The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume II
by R. V. Russell
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The uniform 'e wore Was nothin' much before, An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind, For a piece o' twisty rag An' a goatskin water-bag Was all the field-equipment 'e could find.

With 'is mussick on 'is back, 'E would skip with our attack, An' watch us till the bugles made 'Retire,' An' for all 'is dirty 'ide 'E was white, clear white, inside When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire. [357]

An excellent description of the Bhishti as a household servant is contained in Eha's Behind the Bungalow, [358] from which the following extract is taken: "If you ask: Who is the Bhishti? I will tell you. Bihisht in the Persian tongue means Paradise, and a Bihishtee is therefore an inhabitant of Paradise, a cherub, a seraph, an angel of mercy. He has no wings; the painters have misconceived him; but his back is bowed down with the burden of a great goat-skin swollen to bursting with the elixir of life. He walks the land when the heaven above him is brass and the earth iron, when the trees and shrubs are languishing and the last blade of grass has given up the struggle for life, when the very roses smell only of dust, and all day long the roaming dust-devils waltz about the fields, whirling leaf and grass and cornstalk round and round and up and away into the regions of the sky; and he unties a leather thong which chokes the throat of his goat-skin just where the head of the poor old goat was cut off, and straightway, with a life-reviving gurgle, the stream called thandha pani gushes forth, and plant and shrub lift up their heads and the garden smiles again. The dust also on the roads is laid, and a grateful incense rises from the ground, the sides of the water chatti grow dark and moist and cool themselves in the hot air, and through the dripping interstices of the khaskhas tattie a chilly fragrance creeps into the room, causing the mercury in the thermometer to retreat from its proud place. I like the Bhishti and respect him. As a man he is temperate and contented, eating bajri bread and slaking his thirst with his own element. And as a servant he is laborious and faithful, rarely shirking his work, seeking it out rather. For example, we had a bottle-shaped filter of porous stoneware, standing in a bucket of water which it was his duty to fill daily; but the good man, not content with doing his bare duty, took the plug out of the filter and filled it too. And all the station knows how assiduously he fills the rain-gauge." With the construction of water-works in large stations the Bhishti is losing his occupation, and he is a far less familiar figure to the present generation of Anglo-Indians than to their predecessors.


1. Origin and traditions.

Bhoyar, [359] Bhoir (Honorific titles, Mahajan and Patel).—A cultivating caste numbering nearly 60,000 persons in 1911, and residing principally in the Betul and Chhindwara Districts. The Bhoyars are not found outside the Central Provinces. They claim to be the descendants of a band of Panwar Rajputs, who were defending the town of Dharanagri or Dhar in Central India when it was besieged by Aurangzeb. Their post was on the western part of the wall, but they gave way and fled into the town as the sun was rising, and it shone on their faces. Hence they were called Bhoyar from a word bhor meaning morning, because they were seen running away in the morning. They were put out of caste by the other Rajputs, and fled to the Central Provinces. The name may also be a variant of that of the Bhagore Rajputs. And another derivation is from bhora, a simpleton or timid person. Their claim to be immigrants from Central India is borne out by the fact that they still speak a corrupt form of the Malwi dialect of Rajputana, which is called after them Bhoyari, and their Bhats or genealogists come from Malwa. But they have now entirely lost their position as Rajputs.

2. Subcastes and sections.

The Bhoyars are divided into the Panwari, Dholewar, Chaurasia and Daharia subcastes. The Panwars are the most numerous and the highest, as claiming to be directly descended from Panwar Rajputs. They sometimes called themselves Jagdeo Panwars, Jagdeo being the name of the king under whom they served in Dharanagri. The Dholewars take their name from Dhola, a place in Malwa, or from dhol, a drum. They are the lowest subcaste, and some of them keep pigs. It is probable that these subcastes immigrated with the Malwa Rajas in the fifteenth century, the Dholewars being the earlier arrivals, and having from the first intermarried with the local Dravidian tribes. The Daharias take their name from Dahar, the old name of the Jubbulpore country, and may be a relic of the domination of the Chedi kings of Tewar. The name of the Chaurasias is probably derived from the Chaurasi or tract of eighty-four villages formerly held by the Betul Korku family of Chandu. The last two subdivisions are numerically unimportant. The Bhoyars have over a hundred kuls or exogamous sections. The names of most of these are titular, but some are territorial and a few totemistic. Instances of such names are Onkar (the god Siva), Deshmukh and Chaudhari, headman, Hazari (a leader of 1000 horse), Gore (fair-coloured), Dongardiya (a lamp on a hill), Pinjara (a cotton-cleaner), Gadria (a shepherd), Khaparia (a tyler), Khawasi (a barber), Chiknya (a sycophant), Kinkar (a slave), Dukhi (penurious), Suplya toplya (a basket and fan maker), Kasai (a butcher), Gohattya (a cow-killer), and Kalebhut (black devil). Among the territorial sections may be mentioned Sonpuria, from Sonpur, and Patharia, from the hill country. The name Badnagrya is also really territorial, being derived from the town of Badnagar, but the members of the section connect it with the bad or banyan tree, the leaves of which they refrain from eating. Two other totemistic gotras are the Baranga and Baignya, derived from the barang plant (Kydia calycina) and from the brinjal respectively. Some sections have the names of Rajput septs, as Chauhan, Parihar and Panwar. This curiously mixed list of family names appears to indicate that the Bhoyars originate from a small band of Rajputs who must have settled in the District about the fifteenth century as military colonists, and taken their wives from the people of the country. They may have subsequently been recruited by fresh bands of immigrants who have preserved a slightly higher status. They have abandoned their old high position, and now rank below the ordinary cultivating castes like Kunbis and Kurmis who arrived later; while the caste has probably in times past also been recruited to a considerable extent by the admission of families of outsiders.

3. Marriage.

Marriage within the kul or family group is forbidden, as also the union of first cousins. Girls are usually married young, and sometimes infants of one or two months are given in wedlock, while contracts of betrothal are made for unborn children if they should be of the proper sex, the mother's womb being touched with kunku or red powder to seal the agreement. A small dej or price is usually paid for the bride, amounting to Rs. 5 with 240 lbs. of grain, and 8 seers of ghi and oil. At the betrothal the Joshi or astrologer is consulted to see whether the names of the couple make an auspicious conjunction. He asks for the names of the bride and bridegroom, and if these are found to be inimical another set of names is given, and the experiment is continued until a union is obtained which is astrologically auspicious. In order to provide for this contingency some Bhoyars give their children ten or twelve names at birth. If all the names fail, the Joshi invents new ones of his own, and in some way brings about the auspicious union to the satisfaction of both parties, who consider it no business of theirs to pry into the Joshi's calculations or to question his methods. After the marriage-shed is erected the family god must be invoked to be present at the ceremony. He is asked to come and take his seat in an earthen pot containing a lighted wick, the pot being supported on a toy chariot made of sticks. A thread is coiled round the neck of the jar, and the Bhoyars then place it in the middle of the house, confident that the god has entered it, and will ward off all calamities during the marriage. This is performed by the bhanwar ceremony, seven earthen pots being placed in a row, while the bride and bridegroom walk round in a circle holding a basket with a lighted lamp in it. As each circle is completed, one pot is removed. This always takes place at night. The Dholewars do not perform the bhanwar ceremony, and simply throw sacred rice on the couple, and this is also done in Wardha. Sometimes the Bhoyars dispense with the presence of the Brahman and merely get some rice and juari consecrated by him beforehand, which they throw on the heads of the couple, and thereupon consider the marriage complete. Weddings are generally held in the bright fortnight of Baisakh (April-May), and sometimes can be completed in a single day. Widow-marriage is allowed, but it is considered that the widow should marry a widower and not a bachelor.

4. Occupation.

The regular occupation of the Bhoyars is agriculture, and they are good cultivators, growing much sugar-cane with well-irrigation. They are industrious, and their holdings on the rocky soils of the plateau Districts are often cleared of stones at the cost of much labour. Their women work in the fields. In Betul they have the reputation of being much addicted to drink.

5. Social status.

They do not now admit outsiders, but their family names show that at one time they probably did so, and this laxity of feeling survives in the toleration with which they readmit into caste a woman who has gone wrong with an outsider. They eat flesh and fowls, and the Dholewars eat pork, while as already stated they are fond of liquor. To have a shoe thrown on his house by a caste-fellow is a serious degradation for a Bhoyar, and he must break his earthen pots, clean his house and give a feast. To be beaten with a shoe by a low caste like Mahar entails shaving the moustaches and paying a heavy fine, which is spent on a feast. The Bhoyars do not take food from any caste but Brahmans, but no caste higher than Kunbis and Malis will take water from them. In social status they rank somewhat below Kunbis. In appearance they are well built, and often of a fair complexion. Unmarried girls generally wear skirts instead of saris or cloths folding between the legs; they also must not wear toe-rings. Women of the Panwar subcaste wear glass bangles on the left hand, and brass ones on the right. All women are tattooed. They both burn and bury the dead, placing the corpse on the pyre with its head to the south or west, and in Wardha to the north. Here they have a peculiar custom as regards mourning, which is observed only till the next Monday or Thursday whichever falls first. Thus the period of mourning may extend from one to four days. The Bhoyars are considered in Wardha to be more than ordinarily timid, and also to be considerable simpletons, while they stand in much awe of Government officials, and consider it a great misfortune to be brought into a court of justice. Very few of them can read and write.


List of Paragraphs

1. The tribe and its name. 2. Distribution of the tribe. 3. Example of the position of the aborigines in Hindu society. 4. The Bhuiyas a Kolarian tribe. 5. The Baigas and the Bhuiyas. Chhattisgarh the home of the Baigas. 6. The Baigas a branch of the Bhuiyas. 7. Tribal subdivisions. 8. Exogamous septs. 9. Marriage customs. 10. Widow-marriage and divorce. 11. Religion. 12. Religious dancing. 13. Funeral rites and inheritance. 14. Physical appearance and occupation. 15. Social customs.

1. The tribe and its name.

Bhuiya, Bhuinhar, Bhumia. [360]—The name of a very important tribe of Chota Nagpur, Bengal and Orissa. The Bhuiyas numbered more than 22,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911, being mainly found in the Sarguja and Jashpur States. In Bengal and Bihar the Bhuiyas proper count about half a million persons, while the Musahar and Khandait castes, both of whom are mainly derived from the Bhuiyas, total together well over a million.

The name Bhuiya means 'Lord of the soil,' or 'Belonging to the soil,' and is a Sanskrit derivative. The tribe have completely forgotten their original name, and adopted this designation conferred on them by the immigrant Aryans. The term Bhuiya, however, is also employed by other tribes and by some Hindus as a title for landholders, being practically equivalent to zamindar. And hence a certain confusion arises, and classes or individuals may have the name of Bhuiya without belonging to the tribe at all. "In most parts of Chota Nagpur," Sir H. Risley says, "there is a well-known distinction between a Bhuiya by tribe and a Bhuiya by title. The Bhuiyas of Bonai and Keonjhar described by Colonel Dalton belong to the former category; the Bhuiya Mundas and Oraons to the latter. The distinction will be made somewhat clearer if it is explained that every 'tribal Bhuiya' will as a matter of course describe himself as Bhuiya, while a member of another tribe will only do so if he is speaking with reference to a question of land, or desires for some special reason to lay stress on his status as a landholder or agriculturist."

We further find in Bengal and Benares a caste of landholders known as Bhuinhar or Babhan, who are generally considered as a somewhat mixed and inferior group of Brahman and Rajput origin. Both Sir H. Risley and Mr. Crooke adopt this view and deny any connection between the Bhuinhars and the Bhuiya tribes. Babhan appears to be a corrupt form of Brahman. Mr. Mazumdar, however, states that Bhuiya is never used in Bengali as an equivalent for zamindar or landholder, and he considers that the Bhuinhars and also the Barah Bhuiyas, a well-known group of twelve landholders of Eastern Bengal and Assam, belonged to the Bhuiya tribe. He adduces from Sir E. Gait's History of Assam the fact that the Chutias and Bhuiyas were dominant in that country prior to its conquest by the Ahoms in the thirteenth century, and considers that these Chutias gave their name to Chutia or Chota Nagpur. I am unable to express any opinion on Mr. Mazumdar's argument, and it is also unnecessary as the question does not concern the Central Provinces.

2. Distribution of the tribe.

The principal home of the Bhuiya tribe proper is the south of the Chota Nagpur plateau, comprised in the Gangpur, Bonai, Keonjhar and Bamra States. "The chiefs of these States," Colonel Dalton says, "now call themselves Rajputs; if they be so, they are strangely isolated families of Rajputs. The country for the most part belongs to the Bhuiya sub-proprietors. They are a privileged class, holding as hereditaments the principal offices of the State, and are organised as a body of militia. The chiefs have no right to exercise any authority till they have received the tilak or token of investiture from their powerful Bhuiya vassals. Their position altogether renders their claim to be considered Rajputs extremely doubtful, and the stories told to account for their acquisition of the dignity are palpable fables. They were no doubt all Bhuiyas originally; they certainly do not look like Rajputs." Members of the tribe are the household servants of the Bamra Raja's family, and it is said that the first Raja of Bamra was a child of the Patna house, who was stolen from his home and anointed king of Bamra by the Bhuiyas and Khonds. Similarly Colonel Dalton records the legend that the Bhuiyas twenty-seven generations ago stole a child of the Moharbhanj Raja's family, brought it up amongst them and made it their Raja. He was freely admitted to intercourse with Bhuiya girls, and the children of this intimacy are the progenitors of the Rajkuli branch of the tribe. But they are not considered first among Bhuiyas because they are not of pure Bhuiya descent. Again the Raja of Keonjhar is always installed by the Bhuiyas. These facts indicate that the Bhuiyas were once the rulers of Chota Nagpur and are recognised as the oldest inhabitants of the country. From this centre they have spread north through Lohardaga and Hazaribagh and into southern Bihar, where large numbers of Bhuiyas are encountered on whom the opprobrious designation of Musahar or 'rat-eater' has been conferred by their Hindu neighbours. Others of the tribe who travelled south from Chota Nagpur experienced more favourable conditions, and here the tendency has been for the Bhuiyas to rise rather than to decline in social status. "Some of their leading families," Sir H. Risley states, "have come to be chiefs of the petty States of Orissa, and have now sunk the Bhuiya in the Khandait or swordsman, a caste of admitted respectability in Orissa and likely in course of time to transform itself into some variety of Rajput."

3. Example of the position of the aborigines in Hindu society.

The varying status of the Bhuiyas in Bihar, Chota Nagpur and Orissa is a good instance of the different ways in which the primitive tribes have fared in contact with the immigrant Aryans. Where the country has been completely colonised and populated by Hindus, as in Bihar, the aboriginal residents have commonly become transformed into village drudges, relegated to the meanest occupations, and despised as impure by the Hindu cultivators, like the Chamars of northern India and the Mahars of the Maratha Districts. Where the Hindu immigration has only been partial and the forests have not been cleared, as in Chota Nagpur and the Central Provinces, they may keep their old villages and tribal organisation and be admitted as a body into the hierarchy of caste, ranking above the impure castes but below the Hindu cultivators. This is the position of the Gonds, Baigas and other tribes in these tracts. While, if the Hindus come only as colonists and not as rulers, the indigenous residents may retain the overlordship of the soil and the landed proprietors among them may be formed into a caste ranking with the good cultivating castes of the Aryans. Instances of such are the Khandaits of Orissa, the Binjhwars of Chhattisgarh and the Bhilalas of Nimar and Indore.

4. The Bhuiyas a Kolarian tribe.

The Bhuiyas have now entirely forgotten their own language and speak Hindi, Uriya and Bengali, according as each is the dominant vernacular of their Hindu neighbours. They cannot therefore on the evidence of language be classified as a Munda or Kolarian or as a Dravidian tribe. Colonel Dalton was inclined to consider them as Dravidian: [361] "Mr. Stirling in his account of Orissa classes them among the Kols; but there are no grounds that I know of for so connecting them. As I have said above, they appear to me to be linked with the Dravidian rather than with the Kolarian tribes." His account, however, does not appear to contain any further evidence in support of this view; and, on the other hand, he identifies the Bhuiyas with the Savars or Saonrs. Speaking of the Bendkars or Savars of Keonjhar, he says: "It is difficult to regard them otherwise than as members of the great Bhuiya family, and thus connecting them we link the Bhuiyas and Savaras and give support to the conjecture that the former are Dravidian." But it is now shown in the Linguistic Survey that the Savars have a Munda dialect. In Chota Nagpur this has been forgotten, and the tribe speak Hindi or Uriya like the Bhuiyas, but it remains in the hilly tracts of Ganjam and Vizagapatam. [362] Savara is closely related to Kharia and Juang, the dialects of two of the most primitive Munda tribes. The Savars must therefore be classed as a Munda or Kolarian tribe, and since Colonel Dalton identified the Bhuiyas with the Savars of Chota Nagpur, his evidence appears really to be in favour of the Kolarian origin of the Bhuiyas. He notes further that the ceremony of naming children among the Bhuiyas is identical with that of the Mundas and Hos. [363] Mr. Mazumdar writes: "Judging from the external appearance and general physical type one would be sure to mistake a Bhuiya for a Munda. Their habits and customs are essentially Mundari. The Bhuiyas who live in and around the District of Manbhum are not much ashamed to admit that they are Kol people; and Bhumia Kol is the name that has been given them there by the Hindus. The Mundas and Larka-Kols of Chota Nagpur tell us that they first established themselves there by driving out the Bhuiyas; and it seems likely that the Bhuiyas formed the first batch of the Munda immigrants in Chota Nagpur and became greatly Hinduised there, and on that account were not recognised by the Mundas as people of their kin." If the tradition of the Mundas and Kols that they came to Chota Nagpur after the Bhuiyas be accepted, and tradition on the point of priority of immigration is often trustworthy, then it follows that the Bhuiyas must be a Munda tribe. For the main distinction other than that of language between the Munda and Dravidian tribes is that the former were the earlier and the latter subsequent immigrants. The claim of the Bhuiyas to be the earliest residents of Chota Nagpur is supported by the fact that they officiate as priests in certain temples. Because in primitive religion the jurisdiction of the gods is entirely local, and foreigners bringing their own gods with them are ignorant of the character and qualities of the local deities, with which the indigenous residents are, on the other hand, well acquainted. Hence the tendency of later comers to employ these latter in the capacity of priests of the godlings of the earth, corn, forests and hills. Colonel Dalton writes: [364] "It is strange that these Hinduised Bhuiyas retain in their own hands the priestly duties of certain old shrines to the exclusion of Brahmans. This custom has no doubt descended in Bhuiya families from the time when Brahmans were not, or had obtained no footing amongst them, and when the religion of the land and the temples were not Hindu; they are now indeed dedicated to Hindu deities, but there are evidences of the temples having been originally occupied by other images. At some of these shrines human sacrifices were offered every third year and this continued till the country came under British rule." And again of the Pauri Bhuiyas of Keonjhar: "The Pauris dispute with the Juangs the claim to be the first settlers in Keonjhar, and boldly aver that the country belongs to them. They assert that the Raja is of their creation and that the prerogative of installing every new Raja on his accession is theirs, and theirs alone. The Hindu population of Keonjhar is in excess of the Bhuiya and it comprises Gonds and Kols, but the claim of the Pauris to the dominion they arrogate is admitted by all; even Brahmans and Rajputs respectfully acknowledge it, and the former by the addition of Brahmanical rites to the wild ceremonies of the Bhuiyas affirm and sanctify their installation." In view of this evidence it seems a probable hypothesis that the Bhuiyas are the earliest residents of these parts of Chota Nagpur and that they are a Kolarian tribe.

5. The Baigas and the Bhuiyas. Chhattisgarh the home of the Baigas.

There appears to be considerable reason for supposing that the Baiga tribe of the Central Provinces are really a branch of the Bhuiyas. Though the Baigas are now mainly returned from Mandla and Balaghat, it seems likely that these Districts were not their original home, and that they emigrated from Chhattisgarh into the Satpura hills on the western borders of the plain. The hill country of Mandla and the Maikal range of Balaghat form one of the wildest and most inhospitable tracts in the Province, and it is unlikely that the Baigas would have made their first settlements here and spread thence into the fertile plain of Chhattisgarh. Migration in the opposite direction would be more natural and probable. But it is fairly certain that the Baiga tribe were among the earliest if not the earliest residents of the Chhattisgarh plain and the hills north and east of it. The Bhaina, Bhunjia and Binjhwar tribes who still reside in this country can all be recognised as offshoots of the Baigas. In the article on Bhaina it is shown that some of the oldest forts in Bilaspur are attributed to the Bhainas and a chief of this tribe is remembered as having ruled in Bilaigarh south of the Mahanadi. They are said to have been dominant in Pendra where they are still most numerous, and to have been expelled from Phuljhar in Raipur by the Gonds. The Binjhwars or Binjhals again are an aristocratic subdivision of the Baigas, belonging to the hills east of Chhattisgarh and the Uriya plain country of Sambalpur beyond them. The zamindars of Bodasamar, Rampur, Bhatgaon and other estates to the south and east of the Chhattisgarh plain are members of this tribe. Both the Bhainas and Binjhwars are frequently employed as priests of the village deities all over this area, and may therefore be considered as older residents than the Gond and Kawar tribes and the Hindus. Sir G. Grierson also states that the language of the Baigas of Mandla and Balaghat is a form of Chhattisgarhi, and this is fairly conclusive evidence of their first having belonged to Chhattisgarh. [365] It seems not unlikely that the Baigas retreated into the hills round Chhattisgarh after the Hindu invasion and establishment of the Haihaya Rajput dynasty of Ratanpur, which is now assigned to the ninth century of the Christian era; just as the Gonds retired from the Nerbudda valley and the Nagpur plain before the Hindus several centuries later. Sir H. Risley states that the Binjhias or Binjhwars of Chota Nagpur say that their ancestors came from Ratanpur twenty generations ago. [366]

6. The Baigas a branch of the Bhuiyas.

But the Chhattisgarh plain and the hills north and east of it are adjacent to and belong to the same tract of country as the Chota Nagpur States, which are the home of the Bhuiyas. Sir H. Risley gives Baiga as a name for a sorcerer, and as a synonym or title of the Khairwar tribe in Chota Nagpur, possibly having reference to the idea that they, being among the original inhabitants of the country, are best qualified to play the part of sorcerer and propitiate the local gods. It has been suggested in the article on Khairwar that that tribe are a mongrel offshoot of the Santals and Cheros, but the point to be noticed here is the use of the term Baiga in Chota Nagpur for a sorcerer; and a sorcerer may be taken as practically equivalent for a priest of the indigenous deities, all tribes who act in this capacity being considered as sorcerers by the Hindus. If the Bhuiyas of Chota Nagpur had the title of Baiga, it is possible that it may have been substituted for the proper tribal name on their migration to the Central Provinces. Mr. Crooke distinguishes two tribes in Mirzapur whom he calls the Bhuiyas and Bhuiyars. The Bhuiyas of Mirzapur seem to be clearly a branch of the Bhuiya tribe of Chota Nagpur, with whom their section-names establish their identity. [367] Mr. Crooke states that the Bhuiyas are distinguished with very great difficulty from the Bhuiyars with whom they are doubtless very closely connected. [368] Of the Bhuiyars [369] he writes that the tribe is also known as Baiga, because large numbers of the aboriginal local priests are derived from this caste. He also states that "Most Bhuiyars are Baigas and officiate in their own as well as allied tribes; in fact, as already stated, one general name for the tribe is Baiga." [370] It seems not unlikely that these Bhuiyars are the Baigas of the Central Provinces and that they went to Mirzapur from here with the Gonds. Their original name may have been preserved or revived there, while it has dropped out of use in this Province. The name Baiga in the Central Provinces is sometimes applied to members of other tribes who serve as village priests, and, as has already been seen, it is used in the same sense in Chota Nagpur. The Baigas of Mandla are also known as Bhumia, which is only a variant of Bhuiya, having the same meaning of lord of the soil or belonging to the soil. Both Bhuiya and Bhumia are in fact nearly equivalent to our word 'aboriginal,' and both are names given to the tribe by the Hindus and not originally that by which its members called themselves. It would be quite natural that a branch of the Bhuiyas, who settled in the Central Provinces and were commonly employed as village priests by the Hindus and Gonds should have adopted the name of the office, Baiga, as their tribal designation; just as the title of Munda or village headman has become the name of one branch of the Kol tribe, and Bhumij, another term equivalent to Bhuiya, of a second branch. Mr. A. F. Hewitt, Settlement Officer of Raipur, considered that the Buniyas of that District were the same tribe as the Bhuiyas of the Garhjat States. [371] By Buniya he must apparently have meant the Bhunjia tribe of Raipur, who as already stated are an offshoot of the Baigas. Colonel Dalton describes the dances of the Bhuiyas of Chota Nagpur as follows: [372] "The men have each a wide kind of tambourine. They march round in a circle, beating these and singing a very simple melody in a minor key on four notes. The women dance opposite to them with their heads covered and bodies much inclined, touching each other like soldiers in line, but not holding hands or wreathing arms like the Kols." This account applies very closely to the Sela and Rina dances of the Baigas. The Sela dance is danced by men only who similarly march round in a circle, though they do not carry tambourines in the Central Provinces. Here, however, they sometimes carry sticks and march round in opposite directions, passing in and out and hitting their sticks against each other as they meet, the movement being exactly like the grand chain in the Lancers. Similarly the Baiga women dance the Rina dance by themselves, standing close to each other and bending forward, but not holding each other by the hands and arms, just as described by Colonel Dalton. The Gonds now also have the Sela and Rina dances, but admit that they are derived from the Baigas. Another point of some importance is that the Bhuiyas of Chota Nagpur and the Baigas and the tribes derived from them in the Central Provinces have all completely abandoned their own language and speak a broken form of that of their Hindu neighbours. As has been seen, too, the Bhuiyas are commonly employed as priests in Chota Nagpur, and there seems therefore to be a strong case for the original identity of the two tribes. [373] Both the Baigas and Bhuiyas, however, have now become greatly mixed with the surrounding tribes, the Baigas of Mandla and Balaghat having a strong Gond element.

7. Tribal sub-divisions.

In Singhbhum the Bhuiyas call themselves Pawan-bans or 'The Children of the Wind,' and in connection with Hanuman's title of Pawan-ka-put or 'The Son of the Wind,' are held to be the veritable apes of the Ramayana who, under the leadership of Hanuman, the monkey-god, assisted the Aryan hero Rama on his expedition to Ceylon. This may be compared with the name given to the Gonds of the Central Provinces of Rawanbansi, or descendants of Rawan, the idea being that their ancestors were the subjects of Rawan, the demon king of Ceylon, who was conquered by Rama. "All Bhuiyas," Sir H. Risley states, "affect great reverence for the memory of Rikhmun or Rikhiasan, whom they regard, some as a patron deity, others as a mythical ancestor, whose name distinguishes one of the divisions of the tribe. It seems probable that in the earliest stage of belief Rikhmun was the bear-totem of a sept of the tribe, that later on he was transformed into an ancestral hero, and finally promoted to the rank of a tribal god." The Rikhiasan Mahatwar subtribe of the Bhuiyas in the Central Provinces are named after this hero Rikhmun; the designation of Mahatwar signifies that they are the Mahtos or leaders of the Bhuiyas. The Khandaits or Paiks are another subcaste formed from those who became soldiers; in Orissa they are now, as already stated, a separate caste of fairly high rank. The Parja or 'subject people' are the ordinary Bhuiyas, probably those living in Hindu tracts. The Dhur or 'dust' Gonds, and the Parja Gonds of Bastar may be noted as a parallel in nomenclature. The Rautadi are a territorial group, taking their name from a place called Raotal. The Khandaits practise hypergamy with the Rautadi, taking daughters from them, but not giving their daughters to them. The Pabudia or Madhai are the hill Bhuiyas, and are the most wild and backward portion of the tribe. Dalton writes of them in Keonjhar: "They are not bound to fight for the Raja, though they occasionally take up arms against him. Their duty is to attend on him and carry his loads when he travels about, and so long as they are satisfied with his person and his rule, no more willing or devoted subjects could be found. They are then in Keonjhar, as in Bonai, a race whom you cannot help liking and taking an interest in from the primitive simplicity of their customs, their amenability and their anxiety to oblige; but unsophisticated as they are they wield an extraordinary power in Keonjhar, and when they take it into their heads to use that power, the country may be said to be governed by an oligarchy composed of the sixty chiefs of the Pawri Desh, the Bhuiya Highlands. A knotted string passed from village to village in the name of the sixty chiefs throws the entire country into commotion, and the order verbally communicated in connection with it is as implicitly obeyed as if it emanated from the most potent despot." This knotted string is known as Ganthi. The Pabudias say that their ancestors were twelve brothers belonging to Keonjhar, of whom eight went to an unknown country, while the remaining four divided among themselves all the territory of which they had knowledge, this being comprised in the four existing states of Keonjhar, Bamra, Palahara and Bonai. Any Pabudia who takes up his residence permanently beyond the boundaries of these four states is considered to lose his caste, like Hindus in former times who went to dwell in the foreign country beyond the Indus. [374] But if the wandering Pabudia returns in two years, and proves that he has not drunk water from any other caste, he is taken back into the fold. Other subdivisions are the Kati or Khatti and the Bathudia, these last being an inferior group who are said to be looked down on because they have taken food from other low castes. No doubt they are really the offspring of irregular unions.

8. Exogamus septs.

In Raigarh the Bhuiyas appear to have no exogamous divisions. When they wish to arrange a marriage they compare the family gods of the parties, and if these are not identical and there is no recollection of a common ancestor for three generations, the union is permitted. In Sambalpur, however, Mr. Mazumdar states, all Bhuiyas are divided into the following twelve septs: Thakur, or the clan of royal blood; Saont, from samanta, a viceroy; Padhan, a village headman; Naik, a military leader; Kalo, a wizard or priest; Dehri, also a priest; Chatria, one who carried the royal umbrella; Sahu, a moneylender; Majhi, a headman; Behra, manager of the household; Amata, counsellor; and Dandsena, a police official. The Dehrin sept still worship the village gods on behalf of the tribe.

9. Marriage customs.

Marriage is adult, but the more civilised Bhuiyas are gradually adopting Hindu usages, and parents arrange matches for their children while they are still young. Among the Pabudias some primitive customs survive. They have the same system as the Oraons, by which all the bachelors of the village sleep in one large dormitory; this is known as Dhangarbasa, dhangar meaning a farmservant or young man, or Mandarghar, the house of the drums, because these instruments are kept in it. "Some villages," Colonel Dalton states, "have a Dhangaria basa, or house for maidens, which, strange to say, they are allowed to occupy without any one to look after them. They appear to have very great liberty, and slips of morality, so long as they are confined to the tribe, are not much heeded." This intimacy between boys and girls of the same village does not, however, commonly end in marriage, for which a partner should be sought from another village. For this purpose the girls go in a body, taking with them some ground rice decorated with flowers. They lay this before the elders of the village they have entered, saying, 'Keep this or throw it into the water, as you prefer.' The old men pick up the flowers, placing them behind their ears. In the evening all the boys of the village come and dance with the girls, with intervals for courtship, half the total number of couples dancing and sitting out alternately. This goes on all night, and in the morning any couples who have come to an understanding run away together for a day or two. The boy's father must present a rupee and a piece of cloth to the girl's mother, and the marriage is considered to be completed.

Among the Pabudia or Madhai Bhuiyas the bride-price consists of two bullocks or cows, one of which is given to the girl's father and the other to her brother. The boy's father makes the proposal for marriage, and the consent of the girl is necessary. At the wedding turmeric and rice are offered to the sun; some rice is then placed on the girl's head and turmeric rubbed on her body, and a brass ring is placed on her finger. The bridegroom's father says to him, "This girl is ours now: if in future she becomes one-eyed, lame or deaf, she will still be ours." The ceremony concludes with the usual feast and drinking bout. If the boy's father cannot afford the bride-price the couple sometimes run away from home for two or three days, when their parents go in search of them and they are brought back and married in the boy's house.

10. Widow-marriage and divorce.

A widow is often taken by the younger brother of the deceased husband, though no compulsion is exerted over her. But the match is common because the Bhuiyas have the survival of fraternal polyandry, which consists in allowing unmarried younger brothers to have access to an elder brother's wife during his lifetime. [375] Divorce is allowed for misconduct on the part of the wife or mutual disagreement.

11. Religion.

The Bhuiyas commonly take as their principal deity the spirit of the nearest mountain overlooking their village, and make offerings to it of butter, rice and fowls. In April they present the first-fruits of the mango harvest. They venerate the sun as Dharam Deota, but no offerings are made to him. Nearly all Bhuiyas worship the cobra, and some of them call it their mother and think they are descended from it. They will not touch or kill a cobra, and do not swear by it. In Rairakhol they venerate a goddess, Rambha Devi, who may be a corn-goddess, as the practice of burning down successive patches of jungle and sowing seed on each for two or three years is here known as rambha. They think that the sun and moon are sentient beings, and that fire and lightning are the children of the sun, and the stars the children of the moon. One day the moon invited the sun to dinner and gave him very nice food, so that the sun asked what it was. The moon said she had cooked her own children, and on this the sun went home and cooked all his children and ate them, and this is the reason why there are no stars during the day. But his eldest son, fire, went and hid in a rengal tree, and his daughter, the lightning, darted hither and thither so that the sun could not catch her. And when night came again, and the stars came out, the sun saw how the moon had deceived him and cursed her, saying that she should die for fifteen days in every month. And this is the reason for the waxing and waning of the moon. Ever since this event fire has remained hidden in a rengal tree, and when the Bhuiyas want him they rub two pieces of its wood together and he comes out. This is the Bhuiya explanation of the production of fire from the friction of wood.

12. Religious dancing.

In the month of Kartik (October), or the next month, they bring from the forest a branch of the karm tree and venerate it and perform the karma dance in front of it. They think that this worship and dance will cause the karma tree, the mango, the jack-fruit and the mahua to bear a full crop of fruit. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are considered the proper days for worshipping the deities, and children are often named on a Friday.

13. Funeral rites and inheritance.

The dead are either buried or burnt, the corpse being placed always with the feet pointing to its native village. On the tenth day the soul of the dead person is called back to the house. But if a man is killed by a tiger or by falling from a tree no mourning is observed for him, and his soul is not brought back. To perish from snake-bite is considered a natural death, and in such cases the usual obsequies are awarded. This is probably because they revere the cobra as their first mother. The Pabudia Bhuiyas throw four to eight annas' worth of copper on to the pyre or into the grave, and if the deceased had a cow some ghi or melted butter. No division of property can take place during the lifetime of either parent, but when both have died the children divide the inheritance, the eldest son taking two shares and the others one equal share each.

14. Physical appearance and occupation.

Colonel Dalton describes the Bhuiyas as, "A dark-brown, well-proportioned race, with black, straight hair, plentiful on the head, but scant on the face, of middle height, figures well knit and capable of enduring great fatigue, but light-framed like the Hindu rather than presenting the usual muscular development of the hillman." Their dress is scanty, and in the Tributary States Dalton says that the men and women all wear dresses of brown cotton cloth. This may be because white is a very conspicuous colour in the forests. They wear ornaments and beads, and are distinctive in that neither men nor women practise tattooing, though in some localities this rule is not observed by the women. To keep themselves warm at night they kindle two fires and sleep between them, and this custom has given rise to the saying, 'Wherever you see a Bhuiya he always has a fire.' In Bamra the Bhuiyas still practise shifting cultivation, for which they burn the forest growth from the hillsides and sow oilseeds in the fresh soil. This method of agriculture is called locally Khasrathumi. They obtain their lands free from the Raja in return for acting as luggage porters and coolies. In Bamra they will not serve as farm-servants or labourers for hire, but elsewhere they are more docile.

15. Social customs.

A woman divorced for adultery is not again admitted to caste intercourse. Her parents take her to their village, where she has to live in a separate hut and earn her own livelihood. If any Bhuiya steals from a Kol, Ganda or Ghasia he is permanently put out of caste, while for killing a cow the period of expulsion is twelve years. The emblem of the Bhuiyas is a sword, in reference to their employment as soldiers, and this they affix to documents in place of their signature.


Bhulia, [376] Bholia, Bhoriya, Bholwa, Mihir, Mehar.—A caste of weavers in the Uriya country. In 1901 the Bhulias numbered 26,000 persons, but with the transfer of Sambalpur and the Uriya States to Bengal this figure has been reduced to 5000. A curious fact about the caste is that though solely domiciled in the Uriya territories, many families belonging to it talk Hindi in their own houses. According to one of their traditions they immigrated to this part of the country with the first Chauhan Raja of Patna, and it may be that they are members of some northern caste who have forgotten their origin and taken to a fresh calling in the land of their adoption. The Koshtas of Chhattisgarh have a subcaste called Bhoriya, and possibly the Bhulias have some connection with these. The caste sometimes call themselves Devang, and Devang or Devangan is the name of another subcaste of Koshtis. Various local derivations of the name are current, generally connecting it with bhulna, to forget. The Bhulias occupy a higher rank than the ordinary weavers, corresponding with that of the Koshtis elsewhere, and this is to some extent considered to be an unwarranted pretension. Thus one saying has it: "Formerly a son was born from a Chandal woman; at that time none were aware of his descent or rank, and so he was called Bhulia (one who is forgotten). He took the loom in his hands and became the brother-in-law of the Ganda." The object here is obviously to relegate the Bhulia to the same impure status as the Ganda. Again the Bhulias affect the honorific title of Meher, and another saying addresses them thus: "Why do you call yourself Meher? You make a hole in the ground and put your legs into it and are like a cow with foot-and-mouth disease struggling in the mud." The allusion here is to the habit of the weaver of hollowing out a hole for his feet as he sits before the loom, while cattle with foot-and-mouth disease are made to stand in mud to cool and cleanse the feet.

The caste have no subcastes, except that in Kalahandi a degraded section is recognised who are called Sanpara Bhulias, and with whom the others refuse to intermarry. These are, there is little reason to doubt, the progeny of illicit unions. They say that they have two gotras, Nagas from the cobra and Kachhap from the tortoise. But these have only been adopted for the sake of respectability, and exercise no influence on marriage, which is regulated by a number of exogamous groups called vansa. The names of the vansas are usually either derived from villages or are titles or nicknames. Two of them, Bagh (tiger) and Kimir (crocodile), are totemistic, while two more, Kumhar (potter) and Dhuba (washerman), are the names of other castes. Examples of titular names are Bankra (crooked), Ranjujha (warrior), Kodjit (one who has conquered a score of people) and others. The territorial names are derived from those of villages where the caste reside at present. Marriage within the vansa is forbidden, but some of the vansas have been divided into bad and san, or great and small, and members of these may marry with each other, the subdivision having been adopted when the original group became so large as to include persons who were practically not relations. The binding portion of the wedding ceremony is that the bridegroom should carry the bride in a basket seven times round the hom or sacrificial fire. If he cannot do this, the girl's grandfather carries them both. After the ceremony the pair return to the bridegroom's village, and are made to sleep on the same bed, some elder woman of the family lying between them. After a few days the girl goes back to her parents and does not rejoin her husband until she attains maturity. The remarriage of widows is permitted, and in Native States is not less costly to the bridegroom than the regular ceremony. In Sonpur the suitor must proceed to the Raja and pay him twenty rupees for his permission, which is given in the shape of a present of rice and nuts. Similar sums are paid to the caste-fellows and the parents of the girl, and the Raja's rice and nuts are then placed on the heads of the couple, who become man and wife. Divorce may be effected at the instance of the husband or the wife's parents on the mere ground of incompatibility of temper. The position of the caste corresponds to that of the Koshtas; that is, they rank below the good cultivating castes, but above the menial and servile classes. They eat fowls and the flesh of wild pig, and drink liquor. A liaison with one of the impure castes is the only offence entailing permanent expulsion from social intercourse. A curious rule is that in the case of a woman going wrong with a man of the caste, the man only is temporarily outcasted and forced to pay a fine on readmission, while the woman escapes without penalty. They employ Brahmans for ceremonial purposes. They are considered proverbially stupid, like the Koris in the northern Districts, but very laborious. One saying about them is: "The Kewat catches fish but himself eats crabs, and the Bhulia weaves loin-cloths but himself wears only a rag"; and another: "A Bhulia who is idle is as useless as a confectioner's son who eats sweetmeats, or a moneylender's son with a generous disposition, or a cultivator's son who is extravagant."


1. Origin and traditions.

Bhunjia. [377]—A small Dravidian tribe residing in the Bindranawagarh and Khariar zamindaris of the Raipur District, and numbering about 7000 persons. The tribe was not returned outside this area in 1911, but Sherring mentions them in a list of the hill tribes of the Jaipur zamindari of Vizagapatam, which touches the extreme south of Bindranawagarh. The Bhunjias are divided into two branches, Chaukhutia and Chinda, and the former have the following legend of their origin. On one occasion a Bhatra Gond named Bachar cast a net into the Pairi river and brought out a stone. He threw the stone back into the river and cast his net again, but a second and yet a third time the stone came out. So he laid the stone on the bank of the river and went back to his house, and that night he dreamt that the stone was Bura Deo, the great God of the Gonds. So he said: 'If this dream be true let me draw in a deer in my net to-morrow for a sign'; and the next day the body of a deer appeared in his net. The stone then called upon the Gond to worship him as Bura Deo, but the Gond demurred to doing so himself, and said he would provide a substitute as a devotee. To this Bura Deo agreed, but said that Bachar, the Gond, must marry his daughter to the substituted worshipper. The Gond then set out to search for somebody, and in the village of Lafandi he found a Halba of the name of Konda, who was a cripple, deaf and dumb, blind, and a leper. He brought Konda to the stone, and on reaching it he was miraculously cured of all his ailments and gladly began to worship Bura Deo. He afterwards married the Gond's daughter and they had a son called Chaukhutia Bhunjia, who was the ancestor of the Chaukhutia division of the tribe. Now the term Chaukhutia in Chhattisgarhi signifies a bastard, and the story related above is obviously intended to signify that the Chaukhutia Bhunjias are of mixed descent from the Gonds and Halbas. It is clearly with this end in view that the Gond is made to decline to worship the stone himself and promise to find a substitute, an incident which is wholly unnatural and is simply dragged in to meet the case. The Chaukhutia subtribe especially worship Bura Deo, and sing a song relating to the finding of the stone in their marriage ceremony as follows:

Johar, johar Thakur Deota, Tumko lagon, Do matia ghar men dine tumhare nam. Johar, johar Konda, Tumko lagon, Do matia ghar men, etc. Johar, johar Bachar Jhakar Tumko lagon, etc. Johar, johar Budha Raja Tumko lagon, etc. Johar, johar Lafandi Mati Tumko lagon, etc. Johar, johar Anand Mati Tumko lagon, etc.

which may be rendered:

I make obeisance to thee, O Thakur Deo, I bow down to thee! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house (as a mark of respect). I make obeisance to thee, O Konda Pujari, I bow down to thee! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Bachar Jhakar! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Budha Raja! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Soil of Lafandi! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Happy Spot! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house.

The song refers to the incidents in the story. Thakur Deo is the title given to the divine stone, Konda is the Halba priest, and Bachar the Gond who cast the net. Budha Raja, otherwise Singh Sei, is the Chief who was ruling in Bindranawagarh at the time, Lafandi the village where Konda Halba was found, and the Anand Mati or Happy Spot is that where the stone was taken out of the river. The majority of the sept-names returned are of Gond origin, and there seems no doubt that the Chaukhutias are, as the story says, of mixed descent from the Halbas and Gonds. It is noticeable, however, that the Bhunjias, though surrounded by Gonds on all sides, do not speak Gondi but a dialect of Hindi, which Sir G. Grierson considers to resemble that of the Halbas, and also describes as "A form of Chhattisgarhi which is practically the same as Baigani. It is a jargon spoken by Binjhwars, Bhumias and Bhunjias of Raipur, Raigarh, Sarangarh and Patna in the Central Provinces." [378] The Binjhwars also belong to the country of the Bhunjias, and one or two estates close to Bindranawagarh are held by members of this tribe. The Chinda division of the Bhunjias have a saying about themselves: 'Chinda Raja, Bhunjia Paik'; and they say that there was originally a Kamar ruler of Bindranawagarh who was dispossessed by Chinda. The Kamars are a small and very primitive tribe of the same locality. Paik means a foot-soldier, and it seems therefore that the Bhunjias formed the levies of this Chinda, who may very probably have been one of themselves. The term Bhunjia may perhaps signify one who lives on the soil, from bhum, the earth, and jia, dependent on. The word Birjia, a synonym for Binjhwar, is similarly a corruption of bewar jia, and means one who is dependent on dahia or patch cultivation. Sir H. Risley gives Birjia, Binjhia and Binjhwar [379] as synonymous terms, and Bhunjia may be another corruption of the same sort. The Binjhwars are a Hinduised offshoot of the ancient Baiga tribe, who may probably have been in possession of the hills bordering the Chhattisgarh plain as well as of the Satpura range before the advent of the Gonds, as the term Baiga is employed for a village priest over a large part of this area. It thus seems not improbable that the Chinda Bhunjias may have been derived from the Binjhwars, and this would account for the fact that the tribe speaks a dialect of Hindi and not Gondi. As already seen, the Chaukhutia subcaste appear to be of mixed origin from the Gonds and Halbas, and as the Chindas are probably descended from the Baigas, the Bhunjias may be considered to be an offshoot from these three important tribes.

2. Subdivisions.

Of the two subtribes already mentioned the Chaukhutia are recognised to be of illegitimate descent. As a consequence of this they strive to obtain increased social estimation by a ridiculously strict observance of the rules of ceremonial purity. If any man not of his own caste touches the hut where a Chaukhutia cooks his food, it is entirely abandoned and a fresh one built. At the time of the census they threatened to kill the enumerator if he touched their huts to affix the census number. Pegs had therefore to be planted in the ground a little in front of the huts and marked with their numbers. The Chaukhutia will not eat food cooked by other members of his own community, and this is a restriction found only among those of bastard descent, where every man is suspicious of his neighbour's parentage. He will not take food from the hands of his own daughter after she is married; as soon as the ceremony is over her belongings are at once removed from the hut, and even the floor beneath the seat of the bride and bridegroom during the marriage ceremony is dug up and the surface earth thrown away to avoid any risk of defilement. Only when it is remembered that these rules are observed by people who do not wash themselves from one week's end to the other, and wear the same wisp of cloth about their loins until it comes to pieces, can the full absurdity of such customs as the above be appreciated. But the tendency appears to be of the same kind as the intense desire for respectability so often noticed among the lower classes in England. The Chindas, whose pedigree is more reliable, are far less particular about their social purity.

3. Marriage.

As already stated, the exogamous divisions of the Bhunjias are derived from those of the Gonds. Among the Chaukhutias it is considered a great sin if the signs of puberty appear in a girl before she is married, and to avoid this, if no husband has been found for her, they perform a 'Kand Byah' or 'Arrow Marriage': the girl walks seven times round an arrow fixed in the ground, and is given away without ceremony to the man who by previous arrangement has brought the arrow. If a girl of the Chinda group goes wrong with an outsider before marriage and becomes pregnant, the matter is hushed up, but if she is a Chaukhutia it is said that she is finally expelled from the community, the same severe course being adopted even when she is not pregnant if there is reason to suppose that the offence has been committed. A proposal for marriage among the Chaukhutias is made on the boy's behalf by two men who are known as Mahalia and Jangalia, and are supposed to represent a Nai (barber) and Dhimar (water-carrier), though they do not actually belong to these castes. As among the Gonds, the marriage takes place at the bridegroom's village, and the Mahalia and Jangalia act as stewards of the ceremony, and are entrusted with the rice, pulse, salt, oil and other provisions, the bridegroom's family having no function in the matter except to pay for them. The provisions are all stored in a separate hut, and when the time for the feast has come they are distributed raw to all the guests, each family of whom cook for themselves. The reason for this is, as already explained, that each one is afraid of losing status by eating with other members of the tribe. The marriage is solemnised by walking round the sacred post, and the ceremony is conducted by a hereditary priest known as Dinwari, a member of the tribe, whose line it is believed will never become extinct. Among the Chinda Bhunjias the bride goes away with her husband, and in a short time returns with him to her parents' house for a few days, to make an offering to the deities. But the Chaukhutias will not allow her, after she has lived in her father-in-law's house, to return to her home. In future if she goes to visit her parents she must stay outside the house and cook her food separately. Widow-marriage and divorce are permitted, but a husband will often overlook transgressions on the part of his wife and only put her away when her conduct has become an open scandal. In such a case he will either quietly leave house and wife and settle alone in another village, or have his wife informed by means of a neighbour that if she does not leave the village he will do so. It is not the custom to bring cases before the tribal committee or to claim damages. A special tie exists between a man and his sister's children. The marriage of a brother's son or daughter to a sister's daughter or son is considered the most suitable. A man will not allow his sister's children to eat the leavings of food on his plate, though his own children may do so. This is a special token of respect to his sister's children. He will not chastise his sister's children, even though they deserve it. And it is considered especially meritorious for a man to pay for the wedding ceremony of his sister's son or daughter.

4. Religion.

Every third year in the month of Chait (March) the tribe offer a goat and a cocoanut to Mata, the deity of cholera and smallpox. They bow daily to the sun with folded hands, and believe that he is of special assistance to them in the liquidation of debt, which the Bhunjias consider a primary obligation. When a debt has been paid off they offer a cocoanut to the sun as a mark of gratitude for his assistance. They also pay great reverence to the tortoise. They call the tortoise the footstool (pidha) of God, and have adopted the Hindu theory that the earth is supported by a tortoise swimming in the midst of the ocean. Professor Tylor explains as follows how this belief arose: [380] "To man in the lower levels of science the earth is a flat plain over which the sky is placed like a dome as the arched upper shell of the tortoise stands upon the flat plate below, and this is why the tortoise is the symbol or representative of the world." It is said that Bhunjia women are never allowed to sit either on a footstool or a bed-cot, because these are considered to be the seats of the deities. They consider it disrespectful to walk across the shadow of any elderly person, or to step over the body of any human being or revered object on the ground. If they do this inadvertently, they apologise to the person or thing. If a man falls from a tree he will offer a chicken to the tree-spirit.

5. Social rules.

The tribe will eat pork, but abstain from beef and the flesh of monkeys. Notwithstanding their strictness of social observance, they rank lower than the Gonds, and only the Kamars will accept food from their hands. A man who has got maggots in a wound is purified by being given to drink water, mixed with powdered turmeric, in which silver and copper rings have been dipped. Women are secluded during the menstrual period for as long as eight days, and during this time they may not enter the dwelling-hut nor touch any article belonging to it. The Bhunjias take their food on plates of leaves, and often a whole family will have only one brass vessel, which will be reserved for production on the visit of a guest. But no strangers can be admitted to the house, and a separate hut is kept in the village for their use. Here they are given uncooked grain and pulse, which they prepare for themselves. When the women go out to work they do not leave their babies in the house, but carry them tied up in a small rag under the arm. They have no knowledge of medicine and are too timid to enter a Government dispensary. Their panacea for most diseases is branding the skin with a hot iron, which is employed indifferently for headache, pains in the stomach and rheumatism. Mr. Pyare Lal notes that one of his informants had recently been branded for rheumatism on both knees and said that he felt much relief.


List of Paragraphs

1. Origin and tradition. 2. Tribal subdivisions. 3. Marriage. 4. The marriage ceremony. 5. Sexual morality. 6. Disposal of the dead. 7. Religion. 8. Festivals. 9. Social customs.

1. Origin and tradition.

Binjhwar, Binjhal. [381]—A comparatively civilised Dravidian tribe, or caste formed from a tribe, found in the Raipur and Bilaspur Districts and the adjoining Uriya country. In 1911 the Binjhwars numbered 60,000 persons in the Central Provinces. There is little or no doubt that the Binjhwars are an offshoot of the primitive Baiga tribe of Mandla and Balaghat, who occupy the Satpura or Maikal hills to the north of the Chhattisgarh plain. In these Districts a Binjhwar subdivision of the Baigas exists; it is the most civilised and occupies the highest rank in the tribe. In Bhandara is found the Injhwar caste who are boatmen and cultivators. This caste is derived from the Binjhwar subdivision of the Baigas, and the name Injhwar is simply a corruption of Binjhwar. Neither the Binjhwars nor the Baigas are found except in the territories above mentioned, and it seems clear that the Binjhwars are a comparatively civilised section of the Baigas, who have become a distinct caste. They are in fact the landholding section of the Baigas, like the Raj-Gonds among the Gonds and the Bhilalas among Bhils. The zamindars of Bodasamar, Rampur, Bhatgaon and other estates to the south and east of the Chhattlsgarh plain belong to this tribe. But owing to the change of name their connection with the parent Baigas has now been forgotten. The name Binjhwar is derived from the Vindhya hills, and the tribe still worship the goddess Vindhyabasini of these hills as their tutelary deity. They say that their ancestors migrated from Binjhakop to Lampa, which may be either Lamta in Balaghat or Laphagarh in Bilaspur. The hills of Mandla, the home of perhaps the most primitive Baigas, are quite close to the Vindhya range. The tribe say that their original ancestors were Barah bhai betkar, or the twelve Brother Archers. They were the sons of the goddess Vindhyabasini. One day they were out shooting and let off their arrows, which flew to the door of the great temple at Puri and stuck in it. Nobody in the place was able to pull them out, not even when the king's elephants were brought and harnessed to them; till at length the brothers arrived and drew them forth quite easily with their hands, and the king was so pleased with their feat that he gave them the several estates which their descendants now hold. The story recalls that of Arthur and the magic sword. According to another legend the mother of the first Raja of Patna, a Chauhan Rajput, had fled from northern India to Sambalpur after her husband and relations had been killed in battle. She took refuge in a Binjhwar's hut and bore a son who became Raja of Patna; and in reward for the protection afforded to his mother he gave the Binjhwar the Bodasamar estate, requiring only of him and his descendants the tribute of a silk cloth on accession to the zamindari; and this has been rendered ever since by the zamindars of Bodasamar to the Rajas of Patna as a mark of fealty. It is further stated that the twelve archers when they fired the memorable arrows in the forest were in pursuit of a wild boar; and the landholding class of Binjhwars are called Bariha from barah, a boar. As is only fitting, the Binjhwars have taken the arrow as their tribal symbol or mark; their cattle are branded with it, and illiterate Binjhwars sign it in place of their name. If a husband cannot be found for a girl she is sometimes married to an arrow. At a Binjhwar wedding an arrow is laid on the trunk of mahua [382] which forms the marriage-post, and honours are paid to it as representing the bridegroom.

2. Tribal subdivisions.

The tribe have four subdivisions, the Binjhwars proper, the Sonjharas, the Birjhias and the Binjhias. The Sonjharas consist of those who took to washing for gold in the sands of the Mahanadi, and it may be noted that a separate caste of Sonjharas is also in existence in this locality besides the Binjhwar group. The Birjhias are those who practised bewar or shifting cultivation in the forests, the name being derived from bewarjia, one living by bewar-sowing. Binjhia is simply a diminutive form of Binjhwar, but in Bilaspur it is sometimes regarded as a separate caste. The zamindar of Bhatgaon belongs to this group. The tribe have also exogamous divisions, the names of which are of a diverse character, and on being scrutinised show a mixture of foreign blood. Among totemistic names are Bagh, a tiger; Pod, a buffalo; Kamalia, the lotus flower; Panknali, the water-crow; Tar, the date-palm; Jal, a net, and others. Some of the sections are nicknames, as Udhar, a debtor; Marai Meli Bagh, one who carried a dead tiger; Ultum, a talker; Jalia, a liar; Kessal, one who has shaved a man, and so on. Several are the names of other castes, as Lohar, Dudh Kawaria, Bhil, Banka and Majhi, indicating that members of these castes have become Binjhwars and have founded families. The sept names also differ in different localities; the Birjhia subtribe who live in the same country as the Mundas have several Munda names among their septs, as Munna, Son, Solai; while the Binjhwars who are neighbours of the Gonds have Gond sept names, as Tekam, Sonwani, and others. This indicates that there has been a considerable amount of intermarriage with the surrounding tribes, as is the case generally among the lower classes of the population in Chhattisgarh. Even now if a woman of any caste from whom the Binjhwars will take water to drink forms a connection with a man of the tribe, though she herself must remain in an irregular position, her children will be considered as full members of it. The Barhias or landowning group have now adopted names of Sanskrit formation, as Gajendra, an elephant, Rameswar, the god Rama, and Nageshwar, the cobra deity. Two of their septs are named Lohar (blacksmith) and Kumhar (potter), and may be derived from members of these castes who became Binjhwars or from Binjhwars who took up the occupations. At a Binjhwar wedding the presence of a person belonging to each of the Lohar and Kumhar septs is essential, the reason being probably the estimation in which the two handicrafts were held when the Binjhwars first learnt them from their Hindu neighbours.

3. Marriage.

In Sambalpur there appears to be no system of exogamous groups, and marriage is determined simply by relationship. The union of agnates is avoided as long as the connection can be traced between them, but on the mother's side all except first cousins may marry. Marriage is usually adult, and girls are sometimes allowed to choose their own husbands. A bride-price of about eight khandis (1400 lbs.) of unhusked rice is paid. The ceremony is performed at the bridegroom's house, to which the bride proceeds after bidding farewell to her family and friends in a fit of weeping. Weddings are avoided during the four months of the rainy season, and in Chait (March) because it is inauspicious, Jeth (May) because it is too hot, and Pus (December) because it is the last month of the year among the Binjhwars. The marriage ceremony should begin on a Sunday, when the guests are welcomed and their feet washed. On Monday the formal reception of the bride takes place, the Gandsan or scenting ceremony follows on Tuesday, and on Wednesday is the actual wedding. At the scenting ceremony seven married girls dressed in new clothes dyed yellow with turmeric conduct the bridegroom round the central post; one holds a dish containing rice, mango leaves, myrobalans and betel-nuts, and a second sprinkles water from a small pot. At each round the bridegroom is made to throw some of the condiments from the dish on to the wedding-post, and after the seven rounds he is seated and is rubbed with oil and turmeric.

4. The marriage ceremony.

Among the Birjhias a trunk of mahua with two branches is erected in the marriage-shed, and on this a dagger is placed in a winnowing-fan filled with rice, the former representing the bridegroom and the latter the bride. The bride first goes round the post seven times alone, and then the bridegroom, and after this they go round it together. A plough is brought and they stand upon the yoke, and seven cups of water having been collected from seven different houses, four are poured over the bridegroom and three over the bride. Some men climb on to the top of the shed and pour pots of water down on to the couple. This is now said to be done only as a joke. Next morning two strong men take the bridegroom and bride, who are usually grown up, on their backs, and the parties pelt each other with unhusked rice. Then the bridegroom holds the bride in his arms from behind and they stand facing the sun, while some old man ties round their feet a thread specially spun by a virgin. The couple stand for some time and then fall to the ground as if dazzled by his rays, when water is again poured over their bodies to revive them. Lastly, an old man takes the arrow from the top of the marriage-post and draws three lines with it on the ground to represent the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and the bridegroom jumps over these holding the bride in his arms. The couple go to bathe in a river or tank, and on the way home the bridegroom shoots seven arrows at an image of a sambhar deer made with straw. At the seventh shot the bride's brother takes the arrow, and running away and hiding it in his cloth lies down at the entrance of the bridegroom's house. The couple go up to him, and the bridegroom examines his body with suspicion, pretending to think that he is dead. He draws the arrow out of his cloth and points to some blood which has been previously sprinkled on the ground. After a time the boy gets up and receives some liquor as a reward. This procedure may perhaps be a symbolic survival of marriage by capture, the bridegroom killing the bride's brother before carrying her off, or more probably, perhaps, the boy may represent a dead deer. In some of the wilder tracts the man actually waylays and seizes the girl before the wedding, the occasion being previously determined, and the women of her family trying to prevent him. If he succeeds in carrying her off they stay for three or four days in the forest and then return and are married.

5. Sexual morality.

If a Binjhwar girl is seduced and rendered pregnant by a man of the tribe, the people exact a feast and compel them to join their hands in an informal manner before the caste committee, the tie thus formed being considered as indissoluble as a formal marriage. Polygamy is permitted; a Binjhwar zamindar marries a new wife, who is known as Pat Rani, to celebrate his accession to his estates, even though he may have five or six already.

Divorce is recognised but is not very common, and a married woman having an intrigue with another Binjhwar is often simply made over to him and they live as husband and wife. If this man does not wish to take her she can live with any other, conjugal morality being very loose in Sambalpur. In Bodasamar a fine of from one to ten rupees is payable to the zamindar in the case of each divorce, and a feast must also be given to the caste-fellows.

6. Disposal of the dead.

The tribe usually bury the dead, and on the third day they place on the grave some uncooked rice and a lighted lamp. As soon as an insect flies to the lamp they catch it, and placing it in a cake of flour carry this to a stream, where it is worshipped with an offering of coloured rice. It is then thrust into the sand or mud in the bed of the stream with a grass broom. This ceremony is called Kharpani or 'Grass and Water,' and appears to be a method of disposing of the dead man's spirit. It is not performed at all for young children, while, on the other hand, in the case of respected elders a second ceremony is carried out of the same nature, being known as Badapani or 'Great Water.' On this occasion the jiva or soul is worshipped with greater pomp. Except in the case of wicked souls, who are supposed to become malignant ghosts, the Binjhwars do not seem to have any definite belief in a future life. They say, 'Je maris te saris,' or 'That which is dead is rotten and gone.'

7. Religion.

The tribe worship the common village deities of Chhattisgarh, and extend their veneration to Bura Deo, the principal god of the Gonds. They venerate their daggers, spears and arrows on the day of Dasahra, and every third year their tutelary goddess Vindhyabasini is carried in procession from village to village. Mr. Mian Bhai gives the following list of precepts as forming the Binjhwar's moral code:—Not to commit adultery outside the caste; not to eat beef; not to murder; not to steal; not to swear falsely before the caste committee. The tribe have gurus or spiritual preceptors, whom he describes as the most ignorant Bairagis, very little better than impostors. When a boy or girl grows up the Bairagi comes and whispers the Karn mantra or spell in his ear, also hanging a necklace of tulsi (basil) beads round his neck; for this the guru receives a cloth, a cocoanut and a cash payment of four annas to a rupee. Thereafter he visits his disciples annually at harvest time and receives a present of grain from them.

8. Festivals.

On the 11th of Bhadon (August) the tribe celebrate the karma festival, which is something like May-Day or a harvest feast. The youths and maidens go to the forest and bring home a young karma tree, singing, dancing and beating drums. Offerings are made to the tree, and then the whole village, young and old, drink and dance round it all through the night. Next morning the tree is taken to the nearest stream or tank and consigned to it. After this the young girls of five or six villages make up a party and go about to the different villages accompanied by drummers and Ganda musicians. They are entertained for the night, and next morning dance for five or six hours in the village and then go on to another.

9. Social customs.

The tribe are indiscriminate in their diet, which includes pork, snakes, rats, and even carnivorous animals, as panthers. They refuse only beef, monkeys and the leavings of others. The wilder Binjhwars of the forests will not accept cooked food from any other caste, but those who live in association with Hindus will take it when cooked without water from a few of the higher ones. The tribe are not considered as impure. Their dress is very simple, consisting as a rule only of one dirty white piece of cloth in the case of both men and women. Their hair is unkempt, and they neither oil nor comb it. A genuine Binjhwar of the hills wears long frizzled hair with long beard and moustaches, but in the open country they cut their hair and shave the chin. Every Binjhwar woman is tattooed either before or just after her marriage, when she has attained to the age of adolescence. A man will not touch or accept food from a woman who is not tattooed on the feet. The expenses must be paid either by the woman's parents or her brothers and not by her husband. The practice is carried to an extreme, and many women have the upper part of the chest, the arms from shoulder to wrist, and the feet and legs up to the knee covered with devices. On the chest and arms the patterns are in the shape of flowers and leaves, while along the leg a succession of zigzag lines are pricked. The Binjhwars are usually cultivators and labourers, while, as already stated, several zamindari and other estates are owned by members of the tribe. Binjhwars also commonly hold the office of Jhankar or priest of the village gods in the Sambalpur District, as the Baigas do in Mandla and Balaghat. In Sambalpur the Jhankar or village priest is a universal and recognised village servant of fairly high status. His business is to conduct the worship of the local deities of the soil, crops, forests and hills, and he generally has a substantial holding, rent free, containing some of the best land in the village. It is said locally that the Jhankar is looked on as the founder of the village, and the representative of the old owners who were ousted by the Hindus. He worships on their behalf the indigenous deities, with whom he naturally possesses a more intimate acquaintance than the later immigrants; while the gods of these latter cannot be relied on to exercise a sufficient control over the works of nature in the foreign land to which they have been imported, or to ensure that the earth and the seasons will regularly perform their necessary functions in producing sustenance for mankind.


List of Paragraphs

1. Origin of the sect. 2. Precepts of Jhambaji. 3. Customs of the Bishnois in the Punjab. 4. Initiation and baptism. 5. Nature of the sect. 6. Bishnois in the Central Provinces. 7. Marriage. 8. Disposal of the dead. 9. Development into a caste.

1. Origin of the sect.

Bishnoi. [383]—A Hindu sect which has now developed into a caste. The sect was founded in the Punjab, and the Bishnois are immigrants from northern India. In the Central Provinces they numbered about 1100 persons in 1911, nearly all of whom belonged to the Hoshangabad District. The best description of the sect is contained in Mr. Wilson's Sirsa Settlement Report (quoted in Sir E. Maclagan's Census Report of the Punjab for 1891), from which the following details are taken: "The name Bishnoi means a worshipper of Vishnu. The founder of the sect was a Panwar Rajput named Jhambaji, who was born in a village of Bikaner State in A.D. 1451. His father had hitherto remained childless, and being greatly oppressed by this misfortune had been promised a son by a Muhammadan Fakir. After nine months Jhambaji was born and showed his miraculous origin in various ways, such as producing sweets from nothing for the delectation of his companions. Until he was thirty-four years old he spoke no word and was employed in tending his father's cattle. At this time a Brahman was sent for to get him to speak, and on confessing his failure, Jhambaji showed his power by lighting a lamp with a snap of his fingers and spoke his first word. He adopted the life of a teacher and went to reside on a sandhill some thirty miles south of Bikaner. In 1485 a fearful famine desolated the country, and Jhambaji gained an enormous number of disciples by providing food for all who would declare their belief in him. He is said to have died on his sandhill at the good old age of eighty-four, and to have been buried at a spot about a mile distant from it. A further account says that his body remained suspended for six months in the bier without decomposing. His name Jhambaji was a contraction of Achambha (The Wonder), with the honorific suffix ji.

2. Precepts of Jhambaji.

"The sayings (shabd) of Jhambaji, to the number of one hundred and twenty, were recorded by his disciples, and have been handed down in a book (pothi) which is written in the Nagari character, and in a Hindu dialect similar to Bagri and therefore probably a dialect of Rajasthani. The following is a translation of the twenty-nine precepts given by him for the guidance of his followers: 'For thirty days after childbirth and five days after a menstrual discharge a woman must not cook food. Bathe in the morning. Commit no adultery. Be content. Be abstemious and pure. Strain your drinking-water. Be careful of your speech. Examine your fuel in case any living creature be burnt with it. Show pity to living creatures. Keep duty present to your mind as the teacher bade. Do not steal. Do not speak evil of others. Do not tell lies. Never quarrel. Avoid opium, tobacco, bhang and blue clothing. Flee from spirits and flesh. See that your goats are kept alive (not sold to Musalmans, who will kill them for food). Do not plough with bullocks. Keep a fast on the day before the new moon. Do not cut green trees. Sacrifice with fire. Say prayers; meditate. Perform worship and attain heaven.' And the last of the twenty-nine duties prescribed by the teacher: 'Baptise your children if you would be called a true Bishnoi.' [384]

3. Customs of the Bishnois in the Punjab.

"Some of these precepts are not strictly obeyed. For instance, though ordinarily they allow no blue in their clothing, yet a Bishnoi, if he is a police constable, is allowed to wear a blue uniform; and Bishnois do use bullocks, though most of their farming is done with camels. They also seem to be generally quarrelsome (in words) and given to use bad language. But they abstain from tobacco, drugs and spirits, and are noted for their regard for animal life, which is such that not only will they not themselves kill any living creature, but they do their utmost to prevent others from doing so. Consequently their villages are generally swarming with antelope and other animals, and they forbid their Musalman neighbours to kill them, and try to dissuade European sportsmen from interfering with them. They wanted to make it a condition of their settlement that no one should be allowed to shoot on their land, but at the same time they asked that they might be assessed at lower rates than their neighbours, on the ground that the antelope, being thus left undisturbed, did more damage to their crops; but I told them that this would lessen the merit (pun) of their actions in protecting the animals, and they must be treated just as the surrounding villages were. They consider it a good deed to scatter grain to pigeons and other birds, and often have a large number of half-tame birds about their villages. The day before the new moon (Amawas) they observe as a Sabbath and fast-day, doing no work in the fields or in the house. They bathe and pray three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and evening, saying 'Bishnu! Bishnu!' instead of the ordinary Hindu 'Ram! Ram.' Their clothing is the same as that of other Bagris, except that their women do not allow the waist to be seen, and are fond of wearing black woollen clothing. They are more particular about ceremonial purity than ordinary Hindus are, and it is a common saying that if a Bishnoi's food is on the first of a string of twenty camels and a man of another caste touches the last camel of the string, the Bishnoi would consider his food defiled and throw it away."

4. Initiation and baptism.

The ceremony of initiation is as follows: "A number of representative Bishnois assemble, and before them a Sadh or Bishnoi priest, after lighting a sacrificial fire (hom), instructs the novice in the duties of the faith. He then takes some water in a new earthen vessel, over which he prays in a set form (Bishno gayatri), stirring it the while with his string of beads (mala), and after asking the consent of the assembled Bishnois he pours the water three times into the hands of the novice, who drinks it off. The novice's scalp-lock (choti) is then cut off and his head shaved, for the Bishnois shave the whole head and do not leave a scalp-lock like the Hindus, but they allow the beard to grow, only shaving the chin on the father's death. Infant baptism is also practised, and thirty days after birth the child, whether boy or girl, is baptised by the priest (Sadh) in much the same way as an adult; only the set form of prayer is different, and the priest pours a few drops of water into the child's mouth, and gives the child's relatives each three handfuls of the consecrated water to drink; at the same time the barber clips off the child's hair. The baptismal ceremony has the effect of purifying the house, which has been made impure by the birth (sutak).

"The Bishnois do not revere Brahmans, but have priests of their own known as Sadh, who are chosen from among the laity. The priests are a hereditary class, and do not intermarry with other Bishnois, from whom, like Brahmans, they receive food and offerings. The Bishnois do not burn their dead, but bury them below the cattle-shed or in some place like a pen frequented by cattle. They make pilgrimages to the place where Jhambaji is buried to the south of Bikaner; here a tomb and temple have been erected to his memory, and gatherings are held twice a year. The sect observe the Holi in a different way from other Hindus. After sunset on that day they fast till the next forenoon when, after hearing read the account of how Prahlad was tortured by his infidel father, Hrianya Kasipu, for believing in the god Vishnu, until he was delivered by the god himself in his incarnation of Narsingh, the Man-lion, and mourning over Prahlad's sufferings, they light a sacrificial fire and partake of consecrated water, and after distributing sugar (gur) in commemoration of Prahlad's delivery from the fire into which he was thrown, they break their fast."

5. Nature of the sect.

The above interesting account of the Bishnois by Mr. Wilson shows that Jhambaji was a religious reformer, who attempted to break loose from the debased Hindu polytheism and arrogant supremacy of the Brahmans by choosing one god, Vishnu, out of the Hindu pantheon and exalting him into the sole and supreme deity. In his method he thus differed from Kabir and other reformers, who went outside Hinduism altogether, preaching a monotheistic faith with one unseen and nameless deity. The case of the Manbhaos, whose unknown founder made Krishna the one god, discarding the Vedas and the rest of Hinduism, is analogous to Jhambaji's movement. His creed much resembles that of the other Hindu reformers and founders of the Vaishnavite sects. The extreme tenderness for animal life is a characteristic of most of them, and would be fostered by the Hindu belief in the transmigration of souls. The prohibition of liquor is another common feature, to which Jhambaji added that of all kinds of drugs. His mind, like those of Kabir and Nanak, was probably influenced by the spectacle of the comparatively liberal creed of Islam, which had now taken root in northern India. Mr. Crooke remarks that the Bishnois of Bijnor appear to differ from those of the Punjab in using the Muhammadan form of salutation, Salam alaikum, and the title of Shaikhji. They account for this by saying they murdered a Muhammadan Kazi, who prevented them from burning a widow, and were glad to compound the offence by pretending to adopt Islam. But it seems possible that on their first rupture with Hinduism they were to some extent drawn towards the Muhammadans, and adopted practices of which, on tending again to conform to their old religion, they have subsequently become ashamed.

6. Bishnois in the Central Provinces.

In northern India the members of different castes who have become Bishnois have formed separate endogamous groups, of which Mr. Crooke gives nine; among these are the Brahman, Bania, Jat, Sunar, Ahir and Nai Bishnois. Only members of comparatively good castes appear to have been admitted into the community, and in the Punjab they are nearly all Jats and Banias. In the Central Provinces the caste forms only one endogamous group. They have gotras or exogamous sections, the names of which appear to be of the titular or territorial type. Some of the gotras, Jhuria, Ajna, Sain and Ahir, [385] are considered to be lower than the others, and though they are not debarred from intermarriage, a connection with them is looked upon as something of a mesalliance. They are not consulted in the settlement of tribal disputes. No explanation of the comparatively degraded position of these septs is forthcoming, but it may probably be attributed to some blot in their ancestral escutcheon. The Bishnois celebrate their marriages at any period of the year, and place no reliance on astrology. According to their saying, "Every day is as good as Sankrant, [386] every day is as good as Amawas. [387] The Ganges flows every day, and he whose preceptor has taught him the most truth will get the most good from bathing in it."

7. Marriage.

Before a wedding the bride's father sends, by the barber, a cocoanut and a silver ring tied round it with a yellow thread. On the thread are seven, nine, eleven or thirteen knots, signifying the number of days to elapse before the ceremony. The barber on his arrival stands outside the door of the house, and the bridegroom's father sends round to all the families of his caste. The men go to the house and the women come singing to the barber, and rub turmeric on the boy. A married woman touches the cocoanut and waves a lighted lamp seven times round the bridegroom's head. This is meant to scare off evil spirits. On arrival at the bride's village the bridegroom touches the marriage-shed with the branch of a ber or wild plum tree. The mother of the bride gives him some sugar, rubs lamp-black on his eyes and twists his nose. The bride and bridegroom are seated side by side on wooden boards, and after the caste priest (Sadh) has chanted some sacred verses, water is poured nine times on to the palms of the bridegroom, and he drinks it. They do not perform the ceremony of walking round the sacred pole. Girls are usually married at a very early age, sometimes when they are only a few months old. Subsequently, when the bridegroom comes to take his bride, her family present her with clothing and a spinning-wheel, this implement being still in favour among the Bishnois. When a widow is to be married again she is taken to her new husband's house at night, and there grinds a flour-mill five times, being afterwards presented with lac bangles.

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