The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume II
by R. V. Russell
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Age Brahman pichhe Bhat take pichhe aur jat,

or, 'First comes the Brahman, then the Bhat, and after them the other castes.'

6. The Bhat's business.

The business of a Bhat in former times is thus described by Forbes: [289] "When the rainy season closes and travelling becomes practicable, the bard sets off on his yearly tour from his residence in the Bhatwara or bard's quarter of some city or town. One by one he visits each of the Rajput chiefs who are his patrons, and from whom he has received portions of land or annual grants of money, timing his arrival, if possible, to suit occasions of marriage or other domestic festivals. After he has received the usual courtesies he produces the Wai, a book written in his own crabbed hieroglyphics or in those of his father, which contains the descent of the house from its founder, interspersed with many a verse or ballad, the dark sayings contained in which are chanted forth in musical cadence to a delighted audience, and are then orally interpreted by the bard with many an illustrative anecdote or tale. The Wai, however, is not merely a source for the gratification of family pride or even of love of song; it is also a record by which questions of relationship are determined when a marriage is in prospect, and disputes relating to the division of ancestral property are decided, intricate as these last necessarily are from the practice of polygamy and the rule that all the sons of a family are entitled to a share. It is the duty of the bard at each periodical visit to register the births, marriages and deaths which have taken place in the family since his last circuit, as well as to chronicle all the other events worthy of remark which have occurred to affect the fortunes of his patron; nor have we ever heard even a doubt suggested regarding the accurate, much less the honest fulfilment of this duty by the bard. The manners of the bardic tribe are very similar to those of their Rajput clients; their dress is nearly the same, but the bard seldom appears without the katar or dagger, a representation of which is scrawled beside his signature, and often rudely engraved upon his monumental stone, in evidence of his death in the sacred duty of traga (suicide)." [290]

7. Their extortionate practices.

The Bhat thus fulfilled a most useful function as registrar of births and marriages. But his merits were soon eclipsed by the evils produced by his custom of extolling liberal patrons and satirising those who gave inadequately. The desire of the Rajputs to be handed down to fame in the Bhat's songs was such that no extravagance was spared to satisfy him. Chand, the great Rajput bard, sang of the marriage of Prithwi Raj, king of Delhi, that the bride's father emptied his coffers in gifts, but he filled them with the praises of mankind. A lakh of rupees [291] was given to the chief bard, and this became a precedent for similar occasions. "Until vanity suffers itself to be controlled," Colonel Tod wrote, [292] "and the aristocratic Rajputs submit to republican simplicity, the evils arising from nuptial profusion will not cease. Unfortunately those who should check it find their interest in stimulating it, namely, the whole crowd of mangtas or beggars, bards, minstrels, jugglers, Brahmans, who assemble on these occasions, and pour forth their epithalamiums in praise of the virtue of liberality. The bards are the grand recorders of fame, and the volume of precedent is always resorted to by citing the liberality of former chiefs; while the dread of their satire [293] shuts the eyes of the chief to consequences, and they are only anxious to maintain the reputation of their ancestors, though fraught with future ruin." Owing to this insensate liberality in the desire to satisfy the bards and win their praises, a Rajput chief who had to marry a daughter was often practically ruined; and the desire to avoid such obligations led to the general practice of female infanticide, formerly so prevalent in Rajputana. The importance of the bards increased their voracity; Mr. Nesfield describes them as "Rapacious and conceited mendicants, too proud to work but not too proud to beg." The Dholis [294] or minstrels were one of the seven great evils which the famous king Sidhraj expelled from Anhilwada Patan in Gujarat; the Dakans or witches were another. [295] Malcolm states that "They give praise and fame in their songs to those who are liberal to them, while they visit those who neglect or injure them with satires in which the victims are usually reproached with illegitimate birth and meanness of character. Sometimes the Bhat, if very seriously offended, fixes an effigy of the person he desires to degrade on a long pole and appends to it a slipper as a mark of disgrace. In such cases the song of the Bhat records the infamy of the object of his revenge. This image usually travels the country till the party or his friends purchase the cessation of the curses and ridicule thus entailed. It is not deemed in these countries within the power of the prince, much less any other person, to stop a Bhat or even punish him for such a proceeding. In 1812 Sevak Ram Seth, a banker of Holkar's court, offended one of these Bhats, pushing him rudely out of the shop where the man had come to ask alms. The man made a figure [296] of him to which he attached a slipper and carried it to court, and everywhere sang the infamy of the Seth. The latter, though a man of wealth and influence, could not prevent him, but obstinately refused to purchase his forbearance. His friends after some months subscribed Rs. 80 and the Bhat discontinued his execrations, but said it was too late, as his curses had taken effect; and the superstitious Hindus ascribe the ruin of the banker, which took place some years afterwards, to this unfortunate event." The loquacity and importunity of the Bhats are shown in the saying, 'Four Bhats make a crowd'; and their insincerity in the proverb quoted by Mr. Crooke, "The bard, the innkeeper and the harlot have no heart; they are polite when customers arrive, but neglect those leaving (after they have paid)" [297] The Bhat women are as bold, voluble and ready in retort as the men. When a Bhat woman passes a male caste-fellow on the road, it is the latter who raises a piece of cloth to his face till the woman is out of sight. [298]

8. The Jasondhis.

Some of the lower classes of Bhats have become religious mendicants and musicians, and perform ceremonial functions. Thus the Jasondhis, who are considered a class of Bhats, take their name from the jas or hymns sung in praise of Devi. They are divided into various sections, as the Nakib or flag-bearers in a procession, the Nazir or ushers who introduced visitors to the Raja, the Nagaria or players on kettle-drums, the Karaola who pour sesamum oil on their clothes and beg, and the Panda, who serve as priests of Devi, and beg carrying an image of the goddess in their hands. There is also a section of Muhammadan Bhats who serve as bards and genealogists for Muhammadan castes. Some Bhats, having the rare and needful qualification of literacy so that they can read the old Sanskrit medical works, have, like a number of Brahmans, taken to the practice of medicine and are known as Kaviraj.

9. The Charans as carriers.

As already stated, the persons of the Charans in the capacity of bard and herald were sacred, and they travelled from court to court without fear of molestation from robbers or enemies. It seems likely that the Charans may have united the breeding of cattle to their calling of bard; but in any case the advantage derived from their sanctity was so important that they gradually became the chief carriers and traders of Rajputana and the adjoining tracts. They further, in virtue of their holy character, enjoyed a partial exemption from the perpetual and harassing imposts levied by every petty State on produce entering its territory; and the combination of advantages thus obtained was such as to give them almost a monopoly in trade. They carried merchandise on large droves of bullocks all over Rajputana and the adjoining countries; and in course of time the carriers restricted themselves to their new profession, splitting off from the Charans and forming the caste of Banjaras.

10. Suicide and the fear of ghosts.

But the mere reverence for their calling would not have sufficed for a permanent safeguard to the Charans from destitute and unscrupulous robbers. They preserved it by the customs of Chandi or Traga and Dharna. These consisted in their readiness to mutilate, starve or kill themselves rather than give up property entrusted to their care; and it was a general belief that their ghosts would then haunt the persons whose ill deeds had forced them to take their own lives. It seems likely that this belief in the power of a suicide or murdered man to avenge himself by haunting any persons who had injured him or been responsible for his death may have had a somewhat wide prevalence and been partly accountable for the reprobation attaching in early times to the murderer and the act of self-slaughter. The haunted murderer would be impure and would bring ill-fortune on all who had to do with him, while the injury which a suicide would inflict on his relatives in haunting them would cause this act to be regarded as a sin against one's family and tribe. Even the ordinary fear of the ghosts of people who die in the natural course, and especially of those who are killed by accident, is so strong that a large part of the funeral rites is devoted to placating and laying the ghost of the dead man; and in India the period of observance of mourning for the dead is perhaps in reality that time during which the spirit of the dead man is supposed to haunt his old abode and render the survivors of his family impure. It was this fear of ghosts on which the Charans relied, nor did they hesitate a moment to sacrifice their lives in defence of any obligation they had undertaken or of property committed to their care. When plunderers carried off any cattle belonging to the Charans, the whole community would proceed to the spot where the robbers resided; and in failure of having their property restored would cut off the heads of several of their old men and women. Frequent instances occurred of a man dressing himself in cotton-quilted cloths steeped in oil which he set on fire at the bottom, and thus danced against the person against whom traga was performed until the miserable creature dropped down and was burnt to ashes. On one occasion a Cutch chieftain, attempting to escape with his wife and child from a village, was overtaken by his enemy when about to leap a precipice; immediately turning he cut off his wife's head with his scimitar and, flourishing his reeking blade in the face of his pursuer, denounced against him the curse of the traga which he had so fearfully performed. [299] In this case it was supposed that the wife's ghost would haunt the enemy who had driven the husband to kill her.

11. Instances of haunting and laying ghosts.

The following account in the Rasmala [300] is an instance of suicide and of the actual haunting by the ghost: A Charan asserted a claim against the chief of Siela in Kathiawar, which the latter refused to liquidate. The bard thereupon, taking forty of his caste with him, went to Siela with the intention of sitting Dharna at the chief's door and preventing any one from coming out or going in until the claim should be discharged. However, as they approached the town, the chief, becoming aware of their intention, caused the gates to be closed. The bards remained outside and for three days abstained from food; on the fourth day they proceeded to perform traga as follows: some hacked their own arms; others decapitated three old women of the party and hung their heads up at the gate as a garland; certain of the women cut off their own breasts. The bards also pierced the throats of four of their old men with spikes, and they took two young girls by the heels, and dashed out their brains against the town gate. The Charan to whom the money was due dressed himself in clothes wadded with cotton which he steeped in oil and then set on fire. He thus burned himself to death. But as he died he cried out, "I am now dying; but I will become a headless ghost (Kuvis) in the palace, and will take the chiefs life and cut off his posterity." After this sacrifice the rest of the bards returned home.

On the third day after the Charan's death his Bhut (ghost) threw the Rani downstairs so that she was very much injured. Many other persons also beheld the headless phantom in the palace. At last he entered the chief's head and set him trembling. At night he would throw stones at the palace, and he killed a female servant outright. At length, in consequence of the various acts of oppression which he committed, none dared to approach the chief's mansion even in broad daylight. In order to exorcise the Bhut, Jogis, Fakirs and Brahmans were sent for from many different places; but whoever attempted the cure was immediately assailed by the Bhut in the chief's body, and that so furiously that the exorcist's courage failed him. The Bhut would also cause the chief to tear the flesh off his own arms with his teeth. Besides this, four or five persons died of injuries received from the Bhut; but nobody had the power to expel him. At length a foreign Jyotishi (astrologer) came who had a great reputation for charms and magic, and the chief sent for him and paid him honour. First he tied all round the house threads which he had charged with a charm; then he sprinkled charmed milk and water all round; then he drove a charmed iron nail into the ground at each corner of the mansion, and two at the door. He purified the house and continued his charms and incantations for forty-one days, every day making sacrifices at the cemetery to the Bhut's spirit. The Joshi lived in a room securely fastened up; but people say that while he was muttering his charms stones would fall and strike the windows. Finally the Joshi brought the chief, who had been living in a separate room, and tried to exorcise the spirit. The patient began to be very violent, but the Joshi and his people spared no pains in thrashing him until they had rendered him quite docile. A sacrificial fire-pit was made and a lemon placed between it and the chief. The Joshi commanded the Bhut to enter the lime. The possessed, however, said, 'Who are you; if one of your Deos (gods) were to come, I would not quit this person.' Thus they went on from morning till noon. At last they came outside, and, burning various kinds of incense and sprinkling many charms, the Bhut was got out into the lemon. When the lemon began to jump about, the whole of the spectators praised the Joshi, crying out: 'The Bhut has gone into the lemon! The Bhut has gone into the lemon!' The possessed person himself, when he saw the lemon hopping about, was perfectly satisfied that the Bhut had left his body and gone out into the lemon. The Joshi then drove the lemon outside the city, followed by drummers and trumpeters; if the lemon left the road, he would touch it with his stick and put it into the right way again. On the track they sprinkled mustard and salt and finally buried the lemon in a pit seven cubits deep, throwing into the hole above it mustard and salt, and over these dust and stones, and filling in the space between the stones with lead. At each corner, too, the Joshi drove in an iron nail, two feet long, which he had previously charmed. The lemon buried, the people returned home, and not one of them ever saw the Bhut thereafter. According to the recorder of the tale, the cure was effected by putting quicksilver into the lemon. When a man is attacked with fever or becomes speechless or appears to have lockjaw, his friends conclude from these indications that he is possessed by a Bhut.

In another case some Bhats had been put in charge, by the chief of a small State, of a village which was coveted by a neighbouring prince, the Rana of Danta. The latter sent for the Bhats and asked them to guard one or two of his villages, and having obtained their absence by this pretext he raided their village, carrying off hostages and cattle. When the Bhats got back they collected to the number of a hundred and began to perform Dharna against the Rana. They set out from their village, and at every two miles as they advanced they burned a man, so that by the time they got to the Rana's territory seven or eight men had been burnt. They were then pacified by his people and induced to go back. The Rana offered them presents, but they refused to accept them, as they said the guilt of the death of their fellows who had been burned would thereby be removed from the Rana. The Rana lost all the seven sons born to him and died childless, and it was generally held to be on account of this sin. [301]

12. The Charans as sureties.

Such was the certainty attaching to the Charan's readiness to forfeit his life rather than prove false to a trust, and the fear entertained of the offence of causing him to do so and being haunted by his ghost, that his security was eagerly coveted in every kind of transaction. "No traveller could journey unattended by these guards, who for a small sum were satisfied to conduct him in safety. [302] The guards, called Valavas, were never backward in inflicting the most grievous wounds and even causing the death of their old men and women if the robbers persisted in plundering those under their protection; but this seldom happened, as the wildest Koli, Kathi or Rajput held the person of a Charan sacred. Besides becoming safeguards to travellers and goods, they used to stand security to the amount of many lakhs of rupees. When rents and property were concerned, the Rajputs preferred a Charan's bond to that of the wealthiest banker. They also gave security for good behaviour, called chalu zamin, and for personal attendance in court called hazar zamin. The ordinary traga went no farther than a cut on the arm with the katar or crease; the forearms of those who were in the habit of becoming security had generally several cuts from the elbow downwards. The Charans, both men and women, wounded themselves, committed suicide and murdered their relations with the most complete self-devotion. In 1812 the Marathas brought a body of troops to impose a payment on the village of Panchpipla. [303] The Charans resisted the demand, but finding the Marathas determined to carry their point, after a remonstrance against paying any kind of revenue as being contrary to their occupation and principles, they at last cut the throats of ten young children and threw them at the feet of the Marathas, exclaiming, 'These are our riches and the only payment we can make.' The Charans were immediately seized and confined in irons at Jambusar."

As was the case with the Bhat and the Brahman, the source of the Charan's power lay in the widespread fear that a Charan's blood brought ruin on him who caused the blood to be spilt. It was also sometimes considered that the Charan was possessed by his deity, and the caste were known as Deoputra or sons of God, the favourite dwelling of the guardian spirit.

13. Suicide as a means of revenge.

Such a belief enhanced the guilt attaching to the act of causing or being responsible for a Charan's death. Suicide from motives of revenge has been practised in other countries. "Another common form of suicide which is admired as heroic in China is that committed for the purpose of taking revenge upon an enemy who is otherwise out of reach—according to Chinese ideas a most effective mode of revenge, not only because the law throws the responsibility of the deed on him who occasioned it, but also because the disembodied soul is supposed to be better able than the living man to persecute the enemy." [304] Similarly, among the Hos or Mundas the suicide of young married women is or was extremely common, and the usual motive was that the girl, being unhappy in her husband's house, jumped down a well or otherwise made away with herself in the belief that she would take revenge on his family by haunting them after her death. The treatment of the suicide's body was sometimes directed to prevent his spirit from causing trouble. "According to Jewish custom persons who had killed themselves were left unburied till sunset, perhaps for fear lest the spirit of the deceased otherwise might find its way back to the old home." [305] At Athens the right hand of a person who had taken his own life was struck off and buried apart from the rest of the body, evidently in order to make him harmless after death. [306] Similarly, in England suicides were buried with a spike through the chest to prevent their spirits from rising, and at cross-roads, so that the ghost might not be able to find its way home. This fear appears to have partly underlain the idea that suicide was a crime or an offence against society and the state, though, as shown by Dr. Westermarck, the reprobation attaching to it was far from universal; while in the cultured communities of ancient Greece and Rome, and among such military peoples as the Japanese suicide was considered at all times a legitimate and, on occasion, a highly meritorious and praiseworthy act.

That condition of mind which leads to the taking of one's own life from motives of revenge is perhaps a fruit of ignorance and solitude. The mind becomes distorted, and the sufferer attributes the unhappiness really caused by accident or his own faults or defects to the persecution of a malignant fate or the ill-will of his neighbours and associates. And long brooding over his wrongs eventuates in his taking the extreme step. The crime known as running amok appears to be the outcome of a similar state of mind. Here too the criminal considers his wrongs or misery as the result of injury or unjust treatment from his fellow-men, and, careless of his own life, determines to be revenged on them. Such hatred of one's kind is cured by education, leading to a truer appreciation of the circumstances and environment which determine the course of life, and by the more cheerful temper engendered by social intercourse. And these crimes of vengeance tend to die out with the advance of civilisation.

14. Dharna.

Analogous to the custom of traga was that of Dharna, which was frequently and generally resorted to for the redress of wrongs and offences at a time when the law made little provision for either. The ordinary method of Dharna was to sit starving oneself in front of the door of the person from whom redress was sought until he gave it from fear of causing the death of the suppliant and being haunted by his ghost. It was, naturally, useless unless the person seeking redress was prepared to go to extremes, and has some analogy to the modern hunger-strike with the object of getting out of jail. Another common device was to thrust a spear-blade through both cheeks, and in this state to dance before the person against whom Dharna was practised. The pain had to be borne without a sign of suffering, which, if displayed, would destroy its efficacy. Or a creditor would proceed to the door of his debtor and demand payment, and if not appeased would stand up in his presence with an enormous weight upon his head, which he had brought with him for the purpose, swearing never to alter his position until satisfaction was given, and denouncing at the same time the most horrible execrations on his debtor, should he suffer him to expire in that situation. This seldom failed to produce the desired effect, but should he actually die while in Dharna, the debtor's house was razed to the earth and he and his family sold for the satisfaction of the creditor's heirs. Another and more desperate form of Dharna, only occasionally resorted to, was to erect a large pile of wood before the house of the debtor, and after the customary application for payment had been refused the creditor tied on the top of the pile a cow or a calf, or very frequently an old woman, generally his mother or other relation, swearing at the same time to set fire to it if satisfaction was not instantly given. All the time the old woman denounced the bitterest curses, threatening to persecute the wretched debtor both here and hereafter. [307]

The word dharna means 'to place or lay on,' and hence 'a pledge.' Mr. Hira Lal suggests that the standing with a weight on the head may have been the original form of the penance, from which the other and severer methods were subsequently derived. Another custom known as dharna is that of a suppliant placing a stone on the shrine of a god or tomb of a saint. He makes his request and, laying the stone on the shrine, says, "Here I place this stone until you fulfil my prayer; if I do not remove it, the shame is on you." If the prayer is afterwards fulfilled, he takes away the stone and offers a cocoanut. It seems clear that the underlying idea of this custom is the same as that of standing with a stone on the head as described above, but it is difficult to say which was the earlier or original form.

15. Casting out spirits.

As a general rule, if the guilt of having caused a suicide was at a man's door, he should expiate it by going to the Ganges to bathe. When a man was haunted by the ghost of any one whom he had wronged, whether such a person had committed suicide or simply died of grief at being unable to obtain redress, it was said of him Brahm laga, or that Brahma had possessed him. The spirit of a Brahman boy, who has died unmarried, is also accustomed to haunt any person who walks over his grave in an impure condition or otherwise defiles it, and when a man is haunted in such a manner it is called Brahm laga. Then an exorcist is called, who sprinkles water over the possessed man, and this burns the Brahm Deo or spirit inside him as if it were burning oil. The spirit cries out, and the exorcist orders him to leave the man. Then the spirit states how he has been injured by the man, and refuses to leave him. The exorcist asks him what he requires on condition of leaving the man, and he asks for some good food or something else, and is given it. The exorcist takes a nail and goes to a pipal tree and orders the Brahm Deo to go into the tree. Brahm Deo obeys, and the exorcist drives the nail into the tree and the spirit remains imprisoned there until somebody takes the nail out, when he will come out again and haunt him. The Hindus think that the god Brahma lives in the roots of the pipal tree, Siva in its branches, and Vishnu in the choti or scalp-knot, that is the topmost foliage.

16. Sulking. Going bankrupt.

Another and mild form of Dharna is that known as Khatpati. When a woman is angry with her husband on account of his having refused her some request, she will put her bed in a corner of the room and go and lie on it, turning her face to the wall, and remain so, not answering when spoken to nor taking food. The term Khatpati signifies keeping to one side of the bed, and there she will remain until her husband accedes to her request, unless indeed he should decide to beat her instead. This is merely an exaggerated form of the familiar display of temper known as sulking. It is interesting to note the use of the phrase turning one's face to the wall, with something of the meaning attached to it in the Bible.

A custom similar to that of Dharna was called Diwala nikalna or going bankrupt. When a merchant had had heavy losses and could not meet his liabilities, he would place the lock of his door outside, reversing it, and sit in the veranda with a piece of sackcloth over him. Or he wrapped round him the floor-carpet of his room. When he had displayed these signs of ruin and self-abasement his creditors would not sue him, but he would never be able to borrow money again.

17. Bhat songs.

In conclusion a few specimens of Bhat songs may be given. The following is an account of the last king of Nagpur, Raghuji III., commonly known as Baji Rao:

They made a picture of Baji Rao; Baji Rao was the finest king to see; The Brahmans told lies about him, They sent a letter from Nagpur to Calcutta, They made Baji Rao go on a pilgrimage. Brothers! the great Sirdars who were with him, They brought a troop of five hundred horse! The Tuesday fair in Benares was held with fireworks, They made the Ganges pink with rose-petals. Baji Rao's gifts were splendid, His turban and coat were of brocaded silk, A pair of diamonds and emeralds He gave to the Brahmans of Benares. Oh brothers! the Raja sat in a covered howdah bound on an elephant! Many fans waved over his head; How charitable a king he was!

In the above song a note of regret is manifest for the parade and display of the old court of Nagpur, English rule being less picturesque. The next is a song about the English:

The English have taken the throne of Nagpur, The fear of the English is great. In a moment's time they conquer countries. The guns boomed, the English came strong and warlike, They give wealth to all. They ram the ramrods in the guns. They conquered also Tippoo's dominions, The English are ruling in the fort of Gawilgarh.

The following is another song about the English, not quite so complimentary:

The English became our kings and have made current the kaldar (milled) rupee. The menials are favoured and the Bhats have lost their profession, The mango has lost its taste, the milk has lost its sweetness, The rose has lost its scent. Baji Rao of Nagpur he also is gone, No longer are the drums beaten at the palace gate. Poona customs have come in. Brahmans knowing the eighteen Purans have become Christians; The son thinks himself better than his father, The daughter-in-law no longer respects her mother-in-law. The wife fights with her husband. The English have made the railways and telegraphs; The people wondered at the silver rupees and all the country prospered.

The following is a song about the Nerbudda at Mandla, Rewa being another name for the river:

The stream of the world springs out breaking apart the hills; The Rewa cuts her path through the soil, the air is darkened with her spray. All the length of her banks are the seats of saints; hermits and pilgrims worship her. On seeing the holy river a man's sins fall away as wood is cut by a saw; By bathing in her he plucks the fruit of holiness. When boats are caught in her flood, the people pray: 'We are sinners, O Rewa, bring us safely to the bank!' When the Nerbudda is in flood, Mandla is an island and the people think their end has come: The rain pours down on all sides, earth and sky become dark as smoke, and men call on Rama. The bard says: 'Let it rain as it may, some one will save us as Krishna saved the people of Brindawan!'

This is a description of a beautiful woman:

A beautiful woman is loved by her neighbours, But she will let none come to her and answers them not. They say: 'Since God has made you so beautiful, open your litter and let yourself be seen!' He who sees her is struck as by lightning, she shoots her lover with the darts of her eyes, invisible herself. She will not go to her husband's house till he has her brought by the Government. When she goes her father's village is left empty. She is so delicate she faints at the sight of a flower, Her body cannot bear the weight of her cloth, The garland of jasmine-flowers is a burden on her neck, The red powder on her feet is too heavy for them.

It is interesting to note that weakness and delicacy in a woman are emphasised as an attraction, as in English literature of the eighteenth century.

The last is a gentle intimation that poets, like other people, have to live:

It is useless to adorn oneself with sandalwood on an empty belly, Nobody's body gets fat from the scent of flowers; The singing of songs excites the mind, But if the body is not fed all these are vain and hollow.

All Bhats recite their verses in a high-pitched sing-song tone, which renders it very difficult for their hearers to grasp the sense unless they know it already. The Vedas and all other sacred verses are spoken in this manner, perhaps as a mark of respect and to distinguish them from ordinary speech. The method has some resemblance to intoning. Women use the same tone when mourning for the dead.


List of Paragraphs

1. General notice and structure of the caste. 2. Admission of outsiders. 3. Arrangement of marriages. 4. The Counter of Posts. 5. Marriage customs. 6. Propitiation of ghosts. 7. Religion. Ceremonies at hunting. 8. Superstitious remedies. 9. Occupation. 10. Names.

1. General notice and structure of the caste.

Bhatra. [308]—A primitive tribe of the Bastar State and the south of Raipur District, akin to the Gonds. They numbered 33,000 persons in 1891, and in subsequent enumerations have been amalgamated with the Gonds. Nothing is known of their origin except a legend that they came with the Rajas of Bastar from Warangal twenty-three generations ago. The word Bhatra is said to mean a servant, and the tribe are employed as village watchmen and household and domestic servants. They have three divisions, the Pit, Amnait and San Bhatras, who rank one below the other, the Pit being the highest and the San the lowest. The Pit Bhatras base their superiority on the fact that they decline to make grass mats, which the Amnait Bhatras will do, while the San Bhatras are considered to be practically identical with the Muria Gonds. Members of the three groups will eat with each other before marriage, but afterwards they will take only food cooked without water from a person belonging to another group. They have the usual set of exogamous septs named after plants and animals. Formerly, it is said, they were tattooed with representations of the totem plant and animal, and the septs named after the tiger and snake ate the flesh of these animals at a sacrificial meal. These customs have fallen into abeyance, but still if they kill their totem animal they will make apologies to it, and break their cooking-pots, and bury or burn the body. A man of substance will distribute alms in the name of the deceased animal. In some localities members of the Kachhun or tortoise sept will not eat a pumpkin which drops from a tree because it is considered to resemble a tortoise. But if they can break it immediately on touching the ground they may partake of the fruit, the assumption being apparently that it has not had time to become like a tortoise.

2. Admission of outsiders.

Outsiders are not as a rule admitted. But a woman of equal or higher caste who enters the house of a Bhatra will be recognised as his wife, and a man of the Panara, or gardener caste, can also become a member of the community if he lives with a Bhatra woman and eats from her hand.

3. Arrangement of marriages.

In Raipur a girl should be married before puberty, and if no husband is immediately available, they tie a few flowers into her cloth and consider this as a marriage. If an unmarried girl becomes pregnant she is debarred from going through the wedding ceremony, and will simply go and live with her lover or any other man. Matches are usually arranged by the parents, but if a daughter is not pleased with the prospective bridegroom, who may sometimes be a well-to-do man much older than herself, she occasionally runs away and goes through the ceremony on her own account with the man of her choice.

If no one has asked her parents for her hand she may similarly select a husband for herself and make her wishes known, but in that case she is temporarily put out of caste until the chosen bridegroom signifies his acquiescence by giving the marriage feast. What happens if he definitely fails to respond is not stated, but presumably the young woman tries elsewhere until she finds herself accepted.

4. The Counter of Posts.

The date and hour of the wedding are fixed by an official known as the Meda Gantia, or Counter of Posts. He is a sort of illiterate village astrologer, who can foretell the character of the rainfall, and gives auspicious dates for sowing and harvest. He goes through some training, and as a test of his capacity is required by his teacher to tell at a glance the number of posts in an enclosure which he has not seen before. Having done this correctly he qualifies as a Meda Gantia. Apparently the Bhatras, being unable at one time to count themselves, acquired an exaggerated reverence for the faculty of counting, and thought that if a man could only count far enough he could reckon into the future; or it might be thought that as he could count and name future days, he thus obtained power over them, and could tell what would happen on them just as one can obtain power over a man and work him injury by knowing his real name.

5. Marriage customs.

At a wedding the couple walk seven times round the sacred post, which must be of wood of the mahua [309] tree, and on its conclusion the post is taken to a river or stream and consigned to the water. The Bhatras, like the Gonds, no doubt revere this tree because their intoxicating liquor is made from its flowers. The couple wear marriage crowns made from the leaves of the date palm and exchange these. A little turmeric and flour are mixed with water in a plate, and the bride, taking the bridegroom's right hand, dips it into the coloured paste and strikes it against the wall. The action is repeated five times, and then the bridegroom does the same with the bride's hand. By this rite the couple pledge each other for their mutual behaviour during married life. From the custom of making an impression of the hand on a wall in token of a vow may have arisen that of clasping hands as a symbol of a bargain assented to, and hence of shaking hands, by persons who meet, as a pledge of amity and the absence of hostile intentions. Usually the hand is covered with red ochre, which is probably a substitute for blood; and the impression of the hand is made on the wall of a temple in token of a vow. This may be a survival of the covenant made by the parties dipping their hands in the blood of the sacrifice and laying them on the god. A pit about a foot deep is dug close to the marriage-shed, and filled with mud or wet earth. The bride conceals a nut in the mud and the bridegroom has to find it, and the hiding and finding are repeated by both parties. This rite may have the signification of looking for children. The remainder of the day is spent in eating, drinking and dancing. On the way home after the wedding the bridegroom has to shoot a deer, the animal being represented by a branch of a tree thrown across the path by one of the party. But if a real deer happens by any chance to come by he has to shoot this. The bride goes up to the real or sham deer and pulls out the arrow, and presents her husband with water and a tooth-stick, after which he takes her in his arms and they dance home together. On arrival at the house the bridegroom's maternal uncle or his son lies down before the door covering himself with a blanket. He is asked what he wants, and says he will have the daughter of the bridegroom to wife. The bridegroom promises to give a daughter if he has one, and if he has a son to give him for a friend. The tribe consider that a man has a right to marry the daughter of his maternal uncle, and formerly if the girl was refused by her parents he abducted her and married her forcibly. The bride remains at her husband's house for a few days and then goes home, and before she finally takes up her abode with him the gauna or going-away ceremony must be performed. The hands of the bride and bridegroom are tied together, and an arrow is held upright on them and some oil poured over it. The foreheads of the couple are marked with turmeric and rice, this rite being known as tika or anointing, and presents are given to the bride's family.

6. Propitiation of ghosts.

The dead are buried, the corpse being laid on its back with the head to the north. Some rice, cowrie-shells, a winnowing-fan and other articles are placed on the grave. The tribe probably consider the winnowing-fan to have some magical property, as it also forms one of the presents given to the bride at the betrothal. If a man is killed by a tiger his spirit must be propitiated. The priest ties strips of tiger-skin to his arms, and the feathers of the peacock and blue jay to his waist, and jumps about pretending to be a tiger. A package of a hundred seers (200 lbs.) of rice is made up, and he sits on this and finally takes it away with him. If the dead man had any ornaments they must all be given, however valuable, lest his spirit should hanker after them and return to look for them in the shape of the tiger. The large quantity of rice given to the priest is also probably intended as a provision of the best food for the dead man's spirit, lest it be hungry and come in the shape of the tiger to satisfy its appetite upon the surviving relatives. The laying of the ghosts of persons killed by tigers is thus a very profitable business for the priests.

7. Religion. Ceremonies at hunting.

The tribe worship the god of hunting, who is known as Mati Deo and resides in a separate tree in each village. At the Bijphutni (threshing) or harvest festival in the month of Chait (March) they have a ceremonial hunting party. All the people of the village collect, each man having a bow and arrow slung to his back and a hatchet on his shoulder. They spread out a long net in the forest and beat the animals into this, usually catching a deer, wild pig or hare, and quails and other birds. They return and cook the game before the shrine of the god and offer to him a fowl and a pig. A pit is dug and water poured into it, and a person from each house must stand in the mud. A little seed taken from each house is also soaked in the mud, and after the feast is over this is taken and returned to the householder with words of abuse, a small present of two or three pice being received from him. The seed is no doubt thus consecrated for the next sowing. The tribe also have joint ceremonial fishing excursions. Their ideas of a future life are very vague, and they have no belief in a place of reward or punishment after death. They propitiate the spirits of their ancestors on the 15th of Asarh (June) with offerings of a little rice and incense.

8. Superstitious remedies.

To cure the evil eye they place a little gunpowder in water and apply it to the sufferer's eyes, the idea perhaps being that the fiery glance from the evil eye which struck him is quenched like the gunpowder. To bring on rain they perform a frog marriage, tying two frogs to a pestle and pouring oil and turmeric over them as in a real marriage. The children carry them round begging from door to door and finally deposit them in water. They say that when rain falls and the sun shines together the jackals are being married. Formerly a woman suspected of being a witch was tied up in a bag and thrown into a river or tank at various places set apart for the purpose. If she sank she was held to be innocent, and if she floated, guilty. In the latter case she had to defile herself by taking the bone of a cow and the tail of a pig in her mouth, and it was supposed that this drove out the magic-working spirit. In the case of illness of their children or cattle, or the failure of crops, they consult the Pujari or priest and make an offering. He applies some flowers or grains of rice to the forehead of the deity, and when one of these falls down he diagnoses from it the nature of the illness, and gives it to the sufferer to wear as a charm.

9. Occupation.

The tribe are cultivators and farmservants, and practise shifting cultivation. They work as village watchmen and also as the Majhi or village headman and the Pujari or village priest. These officials are paid by contributions of grain from the cultivators. And as already seen, the Bhatras are employed as household servants and will clean cooking-vessels. Since they act as village priests, it may perhaps be concluded that the Bhatras like the Parjas are older residents of Bastar than the bulk of the Gonds, and they have become the household servants of the Hindu immigrants, which the Gonds would probably disdain to do. Some of them wear the sacred thread, but in former times the Bastar Raja would invest any man with this for a fee of four or five rupees, and the Bhatras therefore purchased the social distinction. They find it inconvenient, however, and lay it aside when proceeding to their work or going out to hunt. If a man breaks his thread he must wait till a Brahman comes round, when he can purchase another.

10. Names.

Among a list of personal names given by Mr. Baijnath the following are of some interest: Pillu, one of short stature; Matola, one who learnt to walk late; Phagu, born in Phagun (February); Ghinu, dirty-looking; Dasru, born on the Dasahra festival; Ludki, one with a fleshy ear; Dalu, big-bellied; Mudi, a ring, this name having been given to a child which cried much after birth, but when its nose was pierced and a ring put in it stopped crying; Chhi, given to a child which sneezed immediately after birth; Nunha, a posthumous child; and Bhuklu, a child which began to play almost as soon as born. The above instances indicate that it is a favourite plan to select the name from any characteristic displayed by the child soon after birth, or from any circumstance or incident connected with its birth. Among names of women are: Cherangi, thin; Fundi, one with swollen cheeks; Kandri, one given to crying; Mahina (month), a child born a month late; Batai, one with large eyes; Gaida, fat; Pakli, of fair colour; Boda, one with crooked legs; Jhunki, one with small eyes; Rupi, a girl who was given a nose-ring of silver as her brothers had died; Paro, born on a field-embankment; Dango, tall. A woman must not call by their names her father-in-law, mother-in-law, her husband's brothers and elder sisters and the sons and daughters of her husband's brothers and sisters.


List of Paragraphs

1. General notice. The Bhils a Kolarian tribe. 2. Rajputs deriving their title to the land from the Bhils. 3. Historical notice. 4. General Outram and the Khandesh Bhil Corps. 5. Subdivisions. 6. Exogamy and marriage customs. 7. Widow-marriage, divorce and polygamy. 8. Religion. 9. Witchcraft and amulets. 10. Funeral rites. 11. Social customs. 12. Appearance and characteristics. 13. Occupation. 14. Language.

1. General notice. The Bhils a Kolarian tribe.

Bhil. [310]—An indigenous or non-Aryan tribe which has been much in contact with the Hindus and is consequently well known. The home of the Bhils is the country comprised in the hill ranges of Khandesh, Central India and Rajputana, west from the Satpuras to the sea in Gujarat. The total number of Bhils in India exceeds a million and a half, of which the great bulk belong to Bombay, Rajputana and Central India. The Central Provinces have only about 28,000, practically all of whom reside in the Nimar district, on the hills forming the western end of the Satpura range and adjoining the Rajpipla hills of Khandesh. As the southern slopes of these hills lie in Berar, a few Bhils are also found there. The name Bhil seems to occur for the first time about A.D. 600. It is supposed to be derived from the Dravidian word for a bow, which is the characteristic weapon of the tribe. It has been suggested that the Bhils are the Pygmies referred to by Ktesias (400 B.C.) and the Phyllitae of Ptolemy (A.D. 150). The Bhils are recognised as the oldest inhabitants of southern Rajputana and parts of Gujarat, and are usually spoken of in conjunction with the Kolis, who inhabit the adjoining tracts of Gujarat. The most probable hypothesis of the origin of the Kolis is that they are a western branch of the Kol or Munda tribe who have spread from Chota Nagpur, through Mandla and Jubbulpore, Central India and Rajputana to Gujarat and the sea. If this is correct the Kolis would be a Kolarian tribe. The Bhils have lost their own language, so that it cannot be ascertained whether it was Kolarian or Dravidian. But there is nothing against its being Kolarian in Sir G. Grierson's opinion; and in view of the length of residence of the tribe, the fact that they have abandoned their own language and their association with the Kolis, this view may be taken as generally probable. The Dravidian tribes have not penetrated so far west as Central India and Gujarat in appreciable numbers.

2. Rajputs deriving their title to the land from the Bhils.

The Rajputs still recognise the Bhils as the former residents and occupiers of the land by the fact that some Rajput chiefs must be marked on the brow with a Bhil's blood on accession to the Gaddi or regal cushion. Tod relates how Goha, [311] the eponymous ancestor of the Sesodia Rajputs, took the state of Idar in Gujarat from a Bhil: "At this period Idar was governed by a chief of the savage race of Bhils. The young Goha frequented the forests in company with the Bhils, whose habits better assimilated with his daring nature than those of the Brahmans. He became a favourite with these vena-putras or sons of the forest, who resigned to him Idar with its woods and mountains. The Bhils having determined in sport to elect a king, their choice fell on Goha; and one of the young savages, cutting his finger, applied the blood as the badge (tika) of sovereignty to his forehead. What was done in sport was confirmed by the old forest chief. The sequel fixes on Goha the stain of ingratitude, for he slew his benefactor, and no motive is assigned in the legend for the deed." [312]

The legend is of course a euphemism for the fact that the Rajputs conquered and dispossessed the Bhils of Idar. But it is interesting as an indication that they did not consider themselves to derive a proper title to the land merely from the conquest, but wished also to show that it passed to them by the designation and free consent of the Bhils. The explanation is perhaps that they considered the gods of the Bhils to be the tutelary guardians and owners of the land, whom they must conciliate before they could hope to enjoy it in quiet and prosperity. This token of the devolution of the land from its previous holders, the Bhils, was till recently repeated on the occasion of each succession of a Sesodia chief. "The Bhil landholders of Oguna and Undri still claim the privilege of performing the tika for the Sesodias. The Oguna Bhil makes the mark of sovereignty on the chief's forehead with blood drawn from his own thumb, and then takes the chief by the arm and seats him on the throne, while the Undri Bhil holds the salver of spices and sacred grains of rice used in making the badge." [313] The story that Goha killed the old Bhil chief, his benefactor, who had adopted him as heir and successor, which fits in very badly with the rest of the legend, is probably based on another superstition. Sir J. G. Frazer has shown in The Golden Bough that in ancient times it was a common superstition that any one who killed the king had a right to succeed him. The belief was that the king was the god of the country, on whose health, strength and efficiency its prosperity depended. When the king grew old and weak it was time for a successor, and he who could kill the king proved in this manner that the divine power and strength inherent in the late king had descended to him, and he was therefore the fit person to be king. [314] An almost similar story is told of the way in which the Kachhwaha Rajputs took the territory of Amber State from the Mina tribe. The infant Rajput prince had been deprived of Narwar by his uncle, and his mother wandered forth carrying him in a basket, till she came to the capital of the Minas, where she first obtained employment in the chiefs kitchen. But owing to her good cooking she attracted his wife's notice and ultimately disclosed her identity and told her story. The Mina chief then adopted her as his sister and the boy as his nephew. This boy, Dhola Rai, on growing up obtained a few Rajput adherents and slaughtered all the Minas while they were bathing at the feast of Diwali, after which he usurped their country. [315] The repetition both of the adoption and the ungrateful murder shows the importance attached by the Rajputs to both beliefs as necessary to the validity of their succession and occupation of the land.

The position of the Bhils as the earliest residents of the country was also recognised by their employment in the capacity of village watchmen. One of the duties of this official is to know the village boundaries and keep watch and ward over them, and it was supposed that the oldest class of residents would know them best. The Bhils worked in the office of Mankar, the superior village watchman, in Nimar and also in Berar. Grant Duff states [316] that the Ramosi or Bhil was employed as village guard by the Marathas, and the Ramosis were a professional caste of village policemen, probably derived from the Bhils or from the Bhils and Kolis.

3. Historical notice.

The Rajputs seem at first to have treated the Bhils leniently. Intermarriage was frequent, especially in the families of Bhil chieftains, and a new caste called Bhilala [317] has arisen, which is composed of the descendants of mixed Rajput and Bhil marriages. Chiefs and landholders in the Bhil country now belong to this caste, and it is possible that some pure Bhil families may have been admitted to it. The Bhilalas rank above the Bhils, on a level with the cultivating castes. Instances occasionally occurred in which the children of Rajput by a Bhil wife became Rajputs. When Colonel Tod wrote, Rajputs would still take food with Ujla Bhils or those of pure aboriginal descent, and all castes would take water from them. [318] But as Hinduism came to be more orthodox in Rajputana, the Bhils sank to the position of outcastes. Their custom of eating beef had always caused them to be much despised. A tradition is related that one day the god Mahadeo or Siva, sick and unhappy, was reclining in a shady forest when a beautiful woman appeared, the first sight of whom effected a cure of all his complaints. An intercourse between the god and the strange female was established, the result of which was many children; one of whom, from infancy distinguished alike by his ugliness and vice, slew the favourite bull of Mahadeo, for which crime he was expelled to the woods and mountains, and his descendants have ever since been stigmatised by the names of Bhil and Nishada. [319] Nishada is a term of contempt applied to the lowest outcastes. Major Hendley, writing in 1875, states: "Some time since a Thakur (chief) cut off the legs of two Bhils, eaters of the sacred cow, and plunged the stumps into boiling oil." [320] When the Marathas began to occupy Central India they treated the Bhils with great cruelty. A Bhil caught in a disturbed part of the country was without inquiry flogged and hanged. Hundreds were thrown over high cliffs, and large bodies of them, assembled under promise of pardon, were beheaded or blown from guns. Their women were mutilated or smothered by smoke, and their children smashed to death against the stones. [321] This treatment may to some extent have been deserved owing to the predatory habits and cruelty of the Bhils, but its result was to make them utter savages with their hand against every man, as they believed that every one's was against them. From their strongholds in the hills they laid waste the plain country, holding villages and towns to ransom and driving off cattle; nor did any travellers pass with impunity through the hills except in convoys too large to be attacked. In Khandesh, during the disturbed period of the wars of Sindhia and Holkar, about A.D. 1800, the Bhils betook themselves to highway robbery and lived in bands either in mountains or in villages immediately beneath them. The revenue contractors were unable or unwilling to spend money in the maintenance of soldiers to protect the country, and the Bhils in a very short time became so bold as to appear in bands of hundreds and attack towns, carrying off either cattle or hostages, for whom they demanded handsome ransoms. [322] In Gujarat another writer described the Bhils and Kolis as hereditary and professional plunderers—'Soldiers of the night,' as they themselves said they were. [323] Malcolm said of them, after peace had been restored to Central India: [324] "Measures are in progress that will, it is expected, soon complete the reformation of a class of men who, believing themselves doomed to be thieves and plunderers, have been confirmed in their destiny by the oppression and cruelty of neighbouring governments, increased by an avowed contempt for them as outcasts. The feeling this system of degradation has produced must be changed; and no effort has been left untried to restore this race of men to a better sense of their condition than that which they at present entertain. The common answer of a Bhil when charged with theft or robbery is, 'I am not to blame; I am the thief of Mahadeo'; in other words, 'My destiny as a thief has been fixed by God.'" The Bhil chiefs, who were known as Bhumia, exercised the most absolute power, and their orders to commit the most atrocious crimes were obeyed by their ignorant but attached subjects without a conception on the part of the latter that they had an option when he whom they termed their Dhunni (Lord) issued the mandates. [325] Firearms and swords were only used by the chiefs and headmen of the tribe, and their national weapon was the bamboo bow having the bowstring made from a thin strip of its elastic bark. The quiver was a piece of strong bamboo matting, and would contain sixty barbed arrows a yard long, and tipped with an iron spike either flattened and sharpened like a knife or rounded like a nail; other arrows, used for knocking over birds, had knob-like heads. Thus armed, the Bhils would lie in wait in some deep ravine by the roadside, and an infernal yell announced their attack to the unwary traveller. [326] Major Hendley states that according to tradition in the Mahabharata the god Krishna was killed by a Bhil's arrow, when he was fighting against them in Gujarat with the Yadavas; and on this account it was ordained that the Bhil should never again be able to draw the bow with the forefinger of the right hand. "Times have changed since then, but I noticed in examining their hands that few could move the forefinger without the second finger; indeed the fingers appeared useless as independent members of the hands. In connection with this may be mentioned their apparent inability to distinguish colours or count numbers, due alone to their want of words to express themselves." [327]

4. General Outram and the Khandesh Bhil Corps.

The reclamation and pacification of the Bhils is inseparably associated with the name of Lieutenant, afterwards Sir James, Outram. The Khandesh Bhil Corps was first raised by him in 1825, when Bhil robber bands were being hunted down by small parties of troops, and those who were willing to surrender were granted a free pardon for past offences, and given grants of land for cultivation and advances for the purchase of seed and bullocks. When the first attempts to raise the corps were made, the Bhils believed that the object was to link them in line like galley-slaves with a view to extirpate the race, that blood was in high demand as a medicine in the country of their foreign masters, and so on. Indulging the wild men with feasts and entertainments, and delighting them with his matchless urbanity, Captain Outram at length contrived to draw over to the cause nine recruits, one of whom was a notorious plunderer who had a short time before successfully robbed the officer commanding a detachment sent against him. This infant corps soon became strongly attached to the person of their new chief and entirely devoted to his wishes; their goodwill had been won by his kind and conciliatory manners, while their admiration and respect had been thoroughly roused and excited by his prowess and valour in the chase. On one occasion, it is recorded, word was brought to Outram of the presence of a panther in some prickly-pear shrubs on the side of a hill near his station. He went to shoot it with a friend, Outram being on foot and his friend on horseback searching through the bushes. When close on the animal, Outram's friend fired and missed, on which the panther sprang forward roaring and seized Outram, and they rolled down the hill together. Being released from the claws of the furious beast for a moment, Outram with great presence of mind drew a pistol which he had with him, and shot the panther dead. The Bhils, on seeing that he had been injured, were one and all loud in their grief and expressions of regret, when Outram quieted them with the remark, 'What do I care for the clawing of a cat?' and this saying long remained a proverb among the Bhils. [328] By his kindness and sympathy, listening freely to all that each single man in the corps had to say to him, Outram at length won their confidence, convinced them of his good faith and dissipated their fears of treachery. Soon the ranks of the corps became full, and for every vacant place there were numbers of applicants. The Bhils freely hunted down and captured their friends and relations who continued to create disturbances, and brought them in for punishment. Outram managed to check their propensity for liquor by paying them every day just sufficient for their food, and giving them the balance of their pay at the end of the month, when some might have a drinking bout, but many preferred to spend the money on ornaments and articles of finery. With the assistance of the corps the marauding tendencies of the hill Bhils were suppressed and tranquillity restored to Khandesh, which rapidly became one of the most fertile parts of India. During the Mutiny the Bhil corps remained loyal, and did good service in checking the local outbursts which occurred in Khandesh. A second battalion was raised at this time, but was disbanded three years afterwards. After this the corps had little or nothing to do, and as the absence of fighting and the higher wages which could be obtained by ordinary labour ceased to render it attractive to the Bhils, it was finally converted into police in 1891. [329]

5. Subdivisions.

The Bhils of the Central Provinces have now only two subdivisions, the Muhammadan Bhils, who were forcibly converted to Islam during the time of Aurangzeb, and the remainder, who though retaining many animistic beliefs and superstitions, have practically become Hindus. The Muhammadan Bhils only number about 3000 out of 28,000. They are known as Tadvi, a name which was formerly applied to a Bhil headman, and is said to be derived from tad, meaning a separate branch or section. These Bhils marry among themselves and not with any other Muhammadans. They retain many Hindu and animistic usages, and are scarcely Muhammadan in more than name. Both classes are divided into groups or septs, generally named after plants or animals to which they still show reverence. Thus the Jamania sept, named after the jaman tree, [330] will not cut or burn any part of this tree, and at their weddings the dresses of the bride and bridegroom are taken and rubbed against the tree before being worn. Similarly the Rohini sept worship the rohan [331] tree, the Avalia sept the aonla [332] tree, the Meheda sept the bahera [333] tree, and so on. The Mori sept worship the peacock. They go into the jungle and look for the tracks of a peacock, and spreading a piece of red cloth before the footprint, lay their offerings of grain upon it. Members of this sept may not be tattooed, because they think the splashes of colour on the peacock's feathers are tattoo-marks. Their women must veil themselves if they see a peacock, and they think that if any member of the sept irreverently treads on a peacock's footprints he will fall ill. The Ghodmarya (Horse-killer) sept may not tame a horse nor ride one. The Masrya sept will not kill or eat fish. The Sanyan or cat sept have a tradition that one of their ancestors was once chasing a cat, which ran for protection under a cover which had been put over the stone figure of their goddess. The goddess turned the cat into stone and sat on it, and since then members of the sept will not touch a cat except to save it from harm, and they will not eat anything which has been touched by a cat. The Ghattaya sept worship the grinding mill at their weddings and also on festival days. The Solia sept, whose name is apparently derived from the sun, are split up into four subsepts: the Ada Solia, who hold their weddings at sunrise; the Japa Solia, who hold them at sunset; the Taria Solia, who hold them when stars have become visible after sunset; and the Tar Solia, who believe their name is connected with cotton thread and wrap several skeins of raw thread round the bride and bridegroom at the wedding ceremony. The Moharia sept worship the local goddess at the village of Moharia in Indore State, who is known as the Moharia Mata; at their weddings they apply turmeric and oil to the fingers of the goddess before rubbing them on the bride and bridegroom. The Maoli sept worship a goddess of that name in Barwani town. Her shrine is considered to be in the shape of a kind of grain-basket known as kilia, and members of the sept may never make or use baskets of this shape, nor may they be tattooed with representations of it. Women of the sept are not allowed to visit the shrine of the goddess, but may worship her at home. Several septs have the names of Rajput clans, as Sesodia, Panwar, Mori, and appear to have originated in mixed unions between Rajputs and Bhils.

6. Exogamy and marriage customs.

A man must not marry in his own sept nor in the families of his mothers and grandmothers. The union of first cousins is thus prohibited, nor can girls be exchanged in marriage between two families. A wife's sister may also not be married during the wife's lifetime. The Muhammadan Bhils permit a man to marry his maternal uncle's daughter, and though he cannot marry his wife's sister he may keep her as a concubine. Marriages may be infant or adult, but the former practice is becoming prevalent and girls are often wedded before they are eleven. Matches are arranged by the parents of the parties in consultation with the caste panchayat; but in Bombay girls may select their own husbands, and they have also a recognised custom of elopement at the Tosina fair in the month of the Mahi Kantha. If a Bhil can persuade a girl to cross the river there with him he may claim her as his wife; but if they are caught before getting across he is liable to be punished by the bride's father. [334] The betrothal and wedding ceremonies now follow the ordinary ritual of the middle and lower castes in the Maratha country. [335] The bride must be younger than the bridegroom except in the case of a widow. A bride-price is paid which may vary from Rs. 9 to 20; in the case of Muhammadan Bhils the bridegroom is said to give a dowry of Rs. 20 to 25. When the ovens are made with the sacred earth they roast some of the large millet juari [336] for the family feast, calling this Juari Mata or the grain goddess. Offerings of this are made to the family gods, and it is partaken of only by the members of the bride's and bridegroom's septs respectively at their houses. No outsider may even see this food being eaten. The leavings of food, with the leaf-plates on which it was eaten, are buried inside the house, as it is believed that if they should fall into the hands of any outsider the death or blindness of one of the family will ensue. When the bridegroom reaches the bride's house he strikes the marriage-shed with a dagger or other sharp instrument. A goat is killed and he steps in its blood as he enters the shed. A day for the wedding is selected by the priest, but it may also take place on any Sunday in the eight fine months. If the wedding takes place on the eleventh day of Kartik, that is on the expiration of the four rainy months when marriages are forbidden, they make a little hut of eleven stalks of juari with their cobs in the shape of a cone, and the bride and bridegroom walk round this. The services of a Brahman are not required for such a wedding. Sometimes the bridegroom is simply seated in a grain basket and the bride in a winnowing-fan; then their hands are joined as the sun is half set, and the marriage is completed. The bridegroom takes the basket and fan home with him. On the return of the wedding couple, their kankans or wristbands are taken off at Hanuman's temple. The Muhammadan Bhils perform the same ceremonies as the Hindus, but at the end they call in the Kazi or registrar, who repeats the Muhammadan prayers and records the dowry agreed upon. The practice of the bridegroom serving for his wife is in force among both classes of Bhils.

7. Widow—marriage, divorce and polygamy.

The remarriage of widows is permitted, but the widow may not marry any relative of her first husband. She returns to her father's house, and on her remarriage they obtain a bride-price of Rs. 40 or 50, a quarter of which goes in a feast to the tribesmen. The wedding of a widow is held on the Amawas or last day of the dark fortnight of the month, or on a Sunday. A wife may be divorced for adultery without consulting the panchayat. It is said that a wife cannot otherwise be divorced on any account, nor can a woman divorce her husband, but she may desert him and go and live with a man. In this case all that is necessary is that the second husband should repay to the first as compensation the amount expended by the latter on his marriage with the woman. Polygamy is permitted, and a second wife is sometimes taken in order to obtain children, but this number is seldom if ever exceeded. It is stated that the Bhil married women are generally chaste and faithful to their husbands, and any attempt to tamper with their virtue on the part of an outsider is strongly resented by the man.

8. Religion.

The Bhils worship the ordinary Hindu deities and the village godlings of the locality. The favourite both with Hindu and Muhammadan Bhils is Khande Rao or Khandoba, the war-god of the Marathas, who is often represented by a sword. The Muhammadans and the Hindu Bhils also to a less extent worship the Pirs or spirits of Muhammadan saints at their tombs, of which there are a number in Nimar. Major Hendley states that in Mewar the seats or sthans of the Bhil gods are on the summits of high hills, and are represented by heaps of stones, solid or hollowed out in the centre, or mere platforms, in or near which are found numbers of clay or mud images of horses. [337] In some places clay lamps are burnt in front of the images of horses, from which it may be concluded that the horse itself is or was worshipped as a god. Colonel Tod states that the Bhils will eat of nothing white in colour, as a white sheep or goat; and their grand adjuration is 'By the white ram.' [338] Sir A. Lyall [339] says that their principal oath is by the dog. The Bhil sepoys told Major Hendley that they considered it of little use to go on worshipping their own gods, as the power of these had declined since the English became supreme. They thought the strong English gods were too much for the weak deities of their country, hence they were desirous of embracing Brahmanism, which would also raise them in the social scale and give them a better chance of promotion in regiments where there were Brahman officers.

9. Witchcraft and amulets.

They wear charms and amulets to keep off evil spirits; the charms are generally pieces of blue string with seven knots in them, which their witch-finder or Badwa ties, reciting an incantation on each; the knots were sometimes covered with metal to keep them undefiled and the charms were tied on at the Holi, Dasahra or some other festival. [340] In Bombay the Bhils still believe in witches as the agents of any misfortunes that may befall them. If a man was sick and thought some woman had bewitched him, the suspected woman was thrown into a stream or swung from a tree. If the branch broke and the woman fell and suffered serious injury, or if she could not swim across the stream and sank, she was considered to be innocent and efforts were made to save her. But if she escaped without injury she was held to be a witch, and it frequently happened that the woman would admit herself to be one either from fear of the infliction of a harder ordeal, or to keep up the belief in her powers as a witch, which often secured her a free supper of milk and chickens. She would then admit that she had really bewitched the sick man and undertake to cure him on some sacrifice being made. If he recovered, the animal named by the witch was sacrificed and its blood given her to drink while still warm; either from fear or in order to keep up the character she would drink it, and would be permitted to stay on in the village. If, on the other hand, the sick person died, the witch would often be driven into the forest to die of hunger or to be devoured by wild animals. [341] These practices have now disappeared in the Central Provinces, though occasionally murders of suspected witches may still occur. The Bhils are firm believers in omens, the nature of which is much the same as among the Hindus. When a Bhil is persistently unlucky in hunting, he sometimes says 'Nat laga,' meaning that some bad spirit is causing his ill-success. Then he will make an image of a man in the sand or dust of the road, or sometimes two images of a man and woman, and throwing straw or grass over the images set it alight, and pound it down on them with a stick with abusive yells. This he calls killing his bad luck. [342] Major Hendley notes that the men danced before the different festivals and before battles. The men danced in a ring holding sticks and striking them against each other, much like the Baiga dance. Before battle they had a war-dance in which the performers were armed and imitated a combat. To be carried on the shoulders of one of the combatants was a great honour, perhaps because it symbolised being on horseback. The dance was probably in the nature of a magical rite, designed to obtain success in battle by going through an imitation of it beforehand. The priests are the chief physicians among the Bhils, though most old men were supposed to know something about medicine. [343]

10. Funeral rites.

The dead are usually buried lying on the back, with the head pointing to the south. Cooked food is placed on the bier and deposited on the ground half-way to the cemetery. On return each family of the sept brings a wheaten cake to the mourners and these are eaten. On the third day they place on the grave a thick cake of wheaten flour, water in an earthen pot and tobacco or any other stimulant which the deceased was in the habit of using in his life.

11. Social customs.

The Hindu Bhils say that they do not admit outsiders into the caste, but the Muhammadans will admit a man of any but the impure castes. The neophyte must be shaved and circumcised, and the Kazi gives him some holy water to drink and teaches him the profession of belief in Islam. If a man is not circumcised, the Tadvi or Muhammadan Bhils will not bury his body. Both classes of Bhils employ Brahmans at their ceremonies. The tribe eat almost all kinds of flesh and drink liquor, but the Hindus now abjure beef and the Muhammadans pork. Some Bhils now refuse to take the skins off dead cattle, but others will do so. The Bhils will take food from any caste except the impure ones, and none except these castes will now take food from them. Temporary or permanent exclusion from caste is imposed for the same offences as among the Hindus.

12. Appearance and characteristics.

The typical Bhil is small, dark, broad-nosed and ugly, but well built and active. The average height of 128 men measured by Major Hendley was 5 feet 6.4 inches. The hands are somewhat small and the legs fairly developed, those of the women being the best. "The Bhil is an excellent woodsman, knows the shortest cuts over the hills, can walk the roughest paths and climb the steepest crags without slipping or feeling distressed. He is often called in old Sanskrit works Venaputra, 'child of the forest,' or Pal Indra, 'lord of the pass.' These names well describe his character. His country is approached through narrow defiles (pal), and through these none could pass without his permission. In former days he always levied rakhwali or blackmail, and even now native travellers find him quite ready to assert what he deems his just rights. The Bhil is a capital huntsman, tracking and marking down tigers, panthers and bears, knowing all their haunts, the best places to shoot them, the paths they take and all those points so essential to success in big-game shooting; they will remember for years the spots where tigers have been disposed of, and all the circumstances connected with their deaths. The Bhil will himself attack a leopard, and with his sword, aided by his friends, cut him to pieces." [344] Their agility impressed the Hindus, and an old writer says: "Some Bhil chieftains who attended the camp of Sidhraj, king of Gujarat, astonished him with their feats of activity; in his army they seemed as the followers of Hanuman in attendance upon Ram." [345]

13. Occupation.

The Bhils have now had to abandon their free use of the forests, which was highly destructive in its effects, and their indiscriminate slaughter of game. Many of them live in the open country and have become farmservants and field-labourers. A certain proportion are tenants, but very few own villages. Some of the Tadvi Bhils, however, still retain villages which were originally granted free of revenue on condition of their keeping the hill-passes of the Satpuras open and safe for travellers. These are known as Hattiwala. Bhils also serve as village watchmen in Nimar and the adjoining tracts of the Berar Districts. Captain Forsyth, writing in 1868, described the Bhils as follows: "The Muhammadan Bhils are with few exceptions a miserable lot, idle and thriftless, and steeped in the deadly vice of opium-eating. The unconverted Bhils are held to be tolerably reliable. When they borrow money or stock for cultivation they seldom abscond fraudulently from their creditors, and this simple honesty of theirs tends, I fear, to keep numbers of them still in a state little above serfdom." [346]

14. Language.

The Bhils have now entirely abandoned their own language and speak a corrupt dialect based on the Aryan vernaculars current around them. The Bhil dialect is mainly derived from Gujarati, but it is influenced by Marwari and Marathi; in Nimar especially it becomes a corrupt form of Marathi. Bhili, as this dialect is called, contains a number of non-Aryan words, some of which appear to come from the Mundari, and others from the Dravidian languages; but these are insufficient to form any basis for a deduction as to whether the Bhils belonged to the Kolarian or Dravidian race. [347]


1. General notice.

Bhilala, [348]—A small caste found in the Nimar and Hoshangabad Districts of the Central Provinces and in Central India. The total strength of the Bhilalas is about 150,000 persons, most of whom reside in the Bhopawar Agency, adjoining Nimar. Only 15,000 were returned from the Central Provinces in 1911. The Bhilalas are commonly considered, and the general belief may in their case be accepted as correct, to be a mixed caste sprung from the alliances of immigrant Rajputs with the Bhils of the Central India hills. The original term was not improbably Bhilwala, and may have been applied to those Rajput chiefs, a numerous body, who acquired small estates in the Bhil country, or to those who took the daughters of Bhil chieftains to wife, the second course being often no doubt a necessary preliminary to the first. Several Bhilala families hold estates in Nimar and Indore, and their chiefs now claim to be pure Rajputs. The principal Bhilala houses, as those of Bhamgarh, Selani and Mandhata, do not intermarry with the rest of the caste, but only among themselves and with other families of the same standing in Malwa and Holkar's Nimar. On succession to the Gaddi or headship of the house, representatives of these families are marked with a tika or badge on the forehead and sometimes presented with a sword, and the investiture may be carried out by custom by the head of another house. Bhilala landholders usually have the title of Rao or Rawat. They do not admit that a Bhilala can now spring from intermarriage between a Rajput and a Bhil. The local Brahmans will take water from them and they are occasionally invested with the sacred thread at the time of marriage. The Bhilala Rao of Mandhata is hereditary custodian of the great shrine of Siva at Onkar Mandhata on an island in the Nerbudda. According to the traditions of the family, their ancestor, Bharat Singh, was a Chauhan Rajput, who took Mandhata from Nathu Bhil in A.D. 1165, and restored the worship of Siva to the island, which had been made inaccessible to pilgrims by the terrible deities, Kali and Bhairava, devourers of human flesh. In such legends may be recognised the propagation of Hinduism by the Rajput adventurers and the reconsecration of the aboriginal shrines to its deities. Bharat Singh is said to have killed Nathu Bhil, but it is more probable that he only married his daughter and founded a Bhilala family. Similar alliances have taken place among other tribes, as the Korku chiefs of the Gawilgarh and Mahadeo hills, and the Gond princes of Garha Mandla. The Bhilalas generally resemble other Hindus in appearance, showing no marked signs of aboriginal descent. Very probably they have all an infusion of Rajput blood, as the Rajputs settled in the Bhil country in some strength at an early period of history. The caste have, however, totemistic group names; they will eat fowls and drink liquor; and they bury their dead with the feet to the north, all these customs indicating a Dravidian origin. Their subordinate position in past times is shown by the fact that they will accept cooked food from a Kunbi or a Gujar; and indeed the status of all except the chief's families would naturally have been a low one, as they were practically the offspring of kept women. As already stated, the landowning families usually arrange alliances among themselves. Below these comes the body of the caste and below them is a group known as the Chhoti Tad or bastard Bhilalas, to which are relegated the progeny of irregular unions and persons expelled from the caste for social offences.

2. Marriage.

The caste, for the purpose of avoiding marriages between relations, are also divided into exogamous groups called kul or kuri, several of the names of which are of totemistic origin or derived from those of animals and plants. Members of the Jamra kuri will not cut or burn the jamun [349] tree; those of the Saniyar kuri will not grow san-hemp, while the Astaryas revere the sona [350] tree and the Pipaladya, the pipal tree. Some of the kuris have Rajput sept names, as Mori, Baghel and Solanki. A man is forbidden to take a wife from within his own sept or that of his mother, and the union of first cousins is also prohibited. The customs of the Bhilalas resemble those of the Kunbis and other cultivating castes. At their weddings four cart-yokes are arranged in a square, and inside this are placed two copper vessels filled with water and considered to represent the Ganges and Jumna. When the sun is half set, the bride and the bridegroom clasp hands and then walk seven times round the square of cart-yokes. The water of the pots is mixed and this is considered to represent the mingling of the bride's and bridegroom's personalities as the Ganges and Jumna meet at Allahabad. A sum of about Rs. 60 is usually paid by the parents of the bridegroom to those of the bride and is expended on the ceremony. The ordinary Bhilalas have, Mr. Korke states, a simple form of wedding which may be gone through without consulting a Brahman on the Ekadashi or eleventh of Kartik (October); this is the day on which the gods awake from sleep and marks the commencement of the marriage season. A cone is erected of eleven plants of juari, roots and all, and the couple simply walk round this seven times at night, when the marriage is complete. The remarriage of widows is permitted. The woman's forehead is marked with cowdung by another widow, probably as a rite of purification, and the cloths of the couple are tied together.

3. Social customs.

The caste commonly bury the dead and erect memorial stones at the heads of graves which they worship in the month of Chait (April), smearing them with vermilion and making an offering of flowers. This may either be a Dravidian usage or have been adopted by imitation from the Muhammadans. The caste worship the ordinary Hindu deities, but each family has a Kul-devi or household god, Mr. Korke remarks, to which they pay special reverence. The offerings made to the Kul-devi must be consumed by the family alone, but married daughters are allowed to participate. They employ Nimari Brahmans as their priests, and also have gurus or spiritual preceptors, who are Gosains or Bairagis. They will take food cooked with water from Brahmans, Rajputs, Munda Gujars and Tirole Kunbis. The last two groups are principal agricultural castes of the locality and the Bhilalas are probably employed by them as farmservants, and hence accept cooked food from their masters in accordance with a common custom. The local Brahmans of the Nagar, Naramdeo, Baisa and other subcastes will take water from the hand of a Bhilala. Temporary excommunication from caste is imposed for the usual offences, such as going to jail, getting maggots in a wound, killing a cow, a dog or a squirrel, committing homicide, being beaten by a man of low caste, selling shoes at a profit, committing adultery, and allowing a cow to die with a rope round its neck; and further, for touching the corpses of a cow, cat or horse, or a Barhai (carpenter) or Chamar (tanner). They will not swear by a dog, a cat or a squirrel, and if either of the first two animals dies in a house, it is considered to be impure for a month and a quarter. The head of the caste committee has the designation of Mandloi, which is a territorial title borne by several families in Nimar. He receives a share of the fine levied for the Sarni or purification ceremony, when a person temporarily expelled is readmitted into caste. Under the Mandloi is the Kotwal whose business is to summon the members to the caste assemblies; he also is paid out of the fines and his office is hereditary.

4. Occupation and character.

The caste are cultivators, farmservants and field-labourers, and a Bhilala also usually held the office of Mankar, a superior kind of Kotwar or village watchman. The Mankar did no dirty work and would not touch hides, but attended on any officer who came to the village and acted as a guide. Where there was a village sarai or rest-house, it was in charge of the Mankar, who was frequently also known as zamindar. This may have been a recognition of the ancient rights of the Bhilalas and Bhils to the country.

5. Character.

Captain Forsyth, Settlement Officer of Nimar, had a very unfavourable opinion of the Bhilalas, whom he described as proverbial for dishonesty in agricultural engagements and worse drunkards than any of the indigenous tribes. [351] This judgment was probably somewhat too severe, but they are poor cultivators, and a Bhilala's field may often be recognised by its slovenly appearance. [352]

A century ago Sir J. Malcolm also wrote very severely of the Bhilalas: "The Bhilala and Lundi chiefs were the only robbers in Malwa whom under no circumstances travellers could trust. There are oaths of a sacred but obscure kind among those that are Rajputs or who boast their blood, which are almost a disgrace to take, but which, they assert, the basest was never known to break before Mandrup Singh, a Bhilala, and some of his associates, plunderers on the Nerbudda, showed the example. The vanity of this race has lately been flattered by their having risen into such power and consideration that neighbouring Rajput chiefs found it their interest to forget their prejudices and to condescend so far as to eat and drink with them. Hatti Singh, Grassia chief of Nowlana, a Khichi Rajput, and several others in the vicinity cultivated the friendship of Nadir, the late formidable Bhilala robber-chief of the Vindhya range; and among other sacrifices made by the Rajputs, was eating and drinking with him. On seeing this take place in my camp, I asked Hatti Singh whether he was not degraded by doing so; he said no, but that Nadir was elevated." [353]


Bhishti.—A small Muhammadan caste of water-bearers. Only 26 Bhishtis were shown in the Central Provinces in 1901 and 278 in 1891. The tendency of the lower Muhammadan castes, as they obtain some education, is to return themselves simply as Muhammadans, the caste name being considered derogatory. The Bhishtis are, however, a regular caste numbering over a lakh of persons in India, the bulk of whom belong to the United Provinces. Many of them are converts from Hinduism, and they combine Hindu and Muhammadan practices. They have gotras or exogamous sections, the names of which indicate the Hindu origin of their members, as Huseni Brahman, Samri Chauhan, Bahmangour and others. They prohibit marriage within the section and within two degrees of relationship on the mother's side. Marriages are performed by the Muhammadan ritual or Nikah, but a Brahman is sometimes asked to fix the auspicious day, and they erect a marriage-shed. The bridegroom goes to the bride's house riding on a horse, and when he arrives drops Rs. 1-4 into a pot of water held by a woman. The bride whips the bridegroom's horse with a switch made of flowers. During the marriage the bride sits inside the house and the bridegroom in the shed outside. An agent or Vakil with two witnesses goes to the bride and asks her whether she consents to marry the bridegroom, and when she gives her consent, as she always does, they go out and formally communicate it to the Kazi. The dowry is then settled, and the bond of marriage is sealed. But when the parents of the bride are poor they receive a bride-price of Rs. 30, from which they pay the dowry. The Bhishtis worship their leather bag (mashk) as a sort of fetish, and burn incense before it on Fridays. [354] The traditional occupation of the Bhishti is to supply water, and he is still engaged in this and other kinds of domestic service. The name is said to be derived from the Persian bihisht, 'paradise,' and to have been given to them on account of the relief which their ministrations afforded to the thirsty soldiery. [355] Perhaps, too, the grandiloquent name was applied partly in derision, like similar titles given to other menial servants. They are also known as Mashki or Pakhali, after their leathern water-bag. The leather bag is a distinctive sign of the Bhishti, but when he puts it away he may be recognised from the piece of red cloth which he usually wears round his waist. There is an interesting legend to the effect that the Bhishti who saved the Emperor Humayun's life at Chausa, and was rewarded by the tenure of the Imperial throne for half a day, employed his short lease of power by providing for his family and friends, and caused his leather bag to be cut up into rupees, which were gilded and stamped with the record of his date and reign in order to perpetuate its memory. [356] The story of the Bhishti obtaining his name on account of the solace which he afforded to the Muhammadan soldiery finds a parallel in the case of the English army:

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