The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India—Volume I (of IV)
by R.V. Russell
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Thus all the castes of the first group are derived from the representatives of the Brahmans and Kshatriyas, the two highest of the four classical castes, except the Guraos, who have risen in status owing to special circumstances. The origin of the Kayasths is discussed in the article on that caste. Members of the above castes usually wear the sacred thread which is the mark of the Dwija or twice-born, the old Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. The thread is not worn generally by the castes of the second group, but the more wealthy and prominent sections of them frequently assume it.

20. Castes from whom a Brahman can take water. Higher agriculturists.

The second group of good castes from whom a Brahman can take water falls into three sections as already explained: the higher agricultural castes, the higher artisans, and the serving or menial castes from whom a Brahman takes water from motives of convenience. These last do not properly belong to the second group but to the next lower one of village menials. The higher agricultural castes or those of the first section are noted below:

Agharia. Ahir. Bhilala. Bishnoi. Chasa. Daharia. Dangi. Dumal. Gujar. Jadum. Jat. Khandait. Kirar. Kolta. Kunbi. Kurmi. Lodhi. Mali. Maratha. Mina or Deswali. Panwar Rajput. Raghuvansi. Velama.

In this division the Kurmis and Kunbis are the typical agricultural castes of Hindustan or the plains of northern India, and the Bombay or Maratha Deccan. Both are very numerous and appear to be purely occupational bodies. The name Kurmi perhaps signifies a cultivator or worker. Kunbi may mean a householder. In both castes, groups of diverse origin seem to have been amalgamated owing to their common calling. Thus the Kunbis include a subcaste derived from the Banjara (carriers), another from the Dhangars or shepherds, and a third from the Manas, a primitive tribe. In Bombay it is considered that the majority of the Kunbi caste are sprung from the non-Aryan or indigenous tribes, and this may be the reason why Maratha Brahmans do not take water from them. But they have now become one caste with a status equal to that of the other good cultivating castes. In many tracts of Berar and elsewhere practically all the cultivators of the village belong to the Kunbi caste, and there is every reason to suppose that this was once the general rule and that the Kunbis or 'householders' are simply the cultivators of the Maratha country who lived in village communities. Similarly Sir H. Risley considered that some Kurmis of Bihar were of the Aryan type, while others of Chota Nagpur are derived from the indigenous tribes. The Chasas are the cultivating caste of Orissa and are a similar occupational group. The word Chasa has the generic meaning of a cultivator, and the caste are said by Sir H. Risley to be for the most part of non-Aryan origin, the loose organisation of the caste system among the Uriyas making it possible on the one hand for outsiders to be admitted into the caste, and on the other for wealthy Chasas, who gave up ploughing with their own hands and assumed the respectable title of Mahanti, to raise themselves to membership among the lower classes of Kayasths. The Koltas are another Uriya caste, probably an offshoot of the Chasas, whose name may be derived from the kulthi [47] pulse, a favourite crop in that locality.

Similarly the Vellalas are the great cultivating caste of the Tamil country, to whom by general consent the first place in social esteem among the Tamil Sudra castes is awarded. In the Madras Census Report of 1901 Mr. Francis gives an interesting description of the structure of the caste and its numerous territorial, occupational and other subdivisions. He shows also how groups from lower castes continually succeed in obtaining admission into the Vellala community in the following passage: "Instances of members of other castes who have assumed the name and position of Vellalas are the Vettuva Vellalas, who are only Puluvans; the Illam Vellalas, who are Panikkans; the Karaiturai (lord of the shore) Vellalas, who are Karaiyans; the Karukamattai (palmyra leaf-stem) Vellalas, who are Balijas; the Guha (Rama's boatmen) Vellalas, who are Sembadavans; and the Irkuli Vellalas, who are Vannans. The children of dancing-girls also often call themselves Mudali, and claim in time to be Vellalas, and even Paraiyans assume the title of Pillai and trust to its eventually enabling them to pass themselves off as members of the caste."

This is an excellent instance of the good status attaching to the chief cultivating caste of the locality and of the manner in which other groups, when they obtain possession of the land, strive to get themselves enrolled in it.

The Jats are the representative cultivating caste of the Punjab. They are probably the descendants of one of the Scythian invading hordes who entered India shortly before and after the commencement of the Christian era. The Scythians, as they were called by Herodotus, appear to have belonged to the Mongolian racial family, as also did the white Huns who came subsequently. The Gujar and Ahir castes, as well as the Jats, and also the bulk of the existing Rajput clans, are believed to be descended from these invaders; and since their residence in India has been comparatively short in comparison with their Aryan predecessors, they have undergone much less fusion with the general population, and retain a lighter complexion and better features, as is quite perceptible to the ordinary observer in the case of the Jats and Rajputs. The Jats have a somewhat higher status than other agricultural castes, because in the Punjab they were once dominant, and one or two ruling chiefs belonged to the caste. [48] The bulk of the Sikhs were also Jats. But in the Central Provinces, where they are not large landholders, and have no traditions of former dominance, there is little distinction between them and the Kurmis. The Gujars for long remained a pastoral freebooting tribe, and their community was naturally recruited from all classes of vagabonds and outlaws, and hence the caste is now of a mixed character, and their physical type is not noticeably distinct from that of other Hindus. Sir G. Campbell derived the Gujars from the Khazars, a tribe of the same race as the white Huns and Bulgars who from an early period had been settled in the neighbourhood of the Caspian. They are believed to have entered India during the fifth or sixth century. Several clans of Rajputs, as well as considerable sections of the Ahir and Kunbi castes were, in his opinion, derived from the Gujars. In the Central Provinces the Gujars have now settled down into respectable cultivators. The Ahirs or cowherds and graziers probably take their name from the Abhiras, another of the Scythian tribes. But they have now become a purely occupational caste, largely recruited from the indigenous Gonds and Kawars, to whom the business of tending cattle in the jungles is habitually entrusted. In the Central Provinces Ahirs live in small forest villages with Gonds, and are sometimes scarcely considered as Hindus. On this account they have a character for bucolic stupidity, as the proverb has it: 'When he is asleep he is an Ahir and when he is awake he is a fool.' But the Ahir caste generally has a good status on account of its connection with the sacred cow and also with the god Krishna, the divine cowherd.

The Marathas are the military caste of the Maratha country, formed into a caste from the cultivators, shepherds and herdsmen, who took service under Sivaji and subsequent Maratha leaders. The higher clans may have been constituted from the aristocracy of the Deccan states, which was probably of Rajput descent. They have now become a single caste, ranking somewhat higher than the Kunbis, from whom the bulk of them originated, on account of their former military and dominant position. Their status was much the same as that of the Jats in the Punjab. But the ordinary Marathas are mainly engaged in the subordinate Government and private service, and there is very little distinction between them and the Kunbis. The Khandaits or swordsmen (from khanda, a sword) are an Uriya caste, which originated in military service, and the members of which belonged for the most part to the non-Aryan Bhuiya tribe. They were a sort of rabble, half military and half police, Sir H. Risley states, who formed the levies of the Uriya zamindars. They have obtained grants of land, and their status has improved. "In the social system of Orissa the Sreshta (good) Khandaits rank next to the Rajputs, who are comparatively few in number, and have not that intimate connection with the land which has helped to raise the Khandaits to their present position." [49] The small Rautia landholding caste of Chota Nagpur, mainly derived from the Kol tribe, was formed from military service, and obtained a higher status with the possession of the land exactly like the Khandaits.

Several Rajput clans, as the Panwars of the Wainganga Valley, the Raghuvansis, the Jadums derived from the Yadava clan, and the Daharias of Chhattisgarh, have formed distinct castes, marrying among themselves. A proper Rajput should not marry in his own clan. These groups have probably in the past taken wives from the surrounding population, and they can no longer be held to belong to the Rajput caste proper, but rank as ordinary agricultural castes. Other agricultural castes have probably been formed through mixed descent from Rajputs and the indigenous races. The Agharias of Sambalpur say they are sprung from a clan of Rajputs near Agra, who refused to bend their heads before the king of Delhi. He summoned all the Agharias to appear before him, and fixed a sword across the door at the height of a man's neck. As the Agharias would not bend their heads they were as a natural consequence all decapitated as they passed through the door. Only one escaped, who had bribed a Chamar to go instead of him. He and his village fled from Agra and came to Chhattisgarh, where they founded the Agharia caste. And, in memory of this, when an Agharia makes a libation to his ancestors, he first pours a little water on the ground in honour of the dead Chamar. Such stories may be purely imaginary, or may contain some substratum of truth, as that the ancestors of the caste were Rajputs, who took wives from Chamars and other low castes. The Kirars are another caste with more or less mixed descent from Rajputs. They are also called Dhakar, and this means one of illegitimate birth. The Bhilalas are a caste formed of the offspring of mixed alliances between Rajputs and Bhils. In many cases in Nimar Rajput immigrants appear to have married the daughters of Bhil chieftains and landholders, and succeeded to their estates. Thus the Bhilalas include a number of landed proprietors, and the caste ranks as a good agricultural caste, from whom Brahmans will take water. Among the other indigenous tribes, several of which have in the Central Provinces retained the possession of large areas of land and great estates in the wilder forest tracts, a subcaste has been formed of the landholding members of the tribe. Such are the Raj-Gonds among the Gonds, the Binjhals among Baigas, and the Tawar subtribe of the Kawar tribe of Bilaspur, to which all the zamindars [50] belong. These last now claim to be Tomara Rajputs, on the basis of the similarity of the name. These groups rank with the good agricultural castes, and Brahmans sometimes consent to take water from them. The Dangis of Saugor appear to be the descendants of a set of freebooters in the Vindhyan hills, much like the Gujars in northern India. The legend of their origin is given in Sir B. Robertson's Census Report of 1891: "The chief of Garhpahra or old Saugor detained the palanquins of twenty-two married women and kept them as his wives. The issue of the illicit intercourse were named Dangis, and there are thus twenty-two subdivisions of these people. There are also three other subdivisions who claim descent from pure Rajputs, and who will take daughters in marriage from the remaining twenty-two, but will not give their daughters to them." Thus the Dangis appear to have been a mixed group, recruiting their band from all classes of the population, with some Rajputs as leaders. The name probably means hillman, from dang, a hill. Khet men bami, gaon men Dangi or 'A Dangi in the village is like the hole of a snake in one's field,' is a proverb showing the estimation in which they were formerly held. They obtained estates in Saugor and a Dangi dynasty formerly governed part of the District, and they are now highly respectable cultivators. The Minas or Deswalis belonged to the predatory Mina tribe of Rajputana, but a section of them have obtained possession of the land in Hoshangabad and rank as a good agricultural caste. The Lodhas of the United Provinces are placed lowest among the agricultural castes by Mr. Nesfield, who describes them as little better than a forest tribe. The name is perhaps derived from the bark of the lodh tree, which was collected by the Lodhas of northern India and sold for use as a dyeing agent. In the Central Provinces the name has been changed to Lodhi, and they are said to have been brought into the District by a Raja of the Gond-Rajput dynasty of Mandla in the seventeenth century, and given large grants of waste land in the interior in order that they might clear it of forest. They have thus become landholders, and rank with the higher agricultural castes. They are addressed as Thakur, a title applied to Rajputs, and Lodhi landowners usually wear the sacred thread.

21. Status of the cultivator.

The above details have been given to show how the different agricultural castes originated. Though their origin is so diverse they have, to a great extent, the same status, and it seems clear that this status is dependent on their possession of the land. In the tracts where they reside they are commonly village proprietors and superior tenants. Those who rank a little higher than the others, as the Jats, Marathas, Dangis and Lodhis, include in their body some ruling chiefs or large landed proprietors, and as a rule were formerly dominant in the territory in which they are found. In primitive agricultural communities the land is the principal, if not almost the sole, source of wealth. Trade in the modern sense scarcely exists, and what interchange of commodities there is affects, as a rule, only a trifling fraction of the population. India's foreign trade is mainly the growth of the last century, and the great bulk of the exports are of agricultural produce, yet in proportion to the population the trading community is still extremely small. It thus seems quite impossible that the Aryans could have been a community of priests, rulers and traders, because such a community would not have had means of subsistence. And if the whole production and control of the wealth and food of the community had been in the hands of the Sudras, they could not have been kept permanently in their subject, degraded position. The flocks and herds and the land, which constituted the wealth of early India, must thus have been in the possession of the Vaishyas; and grounds of general probability, as well as the direct evidence already produced, make it clear that they were the herdsmen and cultivators, and the Sudras the labourers. The status of the modern cultivators seems to correspond to that of the Vaishyas, that is, of the main body of the Aryan people, who were pure and permitted to join in sacrifices. The status, however, no longer attaches to origin, but to the possession of the land; it is that of a constituent member of the village community, corresponding to a citizen of the city states of Greece and Italy. The original Vaishyas have long disappeared; the Brahmans themselves say that there are no Kshatriyas and no Vaishyas left, and this seems to be quite correct. But the modern good cultivating castes retain the status of the Vaishyas as the Rajputs retain that of the Kshatriyas. The case of the Jats and Gujars supports this view. These two castes are almost certainly derived from Scythian nomad tribes, who entered India long after the Vedic Aryans. And there is good reason to suppose that a substantial proportion, if not the majority, of the existing Rajput clans were the leaders or aristocracy of the Jats and Gujars. Thus it is found that in the case of these later tribes the main body were shepherds and cultivators, and their descendants have the status of good cultivating castes at present, while the leaders became the Rajputs, who have the status of the Kshatriyas; and it therefore seems a reasonable inference that the same had previously been the case with the Aryans themselves. It has been seen that the word Visha or Vaishya signified one of the people or a householder. The name Kunbi appears to have the same sense, its older form being kutumbika, which is a householder or one who has a family, [51] a pater familias.

22. The clan and the village.

It has been seen also that Visha in the plural signified clans. The clan was the small body which lived together, and in the patriarchal stage was connected by a tie of kinship held to be derived from a common ancestor. Thus it is likely that the clans settled down in villages, the cultivators of one village being of the same exogamous clan. The existing system of exogamy affords evidence in favour of this view, as will be seen. All the families of the clan had cultivating rights in the land, and were members of the village community; and there were no other members, unless possibly a Kshatriya headman or leader. The Sudras were their labourers and serfs, with no right to hold land, and a third intermediate class of village menials gradually grew up.

The law of Mirasi tenures in Madras is perhaps a survival of the social system of the early village community. Under it only a few of the higher castes were allowed to hold land, and the monopoly was preserved by the rule that the right of taking up waste lands belonged primarily to the cultivators of the adjacent holdings; no one else could acquire land unless he first bought them out. The pariahs or impure castes were not allowed to hold land at all. This rule was pointed out by Mr. Slocock, and it is also noticed by Sir Henry Maine: "There are in Central and Southern India certain villages to which a class of persons is hereditarily attached, in such a manner that they form no part of the natural and organic aggregate to which the bulk of the villagers belong. These persons are looked upon as essentially impure; they never enter the village, or only enter reserved portions of it; and their touch is avoided as contaminating. Yet they bear extremely plain marks of their origin. Though they are not included in the village, they are an appendage solidly connected with it; they have definite village duties, one of which is the settlement of boundaries, on which their authority is allowed to be conclusive. They evidently represent a population of alien blood whose lands have been occupied by the colonists or invaders forming the community." [52] Elsewhere, Sir Henry Maine points out that in many cases the outsiders were probably admitted to the possession of land, but on an inferior tenure to the primary holders or freemen who formed the cultivating body of the village; and suggests that this may have been the ground for the original distinction between occupancy and non-occupancy tenants. The following extract from a description of the Maratha villages by Grant Duff [53] may be subjoined to this passage: "The inhabitants are principally cultivators, and are now either Mirasidars or Ooprees. These names serve to distinguish the tenure by which they hold their lands. The Oopree is a mere tenant-at-will, but the Mirasidar is a hereditary occupant whom the Government cannot displace so long as he pays the assessment on his field. With various privileges and distinctions in his village of minor consequence, the Mirasidar has the important power of selling or transferring his right of occupancy at pleasure. It is a current opinion in the Maratha country that all the lands were originally of this description."

As regards the internal relations of clans and village groups, Sir H. Maine states: "The men who composed the primitive communities believed themselves to be kinsmen in the most literal sense of the word; and, surprising as it may seem, there are a multitude of indications that in one stage of thought they must have regarded themselves as equals. When these primitive bodies first make their appearance as landowners, as claiming an exclusive enjoyment in a definite area of land, not only do their shares of the soil appear to have been originally equal, but a number of contrivances survive for preserving the equality, of which the most frequent is the periodical redistribution of the tribal domain." [54] Similarly Professor Hearn states: "The settlement of Europe was made by clans. Each clan occupied a certain territory—much, I suppose, as an Australian squatter takes up new country. The land thus occupied was distributed by metes and bounds to each branch of the clan; the remainder, if any, continuing the property of the clan." [55] And again: "In those cases where the land had been acquired by conquest there were generally some remains of the conquered population who retained more or less interest in the lands that had once been their own. But as between the conquerors themselves it was the clansmen, and the clansmen only, who were entitled to derive any advantage from the land that the clan had acquired. The outsiders, the men who lived with the clan but were not of the clan, were no part of the folk, and had no share in the folkland. No services rendered, no participation in the common danger, no endurance of the burden and heat of the day, could create in an outsider any colour of right. Nothing short of admission to the clan, and of initiation in its worship, could enable him to demand as of right the grass of a single cow or the wood for a single fire." [56]

23. The ownership of land.

Thus it appears that the cultivating community of each village constituted an exogamous clan, the members of which believed themselves to be kinsmen. When some caste or tribe occupied a fresh area of land they were distributed by clans in villages, over the area, all the cultivators of a village being of one caste or tribe, as is still the case with the Kunbis in Berar. Sometimes several alien castes or groups became amalgamated into a single caste, such as the Kurmis and Kunbis; in others they either remained as a separate caste or became one. When the non-Aryan tribes retained possession of the land, there is every reason to suppose that they also were admitted into Hinduism, and either constituted a fresh caste with the cultivating status, or were absorbed into an existing one with a change of name. Individual ownership of land was probably unknown. The patel or village headman, on whom proprietary right was conferred by the British Government, certainly did not possess it previously. He was simply the spokesman and representative of the village community in its dealings with the central or ruling authority. But it seems scarcely likely either that the village community considered itself to own the land. Cases in which the community as a corporate body has exercised any function of ownership other than that of occupying and cultivating the soil, if recorded at all, must be extremely rare, and I do not know that any instance is given by Sir Henry Maine. A tutelary village god is to be found as a rule in every Hindu village. In the Central Provinces the most common is Khermata, that is the goddess of the village itself or the village lands. She is a form of Devi, the general earth-goddess. When a village is founded the first thing to be done is to install the village god. Thus the soil of the village is venerated as a goddess, and it seems doubtful whether the village community considered itself the owner. In the Maratha Districts, Hanuman or Mahabir, the monkey god, is the tutelary deity of the village. His position seems to rest on the belief of the villagers that the monkeys were the lords and owners of the soil before their own arrival. For the worship of these and the other village gods there is usually a village priest, known as Bhumka, Bhumia, Baiga or Jhankar, who is taken from the non-Aryan tribes. The reason for his appointment seems to be that the Hindus still look on themselves to some extent as strangers and interlopers in relation to the gods of the earth and the village, and consider it necessary to approach these through the medium of one of their predecessors. The words Bhumka and Bhumia both mean lord of the soil, or belonging to the soil. As already seen, the authority of some menial official belonging to the indigenous tribes is accepted as final in cases of disputed boundaries, the idea being apparently that as his ancestors first occupied the village, he has inherited from them the knowledge of its true extent and limits. All these points appear to tell strongly against the view that the Hindu village community considered itself to own the village land as we understand the phrase. They seem to have looked on the land as a god, and often their own tutelary deity and protector. What they held themselves to possess was a right of occupancy, in virtue of prescriptive settlement, not subject to removal or disturbance, and transmitted by inheritance to persons born into the membership of the village community. Under the Muhammadans the idea that the state ultimately owned the land may have been held, but prior to them the existence of such a belief is doubtful. The Hindu king did not take rent for land, but a share of the produce for the support of his establishments. The Rajput princes did not call themselves after the name of their country, but of its capital town, as if their own property consisted only in the town, as Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur, instead of Marwar, Dhundhar and Mewar. Just as the village has a priest of the non-Aryan tribes for propitiating the local gods, so the Rajput chief at his accession was often inducted to the royal cushion by a Bhil or Mina, and received the badge of investiture as if he had to obtain his title from these tribes. Indeed the right of the village community to the land was held sometimes superior to that of the state. Sir J. Malcolm relates that he was very anxious to get the village of Bassi in Indore State repopulated when it had lain waste for thirty-six years. He had arranged with the Bhil headman of a neighbouring village to bring it under cultivation on a favourable lease. The plan had other advantages, and Holkar's minister was most anxious to put it into execution, but said that this could not be done until every possible effort had been made to discover whether any descendant of the former patel or of any watandar or hereditary cultivator of Bassi was still in existence; for if such were found, he said, "even we Marathas, bad as we are, cannot do anything which interferes with their rights." None such being found at the time, the village was settled as proposed by Malcolm; but some time afterwards, a boy was discovered who was descended from the old patel's family, and he was invited to resume the office of headman of the village of his forefathers, which even the Bhil, who had been nominated to it, was forward to resign to the rightful inheritor. [57] Similarly the Maratha princes, Sindhia, Holkar and others, are recorded to have set more store by the headship of the insignificant Deccan villages, which were the hereditary offices of their families, than by the great principalities which they had carved out for themselves with the sword. The former defined and justified their position in the world as the living link and representative of the continuous family comprising all their ancestors and all their descendants; the latter was at first regarded merely as a transient, secular possession, and a source of wealth and profit. This powerful hereditary right probably rested on a religious basis. The village community was considered to be bound up with its village god in one joint life, and hence no one but they could in theory have the right to cultivate the lands of that village. The very origin and nature of this right precluded any question of transfer or alienation. The only lands in which any ownership, corresponding to our conception of the term, was held to exist, were perhaps those granted free of revenue for the maintenance of temples, which were held to be the property of the god. In Rome and other Greek and Latin cities the idea of private or family ownership of land also developed from a religious sentiment. It was customary to bury the dead in the fields which they had held, and here the belief was that their spirits remained and protected the interests of the family. Periodical sacrifices were made to them and they participated in all the family ceremonies. Hence the land in which the tombs of ancestors were situated was held to belong to the family, and could not be separated from it. [58] Gradually, as the veneration for the spirits of ancestors decayed, the land came to be regarded as the private property of the family, and when this idea had been realised it was made alienable, though not with the same freedom as personal property. But the word pecunia for money, from pecus a flock, like the Hindi dhan, which means wealth and also flocks of goats and sheep, and feudal from the Gaelic fiu, cattle, point to conditions of society in which land was not considered a form of private property or wealth. M. Fustel de Coulanges notices other primitive races who did not recognise property in land: "The Tartars understand the term property as applying to cattle, but not as applying to land. According to some authors, among the ancient Germans there was no ownership of land; every year each member of the tribe received a holding to cultivate, and the holding was changed in the following year. The German owned the crop; he did not own the soil. The same was the case among a part of the Semitic race and certain of the Slav peoples." [59] In large areas of the Nigeria Protectorate at present, land has no exchangeable value at all; but by the native system of taxation a portion of the produce is taken in consideration of the right of use. [60] In ancient Arabia 'Baal' meant the lord of some place or district, that is, a local deity, and hence came to mean a god. Land naturally moist was considered as irrigated by a god and the special place or habitation of the god. To the numerous Canaanite Baalims, or local deities, the Israelites ascribed all the natural gifts of the land, the corn, the wine, and the oil, the wool and the flax, the vines and fig trees. Pasture land was common property, but a man acquired rights in the soil by building a house, or, by 'quickening' a waste place, that is, bringing it under cultivation. [61] The Israelites thought that they derived their title to the land of Canaan from Jehovah, having received it as a gift from Him. The association of rights over the land with cultivation and building, pointed out by Professor Robertson Smith, may perhaps explain the right over the village lands which was held to appertain to the village community. They had quickened the land and built houses on it, establishing the local village deity on their village sites, and it was probably thought that their life was bound up with that of the village god, and only they had a right to cultivate his land. This would explain the great respect shown by the Marathas for hereditary title to land, as seen above; a feeling which must certainly have been based on some religious belief, and not on any moral idea of equity or justice; no such deep moral principle was possible in the Hindu community at the period in question. The Hindu religious conception of rights to land was thus poles apart from the secular English law of proprietary and transferable right, and if the native feeling could have been, understood by the early British administrators the latter would perhaps have been introduced only in a much modified form.

24. The cultivating status that of the Vaishya.

The suggested conclusion from the above argument is that the main body of the Aryan immigrants, that is the Vaishyas, settled down in villages by exogamous clans or septs. The cultivators of each village believed themselves to be kinsmen descended from a common ancestor, and also to be akin to the god of the village lands from which they drew their sustenance. Hence their order had an equal right to cultivate the village land and their children to inherit it, though they did not conceive of the idea of ownership of land in the sense in which we understand this phrase.

The original status of the Vaishya, or a full member of the Aryan community who could join in sacrifices and employ Brahmans to perform them, was gradually transferred to the cultivating member of the village communities. In process of time, as land was the chief source of wealth, and was also regarded as sacred, the old status became attached to castes or groups of persons who obtained or held land irrespective of their origin, and these are what are now called the good cultivating castes. They have now practically the same status, though, as has been seen, they were originally of most diverse origin, including bands of robbers and freebooters, cattle-lifters, non-Aryan tribes, and sections of any castes which managed to get possession of an appreciable quantity of land.

25. Higher professional and artisan castes.

The second division of the group of pure or good castes, or those from whom a Brahman can take water, comprises the higher artisan castes:

Barhai. Bharbhunja. Halwai. Kasar. Komti. Sansia. Sunar. Tamera. Vidur.

The most important of these are the Sunar or goldsmith; the Kasar or worker in brass and bell-metal; the Tamera or coppersmith; the Barhai or carpenter; and the Halwai and Bharbhunja or confectioner and grain-parcher. The Sansia or stone-mason of the Uriya country may perhaps also be included. These industries represent a higher degree of civilisation than the village trades, and the workers may probably have been formed into castes at a later period, when the practice of the handicrafts was no longer despised. The metal-working castes are now usually urban, and on the average their members are as well-to-do as the cultivators. The Sunars especially include a number of wealthy men, and their importance is increased by their association with the sacred metal, gold; in some localities they now claim to be Brahmans and refuse to take food from Brahmans. [62] The more ambitious members abjure all flesh-food and liquor and wear the sacred thread. But in Bombay the Sunar was in former times one of the village menial castes, and here, before and during the time of the Peshwas, Sunars were not allowed to wear the sacred thread, and they were forbidden to hold their marriages in public, as it was considered unlucky to see a Sunar bridegroom. Sunar bridegrooms were not allowed to see the state umbrella or to ride in a palanquin, and had to be married at night and in secluded places, being subject to restrictions and annoyances from which even Mahars were free. Thus the goldsmith's status appears to vary greatly according as his trade is a village or urban industry. Copper is also a sacred metal, and the Tameras rank next to the Sunars among the artisan castes, with the Kasars or brass-workers a little below them; both these castes sometimes wearing the sacred thread. These classes of artisans generally live in towns. The Barhai or carpenter is sometimes a village menial, but most carpenters live in towns, the wooden implements of agriculture being made either by the blacksmith or by the cultivators themselves. Where the Barhai is a village menial he is practically on an equality with the Lohar or blacksmith; but the better-class carpenters, who generally live in towns, rank higher. The Sansia or stone-mason of the Uriya country works, as a rule, only in stone, and in past times therefore his principal employment must have been to build temples. He could not thus be a village menial, and his status would be somewhat improved by the sanctity of his calling. The Halwai and Bharbhunja or confectioner and grain-parcher are castes of comparatively low origin, especially the latter; but they have to be given the status of ceremonial purity in order that all Hindus may be able to take sweets and parched grain from their hands. Their position resembles that of the barber and waterman, the pure village menials, which will be discussed later. In Bengal certain castes, such as the Tanti or weaver of fine muslin, the Teli or oil-presser, and the Kumhar or potter, rank with the ceremonially pure castes. Their callings have there become important urban industries. Thus the Tantis made the world-renowned fine muslins of Dacca; and the Jagannathia Kumhars of Orissa provide the earthen vessels used for the distribution of rice to all pilgrims at the temple of Jagannath. These castes and certain others have a much higher rank than that of the corresponding castes in northern and Central India, and the special reasons indicated seem to account for this. Generally the artisan castes ranking on the same or a higher level than the cultivators are urban and not rural. They were not placed in a position of inferiority to the cultivators by accepting contributions of grain and gifts from them, and this perhaps accounts for their higher position. One special caste may be noticed here, the Vidurs, who are the descendants of Brahman fathers by women of other castes. These, being of mixed origin, formerly had a very low rank, and worked as village accountants and patwaris. Owing to their connection with Brahmans, however, they are a well-educated caste, and since education has become the door to all grades of advancement in the public service, the Vidurs have taken advantage of it, and many of them are clerks of offices or hold higher posts under Government. Their social status has correspondingly improved; they dress and behave like Brahmans, and in some localities it is said that even Maratha Brahmans will take water to drink from Vidurs, though they will not take it from the cultivating castes. There are also several menial or serving castes from whom a Brahman can take water, forming the third class of this group, but their real rank is much below that of the cultivators, and they will be treated in the next group.

26. Castes from whom a Brahman cannot take water; the village menials.

The third main division consists of those castes from whom a Brahman cannot take water, though they are not regarded as impure and are permitted to enter Hindu temples. The typical castes of this group appear to be the village artisans and menials and the village priests. The annexed list shows the principal of these.

Village menials.

Lohar—Blacksmith. Barhai—Carpenter. Kumhar—Potter. Nai—Barber. Dhimar—Waterman. Kahar—Palanquin-bearer. Bari—Leaf-plate maker. Bargah—Household servant. Dhobi—Washerman. Darzi—Tailor. Basor or Dhulia—Village musician. Bhat and Mirasi—Bard and genealogist. Halba—House-servant and farm-servant.

Castes of village watchmen.

Khangar. Chadar. Chauhan. Dahait. Panka.

Village priests and mendicants.

Joshi—Astrologer. Garpagari—Hail-averter. Gondhali—Musician.

Manbhao Jangam Basdewa Wandering priests and mendicants. Satani Waghya


Mali—Gardener and maker of garlands. Barai—Betel-vine grower and seller.

Other village traders and artisans.

Kalar—Liquor-vendor. Teli—Oil-presser.

Hatwa Manihar Pedlar.


Bahelia Pardhi Fowlers and hunters.

Bahna—Cotton-cleaner. Chhipa—Calico-printer and dyer. Chitrakathi—Painter and picture-maker. Kachera—Glass bangle-maker. Kadera—Fireworks-maker. Nat—Acrobat.

Gadaria Dhangar Shepherds. Kuramwar

Beldar Murha Diggers, navvies, and salt-refiners. Nunia

The essential fact which formerly governed the status of this group of castes appears to be that they performed various services for the cultivators according to their different vocations, and were supported by contributions of grain made to them by the cultivators, and by presents given to them at seed-time and harvest. They were the clients of the cultivators and the latter were their patrons and supporters, and hence ranked above them. This condition of things survives only in the case of a few castes, but prior to the introduction of a metal currency must apparently have been the method of remuneration of all the village industries. The Lohar or blacksmith makes and mends the iron implements of agriculture, such as the ploughshare, axe, sickle and goad. For this he is paid in Saugor a yearly contribution of 20 lbs. of grain per plough of land 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 50 lbs. of grain per plough of four bullocks or 40 acres. For new implements he must either be paid separately or at least supplied with the iron and charcoal. In Districts where the Barhai or carpenter is a village servant he is paid the same as the Lohar and has practically an equal status. The village barber receives in Saugor 20 lbs. of grain annually from each adult male in the family, or 22 1/2 lbs. per plough of land besides the seasonal presents. In return for this he shaves each cultivator over the head and face about once a fortnight. The Dhobi or washerman gets half the annual contribution of the blacksmith and carpenter, with the same presents, and in return for this he washes the clothes of the family two or three times a month. When he brings the clothes home he also receives a meal or a wheaten cake, and well-to-do families give him their old clothes as a present. The Dhimar or waterman brings water to the house morning and evening, and fills the earthen water-pots placed on a wooden stand or earthen platform outside it. When the cultivators have marriages he performs the same duties for the whole wedding party, and receives a present of money and clothes according to the means of the family, and his food every day while the wedding is in progress. He supplies water for drinking to the reapers, receiving three sheaves a day as payment, and takes sweet potatoes and boiled plums to the field and sells them. The Kumhar or potter is not now paid regularly by dues from the cultivators like other village menials, as the ordinary system of sale has been found to be more convenient in his case. But he sometimes takes for use 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 Kumhar in Saugor presents five pots with covers on them to each cultivator and is given 2 1/2 lbs. of grain. He presents the bride with seven new pots at a wedding, and these are filled with water and used in the ceremony, being considered to represent the seven seas. At a funeral he must supply thirteen vessels which are known as ghats, and must replace the household earthen vessels, which are rendered impure on the occurrence of a death in the house, and are all broken and thrown away. In the Punjab and Maratha country the Kumhar was formerly an ordinary village menial.

27. The village watchmen.

The office of village watchman is an important one, and is usually held by a member of the indigenous tribes. These formerly were the chief criminals, and the village watchman, in return for his pay, was expected to detect the crimes of his tribesmen and to make good any losses of property caused by them. The sections of the tribes who held this office have developed into special castes, as the Khangars, Chadars and Chauhans of Chhattisgarh. These last are probably of mixed descent from Rajputs and the higher castes of cultivators with the indigenous tribes. The Dahaits were a caste of gatekeepers and orderlies of native rulers who have now become village watchmen. The Pankas are a section of the impure Ganda caste who have embraced the doctrines of the Kabirpanthi sect and formed a separate caste. They are now usually employed as village watchmen and are not regarded as impure. Similarly those members of the Mahar servile caste who are village watchmen tend to marry among themselves and form a superior group to the others. The village watchman now receives a remuneration fixed by Government and is practically a rural policeman, but in former times he was a village menial and was maintained by the cultivators in the same manner as the others.

28. The village priests. The gardening castes.

The village priests are another class of this group. The regular village priest and astrologer, the Joshi or Parsai, is a Brahman, but the occupation has developed a separate caste. The Joshi officiates at weddings in the village, selects auspicious names for children according to the constellations under which they were born, and points out the auspicious moment or mahurat for weddings, name-giving and other ceremonies, and for the commencement of such agricultural operations as sowing, reaping, and threshing. He is also sometimes in charge of the village temple. He is supported by contributions of grain from the villagers and often has a plot of land rent-free from the proprietor. The social position of the Joshis is not very good, and, though Brahmans, they are considered to rank somewhat below the cultivating castes. The Gurao is another village priest, whose fortune has been quite different. The caste acted as priests of the temples of Siva and were also musicians and supplied leaf-plates. They were village menials of the Maratha villages. But owing to the sanctity of their calling, and the fact that they have become literate and taken service under Government, the Guraos now rank above the cultivators and are called Shaiva Brahmans. The Gondhalis are the village priests of Devi, the earth-goddess, who is also frequently the tutelary goddess of the village. They play the kettle-drum and perform dances in her honour, and were formerly classed as one of the village menials of Maratha villages, though they now work for hire. The Garpagari, or hail-averter, is a regular village menial, his duty being to avert hail-storms from the crops, like the qalazof'ulax in ancient Greece. The Garpagaris will accept cooked food from Kunbis and celebrate their weddings with those of the Kunbis. The Jogis, Manbhaos, Satanis, and others, are wandering religious mendicants, who act as priests and spiritual preceptors to the lower classes of Hindus.

With the village priests may be mentioned the Mali or gardener. The Malis now grow vegetables with irrigation or ordinary crops, but this was not apparently their original vocation. The name is derived from mala, a garland, and it would appear that the Mali was first employed to grow flowers for the garlands with which the gods and also their worshippers were adorned at religious ceremonies. Flowers were held sacred and were an essential adjunct to worship in India as in Greece and Rome. The sacred flowers of India are the lotus, the marigold and the champak [63] and from their use in religious worship is derived the custom of adorning the guests with garlands at all social functions, just as in Rome and Greece they wore crowns on their heads. It seems not unlikely that this was the purpose for which cultivated flowers were first grown, at any rate in India. The Mali was thus a kind of assistant in the religious life of the village, and he is still sometimes placed in charge of the village shrines and is employed as temple-servant in Jain temples. He would therefore have been supported by contributions from the cultivators like the other village menials and have ranked below them, though on account of the purity and sanctity of his occupation Brahmans would take water from him. The Mali has now become an ordinary cultivator, but his status is still noticeably below that of the good cultivating castes and this seems to be the explanation. With the Mali may be classed the Barai, the grower and seller of the pan or betel-vine leaf. This leaf, growing on a kind of creeper, like the vine, in irrigated gardens roofed with thatch for protection from the sun, is very highly prized by the Hindus. It is offered with areca-nut, cloves, cardamom and lime rolled up in a quid to the guests at all social functions. It is endowed by them with great virtues, being supposed to prevent heartburn, indigestion, and other stomachic and intestinal disorders, and to preserve the teeth, while taken with musk, saffron and almonds, the betel-leaf is held to be a strong aphrodisiac. The juice of the leaf stains the teeth and mouth red, and the effect, though repulsive to Europeans, is an indispensable adjunct to a woman's beauty in Hindu eyes. This staining of the mouth red with betel-leaf is also said to distinguish a man from a dog. The idea that betel preserves the teeth seems to be unfounded. The teeth of Hindus appear to be far less liable to decay than those of Europeans, but this is thought to be because they generally restrict themselves to a vegetable diet and always rinse out their mouths with water after taking food. The betel-leaf is considered sacred; a silver ornament is made in its shape and it is often invoked in spells and magic. The original vine is held to have grown from a finger-joint of Basuki, the Queen of the Serpents, and the cobra is worshipped as the tutelary deity of the pan-garden, which this snake is accustomed to frequent, attracted by the moist coolness and darkness. The position of the Barai is the same as that of the Mali; his is really a low caste, sometimes coupled with the contemned Telis or oil-pressers, but he is considered ceremonially pure because the betel-leaf, offered to gods and eaten by Brahmans and all Hindus, is taken from him. The Barai or Tamboli was formerly a village menial in the Maratha villages.

29. Other village traders and menials.

The castes following other village trades mainly fall into this group, though they may not now be village menials. Such are the Kalar or liquor-vendor and Teli or oil-presser, who sell their goods for cash, and having learnt to reckon and keep accounts, have prospered in their dealings with the cultivators ignorant of this accomplishment. Formerly it is probable that the village Teli had the right of pressing all the oil grown in the village, and retaining a certain share for his remuneration. The liquor-vendor can scarcely have been a village menial, but since Manu's time his trade has been regarded as a very impure one, and has ranked with that of the Teli. Both these castes have now become prosperous, and include a number of landowners, and their status is gradually improving. The Darzi or tailor is not usually attached to the village community; sewn clothes have hitherto scarcely been worn among the rural population, and the weaver provides the cloths which they drape on the body and round the head. [64] The contempt with which the tailor is visited in English proverbial lore for working at a woman's occupation attaches in a precisely similar manner in India to the weaver. [65] But in Gujarat the Darzi is found living in villages and here he is also a village menial. The Kachera or maker of the glass bangles which every Hindu married woman wears as a sign of her estate, ranks with the village artisans; his is probably an urban trade, but he has never become prosperous or important. The Banjaras or grain-carriers were originally Rajputs, but owing to the mixed character of the caste and the fact that they obtained their support from the cultivators, they have come to rank below these latter. The Wanjari cultivators of Berar have now discarded their Banjara ancestry and claim to be Kunbis. The Nat or rope-dancer and acrobat may formerly have had functions in the village in connection with the crops. In Kumaon [66] a Nat still slides down a long rope from the summit of a cliff to the base as a rite for ensuring the success of the crops on the occasion of a festival of Siva. Formerly if the Nat or Badi fell to the ground in his course, he was immediately despatched with a sword by the surrounding spectators, but this is now prohibited. The rope on which he slid down the cliff 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 Nat is also taken and preserved as possessing similar virtues. Each District in Kumaon has its hereditary Nat or Badi, who is supported by annual contributions of grain from the inhabitants. Similarly in the Central Provinces it is not uncommon to find a deified Nat, called Nat Baba or Father Nat, as a village god. A Natni, or Nat woman, is sometimes worshipped; and when two sharp peaks of hills are situated close to each other, it is related that there was once 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 nearly through in the night, and when the Natni started to walk, the rope broke, and she fell down and was killed. Having regard to the Kumaon rite, it may be surmised that these legends commemorate the death of a Natni or acrobat during the performance of some feat of dancing or sliding on a rope for the magical benefit of the crops. And it seems possible that acrobatic performances may have had their origin in this manner. The point bearing on the present argument is, however, that the Nat performed special functions for the success of the village crops, and on this account was supported by contributions from the villagers, and ranked with the village menials.

30. Household servants.

Some of the castes already mentioned, and one or two others having the same status, work as household servants as well as village menials. The Dhimar is most commonly employed as an indoor servant in Hindu households, and is permitted to knead flour in water and make it into a cake, which the Brahman then takes and puts on the girdle with his own hands. He can boil water and pour pulse into the cooking-pot from above, so long as he does not touch the vessel after the food has been placed in it. He will take any remains of food left in the cooking-pot, as this is not considered to be polluted, food only becoming polluted when the hand touches it on the dish after having touched the mouth. When this happens, all the food on the dish becomes jutha or leavings of food, and as a general rule no caste except the sweepers will eat these leavings of food of another caste or of another person of their own. Only a wife, whose meal follows her husband's, will eat his leavings. As a servant, the Dhimar is very familiar with his master; he may enter any part of the house, including the cooking-place and the women's rooms, and he addresses his mistress as 'Mother.' When he lights his master's pipe he takes the first pull himself, to show that it has not been tampered with, and then presents it to him with his left hand placed under his right elbow in token of respect. Maid-servants frequently belong also to the Dhimar caste, and it often happens that the master of the household has illicit intercourse with them. Hence there is a proverb: 'The king's son draws water and the water-bearer's son sits on the throne,'—similar intrigues on the part of high-born women with their servants being not unknown. The Kahar or palanquin-bearer was probably the same caste as the Dhimar. Landowners would maintain a gang of Kahars to carry them on journeys, allotting to such men plots of land rent-free. Our use of the word 'bearer' in the sense of a body-servant has developed from the palanquin-bearer who became a personal attendant on his master. Well-to-do families often have a Nai or barber as a hereditary family servant, the office descending in the barber's family. Such a man arranges the marriages of the children and takes a considerable part in conducting them, and acts as escort to the women of the family when they go on a journey. Among his daily duties are to rub his master's body with oil, massage his limbs, prepare his bed, tell him stories to send him to sleep, and so on. The barber's wife attends on women in childbirth 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. The Bari or maker of leaf-plates is another household servant. Plates made of large leaves fastened together with little wooden pins and strips of fibre are commonly used by the Hindus for eating food, as are little leaf-cups for drinking; glazed earthenware has hitherto not been commonly manufactured, and that with a rougher surface becomes ceremonially impure by contact with any strange person or thing. Metal vessels and plates are the only alternative to those made of leaves, and there are frequently not enough of them to go round for a party. The Baris also work as personal servants, hand round water, and light and carry torches at entertainments and on journeys. Their women are maids to high-caste Hindu ladies, and as they are always about the zenana are liable to lose their virtue.

31. Status of the village menials.

The castes of village and household menials form a large group between the cultivators on the one hand and the impure and servile labourers on the other. Their status is not exactly the same. On the one hand, the Nai or barber, the Kahar and Dhimar or watermen, the household servants, the Bari, Ahir, and others, some of the village priests and the gardening castes, are considered ceremonially pure and Brahmans will take water from them. But this is a matter of convenience, as, if they were not so held pure, they would be quite useless in the household. Several of these castes, as the Dhimars, Baris and others, are derived from the primitive tribes. Sir H. Risley considered the Baris of Bengal as probably an offshoot from the Bhuiya or Musahar tribe: "He still associates with the Bhuiyas at times, and if the demand for leaf-plates and cups is greater than he can cope with himself, he gets them secretly made up by his ruder kinsfolk and passes them off as his own production. Instances of this sort, in which a non-Aryan or mixed group is promoted on grounds of necessity or convenience to a higher status than their antecedents would entitle them to claim, are not unknown in other castes, and must have occurred frequently in outlying parts of the country, where the Aryan settlements were scanty and imperfectly supplied with the social apparatus demanded by the theory of ceremonial purity. Thus the undoubtedly non-Aryan Bhuiyas have in parts of Chota Nagpur been recognised as Jal-Acharani (able to give water to the higher castes) and it may be conjectured that the Kahars themselves only attained this privilege in virtue of their employment as palanquin-bearers." [67] The fact that Brahmans will take water from these castes does not in any way place them on a level with the cultivators; they remain menial servants, ranking, if anything, below such castes as Lohar, Teli and Kalar, from whom Brahmans will not take water; but these latter are, as corporate bodies, more important and prosperous than the household menial castes, because their occupation confers a greater dignity and independence.

On the other hand, one or two of the village menials, such as the Dhobi or washerman, are considered to some extent impure. This is due to specially degrading incidents attaching to their occupation, as in the case of the Dhobi, the washing of the clothes of women in childbirth. [68] And the Sungaria subcaste of Kumhars, who keep pigs, are not touched, because the impurity of the animal is necessarily communicated to its owner's house and person. Still, in the village society there is little real difference between the position of these castes and those of the other village menials.

32. Origin of their status

The status of the village menial castes appears to be fixed by their dependent position on the cultivators. The latter are their patrons and superiors, to whom they look for a livelihood. Before the introduction of a currency in the rural tracts (an event of the last fifty to a hundred years) the village artisans and menials were supported by contributions of grain from the cultivators. They still all receive presents, consisting of a sowing-basketful of grain at seed-time and one or two sheaves at harvest. The former is known as Bij phutni, or 'The breaking of the seed,' and the latter as Khanvar, or 'That which is left' Sometimes, after threshing, the menials are each given as much grain as will fill a winnowing-fan. When the peasant has harvested his grain, all come and beg from him. The Dhimar brings some water-nut, the Kachhi or market-gardener some chillies, the Barai betel-leaf, the Teli oil and tobacco, the Kalar liquor (if he drinks it), the Bania some sugar, and all receive grain in excess of the value of their gifts. The Joshi or village priest, the Nat or acrobat, the Gosain or religious mendicant and the Fakir or Muhammadan beggar solicit alms. On that day the cultivator is said to be like a little king in his fields, and the village menials constitute his court. In purely agricultural communities grain is the principal source of wealth, and though the average Hindu villager may appear to us to be typical of poverty rather than wealth, such standards are purely relative. The cultivator was thus the patron and supporter of the village artisans and menials, and his social position was naturally superior to theirs. Among the Hindus it is considered derogatory to accept a gift from another person, the recipient being thereby placed in a position of inferiority to the donor. Some exception to this rule is made in the case of Brahmans, though even with them it partly applies. Generally the acceptance of a gift of any value among Hindus is looked upon in the same manner as the taking of money in England, being held to indicate that the recipient is in an inferior social position to the giver. And the existence of this feeling seems to afford strong support to the reason suggested here for the relative status of the cultivating and village menial castes.

The group of village menial and artisan castes comes between the good cultivating castes who hold the status of the Vaishyas or body of the Aryans, and the impure castes, the subjected aborigines. The most reasonable theory of their status seems to be that it originated in mixed descent. As has already been seen, it was the common practice of members of the higher classes to take lower-caste women either as wives or concubines, and a large mixed class would naturally result. Such children, born and brought up in the households of their fathers, would not be full members of the family, but would not be regarded as impure. They would naturally be put to the performance of the menial household duties, for which the servile castes were rendered unsuitable through their impure status. This would correspond with the tradition of the large number of castes originating in mixed descent, which is given in the Hindu sacred books. It has been seen that where menial castes are employed in the household, classes of mixed descent do as a matter of fact arise. And there are traces of a relationship between the cultivators and the menial castes, which would be best explained by such an origin. At a betrothal in the great Kunbi cultivating caste of the Marathas, 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 which 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 and deposits them at Maroti's [69] 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. Similarly at a wedding among the Hindustani cultivating castes the bride visits the potter's house and is seated on his wheel; and the washerman's wife applies vermilion to her forehead. The barber's wife puts red paint on her feet, the gardener's wife presents her with a garland of flowers and the carpenter's wife gives her a new wooden doll. At the wedding feast the barber, the washerman and the Bari or personal servant also eat with the guests, though sitting apart from them. Sometimes members of the menial and serving castes are invited to the funeral feast as if they belonged to the dead man's caste. In Madras the barber and his wife, and the washerman and his wife, are known as the son and daughter of the village. And among the families of ruling Rajput chiefs, when a daughter of the house is married, it was customary to send with her a number of handmaidens taken from the menial and serving castes. These became the concubines of the bridegroom and it seems clear that their progeny would be employed in similar capacities about the household and would follow the castes of their mothers. The Tamera caste of coppersmiths trace their origin from the girls so sent with the bride of Dharam-Pal, the Haihaya Rajput Raja of Ratanpur, through the progeny of these girls by the Raja.

33. Other castes who rank with the village menials.

Many other castes belong to the group of those from whom a Brahman cannot take water, but who are not impure. Among these are several of the lower cultivating castes, some of them growers of special products, as the Kachhis and Mowars or market-gardeners, the Dangris or melon-growers, and the Kohlis and Bhoyars who plant sugarcane. These subsidiary kinds of agriculture were looked down upon by the cultivators proper; they were probably carried out on the beds and banks of streams and other areas not included in the regular holdings of the village, and were taken up by labourers and other landless persons. The callings of these are allied to, or developed from, that of the Mali or gardener, and they rank on a level with him, or perhaps a little below, as no element of sanctity attaches to their products. Certain castes which were formerly labourers, but have now sometimes obtained possession of the land, are also in this group, such as the Rajbhars, Kirs, Manas, and various Madras castes of cultivators. Probably these were once not allowed to hold land, but were afterwards admitted to do so. The distinction between their position and that of the hereditary cultivators of the village community was perhaps the original basis of the different kinds of tenant-right recognised by our revenue law, though these now, of course, depend solely on length of tenure and other incidents, and make no distinction of castes. The shepherd castes who tend sheep and goats (the Gadarias, Dhangars and Kuramwars) also fall into this group. Little sanctity attached to these animals as compared with the cow, and the business of rearing them would be left to the labouring castes and non-Aryan tribes. The names of all three castes denote their functional origin, Gadaria being from gadar, a sheep, Dhangar from dhan or small-stock, the word signifying a flock of sheep or goats and also wealth; and Kuramwar from kurri, the Telugu word for sheep. Others belonging to this group are the digging and earth-working castes, the Beldars, Murhas, Nunias and so on, practically all derived from the indigenous tribes, who wander about seeking employment from the cultivators in the construction and repair of field embankments and excavation of wells and tanks; and various fishing and boating castes, as the Injhwars, Naodas, Murhas and Kewats, who rank as equal to the Dhimars, though they may not be employed in household or village service. Such castes, almost entirely derived from the non-Aryan tribes, may have come gradually into existence as the wants of society developed and new functions were specialised; they would naturally be given the social status already attaching to the village menial castes.

34. The non-Aryan tribes.

The fourth group in the scheme of precedence comprises the non-Aryan or indigenous tribes, who are really outside the caste system when this is considered as the social organisation of the Hindus, so long at least as they continue to worship their own tribal deities, and show no respect for Brahmans nor for the cow. These tribes have, however, entered the Hindu polity in various positions. The leaders of some of them who were dominant in the early period were admitted to the Kshatriya or Rajput caste, and the origin of a few of the Rajput clans can be traced to the old Bhar and other tribes. Again, the aristocratic or landholding sections of several existing tribes are at present, as has been seen, permitted to rank with the good Hindu cultivating castes. In a few cases, as the Andhs, Halbas and Manas, the tribe as a whole has become a Hindu caste, when it retained possession of the land in the centre of a Hindu population. These have now the same or a slightly higher position than the village menial castes. On the other hand, those tribes which were subjugated and permitted to live with a servile status in the Hindu villages have developed into the existing impure castes of labourers, weavers, tanners and others, who form the lowest social group. The tribes which still retain their distinctive existence were not enslaved in this manner, but lived apart in their own villages in the forest tracts and kept possession of the land. This seems to be the reason why they rank somewhat higher than the impure castes, even though they may utterly defile themselves according to Hindu ideas by eating cow's flesh. Some tribes, such as the Gonds, Binjhwars and Kawars, counted amongst them the owners of large estates or even kingdoms, and consequently had many Hindu cultivators for their subjects. And, as the Hindus themselves say, they could not regard the Gonds as impure when they had a Gond king. Nevertheless, the Gond labourers in Hindu villages in the plains are more despised than the Gonds who live in their own villages in the hill country. And the conversion of the tribes as a whole to Hinduism goes steadily forward. At each census the question arises which of them should be classed as Hindus, and which as Animists or worshippers of their own tribal gods, and though the classification is necessarily very arbitrary, the process can be clearly observed. Thus the Andhs, Kolis, Rautias and Halbas are now all Hindus, and the same remark applies to the Kols, Bhils and Korkus in several Districts. By strict abstention from beef, the adoption of Hindu rites, and to some extent of child-marriage, they get admission to the third group of castes from whom a Brahman cannot take water. It will be desirable here to digress from the main argument by noticing briefly the origin and affinities of the principal forest tribes of the Central Provinces.

35. The Kolarians and Dravidians.

These tribes are divided into two families, the Munda or Kolarian, named after the Kol tribe, and the Dravidian, of which the former are generally held to be the older and more primitive. The word Kol is probably the Santali har, a man. "This word is used under various forms, such as har, hara, ho and koro by most Munda tribes in order to denote themselves. The change of r to l is familiar and presents no difficulty." [70] The word is also found in the alternative name Ho for the Kol tribe, and in the names of the cognate Korwa and Korku tribes. The word Munda is a Sanskrit derivative meaning a head, and, as stated by Sir H. Risley, is the common term employed by the Kols for the headman of a village, whence it has been adopted as an honorific title for the tribe. In Chota Nagpur those Kols who have partly adopted Hinduism and become to some degree civilised are called Munda, while the name Ho or Larka (fighting) Kol is reserved for the wilder section of the tribe.

36. Kolarian tribes.

The principal tribes of the Munda or Kolarian family in the Central Provinces are shown below:

Kol, Munda, Ho. Bhumij. Santal. Kharia. Korwa. Korku. Nahal Savar or Saonr. Mal, Male. Gadba. Khairwar. Baiga. Bhuiya. Bhaina. Bhunjia. Binjhwar. Probable: Bhar, Koli, Bhil, Chero.

One large group includes the Kol, Munda or Ho tribe itself and the Bhumij and Santals, who appear to be local branches of the Kols called by separate names by the Hindus. The Kharias seem to be the earliest Kol settlers in Chota Nagpur, who were subjugated by the later comers. The name Kol, as already seen, is probably a form of the Santali har, a man. Similarly the name of the Korku tribe is simply a corruption of Koraku, young men, and that of the Korwa tribe is from the same root. The dialects of the Korku and Korwa tribes closely approximate to Mundari. Hence it would seem that they were originally one tribe with the Kols, but have been separated for so long a period that their direct connection can no longer be proved. The disintegrating causes which have split up what was originally one into a number of distinct tribes, are probably no more than distance and settlement in different parts of the country, leading to cessation of intermarriage and social intercourse. The tribes have then obtained some variation in the original names or been given separate territorial or occupational designations by the Hindus, and their former identity has gradually been forgotten. Both the Korwas of the Chota Nagpur plateau and the Korkus of the Satpura hills were known as Muasi, a term having the meaning of robber or raider. The Korwas have also a subtribe called Koraku, and Mr. Crooke thinks that they were originally the same tribe. Sir G. Grierson states that the Korwa dialect is closely allied to Kharia. Similarly the resemblance of the name raises a presumption that the great Koli tribe of Gujarat and western India may be a branch of the Kols who penetrated to the western coast along the Satpulra and Central India hill ranges. The Kolis and Bhils are tribes of the same country and are commonly spoken of together. Both have entirely lost their own language and cannot therefore be classified definitely either as Kolarian or Dravidian, but there is a probability that they are of the Kolarian family. The Nahals, another tribe of the western Satpura range, are an offshoot of the Korkus. They are coupled with the Bhils and Kolis in old Hindu accounts.

The Savars, Sawaras or Saonrs are also a widely distributed tribe, being found as far west as Bundelkhand and east in Orissa and Ganjam. In the Central Provinces they have lost their own language and speak Hindi or Uriya, but in Madras they still retain their original speech, which is classified by Sir G. Grierson with Gadba as a Munda or Kolarian dialect. The name occurs in Vedic literature, and the tribe is probably of great antiquity. In the classical stories of their origin the first ancestor of the Savars is sometimes described as a Bhil. The wide extension of the Savar tribe east and west is favourable to the hypothesis of the identity of the Kols and Kolis, who have a somewhat similar distribution. The Gadbas of Ganjam, and the Mal or Male Paharia tribe of Chota Nagpur seem to be offshoots of the Savars. The Khairwars or Kharwars are an important tribe of Mirzapur and Chota Nagpur. There is some reason for supposing that they are an occupational offshoot of the Kols and Cheros, who have become a distinct group through taking to the manufacture of edible catechu from the wood of the khair tree. [71]

Another great branch of the Kolarian family is that represented by the Bhuiya and Baiga tribes and their offshoots, the Bhunjias, Bhainas and Binjhwars. The Kolarian origin of the Bhuiyas has been discussed in the article on that tribe, and it has also been suggested that the Baiga tribe of the Central Provinces are an offshoot of the Bhuiyas. These tribes have all abandoned their own languages and adopted the local Aryan vernaculars. The name Bhuiya is a Sanskrit derivative from bhu, earth, and signifies 'belonging to the soil.' Bhumij, applied to a branch of the Kol tribe, has the same origin. Baiga is used in the sense of a village priest or a sorcerer in Chota Nagpur, and the office is commonly held by members of the Bhuiya tribe in that locality, as being the oldest residents. Thus the section of the tribe in the Central Provinces appears to have adopted, or been given, the name of the office. The Bharias or Bharia-Bhumias of Jubbulpore seem to belong to the great Bhar tribe, once dominant over large areas of the United Provinces. They also hold the office of village priest, which is there known as Bhumia, and in some tracts are scarcely distinguished from the Baigas. Again, in Sambalpur the Bhuiyas are known as Bhumia Kol, and are commonly regarded as a branch of the Kol tribe. Thus it would seem that two separate settlements of the Kolarian races may have occurred; the earlier one would be represented by the Bhars, Bhuiyas, Baigas and kindred tribes who have entirely lost their own languages and identity, and have names given to them by the Hindus; and a later one of the Kols or Mundas and their related tribes, whose languages and tribal religion and organisation, though in a decaying state, can be fully recognised and recorded. And the Dravidian immigration would be subsequent to both of them. To judge from the cases in which the fissure or subdivision of single tribes into two or more distinct ones can still be observed, it seems quite a plausible hypothesis that the original immigrants may have consisted only of a single tribe on each occasion, and that the formation of new ones may have occurred after settlement. But the evidence does not warrant any definite assertion.

37. Dravidian tribes.

The principal Dravidian tribes are the Gonds, Khonds and Oraons. The Gonds were once dominant over the greater part of the Central Provinces, which was called Gondwana after them. The above three names have in each case been given to the tribes by the Hindus. The following tribes are found in the Province:

Gond, Oraon or Kurukh, Khond, Kolam, Parja, Kamar. Tribal Castes: Bhatra, Halba, Dhoba. Doubtful: Kawar, Dhanwar.

The Gonds and Khonds call themselves Koi or Koitur, a word which seems to mean man or hillman. The Oraon tribe call themselves Kurukh, which has also been supposed to be connected with the Kolarian horo, man. The name Oraon, given to them by the Hindus, may mean farmservant, while Dhangar, an alternative name for the tribe, has certainly this signification.

There seems good reason to suppose that the Gonds and Khonds were originally one tribe divided through migration. [72] The Kolams are a small tribe of the Wardha Valley, whose dialect resembles those of the Gonds and Khonds. They may have split off from the parent tribe in southern India and come northwards separately. The Parjas appear to represent the earliest Gond settlers in Bastar, who were subjugated by later Gond and Raj-Gond immigrants. The Halbas and Bhatras are mixed tribes or tribal castes, descended from the unions of Gonds and Hindus.

38. Origin of the Kolarian tribes

The Munda languages have been shown by Sir G. Grierson to have originated from the same source as those spoken in the Indo-Pacific islands and the Malay Peninsula. "The Mundas, the Mon-Khmer, the wild tribes of the Malay Peninsula and the Nicobarese all use forms of speech which can be traced back to a common source though they mutually differ widely from each other." [73] It would appear, therefore, that the Mundas, the oldest known inhabitants of India, perhaps came originally from the south-east, the islands of the Indian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula, unless India was their original home and these countries were colonised from it.

Sir Edward Gait states: "Geologists tell us that the Indian Peninsula was formerly cut off from the north of Asia by sea, while a land connection existed on the one side with Madagascar and on the other with the Malay Archipelago; and though there is nothing to show that India was then inhabited, we know that it was so in palaeolithic times, when communication was probably still easier with the countries to the north-east and south-west than with those beyond the Himalayas." [74] In the south of India, however, no traces of Munda languages remain at present, and it seems therefore necessary to conclude that the Mundas of the Central Provinces and Chota Nagpur have been separated from the tribes of Malaysia who speak cognate languages for an indefinitely long period; or else that they did not come through southern India to these countries but by way of Assam and Bengal or by sea through Orissa. There is good reason to believe from the names of places and from local tradition that the Munda tribes were once spread over Bihar and parts of the Ganges Valley; and if the Kolis are an offshoot of the Kols, as is supposed, they also penetrated across Central India to the sea in Gujarat and the hills of the western Ghats. The presumption is that the advance of the Aryans or Hindus drove the Mundas from the open country to the seclusion of the hills and forests. The Munda and Dravidian languages are shown by Sir G. Grierson to be distinct groups without any real connection.

Though the physical characteristics of the two sets of tribes display no marked points of difference, the opinion has been generally held by ethnologists who know them that they represent two distinct waves of immigration, and the absence of connection between their languages bears out this view. It has always been supposed that the Mundas were in the country of Chota Nagpur and the Central Provinces first, and that the Dravidians, the Gonds, Khonds and Oraons came afterwards. The grounds for this view are the more advanced culture of the Dravidians; the fact that where the two sets of tribes are in contact those of the Munda group have been ousted from the more open and fertile country, of which, according to tradition, they were formerly in possession; and the practice of the Gonds and other Dravidian tribes of employing the Baigas, Bhuiyas and other Munda tribes for their village priests, which is an acknowledgment that the latter as the earlier residents have a more familiar acquaintance with the local deities, and can solicit their favour and protection with more prospect of success. Such a belief is the more easily understood when it is remembered that these deities are not infrequently either the human ancestors of the earliest residents or the local animals and plants from which they supposed themselves to be descended.

39. Of the Dravidian tribes.

The Dravidian languages, Gondi, Kurukh and Khond, are of one family with Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Canarese, and their home is the south of India. The word Dravida comes from an older form Damila or Dramila, and was used in ancient Pali and Jain literature as a name for the people of the Tamil country. [75] Afterwards it came to signify generally the people of southern India as opposed to Gaur or northern India.

As stated by Sir Edward Gait there is at present no evidence to show that the Dravidians came to southern India from any other part of the world, and for anything that is known to the contrary the languages may have originated there. The existence of the small Brahui tribe in Baluchistan who speak a Dravidian language but have no physical resemblance to other Dravidian races cannot be satisfactorily explained, but, as he points out, this is no reason for holding that the whole body of speakers of Dravidian languages entered India from the north-west, and, with the exception of this small group of Brahuis, penetrated to the south and settled there without leaving any traces of their passage.

The Dravidian languages occupy a large area in Madras, Mysore and Hyderabad, and they extend north into the Central Provinces and Chota Nagpur where they die out, practically not being found west and north of this tract. As the languages are more highly developed and the culture of their speakers is far more advanced in the south, it is justifiable to suppose, pending evidence to the contrary, that the south is their home and that they have spread thence as far north as the Central Provinces. The Gonds and Oraons, too, have stories to the effect that they came from the south. The belief has hitherto been, at least in the Central Provinces, that both the Gonds and Baigas have been settled in this territory for an indefinite period, that is, from prior to any Aryan or Hindu immigration. Mr. H.A. Crump, C.S., has however pointed out that if this was the case the Munda or Kolarian tribes, which have lost their own languages, should have adopted Dravidian and not Hindu forms of speech. As already seen, numerous Kolarian tribes, as the Binjhwar, Bhaina, Bhuiya, Baiga, Bhumij, Chero, Khairwar and the Kols themselves in the Central Provinces have entirely lost their own languages, as well as the Bhils and Kolis, if these are held to be Kolarian tribes. None of them have adopted a Dravidian language, but all speak corrupt forms of the ancient Aryan vernaculars derived from Sanskrit. The fact seems to indicate that at the time when they abandoned their own languages these tribes were in contact with Hindus, and were not surrounded by Gonds, as several of them are at present. The history of the Central Provinces affords considerable support to the view that the Gond immigration occurred at a comparatively late period, perhaps in the ninth or tenth century, or even later, after a considerable part of the Province had been governed for some centuries by Rajput dynasties. [76] The Gonds and Oraons still have well-defined legends about their immigration, which would scarcely be the case if it had occurred twenty centuries or more ago.

Any further evidence or argument as to the date of the Dravidian immigration would be of considerable interest.

40. Origin of the impure castes.

The fifth or lowest group in the scheme of precedence is that of the impure castes who cannot be touched. If a high-caste Hindu touches one of them he should bathe and have his clothes washed. These castes are not usually allowed to live inside a Hindu village, but have a hamlet to themselves adjoining it. The village barber will not shave them, nor the washerman wash their clothes. They usually have a separate well assigned to them from which to draw water, and if the village has only one well, one side of it is allotted to them and the Hindus take water from the other side. Formerly they were subjected to more humiliating restrictions. In Bombay a Mahar 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. 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 Brahman. [77] Even if the shadow of a Mahar or Mang fell on a Brahman he was polluted and dare not taste food and water until he had bathed and washed the impurity away. In Madras a Paraiyan or Pariah pollutes a high-caste Hindu by approaching within a distance of 64 feet of him. [78] The debased and servile position of the impure castes corresponds to that which, as already seen, attached to the Sudras of the classical period. The castes usually regarded as impure are the tanners, bamboo-workers, sweepers, hunters and fowlers, gipsies and vagrants, village musicians and village weavers. These castes, the Chamars, Basors, Mahars, Koris, Gandas and others are usually also employed as agricultural and casual labourers. Formerly, as already seen, they were not allowed to hold land. There is no reason to doubt that the status of impurity, like that of the Sudra, was originally the mark of a subjugated and inferior race, and was practically equivalent to slavery. This was the position of the indigenous Indians who were subjugated by the Aryan invaders and remained in the country occupied by them. Though they were of different races, and the distinction was marked and brought home to themselves by the contrast in the colour of their skins, it seems probable that the real basis for their antagonism was not social so much as religious. The Indians were hated and despised by the immigrants as the worshippers of a hostile god. They could not join in the sacrifices by which the Aryans held communion with their gods, and the sacrifice itself could not even be held, in theory at least, except in those parts of India which were thoroughly subdued and held to have become the dwelling-place of the Aryan gods. The proper course prescribed by religion towards the indigenous residents was to exterminate them, as the Israelites should have exterminated the inhabitants of Canaan. But as this could not be done, because their numbers were too great or the conquerors not sufficiently ruthless, they were reduced to the servile condition of impurity and made the serfs of their masters like the Amalekites and the plebeians and helots.

If the whole of India had been thoroughly subjugated and settled like the Punjab and Hindustan, it may be supposed that the same status of impurity would have been imposed upon all the indigenous races; but this was very far from being the case. In central and southern India the Aryans or subsequent immigrants from Central Asia came at first at any rate only in small parties, and though they may have established territorial states, did not regularly occupy the land nor reduce the indigenous population to a condition of servitude. Thus large bodies of these must have retained a free position, and on their acceptance of the new religion and the development of the caste system, became enrolled in it with a caste status on the basis of their occupation. Their leaders were sometimes admitted to rank as Kshatriyas or Rajputs, as has been stated.

Subsequently, as the racial distinction disappeared, the impure status came to attach to certain despised occupations and to customs abhorrent to Hinduism, such as that of eating beef. But, as already seen, the tribes which have continued to live apart from the Hindus are not usually regarded as impure, though they may eat beef and even skin animals. The Dhimars, who keep pigs, still have a higher status than the impure castes because they are employed as water-bearers and household servants. It is at least doubtful whether at the time when the stigma of impurity was first attached to the Sudras the Hindus themselves did not sacrifice cows and eat beef. [79] The castes noted below are usually regarded as impure in the Central Provinces.

The Dhobi (washerman) and Kumhar (potter) are sometimes included among the impure castes, but, as already noted, their status is higher than that of the castes in this list.

Audhelia: Labouring caste of mixed descent who keep pigs.

Balahi: Weavers and village messengers and watchmen.

Basor: Bamboo basket-makers and village musicians.

Chamar: Tanners and labourers.

Ganda: Weavers and village musicians.

Ghasia: Grass-cutters, labourers and sweepers.

Kaikari: Vagrant basket-makers.

Kanjar, Beria, Sansia: Gipsies and thieves.

Katia: Cotton-spinners.

Kori: Weavers and labourers.

Madgi: Telugu tanners and hide-curriers.

Mahar: Weavers and labourers.

Mala: Telugu weavers and labourers.

Mang: Broom- and mat-makers and village musicians. They also castrate cattle.

Mehtar: Sweepers and scavengers.

Certain occupations, those of skinning cattle and curing hides, weaving the coarse country cloth worn by the villagers, making baskets from the rind of the bamboo, playing on drums and tom-toms, and scavenging generally are relegated to the lowest and impure castes. The hides of domestic animals are exceedingly impure; a Hindu is defiled even by touching their dead bodies and far more so by removing the skins. Drums and tom-toms made from the hides of animals are also impure. But in the case of weaving and basket-making the calling itself entails no defilement, and it would appear simply that they were despised by the cultivators, and as a considerable number of workers were required to satisfy the demand for baskets and cloth, were adopted by the servile and labouring castes. Basket- and mat-making are callings naturally suited to the primitive tribes who would obtain the bamboos from the forests, but weaving would not be associated with them unless cloth was first woven of tree-cotton. The weavers of the finer cotton and silk cloths, who live in towns, rank much higher than the village weavers, as in the case of the Koshtis and Tantis, the latter of whom made the famous fine cotton cloth, known as abrawan, or 'running water,' which was supplied to the imperial Zenana at Delhi. On one occasion a daughter of Aurangzeb was reproached on entering the room for her immodest attire and excused herself by the plea that she had on seven folds of cloth over her body. [80] In Bengal Brahmans will take water from Tantis, and it seems clear that their higher status is a consequence of the lucrative and important nature of their occupation.

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