The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume II
by R. V. Russell
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2. Beldars of the northern Districts.

The Beldars of Saugor say that their ancestors were engaged in refining salt from earth. A divine saint named Nona Rishi (non, salt) came down on earth, and while cooking his food mixed some saline soil with it. The bread tasted much better in consequence, and he made the earth into a ball or goli and taught his followers to extract the salt from it, whence their descendants are known as Goli Beldars. The customs of these Beldars are of the ordinary low-caste type. The wedding procession is accompanied by drums, fireworks and, if means permit, a nautch-girl. If a man puts away his wife without adequate cause the caste panchayat may compel him to support her so long as she remains of good conduct. The party seeking a divorce, whether husband or wife, has to pay Rs. 7 to the caste committee and the other partner Rs. 3, irrespective of where the blame rests, and each remains out of caste until he or she pays.

These Beldars will not take food from any caste but their own, and will not take water from a Brahman, though they will accept it from Kurmis, Gujars and similar castes. Sir H. Risley notes that their women always remove earth in baskets on the head. "The Beldars regard this mode of carrying earth as distinctive of themselves, and will on no account transport it in baskets slung from the shoulders. They work very hard when paid by the piece, and are notorious for their skill in manipulating the pillars (sakhi, witness) left to mark work done, so as to exaggerate the measurement. On one occasion while working for me on a large lake at Govindpur, in the north of the Manbhum District, a number of Beldars transplanted an entire pillar during the night and claimed payment for several thousand feet of imaginary earthwork. The fraud was most skilfully carried out, and was only detected by accident." [255] The Beldars are often dishonest in their dealings, and will take large advances for a tank or embankment, and then abscond with the money without doing the work. During the open season parties of the caste travel about in camp looking for work, their furniture being loaded on donkeys. They carry grain in earthen pots encased in bags of netting, neatly and closely woven, and grind their wheat daily in a small mill set on a goat-skin. Butter is made in one of their pots with a churning-stick, consisting of a cogged wheel fixed on to the end of a wooden rod.

3. Odias of Chhattisgarh.

The Beldars of Chhattisgarh are divided into the Odia or Uriya, Larhia, Kuchbandhia, Matkuda and Karigar groups. Uriya and Larhia are local names, applied to residents of the Uriya country and Chhattisgarh respectively. Odia is the name of a low Madras caste of masons, but whether it is a corruption of Uriya is not clear. Karigar means a workman, and Kuchbandhia is the name of a separate caste, who make loom-combs for weavers. The Odias pretend to be fallen Rajputs. They say that when Indra stole the sacrificial horse of Raja Sagar and kept it in the underworld, the Raja's thousand sons dug great holes through the earth to get it. Finally they arrived at the underworld and were all reduced to ashes by the Rishi Kapil Muni, who dwelt there. Their ghosts besought him for life, and he said that their descendants should always continue to dig holes in the earth, which would be used as tanks; and that whenever a tank was dug by them, and its marriage celebrated with a sacrifice, the savour of the sacrifice would descend to the ghosts and would afford them sustenance. The Odias say that they are the descendants of the Raja's sons, and unless a tank is dug and its marriage celebrated by them it remains impure. These Odias have their tutelary deity in Rewah State, and at his shrine is a flag which none but an Odia of genuine descent from Raja Sagar's sons can touch without some injury befalling him. If any Beldaar therefore claims to belong to their caste they call on him to touch the flag, and if he does so with impunity they acknowledge him as a brother.

4. Other Chhattisgarhi Beldars.

The other group of Chattisgarhi Beldars are of lower status, and clearly derived from the non-Aryan tribes. They eat pigs, and at intervals of two or three years they celebrate the worship of Gosain Deo with a sacrifice of pigs, the deity being apparently a deified ascetic or mendicant. On this occasion the Dhimars, Gonds, and all other castes which eat pig's flesh join in the sacrifice, and consume the meat together after the fashion of the rice at Jagannath's temple, which all castes may eat together without becoming impure. These Beldars use asses for the transport of their bricks and stones, and on the Diwali day they place a lamp before the ass and pay reverence to it. They say that at their marriages a bride-price of Rs. 100 or Rs. 200 must always be paid, but they are allowed to give one or two donkeys and value them at Rs. 50 apiece. They make grindstones (chakki), combs for straightening the threads on the loom, and frames for stretching the threads. These frames are called dongi, and are made either wholly or partly from the horns of animals, a fact which no doubt renders them impure.

5. Munurwar and Telenga.

In Chanda the principal castes of stone-workers are the Telengas (Telugus), who are also known as Thapatkari (tapper or chiseller), Telenga Kunbi and Munurwar. They occupy a higher position than the ordinary Beldar, and Kunbis will take water from them and sometimes food. They say that they came into Chanda from the Telugu country along the Godavari and Pranhita rivers to build the great wall of Chanda and the palaces and tombs of the Gond kings. There is no reason to doubt that the Munurwars are a branch of the Kapu cultivating caste of the Telugu country. Mr. A. K. Smith states that they refuse to eat the flesh of an animal which has been skinned by a Mahar, a Chamar, or a Gond; the Kunbis and Marathas also consider flesh touched by a Mahar or Chamar to be impure, but do not object to a Gond. Like the Berar Kunbis, the Telengas prefer that an animal should be killed by the rite of halal as practised by Muhammadan butchers. The reason no doubt is that the halal is a method of sacrificial slaughter, and the killing of the animal is legitimised even though by the ritual of a foreign religion. The Thapatkaris appear to be a separate group, and their original profession was to collect and retail jungle fruits and roots having medicinal properties. Though the majority have become stone- and earth-workers some of them still do this.

6. Vaddar.

The Vaddars or Wadewars are a branch of the Odde caste of Madras. They are almost an impure caste, and a section of them are professional criminals. Their women wear glass bangles only on the left arm, those on the right arm being made of brass or other metal. This rule has no doubt been introduced because glass bangles would get broken when they were supporting loads on the head. The men often wear an iron bangle on the left wrist, which they say keeps off the lightning. Mr. Thurston states that "Women who have had seven husbands are much respected among the Oddes, and their blessing on a bridal pair is greatly prized. They work in gangs on contract, and every one, except very old and very young, shares in the labour. The women carry the earth in baskets, while the men use the pick and spade. The babies are usually tied up in cloths, which are suspended, hammock-fashion, from the boughs of trees. A woman found guilty of immorality is said to have to carry a basketful of earth from house to house before she is readmitted to the caste. The stone-cutting Vaddars are the principal criminals, and by going about under the pretence of mending grindstones they obtain much useful information as to the houses to be looted or parties of travellers to be attacked. In committing a highway robbery or dacoity they are always armed with stout sticks." [256]

7. Pathrot.

In Berar besides the regular Beldars two castes of stone-workers are found, the Pathrawats or Pathrots (stone-breakers) and the Takaris, who should perhaps be classed as separate castes. Both make and sharpen millstones and grindstones, and they are probably only occupational groups of recent formation. The Takaris are connected with the Pardhi caste of professional hunters and fowlers and may be a branch of them. The social customs of the Pathrots resemble those of the Kunbis. "They will take cooked food from a Sutar or a Kumbhar. Imprisonment, the killing of a cow or criminal intimacy of a man with a woman of another caste is punished by temporary outcasting, readmission involving a fine of Rs. 4 or Rs. 5. Their chief deity is the Devi of Tuljapur and their chief festival Dasahra; the implements of the caste are worshipped twice a year, on Gudhi Padwa and Diwali. Women are tattooed with a crescent between the eyebrows and dots on the right side of the nose, the right cheek, and the chin, and a basil plant or peacock is drawn on their wrists." [257]

8. Takari.

"The Takaris take their name from the verb takne, to reset or rechisel. They mend the handmills (chakkis) used for grinding corn, an occupation which is sometimes shared with them by the Langoti Pardhis. The Takari's avocation of chiselling grindstones gives him excellent opportunities for examining the interior economy of houses, and the position of boxes and cupboards, and for gauging the wealth of the inmates. They are the most inveterate house-breakers and dangerous criminals. A form of crime favoured by the Takari, in common with many other criminal classes, is that of decoying into a secluded spot outside the village the would-be receiver of stolen property and robbing him of his cash—a trick which carries a wholesome lesson with it." [258] The chisel with which they chip the grindstones furnishes, as stated by Mr. D. A. Smyth, D.S.P., an excellent implement for breaking a hole through the mud wall of a house.

Beria, Bedia.

[Bibliography: Sir H. Risley's Tribes and Castes of Bengal; Rajendra Lal Mitra in Memoirs, Anthropological Society of London, iii. p. 122; Mr. Crooke's Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh; Mr. Kennedy's Criminal Classes of the Bombay Presidency; Major Gunthorpe's Criminal Tribes; Mr. Gayer's Lectures on some Criminal Tribes of the Central Provinces; Colonel Sleeman's Report on the Badhak or Bagri Dacoits.]

1. Historical notice.

A caste of gipsies and thieves who are closely connected with the Sansias. In 1891 they numbered 906 persons in the Central Provinces, distributed over the northern Districts; in 1901 they were not separately classified but were identified with the Nats. "They say that some generations ago two brothers resided in the Bhartpur territory, of whom one was named Sains Mul and the other Mullanur. The descendants of Sains Mul are the Sansias and those of Mullanur the Berias or Kolhatis, who are vagrants and robbers by hereditary profession, living in tents or huts of matting, like Nats or other vagrant tribes, and having their women in common without any marriage ceremonies or ties whatsoever. Among themselves or their relatives the Sansias or descendants of Sains Mul, they are called Dholi or Kolhati. The descendants of the brothers eat, drink and smoke together, and join in robberies, but never intermarry." So Colonel Sleeman wrote in 1849, and other authorities agree on the close connection or identity of the Berias and Sansias of Central India. The Kolhatis belong mainly to the Deccan and are apparently a branch of the Berias, named after the Kolhan or long pole with which they perform acrobatic feats. The Berias of Central India differ in many respects from those of Bengal. Here Sir H. Risley considers Beria to be 'the generic name of a number of vagrant, gipsy-like groups'; and a full description of them has been given by Babu Rajendra Lal Mitra, who considers them to resemble the gipsies of Europe. "They are noted for a light, elastic, wiry make, very uncommon in the people of this country. In agility and hardness they stand unrivalled. The men are of a brownish colour, like the bulk of Bengalis, but never black. The women are of lighter complexion and generally well-formed; some of them have considerable claims to beauty, and for a race so rude and primitive in their habits as the Berias, there is a sharpness in the features of their women which we see in no other aboriginal race in India. Like the gipsies of Europe they are noted for the symmetry of their limbs; but their offensive habits, dirty clothing and filthy professions give them a repulsive appearance, which is heightened by the reputation they have of kidnapping children and frequenting burial-grounds and places of cremation.... Familiar with the use of bows and arrows and great adepts in laying snares and traps, they are seldom without large supplies of game and flesh of wild animals of all kinds. They keep the dried bodies of a variety of birds for medical purposes; mongoose, squirrels and flying-foxes they eat with avidity as articles of luxury. Spirituous liquors and intoxicating drugs are indulged in to a large extent, and chiefs of clans assume the title of Bhangi or drinkers of hemp (bhang) as a mark of honour.... In lying, thieving and knavery the Beria is not a whit inferior to his brother gipsy of Europe. The Beria woman deals in charms for exorcising the devil and palmistry is her special vocation. She also carries with her a bundle of herbs and other real or pretended charms against sickness of body or mind; and she is much sought after by village maidens for the sake of the philtre with which she restores to them their estranged lovers; while she foretells the date when absent friends will return and the sex of unborn children. They practise cupping with buffalo horns, pretend to extract worms from decayed teeth and are commonly employed as tattooers. At home the Beria woman makes mats of palm-leaves, while her lord alone cooks.... Beria women are even more circumspect than European gipsies. If a wife does not return before the jackal's cry is heard in the evening, she is subject to severe punishment. It is said that a faux pas among her own kindred is not considered reprehensible; but it is certain that no Berini has ever been known to be at fault with any one not of her own caste." This last statement is not a little astonishing, inasmuch as in Central India and in Bundelkhand Berni is an equivalent term for a prostitute. A similar diversity of conjugal morality has been noticed between the Bagris of northern India and the Vaghris of Gujarat. [259]

2. Criminal tendencies in the Central Provinces.

In other respects also the Berias of Bengal appear to be more respectable than the remainder of the caste, obtaining their livelihood by means which, if disreputable, are not actually dishonest; while in Central India the women Berias are prostitutes and the men house-breakers and thieves. These latter are so closely connected with the Sansias that the account of that caste is also applicable to the Berias. In Jubbulpore, Mr. Gayer states, the caste are expert house-breakers, bold and daring, and sometimes armed with swords and matchlocks. They sew up stolen property in their bed-quilts and secrete it in the hollow legs of their sleeping-cots, and the women habitually conceal jewels and even coins in the natural passages of the body, in which they make special saos or receptacles by practice. The Beria women go about begging, and often break open the doors of unoccupied houses in the daytime and steal anything they can find. [260] Both Sansia and Beria women wear a laong or clove in the left nostril.

3. Social customs.

As already stated, the women are professional prostitutes, but these do not marry, and on arrival at maturity they choose the life which they prefer. Mr. Crooke states, [261] however, that regular marriages seldom occur among them, because nearly all the girls are reserved for prostitution, and the men keep concubines drawn from any fairly respectable caste. So far is this the rule that in some localities if a man marries a girl of the tribe he is put out of caste or obliged to pay a fine to the tribal council. This last rule does not seem to obtain in the Central Provinces, but marriages are uncommon. In a colony of Berias in Jubbulpore [262] numbering sixty families it was stated that only eight weddings could be remembered as having occurred in the last fifty years. The boys therefore have to obtain wives as best they can; sometimes orphan girls from other castes are taken into the community, or any outsider is picked up. For a bride from the caste itself a sum of Rs. 100 is usually demanded, and the same has to be paid by a Beria man who takes a wife from the Nat or Kanjar castes, as is sometimes done. When a match is proposed they ask the expectant bridegroom how many thefts he has committed without detection; and if his performances have been inadequate they refuse to give him the girl on the ground that he will be unable to support a wife. At the betrothal the boy's parents go to the girl's house, taking with them a potful of liquor round which a silver ring is placed and a pig. The ring is given to the girl and the head of the pig to her father, while the liquor and the body of the pig provide a feast for the caste. They consult Brahmans at their birth and marriage ceremonies. Their principal deities appear to be their ancestors, whom they worship on the same day of the month and year as that on which their death took place. They make an offering of a pig to the goddess Dadaju or Devi before starting on their annual predatory excursions. Some rice is thrown into the animal's ear before it is killed, and the direction in which it turns its head is selected as the one divinely indicated for their route. Prostitution is naturally not regarded as any disgrace, and the women who have selected this profession mix on perfectly equal terms with those who are married. They occupy, in fact, a more independent position, as they dispose absolutely of their own earnings and property, and on their death it devolves on their daughters or other female relatives, males having no claim to it, in some localities at least. Among the children of married couples daughters inherit equally with sons. A prostitute is regarded as the head of the family so far as her children are concerned. Outsiders are freely admitted into the caste on giving a feast to the community. In Saugor the women of the caste, known as Berni, are the village dancing-girls, and are employed to give performances in the cold weather, especially at the Holi festival, where they dance the whole night through, fortified by continuous potations of liquor. This dance is called rai, and is accompanied by most obscene songs and gestures.


List of Paragraphs

1. The tribe derived from the Baigas. 2. Closely connected with the Kawars. 3. Internal structure. Totemism. 4. Marriage. 5. Religious superstitions. 6. Admission of outsiders and caste offences. 7. Social customs.

1. The tribe derived from the Baigas.

Bhaina. [263]—A primitive tribe peculiar to the Central Provinces and found principally in the Bilaspur District and the adjoining area, that is, in the wild tract of forest country between the Satpura range and the south of the Chota Nagpur plateau. In 1911 about 17,000 members of the tribe were returned. The tribe is of mixed descent and appears to have been derived principally from the Baigas and Kawars, having probably served as a city of refuge to persons expelled from these and other tribes and the lower castes for irregular sexual relations. Their connection with the Baigas is shown by the fact that in Mandla the Baigas have two subdivisions, which are known as Rai or Raj-Bhaina, and Kath, or catechu-making Bhaina. The name therefore would appear to have originated with the Baiga tribe. A Bhaina is also not infrequently found to be employed in the office of village priest and magician, which goes by the name of Baiga in Bilaspur. And a Bhaina has the same reputation as a Baiga for sorcery, it being said of him—

Mainhar ki manjh Bhaina ki pang

or 'The magic of a Bhaina is as deadly as the powdered mainhar fruit,' this fruit having the property of stupefying fish when thrown into the water, so that they can easily be caught. This reputation simply arises from the fact that in his capacity of village priest the Bhaina performs the various magical devices which lay the ghosts of the dead, protect the village against tigers, ensure the prosperity of the crops and so on. But it is always the older residents of any locality who are employed by later comers in this office, because they are considered to have a more intimate acquaintance with the local deities. And consequently we are entitled to assume that the Bhainas are older residents of the country where they are found than their neighbours, the Gonds and Kawars. There is other evidence to the same effect; for instance, the oldest forts in Bilaspur are attributed to the Bhainas, and a chief of this tribe is remembered as having ruled in Bilaigarh; they are also said to have been dominant in Pendra, where they are still most numerous, though the estate is now held by a Kawar; and it is related that the Bhainas were expelled from Phuljhar in Raipur by the Gonds. Phuljhar is believed to be a Gond State of long standing, and the Raja of Raigarh and others claim to be descended from its ruling family. A manuscript history of the Phuljhar chiefs records that that country was held by a Bhaina king when the Gonds invaded it, coming from Chanda. The Bhaina with his soldiers took refuge in a hollow underground chamber with two exits. But the secret of this was betrayed to the Gonds by an old Gond woman, and they filled up the openings of the chamber with grass and burnt the Bhainas to death. On this account the tribe will not enter Phuljhar territory to this day, and say that it is death to a Bhaina to do so. The Binjhwars are also said to have been dominant in the hills to the east of Raipur District, and they too are a civilised branch of the Baigas. And in all this area the village priest is commonly known as Baiga, the deduction from which is, as already stated, that the Baigas were the oldest residents. [264] It seems a legitimate conclusion, therefore, that prior to the immigration of the Gonds and Kawars, the ancient Baiga tribe was spread over the whole hill country east and north of the Mahanadi basin.

2. Closely connected with the Kawars.

The Bhainas are also closely connected with the Kawars, who still own many large estates in the hills north of Bilaspur. It is said that formerly the Bhainas and Kawars both ate in common and intermarried, but at present, though the Bhainas still eat rice boiled in water from the Kawars, the latter do not reciprocate. But still, when a Kawar is celebrating a birth, marriage or death in his family, or when he takes in hand to make a tank, he will first give food to a Bhaina before his own caste-men eat. And it may safely be assumed that this is a recognition of the Bhaina's position as having once been lord of the land. A Kawar may still be admitted into the Bhaina community, and it is said that the reason of the rupture of the former equal relations between the two tribes was the disgust felt by the Kawars for the rude and uncouth behaviour of the Bhainas. For on one occasion a Kawar went to ask for a Bhaina girl in marriage, and, as the men of the family were away, the women undertook to entertain him. And as the Bhainas had no axes, the daughter proceeded to crack the sticks on her head for kindling a fire, and for grass she pulled out a wisp of thatch from the roof and broke it over her thigh, being unable to chop it. This so offended the delicate susceptibilities of the Kawar that he went away without waiting for his meal, and from that time the Kawars ceased to marry with the Bhainas. It seems possible that the story points to the period when the primitive Bhainas and Baigas did not know the use of iron and to the introduction of this metal by the later-coming Kawars and Gonds. It is further related that when a Kawar is going to make a ceremonial visit he likes always to take with him two or three Bhainas, who are considered as his retainers, though not being so in fact. This enhances his importance, and it is also said that the stupidity of the Bhainas acts as a foil, through which the superior intelligence of the Kawar is made more apparent. All these details point to the same conclusion that the primitive Bhainas first held the country and were supplanted by the more civilised Kawars, and bears out the theory that the settlement of the Munda tribes was prior to those of the Dravidian family.

3. Internal structure: Totemism.

The tribe has two subdivisions of a territorial nature, Laria or Chhattisgarhi, and Uriya. The Uriya Bhainas will accept food cooked without water from the Sawaras or Saonrs, and these also from them; so that they have probably intermarried. Two other subdivisions recorded are the Jhalyara and Ghantyara or Ghatyara; the former being so called because they live in jhalas or leaf huts in the forest, and the latter, it is said, because they tie a ghanta or bell to their doors. This, however, seems very improbable. Another theory is that the word is derived from ghat, a slope or descent, and refers to a method which the tribe have of tattooing themselves with a pattern of lines known as ghat. Or it is said to mean a low or despised section. The Jhalyara and Ghatyara divisions comprise the less civilised portion of the tribe, who still live in the forests; and they are looked down on by the Uriya and Laria sections, who belong to the open country. The exogamous divisions of the tribe show clearly enough that the Bhainas, like other subject races, have quite failed to preserve any purity of blood. Among the names of their gots or septs are Dhobia (a washerman), Ahera (cowherd), Gond, Mallin (gardener), Panika (from a Panka or Ganda) and others. The members of such septs pay respect to any man belonging to the caste after which they are named and avoid picking a quarrel with him. They also worship the family gods of this caste. The tribe have also a number of totem septs, named after animals or plants. Such are Nag the cobra, Bagh the tiger, Chitwa the leopard, Gidha the vulture, Besra the hawk, Bendra the monkey, Kok or Lodha the wild dog, Bataria the quail, Durgachhia the black ant, and so on. Members of a sept will not injure the animal after which it is named, and if they see the corpse of the animal or hear of its death, they throw away an earthen cooking-pot and bathe and shave themselves as for one of the family. Members of the Baghchhal or tiger sept will, however, join in a beat for tiger though they are reluctant to do so. At weddings the Bhainas have a ceremony known as the gotra worship. The bride's father makes an image in clay of the bird or animal of the groom's sept and places it beside the marriage-post. The bridegroom worships the image, lighting a sacrificial fire before it, and offers to it the vermilion which he afterwards smears upon the forehead of the bride. At the bridegroom's house a similar image is made of the bride's totem, and on returning there after the wedding she worships this. Women are often tattooed with representations of their totem animal, and men swear by it as their most sacred oath. A similar respect is paid to the inanimate objects after which certain septs are named. Thus members of the Gawad or cowdung sept will not burn cowdung cakes for fuel; and those of the Mircha sept do not use chillies. One sept is named after the sun, and when an eclipse occurs these perform the same formal rites of mourning as the others do on the death of their totem animal. Some of the groups have two divisions, male and female, which practically rank as separate septs. Instances of these are the Nagbans Andura and the Nagbans Mai or male and female cobra septs; the Karsayal Singhara and Karsayal Mundi or stag and doe deer septs; and the Baghchhal Andura and Baghchhal Mai or tiger and tigress septs. These may simply be instances of subdivisions arising owing to the boundaries of the sept having become too large for convenience.

4. Marriage.

The tribe consider that a boy should be married when he has learnt to drive the plough, and a girl when she is able to manage her household affairs. When a father can afford a bride for his son, he and his relatives go to the girl's village, taking with them ten or fifteen cakes of bread and a bottle of liquor. He stays with some relative and sends to ask the girl's father if he will give his daughter to the inquirer's son. If the former agrees, the bread and liquor are sent over to him, and he drinks three cups of the spirit as a pledge of the betrothal, the remainder being distributed to the company. This is known as Tatia kholna or 'the opening of the door,' and is followed some days afterwards by a similar ceremonial which constitutes the regular betrothal. On this occasion the father agrees to marry his daughter within a year and demands the bride-price, which consists of rice, cloth, a goat and other articles, the total value being about five rupees. A date is next fixed for the wedding, the day selected being usually a Monday or Friday, but no date or month is forbidden. The number of days to the wedding are then counted, and two knotted strings are given to each party, with a knot for each day up to that on which the anointings with oil and turmeric will commence at the bridegroom's and bride's houses. Every day one knot is untied at each house up to that on which the ceremonies begin, and thus the correct date for them is known. The invitations to the wedding are given by distributing rice coloured yellow with turmeric to all members of the caste in the locality, with the intimation that the wedding procession will start on a certain day and that they will be pleased to attend. During the four days that they are being anointed the bride and bridegroom dance at their respective houses to the accompaniment of drums and other instruments. For the wedding ceremony a number of Hindu rites have been adopted. The eldest sister of the bridegroom or bride is known as the sawasin and her husband as the sawasa, and these persons seem to act as the representatives of the bridal couple throughout the marriage and to receive all presents on their behalf. The custom is almost universal among the Hindus, and it is possible that they are intended to act as substitutes and to receive any strokes of evil fortune which may befall the bridal pair at a season at which they are peculiarly liable to it. The couple go round the sacred post, and afterwards the bridegroom daubs the bride's forehead with red lead seven times and covers her head with her cloth to show that she has become a married woman. After the wedding the bridegroom's parents say to him, "Now your parents have done everything they could for you, and you must manage your own house." The expenditure on an average wedding is about fifteen or twenty rupees. A widow is usually taken in marriage by her late husband's younger brother or Dewar, or by one of his relatives. If she marries an outsider, the Dewar realises twelve rupees from him in compensation for her loss. But if there is no Dewar this sum is not payable to her first husband's elder brother or her own father, because they could not have married her and hence are not held to be injured by a stranger doing so. If a woman is divorced and another man wishes to marry her, he must make a similar payment of twelve rupees to the first husband, together with a goat and liquor for the penal feast. The Bhainas bury or burn the dead according as their means permit.

5. Religious superstitions.

Their principal deity in Bilaspur is Nakti Devi [265] or the 'Noseless Goddess.' For her ritual rice is placed on a square of the floor washed with cowdung, and ghi or preserved butter is poured on it and burnt. A hen is made to eat the rice, and then its head is cut off and laid on the square. The liver is burnt on the fire as an offering to the deity and the head and body of the animal are then eaten. After the death of a man a cock is offered to Nakti Devi and a hen after that of a woman. The fowl is made to pick rice first in the yard of the house, then on the threshold, and lastly inside the house. Thakur Deo is the deity of cultivation and is worshipped on the day before the autumn crops are sown. On this day all the men in the village go to his shrine taking a measure of rice and a ploughshare. At the same time the Baiga or village priest goes and bathes in the tank and is afterwards carried to the assembly on a man's shoulders. Here he makes an offering and repeats a charm, and then kneeling down strikes the earth seven times with the ploughshare, and sows five handfuls of rice, sprinkling water over the seed. After him the villagers walk seven times round the altar of the god in pairs, one man turning up the earth with the ploughshare and the other sowing and watering the seed. While this is going on the Baiga sits with his face covered with a piece of cloth, and at the end the villagers salute the Baiga and go home. When a man wishes to do an injury to another he makes an image of him with clay and daubs it with vermilion and worships it with an offering of a goat or a fowl and liquor. Then he prays the image that his enemy may die. Another way of injuring an enemy is to take rice coloured with turmeric, and after muttering charms throw it in the direction in which the enemy lives.

6. Admission of outsiders and caste offences.

Outsiders are not usually admitted, but if a Bhaina forms a connection with a woman of another tribe, they will admit the children of such a union, though not the woman herself. For they say: 'The seed is ours and what matters the field on which it was sown.' But a man of the Kawar tribe having intimacy with a Bhaina woman may be taken into the community. He must wait for three or four months after the matter becomes known and will beg for admission and offer to give the penalty feast. A day is fixed for this and invitations are sent to members of the caste. On the appointed day the women of the tribe cook rice, pulse, goat's flesh and urad cakes fried in oil, and in the evening the people assemble and drink liquor and then go to take their food. The candidate for admission serves water to the men and his prospective wife to the women, both being then permitted to take food with the tribe. Next morning the people come again and the woman is dressed in a white cloth with bangles. The couple stand together supported by their brother-in-law and sister-in-law respectively, and turmeric dissolved in water is poured over their heads. They are now considered to be married and go round together and give the salutation or Johar to the people, touching the feet of those who are entitled to this mark of respect, and kissing the others. Among the offences for which a man is temporarily put out of caste is getting the ear torn either accidentally or otherwise, being beaten by a man of very low caste, growing san-hemp (Crotalaria juncea), rearing tasar silk-worms or getting maggots in a wound. This last is almost as serious an offence as killing a cow, and, in both cases, before an offender can be reinstated he must kill a fowl and swallow a drop or two of its blood with turmeric. Women commonly get the lobe of the ear torn through the heavy ear-rings which they wear; and in a squabble another woman will often seize the ear-ring maliciously in order to tear the ear. A woman injured in this way is put out of caste for a year in Janjgir. To grow turmeric or garlic is also an offence against caste, but a man is permitted to do this for his own use and not for sale. A man who gets leprosy is said to be permanently expelled from caste. The purification of delinquents is conducted by members of the Sonwani (gold-water) and Patel (headman) septs, whose business it is to give the offender water to drink in which gold has been dipped and to take over the burden of his sins by first eating food with him. But others say that the Hathi or elephant sept is the highest, and to its members are delegated these duties. And in Janjgir again the president of the committee gives the gold-water, and is hence known as Sonwan; and this office must always be held by a man of the Bandar or monkey sept.

7. Social customs.

The Bhainas are a comparatively civilised tribe and have largely adopted Hindu usages. They employ Brahmans to fix auspicious days for their ceremonies, though not to officiate at them. They live principally in the open country and are engaged in agriculture, though very few of them hold land and the bulk are farm-labourers. They now disclaim any connection with the primitive Baigas, who still prefer the forests. But their caste mark, a symbol which may be affixed to documents in place of a signature or used for a brand on cattle, is a bow, and this shows that they retain the recollection of hunting as their traditional occupation. Like the Baigas, the tribe have forgotten their native dialect and now speak bad Hindi. They will eat pork and rats, and almost anything else they can get, eschewing only beef. But in their intercourse with other castes they are absurdly strict, and will take boiled rice only from a Kawar, or from a Brahman if it is cooked in a brass and not in an earthen vessel, and this only from a male and not from a female Brahman; while they will accept baked chapatis and other food from a Gond and a Rawat. But in Sambalpur they will take this from a Savar and not from a Gond. They rank below the Gonds, Kawars and Savars or Saonrs. Women are tattooed with a representation of their sept totem; and on the knees and ankles they have some figures of lines which are known as ghats. These they say will enable them to climb the mountains leading to heaven in the other world, while those who have not such marks will be pierced with spears on their way up the ascent. It has already been suggested that these marks may have given rise to the name of the Ghatyara division of the tribe.

Bhamta or Bhamtya

1. Occupation.

Bhamta or Bhamtya. [266]—A caste numbering 4000 persons in the Central Provinces, nearly all of whom reside in the Wardha, Nagpur and Chanda Districts of the Nagpur Division. The Bhamtas are also found in Bombay, Berar and Hyderabad. In Bombay they are known by the names of Uchla or 'Lifter' and Ganthachor or 'Bundle-thief.' [267] The Bhamtas were and still are notorious thieves, but many of the caste are now engaged in the cultivation of hemp, from which they make ropes, mats and gunny-bags. Formerly it was said in Wardha that a Bhamta girl would not marry unless her suitor had been arrested not less than fourteen times by the police, when she considered that he had qualified as a man. The following description of their methods does not necessarily apply to the whole caste, though the bulk of them are believed to have criminal tendencies. But some colonies of Bhamtas who have taken to the manufacture of sacking and gunny-bags from hemp-fibre may perhaps be excepted. They steal only during the daytime, and divide that part of the Province which they frequent into regular beats or ranges. They adopt many disguises. Even in their own cottages one dresses as a Marwari Bania, another as a Gujarat Jain, a third as a Brahman and a fourth as a Rajput. They keep to some particular disguise for years and often travel hundreds of miles, entering and stealing from the houses of the classes of persons whose dress they adopt, or taking service with a merchant or trader, and having gained their employer's confidence, seizing an opportunity to abscond with some valuable property. Sometimes two or three Bhamtas visit a large fair, and one of them dressed as a Brahman mingles with the crowd of bathers and worshippers. The false Brahman notices some ornament deposited by a bather, and while himself entering the water and repeating sacred verses, watches his opportunity and spreads out his cloth near the ornament, which he then catches with his toes, and dragging it with him to a distance as he walks away buries it in the sand. The accomplices meanwhile loiter near, and when the owner discovers his loss the Brahman sympathises with him and points out the accomplices as likely thieves, thus diverting suspicion from himself. The victim follows the accomplices, who make off, and the real thief meanwhile digs the ornament out of the sand and escapes at his leisure. Women often tie their ornaments in bundles at such bathing-fairs, and in that case two Bhamtas will go up to her, one on each side, and while one distracts her attention the other makes off with the bundle and buries it in the sand. A Bhamta rarely retains the stolen property on his person while there is a chance of his being searched, and is therefore not detected. They show considerable loyalty to one another, and never steal from or give information against a member of the caste. If stolen property is found in a Bhamta's house, and it has merely been deposited there for security, the real thief comes forward. An escaped prisoner does not come back to his friends lest he should get them into trouble. A Bhamta is never guilty of house-breaking or gang-robbery, and if he takes part in this offence he is put out of caste. He does not steal from the body of a person asleep. He is, however, expert at the theft of ornaments from the person. He never steals from a house in his own village, and the villagers frequently share directly or indirectly in his gains. The Bhamtas are now expert railway thieves. [268] Two of them will get into a carriage, and, engaging the other passengers in conversation, find out where they are going, so as to know the time available for action. When it gets dark and the travellers go to sleep, one of the Bhamtas lies down on the floor and covers himself with a large cloth. He begins feeling some bag under the seat, and if he cannot open it with his hands, takes from his mouth the small curved knife which all Bhamtas carry concealed between their gum and upper lip, and with this he rips up the seams of the bag and takes out what he finds; or they exchange bags, according to a favourite device of English railway thieves, and then quickly either leave the train or get into another carriage. If attention is aroused they throw the stolen property out of the window, marking the place and afterwards going back to recover it. Another device is to split open and pick the pockets of people in a crowd. Besides the knife they often have a needle and thread and an iron nut-cutter.

2. Subdivisions and marriage customs.

Members of other castes, as Chhatri, Kanjar, Rawat and others, who have taken to stealing, are frequently known as Bhamtas, but unless they have been specially initiated do not belong to the caste. The Bhamtas proper have two main divisions, the Chhatri Bhamtas, who are usually immigrants from Gujarat, and those of the Maratha country, who are often known as Bhamtis. The former have a dialect which is a mixture of Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, while the latter speak the local form of Marathi. The sections of the Chhatri Bhamtas are named after Rajput septs, as Badgujar, Chauhan, Gahlot, Bhatti, Kachhwaha and others. They may be partly of Rajput descent, as they have regular and pleasing features and a fair complexion, and are well built and sturdy. The sections of the Bhamtis are called by Maratha surnames, as Gudekar, Kaothi, Bailkhade, Satbhaia and others. The Chhatri Bhamtas have northern customs, and the Bhamtis those of the Maratha country. Marriage between persons of the same gotra or surname is prohibited. The Chhatris avoid marriage between relations having a common greatgrandparent, but among the Bhamtis the custom of Mehunchar is prevalent, by which the brother's daughter is married to the sister's son. Girls are usually married at ten and eleven years of age or later. The betrothal and marriage customs of the two subcastes differ, the Chhatris following the ceremonial of the northern Districts and the Bhamtis that of the Maratha country. The Chhatris do not pay a bride-price, but the Bhamtis usually do. Widow-marriage is allowed, and while the Chhatris expect the widow to marry her deceased husband's brother, the Bhamtis do not permit this. Among both subdivisions a price is paid for the widow to her parents. Divorce is only permitted for immoral conduct on the part of the wife. A divorced woman may remarry after giving a feast to the caste panchayat or committee, and obtaining their consent.

3. Religion and social customs.

The goddess Devi is the tutelary deity of the caste, as of all those who ply a disreputable profession. Animals are sacrificed to her or let loose to wander in her name. The offerings are appropriated by the village washerman. In Bombay the rendezvous of the Bhamtis is the temple of Devi at Konali, in Akalkot State, near Sholapur, and here the gangs frequently assemble before and after their raids to ask the goddess that luck may attend them and to thank her for success obtained. [269] They worship their rope-making implements on the Dasahra day. They both bury and burn the dead. Ghosts and spirits are worshipped. If a man takes a second wife after the death of his first, the new wife wears a putli or image of the first wife on a piece of silver on her neck, and offers it the hom sacrifice by placing some ghi on the fire before taking a meal. In cases of doubt and difficulty she often consults the putli by speaking to it, while any chance stir of the image due to the movement of her body is interpreted as approval or disapproval. In the Central Provinces the Bhamtis say that they do not admit outsiders into the caste, but this is almost certainly untrue. In Bombay they are said to admit all Hindus [270] except the very lowest castes, and also Muhammadans. The candidate must pass through the two ceremonies of admission into the caste and adoption into a particular family. For the first he pays an admission fee, is bathed and dressed in new clothes, and one of the elders drops turmeric and sugar into his mouth. A feast follows, during which some elders of the caste eat out of the same plate with him. This completes the admission ceremony, but in order to marry in the caste a candidate must also be adopted into a particular family. The Bhamta who has agreed to adopt him invites the caste people to his house, and there takes the candidate on his knee while the guests drop turmeric and sugar into his mouth. The Bhamtas eat fish and fowl but not pork or beef, and drink liquor. This last practice is, however, frequently made a caste offence by the Bhamtis. They take cooked food from Brahmans and Kunbis and water from Gonds. The keeping of concubines is also an offence entailing temporary excommunication. The morality of the caste is somewhat low and their women are addicted to prostitution. The occupation of the Bhamta is also looked down on, and it is said, Bhamta ka kam sub se nikam, or 'The Bhamta's work is the worst of all.' This may apply either to his habits of stealing or to the fact that he supplies a bier made of twine and bamboo sticks at a death. In Bombay the showy dress of the Bhamta is proverbial. Women are tattooed before marriage on the forehead and lower lip, and on other parts of the body for purposes of adornment. The men have the head shaved for three inches above the top of the forehead in front and an inch higher behind, and they wear the scalp-lock much thicker than Brahmans do. They usually have red head-cloths.


1. General notice

Bharbhunja. [271]—The occupational caste of grain-parchers. The name is derived from the Sanskrit bhrastra, a frying-pan, and bharjaka, one who fries. The Bharbhunjas numbered 3000 persons in 1911, and belong mainly to the northern Districts, their headquarters being in Upper India. In Chhattisgarh the place of the Bharbhunjas is taken by the Dhuris. Sir H. Elliot [272] remarks that the caste are traditionally supposed to be descended from a Kahar father and a Sudra mother, and they are probably connected with the Kahars. In Saugor they say that their ancestors were Kankubja Brahmans who were ordered to parch rice at the wedding of the great Rama, and in consequence of this one of their subcastes is known as Kanbajia. But Kankubja is one of the commonest names of subcastes among the people of northern India, and merely indicates that the bearers belong to the tract round the old city of Kanauj; and there is no reason to suppose that it means anything more in the case of the Bharbhunjas. Another group are called Kaitha, and they say that their ancestors were Kayasths, who adopted the profession of grain-parching. It is said that in Bhopal proper Kayasths will take food from Kaitha Bharbhunjas and smoke from their huqqa; and it is noticeable that in northern India Mr. Crooke gives [273] not only the Kaitha subcaste, but other groups called Saksena and Srivastab, which are the names of well-known Kayasth subdivisions. It is possible, therefore, that the Kaitha group may really be connected with the Kayasths. Other subcastes are the Benglah, who are probably immigrants from Bengal; and the Kandu, who may also come from that direction, Kandu being the name of the corresponding caste of grain-parchers in Bengal.

2. Social customs.

The social customs of the Bharbhunjas resemble those of Hindustani castes of fairly good position. [274] They employ Brahmans for their ceremonies, and the family priest receives five rupees for officiating at a wedding, three rupees for a funeral, one rupee for a birth, and four annas on ordinary occasions. No price is paid for a bride, and at their marriages the greater part of the expense falls on the girl's father, who has to give three feasts as against two provided by the bridegroom's father. After the wedding the bridegroom's father puts on women's clothes given by the bride's father and dances before the family. Rose-coloured water and powder are sprinkled over the guests and the proceeding is known as Phag, because it is considered to have the same significance as the Holi festival observed in Phagun. This is usually done on the bank of a river or in some garden outside the village. At the gauna or going-away ceremony the bride and bridegroom take their seats on two wooden boards and then change places. Divorce and the remarriage of widows are permitted. The union of a widow with her deceased husband's younger brother is considered a suitable match, but is not compulsory. When a bachelor marries a widow, he first goes through the proper ceremony either with a stick or an ear-ring, and is then united to the widow by the simple ritual employed for widow remarriage. A girl who is seduced by a member of the caste may be married to him as if she were a widow, but if her lover is an outsider she is permanently expelled from the caste.

3. Occupation.

The Bharbhunjas occupy a fairly high social position, analogous to that of the Barais, Kahars and other serving castes, the explanation being that all Hindus require the grain parched by them; this, as it is not cooked with water, may be eaten abroad, on a journey or in the market-place. This is known as pakki food, and even Brahmans will take it from their hands. But Mr. Crooke notes [275] that the work they do, and particularly the sweeping up of dry leaves for fuel, tends to lower them in the popular estimation, and it is a favourite curse to wish of an enemy that he may some day come to stoke the kiln of a grain-parcher. Of their occupation Sir H. Risley states that "Throughout the caste the actual work of parching grain is usually left to the women. The process is a simple one. A clay oven is built, somewhat in the shape of a bee-hive, with ten or twelve round holes at the top. A fire is lighted under it and broken earthen pots containing sand are put on the holes. The grain to be parched is thrown in with the sand and stirred with a flat piece of wood or a broom until it is ready. The sand and parched grain are then placed in a sieve, through which the former escapes. The wages of the parcher are a proportion of the grain, varying from one-eighth to one-fourth. In Bengal the caste was spoken of by early English travellers under the quaint name of the frymen." [276] In the Central Provinces also grain-parching is distinctly a woman's industry, only twenty-two per cent of those shown as working at it being men. There are two classes of tradesmen, those who simply keep ovens and parch grain which is brought to them, and those who keep the grain and sell it ready parched. The rates for parching are a pice a seer or an eighth part of the grain. Gram and rice, husked or unhusked, are the grains usually parched. When parched, gram is called phutana (broken) and rice lahi. The Bharbhunjas also prepare sathu, a flour made by grinding parched gram or wheat, which is a favourite food for a light morning meal, or for travellers. It can be taken without preparation, being simply mixed with water and a little salt or sugar. The following story is told about sathu to emphasise its convenience in this respect. Once two travellers were about to take some food before starting in the morning, of whom one had sathu and the other dhan (unhusked rice). The one with the dhan knew that it would take him a long time to pound, and then cook and eat it, so he said to the other, "My poor friend, I perceive that you only have sathu, which will delay you because you must find water, and then mix it, and find salt, and put it in, before your sathu can be ready, while rice—pound, eat and go. But if you like, as you are in a greater hurry than I am, I will change my rice for your sathu." The other traveller unsuspectingly consented, thinking he was getting the best of the bargain, and while he was still looking for a mortar in which to pound his rice, the first traveller had mixed and eaten the sathu and proceeded on his journey. In the vernacular the point is brought out by the onomatopoeic character of the lines, which cannot be rendered in English. The caste are now also engaged in selling tobacco and sweetmeats and the manufacture of fireworks. They stoke their ovens with any refuse they can collect from the roads, and hence comes the saying, 'Bhar men dalna', 'To throw into the oven,' meaning to throw away something or to make ducks and drakes with it; while Bhar-jhokna signifies to light or heat the oven, and, figuratively, to take up a mean occupation (Platts). Another proverb quoted by Mr. Crooke is, 'Bharbhunja ka larki kesar ka tika,' or 'The Bharbhunja's slut with saffron on her forehead,' meaning one dressed in borrowed plumes. Another saying is, 'To tum kya abhi tak bhar bhunjte rahe,' or 'Have you been stoking the oven all this time?'—meaning to imply that the person addressed has been wasting his time, because the profits from grain-parching are so small. The oven of the Psalmist into which the grass was cast no doubt closely resembled that of the Bharbhunjas.


List of Paragraphs

1. Origin and tribal legend. 2. Tribal subdivisions. 3. Marriage. 4. Childbirth. 5. Funeral ceremonies. 6. Religion and magic. 7. Social life and customs. 8. Occupation.

1. Origin and tribal legend.

Bharia, Bharia-Bhumia. [277]—A Dravidian tribe numbering about 50,000 persons and residing principally in the Jubbulpore District, which contains a half of the total number. The others are found in Chhindwara and Bilaspur. The proper name of the tribe is Bharia, but they are often called Bharia-Bhumia, because many of them hold the office of Bhumia or priest of the village gods and of the lower castes in Jubbulpore, and the Bharias prefer the designation of Bhumia as being the more respectable. The term Bhumia or 'Lord of the soil' is an alternative for Bhuiya, the name of another Dravidian tribe, and no doubt came to be applied to the office of village priest because it was held by members of this tribe; the term Baiga has a similar signification in Mandla and Balaghat, and is applied to the village priest though he may not belong to the Baiga tribe at all. The Bharias have forgotten their original affinities, and several stories of the origin of the tribe are based on far-fetched derivations of the name. One of these is to the effect that Arjun, when matters were going badly with the Pandavas in their battle against the Kauravas, took up a handful of bharru grass and, pressing it, produced a host of men who fought in the battle and became the ancestors of the Bharias. And there are others of the same historical value. But there is no reason to doubt that Bharia is the contemptuous form of Bhar, as Telia for Teli, Jugia for Jogi, Kuria for Kori, and that the Bharias belong to the great Bhar tribe who were once dominant in the eastern part of the United Provinces, but are now at the bottom of the social scale, and relegated by their conquerors to the degrading office of swineherds. The Rajjhars, who appear to have formed a separate caste as the landowning subdivision of the Bhars, like the Raj-Gonds among Gonds, are said to be the descendants of a Raja and a Bharia woman. The Rajjhars form a separate caste in the Central Provinces, and the Bharias acknowledge some connection with them, but refuse to take water from their hands, as they consider them to be of impure blood. The Bharias also give Mahoba or Bandhogarh as their former home, and these places are in the country of the Bhars. According to tradition Raja Karna Deva, a former king of Dahal, the classical name of the Jubbulpore country, was a Bhar, and it may be that the immigration of the Bharias into Jubbulpore dates from his period, which is taken as 1040 to 1080 A.D. While then it may be considered as fairly certain that the Bharias are merely the Bhar tribe with a variant of the name, it is clear from the titles of their family groups, which will shortly be given, that they are an extremely mixed class and consist largely of the descendants of members of other castes, who, having lost their own social position, have taken refuge among the Bharias at the bottom of the social scale. Mr. Crooke says of the Bhars: [278] "The most probable supposition is that the Bhars were a Dravidian race closely allied to the Kols, Cheros and Seoris, who at an early date succumbed to the invading Aryans. This is borne out by their appearance and physique, which closely resemble that of the undoubted non-Aryan aborigines of the Vindhyan-Kaimur plateau." In the Central Provinces the Bharias have been so closely associated with the Gonds that they have been commonly considered to belong to that tribe. Thus Mr. Drysdale says of them: [279] 'The Bharias were the wildest of the wild Gonds and were inveterate dhaya [280] cutters.' Although, however, they have to some extent intermarried with the Gonds, the Bharias were originally quite a distinct tribe, and would belong to the Kolarian or Munda group but that they have entirely forgotten their own language and speak only Hindi, though with a peculiar intonation especially noticeable in the case of their women.

2. Tribal subdivisions.

The structure of the tribe is a very loose one, and though the Bharias say that they are divided into subcastes, there are none in reality. Members of all castes except the very lowest may become Bharias, and one Bharia will recognise another as a fellow-tribesman if he can show relationship to any person admitted to occupy that position. But a division is in process of formation in Bilaspur based on the practice of eating beef, from which some abstain, and in consequence look down on the others who are addicted to it, and call them Dhur Bharias, the term dhur meaning cattle. The abstainers from beef now refuse to marry with the others. The tribe is divided into a number of exogamous groups, and the names of these indicate the very heterogeneous elements of which it consists. Out of fifty-one groups reported not less than fifteen or sixteen have names derived from other castes or clans, showing almost certainly that such groups were formed by a mixed marriage or the admission of a family of outsiders. Such names are: Agaria, from the Agarias or iron-workers: this clan worships Loha-Sur, the god of the Agarias; Ahirwar, or the descendants of an Ahir: this clan worships the Ahir gods; Bamhania, born of a Brahman ancestor; Binjhwar or Binjha, perhaps from the tribe of that name; Chandel, from a Rajput clan; Dagdoha, a synonym of Basor: persons of this sept hang a piece of bamboo and a curved knife to the waist of the bride at their marriages; Dhurua, born of a Dhurua Gond; Kuanpa, born of an Ahir subcaste of that name; Kurka, of Korku parentage; Maravi, the name of a Gond clan; Rathor from a Rajput clan; Samarba from a Chamar; and Yarkara, the name of a Gond clan. These names sufficiently indicate the diverse elements of which the tribe is made up. Other group names with meanings are: Gambhele, or those who seclude their women in a separate house during the menstrual period; Kaitha, from the kaith tree (Feronia elephantum); Karondiha, from the karonda plant (Carissa Carandas); Magarha, from magar a crocodile: members of this group worship an image of a crocodile made with flour and fried in oil; Sonwani, from sona gold: members of this group perform the ceremony of readmission of persons temporarily put out of caste by sprinkling on them a little water in which gold has been dipped. Any person who does not know his clan name calls himself a Chandel, and this group, though bearing the name of a distinguished Rajput clan, is looked upon as the lowest. But although the rule of exogamy in marriage is recognised, it is by no means strictly adhered to, and many cases are known in which unions have taken place between members of the same clan. So long as people can recollect a relationship between themselves, they do not permit their families to intermarry. But the memory of the Bharia does not extend beyond the third generation.

3. Marriage.

Marriages are adult, and the proposal comes from the boy's father, who has it conveyed to the girl's father through some friend in his village. If a betrothal is arranged the bride's father invites the father and friends of the bridegroom to dinner; on this occasion the boy's father brings some necklaces of lac beads and spangles and presents them to the bride's female relatives, who then come out and tie the necklaces round his neck and those of his friends, place the spangles on their foreheads, and then, catching hold of their cheeks, press and twist them violently. Some turmeric powder is also thrown on their faces. This is the binding portion of the betrothal ceremony. The date of marriage is fixed by a Brahman, this being the only purpose for which he is employed, and a bride-price varying from six to twelve rupees is paid. On this occasion the women draw caricatures with turmeric or charcoal on the loin-cloth of the boy's father, which they manage to purloin. The marriage ceremony follows generally the Hindu form. The bridegroom puts on women's ornaments and carries with him an iron nut-cracker or dagger to keep off evil spirits. After the wedding, the midua, a sort of burlesque dance, is held. The girl's mother gets the dress of the boy's father and puts it on, together with a false beard and moustaches, and dances, holding a wooden ladle in one hand and a packet of ashes in the other. Every time she approaches the bridegroom's father on her rounds she spills some of the ashes over him, and occasionally gives him a crack on the head with her ladle, these actions being accompanied by bursts of laughter from the party and frenzied playing by the musicians. When the party reach the bridegroom's house on their return, his mother and the other women come out and burn a little mustard and human hair in a lamp, the unpleasant smell emitted by these articles being considered potent to drive away evil spirits. Every time the bride leaves her father's house she must weep, and must cry separately with each one of her caste-sisters when taking leave of them. When she returns home she must begin weeping loudly on the boundary of the village, and continue doing so until she has embraced each of her relatives and friends, a performance which in a village containing a large number of Bharias may take from three to six hours. These tears are, however, considered to be a manifestation of joy, and the girl who cannot produce enough of them is often ridiculed. A prospective son-in-law who serves for his wife is known as Gharjian. The work given him is always very heavy, and the Bharias have a saying which compares his treatment with that awarded to an ox obtained on hire. If a girl is seduced by a man of the tribe, she may be married to him by the ceremony prescribed for the remarriage of a widow, which consists merely in the placing of bangles on the wrists and a present of a new cloth, together with a feast to the caste-fellows. Similarly if she is seduced by a man of another caste who would be allowed to become a Bharia, she can be married as a widow to any man of the tribe. A widow is expected to marry her late husband's younger brother, but no compulsion is exercised. If a bachelor espouses a widow, he first goes through the ceremony of marriage with a ring to which a twig of the date-palm is tied, by carrying the ring seven times round the marriage post. This is necessary to save him from the sin of dying unmarried, as the union with a widow is not reckoned as a true marriage. In Jubbulpore divorce is said to be allowed only for conjugal misbehaviour, and a Bharia will pass over three transgressions on his wife's part before finally turning her out of his house. A woman who wishes to leave her husband simply runs away from him and lives with somebody else. In this case the third party must pay a goat to the husband by way of compensation and give a feast to the caste-fellows.

4. Childbirth.

The carelessness of the Bharias in the matter of childbirth is notorious, and it is said that mothers commonly went on working up to the moment of childbirth and were delivered of children in the fields. Now, however, the woman lies up for three days, and some ceremonies of purification are performed. In Chhattisgarh infants are branded on the day of their birth, under the impression that this will cause them to digest the food they have taken in the womb. The child is named six months after birth by the father's sister, and its lips are then touched with cooked food for the first time.

5. Funeral ceremonies.

The tribe both burn and bury the dead, and observe mourning for an adult for ten days, during which time they daily put out a leaf-cup containing food for the use of the deceased. In the third year after the death, the mangan or caste beggar visits the relatives of the deceased, and receives what they call one limb (ang), or half his belongings; the ang consists of a loin-cloth, a brass vessel and dish, an axe, a scythe and a wrist-ring.

6. Religion and magic.

The Bharias call themselves Hindus and worship the village deities of the locality, and on the day of Diwali offer a black chicken to their family god, who may be Bura Deo, Dulha Deo or Karua, the cobra. For this snake they profess great reverence, and say that he was actually born in a Bharia family. As he could not work in the fields he was usually employed on errands. One day he was sent to the house, and surprised one of his younger brother's wives, who had not heard him coming, without her veil. She reproached him, and he retired in dudgeon to the oven, where he was presently burnt to death by another woman, who kindled a fire under it not knowing that he was there. So he has been deified and is worshipped by the tribe. The Bharias also venerate Bagheshwar, the tiger god, and believe that no tiger will eat a Bharia. On the Diwali day they invite the tiger to drink some gruel which they place ready for him behind their houses, at the same time warning the other villagers not to stir out of doors. In the morning they display the empty vessels as a proof that the tiger has visited them. They practise various magical devices, believing that they can kill a man by discharging at him a muth or handful of charmed objects such as lemons, vermilion and seeds of urad. This ball will travel through the air and, descending on the house of the person at whom it is aimed, will kill him outright unless he can avert its power by stronger magic, and perhaps even cause it to recoil in the same manner on the head of the sender. They exorcise the Sudhiniyas or the drinkers of human blood. A person troubled by one of these is seated near the Bharia, who places two pots with their mouths joined over a fire. He recites incantations and the pots begin to boil, emitting blood. This result is obtained by placing a herb in the pot whose juice stains the water red. The blood-sucker is thus successfully exorcised. To drive away the evil eye they burn a mixture of chillies, salt, human hair and the husks of kodon, which emits a very evil smell. Such devices are practised by members of the tribe who hold the office of Bhumia or village priest. The Bharias are well-known thieves, and they say that the dark spots on the moon are caused by a banyan tree, which God planted with the object of diminishing her light and giving thieves a chance to ply their trade. If a Bhumia wishes to detect a thief, he sits clasping hands with a friend, while a pitcher is supported on their hands. An oblation is offered to the deity to guide the ordeal correctly, and the names of suspected persons are recited one by one, the name at which the pitcher topples over being that of the thief. But before employing this method of detection the Bhumia proclaims his intention of doing so on a certain date, and in the meantime places a heap of ashes in some lonely place and invites the thief to deposit the stolen article in the ashes to save himself from exposure. By common custom each person in the village is required to visit the heap and mingle a handful of ashes with it, and not infrequently the thief, frightened at the Bhumia's powers of detection, takes the stolen article and buries it in the ash-heap where it is duly found, the necessity for resorting to the further method of divination being thus obviated. Occasionally the Bharia in his character of a Hindu will make a vow to pay for a recitation of the Satya Narayan Katha or some other holy work. But he understands nothing of it, and if the Brahman employed takes a longer time than he had bargained for over the recitation he becomes extremely bored and irritated.

7. Social life and customs.

The scantiness of the Bharia's dress is proverbial, and the saying is 'Bharia bhwaka, pwanda langwata', or 'The Bharia is verily a devil, who only covers his loins with a strip of cloth.' But lately he has assumed more clothing. Formerly an iron ring carried on the wrist to exorcise the evil spirits was his only ornament. Women wear usually only one coarse cloth dyed red, spangles on the forehead and ears, bead necklaces, and cheap metal bracelets and anklets. Some now have Hindu ornaments, but in common with other low castes they do not usually wear a nose-ring, out of respect to the higher castes. Women, though they work in the fields, do not commonly wear shoes; and if these are necessary to protect the feet from thorns, they take them off and carry them in the presence of an elder or a man of higher caste. They are tattooed with various devices, as a cock, a crown, a native chair, a pitcher stand, a sieve and a figure called dhandha, which consists of six dots joined by lines, and appears to be a representation of a man, one dot standing for the head, one for the body, two for the arms and two for the legs. This device is also used by other castes, and they evince reluctance if asked to explain its meaning, so that it may be intended as a representation of the girl's future husband. The Bharia is considered very ugly, and a saying about him is: 'The Bharia came down from the hills and got burnt by a cinder, so that his face is black.' He does not bathe for months together, and lives in a dirty hovel, infested by the fowls which he loves to rear. His food consists of coarse grain, often with boiled leaves as a vegetable, and he consumes much whey, mixing it with his scanty portion of grain. Members of all except the lowest castes are admitted to the Bharia community on presentation of a pagri and some money to the headman, together with a feast to the caste-fellows. The Bharias do not eat monkeys, beef or the leavings of others, but they freely consume fowls and pork. They are not considered as impure, but rank above those castes only whose touch conveys pollution. For the slaughter of a cow the Bilaspur Bharias inflict the severe punishment of nine daily feasts to the caste, or one for each limb of the cow, the limbs being held to consist of the legs, ears, horns and tail. They have an aversion for the horse and will not remove its dung. To account for this they tell a story to the effect that in the beginning God gave them a horse to ride and fight upon. But they did not know how to mount the horse because it was so high. The wisest man among them then proposed to cut notches in the side of the animal by which they could climb up, and they did this. But God, when he saw it, was very angry with them, and ordered that they should never be soldiers, but should be given a winnowing-fan and broom to sweep the grain out of the grass and make their livelihood in that way.

8. Occupation.

The Bharias are usually farmservants and field-labourers, and their services in these capacities are in much request. They are hardy and industrious, and so simple that it is an easy matter for their masters to involve them in perpetual debt, and thus to keep them bound to service from generation to generation. They have no understanding of accounts, and the saying, 'Pay for the marriage of a Bharia and he is your bond-slave for ever,' sufficiently explains the methods adopted by their employers and creditors.


List of Paragraphs

1. Origin of the Bhats. 2. Bhats and Charans. 3. Lower-class Bhats. 4. Social status of the caste. 5. Social customs. 6. The Bhat's business. 7. Their extortionate practices. 8. The Jasondhis. 9. The Charans as carriers. 10. Suicide and the fear of ghosts. 11. Instances of haunting and laying ghosts. 12. The Charans as sureties. 13. Suicide as a means of revenge. 14. Dharna. 15. Casting out spirits. 16. Sulking. Going bankrupt. 17. Bhat songs.

1. Origin of the Bhats.

Bhat, Rao, Jasondhi.—The caste of bards and genealogists. In 1911 the Bhats numbered 29,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berar, being distributed over all Districts and States, with a slight preponderance in large towns such as Nagpur, Jubbulpore and Amraoti. The name Bhat is derived from the Sanskrit Bhatta, a lord. The origin of the Bhats has been discussed in detail by Sir H. Risley. Some, no doubt, are derived from the Brahman caste as stated by Mr. Nesfield: "They are an offshoot from those secularised Brahmans who frequented the courts of princes and the camps of warriors, recited their praises in public, and kept records of their genealogies. Such, without much variation, is the function of the Bhat at the present day. The Mahabharata speaks of a band of bards and eulogists marching in front of Yudishthira as he made his progress from the field of Kurukshetra towards Hastinapur. But these very men are spoken of in the same poem as Brahmans. Naturally as time went on these courtier priests became hereditary bards, receded from the parent stem and founded a new caste." "The best modern opinion," Sir H. Risley states, [281] "seems disposed to find the germ of the Brahman caste in the bards, ministers and family priests, who were attached to the king's household in Vedic times. The characteristic profession of the Bhats has an ancient and distinguished history. The literature of both Greece and India owes the preservation of its oldest treasures to the singers who recited poems in the households of the chiefs, and doubtless helped in some measure to shape the masterpieces which they handed down. Their place was one of marked distinction. In the days when writing was unknown, the man who could remember many verses was held in high honour by the tribal chief, who depended upon the memory of the bard for his personal amusement, for the record of his own and his ancestors' prowess, and for the maintenance of the genealogy which established the purity of his descent. The bard, like the herald, was not lightly to be slain, and even Odysseus in the heat of his vengeance spares the aoidos Phemius, 'who sang among the wooers of necessity.'" [282]

2. Bhats and Charans.

There is no reason to doubt that the Birm or Baram Bhats are an offshoot of Brahmans, their name being merely a corruption of the term Brahman. But the caste is a very mixed one, and another large section, the Charans, are almost certainly derived from Rajputs. Malcolm states that according to the fable of their origin, Mahadeo first created Bhats to attend his lion and bull; but these could not prevent the former from killing the latter, which was a source of infinite vexation and trouble, as it compelled Mahadeo to create new ones. He therefore formed the Charan, equally devout with the Bhat, but of bolder spirit, and gave him in charge these favourite animals. From that time no bull was ever destroyed by the lion. [283] This fable perhaps indicates that while the peaceful Bhats were Brahmans, the more warlike Charans were Rajputs. It is also said that some Rajputs disguised themselves as bards to escape the vengeance of Parasurama. [284] The Maru Charans intermarry with Rajputs, and their name appears to be derived from Maru, the term for the Rajputana desert, which is also found in Marwar. Malcolm states [285] that when the Rajputs migrated from the banks of the Ganges to Rajputana, their Brahman priests did not accompany them in any numbers, and hence the Charans arose and supplied their place. They had to understand the rites of worship, particularly of Siva and Parvati, the favourite deities of the Rajputs, and were taught to read and write. One class became merchants and travelled with large convoys of goods, and the others were the bards and genealogists of the Rajputs. Their songs were in the rudest metre, and their language was the local dialect, understood by all. All this evidence shows that the Charans were a class of Rajput bards.

3. Lower-class Bhats.

But besides the Birm or Brahman Bhats and the Rajput Charans there is another large body of the caste of mixed origin, who serve as bards of the lower castes and are probably composed to a great extent of members of these castes. These are known as the Brid-dhari or begging Bhats. They beg from such castes as Lodhis, Telis, Kurmis, Ahirs and so on, each caste having a separate section of Bhats to serve it; the Bhats of each caste take food from the members of the caste, but they also eat and intermarry with each other. Again, there are Bairagi Bhats who beg from Bairagis, and keep the genealogies of the temple-priests and their successors. Yet another class are the Dasaundhis or Jasondhis, who sing songs in honour of Devi, play on musical instruments and practise astrology. These rank below the cultivating castes and sometimes admit members of such castes who have taken religious vows.

4. Social status of the caste.

The Brahman or Birm-Bhats form a separate subcaste, and the Rajputs are sometimes called Rajbhat. These wear the sacred thread, which the Brid-Bhats and Jasondhis do not. The social status of the Bhats appears to vary greatly. Sir H. Risley states that they rank immediately below Kayasths, and Brahmans will take water from their hands. The Charans are treated by the Rajputs with the greatest respect; [286] the highest ruler rises when one of this class enters or leaves an assembly, and the Charan is invited to eat first at a Rajput feast. He smokes from the same huqqa as Rajputs, and only caste-fellows can do this, as the smoke passes through water on its way to the mouth. In past times the Charan acted as a herald, and his person was inviolable. He was addressed as Maharaj, [287] and could sit on the Singhasan or Lion's Hide, the ancient term for a Rajput throne, as well as on the hides of the tiger, panther and black antelope. The Rajputs held him in equal estimation with the Brahman or perhaps even greater. [288] This was because they looked to him to enshrine their heroic deeds in his songs and hand them down to posterity. His sarcastic references to a defeat in battle or any act displaying a want of courage inflamed their passions as nothing else could do. On the other hand, the Brid-Bhats, who serve the lower castes, occupy an inferior position. This is because they beg at weddings and other feasts, and accept cooked food from members of the caste who are their clients. Such an act constitutes an admission of inferior status, and as the Bhats eat together their position becomes equivalent to that of the lowest group among them. Thus if other Bhats eat with the Bhats of Telis or Kalars, who have taken cooked food from their clients, they are all in the position of having taken food from Telis and Kalars, a thing which only the lowest castes will do. If the Bhat of any caste, such as the Kurmis, keeps a girl of that caste, she can be admitted into the community, which is therefore of a very mixed character. Such a caste as the Kurmis will not even take water from the hands of the Bhats who serve them. This rule applies also where a special section of the caste itself act as bards and minstrels. Thus the Pardhans are the bards of the Gonds, but rank below ordinary Gonds, who give them food and will not take it from them. And the Sansias, the bards of the Jats, and the Mirasis, who are employed in this capacity by the lower castes generally, occupy a very inferior position, and are sometimes considered as impure.

5. Social customs.

The customs of the Bhats resemble those of other castes of corresponding status. The higher Bhats forbid the remarriage of widows, and expel a girl who becomes pregnant before marriage. They carry a dagger, the special emblem of the Charans, in order to be distinguished from low-class Bhats. The Bhats generally display the chaur or yak-tail whisk and the chhadi or silver-plated rod on ceremonial occasions, and they worship these emblems of their calling on the principal festivals. The former is waved over the bridegroom at a wedding, and the latter is borne before him. The Brahman Bhats abstain from flesh of any kind and liquor, and other Bhats usually have the same rules about food as the caste whom they serve. Brahman Bhats and Charans alone wear the sacred thread. The high status sometimes assigned to this division of the caste is shown in the saying:

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