribe and the Nunias a functional group differentiated from them by taking to the manufacture of earth salt. This explanation of the relationship of the Binds and Nunias seems almost certainly correct. In the United Provinces the Binds are divided into the Khare and Dhusia or first and second subcastes, and the Khare Binds also call themselves Kewat.2 And the Murhas of [253]Narsinghpur call themselves Khare Bind Kewats, though the other Kewats repudiate all connection with them. There seems thus to be no doubt that the Murhas of these Provinces are another offshoot of the Bind tribe like the Nunias, who have taken up the profession of navvies and earthworkers and thus become a separate caste. Mr. Hīra Lāl notes that the Narsinghpur District contains a village Nonia, which is inhabited solely by Murhas who call themselves Khare Bind Kewat. As the village is no doubt named Nonia or Nunia after them, we thus have an instance of all the three designations being applied to the same set of persons. The Murhas say that they came into Narsinghpur from Rewah, and they still speak the Bagheli dialect, though the current vernacular of the locality is Bundeli. The Binds themselves derive their name from the Vindhya (Bindhya) hills.3 They relate that a traveller passing by the Vindhya hills heard a strange flute-like sound coming out of a clump of bamboos. He cut a shoot and took from it a fleshy substance, which afterwards grew into a man, the supposed ancestor of the Binds. In Mandla the Murhas say that the difference between themselves and the Nunias is that the latter make field-embankments and other earthwork, while the Murhas work in stone and build bridges. According to their own story they were brought to Mandla from their home in Eastern Oudh more than ten generations ago by a Gond king of the Garha-Mandla dynasty for the purpose of building his fort or castle. He gave them two villages for their maintenance which they have now lost. The caste has, however, probably received some local accretions and in Mandla some Murhas appear to be Kols; members of this tribe are generally above the average in bodily strength and are in considerable request for employment on earth- and stone-work.

2. Marriage customs

In Narsinghpur the Murhas appear to have no regular exogamous divisions. Some of them remember the names of their kheros or ancestral villages and do not marry with families belonging to the same khero, but this is not a regular rule of the caste. Generally speaking, persons descended through males from a common ancestor do not intermarry so long as they remember the relationship. In Mandla they [254]have five divisions, of which the highest is Pūrbia. The name Pūrbia (Eastern) is commonly applied in the Central Provinces to persons coming from Oudh, and in this case the Pūrbia Murhas are probably the latest immigrants from home and have a superior status on this account. Up till recently they practised hypergamy with the other groups, taking daughters from them in marriage, but not giving their daughters to them. This rule is now, however, breaking down on account of the difficulty they find in getting their daughters married. The children of brothers and sisters may marry in some places, but in others neither they nor their children may marry with each other. Anta Sānta or the exchange of girls between two families is permitted. The bridegroom’s father has to pay from five to twenty rupees as a chari or bride-price to the girl’s father, which sum is regarded as the remuneration of the latter for having brought up his daughter. In the case of the daughter of a headman the bride-price is sometimes as high as Rs. 150. In Damoh a curious survival of marriage by capture remains. The bridegroom’s party give a ram or he-goat to the bride’s party and these take it to their shed, cut its head off and hang it by the side of the khām or marriage-pole. The brother-in-law of the bridegroom or of his father then sallies forth to bring back the head of the animal, but is opposed by the women of the bride’s party, who belabour him and his friends with sticks, brooms and rolling-pins. But in the end the head is always taken away. The binding portion of the marriage is the bhānwar or walking round the sacred post. When the bride is leaving for her husband’s house the women of her party take seven balls of flour with burning wicks thrust into them, and place them in a winnowing-fan. They wave this round the bride’s head and then throw the balls and after them the fan over the litter in which the bride is seated. The bridegroom’s party must catch the fan, and if they let it fall to the ground they are much laughed at for their clumsiness. When the pair arrive at the bridegroom’s house, the fan is again waved over their heads; and a cloth is spread before the house, on which seven burning wicks are placed like the previous ones. The bride walks quickly over the cloth to the house and the [255]bridegroom must keep pace with her, picking up the burning flour balls as he goes. When the pair arrive at the house the bridegroom’s sister shuts the door and will not open it until she is given a present. Divorce and the remarriage of widows are permitted.

3. Funeral rites

The caste worship the ordinary Hindu deities. Well-to-do members burn their dead and the poorer ones bury them. The corpse is usually placed with the head to the south as is the custom among the primitive tribes, but in some localities the Hindu fashion of laying the head to the north has been adopted. Two pice are thrown down by the grave or burning-ghāt to buy the site, and these are taken by the sweeper. The ashes are collected on the third day and thrown into a river. The usual period of mourning is only three days, but it is sometimes extended to nine days when the chief mourner is unable to feed the caste-fellows on the third day, and the feast may in case of necessity be postponed to any time within six months of the death. The chief mourner puts on a new white cloth and eats nothing but rice and pulse without salt.

4. Occupation

The caste are employed on all kinds of earthwork, such as building walls, excavating trenches, and making embankments in fields. Their trade implements consist of a pickaxe, a basket, and a thin wooden hod to fill the earth into the basket. The Murha invokes these as follows: “Oh! my lord the basket, my lord the pickaxe shaped like a snake, and my lady the hod, come and eat up those who do not pay me for my work!” The Murhas are strict in their rules about food and will not accept cooked food even from a Brāhman, but notwithstanding this, their social position is so low that not even a sweeper would take food from them. The caste eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from fowls, pork and beef. They engage Brāhmans on the occasion of births and marriages, but not usually for funerals. The women tattoo their bodies after marriage, and the charge for this should always be paid by the maternal uncle’s wife, the paternal aunt, or some other similar relation of the girl. The fact that among most Hindus a girl must be tattooed before leaving for her husband’s house, and that the cost of the operation must always be paid for by her own family, seems [256]to indicate that tattooing was formerly a rite of puberty for the female sex. A wife must not mention the name of her husband or of any person who stands in the relation of father, mother, uncle or aunt to him. Parents do not call their eldest son by his proper name, but by some pet name. Women are impure for five days during menstruation and are not allowed to cook for that period. The Murhas have a caste panchāyat or committee, the head of which is known as Patel or Mukhia, the office being hereditary. He receives a part of all fines levied for the commission of social offences. In appearance the caste are dark and short of stature, and have some resemblance to the Kols.

Coolie women with babies slung at the side

Coolie women with babies slung at the side

5. Women’s song

In conclusion, I reproduce one of the songs which the women sing as they are carrying the basketfuls of earth or stones at their work; in the original each line consists of two parts, the last words of which sometimes rhyme with each other:

Our mother Nerbudda is very kind; blow, wind, we are hot with labour.

He said to the Maina: Go, carry my message to my love.

The red ants climb up the mango-tree; and the daughter follows her mother’s way.

I have no money to give her even lime and tobacco; I am poor, so how can I tell her of my love.

The boat has gone down on the flood of the Nerbudda; the fisherwoman is weeping for her husband.

She has no bangles on her arm nor necklace on her neck; she has no beauty, but seeks her lovers throughout the village.

Bread from the girdle, curry from the lota; let us go, beloved, the moon is shining.

The leaves of gram have been plucked from the plants; I think much on Dadaria, but she does not come.

The love of a stranger is as a dream; think not of him, beloved, he cannot be yours.

Twelve has struck and it is thirteen time (past the time of labour); oh, overseer, let your poor labourers go.

The betel-leaf is pressed in the mouth (and gives pleasure); attractive eyes delight the heart.

Catechu, areca and black cloves; my heart’s secret troubles me in my dreams.

The Nerbudda came and swept away the rubbish (from the works); fly away, bees, do not perch on my cloth.

The colour does not come on the wheat; her youth is passing, but she cannot yet drape her cloth on her body.

Like the sight of rain-drops splashing on the ground; so beautiful is she to look upon. [257]

It rains and the hidden streams in the woodland are filled (and come to view); hide as long as you may, some day you must be seen.

The mahua flowers are falling from the trees on the hill; leave me your cloth so that I may know you will return.

He went to the bazār and brought back a cocoanut; it is green without, but insects are eating the core.

He went to the hill and cut strings of bamboo; you cannot drape your cloth, you have wound it round your body.

The coral necklace hangs on the peg; if you become the second wife of my husband I shall give you clothes.

She put on her clothes and went to the forest; she met her lover and said you are welcome to me.

He went to the bazār and bought potatoes; but if he had loved me he would have brought me liquor.

The fish in the river are on the look-out; the Brāhman’s daughter is bathing with her hair down.

The arhar-stumps stand in the field; I loved one of another caste, but must give him up.

He ate betel and coloured his teeth; his beloved came from without and knew him.

The ploughmen are gone to the field; my clever writer is gone to the court-house.

The Nerbudda flows like a bent bow; a beautiful youth is standing in court.4

The broken areca-nuts lie in the forest; when a man comes to misfortune no one will help him.

The broken areca-nuts cannot be mended; and two hearts which are sundered cannot be joined.

Ask me for five rupees and I will give you twenty-five; but I will not give my lover for the whole world.

I will put bangles on my arm; when the other wife sees me she will die of jealousy.

Break the bangles which your husband gave you; and put others on your wrists in my name.

O my lover, give me bangles; make me armlets, for I am content with you.

My lover went to the bazār at Lakhanpur; but he has not brought me even a choli5 that I liked.

I had gone to the bazār and bought fish; she is so ugly that the flies would not settle on her.

1 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Bind.

2 Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Bind.

3 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, loc. cit.

4 The clever writer referred to in the preceding line.

5 Breast-cloth.



Nagasia, Naksia.—A primitive tribe found principally in the Chota Nāgpur States. They now number 16,000 persons in the Central Provinces, being returned almost entirely from Jashpur and Sargūja. The census returns are, however, liable to be inaccurate as the Nagasias frequently call themselves Kisān, a term which is also applied to the [258]Oraons. The Nagasias say that they are the true Kisāns whereas the Oraons are only so by occupation. The Oraons, on the other hand, call the Nagasias Kisāda. The tribe derive their name from the Nāg or cobra, and they say that somebody left an infant in the forest of Setambu and a cobra came and spread its hood over the child to protect him from the rays of the sun. Some Mundas happened to pass by and on seeing this curious sight they thought the child must be destined to greatness, so they took him home and made him their king, calling him Nagasia, and from him the tribe are descended. The episode of the snake is, of course, a stock legend related by many tribes, but the story appears to indicate that the Nagasias are an offshoot of the Mundas; and this hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Nāgbasia is often used as an alternative name for the Mundas by their Hindu neighbours. The term Nāgbasia is supposed to mean the original settlers (basia) in Nāg (Chota Nāgpur).

The tribe are divided into the Telha, Dhuria and Senduria groups. The Telhas are so called because at the marriage ceremony they mark the forehead of the bride with tel (oil), while the Dhurias instead of oil use dust (dhur) taken from the sole of the bridegroom’s foot, and the Sendurias like most Hindu castes employ vermilion (sendur) for this purpose. The Telhas and Dhurias marry with each other, but not with the Sendūrias, who consider themselves to be superior to the others and use the term Nāgbansia or ‘Descendants of the Snake’ as their tribal name. The Telha and Dhuria women do not wear glass bangles on their arms but only bracelets of brass, while the Sendurias wear glass bangles and also armlets above the elbow. Telha women do not wear nose-rings or tattoo their bodies, while the Sendūrias do both. The Telhas say that the tattooing needle and vermilion, which they formerly employed in their marriages, were stolen from them by Wāgdeo or the tiger god. So they hit upon sesamum oil as a substitute, which must be pressed for ceremonial purposes in a bamboo basket by unmarried boys using a plough-yoke. This is probably, Mr. Hīra Lāl remarks, merely the primitive method of extracting oil, prior to the invention of the Teli’s ghāni or oil-press; and the practice is an instance of the common [259]rule that articles employed in ceremonial and religious rites should be prepared by the ancient and primitive methods which for ordinary purposes have been superseded by more recent labour-saving inventions.



1. The tribe and its subdivisions

Nāhal, Nihāl.1—A forest tribe who are probably a mixture of Bhīls and Korkus. In 1911 they numbered 12,000 persons, of whom 8000 belonged to the Hoshangābād, Nimār and Betūl Districts, and nearly 4000 to Berār. They were classed at the census as a subtribe of Korkus. According to one story they are descended from a Bhīl father and a Korku mother, and the writer of the Khāndesh Gazetteer calls them the most savage of the Bhīls. But in the Central Provinces their family or sept names are the same as those of the Korkus, and they speak the Korku language. Mr. Kitts2 says that the Korkus who first went to Berār found the Nāhals in possession of the Melghāt hills. Gradually the latter caste lost their power and became the village drudges of the former. He adds that the Nāhals were fast losing their language, and the younger generation spoke only Korku. The two tribes were very friendly, and the Nāhals acknowledged the superior position of the Korkus. This, if it accurately represents the state of things prevailing for a long period, and was not merely an incidental feature of their relative position at the time Mr. Kitts’ observations were made, would tend to show that the Nāhals were the older tribe and had been subjected by the Korkus, just as the Korkus themselves and the Baigas have given way to the Gonds. Mr. Crosthwaite also states that the Nāhal is the drudge of the Korku and belongs to a race which is supposed to have been glorious before the Korku star arose, and which is now fast dying out. In any case there is no doubt that the Nāhals are a very mixed tribe, as they will even now admit into the community Gonds, Korkus and nearly all the Hindu castes, though in some localities they will not eat from the other tribes and the lower Hindu castes and therefore refuse to admit them. There are, moreover, [260]two subdivisions of the caste called Korku and Marāthi Nāhals respectively. The latter are more Hinduised than the former and disclaim any connection with the Korkus. The Nāhals have totemistic exogamous septs. Those of the Kāsa sept worship a tortoise and also a bell-metal plate, which is their family god. They never eat off a bell-metal plate except on one day in the month of Māgh (January), when they worship it. The members of the Nāgbel sept worship the betel-vine or ‘snake-creeper,’ and refrain from chewing betel-leaves, and they also worship the Nāg or cobra and do not kill it, thus having a sort of double totem. The Bhawaria sept, named after the bhaunr or black bee, do not eat honey, and if they see a person taking the honey-comb from a nest they will run away. The Khadia sept worship the spirits of their ancestors enshrined in a heap of stones (khad), or according to another account they worship a snake which sits on a heap of pebbles. The Surja sept worship Sūrya or the sun by offering him a fowl in the month of Pūs (December-January), and some members of the sept keep a fast every Sunday. The Saoner sept worship the san or flax plant.

2. Marriage

Marriage is prohibited between members of the same sept, but there are no other restrictions and first cousins may marry. Both sexes usually marry when adult, and sexual license before wedlock is tolerated. A Brāhman is employed only for fixing the date of the ceremony. The principal part of the marriage is the knotting together of the bride’s and bridegroom’s clothes on two successive days. They also gamble with tamarind seeds, and it is considered a lucky union if the bridegroom wins. A bride-price is usually paid consisting of Rs. 1–4 to Rs. 5 in cash, some grain and a piece of cloth for the bride’s mother. The remarriage of widows is allowed, and the couple go five times round a bamboo stick which is held up to represent a spear, the ceremony being called barchhi se bhānwar phirna or the marriage of the spear.

3. Religion

The Nāhals worship the forest god called Jhārkhandi in the month of Chait, and until this rite has been performed they do not use the leaves or fruits of the palās,3 aonlā4 or [261]mango trees. When the god is worshipped they collect branches and leaves of these trees and offer cooked food to them and thereafter commence using the new leaves, and the fruit and timber. They also worship the ordinary village godlings. The dead are buried, except in the case of members of the Surja or sun sept, whose corpses are burnt. Cooked food is offered at the grave for four days after the death.

4. Occupation

The Nāhals were formerly a community of hill-robbers, ‘Nāhal, Bhīl, Koli’ being the phrase generally used in old documents to designate the marauding bands of the western Satpūra hills. The Rāja of Jītgarh and Mohkot in Nimār has a long account in his genealogy of a treacherous massacre of a whole tribe of Nāhals by his ancestor in Akbar’s time, in recognition of which the Jītgarh pargana was granted to the family. Mr. Kitts speaks of the Nāhals of Berār as having once been much addicted to cattle-lifting, and this propensity still exists in a minor degree in the Central Provinces, accentuated probably by the fact that a considerable number of Nāhals follow the occupation of graziers. Some of them are also village watchmen, and another special avocation of theirs is the collection of the oil of the marking-nut tree (Semecarpus anacardium). This is to some extent a dangerous trade, as the oil causes swellings on the body, besides staining the skin and leaving a peculiar odour. The workers wrap a fourfold layer of cloth round their fingers with ashes between each fold, while the rest of the body is also protected by cloth when gathering the nuts and pounding them to extract the oil. At the end of the day’s work powdered tamarind and ghī are rubbed on the whole body. The oil is a stimulant, and is given to women after delivery and to persons suffering from rheumatism.

5. Social status

The social status of the Nāhals is very low and they eat the flesh of almost all animals, while those who graze cattle eat beef. Cow-killing is not regarded as an offence. They are also dirty and do not bathe for weeks together. To get maggots in a wound is, however, regarded as a grave offence, and the sufferer is put out of the village and has to live alone until he recovers. [262]

1 This article is mainly compiled from papers by Mr. Hīra Lāl and Bābu Gulāb Singh, Superintendent of Land Records, Betūl.

2 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 158.

3 Butea frondosa.

4 Phyllanthus emiblica.



List of Paragraphs

1. Structure of the caste

Nai, Nao, Mhāli, Hajjām, Bhanāri, Mangala.1—The occupational caste of barbers. The name is said to be derived from the Sanskrit nāpita according to some a corruption of snāpitri, one who bathes. In Bundelkhand he is also known as Khawās, which was a title for the attendant on a grandee; and Birtiya, or ‘He that gets his maintenance (vritti) from his constituents.’2 Mhāli is the Marāthi name for the caste, Bhandāri the Uriya name and Mangala the Telugu name. The caste numbered nearly 190,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911, being distributed over all Districts. Various legends of the usual type are related of its origin, but, as Sir. H. Risley observes, it is no doubt wholly of a functional character. The subcastes in the Central Provinces entirely bear out this view, as they are [263]very numerous and principally of the territorial type: Telange of the Telugu country, Marāthe, Pardeshi or northerners, Jhāria or those of the forest country of the Wainganga Valley, Bandhaiya or those of Bāndhogarh, Barāde of Berār, Bundelkhandi, Mārwāri, Mathuria from Mathura, Gadhwarīa from Garha near Jubbulpore, Lānjia from Lānji in Bālāghāt, Mālwi from Mālwa, Nimāri from Nimār, Deccane, Gujarāti, and so on. Twenty-six divisions in all are given. The exogamous groups are also of different types, some of them being named after Brāhman saints, as Gautam, Kashyap, Kosil, Sandil and Bhāradwāj; others after Rājpūt clans as Sūrajvansi, Jāduvansi, Solanki and Panwār; while others are titular or totemistic, as Nāik, leader; Seth, banker; Rāwat, chief; Nāgesh, cobra; Bāgh, a tiger; Bhādrawa, a fish.

2. Marriage and other customs

The exogamous groups are known as khero or kul, and marriage between members of the same group is prohibited. Girls are usually wedded between the ages of eight and twelve and boys between fifteen and twenty. A girl who goes wrong before marriage is finally expelled from the caste. The wedding ceremony follows the ritual prevalent in the locality as described in the articles on Kurmi and Kunbi. At an ordinary wedding the expenses on the girl’s side amount to about Rs. 150, and on the boy’s to Rs. 200. The remarriage of widows is permitted. In the northern Districts the widow may wed the younger brother of her deceased husband, but in the Marātha country she may not be married to any of his relatives. Divorce may be effected at the instance of the husband before the caste committee, and a divorced woman is at liberty to marry again. The Nais worship all the ordinary Hindu deities. On the Dasahra and Diwāli festivals they wash and revere their implements, the razor, scissors and nail-pruners. They pay regard to omens. It is unpropitious to sneeze or hear the report of a gun when about to commence any business; and when a man is starting on a journey, if a cat, a squirrel, a hare or a snake should cross the road in front of him he will give it up and return home. The bodies of the dead are usually burnt. In Chhattīsgarh the poor throw the corpses of their dead into the Mahānadi, and the bodies of children [264]dying under one year of age were until recently buried in the courtyard of the house. The period of mourning for adults is ten days and for children three days. The chief mourner must take only one meal a day, which he cooks himself until the ceremony of the tenth day is performed.

3. Occupation

“The barber’s trade,” Mr. Crooke states,3 “is undoubtedly of great antiquity. In the Veda we read, ‘Sharpen us like the razor in the hands of the barber’; and again, ‘Driven by the wind, Agni shaves the hair of the earth like the barber shaving a beard.’” In early times they must have enjoyed considerable dignity; Upali the barber was the first propounder of the law of the Buddhist church. The village barber’s leather bag contains a small mirror (ārsi), a pair of iron pincers (chimta), a leather strap, a comb (kanghi), a piece of cloth about a yard square and some oil in a phial. He shaves the faces, heads and armpits of his customers, and cuts the nails of both their hands and feet. He uses cold water in summer and hot in winter, but no soap, though this has now been introduced in towns. For the poorer cultivators he does a rapid scrape, and this process is called ‘asūdhal’ or a ‘tearful shave,’ because the person undergoing it is often constrained to weep. The barber acquires the knowledge of his art by practice on the more obliging of his customers, hence the proverb, ‘The barber’s son learns his trade on the heads of fools.’ The village barber is usually paid by a contribution of grain from the cultivators, calculated in some cases according to the number of ploughs of land possessed by each, in others according to the number of adult males in the family. In Saugor he receives 20 lbs. of grain annually for each adult male or 22½ lbs. per plough of land, besides presents of a basket of grain at seed-time and a sheaf at harvest. Cultivators are usually shaved about once a fortnight. In towns the barber’s fee may vary from a pice to two annas for a shave, which is, as has been seen, a much more protracted operation with a Hindu than with a European. It is said that Berār is now so rich that even ordinary cultivators can afford to pay the barber two annas (2d.) for a single shave, or the same price as in the suburbs of London. [265]

4. Other services

After he has shaved a client the barber pinches and rubs his arms, presses his fingers together and cracks the joints of each finger, this last action being perhaps meant to avert evil spirits. He also does massage, a very favourite method of treatment in India, and also inexpensive as compared with Europe. For one rupee a month in towns the barber will come and rub a man’s legs five or ten minutes every day. Cultivators have their legs rubbed in the sowing season, when the labour is intensely hard owing to the necessity of sowing all the land in a short period. If a man is well-to-do he may have his whole head and body rubbed with scented oil. Landowners have often a barber as a family servant, the office descending from father to son. Such a man will light his master’s chilam (pipe-bowl) or huqqa (water-pipe), clean and light lamps, prepare his bed, tell his master stories to send him to sleep, act as escort for the women of the family when they go on a journey and arrange matches for the children. The barber’s wife attends on women in child-birth after the days of pollution are over, and rubs oil on the bodies of her clients, pares their nails and paints their feet with red dye at marriages and on other festival occasions.

5. Duties at weddings

The barber has also numerous and important duties4 in connection with marriages and other festival occasions. He acts as the Brāhman’s assistant, and to the lower castes, who cannot employ a Brāhman, he is himself the matrimonial priest. The important part which he plays in marriage ceremonies has led to his becoming the matchmaker among all respectable castes. He searches for a suitable bride or bridegroom, and is often sent to inspect the other party to a match and report his or her defects to his clients. He may arrange the price or dowry, distribute the invitations and carry the presents from one house to the other. He supplies the leaf-plates and cups which are used at weddings, as the family’s stock of metal vessels is usually quite inadequate for the number of guests. The price of these is about 4 annas (4d.) a hundred. He also provides the torans or strings of leaves which are hung over the door of [266]the house and round the marriage-shed. At the feast the barber is present to hand to the guests water, betel-leaf and pipes as they may desire. He also partakes of the food, seated at a short distance from the guests, in the intervals of his service. He lights the lamps and carries the torches during the ceremony. Hence he was known as Masālchi or torch-bearer, a name now applied by Europeans to a menial servant who lights and cleans the lamps and washes the plates after meals. The barber and his wife act as prompters to the bride and bridegroom, and guide them through the complicated ritual of the wedding ceremony, taking the couple on their knees if they are children, and otherwise sitting behind them. The barber has a prescriptive right to receive the clothes in which the bridegroom goes to the bride’s house, as on the latter’s arrival he is always presented with new clothes by the bride’s father. As the bridegroom’s clothes may be an ancestral heirloom, a compact is often made to buy them back from the barber, and he may receive as much as Rs. 50 in lieu of them. When the first son is born in a family the barber takes a long bamboo stick, wraps it round with cloth and puts an earthen pot over it and carries this round to the relatives, telling them the good news. He receives a small present from each household.

6. The barber-surgeon

The barber also cleans the ears of his clients and cuts their nails, and is the village surgeon in a small way. He cups and bleeds his patients, applies leeches, takes out teeth and lances boils. In this capacity he is the counterpart of the barber-surgeon of mediaeval Europe. The Hindu physicians are called Baid, and are, as a rule, a class of Brāhmans. They derive their knowledge from ancient Sanskrit treatises on medicine, which are considered to have divine authority. Consequently they think it unnecessary to acquire fresh knowledge by experiment and observation, as they suppose the perfect science of medicine to be contained in their sacred books. As these books probably do not describe surgical operations, of which little or nothing was known at the time when they were written, and as surgery involves contact with blood and other impure substances, the Baids do not practise it, and the villagers [267]are left to get on as best they can with the ministrations of the barber. It is interesting to note that a similar state of things appears to have prevailed in Europe. The monks were the early practitioners of medicine and were forbidden to practise surgery, which was thus left to the barber-chirurgeon. The status of the surgeon was thus for long much below that of the physician.5 The mediaeval barber of Europe kept a bottle of blood in his window, to indicate that he undertook bleeding and the application of leeches, and the coloured bottles in the chemist’s window may have been derived from this. It is also said that the barber’s pole originally served as a support for the patient to lean on while he was being bled, and those barbers who did the work of bleeding patients painted their poles in variegated red and white stripes to show it.

7. A barber at the court of Oudh

Perhaps the most successful barber known to Indian history was not a Hindu at all, but a Peninsular and Oriental Company’s cabin-boy, who became the barber of one of the last kings of Oudh, Nasīr-ud-Dīn, in the early part of the nineteenth century, and rose to the position of a favourite courtier. He was entrusted with the supply of every European article used at court, and by degrees became a regular guest at the royal table, and sat down to take dinner with the king as a matter of right; nor would his majesty taste a bottle of wine opened by any other hands than the barber’s.6 This was, however, a wise precaution as it turned out, since after he had finally been forced to part with the barber the king was poisoned by his own relatives. The barber was also made keeper of the royal menagerie, for which he supplied the animals and their food, and made enormous profits. The following is an account of the presentation of the barber’s monthly bill of expenses:7 “It was after tiffin, or lunch, when we usually retired from the palace until dinner-time at nine o’clock, that the favourite entered with a roll of paper in his hand. In India, long documents, legal and commercial, are usually written, not in books or on successive sheets, but on a long roll, strip [268]being joined to strip for that purpose, and the whole rolled up like a map.

“‘Ha, Khan!’ said the king, observing him; ‘the monthly bill, is it?’

“‘It is, your majesty,’ was the smiling reply.

“‘Come, out with it; let us see the extent. Unroll it, Khan.’

“The king was in a playful humour; and the barber was always in the same mood as the king. He held the end of the roll in his hand, and threw the rest along the floor, allowing it to unroll itself as it retreated. It reached to the other side of the long apartment—a goodly array of items and figures, closely written too. The king wanted it measured. A measure was brought and the bill was found to be four yards and a half long. I glanced at the amount; it was upwards of Rs. 90,000, or £9000!”

The barber, however, encouraged the king in every form of dissipation and excess, until the state of the Oudh court became such a scandal that the king was forced by the British Government to dismiss him.8 He retired, it was said, with a fortune of £240,000.

8. Character and position of the barber

The barber is also, Mr. Low writes,9 the scandal-bearer and gossip-monger of the village. His cunning is proverbial, and he is known as Chhattīsa from the saying—

Nai hai chhattīsa

Khai an ka pīsa,

or ‘A barber has thirty-six talents by which he eats at the expense of others.’ His loquacity is shown in the proverb, ‘As the crow among birds so the barber among men.’ The barber and the professional Brāhman are considered to be jealous of their perquisites and unwilling to share with their caste-fellows, and this is exemplified in the proverb, “The barber, the dog and the Brāhman, these three snarl at meeting one of their own kind.” The joint association of the Brāhman priest and the barber with marriages and other ceremonies has led to the saying, “As there are [269]always reeds in a river so there is always a barber with a Brāhman.” The barber’s astuteness is alluded to in the saying, ‘Nine barbers are equal to seventy-two tailors.’ The fact that it is the barber’s duty to carry the lights in marriage processions has led to the proverb, “At the barber’s wedding all are gentlemen and it is awkward to have to ask somebody to carry the torch.” The point of this is clear, though no English equivalent occurs to the mind. And a similar idea is expressed by ‘The barber washes the feet of others but is ashamed to wash his own.’ It would appear from these proverbs that the Nai is considered to enjoy a social position somewhat above his deserts. Owing to the nature of his duties, which make him a familiar inmate of the household and bring him into contact with the persons of his high-caste clients, the caste of the Nai is necessarily considered to be a pure one and Brāhmans will take water from his hands. But, on the other hand, his calling is that of a village menial and has also some elements of impurity, as in cupping which involves contact with blood, and in cutting the nails and hair of the corpse before cremation. He is thus looked down upon as a menial and also considered as to some extent impure. No member of a cultivating caste would salute a barber first or look upon him as an equal, though Brāhmans put them on the same level of ceremonial purity by taking water from both. The barber’s loquacity and assurance have been made famous by the Arabian Nights, but they have perhaps been affected by the more strenuous character of life, and his conversation does not flow so freely as it did. Often he now confines himself to approving and adding emphasis to any remarks of the patron and greeting any of his little witticisms with bursts of obsequious laughter. In Madras, Mr. Pandiān states, the village barber, like the washerman, is known as the son of the village. If a customer does not pay him his dues, he lies low, and when he has begun to shave the defaulter, engages him in a dispute and says something to excite his anger. The latter will then become abusive to the barber, whom he regards as a menial, and perhaps strike him, and this gives the barber an opportunity to stop shaving him and rush off to lay a complaint at the village court-house, [270]leaving his enemy to proceed home with half his head shaved and thus exposed to general ridicule.10

9. Beliefs about hair

Numerous customs appear to indicate that the hair was regarded as the special seat of bodily strength. The Rājpūt warriors formerly wore their hair long and never cut it, but trained it in locks over their shoulders. Similarly the Marātha soldiers wore their hair long. The Hatkars, a class of Marātha spearmen, might never cut their hair while engaged on military service. A Sikh writer states of Guru Govind, the founder of the militant Sikh confederacy: “He appeared as the tenth Avatār (incarnation of Vishnu). He established the Khālsa, his own sect, and by exhibiting singular energy, leaving the hair on his head, and seizing the scimitar, he smote every wicked person.”11 As is well known, no Sikh may cut his hair, and one of the five marks of the Sikh is the kanga or comb, which he must always carry in order to keep his hair in proper order. A proverb states that ‘The origin of a Sikh is in his hair.’12 The following story, related by Sir J. Malcolm, shows the vital importance attached by the Sikh to his hair and beard: “Three inferior agents of Sikh chiefs were one day in my tent. I was laughing and joking with one of them, a Khālsa Sikh, who said he had been ordered to attend me to Calcutta. Among other subjects of our mirth I rallied him on trusting himself so much in my power. ‘Why, what is the worst,’ he said, ‘that you can do to me?’ I passed my hand across my chin, imitating the act of shaving. The man’s face was in an instant distorted with rage and his sword half-drawn. ‘You are ignorant,’ he said to me, ‘of the offence you have given; I cannot strike you who are above me, and the friend of my master and the state; but no power,’ he added, indicating the Khālsa Sikhs, ‘shall save these fellows who dared to smile at your action.’ It was with the greatest difficulty and only by the good offices of some Sikh Chiefs that I was able to pacify his wounded honour.”13 These instances appear to show [271]clearly that the Sikhs considered their hair of vital importance; and as fighting was their object in life, it seems most probable that they thought their strength in war was bound up in it. Similarly when the ancient Spartans were on a military expedition purple garments were worn and their hair was carefully decked with wreaths, a thing which was never done at home.14 And when Leonidas and his three hundred were holding the pass of Thermopylae, and Xerxes sent scouts to ascertain what the Greeks were doing in their camp, the report was that some of them were engaged in gymnastics and warlike exercises, while others were merely sitting and combing their long hair. If the hypothesis already suggested is correct, the Spartan youths so engaged were perhaps not merely adorning themselves for death, but, as they thought, obtaining their full strength for battle. “The custom of keeping the hair unshorn during a dangerous expedition appears to have been observed, at least occasionally, by the Romans. Achilles kept unshorn his yellow hair, because his father had vowed to offer it to the river Sperchius if ever his son came home from the wars beyond the sea.”15

When the Bhīls turned out to fight they let down their long hair prior to beginning the conflict with their bows and arrows.16 The pirates of Surat, before boarding a ship, drank bhāng and hemp-liquor, and when they wore their long hair loose they gave no quarter.17 The Mundas appear to have formerly worn their hair long and some still do. Those who are converted to Christianity must cut their hair, but a non-Christian Munda must always keep the chundi or pigtail. If the chundi is very long it is sometimes tied up in a knot.18 Similarly the Oraons wore their hair long like women, gathered in a knot behind, with a wooden or iron comb in it. Those who are Christians can be recognised by the fact that they have cut off their pigtails. A man of the low Pārdhi caste of hunters must never have his hair touched by a razor after he has once killed a deer. As already seen, every orthodox Hindu wore till recently a [272]choti or scalp-lock, which should theoretically be as long as a cow’s tail. Perhaps the idea was that for those who were not warriors it was sufficient to retain this and have the rest of the head shaved. The choti was never shaved off in mourning for any one but a father. The lower castes of Muhammadans, if they have lost several children, will allow the scalp-lock to grow on the heads of those subsequently born, dedicating it to one of their Muhammadan saints. The Kanjars relate of their heroic ancestor Māna that after he had plunged a bow so deeply into the ground that no one could withdraw it, he was set by the Emperor of Delhi to wrestle against the two most famous Imperial wrestlers. These could not overcome him fairly, so they made a stratagem, and while one provoked him in front the other secretly took hold of his choti behind. When Māna started forward his choti was thus left in the wrestler’s hands, and though he conquered the other wrestler, showing him the sky as it is said, the loss of his choti deprived him for ever after of his virtue as a Hindu and in no small degree of his renown as an ancestor.19 Thus it seems clear that a special virtue attaches to the choti. Before every warlike expedition the people of Minahassa in Celebes used to take the locks of hair of a slain foe and dabble them in boiling water to extract the courage; this infusion of bravery was then drunk by the warriors.20 In a modern Greek folk-tale a man’s strength lies in three golden hairs on his head. When his mother plucks them out, he grows weak and timid and is slain by his enemies.21 The Red Indian custom of taking the scalp, of a slain enemy and sometimes wearing the scalps at the waist-belt may be due to the same relief.

Hindu men showing the choti or scalp-lock

Hindu men showing the choti or scalp-lock

In Ceram the hair might not be cut because it was the seat of a man’s strength; and the Gaboon negroes for the same reason would not allow any of their hair to pass into the possession of a stranger.22

10. Hair of kings and priests

If the hair was considered to be the special source of strength and hence frequently of life, that of the kings and priests, in whose existence the primitive tribe believed its [273]own communal life to be bound up, would naturally be a matter of peculiar concern. That it was so has been shown in the Golden Bough. Two hundred years ago the hair and nails of the Mikādo of Japan could only be cut when he was asleep.23 The hair of the Flamen Dialis at Rome could be cut only by a freeman and with a bronze knife, and his hair and nails when cut had to be buried under a lucky tree.24 The Frankish kings were never allowed to crop their hair; from their childhood upwards they had to keep it unshorn. The hair of the Aztec priests hung down to their hams so that the weight of it became very troublesome; for they might never crop it so long as they lived, or at least till they had been relieved from their office on the score of old age.25 In the Māle Pahāria tribe from the time that any one devoted himself to the profession of priest and augur his hair was allowed to grow like that of a Nazarite; his power of divination entirely disappeared if he cut it.26 Among the Bawarias of India the Bhuva or priest of Devi may not cut or shave his hair under penalty of a fine of Rs. 10. A Parsi priest or Mobed must never be bare-headed and never shave his head or face.27 Professor Robertson Smith states: “As a diadem is in its origin nothing more than a fillet to confine hair that is worn long, I apprehend that in old times the hair of Hebrew princes like that of a Maori chief, was taboo, and that Absalom’s long locks (2 Sam. xiv. 26) were the mark of his political pretensions and not of his vanity. When the hair of a Maori chief was cut, it was collected and buried in a sacred place or hung on a tree; and it is noteworthy that Absalom’s hair was cut annually at the end of the year, in the sacred season of pilgrimage, and that it was collected and weighed.”28

11. The beard

The importance attached by other races to the hair of the head seems among the Muhammadans to have been concentrated specially in the beard. The veneration displayed for the beard in this community is well known. The Prophet ordained that the minimum length of the beard should be [274]the breadth of five fingers. When the beard is turning grey they usually dye it with henna and sometimes with indigo; it may be thought that a grey beard is a sign of weakness. The Prophet said, ‘Change the whiteness of your hair, but not with anything black.’ It is not clear why black was prohibited. It is said that the first Caliph Abu Bakar was accustomed to dye his beard red with henna, and hence this practice has been adopted by Muhammadans.29 The custom of shaving the chin is now being adopted by young Muhammadans, but as they get older they still let the beard grow. A very favourite Muhammadan oath is, ‘By the beard of the Prophet’; and in Persia if a man thinks another is mocking him he says, ‘Do you laugh at my beard?’ Neither Hindus nor Muhammadans have any objection to becoming bald, as the head is always covered by the turban in society. But when a man wishes to grow a beard it is a serious drawback if he is unable to do it; and he will then sometimes pluck the young wheat-ears and rub the juice over his cheeks and chin so that he may grow bearded like the wheat. Among the Hindus, Rājpūts and Marāthas, as well as the Sikhs, commonly wore beards, all of these being military castes. Both the beard and hair were considered to impart an aspect of ferocity to the countenance, and when the Rājpūts and Muhammadans were going into battle they combed the hair and trained the beard to project sideways from the face. When a Muhammadan wears a beard he must have hair in the centre of his chin, whereas a Hindu shaves this part. A Muhammadan must have his moustache short so that it may not touch and defile food entering the mouth. It is related that a certain Kāzī had a small head and a very long beard; and he had a dream that a man with a small head and a long beard must be a fool. When he woke up he thought this was applicable to himself. As he could not make his head larger he decided to make his beard smaller, and looked for scissors to cut part of it off. But he could not find any scissors, and being in a hurry to shorten his beard he decided to burn away part of it, and set it alight. But the fire consumed the whole of his beard before he could put it out, and he then realised the truth of the dream. [275]

12. Significance of removal of the hair and shaving the head

If the hair was considered to be the source of a man’s strength and vigour, the removal of it would involve the loss of this and might be considered especially to debar him from fighting or governing. The instances given from the Golden Bough have shown the fear felt by many people of the consequences of the removal of their hair. The custom of shaving the head might also betoken the renunciation of the world and of the pursuit of arms. This may be the reason why monks shaved the head, a practice which was followed by Buddhist as well as Christian monks. A very clear case is also given by Sir James Frazer: “When the wicked brothers Clotaire and Childebert coveted the kingdom of their dead brother Clodomir, they inveigled into their power their little nephews, the two sons of Clodomir; and having done so, they sent a messenger bearing scissors and a naked sword to the children’s grandmother, Queen Clotilde, at Paris. The envoy showed the scissors and the sword to Clotilde, and bade her choose whether the children should be shorn and live, or remain unshorn and die. The proud queen replied that if her grandchildren were not to come to the throne she would rather see them dead than shorn. And murdered they were by their ruthless uncle Clotaire with his own hand.”30 In this case it appears that if their hair was shorn the children could not come to the throne but would be destined to become monks. Similarly, in speaking of the Georgians, Marco Polo remarks that they cut their hair short like churchmen.31 When a member of the religious order of the Mānbhaos is initiated his head is shaved clean by the village barber, and the scalp-lock and moustache must be cut off by his guru or preceptor, this being perhaps the special mark of his renunciation of the world. The scalp-locks are preserved and made into ropes which some of them fasten round their loins. Members of the Hindu orders generally shave their scalp-locks and the head on initiation, probably for the same reason as the Mānbhaos. But afterwards they often let the whole of their hair grow long. These men imagine that by the force of their austerities they will obtain divine power, so [276]their religious character appears to be of a different order from monasticism. Perhaps, therefore, they wear their hair long in order to increase their spiritual potency. They themselves now say that they do it in imitation of the god Siva and the ancient ascetics who had long matted locks. The common Hindu practice of shaving the heads of widows may thus be interpreted as a symbol of their complete renunciation of the world and of any idea of remarriage. It was accompanied by numerous other rules designed to make a widow’s life a continual penance. This barbarous custom was formerly fairly general, at least among the higher castes, but is rapidly being abandoned except by one or two of the stricter sections of Brāhmans. Shaving the head might also be imposed as a punishment. Thus in the time of the reign of the Emperor Chandraguptra Maurya in the fourth century B.C. it is stated that ordinary wounding by mutilation was punished by the corresponding mutilation of the offender, in addition to the amputation of his hand. The crime of giving false evidence was visited with mutilation of the extremities; and in certain unspecified cases, serious offences were punished by the shaving of the offender’s hair, a penalty regarded as specially infamous.32 The cutting off of some or all of the hair is at the present time a common punishment for caste offences. Among the Korkus a man and woman caught in adultery have each a lock of hair cut off. If a Chamār man and woman are detected in the same offence, the heads of both are shaved clean of hair. A Dhīmar girl who goes wrong before marriage has a lock of her hair cut off as a penalty, the same being done in several other castes.

13. Shaving the head by mourners

The exact significance which is to be attached to the removal by mourners of their hair after a death is perhaps doubtful. Sir James Frazer shows that the Australian aborigines are accustomed to let their own blood flow on to the corpse of a dead kinsman and to place their cut hair on the corpse. He suggests that in both cases the object is to strengthen the feeble spirit within the corpse and sustain its life, in order that it may be born again. As a development [277]of such a rite the hair might have become an offering to the dead, and later still its removal might become a sacrifice and indication of grief. In this manner the common custom of tearing the hair in token of grief and mourning for the dead would be accounted for. Whether the Hindu custom of shaving the heads of mourners was also originally a sacrifice and offering appears to be uncertain. Professor Robertson Smith considered33 that in this case the hair is shaved off as a means of removing impurity, and quotes instances from the Bible where lepers and persons defiled by contact with the dead are purified by shaving the hair.34 As the father of a child is also shaved after its birth, and the shaving must here apparently be a rite of purification, it probably has the same significance in the case of mourners; it is not clear whether any element of sacrifice is also involved. The degree to which the Hindu mourner parts with his hair varies to some extent with the nearness of the relationship, and for females or distant relatives they do not always shave. The mourners are shaved on the last day of the impurity, when presents are given to the Mahā-Brāhman, and the latter, representing the dead man, is also shaved with them. When a Hindu is at the point of death, before he makes the gifts for the good of his soul the head is shaved with the exception of his choti or scalp-lock, the chin and upper lip. Often the corpse is also shaved after death.

14. Hair offerings

Another case of the hair offering is that made in fulfilment of a vow or at a temple. In this case the hair appears to be a gift-offering which is made to the god as representing the life and strength of the donor; owing to the importance attached to the hair as the source of life and strength, it was a very precious sacrifice. Sir James Frazer also suggests that the hair so given would impart life and strength to the god, of which he stood in need, just as he needed food to nourish him. Among the Hindus it is a common practice to take a child to some well-known temple to have its hair cut for the first time, and to offer the clippings of hair to the deity. If they cannot go to the temple to have the hair cut they have it cut at home, [278]and either preserve the whole hair or a lock of it, until an opportunity occurs to offer it at the temple. In some castes a Brāhman is invited at the first cutting of a child’s hair, and he repeats texts and blesses the child; the first lock of hair is then cut by the child’s maternal uncle, and its head is shaved by the barber. A child’s hair is cut in the first, third or fifth year after birth, but not in the second or fourth year. Among the Muhammadans when a child’s hair is cut for the first time, or at least on one occasion in its life, the hair should be weighed against silver or gold and the amount distributed in charity. In these cases also it would appear that the hair as a valuable part of the child is offered to the god to obtain his protection for the life of the child. If a woman has no child and desires one, or if she has had children and lost them, she will vow her next child’s hair to some god or temple. A small patch known as chench is then left unshorn on the child’s head until it can be taken to the temple.

15. Keeping hair unshorn during a vow

It was also the custom to keep the hair unshorn during the performance of a vow. “While his vow lasted a Nazarite might not have his hair cut: ‘All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head.’35 The Egyptians on a journey kept their hair uncut till they returned home.36 Among the Chatti tribe of the ancient Germans the young warriors never clipped their hair or their beard till they had slain an enemy. Six thousand Saxons once swore that they would not clip their hair nor shave their beards until they had taken vengeance on their enemies.”37 Similarly, Hindu religious mendicants keep their hair long while they are journeying on a pilgrimage, and when they arrive at the temple which is their goal they shave it all off and offer it to the god. In this case, as the hair is vowed as an offering, it clearly cannot be cut during the performance of the vow, but must be preserved intact. When the task to be accomplished for the fulfilment of a vow is a journey or the slaying of enemies, the retention of the hair is probably also [279]meant to support and increase the wearer’s strength for the accomplishment of his purpose.

16. Disposal of cut hair and nails

If the hair contained a part of the wearer’s life and strength its disposal would be a matter of great importance, because, according to primitive belief, these qualities would remain in it after it had been severed. Hence, if an enemy obtained it, by destroying the hair or some analogous action he might injure or destroy the life and strength of the person to whom it belonged. The Hindus usually wrap up a child’s first hair in a ball of dough and throw it into a running stream, with the cuttings of his nails. Well-to-do people also place a rupee in the ball, so that it is now regarded as an offering. The same course is sometimes followed with the hair and nails cut ceremoniously at a wedding, and possibly on one or two other occasions, such as the investiture with the sacred thread; but the belief is decaying, and ordinarily no care is taken of the shorn hair. In Berār when the Hindus cut a child’s hair for the first time they sometimes bury it under a water-pot where the ground is damp, perhaps with the idea that the child’s hair will grow thickly and plentifully like grass in a damp place. It is a common belief that if a barren woman gets hold of a child’s first hair and wears it round her waist the fertility of the child’s mother will be transferred to her. The Sarwaria Brāhmans shave a child’s hair in its third year. A small silver razor is made specially for the occasion, costing a rupee and a quarter, and the barber first touches the child’s hair with this and then shaves it ceremoniously with his own razor.38 The Halbas think that the severed clippings of hair are of no use for magic, but if a witch can cut a lock of hair from a man’s head she can use it to work magic on him. In making an image of a person with intent to injure or destroy him, it was customary to put a little of his hair into the image, by which means his life and strength were conveyed to it. A few years ago a London newspaper mentioned the case of an Essex man entering a hairdresser’s and requesting the barber to procure for him a piece of a certain customer’s hair. When asked the reason for this curious demand, he [280]stated that the customer had injured him and he wished to ‘work a spell’ against him.39 In the Pārsi Zend-Avesta it is stated that if the clippings of hair or nails are allowed to fall in the ground or ditches, evil spirits spring up from them and devour grain and clothing in the house. It was therefore ordained for the Pārsis through their prophet Zarathustra that the cuttings of hair or nails should be buried in a deep hole ten paces from a dwelling, twenty paces from fire, and fifty paces from the sacred bundles called baresmān. Texts should be said over them and the hole filled in. Many Pārsis still bury their cut hair and nails four inches under ground, and an extracted tooth is disposed of in the same manner.40 Some Hindus think that the nail-parings should always be thrown into a frequented place, where they will be destroyed by the traffic. If they are thrown on to damp earth they will grow into a plant which will ruin the person from whose body they came. It is said that about twenty years ago a man in Nāgpur was ruined by the growth of a piece of finger-nail, which had accidentally dropped into a flower-pot in his house. Apparently in this case the nail is supposed to contain a portion of the life and strength of the person to whom it belonged, and if the nail grows it gradually absorbs more and more of his life and strength, and he consequently becomes weaker and weaker through being deprived of it. The Hindu superstition against shaving the head appears to find a parallel regarding the nails in the old English saying:

Cut no horn

On the Sabbath morn.

Among some Hindus it is said that the toe-nails should not be cut at all until a child is married, when they are cut ceremoniously by the barber.

17. Superstitions about shaving the hair

Since the removal of the hair is held to involve a certain loss of strength and power, it should only be effected at certain seasons and not on auspicious days. A man who has male children should not have his head shaved on Monday, as this may cause his children to die. On the [281]other hand, a man who has no children will fast on Sunday in the hope of getting them, and therefore he will neither shave his head nor visit his wife on that day. A Hindu must not be shaved on Thursday, because this is the day of the planet Jupiter, which is also known as Guru, and his act would be disrespectful to his own guru or preceptor. Tuesday is Devi’s day, and a man will not get shaved on that day; nor on Saturday, because it is Hanumān’s day.41 On Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays he may be shaved, but not if the day happens to be the new moon, full moon, or the Ashtami or Ekadashi, that is the eighth or eleventh day of the fortnight. He should not shave on the day that he is going on a journey. If all these rules were strictly observed there would be very few days on which one could get shaved, but many of them are necessarily more honoured in the breach. Wednesdays and Fridays are the best days for shaving, and by shaving on these days a man will see old age. Debtors are shaved on Wednesdays, as they think that this will help them to pay off their debts. Some Brāhmans are not shaved during the month of Shrāwan (July), when the crops are growing, nor during the nine days of the months of Kunwār (September) and Chait (March), when a fast is observed and the jawaras42 are sown. After they have been shaved high-caste Hindus consider themselves impure till they have bathed. They touch no person or thing in the house, and sometimes have the water thrown on them by a servant so as to avoid contact with the vessels. They will also neither eat, drink nor smoke until they have bathed. Sometimes they throw so much water over the head in order to purify themselves as to catch a bad cold. In this case, apparently, the impurity accrues from the loss of the hair, and the man feels that virtue has gone out of him. Women never shave their hair with a razor, as they think that to do so would make the body so heavy after death that it could not be carried to the place of cremation. They carefully pluck out the hair under the armpits and the pubic hair with a pair of pincers. A [282]girl’s hair may be cut with scissors, but not after she is ten years old or is married. Sometimes a girl’s hair is not cut at all, but her father will take a pearl and entwine it into her hair, where it is left until she is married. It is considered very auspicious to give away a girl in marriage with hair which has never been cut, and a pearl in it. After marriage she will take out the pearl and wear it in an ornament.

18. Reasons why the hair was considered the source of strength

The above evidence appears to indicate that the belief of a man’s strength and vigour being contained in his hair is by no means confined to the legend of Samson, but is spread all over the world. This has been pointed out by Professor Robertson Smith,43 Professor Wilken and others. Sir J.G. Frazer also adduces several instances in the Golden Bough to show that the life or soul was believed to be contained in the hair. This may well have been the case, but the hair was also specialised, so to speak, as the seat of bodily vigour and strength. The same idea appears to have applied in a minor measure to the nails and teeth. The rules for disposing of the cut hair usually apply to the parings of nails, and the first teeth are also deposited in a rat’s hole or on the roof of the house. As suggested by Professor Robertson Smith it seems likely that the strength and vigour of the body was believed to be located in the hair, and also to a less extent in the nails and teeth, because they grew more visibly and quickly than the body and continued to do so after it had attained to maturity. The hair and nails continue to grow all through life, and though the teeth do not grow when fully formed, the second teeth appear when the body is considerably developed and the wisdom teeth after it is fully developed. The hair grows much more palpably and vigorously than the nails and teeth, and hence might be considered especially the source of strength. Other considerations which might confirm the idea are that men have more hair on their bodies than women, and strongly built men often have a large quantity of hair. Some of the stronger wild animals have long hair, as the lion, bear and wild boar; and the horse, often considered the embodiment of strength, has a [283]long mane. And when anger is excited the hair sometimes appears to rise, as it were, from the skin. The nails and teeth were formerly used on occasion as weapons of offence, and hence might be considered to contain part of the strength and vigour of the body.

Finally, it may be suggested as a possibility that the Roundheads cut their hair short as a protest against the superstition that a soldier’s hair must be long, which originated in the idea that strength is located in the hair and may have still been current in their time. We know that the Puritans strove vainly against the veneration of the Maypole as the spirit of the new vegetation,44 and against the old nature-rites observed at Christmas, the veneration of fire as the preserver of life against cold, and the veneration of the evergreen plants, the fir tree, the holly, and the mistletoe, which retained their foliage through the long night of the northern winter, and were thus a pledge to man of the return of warmth and the renewal of vegetation in the spring. And it therefore seems not altogether improbable that the Puritans may have similarly contended against the superstition as to the wearing of long hair.

1 This article is compiled from papers by Mr. Chatterji, retired E.A.C., Jubbulpore; Professor Sadāshiva Jairām, M.A., Hislop College, Nagpur; and Mr. C. Shrinivas Naidu, First Assistant Master, Sironcha, Chānda; and from the Central Provinces District Gazetteers.

2 Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Nai.

3 Tribes and Castes, art. Nai, para. 5.

4 The following account is largely taken from Mr. Nesfield’s Brief View of the Caste System, pp. 42, 43.

5 Eighteenth Century Middle-Class Life, by C.S. Torres, in the Nineteenth Century and After, Sept. 1910.

6 Private Life of an Eastern King, p. 17.

7 Ibidem, p. 107.

8 Private Life of an Eastern King, p. 330.

9 In the Bālāghāt District Gazetteer.

10 D.B. Pandiān, Indian Village Life, under Barber.

11 Quoted in Malcolm’s Sketch of the Sikhs, Asiatic Researches, vol. xi., 1810, p. 289.

12 Quoted in Sir D. Ibbetson’s account of the Sikhs in Punjab Census Report (1881).

13 Sketch of the Sikhs, ibidem, pp. 284, 285.

14 Professor Blümners, Home Life of the Ancient Greeks, translation, p. 455.

15 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. vol. iii. p. 370.

16 Hendley, Account of the Bhīls, J.A.S.B. vol. xxxiv., 1875, p. 360.

17 Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarāt, p. 528.

18 S.C. Roy, The Mundas and their Country, p. 369.

19 W. Kirkpatrick in J.A.S.B., July 1911, p. 438.

20 Golden Bough, 3rd ed. vol. viii. p. 153.

21 G.B., 3rd ed., Balder the Beautiful, vol. ii. p. 103.

22 Dr. Jevons, Introduction to the History of Religion, p. 45.

23 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 234.

24 Ibidem, vol. i. p. 242.

25 Ibidem, vol. i. pp. 368, 369.

26 Dalton, Ethnology of Bengal, p. 270.

27 Bombay Gazetteer, Parsis of Gujarāt, p. 226.

28 Religion of the Semites, note i. pp. 483, 484.

29 Bombay Gazetteer, Muhammadans of Gujarāt, p. 52.

30 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 368.

31 Yule’s ed. i. 50, quoted in Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarāt, p. 470.

32 Mr. V.A. Smith, Early History of India, 2nd ed. p. 128.

33 Religion of the Semites, p. 33.

34 Lev. xiv. 9 and Deut. xxi. 12.

35 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 371.

36 Ibidem, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 370.

37 Ibidem, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 371.

38 Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Sarwaria.

39 Occult Review, October 1909.

40 Orpheus, p. 99, and Bombay Gazetteer, Pārsis of Gujarāt; p. 220.

41 Hanumān is worshipped on this day in order to counteract the evil influence of the planet Saturn, whose day it really is.

42 Pots in which wheat-stalks are sown and tended for nine days, corresponding to the Gardens of Adonis.

43 Religion of the Semites p. 324.

44 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 203.



Naoda.1—A small caste found in the Nimār District and in Central India. The name means a rower and is derived from nao, a boat. The caste are closely connected with the Mallāhs or Kewats, but have a slightly distinctive position, as they are employed to row pilgrims over the Nerbudda at the great fair held at Siva’s temple on the island of Mandhāta. They say that their ancestors were Rājpūts, and some of their family names, as Solanki, Rāwat and Mori, are derived from those of Rājpūt septs. But these have probably been adopted in imitation of their Kshatriya overlords. The caste is an occupational one. They have a tradition that in former times a Naoda boatman recovered the corpse of a king’s daughter, who had drowned [284]herself in the river wearing costly jewels, and the king as a reward granted them the right of ferrying pilgrims at Mandhāta, which they still continue to enjoy, keeping their earnings for themselves. They have a division of impure blood called the Gāte or bastard Naodas, who marry among themselves, and any girl who reaches the age of puberty without being married is relegated to this. In the case of a caste whose numbers are so small, irregular connections with outsiders must probably be not infrequent. Another report states that adult unmarried girls are not expelled but are married to a pīpal tree. But girls are sought after, and it is customary to pay a bride-price, the average amount of which is Rs. 25. Before the bridegroom starts for his wedding his mother takes and passes in front of him, successively from his head to his feet, a pestle, some stalks of rūsa grass, a churning rod and a winnowing-fan. This is done with the object of keeping off evil spirits, and it is said that by her action she threatens to pound the spirits with the pestle, to tie them up with the grass, to churn and mash them with the churning-rod, and to scatter them to the winds with the winnowing-fan. When a man wishes to divorce his wife he simply turns her out of the house in the presence of four or five respectable men of the caste. The marriage of a widow is celebrated on a Sunday or Tuesday, the clothes of the couple being tied together by another widow at night. The following day they spend together in a garden, and in the evening are escorted home by their relatives with torches and music. Next morning the woman goes to the well and draws water, and her husband, accompanying her, helps her to lift the water-pots on to her shoulder.

The caste worship the ordinary Hindu deities and especially Bhairon, the guardian of the gate of Mahādeo’s temple. They have a nail driven into the bow of their boat which is called ‘Bhairon’s nail,’ and at the Dasahra festival they offer to this a white pumpkin with cocoanuts, vermilion, incense and liquor. The caste hold in special reverence the cow, the dog and the tamarind tree. The dog is sacred as being the animal on which Bhairava rides, and their most solemn oaths are sworn by a dog or a cow. [285]They will on no account cut or burn the tamarind tree, and the women veil their faces before it. They cannot explain this sentiment, which is probably due to some forgotten belief of the nature of totemism. To kill a cow or a cat intentionally involves permanent exclusion from the caste, while the slaughter of a squirrel, dog, horse, buffalo or monkey is punished by temporary exclusion, it being equally sinful to allow any of these animals to die with a rope round its neck. The Naodas eat the flesh of pigs and fowls, but they occupy a fairly good social position and Brāhmans will take water from their hands. [286]

1 In 1911 the Naodas numbered 700 persons in the Central Provinces. About 1000 were returned in Central India in 1891, but in 1901 they were amalgamated with the Mallāhs or Kewats. This article is based on a paper by Mr. P.R. Kaipitia, Forest Ranger.



List of Paragraphs

1. The Nats not a proper caste

Nat,1 Bādi, Dang-Charha, Karnati, Bāzigar, Sapera.—The term Nat (Sanskrit Nata—a dancer) appears to be applied indefinitely to a number of groups of vagrant acrobats and showmen, especially those who make it their business to do feats on the tight-rope or with poles, and those who train and exhibit snakes. Bādi and Bāzigar mean a rope-walker, Dang-Charha a rope-climber, and Sapera a snake-charmer. In the Central Provinces the Garūdis or snake-charmers, and the Kolhātis, a class of gipsy acrobats akin to the Berias, are also known as Nat, and these are treated in separate articles. It is almost certain that a considerable section, if not the majority, of the Nats really belong to the Kanjar or Beria gipsy castes, who themselves maybe sprung from the Doms.2 Sir D. Ibbetson says: “They wander about with their families, settling for a few days or weeks at a time in the vicinity of large villages or towns, and constructing temporary shelters of grass. In addition to practising acrobatic feats and conjuring of a low class, they make articles of grass, straw and reeds for sale; and in the centre of the Punjab are said to act as Mirāsis, though this is perhaps doubtful. They often practise surgery and physic in a small way and [287]are not free from suspicion of sorcery.”3 This account would just as well apply to the Kanjar gipsies, and the Nat women sometimes do tattooing like Kanjar or Beria women. In Jubbulpore also the caste is known as Nat Beria, indicating that the Nats there are probably derived from the Beria caste. Similarly Sir H. Risley gives Bāzigar and Kabūtari as groups of the Berias of Bengal, and states that these are closely akin to the Nats and Kanjars of Hindustān.4 An old account of the Nats or Bāzigars5 would equally well apply to the Kanjars; and in Mr. Crooke’s detailed article on the Nats several connecting links are noticed. The Nat women are sometimes known as Kabūtari or pigeon, either because their acrobatic feats are like the flight of the tumbler pigeon, or on account of the flirting manner with which they attract their male customers.6 In the Central Provinces the women of the small Gopāl caste of acrobats are called Kabūtari, and this further supports the hypothesis that Nat is rather an occupational term than the name of a distinct caste, though it is quite likely that there may be Nats who have no other caste. The Bādi or rope-dancer group again is an offshoot of the Gond tribe, at least in the tracts adjoining the Central Provinces. They have Gond septs as Marai, Netām, Wīka,7 and they have the damru or drum used by the Gaurias or snake-charmers and jugglers of Chhattīsgarh, who are also derived from the Gonds. The Chhattīsgarhi Dang-Charhas are Gonds who say they formerly belonged to Panna State and were supported by Rāja Amān Singh of Panna, a great patron of their art. They sing a song lamenting his death in the flower of his youth. The Karnatis or Karnataks are a class of Nats who are supposed to have come from the Carnatic. Mr. Crooke notes that they will eat the leavings of all high castes, and are hence known as Khushhāliya or ‘Those in prosperous circumstances.’8

2. Muhammadan Nats

One division of the Nats are Muhammadans and seem to [288]be to some extent a distinctive group. They have seven gotras—Chicharia, Damaria, Dhalbalki, Pūrbia, Dhondabalki, Karimki and Kalasia. They worship two Birs or spirits, Halaila Bir and Sheikh Saddu, to whom they sacrifice fowls in the months of Bhādon (August) and Baisākh (April). Hindus of any caste are freely admitted into their community, and they can marry Hindu girls.

3. Social customs of the Nats. Their low status

Generally the customs of the Nats show them to be the dregs of the population. There is no offence which entails permanent expulsion from caste. They will eat any kind of food including snakes, crocodiles and rats, and also take food from the hands of any caste, even it is said from sweepers. It is not reported that they prostitute their women, but there is little doubt that this is the case; in the Punjab9 when a Nat woman marries, the first child is either given to the grandmother as compensation for the loss of the mother’s gains as a prostitute, or is redeemed by a payment of Rs. 30. Among the Chhattīsgarhi Dang-Charhas a bride-price of Rs. 40 is paid, of which the girl’s father only keeps ten, and the remaining sum of Rs. 30 is expended on a feast to the caste. Some of the Nats have taken to cultivation and become much more respectable, eschewing the flesh of unclean animals. Another group of the caste keep trained dogs and hunt the wild pig with spears like the Kolhātis of Berār. The villagers readily pay for their services in order to get the pig destroyed, and they sell the flesh to the Gonds and lower castes of Hindus. Others hunt jackals with dogs in the same manner. They eat the flesh of the jackals and dispose of any surplus to the Gonds, who also eat it. The Nats worship Devi and also Hanumān, the monkey god, on account of the acrobatic powers of monkeys. But in Bombay they say that their favourite and only living gods are their bread-winners and averters of hunger, the drum, the rope and the balancing-pole.10

4. Acrobatic performances

The tight-rope is stretched between two pairs of bamboos, each pair being fixed obliquely in the ground and crossing each other at the top so as to form a socket over which the [289]rope passes. The ends of the rope are taken over the crossed bamboos and firmly secured to the ground by heavy pegs. The performer takes another balancing-pole in his hands and walks along the rope between the poles which are about 12 feet high. Another man beats a drum, and a third stands under the rope singing the performer’s praises and giving him encouragement. After this the performer ties two sets of cow or buffalo horns to his feet, which are secured to the back of the skulls so that the flat front between the horns rests on the rope, and with these he walks over the rope, holding the balancing-rod in his hands and descends again. Finally he takes a brass plate and a cloth and again ascends the rope. He places the plate on the rope and folds the cloth over it to make a pad. He then stands on his head on the pad with his feet in the air and holds the balancing-rod in his hands; two strings are tied to the end of this rod and the other ends of the strings are held by the man underneath. With the assistance of the balancing-rod the performer then jerks the plate along the rope with his head, his feet being in the air, until he arrives at the end and finally descends again. This usually concludes the performance, which demands a high degree of skill. Women occasionally, though rarely, do the same feats. Another class of Nats walk on high stilts and the women show their confidence by dancing and singing under them. A saying about the Nats is: Nat ka bachcha to kalābazi hi karega; or ‘The rope-dancer’s son is always turning somersaults.’11

5. Sliding or walking on ropes as a charm for the crops

The feats of the Nats as tight-rope walkers used apparently to make a considerable impression on the minds of the people, as it is not uncommon to find a deified Nat, called Nat Bāba or Father Nat, as a village god. A Natni or Nat woman is also sometimes worshipped, and where two sharp peaks of hills are situated close to each other, it is related that in former times there was a Natni, very skilful on the tight-rope, who performed before the king; and he promised her that if she would stretch a rope from the peak of one hill to that of the other and walk across it he would marry her and make her wealthy. Accordingly the rope was stretched, but the queen from jealousy went and cut it [290]half through in the night, and when the Natni started to walk the rope broke and she fell down and was killed. She was therefore deified and worshipped. It is probable that this legend recalls some rite in which the Nat was employed to walk on a tight-rope for the benefit of the crops, and, if he failed, was killed as a sacrifice; for the following passage taken from Traill’s account of Kumaon12 seems clearly to refer to some such rite:

“Drought, want of fertility in the soil, murrain in cattle, and other calamities incident to husbandry are here invariably ascribed to the wrath of particular gods, to appease which recourse is had to various ceremonies. In the Kumaon District offerings and singing and dancing are resorted to on such occasions. In Garhwāl the measures pursued with the same view are of a peculiar nature, deserving of more particular notice. In villages dedicated to the protection of Mahādeva propitiatory festivals are held in his honour. At these Bādis or rope-dancers are engaged to perform on the tight-rope, and slide down an inclined rope stretched from the summit of a cliff to the valley beneath and made fast to posts driven into the ground. The Bādi sits astride on a wooden saddle, to which he is tied by thongs; the saddle is similarly secured to the bast or sliding cable, along which it runs, by means of a deep groove; sandbags are tied to the Bādi’s feet sufficient to secure his balance, and he is then, after various ceremonies and the sacrifice of a kid, started off; the velocity of his descent is very great, and the saddle, however well greased, emits a volume of smoke throughout the greater part of his progress. The length and inclination of the bast necessarily vary with the nature of the cliff, but as the Bādi is remunerated at the rate of a rupee for every hundred cubits, hence termed a tola, a correct measurement always takes place; the longest bast which has fallen within my observation has been twenty-one tolas, or 2100 cubits in length. From the precautions taken as above mentioned the only danger to be apprehended by the Bādi is from breaking of the rope, to provide against which the latter, commonly from one and a half to two inches in diameter, is made wholly by his own hand; the material used is the [291]bhābar grass. Formerly, if a Bādi fell to the ground in his course, he was immediately despatched with a sword by the surrounding spectators, but this practice is now, of course, prohibited. No fatal accident has occurred from the performance of this ceremony since 1815, though it is probably celebrated at not less than fifty villages in each year. After the completion of the sliding, the bast or rope is cut up and distributed among the inhabitants of the village, who hang the pieces as charms on the eaves of their houses. The hair of the Bādi is also taken and preserved as possessing similar virtues. He being thus made the organ to obtain fertility for the lands of others, the Bādi is supposed to entail sterility on his own; and it is firmly believed that no grain sown with his hand can ever vegetate. Each District has its hereditary Bādi, who is supported by annual contributions of grain from the inhabitants.” It is not improbable that the performance of the Nat is a reminiscence of a period when human victims were sacrificed for the crops, this being a common practice among primitive peoples, as shown by Sir J.G. Frazer in Attis, Adonis, Osiris. Similarly the spirits of Nats which are revered in the Central Provinces may really be those of victims killed during the performance of some charm for the good of the crops, akin to that still prevalent in the Himalayas. The custom of making the Nat slide down a rope is of the same character as that of swinging a man in the air by a hook secured in his flesh, which was formerly common in these Provinces. But in both cases the meaning of the rite is obscure.

6. Snake-charmers

The groups who practise snake-charming are known as Sapera or Garūdi and in the Marātha Districts as Madāri. Another name for them is Nāg-Nathi, or one who seizes a cobra. They keep cobras, pythons, scorpions, and the iguana or large lizard, which they consider to be poisonous. Some of them when engaged with their snakes wear two pieces of tiger-skin on their back and chest, and a cap of tiger-skin in which they fix the eyes of various birds. They have a hollow gourd on which they produce a kind of music and this is supposed to charm the snakes. When catching a cobra they pin its head to the ground with a stick and then seize it in a cleft bamboo and prick out the poison-fangs [292]with a large needle. They think that the teeth of the iguana are also poisonous and they knock them out with a stick, and if fresh teeth afterwards grow they believe them not to contain poison. The python is called Ajgar, which is said to mean eater of goats. In captivity the pythons will not eat of themselves, and the snake-charmers chop up pieces of meat and fowls and placing the food in the reptile’s mouth massage it down the body. They feed the pythons only once in four or five days. They have antidotes for snake-bite, the root of a creeper called kalipār and the bark of the karheya tree. When a patient is brought to them they give him a little pepper, and if he tastes the pungent flavour they think that he has not been affected by snake-poison, but if it seems tasteless that he has been bitten. Then they give him small pieces of the two antidotes already mentioned with tobacco and 2½ leaves of the nīm tree13 which is sacred to Devi. On the festival of Nāg-Panchmi (Cobra’s Fifth) they worship their cobras and give them milk to drink and then take them round the town or village and the people also worship and feed the snakes and give a present of a few annas to the Sapera. In towns much frequented by cobras, a special adoration is paid to them. Thus in Hatta in the Damoh District a stone image of a snake, known as Nāg-Bāba or Father Cobra is worshipped for a month before the festival of Nāg-Panchmi. During this period one man from every house in the village must go to Nāg-Bāba’s shrine outside and take food there and come back. And on Nāg-Panchmi the whole town goes out in a body to pay him reverence, and it is thought that if any one is absent the cobras will harass him for the whole year. But others say that cobras will only bite men of low caste. The Saperas will not kill a snake as a rule, but occasionally it is said that they kill one and cut off the head and eat the body, this being possibly an instance of eating the divine animal at a sacrificial meal. The following is an old account of the performances of snake-charmers in Bengal:14

Snake-charmer with cobras

Snake-charmer with cobras

“Hence, on many occasions throughout the year, the [293]dread Manasa Devi, the queen of snakes, is propitiated by presents, vows and religious rites. In the month of Shrābana the worship of the snake goddess is celebrated with great éclat. An image of the goddess, seated on a water-lily, encircled with serpents, or a branch of the snake-tree (a species of Euphorbia), or a pot of water, with images of serpents made of clay, forms the object of worship. Men, women and children, all offer presents to avert from themselves the wrath of the terrific deity. The Māls or snake-catchers signalise themselves on this occasion. Temporary scaffolds of bamboo work are set up in the presence of the goddess. Vessels filled with all sorts of snakes are brought in. The Māls, often reeling with intoxication, mount the scaffolds, take out serpents from the vessels, and allow them to bite their arms. Bite after bite succeeds; the arms run with blood; and the Māls go on with their pranks, amid the deafening plaudits of the spectators. Now and then they fall off from the scaffold and pretend to feel the effects of poison, and cure themselves by their incantations. But all is mere pretence. The serpents displayed on the occasion and challenged to do their worst, have passed through a preparatory state. Their fangs have been carefully extracted from their jaws. But most of the vulgar spectators easily persuade themselves to believe that the Māls are the chosen servants of Siva and the favourites of Manasa. Although their supernatural pretensions are ridiculous, yet it must be confessed that the Māls have made snakes the subject of their peculiar study. They are thoroughly acquainted with their qualities, their dispositions, and their habits. They will run down a snake into its hole, and bring it out thence by main force. Even the terrible cobra is cowed down by the controlling influence of a Māl. When in the act of bringing out snakes from their subterranean holes, the Māls are in the habit of muttering charms, in which the names of Manasa and Mahādeva frequently occur; superstition alone can clothe these unmeaning words with supernatural potency. But it is not inconsistent with the soundest philosophy to suppose that there may be some plants whose roots are disagreeable to serpents, and from which they instinctively turn away. All snake-catchers of Bengal are provided with [294]a bundle of the roots of some plant which they carefully carry along with them, when they set out on their serpent-hunting expeditions. When a serpent, disturbed in its hole, comes out furiously hissing with rage, with its body coiled, and its head lifted up, the Māl has only to present before it the bundle of roots above alluded to, at the sight of which it becomes spiritless as an eel. This we have ourselves witnessed more than once.”

These Māls appear to have been members of the aboriginal Māle or Māle Pahāria tribe of Bengal.

1 This article is partly compiled from notes furnished by Mr. Adurām Chaudhri and Mr. Jagannāth Prasad, Naib-Tahsīldārs.

2 See art. Kanjar.

3 Punjab Census Report (1881), para. 588.

4 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Beria.

5 Asiatic Researches, vol. vii., 1803, by Captain Richardson.

6 Tribes and Castes, art. Nat.

7 Crooke, l.c., art. Nat.

8 Ibidem.

9 Ibbetson, Punjab Census Report (1886), para. 588.

10 Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xx. p. 186, quoted in Mr. Crooke’s article.

11 Temple and Fallon’s Hindustāni Proverbs, p. 171.

12 As. Res. vol. xvi., 1828, p. 213.

13 Melia indica.

14 Bengali Festivals and Holidays, by the Rev. Bihāri Lāl De, Calcutta Review, vol. v. pp. 59, 60.



Nunia, Lunia.1—A mixed occupational caste of salt-makers and earth-workers, made up of recruits from the different non-Aryan tribes of northern India. The word non means salt, and is a corruption of the Sanskrit lavana, ‘the moist,’ which first occurs as a name for sea-salt in the Atharva Veda.2 In the oldest prose writings salt is known as Saindhava or ‘that which is brought from the Indus,’ this perhaps being Punjab rock-salt. The Nunias are a fairly large caste in Bengal and northern India, numbering 800,000 persons, but the Central Provinces and Berār contain only 3000, who are immigrants from Upper India. Here they are navvies and masons, a calling which they have generally adopted since the Government monopoly has interfered with their proper business of salt-refining. The mixed origin of the caste is shown by the list of their subdivisions in the United Provinces, which includes the names Mallāh, Kewat, Kūchbandhia, Bind, Musahār, Bhuinhār and Lodha, all of which are distinct castes, besides a number of territorial subcastes. A list of nearly thirty subcastes is given by Mr. Crooke, and this is an instance of the tendency of migratory castes to split up into small groups for the purpose of arranging marriages, owing to the difficulty of ascertaining the status and respectability of each other’s families, and the unwillingness to contract alliances with those whose social position may turn out to be not wholly satisfactory. “The internal structure of the caste,” Mr. Crooke remarks, “is far from clear; it would appear that [295]they are still in a state of transition, and the different endogamous subcastes are not as yet fully recognised.” In Bilāspur the Nunias have three local subcastes, the Bandhaiya, the Ratanpuria and the Kharodhia. The two last, deriving their names from the towns of Ratanpur and Kharod in Bilāspur, are said to have been employed in former times in the construction of the temples and other buildings which abound in these localities, and have thus acquired a considerable degree of professional skill in masonry work; while the Bandhaiya, who take their name from Bāndhogarh, confine themselves to the excavation of tanks and wells. The exogamous divisions of the caste are also by no means clearly defined; in Mīrzāpur they have a system of local subdivisions called dīh, each subdivision being named after the village which is supposed to be its home. The word dīh itself means a site or village. Those who have a common dīh do not intermarry.3 This fact is interesting as being an instance of the direct derivation of the exogamous clan from residence in a parent village and not from any heroic or supposititious ancestor.

The caste have a legend which shows their mixed origin. Some centuries ago, they say, a marriage procession consisting of Brāhmans, Rājpūts, Banias and Gosains went to a place near Ajodhya. After the ceremony was over the bride, on being taken to the bridegroom’s lodging, scraped up a little earth with her fingers and put it in her mouth. She found it had a saltish taste, and spat it out on the ground, and this enraged the tutelary goddess of the village, who considered herself insulted, and swore that all the bride’s descendants should excavate salt in atonement; and thus the caste arose.

In Bilāspur the caste permit a girl to be married to a boy younger than herself. A price of five rupees has to be paid for the bride, unless her family give a girl in exchange. The bridegroom is taken to the wedding in a palanquin borne by Mahārs. After its conclusion the couple are carried back in the litter for some distance, after which the bridegroom gets out and walks or rides. When he goes to fetch his wife on her coming of age the bridegroom wears [296]white clothes, which is rather peculiar, as white is not a lucky colour among the Hindus. The Nunias employ Brāhmans at their ceremonies, and they have a caste panchāyat or committee, whose headman is known as Kurha. The Bilāspur section of the caste has two Kurhas. Here Brāhmans take water from them, but not in all places. They consider their traditional occupation to have been the extraction of salt and saltpetre from saline earth. At present they are generally employed in the excavation of tanks and the embankment of fields, and they also sink wells, build and erect houses, and undertake all kinds of agricultural labour.

1 Based on papers by Munshi Kanhya Lāl of the Gazetteer Office, and Mr. Mīr Patcha, Tahsīldār, Bilāspur.

2 Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Lunia.

3 Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes, art. Lunia.



Ojha.—The community of soothsayers and minstrels of the Gonds. The Ojhas may now be considered a distinct subtribe, as they are looked down upon by the Gonds and marry among themselves. They derive their name from the word ojh meaning ‘entrail,’ their original duty having been, like that of the Roman augurs, to examine the entrails of the victim immediately after it had been slain as an offering to the gods. In 1911 the Ojhas numbered about 5000 persons distributed over all Districts of the Central Provinces. At present the bulk of the community subsist by beggary. The word Ojha is of Sanskrit and not of Gond origin and is applied by the Hindus to the seers or magicians of several of the primitive tribes, while there is also a class of Ojha Brāhmans who practise magic and divination. The Gond Ojhas, who are the subject of this article, originally served the Gonds and begged from them alone, but in some parts of the western Satpūras they are also the minstrels of the Korkus. Those who beg from the Korkus play on a kind of drum called dhānk while the Gond Ojhas use the kingri or lyre. Some of them also catch birds and are therefore known as Moghia. Mr. Hislop1 remarks of them: “The Ojhas follow the two occupations of bard and fowler. They lead a wandering life and when passing through villages they sing from house to house the praises of their heroes, dancing with castanets in their hands, bells at their ankles and long feathers of jungle birds in their turbans. They sell live [297]quails and the skins of a species of Buceros named Dhan-chīria; these are used for making caps and for hanging up in houses in order to secure wealth (dhan), while the thigh-bones of the same bird when fastened round the waists of children are deemed an infallible preservative against the assaults of devils and other such calamities. Their wives tattoo the arms of Hindu and Gond women. Among them there is a subdivision known as the Māna Ojhas, who rank higher than the others. Laying claim to unusual sanctity, they refuse to eat with any one, Gonds, Rājpūts or even Brāhmans, and devote themselves to the manufacture of rings and bells which are in request among their own race, and even of lingas (phallic emblems) and nandis (bull images), which they sell to all ranks of the Hindu community. Their wives are distinguished by wearing the cloth of the upper part of the body over the right shoulder, whereas those of the common Ojhas and of all the other Gonds wear it over the left.”

Mr. Tawney wrote of the Ojhas as follows:2 “The Ojha women do not dance. It is only men who do so, and when thus engaged they put on special attire and wear anklets with bells. The Ojhas like the Gonds are divided into six or seven god gots (classes or septs), and those with the same number of gods cannot intermarry. They worship at the same Deokhala (god’s threshing-floor) as the Gonds, but being regarded as an inferior caste they are not allowed so near the sacred presence. Like the Gonds they incorporate the spirits of the dead with the gods, but their manner of doing so is somewhat different, as they make an image of brass to represent the soul of the deceased and keep this with the household gods. As with the Gonds, if a household god makes himself too objectionable he is quietly buried to keep him out of mischief and a new god is introduced into the family. The latter should properly bear the same name as his degraded predecessor, but very often does not. The Ojhas are too poor to indulge in the luxury of burning their deceased friends and therefore invariably bury them.”

The customs of the Ojhas resemble those of the Gonds. [298]They take the bride to the bridegroom’s house to be married, and a widow among them is expected, though not obliged, to wed her late husband’s younger brother. They eat the flesh of fowls, pigs, and even oxen, but abstain from that of monkeys, crocodiles and jackals. They will not touch an ass, a cat or a dog, and consider it sinful to kill animals which bark or bray.

They will take food from the hands of all except the most impure castes, and will admit into the community any man who has taken an Ojha woman to live with him, even though he be a sweeper, provided that he will submit to the prescribed test of begging from the houses of five Gonds and eating the leavings of food of the other Ojhas. They will pardon the transgression of one of their women with an outsider of any caste whatever, if she is able and willing to provide the usual penalty feast. They have no sūtak or period of impurity after a death, but merely take a mouthful of liquor and consider themselves clean. In physical appearance the Ojhas resemble the Gonds but are less robust. They rank below the Gonds and are considered as impure by the Hindu castes. In 1865, an Ojha held a village in Hoshangābād District which he had obtained as follows:3 “He was singing and dancing before Rāja Rāghuji, when the Rāja said he would give a rent-free village to any one who would pick up and chew a quid of betel-leaf which he (the Rāja) had had in his mouth and had spat out. The Ojha did this and got the village.”

The Maithil or Tirhūt Brāhmans who are especially learned in Tāntric magic are also sometimes known as Ojha, and a family bearing this title were formerly in the service of the Gond kings of Mandla. They do not now admit that they acted as augurs or soothsayers, but state that their business was to pray continuously for the king’s success when he was engaged in any battle, and to sit outside the rooms of sick persons repeating the sacred Gāyatri verse for their recovery. This is often repeated ten times, counting by a special method on the joints of the fingers and is then known as Jap. When it is repeated a larger number of times, as 54 or 108, a rosary is used. [299]

1 Papers relating to the Aboriginal Tribes of the C.P., p. 6.

2 Note by Mr. Tawney as Deputy Commissioner of Chhindwāra, quoted in Central Provinces Census Report of 1881 (Mr. Drysdale).

3 Sir C.A. Elliott’s Hoshangābād Settlement Report, p. 70.



[Authorities: The most complete account of the Oraons is a monograph entitled, The Religion and Customs of the Oraons, by the late Rev. Father P. Dehon, published in 1906 in the Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. i. No. 9. The tribe is also described at length by Colonel Dalton in The Ethnography of Bengal, and an article on it is included in Mr. (Sir H.) Risley’s Tribes and Castes of Bengal. References to the Oraons are contained in Mr. Bradley-Birt’s Chota Nāgpur, and Mr. Ball’s Jungle Life in India. The Kurukh language is treated by Dr. Grierson in the volume of the Linguistic Survey on Munda and Dravidian Languages. The following article is principally made up of extracts from the accounts of Father Dehon and Colonel Dalton. Papers have also been received from Mr. Hīra Lāl, Mr. Balārām Nand, Deputy Inspector of Schools, Sambalpur, Mr. Jeorākhan Lāl, Deputy Inspector of Schools, Bilāspur, and Munshi Kanhya Lāl of the Gazetteer Office.]

List of Paragraphs

1. General notice

Oraon, Uraon, Kurukh, Dhangar, Kūda, Kisān.—The Oraons are an important Dravidian tribe of the Chota Nāgpur plateau, numbering altogether about 750,000 persons, of whom 85,000 now belong to the Central Provinces, being residents of the Jashpur and Sargūja States and the neighbouring [300]tracts. They are commonly known in the Central Provinces as Dhāngar or Dhāngar-Oraon. In Chota Nāgpur the word Dhāngar means a farmservant engaged according to a special customary contract, and it has come to be applied to the Oraons, who are commonly employed in this capacity. Kūda means a digger or navvy in Uriya, and enquiries made by Mr. B.C. Mazumdar and Mr. Hīra Lāl have demonstrated that the 18,000 persons returned under this designation from Raigarh and Sambalpur in 1901 were really Oraons. The same remark applies to 33,000 persons returned from Sambalpur as Kisān or cultivator, these also being members of the tribe. The name by which the Oraons know themselves is Kurukh or Kurunkh, and the designation of Oraon or Orao has been applied to them by outsiders. The meaning of both names is obscure. Dr. Halm1 was of opinion that the word kurukh might be identified with the Kolarian horo, man, and explained the term Oraon as the totem of one of the septs into which the Kurukhs were divided. According to him Oraon was a name coined by the Hindus, its base being orgorān, hawk or cunny bird, used as the name of a totemistic sept. Sir G. Grierson, however, suggested a connection with the Kaikāri, urūpai, man; Burgandi urāpo, man; urāng, men. The Kaikāris are a Telugu caste, and as the Oraons are believed to have come from the south of India, this derivation sounds plausible. In a similar way Sir. G. Grierson states, Kurukh may be connected with Tamil kurūgu, an eagle, and be the name of a totemistic clan. Compare also names, such as Korava, Kurru, a dialect of Tamil, and Kudāgu. In the Nerbudda valley the farmservant who pours the seed through the tube of the sowing-plough is known as Oraya; this word is probably derived from the verb ūrna to pour, and means ‘one who pours.’ Since the principal characteristic of the Oraons among the Hindus is their universal employment as farmservants and labourers, it may be suggested that the name is derived from this term. Of the other names by which they are known to outsiders Dhāngar means a farmservant, Kūda a digger, and Kisān a cultivator. The name Oraon and its variant Orao is very close to Oraya, which, as already seen, means a farmservant. The nasal seems to [301]be often added or omitted in this part of the country, as Kurukh or Kurunkh.

2. Settlement in Chota Nāgpur

According to their own traditions, Mr. Gait writes,2 “The Kurukh tribe originally lived in the Carnatic, whence they went up the Nerbudda river and settled in Bihār on the banks of the Son. Driven out by the Muhammadans, the tribe split into two divisions, one of which followed the course of the Ganges and finally settled in the Rājmahāl hills: while the other went up the Son and occupied the north-western portion of the Chota Nāgpur plateau, where many of the villages they occupy are still known by Mundāri names. The latter were the ancestors of the Oraons or Kurukhs, while the former were the progenitors of the Māle or Saonria as they often call themselves.” Towards Lohardaga the Oraons found themselves among the Mundas or Kols, who probably retired by degrees and left them in possession of the country. “The Oraons,” Father Dehon states, “are an exceedingly prolific tribe and soon become the preponderant element, while the Mundas, being conservative and averse to living among strangers, emigrate towards another jungle. The Mundas hate zamīndārs, and whenever they can do so, prefer to live in a retired corner in full possession of their small holding; and it is not at all improbable that, as the zamīndārs took possession of the newly-formed villages, they retired towards the east, while the Oraons, being good beasts of burden and more accustomed to subjection, remained.” In view of the fine physique and martial character of the Larka or Fighting Kols or Mundas, Dalton was sceptical of the theory that they could ever have retired before the Oraons; but in addition to the fact that many villages in which Oraons now live have Mundāri names, it may be noted that the headman of an Oraon village is termed Munda and is considered to be descended from its founder, while for the Pāhan or priest of the village gods, the Oraons always employ a Munda if available, and it is one of the Pāhan’s duties to point out the boundary of the village in cases of dispute; this is a function regularly assigned to the earliest residents, and seems to be strong evidence that [302]the Oraons found the Mundas settled in Chota Nāgpur when they arrived there. It is not necessary to suppose that any conquest or forcible expropriation took place; and it is probable that, as the country was opened up, the Mundas by preference retired to the wilder forest tracts, just as in the Central Provinces the Korkus and Baigas gave way to the Gonds, and the Gonds themselves relinquished the open country to the Hindus. None of the writers quoted notice the name Munda as applied to the headman of an Oraon village, but it can hardly be doubted that it is connected with that of the tribe; and it would be interesting also to know whether the Pāhan or village priest takes his name from the Pāns or Gandas. Dalton says that the Pāns are domesticated as essential constituents of every Ho or Kol village community, but does not allude to their presence among the Oraons. The custom in the Central Provinces, by which in Gond villages the village priest is always known as Baiga, because in some localities members of the Baiga tribe are commonly employed in the office, suggests the hypothesis of a similar usage here. In villages first settled by Oraons, the population, Father Dehon states, is divided into three khūnts or branches, named after the Munda, Pahan and Mahto, the founders of the three branches being held to have been sons of the first settler. Members of each branch belong therefore to the same sept or got. Each khūnt has a share of the village lands.

3. Subdivisions

The Oraons have no proper subcastes in the Central Provinces, but the Kudas and Kisans, having a distinctive name and occupation, sometimes regard themselves as separate bodies and decline intermarriage with other Oraons. In Bengal Sir H. Risley gives five divisions, Barga, Dhānka, Kharia, Khendro and Munda; of these Kharia and Munda are the names of other tribes, and Dhānka may be a variant for Dhāngar. The names show that as usual with the tribes of this part of the country the law of endogamy is by no means strict. The tribe have also a large number of exogamous septs of the totemistic type, named after plants and animals. Members of any sept commonly abstain from killing or eating their sept totem. A man must not marry a member of his own sept nor a first cousin on the mother’s side. [303]

4. Pre-nuptial licence

Marriage is adult and pre-nuptial unchastity appears to be tacitly recognised. Oraon villages have the institution of the Dhūmkuria or Bachelors’ dormitory, which Dalton describes as follows:3 “In all the older Oraon villages when there is any conservation of ancient customs, there is a house called the Dhūmkuria in which all the bachelors of the village must sleep under penalty of a fine. The huts of the Oraons have insufficient accommodation for a family, so that separate quarters for the young men are a necessity. The same remark applies to the young unmarried women, and it is a fact that they do not sleep in the house with their parents. They are generally frank enough when questioned about their habits, but on this subject there is always a certain amount of reticence, and I have seen girls quietly withdraw when it was mooted. I am told that in some villages a separate building is provided for them like the Dhūmkuria, in which they consort under the guardianship of an elderly duenna, but I believe the more common practice is to distribute them among the houses of the widows, and this is what the girls themselves assert, if they answer at all when the question is asked; but however billeted, it is well known that they often find their way to the bachelors’ hall, and in some villages actually sleep there. I not long ago saw a Dhūmkuria in a Sargūja village in which the boys and girls all slept every night.” Colonel Dalton considered it uncertain that the practice led to actual immorality, but the fact can hardly be doubted. Sexual intercourse before marriage, Sir H. Risley says, is tacitly recognised, and is so generally practised that in the opinion of the best observers no Oraon girl is a virgin at the time of her marriage. “To call this state of things immoral is to apply a modern conception to primitive habits of life. Within the tribe, indeed, the idea of sexual morality seems hardly to exist, and the unmarried Oraons are not far removed from the condition of modified promiscuity which prevails among many of the Australian tribes. Provided that the exogamous circle defined by the totem is respected, an unmarried woman may bestow her favours on whom she will. If, however, she becomes pregnant, arrangements are made to get her married without delay, [304]and she is then expected to lead a virtuous life.”4 According to Dalton, however, liaisons between boys and girls of the same village seldom end in marriage, as it is considered more respectable to bring home a bride from a distance. This appears to arise from the primitive rule of exogamy that marriage should not be allowed between those who have been brought up together. The young men can choose for themselves, and at dances, festivals and other social gatherings they freely woo their sweethearts, giving them flowers for the hair and presents of grilled field-mice, which the Oraons consider to be the most delicate of food. Father Dehon, however, states that matches are arranged by the parents, and the bride and bridegroom have nothing to say in the matter. Boys are usually married at sixteen and girls at fourteen or fifteen. The girls thus have only about two years of preliminary flirtation or Dhūmkuria life before they are settled.

5. Betrothal

The first ceremony for a marriage is known as pān bandhi or the settling of the price; for which the boy’s father, accompanied by some men of his village to represent the panch or elders, goes to the girl’s house. Father Dehon states that the bride-price is five rupees and four maunds of grain. When this has been settled the rejoicings begin. “All the people of the village are invited; two boys come and anoint the visitors with oil. From every house of the village that can afford it a handia or pot of rice-beer is brought, and they drink together and make merry. All this time the girl has been kept inside, but now she suddenly sallies forth carrying a handia on her head. A murmur of admiration greets her when stepping through the crowd she comes and stands in front of her future father-in-law, who at once takes the handia from her head, embraces her, and gives her one rupee. From that time during the whole of the feast the girl remains sitting at the feet of her father-in-law. The whole party meanwhile continue drinking and talking; and voices rise so high that they cannot hear one another. As a diversion the old women of the village all come tumbling in, very drunk and wearing fantastic hats made of leaves, gesticulating like devils and carrying a straw manikin representing the [305]bridegroom. They all look like old witches, and in their drunken state are very mischievous.”

6. Marriage ceremony

The marriage takes place after about two years, visits being exchanged twice a year in the meantime. When the day comes the bridegroom proceeds with a large party of his friends, male and female, to the bride’s house. Most of the males have warlike weapons, real or sham, and as they approach the village of the bride’s family the young men from thence emerge, also armed, as if to repel the invasion, and a mimic fight ensues, which like a dissolving view blends pleasantly into a dance. In this the bride and bridegroom join, each riding on the hips of one of their friends. After this they have a feast till late in the night. Next morning bread cooked by the bride’s mother is taken to the dari or village spring, where all the women partake of it. When they have finished they bring a vessel of water with some leaves of the mango tree in it. Meanwhile the bride and bridegroom are in the house, being anointed with oil and turmeric by their respective sisters. When everybody has gathered under the marriage-bower the boy and girl are brought out of the house and a heap is made of a plough-yoke, a bundle of thatching-grass and a curry-stone. The bride and bridegroom are made to stand on the curry-stone, the boy touching the heels of the bride with his toes, and a long piece of cloth is put round them to screen them from the public. Only their heads and feet can be seen. A goblet full of vermilion is presented to the boy, who dips his finger in it and makes three lines on the forehead of the girl; and the girl does the same to the boy, but as she has to reach him over her shoulder and cannot see him, the boy gets it anywhere, on his face, which never fails to provoke hearty bursts of laughter. “When this is complete,” Dalton states, “a gun is fired and then by some arrangement vessels full of water, placed over the bower, are upset, and the young couple and those near them receive a drenching shower-bath, the women shouting, ‘The marriage is done, the marriage is done.’ They now retire into an apartment prepared for them, ostensibly to change their clothes, but they do not emerge for some time, and when they do appear they are saluted as man and wife.” [306]

7. Special Customs

Meanwhile the guests sit round drinking handias or earthen pots full of rice-beer. The bride and bridegroom come out and retire a second time and are called out for the following rite. A vessel of beer is brought and the bride carries a cupful of it to the bridegroom’s brother, but instead of giving it into his hand she deposits it on the ground in front of him. This is to seal a kind of tacit agreement that from that time the bridegroom’s brother will not touch his sister-in-law, and was probably instituted to mark the abolition of the former system of fraternal polyandry, customs of an analogous nature being found among the Khonds and Korkus. “Then,” Father Dehon continues, “comes the last ceremony, which is called khirītengna handia or the handia of the story, and is considered by the Oraons to be the true form of marriage which has been handed down to them by their forefathers. The boy and girl sit together before the people, and one of the elder men present rises and addressing the boy says: ‘If your wife goes to fetch sāg and falls from a tree and breaks her leg, do not say that she is disfigured or crippled. You will have to keep and feed her.’ Then turning to the girl: ‘When your husband goes hunting, if his arm or leg is broken, do not say, “He is a cripple, I won’t live with him.” Do not say that, for you have to remain with him. If you prepare meat, give two shares to him and keep only one for yourself. If you prepare vegetables, give him two parts and keep only one part for yourself. If he gets sick and cannot go out, do not say that he is dirty, but clean his mat and wash him.’ A feast follows, and at night the girl is brought to the boy by her mother, who says to him, ‘Now this my child is yours; I do not give her for a few days but for ever; take care of her and love her well.’ A companion of the bridegroom’s then seizes the girl in his arms and carries her inside the house.”

8. Widow-remarriage and divorce

It is uncommon for a man to have two wives. Divorce is permitted, and is usually effected by the boy or girl running away to the Duārs or Assam. Widow-remarriage is a regular practice. The first time a widow marries again, Father Dehon states, the bridegroom must pay Rs. 3–8 for her; if successive husbands die her price goes down by a [307]rupee on each fresh marriage, so that a fifth husband would pay only eight annas. Cases of adultery are comparatively rare. When offenders are caught a heavy fine is imposed if they are well-to-do, and if they are not, a smaller fine and a beating.

9. Customs at birth

“The Oraons,” Father Dehon continues, “are a very prolific race, and whenever they are allowed to live without being too much oppressed they increase prodigiously. What strikes you when you come to an Oraon village is the number of small dirty children playing everywhere, while you can scarcely meet a woman that does not carry a baby on her back. The women seem, to a great extent, to have been exempted from the curse of our first mother: ‘Thou shalt bring forth, etc.’ They seem to give birth to their children with the greatest ease. There is no period of uncleanness, and the very day after giving birth to a child, you will see the mother with her baby tied up in a cloth on her back and a pitcher on her head going, as if nothing had happened, to the village spring.” This practice, it may be remarked in parenthesis, may arise from the former observance of the Couvade, the peculiar custom prevailing among several primitive races, by which, when a child is born, the father lies in the house and pretends to be ill, while the mother gets up immediately and goes about her work. The custom has been reported as existing among the Oraons by one observer from Bilāspur,5 but so far without confirmation.

10. Naming a child

“A child is named eight or ten days after birth, and on this day some men of the village and the members of the family assemble at the parents’ house. Two leaf-cups are brought, one full of water and the other of rice. After a preliminary formula grains of rice are let fall into the cup, first in the name of the child and then successively in those of his ancestors in the following order: paternal grandfather, paternal great-grandfather, father, paternal uncle, maternal grandfather, other relatives. When the grain dropped in the name of any relative meets the first one dropped to represent the child, he is given the name of that relative and is probably considered to be a reincarnation of him.” [308]

11. Branding and tattooing

“When a boy is six or seven years old it is time for him to become a member of the Dhūmkuria or common dormitory. The eldest boys catch hold of his left arm and, with burning cloth, burn out five deep marks on the lower part of his arm. This is done so that he may be recognised as an Oraon at his death when he goes into the other world.” The ceremony was probably the initiation to manhood on arrival at puberty, and resembled those prevalent among the Australian tribes. With this exception men are not tattooed, but this decoration is profusely resorted to by women. They have three parallel vertical lines on the forehead which form a distinctive mark, and other patterns on the arms, chest, knees and ankles. These usually consist of lines vertical and horizontal as shown below:

The marks on the knees are considered to be steps by which the wearer will ascend to heaven after her death. If a baby cries much it is also tattooed on the nose and chin.

12. Dormitory discipline

The Dhūmkuria fraternity, Colonel Dalton remarks, are, under the severest penalties, bound down to secrecy in regard to all that takes place in their dormitory; and even girls are punished if they dare to tell tales. They are not allowed to join in the dances till the offence is condoned. They have a regular system of fagging in this curious institution. The small boys serve those of larger growth, shampoo their limbs, comb their hair, and so on, and they are sometimes subjected to severe discipline to make men of them.

13. Disposal of the dead

The Oraons either bury or burn the dead. As the corpse is carried to the grave, beginning from the first crossroads, they sprinkle a line of rice as far as the grave or pyre. [309]This is done so that the soul of the deceased may find its way back to the house. Before the burial or cremation cooked food and some small pieces of money are placed in the mouth of the corpse. They are subsequently, however, removed or recovered from the ashes and taken by the musicians as their fee. Some clothes belonging to the deceased and a vessel with some rice are either burnt with the corpse or placed in the grave. As the grave is being filled in they place a stalk of orai6 grass vertically on the head of the corpse and gradually draw it upwards as the earth is piled on the grave. They say that this is done in order to leave a passage for the air to pass to the nostrils of the deceased. This is the grass from which reed pens are made, and the stalk is hard and hollow. Afterwards they plant a root of the same grass where the stalk is standing over the head of the corpse. On the tenth day they sacrifice a pig and fowl and bury the legs, tail, ears and nose of the pig in a hole with seven balls of iron dross. They then proceed to the grave scattering a little parched rice all the way along the path. Cooked rice is offered at the grave. If the corpse has been burnt they pick up the bones and place them in a pot, which is brought home and hung up behind the dead man’s house. At night-time a relative sits inside the house watching a burning lamp, while some friends go outside the village and make a miniature hut with sticks and grass and set fire to it. They then call out to the dead man, ‘Come, your house is being burnt,’ and walk home striking a mattock and sickle together. On coming to the house they kick down the matting which covers the doorway; the man inside says, ‘Who are you?’ and they answer, ‘It is we.’ They watch the lamp and when the flame wavers they believe it to show that the spirit of the deceased has followed them and has also entered the house. Next day the bones are thrown into a river and the earthen pot broken against a stone.

14. Worship of ancestors

The pitras or ancestors are worshipped at every festival, and when the new rice is reaped a hen is offered to them. They pray to their dead parents to accept the offering and then place a few grains of rice before the hen. If she eats them, it is a sign that the ancestors have accepted [310]the offering and a man kills the hen by crushing its head with his closed fist. This is probably, as remarked by Father Dehon, in recollection of the method employed before the introduction of knives, and the same explanation may be given of the barbaric method of the Baigas of crushing a pig to death by a beam of wood used as a see-saw across its body, and of the Gond bride and bridegroom killing a fowl by treading on it when they first enter their house after the wedding.

15. Religion. The supreme deity

The following account of the tribal religion is abridged from Father Dehon’s full and interesting description:

“The Oraons worship a supreme god who is known as Dharmes; him they invoke in their greatest difficulties when recourse to the village priests and magicians has proved useless. Then they turn to Dharmes and say, ‘Now we have tried everything, but we have still you who can help us.’ They sacrifice to him a white cock. They think that god is too good to punish them, and that they are not answerable to him in any way for their conduct; they believe that everybody will be treated in the same way in the other world. There is no hell for them or place of punishment, but everybody will go to merkha or heaven. The Red Indians speak of the happy hunting-grounds and the Oraons imagine something like the happy ploughing-grounds, where everybody will have plenty of land, plenty of bullocks to plough it with, and plenty of rice-beer to drink after his labour. They look on god as a big zamīndār or landowner, who does nothing himself, but keeps a chaprāsi as an agent or debt-collector; and they conceive the latter as having all the defects so common to his profession. Baranda, the chaprāsi, exacts tribute from them mercilessly, not exactly out of zeal for the service of his master, but out of greed for his talbāna or perquisites. When making a sacrifice to Dharmes they pray: ‘O god, from to-day do not send any more your chaprāsi to punish us. You see we have paid our respects to you, and we are going to give him his dastūri (tip).’

16. Minor godlings

“But in the concerns of this world, to obtain good crops and freedom from sickness, a host of minor deities have to be propitiated. These consist of bhūts or spirits of the [311]household, the sept, the village, and common deities, such as the earth and sun. Chola Pācho or the lady of the grove lives in the sarna or sacred grove, which has been left standing when the forest was cleared. She is credited with the power of giving rain and consequently good crops. Churel is the shade of a woman who has died while pregnant or in childbirth. She hovers over her burial-place and is an object of horror and fright to every passer-by. It is her nature to look out for a companion, and she is said always to choose that member of a family whom she liked best during her lifetime. She will then come at night and embrace him and tickle him under the arms, making him laugh till he dies. Bhūla or the wanderers are the shades of persons who have died an unnatural death, either having been murdered, hanged, or killed by a tiger. They all keep the scars of their respective wounds and one can imagine what a weird-looking lot they are. They are always on the move, and are, as it were, the mendicant portion of the invisible community. They are not very powerful and are responsible only for small ailments, like nightmares and slight indispositions. When an Ojha or spirit-raiser discovers that a Bhūla has appeared in the light of his lamp he shows a disappointed face, and says: ‘Pshaw, only Bhūla!’ No sacrifice is offered to him, but the Ojha then and there takes a few grains of rice, rubs them in charcoal and throws them at the flame of his lamp, saying, ‘Take this, Bhūla, and go away.’ Mūrkuri is the thumping bhūt. Europeans to show their kindness and familiarity thump people on the back. If this is followed by fever or any kind of sickness it will be ascribed to the passing of Mūrkuri from the body of the European into the body of the native.

Chordewa is a witch rather than a bhūt. It is believed that some women have the power to change their soul into a black cat, who then goes about in the houses where there are sick people. Such a cat has a peculiar way of mewing, quite different from its brethren, and is easily recognised. It steals quietly into the house, licks the lips of the sick man and eats the food which has been prepared for him. The sick man soon gets worse and dies. They say it is very difficult to catch the cat, as it has all the nimbleness of its [312]nature and the cleverness of a bhūt. However, they sometimes succeed, and then something wonderful happens. The woman out of whom the cat has come remains insensible, as it were in a state of temporary death, until the cat re-enters her body. Any wound inflicted on the cat will be inflicted on her; if they cut its ears or break its legs or put out its eyes the woman will suffer the same mutilation. The Oraons say that formerly they used to burn any woman who was suspected of being a Chordewa.

17. Human sacrifice

“There is also Anna Kuāri or Mahādhani, who is in our estimation the most cruel and repulsive deity of all, as she requires human sacrifice. Those savage people, who put good crops above everything, look upon her in a different light. She can give good crops and make a man rich, and this covers a multitude of sins. People may be sceptical about it and say that it is impossible that in any part of India under the British Government there should still be human sacrifices. Well, in spite of all the vigilance of the authorities, there are still human sacrifices in Chota Nāgpur. As the vigilance of the authorities increases, so also does the carefulness of the Urkas or Otongas increase. They choose for their victims poor waifs or strangers, whose disappearance no one will notice. April and May are the months in which the Urkas are at work. Doīsa, Panāri, Kūkra and Sargūja have a very bad reputation. During these months no strangers will go about the country alone and during that time nowhere will boys and girls be allowed to go to the jungle and graze the cattle for fear of the Urkas. When an Urka has found a victim he cuts his throat and carries away the upper part of the ring finger and the nose. Anna Kuāri finds votaries not only among the Oraons, but especially among the big zamīndārs and Rājas of the Native States. When a man has offered a sacrifice to Anna Kuāri she goes and lives in his house in the form of a small child. From that time his fields yield double harvest, and when he brings in his paddy he takes Anna Kuāri and rolls her over the heap to double its size. But she soon becomes restless and is only pacified by new human sacrifices. At last after some years she cannot bear remaining in the same house any more and kills every one.” [313]

18. Christianity

In Jashpur State where the Oraons number 47,000 about half the total number have become Christians. The non-Christians call themselves Sansār, and the principal difference between them is that the Christians have cut off the pigtail, while the Sansār retain it. In some families the father may be a Sansār and the son a Kiristān, and they live together without any distinction. The Christians belong to the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Missions, but though they all know their Church, they naturally have little or no idea of the distinctions of doctrine.

19. Festivals. The Karma or May-day

The principal festivals are the Sārhūl, celebrated when the sāl tree7 flowers, the Karma or May-day when the rice is ready for planting out, and the Kanihāri or harvest celebration.

“At the Karma festival a party of young people of both sexes,” says Colonel Dalton, “proceed to the forest and cut a young karma tree (Nauclea parvifolia) or the branch of one; they bear this home in triumph and plant it in the centre of the Akhāra or wrestling ground. Next morning all may be seen at an early hour in holiday array, the elders in groups under the fine old tamarind trees that surround the Akhāra, and the youth of both sexes, arm-linked in a huge circle, dancing round the karma tree, which, festooned with garlands, decorated with strips of coloured cloth and sham bracelets and necklets of plaited straw, and with the bright faces and merry laughter of the young people encircling it, reminds one of the gift-bearing tree so often introduced at our own great festival.” The tree, however, probably corresponds to the English Maypole, and the festival celebrates the renewal of vegetation.

20. The sāl flower festival

At the Sārhūl festival the marriage of the sun-god and earth-mother is celebrated, and this cannot be done till the sāl tree gives the flowers for the ceremony. It takes place about the beginning of April on any day when the tree is in flower. A white cock is taken to represent the sun and a black hen the earth; their marriage is celebrated by marking them with vermilion, and they are sacrificed. The villagers then accompany the Pāhan or Baiga, the village priest, to the sarna or sacred grove, a remnant of the old sāl forest in [314]which is located Sarna Burhi or ‘The old women of the grove.’ “To this dryad,” writes Colonel Dalton, “who is supposed to have great influence over the rain (a superstition not improbably founded on the importance of trees as cloud-compellers), the party offer five fowls, which are afterwards eaten, and the remainder of the day is spent in feasting. They return laden with the flowers of the sāl tree, and next morning with the Baiga pay a visit to every house, carrying the flowers. The women of the village all stand on the threshold of their houses, each holding two leaf-cups; one empty to receive the holy water; the other with rice-beer for the Baiga. His reverence stops at each house, and places flowers over it and in the hair of the women. He sprinkles the holy water on the seeds that have been kept for the new year and showers blessings on every house, saying, ‘May your rooms and granary be filled with paddy that the Baiga’s name may be great.’ When this is accomplished the woman throws a vessel of water over his venerable person, heartily dousing the man whom the moment before they were treating with such profound respect. This is no doubt a rain-charm, and is a familiar process. The Baiga is prevented from catching cold by being given the cup of rice-beer and is generally gloriously drunk before he completes his round. There is now a general feast, and afterwards the youth of both sexes, gaily decked with the sāl blossoms, the pale cream-white flowers of which make the most becoming of ornaments against their dusky skins and coal-black hair, proceed to the Akhāra and dance all night.”

21. The harvest festival

The Kanihāri, as described by Father Dehon, is held previous to the threshing of the rice, and none is allowed to prepare his threshing-floor until it has been celebrated. It can only take place on a Tuesday. A fowl is sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the new rice. In the evening a common feast is held at which the Baiga presides, and when this is over they go to the place where Mahādeo is worshipped and the Baiga pours milk over the stone that represents him. The people then dance. Plenty of rice-beer is brought, and a scene of debauchery takes place in which all restraint is put aside. They sing the most obscene [315]songs and give vent to all their passions. On that day no one is responsible for any breach of morality.

22. Fast for the crops

Like other primitive races, and the Hindus generally, the Oraons observe the Lenten fast, as explained by Sir J.G. Frazer, after sowing their crops. Having committed his seed with every propitiatory rite to the bosom of Mother Earth, the savage waits with anxious expectation to see whether she will once again perform on his behalf the yearly miracle of the renewal of vegetation, and the growth of the corn-plants from the seed which the Greeks typified by the descent of Proserpine into Hades for a season of the year and her triumphant re-emergence to the upper air. Meanwhile he fasts and atones for any sin or shortcoming of his which may possibly have offended the goddess and cause her to hold her hand. From the beginning of Asārh (June) the Oraons cease to shave, abstain from eating turmeric, and make no leaf-plates for their food, but eat it straight from the cooking-vessel. This they now say is to prevent the field-mice from consuming the seeds of the rice.

23. Physical appearance and costume of the Oraons

“The colour of most Oraons,” Sir H. Risley states, “is the darkest brown approaching to black; the hair being jet-black, coarse and rather inclined to be frizzy. Projecting jaws and teeth, thick lips, low narrow foreheads, and broad flat noses are the features characteristic of the tribe. The eyes are often bright and full, and no obliquity is observable in the opening of the eyelids.”

“The Oraon youths,” Dalton states, “though with features very far from being in accordance with the statutes of beauty, are of a singularly pleasing class, their faces beaming with animation and good humour. They are a small race, averaging 4 feet 5 inches, but there is perfect proportion in all parts of their form, and their supple, pliant, lithe figures are often models of symmetry. There is about the young Oraon a jaunty air and mirthful expression that distinguishes him from the Munda or Ho, who has more of the dignified gravity that is said to characterise the North American Indian. The Oraon is particular about his personal appearance only so long as he is unmarried, but he is in no hurry to withdraw from the Dhūmkuria community, and generally [316]his first youth is passed before he resigns his decorative propensities.

“He wears his hair long like a woman, gathered in a knot behind, supporting, when he is in gala costume, a red or white turban. In the knot are wooden combs and other instruments useful and ornamental, with numerous ornaments of brass.8 At the very extremity of the roll of hair gleams a small circular mirror set in brass, from which, and also from his ears, bright brass chains with spiky pendants dangle, and as he moves with the springy elastic step of youth and tosses his head like a high-mettled steed in the buoyancy of his animal spirits, he sets all his glittering ornaments in motion and displays as he laughs a row of teeth, round, white and regular, that give light and animation to his dusky features. He wears nothing in the form of a coat; his decorated neck and chest are undraped, displaying how the latter tapers to the waist, which the young dandies compress within the smallest compass. In addition to the cloth, there is always round the waist a girdle of cords made of tasar-silk or of cane. This is now a superfluity, but it is no doubt the remnant of a more primitive costume, perhaps the support of the antique fig-leaves.

“Out of the age of ornamentation nothing can be more untidy or more unprepossessing than the appearance of the Oraon. The ornaments are nearly all discarded, hair utterly neglected, and for raiment any rags are used. This applies both to males and females of middle age.

24. Dress of women

“The dress of the women consists of one cloth, six yards long, gracefully adjusted so as to form a shawl and a petticoat. The upper end is thrown over the left shoulder and falls with its fringe and ornamented border prettily over the back of the figure. Vast quantities of red beads and a large, heavy brass ornament shaped like a torque are worn round the neck. On the left hand are rings of copper, as many as can be induced on each finger up to the first joint, on the right hand a smaller quantity; rings on the second toe only of brass or bell-metal, and anklets and bracelets of the same material are also worn.” The women wear only [317]metal and not glass bangles, and this with the three vertical tattoo-marks on the forehead and the fact that the head and right arm are uncovered enables them to be easily recognised. “The hair is made tolerably smooth and amenable by much lubrication, and false hair or some other substance is used to give size to the mass into which it is gathered not immediately behind, but more or less on one side, so that it lies on the neck just behind and touching the right ear; and flowers are arranged in a receptacle made for them between the roll of hair and the head.” Rings are worn in the lobes of the ear, but not other ornaments. “When in dancing costume on grand occasions they add to their head-dress plumes of heron feathers, and a gay bordered scarf is tightly bound round the upper part of the body.”

25. Dances

“The tribe I am treating of are seen to best advantage at the great national dance meetings called Jātras, which are held once a year at convenient centres, generally large mango groves in the vicinity of old villages. As a signal to the country round, the flags of each village are brought out on the day fixed and set upon the road that leads to the place of meeting. This incites the young men and maidens to hurry through their morning’s work and look up their jātra dresses, which are by no means ordinary attire. Those who have some miles to go put up their finery in a bundle to keep it fresh and clean, and proceed to some tank or stream in the vicinity of the tryst grove; and about two o’clock in the afternoon may be seen all around groups of girls laughingly making their toilets in the open air, and young men in separate parties similarly employed. When they are ready the drums are beaten, huge horns are blown, and thus summoned the group from each village forms its procession. In front are young men with swords and shields or other weapons, the village standard-bearers with their flags, and boys waving yaks’ tails or bearing poles with fantastic arrangements of garlands and wreaths intended to represent umbrellas of dignity. Sometimes a man riding on a wooden horse is carried, horse and all, by his friends as the Rāja, and others assume the form of or paint themselves up to represent certain beasts of prey. Behind this motley group the main body [318]form compactly together as a close column of dancers in alternate ranks of boys and girls, and thus they enter the grove, where the meeting is held in a cheery dashing style, wheeling and countermarching and forming lines, circles and columns with grace and precision. The dance with these movements is called kharia, and it is considered to be an Oraon rather than a Munda dance, though Munda girls join in it. When they enter the grove the different groups join and dance the kharia together, forming one vast procession and then a monstrous circle. The drums and musical instruments are laid aside, and it is by the voices alone that the time is given; but as many hundreds, nay, thousands, join, the effect is imposing. In serried ranks, so closed up that they appear jammed, they circle round in file, all keeping perfect step, but at regular intervals the strain is terminated by a hurūru, which reminds one of Paddy’s ‘huroosh’ as he ‘welts the floor,’ and at the same moment they all face inwards and simultaneously jumping up come down on the ground with a resounding stamp that makes the finale of the movements, but only for a momentary pause. One voice with a startling yell takes up the strain again, a fresh start is made, and after gyrating thus till they tire of it the ring breaks up, and separating into village groups they perform other dances independently till near sunset, and then go dancing home.”

26. Social customs

But more often they go on all night. Mr. Ball mentions their dance as follows:9 “The Oraon dance was distinct from any I had seen by the Santāls or other races. The girls, carefully arranged in lines by sizes, with the tallest at one end and the smallest at the other, firmly grasp one another’s hands, and the whole movements are so perfectly in concert that they spring about with as much agility as could a single individual.” Father Dehon gives the following interesting notice of their social customs: “The Oraons are very sociable beings, and like to enjoy life together. They are paying visits or pahis to one another nearly the whole year round. In these the handia (beer-jar) always plays a great part. Any man who would presume to receive visitors without offering them a handia would be [319]hooted and insulted by his guests, who would find a sympathising echo from all the people of the village. One may say that from the time of the new rice at the end of September to the end of the marriage feast or till March there is a continual coming and going of visitors. For a marriage feast forty handias are prepared by the groom’s father, and all the people of the village who can afford it supply one also. Each handia gives about three gallons of rice-beer, so that in one day and a half, in a village of thirty houses, about 200 gallons of rice-beer are despatched. The Oraons are famous for their dances. They delight in spending the whole night from sunset till morning in this most exciting amusement, and in the dancing season they go from village to village. They get, as it were, intoxicated with the music, and there is never any slackening of the pace. On the contrary, the evolutions seem to increase till very early in the morning, and it sometimes happens that one of the dancers shoots off rapidly from the gyrating group, and speeds away like a spent top, and, whirlwind-like, disappears through paddy-fields and ditches till he falls entirely exhausted. Of course it is the devil who has taken possession of him. One can well imagine in what state the dancers are at the first crow of the cock, and when ‘L’aurore avec ses doigts de rose entr’ouvre les portes de l’orient,’ she finds the girls straggling home one by one, dishevelled, traînant l’aile, too tired even to enjoy the company of the boys, who remain behind in small groups, still sounding their tom-toms at intervals as if sorry that the performance was so soon over. And, wonderful to say and incredible to witness, they will go straight to the stalls, yoke their bullocks, and work the whole morning with the same spirit and cheerfulness as if they had spent the whole night in refreshing sleep. At eleven o’clock they come home, eat their meal, and stretched out in the verandah sleep like logs until two, when poked and kicked about unmercifully by the people of the house, they reluctantly get up with heavy eyes and weary limbs to resume their work.”

27. Social rules

The Oraons do not now admit outsiders into the tribe. There is no offence for which a man is permanently put out of caste, but a woman living with any man other than an [320]Oraon is so expelled. Temporary expulsion is awarded for the usual offences. The head of the caste panchāyat is called Panua, and when an offender is reinstated, the Panua first drinks water from his hand, and takes upon himself the burden of the erring one’s transgression. For this he usually receives a fee of five rupees, and in some States the appointment is in the hands of the Rāja, who exacts a fine of a hundred rupees or more from a new candidate. The Oraons eat almost all kinds of food, including pork, fowls and crocodiles, but abstain from beef. Their status is very low among the Hindus; they are usually made to live in a separate corner of the village, and are sometimes not allowed to draw water from the village well. As already stated, the dress of the men consists only of a narrow wisp of cloth round the loins. Some of them say, like the Gonds, that they are descended from the subjects of Rāwan, the demon king of Ceylon; this ancestry having no doubt in the first instance been imputed to them by the Hindus. And they explain that when Hanumān in the shape of a giant monkey came to the assistance of Rāma, their king Rāwan tried to destroy Hanumān by taking all the loin-cloths of his subjects and tying them soaked in oil to the monkey’s tail with a view to setting them on fire and burning him to death. The device was unsuccessful and Hanumān escaped, but since then the subjects of Rāwan and their descendants have never had a sufficient allowance of cloth to cover them properly.

28. Character

“The Oraons,” Colonel Dalton says, “if not the most virtuous, are the most cheerful of the human race. Their lot is not a particularly happy one. They submit to be told that they are especially created as a labouring class, and they have had this so often dinned into their ears that they believe and admit it. I believe they relish work if the taskmaster be not over-exacting. Oraons sentenced to imprisonment without labour, as sometimes happens, for offences against the excise laws, insist on joining the working gangs, and wherever employed, if kindly treated, they work as if they felt an interest in their task. In cold weather or hot, rain or sun, they go cheerfully about it, and after some nine or ten hours of toil (seasoned with a little play and chaff among themselves) they return blithely home [321]in flower-decked groups holding each other by the hand or round the waist and singing.”

29. Language

The Kurukh language, Dr. Grierson states, has no written character, but the gospels have been printed in it in the Devanāgri type. The translation is due to the Rev. F. Halm, who has also published a Biblical history, a catechism and other small books in Kurukh. More than five-sixths of the Oraons are still returned as speaking their own language.

1 Linguistic Survey, vol. iv. p. 406.

2 Bengal Census Report (1901).

3 Ethnography, p. 248.

4 Tribes and Castes, vol. ii. p. 141.

5 Panna Lāl, Revenue Inspector.

6 Sorghum halepense.

7 Shorea robusta.

8 In Bilāspur the men have an iron comb in the hair with a circular end and two prongs like a fork. Women do not wear this.

9 Jungle Life in India, p. 134.



Pāik.—A small caste of the Uriya country formed from military service, the term pāik meaning ‘a foot-soldier.’ In 1901 the Pāiks numbered 19,000 persons in the Kālāhandi and Patna States and the Raipur District, but since the transfer of the Uriya States to Bengal less than 3000 remain in the Central Provinces. In Kālāhandi, where the bulk of them reside, they are called Nalia Sipāhis from the fact that they were formerly armed with nalis or matchlocks by the State. After the Khond rising of 1882 in Kālāhandi these were confiscated and bows and arrows given in lieu of them. The Pāiks say that they were the followers of two warriors, Kālmīr and Jaimīr, who conquered the Kālāhandi and Jaipur States from the Khonds about a thousand years ago. There is no doubt that they formed the rough militia of the Uriya Rājas, a sort of rabble half military and half police, like the Khandaits. But the Khandaits were probably the leaders and officers, and, as a consequence, though originally only a mixed occupational group, have acquired a higher status than the Pāiks and in Orissa rank next to the Rājpūts. The Pāiks were the rank and file, mainly recruited from the forest tribes, and they are counted as a comparatively low caste, though to strangers they profess to be Rājpūts. In Sambalpur it is said that Rājpūts, Sudhs, Bhuiyas and Gonds are called Pāiks. In Kālāhandi they wear the sacred thread, being invested with it by a Brāhman at the time of their marriage, and they say that this privilege was conferred on them by the Rāja. It is reported, however, that social distinctions may be purchased in some of the Uriya States for comparatively small sums. A Bhatra or member of a forest tribe was [322]observed wearing the sacred thread, and, on being questioned, stated that his grandfather had purchased the right from the Rāja for Rs. 50. The privileges of wearing gold ear ornaments, carrying an umbrella, and riding on horseback were obtainable in a similar manner. It is also related that when one Rāja imported the first pair of boots seen in his State, the local landholders were allowed to wear them in turn for a few minutes on payment of five rupees each, as a token of their right thereafter to procure and wear boots of their own. In Damoh and Jubbulpore another set of Pāiks is to be found who also claim to be Rājpūts, and are commonly so called, though true Rājpūts will not eat or intermarry with them. These are quite distinct from the Sambalpur Pāiks, but have probably been formed into a caste in exactly the same manner. The sept or family names of the Uriya Pāiks sufficiently indicate their mixed descent. Some of them are as follows: Dube (a Brāhman title), Chālak Bansi (of the Chalukya royal family), Chhit Karan (belonging to the Karans or Uriya Kāyasths), Sahāni (a sais or groom), Sudh (the name of an Uriya caste), Benet Uriya (a subdivision of the Uriya or Od mason caste), and so on. It is clear that members of different castes who became Pāiks founded separate families, which in time developed into exogamous septs. Some of the septs will not eat food cooked with water in company with the rest of the caste, though they do not object to intermarrying with them. After her marriage a girl may not take food cooked by her parents nor will they accept it from her. And at a marriage party each guest is supplied with grain and cooks it himself, but everybody will eat with the bride and bridegroom as a special concession to their position. Besides the exogamous clans the Pāiks have totemistic gots or groups named after plants and animals, as Harin (a deer), Kadamb (a tree), and so on. But these have no bearing on marriage, and the bulk of the caste have the Nāgesh or cobra as their sept name. It is said that anybody who does not know his sept considers himself to be a Nāgesh, and if he does not know his clan, he calls himself a Mahanti. Each family among the Pāiks has also a Sainga or title, of a high-sounding nature, as Nāik (lord), Pujāri (worshipper), Baidya [323](physician), Raut (noble), and so on. Marriages are generally celebrated in early youth, but no penalty is incurred for a breach of this rule. If the signs of adolescence appear in a girl for the first time on a Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday, it is considered a bad omen, and she is sometimes married to a tree to avert the consequences. Widow-marriage and divorce are freely permitted. The caste burn their dead and perform the shrāddh ceremony. The women are tattooed, and men sometimes tattoo their arms with figures of the sun and moon in the belief that this will protect them from snake-bite. The Pāiks eat flesh and fish, but abstain from fowls and other unclean animals and from liquor. Brāhmans will not take water from them, but other castes generally do so. Some of them are still employed as armed retainers and are remunerated by free grants of land. [324]



List of Paragraphs

1. Origin of the caste

Panka.1—A Dravidian caste of weavers and labourers found in Mandla, Raipur and Bilāspur, and numbering 215,000 persons in 1911. The name is a variant on that of the Pān tribe of Orissa and Chota Nāgpur, who are also known as Panika, Chīk, Gānda and by various other designations. In the Central Provinces it has, however, a peculiar application; for while the Pan tribe proper is called Gānda in Chhattīsgarh and the Uriya country, the Pankas form a separate division of the Gāndas, consisting of those who have become members of the Kabīrpanthi sect. In this way the name has been found very convenient, for since Kabīr, the founder of the sect, was discovered by a weaver woman lying on the lotus leaves of a tank, like Moses in the bulrushes, and as a newly initiated convert is purified with water, so the Pankas hold that their name Is pāni ka or ‘from water.’ As far as possible then they disown their connection with the Gāndas, one of the most despised castes, and say that they are a separate caste consisting of the disciples of Kabīr. This has given rise to the following doggerel rhyme about them:

Pāni se Panka bhae, bundan rāche sharīr,

Age age Panka bhae, pāchhe Dās Kabīr.

Which may be rendered, ‘The Panka indeed is born of [325]water, and his body is made of drops of water, but there were Pankas before Kabīr.’ Or another rendering of the second line is, ‘First he was a Panka, and afterwards he became a disciple of Kabīr,’ Nevertheless the Pankas have been successful in obtaining a somewhat higher position than the Gāndas, in that their touch is not considered to convey impurity. This is therefore an instance of a body of persons from a low caste embracing a new religion and thereby forming themselves into a separate caste and obtaining an advance in social position.

2. Caste subdivisions

Of the whole caste 84 per cent are Kabīrpanthis and these form one subcaste; but there are a few others. The Mānikpuria say that their ancestors came from Mānikpur in Darbhanga State about three centuries ago; the Saktaha are those who profess to belong to the Sakta sect, which simply means that they eat flesh and drink liquor, being unwilling to submit to the restrictions imposed on Kabīrpanthis; the Bajania are those who play on musical instruments, an occupation which tends to lower them in Hindu eyes; and the Dom Pankas are probably a section of the Dom or sweeper caste who have somehow managed to become Pankas. The main distinction is however between the Kabirha, who have abjured flesh and liquor, and the Saktaha, who indulge in them; and the Saktaha group is naturally recruited from backsliding Kabīrpanthis. Properly the Kabirha and Saktaha do not intermarry, but if a girl from either section goes to a man of the other she will be admitted into the community and recognised as his wife, though the regular ceremony is not performed. The Saktaha worship all the ordinary village deities, but some of the Kabirha at any rate entirely refrain from doing so, and have no religious rites except when a priest of their sect comes round, when he gives them a discourse and they sing religious songs.

3. Endogamous divisions

The caste have a number of exogamous septs, many of which are named after plants and animals: as Tandia an earthen pot, Chhura a razor, Neora the mongoose, Parewa the wild pigeon, and others. Other septs are Panaria the bringer of betel-leaf, Kuldīp the lamp-lighter, Pandwār the washer of feet, Ghughua one who eats the leavings of the [326]assembly, and Khetgarhia, one who watches the fields during religious worship. The Sonwānia or ‘Gold-water’ sept has among the Pankas, as with several of the primitive tribes, the duty of readmitting persons temporarily put out of caste; while the Naurang or nine-coloured sept may be the offspring of some illegitimate unions. The Sati sept apparently commemorate by their name an ancestress who distinguished herself by self-immolation, naturally a very rare occurrence in so low a caste as the Pankas. Each sept has its own Bhāt or genealogist who begs only from members of the sept and takes food from them.

4. Marriage

Marriage is prohibited between members of the same sept and also between first cousins, and a second sister may not be married during the lifetime of the first. Girls are usually wedded under twelve years of age. In Mandla the father of the boy and his relatives go to discuss the match, and if this is arranged each of them kisses the girl and gives her a piece of small silver. When a Saktaha is going to look for a wife he makes a fire offering to Dūlha Deo, the young bridegroom god, whose shrine is in the cook-room, and prays to him saying, ‘I am going to such and such a village to ask for a wife; give me good fortune.’ The father of the girl at first refuses his consent as a matter of etiquette, but finally agrees to let the marriage take place within a year. The boy pays Rs. 9, which is spent on the feast, and makes a present of clothes and jewels to the bride. In Chānda a chauka or consecrated space spread with cowdung with a pattern of lines of flour is prepared and the fathers of the parties stand inside this, while a member of the Pandwār sept cries out the names of the gotras of the bride and bridegroom and says that the everlasting knot is to be tied between them with the consent of five caste-people and the sun and moon as witnesses. Before the wedding the betrothed couple worship Mahādeo and Pārvati under the direction of a Brāhman, who also fixes the date of the wedding. This is the only purpose for which a Brāhman is employed by the caste. Between this date and that of the marriage neither the boy nor girl should be allowed to go to a tank or cross a river, as it is considered dangerous to their lives. The superstition has apparently [327]some connection with the belief that the Pankas are sprung from water, but its exact meaning cannot be determined. If a girl goes wrong before marriage with a man of the caste, she is given to him as wife without any ceremony. Before the marriage seven small pitchers full of water are placed in a bamboo basket and shaken over the bride’s head so that the water may fall on her. The principal ceremony consists in walking round the sacred pole called magrohan, the skirts of the pair being knotted together. In some localities this is done twice, a first set of perambulations being called the Kunwāri (maiden) Bhānwar, and the second one of seven, the Byāhi (married) Bhānwar. After the wedding the bride and her relations return with the bridegroom to his house, their party being known as Chauthia. The couple are taken to a river and throw their tinsel wedding ornaments into the water. The bride then returns home if she is a minor, and when she subsequently goes to live with her husband the gauna ceremony is performed. Widow-marriage is permitted, and divorce may be effected for bad conduct on the part of the wife, the husband giving a sort of funeral feast, called Marti jīti ka bhāt, to the castefellows. Usually a man gives several warnings to his wife to amend her bad conduct before he finally casts her off.

5. Religion

The Pankas worship only Kabīr. They prepare a chauka and, sitting in it, sing songs in his praise, and a cocoanut is afterwards broken and distributed to those who are present. The assembly is presided over by a Mahant or priest and the chauka is prepared by his subordinate called the Dīwān. The offices of Mahant and Dīwān are hereditary, and they officiate for a collection of ten or fifteen villages. Otherwise the caste perform no special worship, but observe the full moon days of Māgh (January), Phāgun (February) and Kārtik (October) as fasts in honour of Kabīr. Some of the Kabirhas observe the Hindu festivals, and the Saktahas, as already stated, have the same religious practices as other Hindus. They admit into the community members of most castes except the impure ones. In Chhattīsgarh a new convert is shaved and the other Pankas wash their feet over him in order to purify him. He then breaks a stick in token of having given up his former caste and is [328]invested with a necklace of tulsi2 beads. A woman of any such caste who has gone wrong with a man of the Panka caste may be admitted after she has lived with him for a certain period on probation, during which her conduct must be satisfactory, her paramour also being put out of caste for the same time. Both are then shaved and invested with the necklaces of tulsi beads. In Mandla a new convert must clean and whitewash his house and then vacate it with his family while the Panch or caste committee come and stay there for some time in order to purify it. While they are there neither the owner nor any member of his family may enter the house. The Panch then proceed to the riverside and cook food, after driving the new convert across the river by pelting him with cowdung. Here he changes his clothes and puts on new ones, and coming back again across the stream is made to stand in the chauk and sip the urine of a calf. The chauk is then washed out and a fresh one made with lines of flour, and standing in this the convert receives to drink the dal, that is, water in which a little betel, raw sugar and black pepper have been mixed and a piece of gold dipped. In the evening the Panch again take their food in the convert’s house, while he eats outside it at a distance. Then he again sips the dal, and the Mahant or priest takes him on his lap and a cloth is put over them both; the Mahant whispers the mantra or sacred verse into his ear, and he is finally considered to have become a full Kabirha Panka and admitted to eat with the Panch.

6. Other customs

The Pankas are strict vegetarians and do not drink liquor. A Kabirha Panka is put out of caste for eating flesh meat. Both men and women generally wear white clothes, and men have the garland of beads round the neck. The dead are buried, being laid on the back with the head pointing to the north. After a funeral the mourners bathe and then break a cocoanut over the grave and distribute it among themselves. On the tenth day they go again and break a cocoanut and each man buries a little piece of it in the earth over the grave. A little cup made of flour containing a lamp is placed on the grave for three days afterwards, and some food and water are put in a leaf cup outside [329]the house for the same period. During these days the family do not cook for themselves but are supplied with food by their friends. After childbirth a mother is supposed not to eat food during the time that the midwife attends on her, on account of the impurity caused by this woman’s presence in the room.

7. Occupation

The caste are generally weavers, producing coarse country cloth, and a number of them serve as village watchmen, while others are cultivators and labourers. They will not grow sān-hemp nor breed tasar silk cocoons. They are somewhat poorly esteemed by their neighbours, who say of them, ‘Where a Panka can get a little boiled rice and a pumpkin, he will stay for ever,’ meaning that he is satisfied with this and will not work to get more. Another saying is, ‘The Panka felt brave and thought he would go to war; but he set out to fight a frog and was beaten’; and another, ‘Every man tells one lie a day; but the Ahīr tells sixteen, the Chamār twenty, and the lies of the Panka cannot be counted.’ Such gibes, however, do not really mean much. Owing to the abstinence of the Pankas from flesh and liquor they rank above the Gāndas and other impure castes. In Bilāspur they are generally held to be quiet and industrious.3 In Chhattīsgarh the Pankas are considered above the average in intelligence and sometimes act as spokesmen for the village people and as advisers to zamīndārs and village proprietors. Some of them become religious mendicants and act as gurus or preceptors to Kabīrpanthis.4 [330]

1 This article is compiled from papers by Pyāre Lāl Misra, Ethnographic clerk, and Hazari Lāl, Manager, Court of Wards, Chānda.

2 The basil plant.

3 Bilaspur Settlement Report (1868), p. 49.

4 From a note by Mr. Gauri Shankar, Manager, Court of Wards, Drūg.


Panwār Rājpūt

List of Paragraphs

1. Historical notice. The Agnikula clans and the slaughter of the Kshatriyas by Parasurāma

Panwār,1 Puar, Ponwār, Prāmara Rājpūt.—The Panwār or Pramāra is one of the most ancient and famous of the Rājpūt clans. It was the first of the four Agnikulas, who were created from the fire-pit on the summit of Mount Abu after the Kshatriyas had been exterminated by Parasurāma the Brāhman. “The fire-fountain was lustrated with the waters of the Ganges;2 expiatory rites were performed, and after a protracted debate among the gods it was resolved that Indra should initiate the work of recreation. Having formed an image of dūba grass he sprinkled it with the water of life and threw it into the fire-fountain. Thence on pronouncing the sajīvan mantra (incantation to give life) a figure slowly emerged from the flame, bearing in the right hand a mace and exclaiming, ‘Mār, Mār!’ (Slay, slay). He was called Pramār; and Abu, Dhār, and Ujjain were assigned to him as a territory.”

The four clans known as Agnikula, or born from the fire-pit, were the Panwār, the Chauhān, the Parihār and [331]the Chalukya or Solanki. Mr. D.R. Bhandarkar adduces evidence in support of the opinion that all these were of foreign origin, derived from the Gūjars or other Scythian or Hun tribes.3 And it seems therefore not unlikely that the legend of the fire-pit may commemorate the reconstitution of the Kshatriya aristocracy by the admission of these tribes to Hinduism after its partial extinction during their wars of invasion; the latter event having perhaps been euphemised into the slaughter of the Kshatriyas by Parasurāma the Brāhman. A great number of Indian castes date their origin from the traditional massacre of the Kshatriyas by Parasurāma, saying that their ancestors were Rājpūts who escaped and took to various occupations; and it would appear that an event which bulks so largely in popular tradition must have some historical basis. It is noticeable also that Buddhism, which for some five centuries since the time of Asoka Maurya had been the official and principal religion of northern India, had recently entered on its decline. “The restoration of the Brāhmanical religion to popular favour and the associated revival of the Sanskrit language first became noticeable in the second century, were fostered by the satraps of Gujarāt and Surāshtra during the third, and made a success by the Gupta emperors in the fourth century.4 The decline of Buddhism and the diffusion of Sanskrit proceeded side by side with the result that by the end of the Gupta period the force of Buddhism on Indian soil had been nearly spent; and India with certain local exceptions had again become the land of the Brāhman.5 The Gupta dynasty as an important power ended about A.D. 490 and was overthrown by the Huns, whose leader Toramāna was established at Mālwa in Central India prior to A.D. 500.”6 The revival of Brāhmanism and the Hun supremacy were therefore nearly contemporaneous. Moreover one of the Hun leaders, Mihiragula, was a strong supporter of Brāhmanism and an opponent of the Buddhists. Mr. V.A. Smith writes: “The savage invader, who worshipped as his patron deity Siva, the god of destruction, exhibited ferocious hostility [332]against the peaceful Buddhist cult, and remorselessly overthrew the stūpas and monasteries, which he plundered of their treasures.”7 This warrior might therefore well be venerated by the Brāhmans as the great restorer of their faith and would easily obtain divine honours. The Huns also subdued Rājputāna and Central India and were dominant here for a time until their extreme cruelty and oppression led to a concerted rising of the Indian princes by whom they were defeated. The discovery of the Hun or Scythian origin of several of the existing Rājpūt clans fits in well with the legend. The stories told by many Indian castes of their first ancestors having been Rājpūts who escaped from the massacre of Parasurāma would then have some historical value as indicating that the existing occupational grouping of castes dates from the period of the revival of the Brāhman cult after a long interval of Buddhist supremacy. It is however an objection to the identification of Parasurāma with the Huns that he is the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, coming before Rāma and being mentioned in the Mahābhārata, and thus if he was in any way historical his proper date should be long before their time. As to this it may be said that he might have been interpolated or put back in date, as the Brāhmans had a strong interest in demonstrating the continuity of the Kshatriya caste from Vedic times and suppressing the Hun episode, which indeed they have succeeded in doing so well that the foreign origin of several of the most prominent Rājpūt clans has only been established quite recently by modern historical and archaeological research. The name Parasurāma signifies ‘Rāma with the axe’ and seems to indicate that this hero came after the original Rāma. And the list of the incarnations of Vishnu is not always the same, as in one list the incarnations are nearly all of the animal type and neither Parasurāma, Rāma nor Krishna appear.

2. The legend of Parasurāma

The legend of Parasurāma is not altogether opposed to this view in itself.8 He was the son of a Brāhman Muni or hermit, named Jamadagni, by a lady, Renuka, of the Kshatriya caste. He is therefore not held to have been a Brāhman and neither was he a true Kshatriya. This might [333]portray the foreign origin of the Huns. Jamadagni found his wife Renuka to be harbouring thoughts of conjugal infidelity, and commanded his sons, one by one, to slay her. The four elder ones successively refused, and being cursed by Jamadagni lost all understanding and became as idiots; but the youngest, Parasurāma, at his father’s bidding, struck off his mother’s head with a blow of his axe. Jamadagni thereupon was very pleased and promised to give Parasurāma whatever he might desire. On which Parasurāma begged first for the restoration of his mother to life, with forgetfulness of his having slain her and purification from all defilement; secondly, the return of his brothers to sanity and understanding; and for himself that he should live long and be invincible in battle; and all these boons his father bestowed. Here the hermit Jamadagni might represent the Brāhman priesthood, and his wife Renuka might be India, unfaithful to the Brāhmans and turning towards the Buddhist heresy. The four elder sons would typify the princes of India refusing to respond to the exhortations of the Brāhmans for the suppression of Buddhism, and hence themselves made blind to the true faith and their understandings darkened with Buddhist falsehood. But Parasurāma, the youngest, killed his mother, that is, the Huns devastated India and slaughtered the Buddhists; in reward for this he was made invincible as the Huns were, and his mother, India, and his brothers, the indigenous princes, regained life and understanding, that is, returned to the true Brāhman faith. Afterwards, the legend proceeds, the king Kārrtavīrya, the head of the Haihaya tribe of Kshatriyas, stole the calf of the sacred cow Kamdhenu from Jamadagni’s hermitage and cut down the trees surrounding it. When Parasurāma returned, his father told him what had happened, and he followed Kārrtavīrya and killed him in battle. But in revenge for this the sons of the king, when Parasurāma was away, returned to the hermitage and slew the pious and unresisting sage Jamadagni, who called fruitlessly for succour on his valiant son. When Parasurāma returned and found his father dead he vowed to extirpate the whole Kshatriya race. ‘Thrice times seven did he clear the earth of the Kshatriya caste,’ says the Mahābhārata. If the first part of the story refers to the Hun conquest of northern [334]India and the overthrow of the Gupta dynasty, the second may similarly portray their invasion of Rājputāna. The theft of the cow and desecration of Jamadagni’s hermitage by the Haihaya Rājpūts would represent the apostasy of the Rājpūt princes to Buddhist monotheism, the consequent abandonment of the veneration of the cow and the spoliation of the Brāhman shrines; while the Hun invasions of Rājputāna and the accompanying slaughter of Rājpūts would be Parasurāma’s terrible revenge.

3. The Panwār dynasty of Dhār and Ujjain

The Kings of Mālwa or Ujjain who reigned at Dhār and flourished from the ninth to the twelfth centuries were of the Panwār clan. The seventh and ninth kings of this dynasty rendered it famous.9 “Rāja Munja, the seventh king (974–995), renowned for his learning and eloquence, was not only a patron of poets, but was himself a poet of no small reputation, the anthologies including various works from his pen. He penetrated in a career of conquest as far as the Godāvari, but was finally defeated and executed there by the Chalukya king. His nephew, the famous Bhoja, ascended the throne of Dhāra about A.D. 1018 and reigned gloriously for more than forty years. Like his uncle he cultivated with equal assiduity the arts of peace and war. Though his fights with neighbouring powers, including one of the Muhammadan armies of Mahmūd of Ghaznī, are now forgotten, his fame as an enlightened patron of learning and a skilled author remains undimmed, and his name has become proverbial as that of the model king according to the Hindu standard. Works on astronomy, architecture, the art of poetry and other subjects are attributed to him. About A.D. 1060 Bhoja was attacked and defeated by the confederate kings of Gujarāt and Chedi, and the Panwār kingdom was reduced to a petty local dynasty until the thirteenth century. It was finally superseded by the chiefs of the Tomara and Chauhān clans, who in their turn succumbed to the Muhammadans in 1401.” The city of Ujjain was at this time a centre of Indian intellectual life. Some celebrated astronomers made it [335]their home, and it was adopted as the basis of the Hindu meridional system like Greenwich in England. The capital of the state was changed from Ujjain to Dhār or Dhāranāgra by the Rāja Bhoja already mentioned;10 and the name of Dhār is better remembered in connection with the Panwārs than Ujjain.

A saying about it quoted by Colonel Tod was:

Jahān Puār tahān Dhār hai;

Aur Dhār jahān Puār;

Dhār bina Puār nahin;

Aur nahin Puār bina Dhār:

or, “Where the Panwār is there is Dhār, and Dhār is where the Panwār is; without the Panwārs Dhār cannot stand, nor the Panwārs without Dhār.” It is related that in consequence of one of his merchants having been held to ransom by the ruler of Dhār, the Bhatti Rāja of Jaisalmer made a vow to subdue the town. But as he found the undertaking too great for him, in order to fulfil his vow he had a model of the city made in clay and was about to break it up. But there were Panwārs in his army, and they stood out to defend their mock capital, repeating as their reason the above lines; and in resisting the Rāja were cut to pieces to the number of a hundred and twenty.11 There is little reason to doubt that the incident, if historical, was produced by the belief in sympathetic magic; the Panwārs really thought that by destroying its image the Raja could effect injury to the capital itself,12 just as many primitive races believe that if they make a doll as a model of an enemy and stick pins into or otherwise injure it, the man himself is similarly affected. A kindred belief prevails concerning certain mythical old kings of the Golden Age of India, of whom it is said that to destroy their opponents all they had to do was to collect a bundle of juāri stalks and [336]cut off the heads, when the heads of their enemies flew off in unison.

The Panwārs were held to have ruled from nine castles over the Marusthali or ‘Region of death,’ the name given to the great desert of Rājputāna, which extends from Sind to the Aravalli mountains and from the great salt lake to the flat skirting the Garah. The principal of these castles were Abu, Nundore, Umarkot, Arore, and Lodorva.13 And, ‘The world is the Prāmara’s,’ was another saying expressive of the resplendent position of Dhāranāgra or Ujjain at this epoch. The siege and capture of the town by the Muhammadans and consequent expulsion of the Panwārs are still a well-remembered tradition, and certain castes of the Central Provinces, as the Bhoyars and Korkus, say that their ancestors formed part of the garrison and fled to the Satpūra hills after the fall of Dhāranāgra. Mr. Crooke14 states that the expulsion of the Panwārs from Ujjain under their leader Mitra Sen is ascribed to the attack of the Muhammadans under Shāhab-ud-dīn Ghori about A.D. 1190.

4. Diffusion of the Panwārs over India

After this they spread to various places in northern India, and to the Central Provinces and Bombay. The modern state of Dhār is or was recently still held by a Panwār family, who had attained high rank under the Marāthas and received it as a grant from the Peshwa. Malcolm considered them to be the descendants of Rājpūt emigrants to the Deccan. He wrote of them:15 “In the early period of Marātha history the family of Puār appears to have been one of the most distinguished. They were of the Rājpūt tribe, numbers of which had been settled in Mālwa at a remote era; from whence this branch had migrated to the Deccan. Sivaji Puār, the first of the family that can be traced in the latter country, was a landholder; and his grandsons, Sambaji and Kāloji, were military commanders in the service of the celebrated Sivaji. Anand Rao Puār was vested with authority to collect the Marātha share of the revenue of Mālwa and Gujarāt in 1734, and he soon afterwards settled at Dhār, which province, [337]with the adjoining districts and the tributes of some neighbouring Rājpūt chiefs, was assigned for the support of himself and his adherents. It is a curious coincidence that the success of the Marāthas should, by making Dhār the capital of Anand Rāo and his descendants, restore the sovereignty of a race who had seven centuries before been expelled from the government of that city and territory. But the present family, though of the same tribe (Puār), claim no descent from the ancient Hindu princes of Mālwa. They have, like all the Kshatriya tribes who became incorporated with the Marāthas, adopted even in their modes of thinking the habits of that people. The heads of the family, with feelings more suited to chiefs of that nation than Rājpūt princes, have purchased the office of patel or headman in some villages in the Deccan; and their descendants continue to attach value to their ancient, though humble, rights of village officers in that quarter. Notwithstanding that these usages and the connections they formed have amalgamated this family with the Marāthas, they still claim, both on account of their high birth and of being officers of the Rāja of Satāra (not of the Peshwa), rank and precedence over the houses of Sindhia and Holkar; and these claims, even when their fortunes were at the lowest ebb, were always admitted as far as related to points of form and ceremony.” The great Marātha house of Nimbhālkar is believed to have originated from ancestors of the Panwār Rājpūt clan. While one branch of the Panwārs went to the Deccan after the fall of Dhār and marrying with the people there became a leading military family of the Marāthas, the destiny of another group who migrated to northern India was less distinguished. Here they split into two, and the inferior section is described by Mr. Crooke as follows:16 “The Khidmatiā, Barwār or Chobdār are said to be an inferior branch of the Panwārs, descended from a low-caste woman. No high-caste Hindu eats food or drinks water touched by them.” According to the Ain-i-Akbari17 a thousand men of the sept guarded the environs of the palace of Akbar, and Abul Fazl says of them: “The caste to which they [338]belong was notorious for highway robbery, and former rulers were not able to keep them in check. The effective orders of His Majesty have led them to honesty; they are now famous for their trustworthiness. They were formerly called Māwis. Their chief has received the title of Khidmat Rao. Being near the person of His Majesty he lives in affluence. His men are called Khidmatias.” Thus another body of Panwārs went north and sold their swords to the Mughal Emperor, who formed them into a bodyguard. Their case is exactly analogous to that of the Scotch and Swiss Guards of the French kings. In both cases the monarch preferred to entrust the care of his person to foreigners, on whose fidelity he could the better rely, as their only means of support and advancement lay in his personal favour, and they had no local sympathies which could be used as a lever to undermine their loyalty. Buchanan states that a Panwār dynasty ruled for a considerable period over the territory of Shāhabād in Bengal. And Jagdeo Panwār was the trusted minister of Sidhrāj, the great Solanki Rāja of Gujarāt. The story of the adventures of Jagdeo and his wife when they set out together to seek their fortune is an interesting episode in the Rāsmāla. In the Punjab the Panwārs are found settled up the whole course of the Sutlej and along the lower Indus, and have also spread up the Biās into Jalandhar and Gurdāspur.18

5. The Nāgpur Panwārs

While the above extracts have been given to show how the Panwārs migrated from Dhār to different parts of India in search of fortune, this article is mainly concerned with a branch of the clan who came to Nāgpur, and subsequently settled in the rice country of the Wainganga Valley. At the end of the eleventh century Nāgpur appears to have been held by a Panwār ruler as an appanage of the kingdom of Mālwa.19 It has already been seen how the kings of Mālwa penetrated to Berār and the Godāvari, and Nāgpur may well also have fallen to them. Mr. Muhammad Yūsuf quotes an inscription as existing at Bhāndak in Chānda of the year A.D. 1326, in which it is mentioned that the Panwār of Dhār [339]repaired a statue of Jag Nārāyan in that place.20 Nothing more is heard of them in Nāgpur, and their rule probably came to an end with the subversion of the kingdom of Mālwa in the thirteenth century. But there remain in Nāgpur and in the districts of Bhandāra, Bālāghāt and Seoni to the north and east of it a large number of Panwārs, who have now developed into an agricultural caste. It may be surmised that the ancestors of these people settled in the country at the time when Nāgpur was held by their clan, and a second influx may have taken place after the fall of Dhār. According to their own account, they first came to Nagardhan, an older town than Nāgpur, and once the headquarters of the locality. One of their legends is that the men who first came had no wives, and were therefore allowed to take widows of other castes into their houses. It seems reasonable to suppose that something of this kind happened, though they probably did not restrict themselves to widows. The existing family names of the caste show that it is of mixed ancestry, but the original Rājpūt strain is still perfectly apparent in their fair complexions, high foreheads and in many cases grey eyes. The Panwārs have still the habit of keeping women of lower castes to a greater degree than the ordinary, and this has been found to be a trait of other castes of mixed origin, and they are sometimes known as Dhākar, a name having the sense of illegitimacy. Though they have lived for centuries among a Marāthi-speaking people, the Panwārs retain a dialect of their own, the basis of which is Bagheli or eastern Hindi. When the Marāthas established themselves at Nāgpur in the eighteenth century some of the Panwārs took military service under them and accompanied a general of the Bhonsla ruling family on an expedition to Cuttack. In return for this they were rewarded with grants of the waste and forest lands in the valley of the Wainganga river, and here they developed great skill in the construction [340]of tanks and the irrigation of rice land, and are the best agricultural caste in this part of the country. Their customs have many points of interest, and, as is natural, they have abandoned many of the caste observances of the Rājpūts. It is to this group of Panwārs21 settled in the Marātha rice country of the Wainganga Valley that the remainder of this article is devoted.

Transplanting rice

Transplanting rice

6. Subdivisions

They number about 150,000 persons, and include many village proprietors and substantial cultivators. The quotations already given have shown how this virile clan of Rājpūts travelled to the north, south and east from their own country in search of a livelihood. Everywhere they made their mark so that they live in history, but they paid no regard to the purity of their Rājpūt blood and took to themselves wives from the women of the country as they could get them. The Panwārs of the Wainganga Valley have developed into a caste marrying among themselves. They have no subcastes but thirty-six exogamous sections. Some of these have the names of Rājpūt clans, while others are derived from villages, titles or names of offices, or from other castes. Among the titular names are Chaudhri (headman), Patlia (patel or chief officer of a village) and Sonwānia (one who purifies offenders among the Gonds and other tribes). Among the names of other castes are Bopcha or Korku, Bhoyar (a caste of cultivators), Pārdhi (hunter), Kohli (a local cultivating caste) and Sahria (from the Saonr tribe). These names indicate how freely they have intermarried. It is noticeable that the Bhoyars and Korkus of Betūl both say that their ancestors were Panwārs of Dhār, and the occurrence of both names among the Panwārs of Bālāghāt may indicate that these castes also have some Panwār blood. Three names, Rahmat (kind), Turukh or Turk, and Farīd (a well-known saint), are of Muhammadan origin, and indicate intermarriage in that quarter.

7. Marriage customs

Girls are usually, but not necessarily, wedded before adolescence. Occasionally a Panwār boy who cannot afford a regular marriage will enter his prospective father-in-law’s [341]house and serve him for a year or more, when he will obtain a daughter in marriage. And sometimes a girl will contract a liking for some man or boy of the caste and will go to his house, leaving her home. In such cases the parents accept the accomplished fact, and the couple are married. If the boy’s parents refuse their consent they are temporarily put out of caste, and subsequently the neighbours will not pay them the customary visits on the occasions of family joys and griefs. Even if a girl has lived with a man of another caste, as long as she has not borne a child, she may be re-admitted to the community on payment of such penalty as the elders may determine. If her own parents will not take her back, a man of the same gotra or section is appointed as her guardian and she can be married from his house.

The ceremonies of a Panwār marriage are elaborate. Marriage-sheds are erected at the houses both of the bride and bridegroom in accordance with the usual practice, and just before the marriage, parties are given at both houses; the village watchman brings the toran or string of mango-leaves, which is hung round the marriage-shed in the manner of a triumphal arch, and in the evening the party assembles, the men sitting at one side of the shed and the women at the other. Presents of clothes are made to the child who is to be married, and the following song is sung:

The mother of the bride grew angry and went away to the mango grove.

Come soon, come quickly, Mother, it is the time for giving clothes.

The father of the bridegroom has sent the bride a fold of cloth from his house,

The fold of it is like the curve of the winnowing-fan, and there is a bodice decked with coral and pearls.

Before the actual wedding the father of the bridegroom goes to the bride’s house and gives her clothes and other presents, and the following is a specimen given by Mr. Muhammad Yūsuf of the songs sung on this occasion:

Five years old to-day is Bāja Bai the bride;

Send word to the mother of the bridegroom;

Her dress is too short, send for the Koshta, Husband;

The Koshta came and wove a border to the dress.

Afterwards the girl’s father goes and makes similar presents to the bridegroom. After many preliminary ceremonies [342]the marriage procession proper sets forth, consisting of men only. Before the boy starts his mother places her breast in his mouth; the maid-servants stand before him with vessels of water, and he puts a pice in each. During the journey songs are sung, of which the following is a specimen:

The linseed and gram are in flower in Chait.22

O! the boy bridegroom is going to another country;

O Mother! how may he go to another country?

Make payment before he enters another country;

O Mother! how may he cross the border of another country?

Make payment before he crosses the border of another country;

O Mother! how may he touch another’s bower?

Make payment before he touches another’s bower;

O Mother! how shall he bathe with strange water?

Make payment before he bathes with strange water;

O Mother! how may he eat another’s banwat?23

Make payment before he eats another’s banwat;

O Mother! how shall he marry another woman?

He shall wed her holding the little finger of her left hand.

The bridegroom’s party are always driven to the wedding in bullock-carts, and when they approach the bride’s village her people also come to meet them in carts. All the party then turn and race to the village, and the winner obtains much distinction. The cartmen afterwards go to the bridegroom’s father and he has to make them a present of from one to forty rupees. On arriving at the village the bridegroom is carried to Devi’s shrine in a man’s arms, while four other men hold a canopy over him, and from there to the marriage-shed. He touches a bamboo of this, and a man seated on the top pours turmeric and water over his head. Five men of the groom’s party go to the bride’s house carrying salt, and here their feet are washed and the tīka or mark of anointing is made on their foreheads. Afterwards they carry rice in the same manner and with this is the wedding-rice, coloured yellow with turmeric and known as the Lagun-gāth. Before sunset the bridegroom goes to the bride’s house for the wedding. Two baskets are hung before Dulha Deo’s shrine inside the house, and the couple are seated in these with a cloth between them. The ends of their clothes are knotted, [343]each places the right foot on the left foot of the other and holds the other’s ear with the hand. Meanwhile a Brāhman has climbed on to the roof of the house, and after saying the names of the bride and bridegroom shouts loudly, ‘Rām nawara, Sīta nawari, Saodhān,’ or ‘Rām, the Bridegroom, and Sīta, the Bride, pay heed,’ The people inside the house repeat these words and someone beats on a brass plate; the wedding-rice is poured over the heads of the couple, and a quid of betel is placed first in the mouth of one and then of the other. The bridegroom’s party dance in the marriage-shed and their feet are washed. Two plough-yokes are brought in and a cloth spread over them, and the couple are seated on them face to face. A string of twisted grass is drawn round their necks and a thread is tied round their marriage-crowns. The bride’s dowry is given and her relatives make presents to her. This property is known as khamora, and is retained by a wife for her own use, her husband having no control over it. It is customary also in the caste for the parents to supply clothes to a married daughter as long as they live, and during this period a wife will not accept any clothes from her husband. On the following day the maid-servants bring a present of gulāl or red powder to the fathers of the bride and bridegroom, who sprinkle it over each other. The bridegroom’s father makes them a present of from one to twenty rupees according to his means, and also gives suitable fees to the barber, the washerman, the Barai or betel-leaf seller and the Bhāt or bard. The maid-servants then bring vessels of water and throw it over each other in sport. After the evening meal, the party go back, the bride and bridegroom riding in the same cart. As they start the women sing:

Let us go to the basket-maker

And buy a costly pair of fans;

Fans worth a lot of money;

Let us praise the mother of the bride.

8. Widow-marriage

After a few days at her husband’s house the bride returns home, and though she pays short visits to his family from time to time, she does not go to live with her husband until she is adolescent, when the usual pathoni or going-away [344]ceremony is performed to celebrate the event. The people repeat a set of verses containing advice which the bride’s mother is supposed to give her on this occasion, in which the desire imputed to the caste to make money out of their daughters is satirised. They are no doubt libellous as being a gross exaggeration, but may contain some substratum of truth. The gist of them is as follows: “Girl, if you are my daughter, heed what I say. I will make you many sweetmeats and speak words of wisdom. Always treat your husband better than his parents. Increase your private money (khamora) by selling rice and sugar; abuse your sisters-in-law to your husband’s mother and become her favourite. Get influence over your husband and make him come with you to live with us. If you cannot persuade him, abandon your modesty and make quarrels in the household. Do not fear the village officers, but go to the houses of the patel24 and Pāndia25 and ask them to arrange your quarrel.”

It is not intended to imply that Panwār women behave in this manner, but the passage is interesting as a sidelight on the joint family system. It concludes by advising the girl, if she cannot detach her husband from his family, to poison him and return as a widow. This last counsel is a gibe at the custom which the caste have of taking large sums of money for a widow on her second marriage. As such a woman is usually adult, and able at once to perform the duties of a wife and to work in the fields, she is highly valued, and her price ranges from Rs. 25 to Rs. 1000. In former times, it is stated, the disposal of widows did not rest with their parents but with the Sendia or headman of the caste. The last of them was Karūn Panwār of Tumsar, who was empowered by the Bhonsla Rāja of Nāgpur to act in this manner, and was accustomed to receive an average sum of Rs. 25 for each widow or divorced woman whom he gave away in marriage. His power extended even to the reinstatement of women expelled from the caste, whom he could subsequently make over to any one who would pay for them. At the end of his life he lost his authority among the people by keeping a Dhīmar woman as a mistress, and he had no successor. A Panwār widow must not marry again [345]until the expiry of six months after her husband’s death. The stool on which a widow sits for her second marriage is afterwards stolen by her husband’s friends. After the wedding when she reaches the boundary of his village the axle of her cart is removed, and a new one made of tendu wood is substituted for it. The discarded axle and the shoes worn by the husband at the ceremony are thrown away, and the stolen stool is buried in a field. These things, Mr. Hīra Lāl points out, are regarded as defiled, because they have been accessories in an unlucky ceremony, that of the marriage of a widow. On this point Dr. Jevons writes26 that the peculiar characteristic of taboo is this transmissibility of its infection or contagion. In ancient Greece the offerings used for the purification of the murderer became themselves polluted during the process and had to be buried. A similar reasoning applies to the articles employed in the marriage of a widow. The wood of the tendu or ebony tree27 is chosen for the substituted axle, because it has the valuable property of keeping off spirits and ghosts. When a child is born a plank of this wood is laid along the door of the room to keep the spirits from troubling the mother and the newborn infant. In the same way, no doubt, this wood keeps the ghost of the first husband from entering with the widow into her second husband’s village. The reason for the ebony-wood being a spirit-scarer seems to lie in its property of giving out sparks when burnt. “The burning wood gives out showers of sparks, and it is a common amusement to put pieces in a camp fire in order to see the column of sparks ascend.”28 The sparks would have a powerful effect on the primitive mind and probably impart a sacred character to the tree, and as they would scare away wild animals, the property of averting spirits might come to attach to the wood. The Panwārs seldom resort to divorce, except in the case of open and flagrant immorality on the part of a wife. “They are not strict,” Mr. Low writes,29 “in the matter of sexual offences within the caste, though they bitterly resent and if able heavily avenge any attempt on the virtue of their women by an outsider. The men of the caste are on the [346]other hand somewhat notorious for the freedom with which they enter into relations with the women of other castes.” They not infrequently have Gond and Ahīr girls from the families of their farmservants as members of their households.

9. Religion

The caste worship the ordinary Hindu divinities, and their household god is Dūlha Deo, the deified bridegroom. He is represented by a nut and a date, which are wrapped in a cloth and hung on a peg in the wall of the house above the platform erected to him. Every year, or at the time of a marriage or the birth of a first child, a goat is offered to Dūlha Deo. The animal is brought to the platform and given some rice to eat. A dedicatory mark of red ochre is made on its forehead and water is poured over the body, and as soon as it shivers it is killed. The shivering is considered to be an indication from the deity that the sacrifice is acceptable. The flesh is cooked and eaten by the family inside the house, and the skin and bones are buried below the floor. Nārāyan Deo or Vishnu or the Sun is represented by a bunch of peacock’s feathers. He is generally kept in the house of a Mahār, and when his worship is to be celebrated he is brought thence in a gourd to the Panwār’s house, and a black goat, rice and cakes are offered to him by the head of the household. While the offering is being made the Mahār sings and dances, and when the flesh of the goat is eaten he is permitted to sit inside the Panwār’s house and begin the feast, the Panwārs eating after him. On ordinary occasions a Mahār is not allowed to come inside the house, and any Panwār who took food with him would be put out of caste; and this rite is no doubt a recognition of the position of the Mahārs as the earlier residents of the country before the Panwārs came to it. The Turukh or Turk sept of Panwārs pay a similar worship to Bāba Farīd, the Muhammadan saint of Girar. He is also represented by a bundle of peacock’s feathers, and when a goat is sacrificed to him a Muhammadan kills it and is the first to partake of its flesh.

10. Worship of the spirits of those dying a violent death

When a man has been killed by a tiger (bāgh) he is deified and worshipped as Bāgh Deo. A hut is made in the yard of the house, and an image of a tiger is placed inside and worshipped on the anniversary of the man’s death. [347]The members of the household will not afterwards kill a tiger, as they think the animal has become a member of the family. A man who is bitten by a cobra (nāg) and dies is similarly worshipped as Nāg Deo. The image of a snake made of silver or iron is venerated, and the family will not kill a snake. If a man is killed by some other animal, or by drowning or a fall from a tree, his spirit is worshipped as Ban Deo or the forest god with similar rites, being represented by a little lump of rice and red lead. In all these cases it is supposed, as pointed out by Sir James Frazer, that the ghost of the man who has come to such an untimely end is especially malignant, and will bring trouble upon the survivors unless appeased with sacrifices and offerings. A good instance of the same belief is given by him in Psyche’s Task30 as found among the Karens of Burma: “They put red, yellow and white rice in a basket and leave it in the forest, saying: Ghosts of such as died by falling from a tree, ghosts of such as died of hunger or thirst, ghosts of such as died by the tiger’s tooth or the serpent’s fang, ghosts of the murdered dead, ghosts of such as died by smallpox or cholera, ghosts of dead lepers, oh ill-treat us not, seize not upon our persons, do us no harm! Oh stay here in this wood! We will bring hither red rice, yellow rice, and white rice for your subsistence.”

That the same superstition is generally prevalent in the Central Provinces appears to be shown by the fact that among castes who practise cremation, the bodies of men who come to a violent end or die of smallpox or leprosy are buried, though whether burial is considered as more likely to prevent the ghost from walking than cremation, is not clear. Possibly, however, it may be considered that the bodies are too impure to be committed to the sacred fire.

11. Funeral rites

Cremation of the dead is the rule, but the bodies of those who have not died a natural death are buried, as also of persons who are believed to have been possessed of the goddess Devi in their lifetime. The bodies of small children are buried when the Khīr Chatai ceremony has not [348]been performed. This takes place when a child is about two years old: he is invited to the house of some member of the same section on the Diwāli day and given to eat some Khīr or a mess of new rice with milk and sugar, and thus apparently is held to become a proper member of the caste, as boys do in other castes on having their ears pierced. When a corpse is to be burnt a heap of cowdung cakes is made, on which it is laid, while others are spread over it, together with butter, sugar and linseed. The fire with which the pyre is kindled is carried by the son or other chief mourner in an earthen pot at the head of the corpse. After the cremation the ashes of the body are thrown into water, but the bones are kept by the chief mourner; his head and face are then shaved by the barber, and the hair is thrown into the water with most of the bones; he may retain a few to carry them to the Nerbudda at a convenient season, burying them meanwhile under a mango or pīpal tree. A present of a rupee or a cow may be made to the barber. After the removal of a dead body the house is swept, and the rubbish with the broom and dustpan are thrown away outside the village. Before the body is taken away the widow of the dead man places her hands on his breast and forehead, and her bangles are broken by another widow. The shrāddh ceremony is performed every year in the month of Kunwār (September) on the same day of the fortnight as that on which the death took place. On the day before the ceremony the head of the household goes to the houses of those whom he wishes to invite, and sticks some grains of rice on their foreheads. The guests must then fast up to the ceremony. On the following day, when they arrive at noon, the host, wearing a sacred thread of twisted grass, washes their feet with water in which the sacred kusa grass has been mixed, and marks their foreheads with sandal-paste and rice. The leaf-plates of the guests are set out inside the house, and a very small quantity of cooked rice is placed in each. The host then gathers up all this rice and throws it on to the roof of the house while his wife throws up some water, calling aloud the name of the dead man whose shrāddh ceremony is being performed, and after this the whole party take their dinner. [349]

12. Caste discipline

As has been shown, the Panwārs have abandoned most of the distinctive Rājpūt customs. They do not wear the sacred thread and they permit the remarriage of widows. They eat the flesh of goats, fowls, wild pig, game-birds and fish, but abstain from liquor except on such ceremonial occasions as the worship of Nārāyan Deo, when every one must partake of it. Mr. Low states that the injurious habit of smoking madak (a preparation of opium) is growing in the caste. They will take water to drink from a Gond’s hand and in some localities even cooked food. This is the outcome of their close association in agriculture, the Gonds having been commonly employed as farmservants by Panwār cultivators. A Brāhman usually officiates at their ceremonies, but his presence is not essential and his duties may be performed by a member of the caste. Every Panwār male or female has a guru or spiritual preceptor, who is either a Brāhman, a Gosain or a Bairāgi. From time to time the guru comes to visit his chela or disciple, and on such occasions the chauk or sacred place is prepared with lines of wheat-flour. Two wooden stools are set within it and the guru and his chela take their seats on these. Their heads are covered with a new piece of cloth and the guru whispers some text into the ear of the disciple. Sweetmeats and other delicacies are then offered to the guru, and the disciple makes him a present of one to five rupees. When a Panwār is put out of caste two feasts have to be given on reinstatement, known as the Maili and Chokhi Roti (impure and pure food). The former is held in the morning on the bank of a tank or river and is attended by men only. A goat is killed and served with rice to the caste-fellows, and in serious cases the offender’s head and face are shaved, and he prays, ‘God forgive me the sin, it will never be repeated.’ The Chokhi Roti is held in the evening at the offender’s house, the elders and women as well as men of the caste being present. The Sendia or leader of the caste eats first, and he will not begin his meal unless he finds a douceur of from one to five rupees deposited beneath his leaf-plate. The whole cost of the ceremony of readmission is from fifteen to fifty rupees.

13. Social customs

The Panwār women wear their clothes tied in the [350]Hindustāni and not in the Marātha fashion. They are tattooed on the legs, hands and face, the face being usually decorated with single dots which are supposed to enhance its beauty, much after the same fashion as patches in England. Padmākar, the Saugor poet, Mr. Hīra Lāl remarks, compared the dot on a woman’s chin to a black bee buried in a half-ripe mango. The women, Mr. Low says, are addicted to dances, plays and charades, the first being especially graceful performances. They are skilful with their fingers and make pretty grass mats and screens for the house, and are also very good cooks and appreciate variety in food. The Panwārs do not eat off the ground, but place their dishes on little iron stands, sitting themselves on low wooden stools. The housewife is a very important person, and the husband will not give anything to eat or drink out of the house without her concurrence. Mr. Low writes on the character and abilities of the Panwārs as follows: “The Panwār is to Bālāghāt what the Kunbi is to Berār or the Gūjar to Hoshangābād, but at the same time he is less entirely attached to the soil and its cultivation, and much more intelligent and cosmopolitan than either. One of the most intelligent officials in the Agricultural Department is a Panwār, and several members of the caste have made large sums as forest and railway contractors in this District; Panwār shikāris are also not uncommon. They are generally averse to sedentary occupations, and though quite ready to avail themselves of the advantages of primary education, they do not, as a rule, care to carry their studies to a point that would ensure their admission to the higher ranks of Government service. Very few of them are to be found as patwāris, constables or peons. They are a handsome race, with intelligent faces, unusually fair, with high foreheads, and often grey eyes. They are not, as a rule, above middle height, but they are active and hard-working and by no means deficient in courage and animal spirits, or a sense of humour. They are clannish in the extreme, and to elucidate a criminal case in which no one but Panwārs are concerned, and in a Panwār village, is usually a harder task than the average local police officer can tackle. At times they are apt to affect, in conversation with Government officials, a [351]whining and unpleasant tone, especially when pleading their claim to some concession or other; and they are by no means lacking in astuteness and are good hands at a bargain. But they are a pleasant, intelligent and plucky race, not easily cast down by misfortune and always ready to attempt new enterprises in almost any direction save those indicated by the Agricultural Department.

“In the art of rice cultivation they are past masters. They are skilled tank-builders, though perhaps hardly equal to the Kohlis of Chānda. But they excel especially in the mending and levelling of their fields, in neat transplantation, and in the choice and adaptation of the different varieties of rice to land of varying qualities. They are by no means specially efficient as labourers, though they and their wives do their fair share of field work; but they are well able to control the labour of others, especially of aborigines, through whom most of their tank and other works are executed.” [352]

1 With the exception of the historical notice, this article is principally based on a paper by Mr. Muhammad Yusuf, reader to Mr. C.E. Low, Deputy Commissioner of Bālāghāt.

2 Tod’s Rājasthān, ii. p. 407.

3 Foreign elements in the Hindu population, Ind. Ant. (January 1911), vol. xl.

4 Early History of India (Oxford, Clarendon Press), 3rd ed., p. 303.

5 Ibidem, 2nd ed., p. 288.

6 Ibidem, p. 316.

7 Early History of India (Oxford, Clarendon Press), 3rd ed., p. 319.

8 Garret’s Classical Dictionary of Hinduism, s.v. Jamadagni and Rāma.

9 The following extract is taken from Mr. V.A. Smith’s Early History of India, 3rd ed. pp. 395, 396. The passage has been somewhat abridged in reproduction.

10 Malcolm, i. p. 26.

11 Rājasthān, ii. p. 215.

12 A similar instance in Europe is related by Colonel Tod, concerning the origin of the Madrid Restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne at Paris. After Francis I had been captured by the Spaniards he was allowed to return to his capital, on pledging his parole that he would go back to Madrid. But the delights of liberty and Paris were too much for honour; and while he wavered a hint was thrown out similar to that of destroying the clay city. A mock Madrid arose in the Bois de Boulogne, to which Francis retired. (Rājasthān, ii. p. 428.)

13 Rājasthān, ii. pp. 264, 265.

14 Tribes and Castes, art. Panwār.

15 Memoir of Central India, i. 96.

16 Tribes and Castes, art. Panwār.

17 Blockmann, i. 252, quoted by Crooke.

18 Ibbetson, P.C.R., para. 448.

19 His name, Lakshma Deva, is given in a stone inscription dated A.D. 1104–1105.

20 The inscription is said to be in one of the temples in Winj Bāsini, near Bhāndak, in the Devanāgri character in Marāthi, and to run as follows: “Consecration of Jagnārāyan (the serpent of the world). Dajíanashnaku, the son of Chogneka, he it was who consecrated the god. The Panwār, the ruler of Dhār, was the third repairer of the statue. The image was carved by Gopināth Pandit, inhabitant of Lonār Mehkar. Let this shrine be the pride of all the citizens, and let this religious act be notified to the chief and other officers.”

21 A few Panwār Rājpūts are found in the Saugor District, but they are quite distinct from those of the Marātha country, and marry with the Bundelas. They are mentioned in the article on that clan.

22 March.

23 Rice boiled with milk and sugar.

24 Village headman.

25 Patwāri or village accountant.

26 Introduction to the History of Religion, p. 59.

27 Diospyros tomentosa.

28 Gamble, Manual of Indian Timbers, p. 461.

29 Bālāghāt District Gazetteer.

30 P. 62, quoting from Bringand, Les Karens de la Birmanie, Les Missions Catholiques, xx. (1888), p. 208.



List of Paragraphs

1. General notice

Pardhān, Pathāri, Panāl.—An inferior branch of the Gond tribe whose occupation is to act as the priests and minstrels of the Gonds. In 1911 the Pardhāns numbered nearly 120,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berār. The only other locality where they are found is Hyderābād, which returned 8000. The name Pardhān is of Sanskrit origin and signifies a minister or agent. It is the regular designation of the principal minister of a Rājpūt State, who often fulfils the functions of a Mayor of the Palace. That it was applied to the tribe in this sense is shown by the fact that they are also known as Diwān, which has the same meaning. There is a tradition that the Gond kings employed Pardhāns as their ministers, and as the Pardhāns acted as genealogists they may have been more intelligent than the Gonds, though they are in no degree less illiterate. To themselves and their Gond relations the Pardhāns are frequently not known by that name, which has been given to them by the Hindus, but as Panāl. Other names for the tribe are Parganiha, Desai and Pathāri. Parganiha is a title signifying the head of a pargana, and is now applied by courtesy to some families in Chhattīsgarh. Desai has the same signification, being a variant of Deshmukh or the Marātha revenue officer in charge of a circle of villages. Pathāri means a bard or genealogist, or according to another derivation a hillman. On the Satpūra plateau and [353]in Chhattīsgarh the tribe is known as Pardhān Pathāria. In Bālāghāt they are also called Mokāsi. The Gonds themselves look down on the Pardhāns and say that the word Pathāria means inferior, and they relate that Bura Deo, their god, had seven sons. These were talking together one day as they dined and they said that every caste had an inferior branch to do it homage, but they had none; and they therefore agreed that the youngest brother and his descendants should be inferior to the others and make obeisance to them, while the others promised to treat him almost as their equal and give him a share in all the offerings to the dead. The Pardhāns or Pathārias are the descendants of the youngest brother and they accost the Gonds with the greeting ‘Bābu Johār,’ or ‘Good luck, sir.’ The Gonds return the greeting by saying ‘Pathāri Johār,’ or ‘How do you do, Pathāri.’ Curiously enough Johār is also the salutation sent by a Rājpūt chief to an inferior landholder,1 and the custom must apparently have been imitated by the Gonds. A variant of the story is that one day the seven Gond brothers were worshipping their god, but he did not make his appearance; so the youngest of them made a musical instrument out of a string and a piece of wood and played on it. The god was pleased with the music and came down to be worshipped, and hence the Pardhāns as the descendants of the youngest brother continue to play on the kingri or lyre, which is their distinctive instrument. The above stories have been invented to account for the social inferiority of the Pardhāns to the Gonds, but their position merely accords with the general rule that the bards and genealogists of any caste are a degraded section. The fact is somewhat contrary to preconceived ideas, but the explanation given of it is that such persons make their living by begging from the remainder of the caste and hence are naturally looked down upon by them; and further, that in pursuit of their calling they wander about to attend at wedding feasts all over the country, and consequently take food with many people of doubtful social position. This seems a reasonable interpretation of the rule of the inferiority [354]of the bard, which at any rate obtains generally among the Hindu castes.

Group of Pardhāns

Group of Pardhāns

2. Tribal Subdivisions

The tribe have several endogamous divisions, of which the principal are the Rāj Pardhāns, the Gānda Pardhāns and the Thothia Pardhāns. The Rāj Pardhāns appear to be the descendants of alliances between Raj Gonds and Pardhān women. They say that formerly the priests of Bura Deo lived a celibate life, and both men and women attended to worship the god; but on one occasion the priests ran away with some women and after this the Gonds did not know who should be appointed to serve the deity. While they were thus perplexed, a kingri (or rude wooden lyre) fell from heaven on to the lap of one of them, and, in accordance with this plain indication of the divine will, he became the priest, and was the ancestor of the Rāj Pardhāns; and since this contretemps the priests are permitted to marry, while women are no longer allowed to attend the worship of Bura Deo. The Thothia subtribe are said to be the descendants of illicit unions, the word Thothia meaning ‘maimed’; while the Gāndas are the offspring of intermarriages between the Pardhāns and members of that degraded caste. Other groups are the Mādes or those of the Mād country in Chānda and Bastar, the Khalotias or those of the Chhattīsgarh plain, and the Deogarhias of Deogarh in Chhindwāra; and there are also some occupational divisions, as the Kandres or bamboo-workers, the Gaitas who act as priests in Chhattīsgarh, and the Arakhs who engage in service and sell old clothes. A curious grouping is found in Chānda, where the tribe are divided into the Gond Pathāris and Chor or ‘Thief’ Pathāris. The latter have obtained their name from their criminal propensities, but they are said to be proud of it and to refuse to intermarry with any families not having the designation of Chor Pathāri. In Raipur the Pathāris are said to be the offspring of Gonds by women of other castes, and the descendants of such unions. The exogamous divisions of the Pardhāns are the same as those of the Gonds, and like them they are split up into groups worshipping different numbers of gods whose members may not marry with one another.

3. Marriage

A Pardhān wedding is usually held in the bridegroom’s [355]village in some public place, such as the market or cross-roads. The boy wears a blanket and carries a dagger in his hand. The couple walk five times round in a circle, after which the boy catches hold of the girl’s hand. He tries to open her fist which she keeps closed, and when he succeeds in this he places an iron ring on her little finger and puts his right toe over that of the girl’s. The officiating priest then ties the ends of their clothes together and five chickens are killed. The customary bride-price is Rs. 12, but it varies in different localities. A widower taking a girl bride has, as a rule, to pay a double price. A widow is usually taken in marriage by her deceased husband’s younger brother.

4. Religion

As the priests of the Gonds, the Pardhāns are employed to conduct the ceremonial worship of their great god Bura Deo, which takes place on the third day of the bright fortnight of Baisākh (April). Many goats or pigs are then offered to him with liquor, cocoanuts, betel-leaves, flowers, lemons and rice. Bura Deo is always enshrined under a tree outside the village, either of the mahua or sāj (Terminalia tomentosa) varieties. In Chhattīsgarh the Gonds say that the origin of Bura Deo was from a child born of an illicit union between a Gond and a Rāwat woman. The father murdered the child by strangling it, and its spirit then began to haunt and annoy the man and all his relations, and gradually extended its attentions to all the Gonds of the surrounding country. It finally consented to be appeased by a promise of adoration from the whole tribe, and since then has been installed as the principal deity of the Gonds. The story is interesting as showing how completely devoid of any supernatural majesty or power is the Gond conception of their principal deity.

5. Social Customs

Like the Gonds, the Pardhāns will eat almost any kind of food, including beef, pork and the flesh of rats and mice, but they will not eat the leavings of others. They will take food from the hands of Gonds, but the Gonds do not return the compliment. Among the Hindus generally the Pardhāns are much despised, and their touch conveys impurity while that of a Gond does not. Every Pardhān has tattooed on his left arm near the inside of the elbow a dotted figure which represents his totem or the animal, plant or other [356]natural object after which his sept is named. Many of them have a better type of countenance than the Gonds, which is perhaps due to an infusion of Hindu blood. They are also generally more intelligent and cunning. They have criminal propensities, and the Pathārias of Chhattīsgarh are especially noted for cattle-lifting and thieving. Writing forty years ago Captain Thomson2 described the Pardhāns of Seoni as bearing the very worst of characters, many of them being regular cattle-lifters and gang robbers. In some parts of Seoni they had become the terror of the village proprietors, whose houses and granaries they fired if they were in any way reported on or molested. Since that time the Pardhāns have become quite peaceable, but they still have a bad reputation for petty thieving.

6. Methods of cheating among Pathāris

In Chhattīsgarh one subdivision is said to be known as Sonthaga (sona, gold, and thag, a cheat), because they cheat people by passing counterfeit gold. Their methods were described as follows in 1872 by Captain McNeill, District Superintendent of Police:3 “They procure a quantity of the dry bark of the pīpal,4 mahua,5 tamarind or gular6 trees and set it on fire; when it has become red-hot it is raked into a small hole and a piece of well-polished brass is deposited among the glowing embers. It is constantly moved and turned about and in ten or fifteen minutes has taken a deep orange colour resembling gold. It is then placed in a small heap of wood-ashes and after a few minutes taken out again and carefully wrapped in cotton-wool. The peculiar orange colour results from the sulphur and resin in the bark being rendered volatile. They then proceed to dispose of the gold, sometimes going to a fair and buying cattle. On concluding a bargain they suddenly find they have no money, and after some hesitation reluctantly produce the gold, and say they are willing to part with it at a disadvantage, thereby usually inducing the belief that it has been stolen. The cupidity of the owner of the cattle is aroused, and he accepts the gold at a rate which would be very advantageous if it were genuine. [357]At other times they join a party of pilgrims, to which some of their confederates have already obtained admission in disguise, and offer to sell their gold as being in great want of money. A piece is first sold to the confederates on very cheap terms and the other pilgrims eagerly participate.” It would appear that the Pathāris have not much to learn from the owners of buried treasure or the confidence or three-card trick performers of London, and their methods are in striking contrast to the guileless simplicity usually supposed to be a characteristic of the primitive tribes. Mr. White states that “All the property acquired is taken back to the village and there distributed by a panchāyat or committee, whose head is known as Mokāsi. The Mokāsi is elected by the community and may also be deposed by it, though he usually holds office for life; to be a successful candidate for the position of Mokāsi one should have wealth and experience and it is not a disadvantage to have been in jail. The Mokāsi superintends the internal affairs of the community and maintains good relations with the proprietor and village watchman by means of gifts.”

7. Musicians and priests

The Pardhāns and Pathāris are also, as already stated, village musicians, and their distinctive instrument the kingri or kingadi is described by Mr. White as consisting of a stick passed through a gourd. A string or wire is stretched over this and the instrument is played with the fingers. Another kind possesses three strings of woven horse-hair and is played with the help of a bow. The women of the Gānda Pardhān subtribe act as midwives. Mr. Tawney wrote of the Pardhāns of Chhindwāra:7 “The Rāj-Pardhāns are the bards of the Gonds and they can also officiate as priests, but the Bhumka generally acts in the latter capacity and the Pardhāns confine themselves to singing the praises of the god. At every public worship in the Deo-khalla or dwelling-place of the gods, there should, if possible, be a Pardhān, and great men use them on less important occasions. They cannot even worship their household gods or be married without the Pardhāns. The Rāj-Pardhāns are looked down on by the Gonds, and considered as somewhat inferior, seeing that they take the [358]offerings at religious ceremonies and the clothes of the dear departed at funerals. This has never been the business of a true Gond, who seems never happier than when wandering in the jungle, and who above all things loves his axe, and next to that a tree to chop at. There is nothing in the ceremonies or religion of the Pardhāns to distinguish them from the Gonds.” [359]

1 Tod’s Rājasthān, i. p. 165. But Johār is a common term of salutation among the Hindus.

2 Seoni Settlement Report (1867), p. 43.

3 From a collection of notes on Pathāris by various police officers. The passage is somewhat abridged in reproduction.

4 Ficus R.

5 Bassia latifolia.

6 Ficus glomerata.

7 Note already quoted.



List of Paragraphs

1. General notice of the caste

Pārdhi,1 Bahelia, Mīrshikār, Moghia, Shikāri, Tākankar.—A low caste of wandering fowlers and hunters. They numbered about 15,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berār in 1911, and are found scattered over several Districts. These figures include about 2000 Bahelias. The word Pārdhi is derived from the Marāthi paradh, hunting. Shikāri, the common term for a native hunter, is an alternative name for the caste, but particularly applied to those who use firearms, which most Pārdhis refuse to do. Moghia is the Hindustāni word for fowler, and Tākankar is the name of a small occupational offshoot of the Pārdhis in Berār, who travel from village to village and roughen the household grinding-mills when they have worn smooth. The word is derived from tākna, to tap or chisel. The caste appears to be a mixed group made up of Bāwarias or other Rājpūt outcastes, Gonds and social derelicts from all sources. The Pārdhis perhaps belong more especially to the Marātha country, as they are numerous in Khāndesh, and many of them talk a dialect of Gujarāti. In the [360]northern Districts their speech is a mixture of Mārwāri and Hindi, while they often know Marāthi or Urdu as well. The name for the similar class of people in northern India is Bahelia, and in the Central Provinces the Bahelias and Pārdhis merge into one another and are not recognisable as distinct groups. The caste is recruited from the most diverse elements, and women of any except the impure castes can be admitted into the community; and on this account their customs differ greatly in different localities. According to their own legends the first ancestor of the Pārdhis was a Gond, to whom Mahādeo taught the art of snaring game so that he might avoid the sin of shooting it; and hence the ordinary Pārdhis never use a gun.

2. Subdivisions

Like other wandering castes the Pārdhis have a large number of endogamous groups, varying lists being often given in different areas. The principal subcastes appear to be the Shikāri or Bhīl Pārdhis, who use firearms; the Phānse Pārdhis, who hunt with traps and snares; the Langoti Pārdhis, so called because they wear only a narrow strip of cloth round the loins; and the Tākankars. Both the Tākankars and Langotis have strong criminal tendencies. Several other groups are recorded in different Districts, as the Chitewāle, who hunt with a tame leopard; the Gāyake, who stalk their prey behind a bullock; the Gosain Pārdhis, who dress like religious mendicants in ochre-coloured clothes and do not kill deer, but only hares, jackals and foxes; the Shīshi ke Telwāle, who sell crocodile’s oil; and the Bandarwāle who go about with performing monkeys. The Bahelias have a subcaste known as Kārijāt, the members of which only kill birds of a black colour. Their exogamous groups are nearly all those of Rājpūt tribes, as Sesodia, Panwār, Solanki, Chauhān, Rāthor, and soon; it is probable that these have been adopted through imitation by vagrant Bāwarias and others sojourning in Rājputāna. There are also a few groups with titular or other names, and it is stated that members of clans bearing Rājpūt names will take daughters from the others in marriage, but will not give their daughters to them.

3. Marriage and funeral customs

Girls appear to be somewhat scarce in the caste and a bride-price is usually paid, which is given as Rs. 9 in [361]Chānda, Rs. 35 in Bilāspur, and Rs. 60 or more in Hoshangābād and Saugor. If a girl should be seduced by a man of the caste she would be united to him by the ceremony of a widow’s marriage: but her family will require a bride from her husband’s family in exchange for the girl whose value he has destroyed. Even if led astray by an outsider a girl may be readmitted into the caste; and in the extreme case of her being debauched by her brother, she may still be married to one of the community, but no one will take food from her hands during her lifetime, though her children will be recognised as proper Pārdhis. A special fine of Rs. 100 is imposed on a brother who commits this crime. The ceremony of marriage varies according to the locality in which they reside; usually the couple walk seven times round a tānda or collection of their small mat tents. In Berār a cloth is held up by four poles as a canopy over them and they are preceded by a married woman carrying five pitchers of water. Divorce and the marriage of widows are freely permitted. The caste commonly bury their dead, placing the head to the north. They do not shave their heads in token of mourning.

4. Religion

In Berār their principal deity is the goddess Devi, who is known by different names. Every family of Langoti Pārdhis has, Mr. Gayer states,2 its image in silver of the goddess, and because of this no Langoti Pārdhi woman will wear silver below the waist or hang her sāri on a peg, as it must never be put on the same level as the goddess. They also sometimes refuse to wear red or coloured clothes, one explanation for this being that the image of the goddess is placed on a bed of red cloth. In Hoshangābād their principal deity is called Guraiya Deo, and his image, consisting of a human figure embossed in silver, is kept in a leather bag on the west side of their tents; and for this reason women going out of the encampment for a necessary purpose always proceed to the east. They also sleep with their feet to the east. Goats are offered to Guraiya Deo and their horns are placed in his leather bag. In Hoshangābād they sacrifice a fowl to the ropes of their tents at the Dasahra and Diwāli festivals, and on the former [362]occasion clean their hunting implements and make offerings to them of turmeric and rice. They are reported to believe that the sun and moon die and are reborn daily. The hunter’s calling is one largely dependent on luck or chance, and, as might be expected, the Pārdhis are firm believers in omens, and observe various rules by which they think their fortune will be affected. A favourite omen is the simple device of taking some rice or juāri in the hand and counting the grains. Contrary to the usual rule, even numbers are considered lucky and odd ones unlucky. If the first result is unsatisfactory a second or third trial may be made. If a winnowing basket or millstone be let fall and drop to the right hand it is a lucky omen, and similarly if a flower from Devi’s garland should fall to the right side. The bellowing of cows, the mewing of a cat, the howling of a jackal and sneezing are other unlucky omens. If a snake passes from left to right it is a bad omen and if from right to left a good one. A man must not sleep with his head on the threshold of a house or in the doorway of a tent under penalty of a fine of Rs. 2–8; the only explanation given of this rule is that such a position is unlucky because a corpse is carried out across the threshold. A similar penalty is imposed if he falls down before his wife even by accident. A Pārdhi, with the exception of members of the Sesodia clan, must never sleep on a cot, a fine of five rupees being imposed for a breach of this rule. A man who has once caught a deer must not again have the hair of his head touched by a razor, and thus the Pārdhis may be recognised by their long and unkempt locks. A breach of this rule is punished with a fine of fifteen rupees, but it is not observed everywhere. A woman must never step across the rope or peg of a tent, nor upon the place where the blood of a deer has flowed on to the ground. During her monthly period of impurity a woman must not cross a river nor sit in a boat. A Pārdhi will never kill or sell a dog and they will not hunt wild dogs even if money is offered to them. This is probably because they look upon the wild dog as a fellow-hunter, and consider that to do him injury would bring ill-luck upon themselves. A Pārdhi has also theoretically a care for the preservation of game. When he has caught a number of birds in his [363]trap, he will let a pair of them loose so that they may go on breeding. Women are not permitted to take any part in the work of hunting, but are confined strictly to their household duties. A woman who kicks her husband’s stick is fined Rs. 2–8. The butt end of the stick is employed for mixing vegetables and other purposes, but the meaning of the rule is not clear unless one of its uses is for the enforcement of conjugal discipline. A Pārdhi may not swear by a dog, a cat or a squirrel. Their most solemn oath is in the name of their deity Guraiya Deo, and it is believed that any one who falsely takes this oath will become a leper. The Phāns Pārdhis may not travel in a railway train, and some of them are forbidden even to use a cart or other conveyance.

5. Dress, food and social customs

In dress and appearance the Pārdhis are disreputable and dirty. Their features are dark and their hair matted and unkempt. They never wear shoes and say that they are protected by a special promise of the goddess Devi to their first ancestor that no insect or reptile in the forests should injure them. The truth is, no doubt, that shoes would make it impossible for them to approach their game without disturbing it, and from long practice the soles of their feet become impervious to thorns and minor injuries. Similarly the Langoti Pārdhis are so called because they wear only a narrow strip of cloth round the loins, the reason probably being that a long one would impede them by flapping and catching in the brushwood. But the explanation which they themselves give,3 a somewhat curious one in view of their appearance, is that an ordinary dhoti or loin-cloth if worn might become soiled and therefore unlucky. Their women do not have their noses pierced and never wear spangles or other marks on the forehead. The Pārdhis still obtain fire by igniting a piece of cotton with flint and iron. Mr. Sewell notes that their women eat at the same time as the men, instead of after them as among most Hindus. They explain this custom by saying that on one occasion a woman tried to poison her husband and it was therefore adopted as a precaution against similar attempts; but no doubt it has always prevailed, and the more orthodox [364]practice would be almost incompatible with their gipsy life. Similar reasons of convenience account for their custom of celebrating marriages all the year round and neglecting the Hindu close season of the four months of the rains. They travel about with little huts made of matting, which can be rolled up and carried off in a few minutes. If rain comes on they seek shelter in the nearest village.4 In some localities the caste eat no food cooked with butter or oil. They are usually considered as an impure caste, whose touch is a defilement to Hindus. Brāhmans do not officiate at their ceremonies, though the Pārdhis resort to the village Joshi or astrologer to have a propitious date indicated for marriages. They have to pay for such services in money, as Brāhmans usually refuse to accept even uncooked grain from them. After childbirth women are held to be impure and forbidden to cook for their families for a period varying from six weeks to six months. During their periodical impurity they are secluded for four, six or eight days, the Pārdhis observing very strict rules in these matters, as is not infrequently the case with the lowest castes. Their caste meetings, Mr. Sewell states, are known as Deokāria or ‘An act performed in honour of God’; at these meetings arrangements for expeditions are discussed and caste disputes decided. The penalty for social offences is a fine of a specified quantity of liquor, the liquor provided by male and female delinquents being drunk by the men and women respectively. The punishment for adultery in either sex consists in cutting off a piece of the left ear with a razor, and a man guilty of intercourse with a prostitute is punished as if he had committed adultery. The Pārdhi women are said to be virtuous.

6. Ordeals

The Pārdhis still preserve the primitive method of trial by ordeal. If a woman is suspected of misconduct she is made to pick a pice coin out of boiling oil; or a pīpal leaf is placed on her hand and a red-hot axe laid over it, and if her hand is burnt or she refuses to stand the test she is pronounced guilty. Or, in the case of a man, the accused is made to dive into water; and as he dives an arrow is shot [365]from a bow. A swift runner fetches and brings back the arrow, and if the diver can remain under water until the runner has returned he is held to be innocent. In Nimār, if an unmarried girl becomes pregnant, two cakes of dough are prepared, a piece of silver being placed in one and a lump of coal in the other. The girl takes one of the cakes, and if it is found to contain the coal she is expelled from the community, while if she chooses the piece of silver, she is pardoned and made over to one of the caste. The idea of the ordeal is apparently to decide the question whether her condition was caused by a Pārdhi or an outsider.

7. Methods of catching birds

The Phāns Pārdhis hunt all kinds of birds and the smaller animals with the phānda or snare. Mr. Ball describes their procedure as follows:5 “For peacock, sāras crane and bustard they have a long series of nooses, each provided with a wooden peg and all connected with a long string. The tension necessary to keep the nooses open is afforded by a slender slip of antelope’s horn (very much resembling whalebone), which forms the core of the loop. Provided with several sets of these nooses, a trained bullock and a shield-like cloth screen dyed buff and pierced with eye-holes, the bird-catcher sets out for the jungle, and on seeing a flock of pea-fowl circles round them under cover of the screen and the bullock, which he guides by a nose-string. The birds feed on undisturbed, and the man rapidly pegs out his long strings of nooses, and when all are properly disposed, moves round to the opposite side of the birds and shows himself; when they of course run off, and one or more getting their feet in the nooses fall forwards and flap on the ground; the man immediately captures them, knowing that if the strain is relaxed the nooses will open and permit of the bird’s escape. Very cruel practices are in vogue with these people with reference to the captured birds, in order to keep them alive until a purchaser is found. The peacocks have a feather passed through the eyelids, by which means they are effectually blinded, while in the case of smaller birds both the legs and wings are broken.” Deer, hares and even pig are also caught by a strong rope with running nooses. For smaller birds the [366]appliance is a little rack about four inches high with uprights a few inches apart, between each of which is hung a noose. Another appliance mentioned by Mr. Ball is a set of long conical bag nets, which are kept open by hooks and provided with a pair of folding doors. The Pārdhi has also a whistle made of deer-horn, with which he can imitate the call of the birds. Tree birds are caught with bird-lime as described by Sir G. Grierson.6 The Bahelia has several long shafts of bamboos called nāl or nār, which are tied together like a fishing rod, the endmost one being covered with bird-lime. Concealing himself behind his bamboo screen the Bahelia approaches the bird and when near enough strikes and secures it with his rod; or he may spread some grain out at a short distance, and as the birds are hopping about over it he introduces the pole, giving it a zig-zag movement and imitating as far as possible the progress of a snake. Having brought the point near one of the birds, which is fascinated by its stealthy approach, he suddenly jerks it into its breast and then drawing it to him, releases the poor palpitating creature, putting it away in his bag, and recommences the same operation. This method does not require the use of bird-lime.

8. Hunting with leopards

The manner in which the Chita Pārdhis use the hunting leopard (Felis jubata) for catching deer has often been described.7 The leopard is caught full-grown by a noose in the manner related above. Its neck is first clasped in a wooden vice until it is half-strangled, and its feet are then bound with ropes and a cap slipped over its head. It is partially starved for a time, and being always fed by the same man, after a month or so it becomes tame and learns to know its master. It is then led through villages held by ropes on each side to accustom it to the presence of human beings. On a hunting party the leopard is carried on a cart, hooded, and, being approached from down wind, the deer allow the cart to get fairly close to them. The Indian antelope or black-buck are the usual quarry, and as these frequent cultivated land, they regard country carts without suspicion. The hood is then taken off and the leopard [367]springs forward at the game with extreme velocity, perhaps exceeding that which any other quadruped possesses. The accounts given by Jerdon say that for the moment its speed is greater than that of a race-horse. It cannot maintain this for more than three or four hundred yards, however, and if in that distance the animal has not seized its prey, it relinquishes the pursuit and stalks about in a towering passion. The Pārdhis say that when it misses the game the leopard is as sulky as a human being and sometimes refuses food for a couple of days. If successful in the pursuit, it seizes the antelope by the throat; the keeper then comes up, and cutting the animal’s throat collects some of the blood in the wooden ladle with which the leopard is always fed; this is offered to him, and dropping his hold he laps it up eagerly, when the hood is cleverly slipped on again.

The conducting of the cheetah from its cage to the chase is by no means an easy matter. The keeper leads him along, as he would a large dog, with a chain; and for a time as they scamper over the country the leopard goes willingly enough; but if anything arrests his attention, some noise from the forest, some scented trail upon the ground, he moves more slowly, throws his head aloft and peers savagely round. A few more minutes perhaps and he would be unmanageable. The keeper, however, is prepared for the emergency. He holds in his left hand a cocoanut shell, sprinkled on the inside with salt; and by means of a handle affixed to the shell he puts it at once over the nose of the cheetah. The animal licks the salt, loses the scent, forgets the object which arrested his attention, and is led quietly along again.8

9. Decoy stags

For hunting stags, tame stags were formerly used as decoys according to the method described as follows: “We had about a dozen trained stags, all males, with us. These, well acquainted with the object for which they were sent forward, advanced at a gentle trot over the open ground towards the skirt of the wood. They were observed at once by the watchers of the herd, and the boldest of the wild animals advanced to meet them. Whether the intention was to welcome them peacefully or to do battle for their [368]pasturage I cannot tell; but in a few minutes the two parties were engaged in a furious contest. Head to head, antlers to antlers, the tame deer and the wild fought with great fury. Each of the tame animals, every one of them large and formidable, was closely engaged in contest with a wild adversary, standing chiefly on the defensive, not in any feigned battle or mimicry of war but in a hard-fought combat. We now made our appearance in the open ground on horseback, advancing towards the scene of conflict. The deer on the skirts of the wood, seeing us, took to flight; but those actually engaged maintained their ground and continued the contest. In the meantime a party of native huntsmen, sent for the purpose, gradually drew near to the wild stags, getting in between them and the forest. What their object was we were not at the time aware; in truth it was not one that we could have approved or encouraged. They made their way into the rear of the wild stags, which were still combating too fiercely to mind them; they approached the animals, and with a skilful cut of their long knives the poor warriors fell hamstrung. We felt pity for the noble animals as we saw them fall helplessly on the ground, unable longer to continue the contest and pushed down of course by the decoy-stags. Once down, they were unable to rise again.”9

10. Hawks

Hawks were also used in a very ingenious fashion to prevent duck from flying away when put upon water: “The trained hawks were now brought into requisition, and marvellous it was to see the instinct with which they seconded the efforts of their trainers. The ordinary hawking of the heron we had at a later period of this expedition; but the use now made of the animal was altogether different, and displayed infinitely more sagacity than one would suppose likely to be possessed by such an animal. These were trained especially for the purpose for which they were now employed. A flight of ducks—thousands of birds—were enticed upon the water as before by scattering corn over it. The hawks were then let fly, four or five of them. We made our appearance openly upon the bank, guns in hand, and the living swarm of birds rose at once into the air. The hawks circled above them, however, in a rapid revolving [369]flight and they dared not ascend high. Thus was our prey retained fluttering in mid-air, until hundreds had paid the penalty with their lives. Only picture in your mind’s eye the circling hawks above gyrating monotonously, the fluttering captives in mid-air, darting now here, now there to escape, and still coward-like huddling together; and the motley group of sportsmen on the bank and you have the whole scene before you at once.”10

11. Crocodile fishing

For catching crocodile, a method by which as already stated one group of the Pārdhis earn their livelihood, a large double hook is used, baited with a piece of putrid deer’s flesh and attached to a hempen rope 70 or 80 feet long. When the crocodile has swallowed the hook, twenty or thirty persons drag the animal out of the water and it is despatched with axes. Crocodiles are hunted only in the months of Pūs (December), Māgh (January) and Chait (March), when they are generally fat and yield plenty of oil. The flesh is cut into pieces and stewed over a slow fire, when it exudes a watery oil. This is strained and sold in bottles at a rupee a seer (2 lbs.). It is used as an embrocation for rheumatism and for neck galls of cattle. The Pārdhis do not eat crocodile’s flesh.

12. Other occupations and criminal practices

A body of Pārdhis are sometimes employed by all the cultivators of a village jointly for the purpose of watching the spring crops during the day and keeping black-buck out of them. They do this perhaps for two or three months and receive a fixed quantity of grain. The Tākankars are regularly employed as village servants in Berār and travel about roughening the stones of the household grinding-mills when their surfaces have worn smooth. For this they receive an annual contribution of grain from each household. The caste generally have criminal tendencies and Mr. Sewell states, that “The Langoti Pārdhis and Tākankars are the worst offenders. Ordinarily when committing dacoity they are armed with sticks and stones only. In digging through a wall they generally leave a thin strip at which the leader carefully listens before finally bursting through. Then when the hole has been made large enough, he strikes a match and holding it in front of him so that his features are shielded [370]has a good survey of the room before entering.... As a rule, they do not divide the property on or near the scene of the crime, but take it home. Generally it is carried by one of the gang well behind the rest so as to enable it to be hidden if the party is challenged.” In Bombay they openly rob the standing crops, and the landlords stand in such awe of them that they secure their goodwill by submitting to a regular system of blackmail.11 [371]

1 This article is partly compiled from papers by Mr. Adurām Chaudhri and Pandit Pyāre Lāl Misra of the Gazetteer Office, and extracts from Mr. Kitts’ Berār Census Report (1881), and Mr. Sewell’s note on the caste quoted in Mr. Gayer’s Lectures on the Criminal Tribes of the Central Provinces.

2 Lectures on Criminal Tribes of the C.P., p. 19.

3 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 135.

4 Bombay Ethnographic Survey, art. Pārdhi.

5 Jungle Life in India, pp. 586–587.

6 Peasant Life in Bihār, p. 80.

7 See Jerdon’s Mammals of India, p, 97. The account there given is quoted in the Chhindwāra District Gazetteer, pp. 16–17.

8 Private Life of an Eastern King, p. 75.

9 Private Life of an Eastern King, pp. 69, 71.

10 Private Life of an Eastern King, pp. 39–40.

11 Bombay Ethnographic Survey, ibidem.



List of Paragraphs

1. General notice of the tribe

Parja.—A small tribe,1 originally an offshoot of the Gonds, who reside in the centre and east of the Bastar State and the adjoining Jaipur zamīndāri of Madras. They number about 13,000 persons in the Central Provinces and 92,000 in Madras, where they are also known as Poroja. The name Parja appears to be derived from the Sanskrit Parja, a subject. The following notice of it is taken from the Madras Census Report2 of 1871: “The term Parja is, as Mr. Carmichael has pointed out, merely a corruption of a Sanskrit term signifying a subject; and it is understood as such by the people themselves, who use it in contradistinction to a free hillman. Formerly, says a tradition that runs through the whole tribe, Rājas and Parjas were brothers, but the Rājas took to riding horses or, as the Barenja Parjas put it, sitting still, and we became carriers of burdens and Parjas. It is quite certain in fact that the term Parja is not a tribal denomination, but a class denomination; and it may be fitly rendered by the familiar epithet of ryot. There is no doubt, however, that by far the greater number of these Parjas are akin to the Khonds of the Ganjam Maliāhs. They are thrifty, hardworking cultivators, undisturbed by the intestinal broils which their cousins in the north engage in, [372]and they bear in their breasts an inalienable reverence for their soil, the value of which they are rapidly becoming acquainted with. Their ancient rights to these lands are acknowledged by colonists from among the Aryans, and when a dispute arises about the boundaries of a field possessed by recent arrivals a Parja is usually called in to point out the ancient landmarks. Gadbas are also represented as indigenous from the long lapse of years that they have been in the country, but they are by no means of the patriarchal type that characterises the Parjas.”

In Bastar the caste are also known as Dhurwa, which may be derived from Dhur, the name applied to the body of Gonds as opposed to the Rāj-Gonds. In Bastar, Dhurwa now conveys the sense of a headman of a village. The tribe have three divisions, Thakara or Tagara, Peng and Mudara, of which only the first is found in Bastar. Thakara appears to be a corruption of Thākur, a lord, and the two names point to the conclusion that the Parjas were formerly dominant in this tract. They themselves have a story, somewhat resembling the one quoted above from Madras, to the effect that their ancestor was the elder brother of the first Rāja of Bastar when he lived in Madras, to the south of Warangal. From there he had to flee on account of an invasion of the Muhammadans, and was accompanied by the goddess Dānteshwari, the tutelary deity of the Rājas of Bastar. In accordance with the command of the goddess the younger brother was considered as the Rāja and rode on a horse, while the elder went before him carrying their baggage. At Bhadrachallam they met the Bhatras, and further on the Halbas. The goddess followed them, guiding their steps, but she strictly enjoined on the Rāja not to look behind him so as to see her. But when they came to the sands of the rivers Sankani and Dankani, the tinkle of the anklets of the goddess could not be heard for the sand. The Rāja therefore looked behind him to see if she was following, on which she said that she could go no more with him, but he was to march as far as he could and then settle down. The two brothers settled in Bastar, where the descendants of the younger became the ruling clan, and those of the elder were their servants, the Parjas. The [373]story indicates, perhaps, that the Parjas were the original Gond inhabitants and rulers of the country, and were supplanted by a later immigration of the same tribe, who reduced them to subjection, and became Rāj-Gonds. Possibly the first transfer of power was effected by the marriage of an immigrant into a Parja Rāja’s family, as so often happened with these old dynasties. The Parjas still talk about the Rāni of Bastar as their Bohu or ‘younger brother’s wife,’ and the custom is probably based on some such legend. The Madras account of them as the arbiters of boundary disputes points to the same conclusion, as this function is invariably assigned to the oldest residents in any locality. The Parjas appear to be Gonds and not Khonds. Their sept names are Gondi words, and their language is a form of Gondi, called after them Parji. Parji has hitherto been considered a form of Bhatri, but Sir G. Grierson3 has now classified the latter as a dialect of the Uriya language, while Parji remains ‘A local and very corrupt variation of Gondi, considerably mixed with Hindi forms.’ While then the Parjas, in Bastar at any rate, must be held to be a branch of the Gonds, they may have a considerable admixture of the Khonds, or other tribes in different localities, as the rules of marriage are very loose in this part of the country.4

2. Exogamous septs

The tribe have exogamous totemistic septs, as Bāgh a tiger, Kachhim a tortoise, Bokda a goat, Netām a dog, Gohi a big lizard, Pandki a dove and so on. If a man kills accidentally the animal after which his sept is named, the earthen cooking-pots of his household are thrown away, the clothes are washed, and the house is purified with water in which the bark of the mango or jāmun5 tree has been steeped. This is in sign of mourning, as it is thought that such an act will bring misfortune. If a man of the snake sept kills a snake accidentally, he places a piece of new yarn on his head, praying for forgiveness, and deposits the body on an anthill, where snakes are supposed to live. If a man of the goat sept eats goat’s flesh, it is thought that he will [374]become blind at once. A Parja will not touch the body of his totem-animal when dead, and if he sees any one killing or teasing it when alive, he will go away out of sight. It is said that a man of the Kachhim sept once found a tortoise while on a journey, and leaving it undisturbed, passed on. When the tortoise died it was reborn in the man’s belly and troubled him greatly, and since then every Parja is liable to be afflicted in the same way in the side of the abdomen, the disease which is produced being in fact enlarged spleen. The tortoise told the man that as he had left it lying by the road, and had not devoted it to any useful purpose, he was afflicted in this way. Consequently, when a man of the Kachhim sept finds a tortoise nowadays, he gives it to somebody else who can cut it up. The story is interesting as a legend of the origin of spleen, but has apparently been invented as an excuse for killing the sacred animal.

3. Kinship and marriage

Marriage is prohibited in theory between members of the same sept. But as the number of septs is rather small, the rule is not adhered to, and members of the same sept are permitted to marry so long as they do not come from the same village; the original rule of exogamy being perhaps thus exemplified. The proposal for a match is made by the boy’s father, who first offers a cup of liquor to the girl’s father in the bazār, and subsequently explains his errand. If the girl’s father, after consulting with his family, disapproves of the match, he returns an equal quantity of liquor to the boy’s father in token of his decision. The girl is usually consulted, and asked if she would like to marry her suitor, but not much regard is had to her opinion. If she dislikes him, however, she usually runs away from him after a short interlude of married life. If a girl becomes pregnant with a caste-fellow before marriage, he is required to take her, and give to the family the presents which he would make to them on a regular marriage. The man can subsequently be properly married to some other woman, but the girl cannot be married at all. If a girl is seduced by a man outside the caste, she is made over to him. It is essential for a man to be properly married at least once, and an old bachelor will sometimes go through the form of being wedded to his maternal uncle’s daughter, even though [375]she may be an infant. If no proposal for marriage is made for a girl, she is sometimes handed over informally to any man who likes to take her, and who is willing to give as much for her as the parents would receive for a regular marriage. A short time before the wedding, the boy’s father sends a considerable quantity of rice to the girl’s father, and on the day before he sends a calf, a pot of liquor, fifteen annas worth of copper coin, and a new cloth. The bridegroom’s expenses are about Rs. 50, and the bride’s about Rs. 10.

4. Marriage dance

At weddings the tribe have a dance called Surcha, for which the men wear a particular dress consisting of a long coat, a turban and two or three scarves thrown loosely over the shoulders. Strings of little bells are tied about the feet, and garlands of beads round the neck; sometimes men and women dance separately, and sometimes both sexes together in a long line or a circle. Music is provided by bamboo flutes, drums and an iron instrument something like a flute. As they dance, songs are sung in the form of question and answer between the lines of men and women, usually of a somewhat indecent character. The following short specimen may be given:—

Man. If you are willing to go with me we will both follow the officer’s elephant. If I go back without you my heart can have no rest.

Woman. Who dare take me away from my husband while the Company is reigning. My husband will beat me and who will pay him the compensation?

Man. You had better make up your mind to go with me. I will ask the Treasurer for some money and pay it to your husband as compensation.

Woman. Very well, I will make ready some food, and will run away with you in the next bright fortnight.

These dialogues often, it is said, lead to quarrels between husband and wife, as the husband cannot rebuke his wife in the assembly. Sometimes the women fall in love with men in the dance, and afterwards run away with them.

5. Nuptial ceremony

The marriage takes place at the boy’s house, where two marriage-sheds are made. It is noticeable that the bride on going to the bridegroom’s house to be married is accompanied only by her female relatives, no man of her family being allowed to be with her. This is probably a reminiscence [376]of the old custom of marriage by capture, as in former times she was carried off by force, the opposition of her male relatives having been quelled. In memory of this the men still do not countenance the wedding procession by their presence. The bridal couple are made to sit down together on a mat, and from three to seven pots of cold water are poured over them. About a week after the wedding the couple go to a market with their friends, and after walking round it they all sit down and drink liquor.

6. Widow-marriage and divorce

The remarriage of widows is permitted, and a widow is practically compelled to marry her late husband’s younger brother, if he has one. If she persistently refuses to do so, in spite of the strongest pressure, her parents turn her out of their house. In order to be married the woman goes to the man’s house with some friends; they sit together on the ground, and the friends apply the tīka or sign by touching their foreheads with dry rice. A man can divorce his wife if she is of bad character, or if she is supposed to be under an unfavourable star, or if her children die in infancy. A divorced woman can marry again as if she were a widow.

7. Religion and festivals

The Parjas worship the class of divinities of the hills and forests usually revered among primitive tribes, as well as Dānteshwari, the tutelary goddess of Bastar. On the day that sowing begins they offer a fowl to the field, first placing some grains of rice before it. If the fowl eats the rice they prognosticate a good harvest, and if not the reverse. A few members of the tribe belong to the Rāmānandi sect, and on this account a little extra attention is paid to them. If such a one is invited to a feast he is given a wooden seat, while others sit on the ground. It is said that a few years ago a man became a Kabīrpanthi, but he subsequently went blind and his son died, and since this event the sect is absolutely without adherents. Most villages have a Sirha or man who is possessed by the deity, and his advice is taken in religious matters, such as the detection of witches. Another official is called Medha Gantia or ‘The Counter of posts.’ He appoints the days for weddings, calculating them by counting on his fingers, and also fixes auspicious days for the construction of a house or for the commencement of sowing. It is probable that in former times he kept count of the days [377]by numbering posts or trees. When rain is wanted the people fix a piece of wood into the ground, calling it Bhīmsen Deo or King of the Clouds. They pour water over it and pray to it, asking for rain. Every year, after the crops are harvested, they worship the rivers or streams in the village. A snake, a jackal, a hare and a dog wagging its ears are unlucky objects to see when starting on a journey, and also a dust devil blowing along in front. They do not kill wild dogs, because they say that tigers avoid the forests where these reside, and some of them hold that a tiger on meeting a wild dog climbs a tree to get out of his way. Wednesday and Thursday are lucky days for starting on a journey, and the operations of sowing, reaping and threshing should be commenced and completed on one of these days. When a man intends to build a house he places a number of sets of three grains of rice, one resting on the other two, on the ground in different places. Each set is covered by a leaf-cup with some earth to hold it down. Next morning the grains are inspected, and if the top one has fallen down the site is considered to be lucky, as indicating that the earth is wishful to bear the burden of a house in this place. A house should face to the east or west, and not to the north or south. Similarly, the roads leading out of the village should run east or west from the starting-point. The principal festivals of the Parjas are the Hareli6 or feast of the new vegetation in July, the Nawākhāni7 or feast of the new rice crop in August or September, and the Am Nawākhāni or that of the new mango crop in April or May. At the feasts the new season’s crop should be eaten, but if no fresh rice has ripened, they touch some of the old grain with a blade of a growing rice-plant, and consider that it has become the new crop. On these occasions ancestors are worshipped by members of the family only inside the house, and offerings of the new crops are made to them.

8. Disposal of the dead

The dead are invariably buried, the corpse being laid in the ground with head to the east and feet to the west. This is probably the most primitive burial, it being supposed that the region of the dead is towards the west, as the setting [378]sun disappears in that direction. The corpse is therefore laid in the grave with the feet to the west ready to start on its journey. Members of the tribe who have imbibed Hindu ideas now occasionally lay the corpse with the head to the north in the direction of the Ganges. Rice-gruel, water and a tooth-stick are placed on the grave nightly for some days after death. As an interesting parallel instance, near home, of the belief that the soul starts on a long journey after death, the following passage may be quoted from Mr. Gomme’s Folklore: “Among the superstitions of Lancashire is one which tells us of a lingering belief in a long journey after death, when food is necessary to support the soul. A man having died of apoplexy at a public dinner near Manchester, one of the company was heard to remark, ‘Well, poor Joe, God rest his soul! He has at least gone to his long rest wi’ a belly full o’ good meat, and that’s some consolation!’ And perhaps a still more remarkable instance is that of the woman buried in Curton Church, near Rochester, who directed by her will that the coffin was to have a lock and key, the key being placed in her dead hand, so that she might be able to release herself at pleasure.”8

After the burial a dead fish is brought on a leaf-plate to the mourners, who touch it, and are partly purified. The meaning of this rite, if there be any, is not known. After the period of mourning, which varies from three to nine days, is over, the mourners and their relatives must attend the next weekly bazār, and there offer liquor and sweets in the name of the dead man, who upon this becomes ranked among the ancestors.

9. Occupation and social customs

The Parjas are cultivators, and grow rice and other crops in the ordinary manner. Many of them are village headmen, and to these the term Dhurwa is more particularly applied. The tribe will eat fowls, pig, monkeys, the large lizard, field-rats, and bison and wild buffalo, but they do not eat carnivorous animals, crocodiles, snakes or jackals. Some of them eat beef while others have abjured it, and they will not accept the leavings of others. They are not considered to be an impure caste. If any man or woman belonging to a higher caste has a liaison with a Parja, and is on that [379]account expelled from their own caste, he or she can be admitted as a Parja. In their other customs and dress and ornaments the tribe resemble the Gonds of Bastar. Women are tattooed on the chest and arms with patterns of dots. The young men sometimes wear their hair long, and tie it in a bunch behind, secured by a strip of cloth. [380]

1 This article is based on papers by Mr. Panda Baijnāth and other officers of the Bastar State.