The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume II
by R. V. Russell
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5. Minor subcastes.

Besides the above four main divisions, there are a number of others, the caste being now of a very mixed character. Two principal Muhammadan groups are given by Sir H. Elliot, the Turkia and Mukeri. The Turkia have thirty-six septs, some with Rajput names and others territorial or titular. They seem to be a mixed group of Hindus who may have embraced Islam as the religion of their employers. The Mukeri Banjaras assert that they derive their name from Mecca (Makka), which one of their Naiks, who had his camp in the vicinity, assisted Father Abraham in building. [196] Mr. Crooke thinks that the name may be a corruption of Makkeri and mean a seller of maize. Mr. Cumberlege says of them: "Multanis and Mukeris have been called Banjaras also, but have nothing in common with the caste; the Multanis are carriers of grain and the Mukeris of wood and timber, and hence the confusion may have arisen between them." But they are now held to be Banjaras by common usage; in Saugor the Mukeris also deal in cattle. From Chanda a different set of subcastes is reported called Bhusarjin, Ladjin, Saojin and Kanhejin; the first may take their name from bhusa, the chaff of wheat, while Lad is the term used for people coming from Gujarat, and Sao means a banker. In Sambalpur again a class of Thuria Banjaras is found, divided into the Bandesia, Atharadesia, Navadesia and Chhadesia, or the men of the 52 districts, the 18 districts, the 9 districts and the 6 districts respectively. The first and last two of these take food and marry with each other. Other groups are the Guar Banjaras, apparently from Guara or Gwala, a milkman, the Guguria Banjaras, who may, Mr. Hira Lal suggests, take their name from trading in gugar, a kind of gum, and the Bahrup Banjaras, who are Nats or acrobats. In Berar also a number of the caste have become respectable cultivators and now call themselves Wanjari, disclaiming any connection with the Banjaras, probably on account of the bad reputation for crime attached to these latter. Many of the Wanjaris have been allowed to rank with the Kunbi caste, and call themselves Wanjari Kunbis in order the better to dissociate themselves from their parent caste. The existing caste is therefore of a very mixed nature, and the original Brahman and Charan strains, though still perfectly recognisable, cannot have maintained their purity.

6. Marriage: betrothal.

At a betrothal in Nimar the bridegroom and his friends come and stay in the next village to that of the bride. The two parties meet on the boundary of the village, and here the bride-price is fixed, which is often a very large sum, ranging from Rs. 200 to Rs. 1000. Until the price is paid the father will not let the bridegroom into his house. In Yeotmal, when a betrothal is to be made, the parties go to a liquor-shop and there a betel-leaf and a large handful of sugar are distributed to everybody. Here the price to be paid for the bride amounts to Rs. 40 and four young bullocks. Prior to the wedding the bridegroom goes and stays for a month or so in the house of the bride's father, and during this time he must provide a supply of liquor daily for the bride's male relatives. The period was formerly longer, but now extends to a month at the most. While he resides at the bride's house the bridegroom wears a cloth over his head so that his face cannot be seen. Probably the prohibition against seeing him applies to the bride only, as the rule in Berar is that between the betrothal and marriage of a Charan girl she may not eat or drink in the bridegroom's house, or show her face to him or any of his relatives. Mathuria girls must be wedded before they are seven years old, but the Charans permit them to remain single until after adolescence.

7. Marriage.

Banjara marriages are frequently held in the rains, a season forbidden to other Hindus, but naturally the most convenient to them, because in the dry weather they are usually travelling. For the marriage ceremony they pitch a tent in lieu of the marriage-shed, and on the ground they place two rice-pounding pestles, round which the bride and bridegroom make the seven turns. Others substitute for the pestles a pack-saddle with two bags of grain in order to symbolise their camp life. During the turns the girl's hand is held by the Joshi or village priest, or some other Brahman, in case she should fall; such an occurrence being probably a very unlucky omen. Afterwards, the girl runs away and the Brahman has to pursue and catch her. In Bhandara the girl is clad only in a light skirt and breast-cloth, and her body is rubbed all over with oil in order to make his task more difficult. During this time the bride's party pelt the Brahman with rice, turmeric and areca-nuts, and sometimes even with stones; and if he is forced to cry with the pain, it is considered lucky. But if he finally catches the girl, he is conducted to a dais and sits there holding a brass plate in front of him, into which the bridegroom's party drop presents. A case is mentioned of a Brahman having obtained Rs. 70 in this manner. Among the Mathuria Banjaras of Berar the ceremony resembles the usual Hindu type. [197] Before the wedding the families bring the branches of eight or ten different kinds of trees, and perform the hom or fire sacrifice with them. A Brahman knots the clothes of the couple together, and they walk round the fire. When the bride arrives at the bridegroom's hamlet after the wedding, two small brass vessels are given to her; she fetches water in these and returns them to the women of the boy's family, who mix this with other water previously drawn, and the girl, who up to this period was considered of no caste at all, becomes a Mathuria. [198] Food is cooked with this water, and the bride and bridegroom are formally received into the husband's kuri or hamlet. It is possible that the mixing of the water may be a survival of the blood covenant, whereby a girl was received into her husband's clan on her marriage by her blood being mixed with that of her husband. [199] Or it may be simply symbolical of the union of the families. In some localities after the wedding the bride and bridegroom are made to stand on two bullocks, which are driven forward, and it is believed that whichever of them falls off first will be the first to die.

8. Widow remarriage.

Owing to the scarcity of women in the caste a widow is seldom allowed to go out of the family, and when her husband dies she is taken either by his elder or younger brother; this is in opposition to the usual Hindu practice, which forbids the marriage of a woman to her deceased husband's elder brother, on the ground that as successor to the headship of the joint family he stands to her, at least potentially, in the light of a father. If the widow prefers another man and runs away to him, the first husband's relatives claim compensation, and threaten, in the event of its being refused, to abduct a girl from this man's family in exchange for the widow. But no case of abduction has occurred in recent years. In Berar the compensation claimed in the case of a woman marrying out of the family amounts to Rs. 75, with Rs. 5 for the Naik or headman of the family. Should the widow elope without her brother-in-law's consent, he chooses ten or twelve of his friends to go and sit dharna (starving themselves) before the hut of the man who has taken her. He is then bound to supply these men with food and liquor until he has paid the customary sum, when he may marry the widow. [200] In the event of the second husband being too poor to pay monetary compensation, he gives a goat, which is cut into eighteen pieces and distributed to the community. [201]

9. Birth and death.

After the birth of a child the mother is unclean for five days, and lives apart in a separate hut, which is run up for her use in the kuri or hamlet. On the sixth day she washes the feet of all the children in the kuri, feeds them and then returns to her husband's hut. When a child is born in a moving tanda or camp, the same rule is observed, and for five days the mother walks alone after the camp during the daily march. The caste bury the bodies of unmarried persons and those dying of smallpox and burn the others. Their rites of mourning are not strict, and are observed only for three days. The Banjaras have a saying: "Death in a foreign land is to be preferred, where there are no kinsfolk to mourn, and the corpse is a feast for birds and animals"; but this may perhaps be taken rather as an expression of philosophic resignation to the fate which must be in store for many of them, than a real preference, as with most people the desire to die at home almost amounts to an instinct.

10. Religion: Banjari Devi.

One of the tutelary deities of the Banjaras is Banjari Devi, whose shrine is usually located in the forest. It is often represented by a heap of stones, a large stone smeared with vermilion being placed on the top of the heap to represent the goddess. When a Banjara passes the place he casts a stone upon the heap as a prayer to the goddess to protect him from the dangers of the forest. A similar practice of offering bells from the necks of cattle is recorded by Mr. Thurston: [202] "It is related by Moor that he passed a tree on which were hanging several hundred bells. This was a superstitious sacrifice of the Banjaras (Lambaris), who, passing this tree, are in the habit of hanging a bell or bells upon it, which they take from the necks of their sick cattle, expecting to leave behind them the complaint also. Our servants particularly cautioned us against touching these diabolical bells, but as a few of them were taken for our own cattle, several accidents which happened were imputed to the anger of the deity to whom these offerings were made; who, they say, inflicts the same disorder on the unhappy bullock who carries a bell from the tree, as that from which he relieved the donor." In their houses the Banjari Devi is represented by a pack-saddle set on high in the room, and this is worshipped before the caravans set out on their annual tours.

11. Mithu Bhukia.

Another deity is Mithu Bhukia, an old freebooter, who lived in the Central Provinces; he is venerated by the dacoits as the most clever dacoit known in the annals of the caste, and a hut was usually set apart for him in each hamlet, a staff carrying a white flag being planted before it. Before setting out for a dacoity, the men engaged would assemble at the hut of Mithu Bhukia, and, burning a lamp before him, ask for an omen; if the wick of the lamp drooped the omen was propitious, and the men present then set out at once on the raid without returning home. They might not speak to each other nor answer if challenged; for if any one spoke the charm would be broken and the protection of Mithu Bhukia removed; and they should either return to take the omens again or give up that particular dacoity altogether. [203] It has been recorded as a characteristic trait of Banjaras that they will, as a rule, not answer if spoken to when engaged on a robbery, and the custom probably arises from this observance; but the worship of Mithu Bhukia is now frequently neglected. After a successful dacoity a portion of the spoil would be set apart for Mithu Bhukia, and of the balance the Naik or headman of the village received two shares if he participated in the crime; the man who struck the first blow or did most towards the common object also received two shares, and all the rest one share. With Mithu Bhukia's share a feast was given at which thanks were returned to him for the success of the enterprise, a burnt offering of incense being made in his tent and a libation of liquor poured over the flagstaff. A portion of the food was sent to the women and children, and the men sat down to the feast. Women were not allowed to share in the worship of Mithu Bhukia nor to enter his hut.

12. Siva Bhaia.

Another favourite deity is Siva Bhaia, whose story is given by Colonel Mackenzie [204] as follows: "The love borne by Mari Mata, the goddess of cholera, for the handsome Siva Rathor, is an event of our own times (1874); she proposed to him, but his heart being pre-engaged he rejected her; and in consequence his earthly bride was smitten sick and died, and the hand of the goddess fell heavily on Siva himself, thwarting all his schemes and blighting his fortunes and possessions, until at last he gave himself up to her. She then possessed him and caused him to prosper exceedingly, gifting him with supernatural power until his fame was noised abroad, and he was venerated as the saintly Siva Bhaia or great brother to all women, being himself unable to marry. But in his old age the goddess capriciously wished him to marry and have issue, but he refused and was slain and buried at Pohur in Berar. A temple was erected over him and his kinsmen became priests of it, and hither large numbers are attracted by the supposed efficacy of vows made to Siva, the most sacred of all oaths being that taken in his name." If a Banjara swears by Siva Bhaia, placing his right hand on the bare head of his son and heir, and grasping a cow's tail in his left, he will fear to perjure himself, lest by doing so he should bring injury on his son and a murrain on his cattle. [205]

13. Worship of cattle.

Naturally also the Banjaras worshipped their pack-cattle. [206] "When sickness occurs they lead the sick man to the feet of the bullock called Hatadiya. [207] On this animal no burden is ever laid, but he is decorated with streamers of red-dyed silk, and tinkling bells with many brass chains and rings on neck and feet, and silken tassels hanging in all directions; he moves steadily at the head of the convoy, and at the place where he lies down when he is tired they pitch their camp for the day; at his feet they make their vows when difficulties overtake them, and in illness, whether of themselves or their cattle, they trust to his worship for a cure."

14. Connection with the Sikhs.

Mr. Balfour also mentions in his paper that the Banjaras call themselves Sikhs, and it is noticeable that the Charan subcaste say that their ancestors were three Rajput boys who followed Guru Nanak, the prophet of the Sikhs. The influence of Nanak appears to have been widely extended over northern India, and to have been felt by large bodies of the people other than those who actually embraced the Sikh religion. Cumberlege states [208] that before starting to his marriage the bridegroom ties a rupee in his turban in honour of Guru Nanak, which is afterwards expended in sweetmeats. But otherwise the modern Banjaras do not appear to retain any Sikh observances.

15. Witchcraft.

"The Banjaras," Sir A. Lyall writes, [209] "are terribly vexed by witchcraft, to which their wandering and precarious existence especially exposes them in the shape of fever, rheumatism and dysentery. Solemn inquiries are still held in the wild jungles where these people camp out like gipsies, and many an unlucky hag has been strangled by sentence of their secret tribunals." The business of magic and witchcraft was in the hands of two classes of Bhagats or magicians, one good and the other bad, [210] who may correspond to the European practitioners of black and white magic. The good Bhagat is called Nimbu-katna or lemon-cutter, a lemon speared on a knife being a powerful averter of evil spirits. He is a total abstainer from meat and liquor, and fasts once a week on the day sacred to the deity whom he venerates, usually Mahadeo; he is highly respected and never panders to vice. But the Janta, the 'Wise or Cunning Man,' is of a different type, and the following is an account of the devilry often enacted when a deputation visited him to inquire into the cause of a prolonged illness, a cattle murrain, a sudden death or other misfortune. A woman might often be called a Dakun or witch in spite, and when once this word had been used, the husband or nearest male relative would be regularly bullied into consulting the Janta. Or if some woman had been ill for a week, an avaricious [211] husband or brother would begin to whisper foul play. Witchcraft would be mentioned, and the wise man called in. He would give the sufferer a quid of betel, muttering an incantation, but this rarely effected a cure, as it was against the interest of all parties that it should do so. The sufferer's relatives would then go to their Naik, tell him that the sick person was bewitched, and ask him to send a deputation to the Janta or witch-doctor. This would be at once despatched, consisting of one male adult from each house in the hamlet, with one of the sufferer's relatives. On the road the party would bury a bone or other article to test the wisdom of the witch-doctor. But he was not to be caught out, and on their arrival he would bid the deputation rest, and come to him for consultation on the following day. Meanwhile during the night the Janta would be thoroughly coached by some accomplice in the party. Next morning, meeting the deputation, he would tell every man all particulars of his name and family; name the invalid, and tell the party to bring materials for consulting the spirits, such as oil, vermilion, sugar, dates, cocoanut, chironji, [212] and sesamum. In the evening, holding a lamp, the Janta would be possessed by Mariai, the goddess of cholera; he would mention all particulars of the sick man's illness, and indignantly inquire why they had buried the bone on the road, naming it and describing the place. If this did not satisfy the deputation, a goat would be brought, and he would name its sex with any distinguishing marks on the body. The sick person's representative would then produce his nazar or fee, formerly Rs. 25, but lately the double of this or more. The Janta would now begin a sort of chant, introducing the names of the families of the kuri other than that containing her who was to be proclaimed a witch, and heap on them all kinds of abuse. Finally, he would assume an ironic tone, extol the virtues of a certain family, become facetious, and praise its representative then present. This man would then question the Janta on all points regarding his own family, his connections, worldly goods, and what gods he worshipped, ask who was the witch, who taught her sorcery, and how and why she practised it in this particular instance. But the witch-doctor, having taken care to be well coached, would answer everything correctly and fix the guilt on to the witch. A goat would be sacrificed and eaten with liquor, and the deputation would return. The punishment for being proclaimed a Dakun or witch was formerly death to the woman and a fine to be paid by her relatives to the bewitched person's family. The woman's husband or her sons would be directed to kill her, and if they refused, other men were deputed to murder her, and bury the body at once with all the clothing and ornaments then on her person, while a further fine would be exacted from the family for not doing away with her themselves. But murder for witchcraft has been almost entirely stopped, and nowadays the husband, after being fined a few head of cattle, which are given to the sick man, is turned out of the village with his wife. It is quite possible, however, that an obnoxious old hag would even now not escape death, especially if the money fine were not forthcoming, and an instance is known in recent times of a mother being murdered by her three sons. The whole village combined to screen these amiable young men, and eventually they made the Janta the scapegoat, and he got seven years, while the murderers could not be touched. Colonel Mackenzie writes that, "Curious to relate, the Jantas, known locally as Bhagats, in order to become possessed of their alleged powers of divination and prophecy, require to travel to Kazhe, beyond Surat, there to learn and be instructed by low-caste Koli impostors." This is interesting as an instance of the powers of witchcraft being attributed by the Hindus or higher race to the indigenous primitive tribes, a rule which Dr. Tylor and Dr. Jevons consider to hold good generally in the history of magic.

16. Human sacrifice.

Several instances are known also of the Banjaras having practised human sacrifice. Mr. Thurston states: [213] "In former times the Lambadis, before setting out on a journey, used to procure a little child and bury it in the ground up to the shoulders, and then drive their loaded bullocks over the unfortunate victim. In proportion to the bullocks thoroughly trampling the child to death, so their belief in a successful journey increased." The Abbe Dubois describes another form of sacrifice: [214]

"The Lambadis are accused of the still more atrocious crime of offering up human sacrifices. When they wish to perform this horrible act, it is said, they secretly carry off the first person they meet. Having conducted the victim to some lonely spot, they dig a hole in which they bury him up to the neck. While he is still alive they make a sort of lamp of dough made of flour, which they place on his head; this they fill with oil, and light four wicks in it. Having done this, the men and women join hands and, forming a circle, dance round their victim, singing and making a great noise until he expires." Mr. Cumberlege records [215] the following statement of a child kidnapped by a Banjara caravan in 1871. After explaining how he was kidnapped and the tip of his tongue cut off to give him a defect in speech, the Kunbi lad, taken from Sahungarhi, in the Bhandara District, went on to say that, "The tanda (caravan) encamped for the night in the jungle. In the morning a woman named Gangi said that the devil was in her and that a sacrifice must be made. On this four men and three women took a boy to a place they had made for puja (worship). They fed him with milk, rice and sugar, and then made him stand up, when Gangi drew a sword and approached the child, who tried to run away; caught and brought back to this place, Gangi, holding the sword with both hands and standing on the child's right side, cut off his head with one blow. Gangi collected the blood and sprinkled it on the idol; this idol is made of stone, is about 9 inches high, and has something sparkling in its forehead. The camp marched that day, and for four or five days consecutively, without another sacrifice; but on the fifth day a young woman came to the camp to sell curds, and having bought some, the Banjaras asked her to come in in the evening and eat with them. She did come, and after eating with the women slept in the camp. Early next morning she was sacrificed in the same way as the boy had been, but it took three blows to cut off her head; it was done by Gangi, and the blood was sprinkled on the stone idol. About a month ago Sitaram, a Gond lad, who had also been kidnapped and was in the camp, told me to run away as it had been decided to offer me up in sacrifice at the next Jiuti festival, so I ran away." The child having been brought to the police, a searching and protracted inquiry was held, which, however, determined nothing, though it did not disprove his story.

17. Admission of outsiders: kidnapped children and slaves.

The Banjara caste is not closed to outsiders, but the general rule is to admit only women who have been married to Banjara men. Women of the lowest and impure castes are excluded, and for some unknown reason the Patwas [216] and Nunias are bracketed with these. In Nimar it is stated that formerly Gonds, Korkus and even Balahis [217] might become Banjaras, but this does not happen now, because the caste has lost its occupation of carrying goods, and there is therefore no inducement to enter it. In former times they were much addicted to kidnapping children—these were whipped up or enticed away whenever an opportunity presented itself during their expeditions. The children were first put into the gonis or grain bags of the bullocks and so carried for a few days, being made over at each halt to the care of a woman, who would pop the child back into its bag if any stranger passed by the encampment. The tongues of boys were sometimes slit or branded with hot gold, this last being the ceremony of initiation into the caste still used in Nimar. Girls, if they were as old as seven, were sometimes disfigured for fear of recognition, and for this purpose the juice of the marking-nut [218] tree would be smeared on one side of the face, which burned into the skin and entirely altered the appearance. Such children were known as Jangar. Girls would be used as concubines and servants of the married wife, and boys would also be employed as servants. Jangar boys would be married to Jangar girls, both remaining in their condition of servitude. But sometimes the more enterprising of them would abscond and settle down in a village. The rule was that for seven generations the children of Jangars or slaves continued in that condition, after which they were recognised as proper Banjaras. The Jangar could not draw in smoke through the stem of the huqqa when it was passed round in the assembly, but must take off the stem and inhale from the bowl. The Jangar also could not eat off the bell-metal plates of his master, because these were liable to pollution, but must use brass plates. At one time the Banjaras conducted a regular traffic in female slaves between Gujarat and Central India, selling in each country the girls whom they had kidnapped in the other. [219]

18. Dress.

Up to twelve years of age a Charan girl only wears a skirt with a shoulder-cloth tucked into the waist and carried over the left arm and the head. After this she may have anklets and bangles on the forearm and a breast-cloth. But until she is married she may not have the wankri or curved anklet, which marks that estate, nor wear bone or ivory bangles on the upper arm. [220] When she is ten years old a Labhana girl is given two small bundles containing a nut, some cowries and rice, which are knotted to two corners of the dupatta or shoulder-cloth and hung over the shoulder, one in front and one behind. This denotes maidenhood. The bundles are considered sacred, are always knotted to the shoulder-cloth in wear, and are only removed to be tucked into the waist at the girl's marriage, where they are worn till death. These bundles alone distinguish the Labhana from the Mathuria woman. Women often have their hair hanging down beside the face in front and woven behind with silver thread into a plait down the back. This is known as Anthi, and has a number of cowries at the end. They have large bell-shaped ornaments of silver tied over the head and hanging down behind the ears, the hollow part of the ornament being stuffed with sheep's wool dyed red; and to these are attached little bells, while the anklets on the feet are also hollow and contain little stones or balls, which tinkle as they move. They have skirts, and separate short cloths drawn across the shoulders according to the northern fashion, usually red or green in colour, and along the skirt-borders double lines of cowries are sewn. Their breast-cloths are profusely ornamented with needle-work embroidery and small pieces of glass sewn into them, and are tied behind with cords of many colours whose ends are decorated with cowries and beads. Strings of beads, ten to twenty thick, threaded on horse-hair, are worn round the neck. Their favourite ornaments are cowries, [221] and they have these on their dress, in their houses and on the trappings of their bullocks. On the arms they have ten or twelve bangles of ivory, or in default of this lac, horn or cocoanut-shell. Mr. Ball states that he was "at once struck by the peculiar costumes and brilliant clothing of these Indian gipsies. They recalled to my mind the appearance of the gipsies of the Lower Danube and Wallachia." [222] The most distinctive ornament of a Banjara married woman is, however, a small stick about 6 inches long made of the wood of the khair or catechu. In Nimar this is given to a woman by her husband at marriage, and she wears it afterwards placed upright on the top of the head, the hair being wound round it and the head-cloth draped over it in a graceful fashion. Widows leave it off, but on remarriage adopt it again. The stick is known as chunda by the Banjaras, but outsiders call it singh or horn. In Yeotmal, instead of one, the women have two little sticks fixed upright in the hair. The rank of the woman is said to be shown by the angle at which she wears this horn. [223] The dress of the men presents no features of special interest. In Nimar they usually have a necklace of coral beads, and some of them carry, slung on a thread round the neck, a tin tooth-pick and ear-scraper, while a small mirror and comb are kept in the head-cloth so that their toilet can be performed anywhere.

Mr. Cumberlege [224] notes that in former times all Charan Banjaras when carrying grain for an army placed a twig of some tree, the sacred nim [225] when available, in their turban to show that they were on the war-path; and that they would do the same now if they had occasion to fight to the death on any social matter or under any supposed grievance.

19. Social customs.

The Banjaras eat all kinds of meat, including fowls and pork, and drink liquor. But the Mathurias abstain from both flesh and liquor. Major Gunthorpe states that the Banjaras are accustomed to drink before setting out for a dacoity or robbery and, as they smoke after drinking, the remains of leaf-pipes lying about the scene of action may indicate their handiwork. They rank below the cultivating castes, and Brahmans will not take water to drink from them. When engaged in the carrying trade, they usually lived in kuris or hamlets attached to such regular villages as had considerable tracts of waste land belonging to them. When the tanda or caravan started on its long carrying trips, the young men and some of the women went with it with the working bullocks, while the old men and the remainder of the women and children remained to tend the breeding cattle in the hamlet. In Nimar they generally rented a little land in the village to give them a footing, and paid also a carrying fee on the number of cattle present. Their spare time was constantly occupied in the manufacture of hempen twine and sacking, which was much superior to that obtainable in towns. Even in Captain Forsyth's [226] time (1866) the construction of railways and roads had seriously interfered with the Banjaras' calling, and they had perforce taken to agriculture. Many of them have settled in the new ryotwari villages in Nimar as Government tenants. They still grow tilli [227] in preference to other crops, because this oilseed can be raised without much labour or skill, and during their former nomadic life they were accustomed to sow it on any poor strip of land which they might rent for a season. Some of them also are accustomed to leave a part of their holding untilled in memory of their former and more prosperous life. In many villages they have not yet built proper houses, but continue to live in mud huts thatched with grass. They consider it unlucky to inhabit a house with a cement or tiled roof; this being no doubt a superstition arising from their camp life. Their houses must also be built so that the main beams do not cross, that is, the main beam of a house must never be in such a position that if projected it would cut another main beam; but the beams may be parallel. The same rule probably governed the arrangement of tents in their camps. In Nimar they prefer to live at some distance from water, probably that is of a tank or river; and this seems to be a survival of a usage mentioned by the Abbe Dubois: [228] "Among other curious customs of this odious caste is one that obliges them to drink no water which is not drawn from springs or wells. The water from rivers and tanks being thus forbidden, they are obliged in case of necessity to dig a little hole by the side of a tank or river and take the water filtering through, which, by this means, is supposed to become spring water." It is possible that this rule may have had its origin in a sanitary precaution. Colonel Sleeman notes [229] that the Banjaras on their carrying trips preferred by-paths through jungles to the high roads along cultivated plains, as grass, wood and water were more abundant along such paths; and when they could not avoid the high roads, they commonly encamped as far as they could from villages and towns, and upon the banks of rivers and streams, with the same object of obtaining a sufficient supply of grass, wood and water. Now it is well known that the decaying vegetation in these hill streams renders the water noxious and highly productive of malaria. And it seems possible that the perception of this fact led the Banjaras to dig shallow wells by the sides of the streams for their drinking-water, so that the supply thus obtained might be in some degree filtered by percolation through the intervening soil and freed from its vegetable germs. And the custom may have grown into a taboo, its underlying reason being unknown to the bulk of them, and be still practised, though no longer necessary when they do not travel. If this explanation be correct it would be an interesting conclusion that the Banjaras anticipated so far as they were able the sanitary precaution by which our soldiers are supplied with portable filters when on the march.

20. The Naik or headman. Banjara dogs.

Each kuri (hamlet) or tanda (caravan) had a chief or leader with the designation of Naik, a Telugu word meaning 'lord' or 'master.' The office of Naik [230] was only partly hereditary, and the choice also depended on ability. The Naik had authority to decide all disputes in the community, and the only appeal from him lay to the representatives of Bhangi and Jhangi Naik's families at Narsi and Poona, and to Burthia Naik's successors in the Telugu country. As already seen, the Naik received two shares if he participated in a robbery or other crime, and a fee on the remarriage of a widow outside her family and on the discovery of a witch. Another matter in which he was specially interested was pig-sticking. The Banjaras have a particular breed of dogs, and with these they were accustomed to hunt wild pig on foot, carrying spears. When a pig was killed, the head was cut off and presented to the Naik or headman, and if any man was injured or gored by the pig in the hunt, the Naik kept and fed him without charge until he recovered.

The following notice of the Banjaras and their dogs may be reproduced: [231] "They are brave and have the reputation of great independence, which I am not disposed to allow to them. The Wanjari indeed is insolent on the road, and will drive his bullocks up against a Sahib or any one else; but at any disadvantage he is abject enough. I remember one who rather enjoyed seeing his dogs attack me, whom he supposed alone and unarmed, but the sight of a cocked pistol made him very quick in calling them off, and very humble in praying for their lives, which I spared less for his entreaties than because they were really noble animals. The Wanjaris are famous for their dogs, of which there are three breeds. The first is a large, smooth dog, generally black, sometimes fawn-coloured, with a square heavy head, most resembling the Danish boarhound. This is the true Wanjari dog. The second is also a large, square-headed dog, but shaggy, more like a great underbred spaniel than anything else. The third is an almost tailless greyhound, of the type known all over India by the various names of Lat, Polygar, Rampuri, etc. They all run both by sight and scent, and with their help the Wanjaris kill a good deal of game, chiefly pigs; but I think they usually keep clear of the old fighting boars. Besides sport and their legitimate occupations the Wanjaris seldom stickle at supplementing their resources by theft, especially of cattle; and they are more than suspected of infanticide."

The Banjaras are credited with great affection for their dogs, and the following legend is told about one of them: Once upon a time a Banjara, who had a faithful dog, took a loan from a Bania (moneylender) and pledged his dog with him as security for payment. And some time afterwards, while the dog was with the moneylender, a theft was committed in his house, and the dog followed the thieves and saw them throw the property into a tank. When they went away the dog brought the Bania to the tank and he found his property. He was therefore very pleased with the dog and wrote a letter to his master, saying that the loan was repaid, and tied it round his neck and said to him, 'Now, go back to your master.' So the dog started back, but on his way he met his master, the Banjara, coming to the Bania with the money for the repayment of the loan. And when the Banjara saw the dog he was angry with him, not seeing the letter, and thinking he had run away, and said to him, 'Why did you come, betraying your trust?' and he killed the dog in a rage. And after killing him he found the letter and was very grieved, so he built a temple to the dog's memory, which is called the Kukurra Mandhi. And in the temple is the image of a dog. This temple is in the Drug District, five miles from Balod. A similar story is told of the temple of Kukurra Math in Mandla.

21. Criminal tendencies of the caste.

The following notice of Banjara criminals is abstracted from Major Gunthorpe's interesting account: [232] "In the palmy days of the tribe dacoities were undertaken on the most extensive scale. Gangs of fifty to a hundred and fifty well-armed men would go long distances from their tandas or encampments for the purpose of attacking houses in villages, or treasure-parties or wealthy travellers on the high roads. The more intimate knowledge which the police have obtained concerning the habits of this race, and the detection and punishment of many criminals through approvers, have aided in stopping the heavy class of dacoities formerly prevalent, and their operations are now on a much smaller scale. In British territory arms are scarcely carried, but each man has a good stout stick (gedi), the bark of which is peeled off so as to make it look whitish and fresh. The attack is generally commenced by stone-throwing and then a rush is made, the sticks being freely used and the victims almost invariably struck about the head or face. While plundering, Hindustani is sometimes spoken, but as a rule they never utter a word, but grunt signals to one another. Their loin-cloths are braced up, nothing is worn on the upper part of the body, and their faces are generally muffled. In house dacoities men are posted at different corners of streets, each with a supply of well-chosen round stones to keep off any people coming to the rescue. Banjaras are very expert cattle-lifters, sometimes taking as many as a hundred head or even more at a time. This kind of robbery is usually practised in hilly or forest country where the cattle are sent to graze. Secreting themselves they watch for the herdsman to have his usual midday doze and for the cattle to stray to a little distance. As many as possible are then driven off to a great distance and secreted in ravines and woods. If questioned they answer that the animals belong to landowners and have been given into their charge to graze, and as this is done every day the questioner thinks nothing more of it. After a time the cattle are quietly sold to individual purchasers or taken to markets at a distance."

22. Their virtues.

The Banjaras, however, are far from being wholly criminal, and the number who have adopted an honest mode of livelihood is continually on the increase. Some allowance must be made for their having been deprived of their former calling by the cessation of the continual wars which distracted India under native rule, and the extension of roads and railways which has rendered their mode of transport by pack-bullocks almost entirely obsolete. At one time practically all the grain exported from Chhattisgarh was carried by them. In 1881 Mr. Kitts noted that the number of Banjaras convicted in the Berar criminal courts was lower in proportion to the strength of the caste than that of Muhammadans, Brahmans, Koshtis or Sunars, [233] though the offences committed by them were usually more heinous. Colonel Mackenzie had quite a favourable opinion of them: "A Banjara who can read and write is unknown. But their memories, from cultivation, are marvellous and very retentive. They carry in their heads, without slip or mistake, the most varied and complicated transactions and the share of each in such, striking a debtor and creditor account as accurately as the best-kept ledger, while their history and songs are all learnt by heart and transmitted orally from generation to generation. On the whole, and taken rightly in their clannish nature, their virtues preponderate over their vices. In the main they are truthful and very brave, be it in war or the chase, and once gained over are faithful and devoted adherents. With the pride of high descent and with the right that might gives in unsettled and troublous times, these Banjaras habitually lord it over and contemn the settled inhabitants of the plains. And now not having foreseen their own fate, or at least not timely having read the warnings given by a yearly diminishing occupation, which slowly has taken their bread away, it is a bitter pill for them to sink into the ryot class or, oftener still, under stern necessity to become the ryot's servant. But they are settling to their fate, and the time must come when all their peculiar distinctive marks and traditions will be forgotten."


1. Origin and traditions.

Barai, [234] Tamboli, Pansari.—The caste of growers and sellers of the betel-vine leaf. The three terms are used indifferently for the caste in the Central Provinces, although some shades of variation in the meaning can be detected even here—Barai signifying especially one who grows the betel-vine, and Tamboli the seller of the prepared leaf; while Pansari, though its etymological meaning is also a dealer in pan or betel-vine leaves, is used rather in the general sense of a druggist or grocer, and is apparently applied to the Barai caste because its members commonly follow this occupation. In Bengal, however, Barai and Tamboli are distinct castes, the occupations of growing and selling the betel-leaf being there separately practised. And they have been shown as different castes in the India Census Tables of 1901, though it is perhaps doubtful whether the distinction holds good in northern India. [235] In the Central Provinces and Berar the Barais numbered nearly 60,000 persons in 1911. They reside principally in the Amraoti, Buldana, Nagpur, Wardha, Saugor and Jubbulpore Districts. The betel-vine is grown principally in the northern Districts of Saugor, Damoh and Jubbulpore and in those of Berar and the Nagpur plain. It is noticeable also that the growers and sellers of the betel-vine numbered only 14,000 in 1911 out of 33,000 actual workers of the Barai caste; so that the majority of them are now employed in ordinary agriculture, field-labour and other avocations. No very probable derivation has been obtained for the word Barai, unless it comes from bari, a hedge or enclosure, and simply means 'gardener.' Another derivation is from barana, to avert hailstorms, a calling which they still practise in northern India. Pan, from the Sanskrit parna (leaf), is the leaf par excellence. Owing to the fact that they produce what is perhaps the most esteemed luxury in the diet of the higher classes of native society, the Barais occupy a fairly good social position, and one legend gives them a Brahman ancestry. This is to the effect that the first Barai was a Brahman whom God detected in a flagrant case of lying to his brother. His sacred thread was confiscated and being planted in the ground grew up into the first betel-vine, which he was set to tend. Another story of the origin of the vine is given later in this article. In the Central Provinces its cultivation has probably only flourished to any appreciable extent for a period of about three centuries, and the Barai caste would appear to be mainly a functional one, made up of a number of immigrants from northern India and of recruits from different classes of the population, including a large proportion of the non-Aryan element.

2. Caste subdivisions.

The following endogamous divisions of the caste have been reported: Chaurasia, so called from the Chaurasi pargana of the Mirzapur District; Panagaria from Panagar in Jubbulpore; Mahobia from Mahoba in Hamirpur; Jaiswar from the town of Jais in the Rai Bareli District of the United Provinces; Gangapari, coming from the further side of the Ganges; and Pardeshi or Deshwari, foreigners. The above divisions all have territorial names, and these show that a large proportion of the caste have come from northern India, the different batches of immigrants forming separate endogamous groups on their arrival here. Other subcastes are the Dudh Barais, from dudh, milk; the Kuman, said to be Kunbis who have adopted this occupation and become Barais; the Jharia and Kosaria, the oldest or jungly Barais, and those who live in Chhattisgarh; the Purania or old Barais; the Kumhardhang, who are said to be the descendants of a potter on whose wheel a betel-vine grew; and the Lahuri Sen, who are a subcaste formed of the descendants of irregular unions. None of the other subcastes will take food from these last, and the name is locally derived from lahuri, lower, and sen or shreni, class. The caste is also divided into a large number of exogamous groups or septs which may be classified according to their names as territorial, titular and totemistic. Examples of territorial names are: Kanaujia of Kanauj, Burhanpuria of Burhanpur, Chitoria of Chitor in Rajputana, Deobijha the name of a village in Chhattisgarh, and Kharondiha from Kharond or Kalahandi State. These names must apparently have been adopted at random when a family either settled in one of these places or removed from it to another part of the country. Examples of titular names of groups are: Pandit (priest), Bhandari (store-keeper), Patharha (hail-averter), Batkaphor (pot-breaker), Bhulya (the forgetful one), Gujar (a caste), Gahoi (a caste), and so on. While the following are totemistic groups: Katara (dagger), Kulha (jackal), Bandrele (monkey), Chikhalkar (from chikhal, mud), Richharia (bear), and others. Where the group is named after another caste it probably indicates that a man of that caste became a Barai and founded a family; while the fact that some groups are totemistic shows that a section of the caste is recruited from the indigenous tribes. The large variety of names discloses the diverse elements of which the caste is made up.

3. Marriage

Marriage within the gotra or exogamous group and within three degrees of relationship between persons connected through females is prohibited. Girls are usually wedded before adolescence, but no stigma attaches to the family if they remain single beyond this period. If a girl is seduced by a man of the caste she is married to him by the pat, a simple ceremony used for widows. In the southern Districts a barber cuts off a lock of her hair on the banks of a tank or river by way of penalty, and a fast is also imposed on her, while the caste-fellows exact a meal from her family. If she has an illegitimate child, it is given away to somebody else, if possible. A girl going wrong with an outsider is expelled from the caste.

Polygamy is permitted and no stigma attaches to the taking of a second wife, though it is rarely done except for special family reasons. Among the Maratha Barais the bride and bridegroom must walk five times round the marriage altar and then worship the stone slab and roller used for pounding spices. This seems to show that the trade of the Pansari or druggist is recognised as being a proper avocation of the Barai. They subsequently have to worship the potter's wheel. After the wedding the bride, if she is a child, goes as usual to her husband's house for a few days. In Chhattisgarh she is accompanied by a few relations, the party being known as Chauthia, and during her stay in her husband's house the bride is made to sleep on the ground. Widow marriage is permitted, and the ceremony is conducted according to the usage of the locality. In Betul the relatives of the widow take the second husband before Maroti's shrine, where he offers a nut and some betel-leaf. He is then taken to the malguzar's house and presents to him Rs. 1-4-0, a cocoanut and some betel-vine leaf as the price of his assent to the marriage. If there is a Deshmukh [236] of the village, a cocoanut and betel-leaf are also given to him. The nut offered to Maroti represents the deceased husband's spirit, and is subsequently placed on a plank and kicked off by the new bridegroom in token of his usurping the other's place, and finally buried to lay the spirit. The property of the first husband descends to his children, and failing them his brother's children or collateral heirs take it before the widow. A bachelor espousing a widow must first go through the ceremony of marriage with a swallow-wort plant. When a widower marries a girl a silver impression representing the deceased first wife is made and worshipped daily with the family gods. Divorce is permitted on sufficient grounds at the instance of either party, being effected before the caste committee or panchayat. If a husband divorces his wife merely on account of bad temper, he must maintain her so long as she remains unmarried and continues to lead a moral life.

4. Religion and social status.

The Barais especially venerate the Nag or cobra and observe the festival of Nag-Panchmi (Cobra's fifth), in connection with which the following story is related. Formerly there was no betel-vine on the earth. But when the five Pandava brothers celebrated the great horse sacrifice after their victory at Hastinapur, they wanted some, and so messengers were sent down below the earth to the residence of the queen of the serpents, in order to try and obtain it. Basuki, the queen of the serpents, obligingly cut off the top joint of her little finger and gave it to the messengers. This was brought up and sown on the earth, and pan creepers grew out of the joint. For this reason the betel-vine has no blossoms or seeds, but the joints of the creepers are cut off and sown, when they sprout afresh; and the betel-vine is called Nagbel or the serpent-creeper. On the day of Nag-Panchmi the Barais go to the bareja with flowers, cocoanuts and other offerings, and worship a stone which is placed in it and which represents the Nag or cobra. A goat or sheep is sacrificed and they return home, no leaf of the pan garden being touched on that day. A cup of milk is also left, in the belief that a cobra will come out of the pan garden and drink it. The Barais say that members of their caste are never bitten by cobras, though many of these snakes frequent the gardens on account of the moist coolness and shade which they afford. The Agarwala Banias, from whom the Barais will take food cooked without water, have also a legend of descent from a Naga or snake princess. 'Our mother's house is of the race of the snake,' say the Agarwals of Bihar. [237] The caste usually burn the dead, with the exception of children and persons dying of leprosy or snake-bite, whose bodies are buried. Mourning is observed for ten days in the case of adults and for three days for children. In Chhattisgarh if any portion of the corpse remains unburnt on the day following the cremation, the relatives are penalised to the extent of an extra feast to the caste-fellows. Children are named on the sixth or twelfth day after birth either by a Brahman or by the women of the household. Two names are given, one for ceremonial and the other for ordinary use. When a Brahman is engaged he gives seven names for a boy and five for a girl, and the parents select one out of these. The Barais do not admit outsiders into the caste, and employ Brahmans for religious and ceremonial purposes. They are allowed to eat the flesh of clean animals, but very rarely do so, and they abstain from liquor. Brahmans will take sweets and water from them, and they occupy a fairly good social position on account of the important nature of their occupation.

5. Occupation.

"It has been mentioned," says Sir H. Risley, [238] "that the garden is regarded as almost sacred, and the superstitious practices in vogue resemble those of the silk-worm breeder. The Barui will not enter it until he has bathed and washed his clothes. Animals found inside are driven out, while women ceremonially unclean dare not enter within the gate. A Brahman never sets foot inside, and old men have a prejudice against entering it. It has, however, been known to be used for assignations." The betel-vine is the leaf of Piper betel L., the word being derived from the Malayalam vettila, 'a plain leaf,' and coming to us through the Portuguese betre and betle. The leaf is called pan, and is eaten with the nut of Areca catechu, called in Hindi supari. The vine needs careful cultivation, the gardens having to be covered to keep off the heat of the sun, while liberal treatment with manure and irrigation is needed. The joints of the creepers are planted in February, and begin to supply leaves in about five months' time. When the first creepers are stripped after a period of nearly a year, they are cut off and fresh ones appear, the plants being exhausted within a period of about two years after the first sowing. A garden may cover from half an acre to an acre of land, and belongs to a number of growers, who act in partnership, each owning so many lines of vines. The plain leaves are sold at from 2 annas to 4 annas a hundred, or a higher rate when they are out of season. Damoh, Ramtek and Bilahri are three of the best-known centres of cultivation in the Central Provinces. The Bilahri leaf is described in the Ain-i-Akbari as follows: "The leaf called Bilahri is white and shining, and does not make the tongue harsh and hard. It tastes best of all kinds. After it has been taken away from the creeper, it turns white with some care after a month, or even after twenty days, when greater efforts are made." [239] For retail sale bidas are prepared, consisting of a rolled betel-leaf containing areca-nut, catechu and lime, and fastened with a clove. Musk and cardamoms are sometimes added. Tobacco should be smoked after eating a bida according to the saying, 'Service without a patron, a young man without a shield, and betel without tobacco are alike savourless.' Bidas are sold at from two to four for a pice (farthing). Women of the caste often retail them, and as many are good-looking they secure more custom; they are also said to have an indifferent reputation. Early in the morning, when they open their shops, they burn some incense before the bamboo basket in which the leaves are kept, to propitiate Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.


List of Paragraphs

1. Strength and local distribution. 2. Internal structure. 3. Marriage customs. 4. Religion. 5. Social position. 6. Occupation.

1. Strength and local distribution.

Barhai, Sutar, Kharadi, Mistri.—The occupational caste of carpenters. The Barhais numbered nearly 110,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berar in 1911, or about 1 in 150 persons. The caste is most numerous in Districts with large towns, and few carpenters are to be found in villages except in the richer and more advanced Districts. Hitherto such woodwork as the villagers wanted for agriculture has been made by the Lohar or blacksmith, while the country cots, the only wooden article of furniture in their houses, could be fashioned by their own hands or by the Gond woodcutter. In the Mandla District the Barhai caste counts only 300 persons, and about the same in Balaghat, in Drug only 47 persons, and in the fourteen Chhattisgarh Feudatory States, with a population of more than two millions, only some 800 persons. The name Barhai is said to be from the Sanskrit Vardhika and the root vardh, to cut. Sutar is a common name of the caste in the Maratha Districts, and is from Sutra-kara, one who works by string, or a maker of string. The allusion may be to the Barhai's use of string in planing or measuring timber, or it may possibly indicate a transfer of occupation, the Sutars having first been mainly string-makers and afterwards abandoned this calling for that of the carpenter. The first wooden implements and articles of furniture may have been held together by string before nails came into use. Kharadi is literally a turner, one who turns woodwork on a lathe, from kharat, a lathe. Mistri, a corruption of the English Mister, is an honorific title for master carpenters.

2. Internal structure.

The comparatively recent growth of the caste in these Provinces is shown by its subdivisions. The principal subcastes of the Hindustani Districts are the Pardeshi or foreigners, immigrants from northern India, and the Purbia or eastern, coming from Oudh; other subcastes are the Sri Gaur Malas or immigrants from Malwa, the Beradi from Berar, and the Mahure from Hyderabad. We find also subcastes of Jat and Teli Barhais, consisting of Jats and Telis (oil-pressers) who have taken to carpentering. Two other caste-groups, the Chamar Barhais and Gondi Barhais, are returned, but these are not at present included in the Barhai caste, and consist merely of Chamars and Gonds who work as carpenters but remain in their own castes. In the course of some generations, however, if the cohesive social force of the caste system continues unabated, these groups may probably find admission into the Barhai caste. Colonel Tod notes that the progeny of one Makur, a prince of the Jadon Rajput house of Jaisalmer, became carpenters, and were known centuries after as Makur Sutars. They were apparently considered illegitimate, as he states: "Illegitimate children can never overcome this natural defect among the Rajputs. Thus we find among all classes of artisans in India some of royal but spurious descent." [240] The internal structure of the caste seems therefore to indicate that it is largely of foreign origin and to a certain degree of recent formation in these Provinces.

3. Marriage customs.

The caste are also divided into exogamous septs named after villages. In some localities it is said that they have no septs, but only surnames, and that people of the same surname cannot intermarry. Well-to-do persons marry their daughters before puberty and others when they can afford the expense of the ceremony. Brahman priests are employed at weddings, though on other occasions their services are occasionally dispensed with. The wedding ceremony is of the type prevalent in the locality. When the wedding procession reaches the bride's village it halts near the temple of Maroti or Hanuman. Among the Panchal Barhais the bridegroom does not wear a marriage crown but ties a bunch of flowers to his turban. The bridegroom's party is entertained for five days. Divorce and the remarriage of widows are permitted. In most localities it is said that a widow is forbidden to marry her first husband's younger as well as his elder brother. Among the Pardeshi Barhais of Betul if a bachelor desires to marry a widow he must first go through the ceremony with a branch or twig of the gular tree. [241]

4. Religion.

The caste worship Viswakarma, the celestial architect, and venerate their trade implements on the Dasahra festival. They consider the sight of a mongoose and of a light-grey pigeon or dove as lucky omens. They burn the dead and throw the ashes into a river or tank, employing a Maha-Brahman to receive the gifts for the dead.

5. Social position.

In social status the Barhais rank with the higher artisan castes. Brahmans take water from them in some localities, perhaps more especially in towns. In Betul for instance Hindustani Brahmans do not accept water from the rural Barhais. In Damoh where both the Barhai and Lohar are village menials, their status is said to be the same, and Brahmans do not take water from Lohars. Mr. Nesfield says that the Barhai is a village servant and ranks with the Kurmi, with whom his interests are so closely allied. But there seems no special reason why the interests of the carpenter should be more closely allied with the cultivator than those of any other village menial, and it may be offered as a surmise that carpentering as a distinct trade is of comparatively late origin, and was adopted by Kurmis, to which fact the connection noticed by Mr. Nesfield might be attributed; hence the position of the Barhai among the castes from whom a Brahman will take water. In some localities well-to-do members of the caste have begun to wear the sacred thread.

6. Occupation.

In the northern Districts and the cotton tract the Barhai works as a village menial. He makes and mends the plough and harrow (bakhar) and other wooden implements of agriculture, and makes new ones when supplied with the wood. In Wardha he receives an annual contribution of 100 lbs. of grain from each cultivator. In Betul he gets 67 lbs. of grain and other perquisites for each plough of four bullocks. For making carts and building or repairing houses he must be separately paid. At weddings the Barhai often supplies the sacred marriage-post and is given from four annas to a rupee. At the Diwali festival he prepares a wooden peg about six inches long, and drives it into the cultivator's house inside the threshold, and receives half a pound to a pound of grain.

In cities the carpenters are rapidly acquiring an increased degree of skill as the demand for a better class of houses and furniture becomes continually greater and more extensive. The carpenters have been taught to make English furniture by such institutions as the Friends' Mission of Hoshangabad and other missionaries; and a Government technical school has now been opened at Nagpur, in which boys from all over the Province are trained in the profession. Very little wood-carving with any pretensions to excellence has hitherto been done in the Central Provinces, but the Jain temples at Saugor and Khurai contain some fair woodwork. A good carpenter in towns can earn from 12 annas to Rs. 1-8 a day, and both his earnings and prospects have greatly improved within recent years. Sherring remarks of the Barhais: "As artisans they exhibit little or no inventive powers: but in imitating the workmanship of others they are perhaps unsurpassed in the whole world. They are equally clever in working from designs and models." [242]


Bari.—A caste of household servants and makers of leaf-plates, belonging to northern India. The Baris numbered 1200 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911, residing mainly in Jubbulpore and Mandla. Sir H. Risley remarks of the caste: [243] "Mr. Nesfield regards the Bari as merely an offshoot from a semi-savage tribe known as Banmanush and Musahar. He is said still to associate with them at times, and if the demand for leaf-plates and cups, owing to some temporary cause, such as a local fair or an unusual multitude of marriages, happens to become larger than he can at once supply, he gets them secretly made by his ruder kinsfolk and retails them at a higher rate, passing them off as his own production. The strictest Brahmans, those at least who aspire to imitate the self-denying life of the ancient Indian hermit, never eat off any other plates than those made of leaves." "If the above view is correct," Sir H. Risley remarks, "the Baris are a branch of a non-Aryan tribe who have been given a fairly respectable position in the social system in consequence of the demand for leaf-plates, which are largely used by the highest as well as the lowest castes. 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." There is no reason why the origin of the Bari from the Banmanush (wild man of the woods) or Musahar (mouse-eater), a forest tribe, as suggested by Mr. Nesfield from his observation of their mutual connection, should be questioned. The making of leaf-plates is an avocation which may be considered naturally to pertain to the tribes frequenting jungles from which the leaves are gathered; and in the Central Provinces, though in the north the Nai or barber ostensibly supplies the leaf-plates, probably buying the leaves and getting them made up by Gonds and others, in the Maratha Districts the Gond himself does so, and many Gonds make their living by this trade. The people of the Maratha country are apparently less strict than those of northern India, and do not object to eat off plates avowedly the handiwork of Gonds. The fact that the Bari has been raised to the position of a pure caste, so that Brahmans will take water from his hands, is one among several instances of this elevation of the rank of the serving castes for purposes of convenience. The caste themselves have the following legend of their origin: Once upon a time Parmeshwar [244] was offering rice milk to the spirits of his ancestors. In the course of this ceremony the performer has to present a gift known as Vikraya Dan, which cannot be accepted by others without loss of position. Parmeshwar offered the gift to various Brahmans, but they all refused it. So he made a man of clay, and blew upon the image and gave it life, and the god then asked the man whom he had created to accept the gift which the Brahmans had refused. This man, who was the first Bari, agreed on condition that all men should drink with him and recognise his purity of caste. Parmeshwar then told him to bring water in a cup, and drank of it in the presence of all the castes. And in consequence of this all the Hindus will take water from the hands of a Bari. They also say that their first ancestor was named Sundar on account of his personal beauty; but if so, he failed to bequeath this quality to his descendants. The proper avocation of the Baris is, as already stated, the manufacture of the leaf-cups and plates used by all Hindus at festivals. In the Central Provinces these are made from the large leaves of the mahul creeper (Bauhinia Vahlii), or from the palas (Butea frondosa). The caste also act as personal servants, handing round water, lighting and carrying torches at marriages and other entertainments and on journeys, and performing other functions. Some of them have taken to agriculture. Their women act as maids to high-caste Hindu ladies, and as they are always about the zenana, are liable to lose their virtue. A curious custom prevails in Marwar on the birth of an heir to the throne. An impression of the child's foot is taken by a Bari on cloth covered with saffron, and is exhibited to the native chiefs, who make him rich presents. [245] The Baris have the reputation of great fidelity to their employers, and a saying about them is, 'The Bari will die fighting for his master.'


Basdewa, [246] Wasudeo, Harbola, Kaparia, Jaga, Kapdi.—A wandering beggar caste of mixed origin, who also call themselves Sanadhya or Sanaurhia Brahmans. The Basdewas trace their origin to Wasudeo, the father of Krishna, and the term Basdewa is a corruption of Wasudeo or Wasudeva. Kaparia is the name they bear in the Anterved or country between the Ganges and Jumna, whence they claim to have come. Kaparia has been derived from kapra, cloth, owing to the custom of the Basdewas of having several dresses, which they change rapidly like the Bahrupia, making themselves up in different characters as a show. Harbola is an occupational term, applied to a class of Basdewas who climb trees in the early morning and thence vociferate praises of the deity in a loud voice. The name is derived from Har, God, and bolna, to speak. As the Harbolas wake people up in the morning they are also called Jaga or Awakener. The number of Basdewas in the Central Provinces and Berar in 1911 was 2500, and they are found principally in the northern Districts and in Chhattisgarh. They have several territorial subcastes, as Gangaputri or those who dwell on the banks of the Ganges; Khaltia or Deswari, those who belong to the Central Provinces; Parauha, from para, a male buffalo calf, being the dealers in buffaloes; Harbola or those who climb trees and sing the praises of God; and Wasudeo, the dwellers in the Maratha Districts who marry only among themselves. The names of the exogamous divisions are very varied, some being taken from Brahman gotras and Rajput septs, while others are the names of villages, or nicknames, or derived from animals and plants. It may be concluded from these names that the Basdewas are a mixed occupational group recruited from high and low castes, though they themselves say that they do not admit any outsiders except Brahmans into the community. In Bombay [247] the Wasudevas have a special connection with Kumhars or potters, whom they address by the term of kaka or paternal uncle, and at whose houses they lodge on their travels, presenting their host with the two halves of a cocoanut. The caste do not observe celibacy. A price of Rs. 25 has usually to be given for a bride, and a Brahman is employed to perform the ceremony. At the conclusion of this the Brahman invests the bridegroom with a sacred thread, which he thereafter continues to wear. Widow marriage is permitted, and widows are commonly married to widowers. Divorce is also permitted. When a man's wife dies he shaves his moustache and beard, if any, in mourning and a father likewise for a daughter-in-law; this is somewhat peculiar, as other Hindus do not shave the moustache for a wife or daughter-in-law. The Basdewas are wandering mendicants. In the Maratha Districts they wear a plume of peacock's feathers, which they say was given to them as a badge by Krishna. In Saugor and Damoh instead of this they carry during the period from Dasahra to the end of Magh or from September to January a brass vessel called matuk bound on their heads. It is surmounted by a brass cone and adorned with mango-leaves, cowries and a piece of red cloth, and with figures of Rama and Lakshman. Their stock-in-trade for begging consists of two kartals or wooden clappers which are struck against each other; ghungrus or jingling ornaments for the feet, worn when dancing; and a paijna or kind of rattle, consisting of two semicircular iron wires bound at each end to a piece of wood with rings slung on to them; this is simply shaken in the hand and gives out a sound from the movement of the rings against the wires. They worship all these implements as well as their beggar's wallet on the Janam-Ashtami or Krishna's birthday, the Dasahra, and the full moon of Magh (January). They rise early and beg only in the morning from about four till eight, and sing songs in praise of Sarwan and Karan. Sarwan was a son renowned for his filial piety; he maintained and did service to his old blind parents to the end of their lives, much against the will of his wife, and was proof against all her machinations to induce him to abandon them. Karan was a proverbially charitable king, and all his family had the same virtue. His wife gave away daily rice and pulse to those who required it, his daughter gave them clothes, his son distributed cows as alms and his daughter-in-law cocoanuts. The king himself gave only gold, and it is related of him that he was accustomed to expend a maund and a quarter [248] weight of gold in alms-giving before he washed himself and paid his morning devotions. Therefore the Basdewas sing that he who gives early in the morning acquires the merit of Karan; and their presence at this time affords the requisite opportunity to anybody who may be desirous of emulating the king. At the end of every couplet they cry 'Jai Ganga' or 'Har Ganga,' invoking the Ganges.

The Harbolas have each a beat of a certain number of villages which must not be infringed by the others. Their method is to ascertain the name of some well-to-do person in the village. This done, they climb a tree in the early morning before sunrise, and continue chanting his praises in a loud voice until he is sufficiently flattered by their eulogies or wearied by their importunity to throw down a present of a few pice under the tree, which the Harbola, descending, appropriates. The Basdewas of the northern Districts are now commonly engaged in the trade of buying and selling buffaloes. They take the young male calves from Saugor and Damoh to Chhattisgarh, and there retail them at a profit for rice cultivation, driving them in large herds along the road. For the capital which they have to borrow to make their purchases, they are charged very high rates of interest. The Basdewas have here a special veneration for the buffalo as the animal from which they make their livelihood, and they object strongly to the calves being taken to be tied out as baits for tiger, refusing, it is said, to accept payment if the calf should be killed. Their social status is not high, and none but the lowest castes will take food from their hands. They eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from pork, fowls and beef. Some of the caste have given up animal food.


List of Paragraphs

1. Numbers and distribution. 2. Caste traditions. 3. Subdivisions. 4. Marriage. 5. Religion and social status. 6. Occupation.

1. Numbers and distribution.

Basor, [249] Bansphor, Dhulia, Burud.—The occupational caste of bamboo-workers, the two first names being Hindi and the last the term used in the Maratha Districts. The cognate Uriya caste is called Kandra and the Telugu one Medara. The Basors numbered 53,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berar in 1911. About half the total number reside in the Saugor, Damoh and Jubbulpore Districts. The word Basor is a corruption of Bansphor, 'a breaker of bamboos.' Dhulia, from dholi, a drum, means a musician.

2. Caste traditions.

The caste trace their origin from Raja Benu or Venu who ruled at Singorgarh in Damoh. It is related of him that he was so pious that he raised no taxes from his subjects, but earned his livelihood by making and selling bamboo fans. He could of course keep no army, but he knew magic, and when he broke his fan the army of the enemy broke up in unison. Venu is a Sanskrit word meaning bamboo. But a mythological Sanskrit king called Vena is mentioned in the Puranas, from whom for his sins was born the first Nishada, the lowest of human beings, and Manu [250] states that the bamboo-worker is the issue of a Nishada or Chandal father and a Vaideha [251] mother. So that the local story may be a corruption of the Brahmanical tradition. Another legend relates that in the beginning there were no bamboos, and the first Basor took the serpent which Siva wore round his neck and going to a hill planted it with its head in the ground. A bamboo at once sprang up on the spot, and from this the Basor made the first winnowing fan. And the snake-like root of the bamboo, which no doubt suggested the story to its composer, is now adduced in proof of it.

3. Subdivisions.

The Basors of the northern Districts are divided into a number of subcastes, the principal of which are: the Purania or Juthia, who perhaps represent the oldest section, Purania being from purana old; they are called Juthia because they eat the leavings of others; the Barmaiya or Malaiya, apparently a territorial group; the Deshwari or Bundelkhandi who reside in the desh or native place of Bundelkhand; the Gudha or Gurha, the name being derived by some from guda a pigsty; the Dumar or Dom Basors; the Dhubela, perhaps from the Dhobi caste; and the Dharkar. Two or three of the above names appear to be those of other low castes from which the Basor caste may have been recruited, perhaps at times when a strong demand existed for bamboo-workers. The Buruds do not appear to be sufficiently numerous to have subcastes. But they include a few Telenga Buruds who are really Medaras, and the caste proper are therefore sometimes known as Maratha Buruds to distinguish them from these. The caste has numerous bainks or exogamous groups or septs, the names of which may chiefly be classified as territorial and totemistic. Among the former are Mahobia, from the town of Mahoba; Sirmaiya, from Sirmau; Orahia, from Orai, the battlefield of the Banaphar generals, Alha and Udal; Tikarahia from Tikari, and so on. The totemistic septs include the Sanpero from sanp a snake, the Mangrelo from mangra a crocodile, the Morya from mor a peacock, the Titya from the titehri bird and the Sarkia from sarki or red ochre, all of which worship their respective totems. The Katarya or 'dagger' sept worship a real or painted dagger at their marriage, and the Kemia, a branch of the kem tree (Stephegyne parvifolia). The Bandrelo, from bandar, worship a painted monkey. One or two groups are named after castes, as Bamhnelo from Brahman and Bargujaria from Bargujar Rajput, thus indicating that members of these castes became Basors and founded families. One sept is called Marha from Marhai, the goddess of cholera, and the members worship a picture of the goddess drawn in black. The name of the Kulhantia sept means somersault, and these turn a somersault before worshipping their gods. So strong is the totemistic idea that some of the territorial groups worship objects with similar names. Thus the Mahobia group, whose name is undoubtedly derived from the town of Mahoba, have adopted the mahua tree as their totem, and digging a small hole in the ground place in it a little water and the liquor made from mahua flowers, and worship it. This represents the process of distillation of country liquor. Similarly, the Orahia group, who derive their name from the town of Orai, now worship the urai or khaskhas grass, and the Tikarahia from Tikari worship a tikli or glass spangle.

4. Marriage.

The marriage of persons belonging to the same baink or sept and also that of first cousins is forbidden. The age of marriage is settled by convenience, and no stigma attaches to its postponement beyond adolescence. Intrigues of unmarried girls with men of their own or any higher caste are usually overlooked. The ceremony follows the standard Hindi and Marathi forms, and presents no special features. A bride-price called chari, amounting to seven or eight rupees, is usually paid. In Betul the practice of lamjhana or serving the father-in-law for a term of years before marrying his daughter, is sometimes followed. Widow-marriage is permitted, and the widow is expected to wed her late husband's younger brother. The Basors are musicians by profession, but in Betul the narsingha, a peculiar kind of crooked trumpet, is the only implement which may be played at the marriage of a widow. A woman marrying a second time forfeits all interest in the property of her late husband, unless she is without issue and there are no near relatives of her husband to take it. Divorce is effected by the breaking of the woman's bangles in public. If obtained by the wife, she must repay to her first husband the expenditure incurred by him for her marriage when she takes a second. But the acceptance of this payment is considered derogatory and the husband refuses it unless he is poor.

5. Religion and social status.

The Basors worship the ordinary Hindu deities and also ghosts and spirits. Like the other low castes they entertain a special veneration for Devi. They profess to exorcise evil spirits and the evil eye, and to cure other disorders and diseases through the agency of their incantations and the goblins who do their bidding. They burn their dead when they can afford it and otherwise bury them, placing the corpse in the grave with its head to the north. The body of a woman is wrapped in a red shroud and that of a man in a white one. They observe mourning for a period of three to ten days, but in Jubbulpore it always ends with the fortnight in which the death takes place; so that a person dying on the 15th or 30th of the month is mourned only for one day. They eat almost every kind of food, including beef, pork, fowls, liquor and the leavings of others, but abjure crocodiles, monkeys, snakes and rats. Many of them have now given up eating cow's flesh in deference to Hindu feeling. They will take food from almost any caste except sweepers, and one or two others, as Joshi and Jasondhi, towards whom for some unexplained reason they entertain a special aversion. They will admit outsiders belonging to any caste from whom they can take food into the community. They are generally considered as impure, and live outside the village, and their touch conveys pollution, more especially in the Maratha Districts. The ordinary village menials, as the barber and washerman, will not work for them, and services of this nature are performed by men of their own community. As, however, their occupation is not in itself unclean, they rank above sweepers, Chamars and Dhobis. Temporary exclusion from caste is imposed for the usual offences, and the almost invariable penalty for readmission is a feast to the caste-fellows. A person, male or female, who has been convicted of adultery must have the head shaved, and is then seated in the centre of the caste-fellows and pelted by them with the leavings of their food. Basor women are not permitted to wear nose-rings on pain of exclusion from caste.

6. Occupation.

The trade of the Basors is a very essential one to the agricultural community. They make numerous kinds of baskets, among which may be mentioned the chunka, a very small one, the tokni, a basket of middle size, and the tokna, a very large one. The dauri is a special basket with a lining of matting for washing rice in a stream. The jhanpi is a round basket with a cover for holding clothes; the tipanna a small one in which girls keep dolls; and the bilahra a still smaller one for holding betel-leaf. Other articles made from bamboo-bark are the chalni or sieve, the khunkhuna or rattle, the bansuri or wooden flute, the bijna or fan, and the supa or winnowing-fan. All grain is cleaned with the help of the supa both on the threshing-floor and in the house before consumption, and a child is always laid in one as soon as it is born. In towns the Basors make the bamboo matting which is so much used. The only implement they employ is the banka, a heavy curved knife, with which all the above articles are made. The banka is duly worshipped at the Diwali festival. The Basors are also the village musicians, and a band of three or four of them play at weddings and on other festive occasions. Some of them work as pig-breeders and others are village watchmen. The women often act as midwives. One subcaste, the Dumar, will do scavenger's work, but they never take employment as saises, because the touch of horse-dung is considered as a pollution, entailing temporary excommunication from caste.


1. General notice.

Bedar. [252]—A small caste of about 1500 persons, belonging to Akola, Khandesh and Hyderabad. Their ancestors were Pindaris, apparently recruited from the different Maratha castes, and when the Pindaris were suppressed they obtained or were awarded land in the localities where they now reside, and took to cultivation. The more respectable Bedars say that their ancestors were Tirole Kunbis, but when Tipu Sultan invaded the Carnatic he took many of them prisoners and ordered them to become Muhammadans. In order to please him they took food with Muhammadans, and on this account the Kunbis put them out of caste until they should purify themselves. But as there were a large number of them, they did not do this, and have remained a separate caste. The real derivation of the name is unknown, but the caste say that it is be-dar or 'without fear,' and was given to them on account of their bravery. They have now obtained a warrant from the descendant of Shankar Acharya, or the high priest of Sivite Hindus, permitting them to describe themselves as Put Kunbi or purified Kunbi. [253] The community is clearly of a most mixed nature, as there are also Dher or Mahar Bedars. They refuse to take food from other Mahars and consider themselves defiled by their touch. The social position of the caste also presents some peculiar features. Several of them have taken service in the army and police, and have risen to the rank of native officer; and Rao Sahib Dhonduji, a retired Inspector of Police, is a prominent member of the caste. The Raja of Surpur, near Raichur, is also said to be a Bedar, while others are ministerial officials occupying a respectable position. Yet of the Bedars generally it is said that they cannot draw water freely from the public wells, and in Nasik Bedar constables are not considered suitable for ordinary duty, as people object to their entering houses. The caste must therefore apparently have higher and lower groups, differing considerably in position.

2. Subdivisions and marriage customs.

They have three subdivisions, the Maratha, Telugu and Kande Bedars. The names of their exogamous sections are also Marathi. Nevertheless they retain one or two northern customs, presumably acquired from association with the Pindaris. Their women do not tuck the body-cloth in behind the waist, but draw it over the right shoulder. They wear the choli or Hindustani breast-cloth tied in front, and have a hooped silver ornament on the top of the head, which is known as dhora. They eat goats, fowls and the flesh of the wild pig, and drink liquor, and will take food from a Kunbi or a Phulmali, and pay little heed to the rules of social impurity. But Hindustani Brahmans act as their priests.

Before a wedding they call a Brahman and worship him as a god, the ceremony being known as Deo Brahman. The Brahman then cooks food in the house of his host. On the same occasion a person specially nominated by the Brahman, and known as Deokia, fetches an earthen vessel from the potter, and this is worshipped with offerings of turmeric and rice, and a cotton thread is tied round it. Formerly it is said they worshipped the spent bullets picked up after a battle, and especially any which had been extracted from the body of a wounded person.

3. Funeral rites.

When a man is about to die they take him down from his cot and lay him on the ground with his head in the lap of a relative. The dead are buried, a person of importance being carried to the grave in a sitting posture, while others are laid out in the ordinary manner. A woman is buried in a green cloth and a breast-cloth. When the corpse has been prepared for the funeral they take some liquor, and after a few drops have been poured into the mouth of the corpse the assembled persons drink the rest. While following to the grave they beat drums and play on musical instruments and sing religious songs; and if a man dies during the night, since he is not buried till the morning, they sit in the house playing and singing for the remaining hours of darkness. The object of this custom must presumably be to keep away evil spirits. After the funeral each man places a leafy branch of some tree or shrub on the grave, and on the thirteenth day they put food before a cow and also throw some on to the roof of the house as a portion for the crows.


List of Paragraphs

1. General notice. 2. Beldars of the northern Districts. 3. Odias of Chhattisgarh. 4. Other Chhattisgarhi Beldars. 5. Munurwar and Telenga. 6. Vaddar. 7. Pathrot. 8. Takari.

1. General notice.

Beldar, [254] Od, Sonkar, Raj, Larhia, Karigar, Matkuda, Chunkar, Munurwar, Thapatkari, Vaddar, Pathrot, Takari.—The term Beldar is generically applied to a number of occupational groups of more or less diverse origin, who work as masons or navvies, build the earthen embankments of tanks or fields, carry lime and bricks and in former times refined salt. Beldar means one who carries a bel, a hoe or mattock. In 1911 a total of 25,000 Beldars were returned from the Central Provinces, being most numerous in the Nimar, Wardha, Nagpur, Chanda and Raipur districts. The Nunia, Murha and Sansia (Uriya) castes, which have been treated in separate articles, are also frequently known as Beldar, and cannot be clearly distinguished from the main caste. If they are all classed together the total of the earth- and stone-working castes comes to 35,000 persons.

It is probable that the bulk of the Beldars and allied castes are derived from the non-Aryan tribes. The Murhas or navvies of the northern Districts appear to be an offshoot of the Bind tribe; the people known as Matkuda (earth-digger) are usually Gonds or Pardhans; the Sansias and Larhias or Uriyas of Chhattisgarh and the Uriya country seem to have originated from the Kol, Bhuiya and Oraon tribes, the Kols especially making excellent diggers and masons; the Oddes or Vaddars of Madras are a very low caste, and some of their customs point to a similar origin, though the Munurwar masons of Chanda appear to have belonged originally to the Kapu caste of cultivators.

The term Raj, which is also used for the Beldars in the northern Districts, has the distinctive meaning of a mason, while Chunkar signifies a lime-burner. The Sonkars were formerly occupied in Saugor in carrying lime, bricks and earth on donkeys, but they have now abandoned this calling in Chhattisgarh and taken to growing vegetables, and have been given a short separate notice. In Hoshangabad some Muhammadan Beldars are now also found.

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