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


R.V. Russell Of the Indian Civil Service Superintendent of Ethnography, Central Provinces Assisted by Rai Bahadur Hira Lal Extra Assistant Commissioner

Published Under the Orders of the Central Provinces Administration

In Four Volumes Vol. II.

Macmillan and Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London.



Articles on Castes and Tribes of the Central Provinces in Alphabetical Order

The articles which are considered to be of most general interest are shown in capitals

Agaria (Iron-worker) 3 Agharia (Cultivator) 8 Aghori (Religious mendicant) 13 AHIR (Herdsman and milkman) 18 Andh (Tribe, now cultivators) 38 Arakh (Hunter) 40 Atari (Scent-seller) 42 Audhelia (Labourer) 45 BADHAK (Robber) 49 BAHNA (Cotton-cleaner) 69 Baiga (Forest tribe) 77 Bairagi (Religious mendicants) 93 Balahi (Labourer and village watchman) 105 Balija (Cultivator) 108 BANIA (Merchant and moneylender) 111 Subcastes of Bania

Agarwala. Agrahari. Ajudhiabasi. Asathi. Charnagri. Dhusar. Dosar. Gahoi. Golapurab. Kasarwani. Kasaundhan. Khandelwal. Lad. Lingayat. Maheshri. Nema. Oswal. Parwar. Srimali. Umre.

BANJARA (Pack-carrier) 162 Barai (Betel-vine grower and seller) 192 Barhai (Carpenter) 199 Bari (Maker of leaf-plates) 202 Basdewa (Cattle-dealer and religious mendicant) 204 Basor (Bamboo-worker) 208 Bedar (Soldier and public service) 212 Beldar (Digger and navvy) 215 Beria (Vagabond gipsy) 220 Bhaina (Forest tribe) 225 Bhamta (Criminal tribe and labourers) 234 Bharbhunja (Grain-parcher) 238 Bharia (Forest tribe) 242 BHAT (Bard and genealogist) 251 Bhatra (Forest tribe) 271 BHIL (Forest tribe) 278 Bhilala (Landowner and cultivator) 293 Bhishti (Water-man) 298 Bhoyar (Cultivator) 301 Bhuiya (Forest tribe) 305 Bhulia (Weaver) 319 Bhunjia (Forest tribe) 322 Binjhwar (Cultivator) 329 Bishnoi (Cultivator) 337 Bohra (Trader) 345 BRAHMAN (Priest) 351 Subcastes of Brahman

Ahivasi. Jijhotia. Kanaujia, Kanyakubja. Khedawal. Maharashtra. Maithil. Malwi. Nagar. Naramdeo. Sanadhya. Sarwaria. Utkal.

Chadar (Village watchman and labourer) 400 CHAMAR (Tanner and labourer) 403 Chasa (Cultivator) 424 Chauhan (Village watchman and labourer) 427 Chhipa (Dyer and calico-printer) 429 CHITARI (Painter) 432 Chitrakathi (Picture showman) 438 Cutchi (Trader and shopkeeper) 440 DAHAIT (Village watchman and labourer) 444 Daharia (Cultivator) 453 Dangi (Landowner and cultivator) 457 Dangri (Vegetable-grower) 463 DARZI (Tailor) 466 Dewar (Beggar and musician) 472 Dhakar (Illegitimate, cultivator) 477 Dhangar (Shepherd) 480 Dhanuk (Bowman, labourer) 484 Dhanwar (Forest tribe) 488 DHIMAR (Fisherman, water-carrier, and household servant) 502 Dhoba (Forest tribe, cultivator) 515 DHOBI (Washerman) 519 Dhuri (Grain-parcher) 527 Dumal (Cultivator) 530 Fakir (Religious mendicant) 537


31. Aghori mendicant 14 32. Ahirs decorated with cowries for the Stick Dance at Diwali 18 33. Image of Krishna as Murlidhar or the flute-player, with attendant deities 28 34. Ahir dancers in Diwali costume 32 35. Pinjara cleaning cotton 72 36. Baiga village, Balaghat District 88 37. Hindu mendicants with sect-marks 94 38. Anchorite sitting on iron nails 98 39. Pilgrims carrying water of the river Nerbudda 100 40. Coloured Plate: Examples of Tilaks or sect-marks worn on the forehead 102 41. Group of Marwari Bania women 112 42. Image of the god Ganpati carried in procession 116 43. The elephant-headed god Ganpati. His conveyance is a rat, which can be seen as a little blob between his feet 120 44. Mud images made and worshipped at the Holi festival 126 45. Bania's shop 128 46. Banjara women with the singh or horn 184 47. Group of Banjara women 188 48. Basors making baskets of bamboo 210 49. Bhat with his putla or doll 256 50. Group of Bhils 278 51. Tantia Bhil, a famous dacoit 282 52. Group of Bohras at Burhanpur (Nimar) 346 53. Brahman worshipping his household gods 380 54. Brahman bathing party 384 55. Brahman Pujaris or priests 390 56. Group of Maratha Brahman men 392 57. Group of Naramdeo Brahman women 396 58. Group of Naramdeo Brahman men 398 59. Chamars tanning and working in leather 416 60. Chamars cutting leather and making shoes 418 61. Chhipa or calico-printer at work 430 62. Dhimar or fisherman's hut 502 63. Fishermen in dug-outs or hollowed tree trunks 506 64. Group of Gurujwale Fakirs 538


a has the sound of u in but or murmur. a has the sound of a in bath or tar. e has the sound of e in ecarte or ai in maid. i has the sound of i in bit, or (as a final letter) of y in sulky i has the sound of ee in beet. o has the sound of o in bore or bowl. u has the sound of u in put or bull. u has the sound of oo in poor or boot.

The plural of caste names and a few common Hindustani words is formed by adding s in the English manner according to ordinary usage, though this is not, of course, the Hindustani plural.

Note.—The rupee contains 16 annas, and an anna is of the same value as a penny. A pice is a quarter of an anna, or a farthing. Rs. 1-8 signifies one rupee and eight annas. A lakh is a hundred thousand, and a krore ten million.





1. Origin and subdivisions.

Agaria. [1]—A small Dravidian caste, who are an offshoot of the Gond tribe. The Agarias have adopted the profession of iron-smelting and form a separate caste. They numbered 9500 persons in 1911 and live on the Maikal range in the Mandla, Raipur and Bilaspur Districts.

The name probably signifies a worker with ag or fire. An Agaria subcaste of Lohars also exists, many of whom are quite probably Gonds, but they are not included in the regular caste. Similar Dravidian castes of Agarias are to be found in Mirzapur and Bengal. The Agarias are quite distinct from the Agharia cultivating caste of the Uriya country. The Raipur Agarias still intermarry with the Rawanbansi Gonds of the District. The Agarias think that their caste has existed from the beginning of the world, and that the first Agaria made the ploughshare with which the first bullocks furrowed the primeval soil. The caste has two endogamous divisions, the Patharia and the Khuntia Agarias. The Patharias place a stone on the mouth of the bellows to fix them in the ground for smelting, while the Khuntias use a peg. The two subcastes do not even take water from one another.

Their exogamous sections have generally the same names as those of the Gonds, as Sonwani, Dhurua, Tekam, Markam, Uika, Purtai, Marai, and others. A few names of Hindi origin are also found, as Ahindwar, Ranchirai and Rathoria, which show that some Hindus have probably been amalgamated with the caste. Ahindwar or Aindwar and Ranchirai mean a fish and a bird respectively in Hindi, while Rathoria is a gotra both of Rajputs and Telis. The Gond names are probably also those of animals, plants or other objects, but their meaning has now generally been forgotten. Tekam or teka is a teak tree. Sonwani is a sept found among several of the Dravidian tribes, and the lower Hindu castes. A person of the Sonwani sept is always chosen to perform the ceremony of purification and readmission into caste of persons temporarily excommunicated. His duty often consists in pouring on such a person a little water in which gold has been placed to make it holy, and hence the name is considered to mean Sonapani or gold-water. The Agarias do not know the meanings of their section names and therefore have no totemistic observances. But they consider that all persons belonging to one gotra are descended from a common ancestor, and marriage within the gotra is therefore prohibited. As among the Gonds, first cousins are allowed to marry.

2. Marriage.

Marriage is usually adult. When the father of a boy wishes to arrange a marriage he sends emissaries to the father of the girl. They open the proceedings by saying, 'So-and-so has come to partake of your stale food.' [2] If the father of the girl approves he gives his consent by saying, 'He has come on foot, I receive him on my head.' The boy's father then repairs to the girl's house, where he is respectfully received and his feet are washed. He is then asked to take a drink of plain water, which is a humble method of offering him a meal. After this, presents for the girl are sent by a party accompanied by tomtom players, and a date is fixed for the marriage, which, contrary to the usual Hindu rule, may take place in the rains. The reason is perhaps because iron-smelting is not carried on during the rains and the Agarias therefore have no work to do. A few days before the wedding the bride-price is paid, which consists of 5 seers each of urad and til and a sum of Rs. 4 to Rs. 12. The marriage is held on any Monday, Tuesday or Friday, no further trouble being taken to select an auspicious day. In order that they may not forget the date fixed, the fathers of the parties each take a piece of thread in which they tie a knot for every day intervening between the date when the marriage day is settled and the day itself, and they then untie one knot for every day. Previous to the marriage all the village gods are propitiated by being anointed with oil by the Baiga or village priest. The first clod of earth for the ovens is also dug by the Baiga, and received in her cloth by the bride's mother as a mark of respect. The usual procedure is adopted in the marriage. After the bridegroom's arrival his teeth are cleaned with tooth-sticks, and the bride's sister tries to push saj leaves into his mouth, a proceeding which he prevents by holding his fan in front of his face. For doing this the girl is given a small present. A paili [3] measure of rice is filled alternately by the bride and bridegroom twelve times, the other upsetting it each time after it is filled. At the marriage feast, in addition to rice and pulse, mutton curry and cakes of urad pulse fried in oil are provided. Urad is held in great respect, and is always given as a food at ceremonial feasts and to honoured guests. The greater part of the marriage ceremony is performed a second time at the bridegroom's house. Finally, the decorations of the marriage-shed and the palm-leaf crowns of the bride and bridegroom are thrown into a tank. The bride and bridegroom go into the water, and each in turn hides a jar under water, which the other must find. They then bathe, change their clothes, and go back to the bridegroom's house, the bride carrying the jar filled with water on her head. The boy is furnished with a bow and arrows and has to shoot at a stuffed deer over the girl's shoulder. After each shot she gives him a little sugar, and if he does not hit the deer in three shots he must pay 4 annas to the sawasa or page. After the marriage the bridegroom does not visit his wife for a month in order to ascertain whether she is already pregnant. They then live together. The marriage expenses usually amount to Rs. 15 for the bridegroom's father and Rs. 40 for the bride's father. Sometimes the bridegroom serves his father-in-law for his wife, and he is then not required to pay anything for the marriage, the period of service being three years. If the couple anticipate the ceremony, however, they must leave the house, and then are recalled by the bride's parents, and readmitted into caste on giving a feast, which is in lieu of the marriage ceremony. If they do not comply with the first summons of the parents, the latter finally sever connection with them. Widow marriage is freely permitted, and the widow is expected to marry her late husband's younger brother, especially if he is a bachelor. If she marries another man with his consent, the new husband gives him a turban and shoulder-cloth. The children by the first husband are made over to his relatives if there are any. Divorce is permitted for adultery or extravagance or ill-treatment by either party. A divorced wife can marry again, but if she absconds with another man without being divorced the latter has to pay Rs. 12 to the husband.

3. Birth and death ceremonies.

When a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, her mother goes to her taking a new cloth and cakes and a preparation of milk, which is looked on as a luxurious food, and which, it is supposed, will strengthen the child in the womb. After birth the mother is impure for five days. The dead are usually burnt, but children under six whose ears have not been pierced, and persons dying a violent death or from cholera or smallpox are buried. When the principal man of the family dies, the caste-fellows at the mourning feast tie a cloth round the head of his successor to show that they acknowledge his new position. They offer water to the dead in the month of Kunwar (September-October).

4. Religion and social customs.

They have a vague belief in a supreme God but do not pay much attention to him. Their family god is Dulha Deo, to whom they offer goats, fowls, cocoanuts and cakes. In the forest tracts they also worship Bura Deo, the chief god of the Gonds. The deity who presides over their profession is Loha-Sur, the Iron demon, who is supposed to live in the smelting-kilns, and to whom they offer a black hen. Formerly, it is said, they were accustomed to offer a black cow. They worship their smelting implements on the day of Dasahra and during Phagun, and offer fowls to them. They have little faith in medicine, and in cases of sickness requisition the aid of the village sorcerer, who ascertains what deity is displeased with them by moving grain to and fro in a winnowing-fan and naming the village gods in turn. He goes on repeating the names until his hand slackens or stops at some name, and the offended god is thus indicated. He is then summoned and enters into the body of one of the persons present, and explains his reason for being offended with the sick person, as that he has passed by the god's shrine without taking off his shoes, or omitted to make the triennial offering of a fowl or the like. Atonement is then promised and the offering made, while the sick person on recovery notes the deity in question as one of a vindictive temper, whose worship must on no account be neglected. The Agarias say that they do not admit outsiders into the caste, but Gonds, Kawars and Ahirs are occasionally allowed to enter it. They refuse to eat monkeys, jackals, crocodiles, lizards, beef and the leavings of others. They eat pork and fowls and drink liquor copiously. They take food from the higher castes and from Gonds and Baigas. Only Bahelias and other impure castes will take food from them. Temporary excommunication from caste is imposed for conviction of a criminal offence, getting maggots in a wound, and killing a cow, a dog or a cat. Permanent excommunication is imposed for adultery or eating with a very low caste. Readmission to caste after temporary exclusion entails a feast, but if the offender is very poor he simply gives a little liquor or even water. The Agarias are usually sunk in poverty, and their personal belongings are of the scantiest description, consisting of a waist-cloth, and perhaps another wisp of cloth for the head, a brass lota or cup and a few earthen vessels. Their women dress like Gond women, and have a few pewter ornaments. They are profusely tattooed with representations of flowers, scorpions and other objects. This is done merely for ornament.

5. Occupation.

The caste still follow their traditional occupation of iron-smelting and also make a few agricultural implements. They get their ore from the Maikal range, selecting stones of a dark reddish colour. They mix 16 lbs. of ore with 15 lbs. of charcoal in the furnace, the blast being produced by a pair of bellows worked by the feet and conveyed to the furnace through bamboo tubes; it is kept up steadily for four hours. The clay coating of the kiln is then broken down and the ball of molten slag and charcoal is taken out and hammered, and about 3 lbs. of good iron are obtained. With this they make ploughshares, mattocks, axes and sickles. They also move about from village to village with an anvil, a hammer and tongs, and building a small furnace under a tree, make and repair iron implements for the villagers.


1. Origin.

Agharia [4] (a corruption of Agaria, meaning one who came from Agra).—A cultivating caste belonging to the Sambalpur District [5] and adjoining States. They number 27,000 persons in the Raigarh and Sarangarh States and Bilaspur District of the Central Provinces, and are found also in some of the Chota Nagpur States transferred from Bengal. According to the traditions of the Agharias their forefathers were Rajputs who lived near Agra. They were accustomed to salute the king of Delhi with one hand only and without bending the head. The king after suffering this for a long time determined to punish them for their contumacy, and summoned all the Agharias to appear before him. At the door through which they were to pass to his presence he fixed a sword at the height of a man's neck. The haughty Agharias came to the door, holding their heads high and not seeing the sword, and as a natural consequence they were all decapitated as they passed through. But there was one Agharia who had heard about the fixing of the sword and who thought it better to stay at home, saying that he had some ceremony to perform. When the king heard that there was one Agharia who had not passed through the door, he sent again, commanding him to come. The Agharia did not wish to go but felt it impossible to decline. He therefore sent for a Chamar of his village and besought him to go instead, saying that he would become a Rajput in his death and that he would ever be held in remembrance by the Agharia's descendants. The Chamar consented to sacrifice himself for his master, and going before the king was beheaded at the door. But the Agharia fled south, taking his whole village with him, and came to Chhattisgarh, where each of the families in the village founded a clan of the Agharia caste. And in memory of this, whenever an Agharia makes a libation to his ancestors, he first pours a little water on the ground in honour of the dead Chamar. According to another version of the story three brothers of different families escaped and first went to Orissa, where they asked the Gajpati king to employ them as soldiers. The king caused two sheaths of swords to be placed before them, and telling them that one contained a sword and the other a bullock-goad, asked them to select one and by their choice to determine whether they would be soldiers or husbandmen. From one sheath a haft of gold projected and from the other one of silver. The Agharias pulled out the golden haft and found that they had chosen the goad. The point of the golden and silver handles is obvious, and the story is of some interest for the distant resemblance which it bears to the choice of the caskets in The Merchant of Venice. Condemned, as they considered, to drive the plough, the Agharias took off their sacred threads, which they could no longer wear, and gave them to the youngest member of the caste, saying that he should keep them and be their Bhat, and they would support him with contributions of a tenth of the produce of their fields. He assented, and his descendants are the genealogists of the Agharias and are termed Dashanshi. The Agharias claim to be Somvansi Rajputs, a claim which Colonel Dalton says their appearance favours. "Tall, well-made, with high Aryan features and tawny complexions, they look like Rajputs, though they are more industrious and intelligent than the generality of the fighting tribe." [6]

2. Subdivisions.

Owing to the fact that with the transfer of the Sambalpur District, a considerable portion of the Agharias have ceased to be residents of the Central Provinces, it is unnecessary to give the details of their caste organisation at length. They have two subdivisions, the Bad or superior Agharias and the Chhote, Sarolia or Sarwaria, the inferior or mixed Agharias. The latter are a cross between an Agharia and a Gaur (Ahir) woman. The Bad Agharias will not eat with or even take water from the others. Further local subdivisions are now in course of formation, as the Ratanpuria, Phuljharia and Raigarhia or those living round Ratanpur, Phuljhar and Raigarh. The caste is said to have 84 gotras or exogamous sections, of which 60 bear the title of Patel, 18 that of Naik, and 6 of Chaudhri. The section names are very mixed, some being those of eponymous Brahman gotras, as Sandilya, Kaushik and Bharadwaj; others those of Rajput septs, as Karchhul; while others are the names of animals and plants, as Barah (pig), Baram (the pipal tree), Nag (cobra), Kachhapa (tortoise), and a number of other local terms the meaning of which has been forgotten. Each of these sections, however, uses a different mark for branding cows, which it is the religious duty of an Agharia to rear, and though the marks now convey no meaning, they were probably originally the representations of material objects. In the case of names whose meaning is understood, traces of totemism survive in the respect paid to the animal or plant by members of the sept which bears its name. This analysis of the structure of the caste shows that it was a very mixed one. Originally consisting perhaps of a nucleus of immigrant Rajputs, the offspring of connections with inferior classes have been assimilated; while the story already quoted is probably intended to signify, after the usual Brahmanical fashion, that the pedigree of the Agharias at some period included a Chamar.

3. Marriage customs.

Marriage within the exogamous section and also with first cousins is forbidden, though in some places the union of a sister's son with a brother's daughter is permitted. Child marriage is usual, and censure visits a man who allows an unmarried daughter to arrive at adolescence. The bridegroom should always be older than the bride, at any rate by a day. When a betrothal is arranged some ornaments and a cloth bearing the swastik or lucky mark are sent to the girl. Marriages are always celebrated during the months of Magh and Phagun, and they are held only once in five or six years, when all children whose matches can be arranged for are married off. This custom is economical, as it saves expenditure on marriage feasts. Colonel Dalton also states that the Agharias always employ Hindustani Brahmans for their ceremonies, and as very few of these are available, they make circuits over large areas, and conduct all the weddings of a locality at the same period. Before the marriage a kid is sacrificed at the bride's house to celebrate the removal of her status of maidenhood. When the bridegroom arrives at the bride's house he touches with his dagger the string of mango-leaves suspended from the marriage-shed and presents a rupee and a hundred betel-leaves to the bride's sawasin or attendant. Next day the bridegroom's father sends a present of a bracelet and seven small earthen cups to the bride. She is seated in the open, and seven women hold the cups over her head one above the other. Water is then poured from above from one cup into the other, each being filled in turn and the whole finally falling on the bride's head. This probably symbolises the fertilising action of rain. The bride is then bathed and carried in a basket seven times round the marriage-post, after which she is seated in a chair and seven women place their heads together round her while a male relative winds a thread seven times round the heads of the women. The meaning of this ceremony is obscure. The bridegroom makes his appearance alone and is seated with the bride, both being dressed in clothes coloured yellow with turmeric. The bridegroom's party follows, and the feet of the couple are washed with milk. The bride's brother embraces the bridegroom and changes cloths with him. Water is poured over the hands of the couple, the girl's forehead is daubed with vermilion, and a red silk cloth is presented to her and the couple go round the marriage-post. The bride is taken for four days to the husband's house and then returns, and is again sent with the usual gauna ceremony, when she is fit for conjugal relations. No price is usually paid for the bride, and each party spends about Rs. 100 on the marriage ceremony. Polygamy and widow marriage are generally allowed, the widow being disposed of by her parents. The ceremony at the marriage of a widow consists in putting vermilion on the parting of her hair and bangles on her wrists. Divorce is allowed on pain of a fine of Rs. 50 if the divorce is sought by the husband, and of Rs. 25 if the wife asks for it. In some localities divorce and also polygamy are said to be forbidden, and in such cases a woman who commits adultery is finally expelled from the caste, and a funeral feast is given to symbolise her death.

4. Religious and social customs.

The family god of the Agharias is Dulha Deo, who exists in every household. On the Haraiti day or the commencement of the agricultural year they worship the implements of cultivation, and at Dasahra the sword if they have one. They have a great reverence for cows and feed them sumptuously at festivals. Every Agharia has a guru or spiritual guide who whispers the mantra or sacred verse into his ear and is occasionally consulted. The dead are usually burnt, but children and persons dying of cholera or smallpox are buried, males being placed on the pyre or in the grave on their faces and females on their backs, with the feet pointing to the south. On the third day the ashes are thrown into a river and the bones of each part of the body are collected and placed under the pipal tree, while a pot is slung over them, through which water trickles continually for a week, and a lighted lamp, cooked food, a leaf-cup and a tooth-stick are placed beside them daily for the use of the deceased during the same period. Mourning ends on the tenth day, and the usual purification ceremonies are then performed. Children are mourned for a shorter period. Well-to-do members of the caste feed a Brahman daily for a year after a death, believing that food so given passes to the spirit of the deceased. On the anniversary of the death the caste-fellows are feasted, and after that the deceased becomes a purkha or ancestor and participates in devotions paid at the shradhh ceremony. When the head of a joint family dies, his successor is given a turban and betel-leaves, and his forehead is marked by the priest and other relations with sandalwood. After a birth the mother is impure for twenty-one days. A feast is given on the twelfth day, and sometimes the child is named then, but often children are not named until they are six years old. The names of men usually end in Ram, Nath or Singh, and those of women in Kunwar. Women do not name their husbands, their elderly relations, nor the sons of their husband's eldest brother. A man does not name his wife, as he thinks that to do so would tend to shorten his life in accordance with the Sanskrit saying, 'He who is desirous of long life should not name himself, his guru, a miser, his eldest son, or his wife.' The Agharias do not admit outsiders into the caste. They will not take cooked food from any caste, and water only from a Gaur or Rawat. They refuse to take water from an Uriya Brahman, probably in retaliation for the refusal of Uriya Brahmans to accept water from an Agharia, though taking it from a Kolta. Both the Uriya Brahmans and Agharias are of somewhat doubtful origin, and both are therefore probably the more concerned to maintain the social position to which they lay claim. But Kewats, Rawats, Telis and other castes eat cooked food from Agharias, and the caste therefore is admitted to a fairly high rank in the Uriya country. The Agharias do not drink liquor or eat any food which a Rajput would refuse.

5. Occupation.

As cultivators they are considered to be proficient. In the census of 1901 nearly a quarter of the whole caste were shown as malguzars or village proprietors and lessees. They wear a coarse cloth of homespun yarn which they get woven for them by Gandas; probably in consequence of this the Agharias do not consider the touch of the Ganda to pollute them, as other castes do. They will not grow turmeric, onions, garlic, san-hemp or tomatoes, nor will they rear tasar silk-cocoons. Colonel Dalton says that their women do no outdoor work, and this is true in the Central Provinces as regards the better classes, but poor women work in the fields.


1. General accounts of the caste.

Aghori, Aghorpanthi. [7]—The most disreputable class of Saiva mendicants who feed on human corpses and excrement, and in past times practised cannibalism. The sect is apparently an ancient one, a supposed reference to it being contained in the Sanskrit drama Malati Madhava, the hero of which rescues his mistress from being offered as a sacrifice by one named Aghori Ghanta. [8] According to Lassen, quoted by Sir H. Risley, the Aghoris of the present day are closely connected with the Kapalika sect of the Middle Ages, who wore crowns and necklaces of skulls and offered human sacrifices to Chamunda, a form of Devi. The Aghoris now represent their filthy habits as merely giving practical expression to the abstract doctrine that the whole universe is full of Brahma, and consequently that one thing is as pure as another. By eating the most horrible food they utterly subdue their natural appetites, and hence acquire great power over themselves and over the forces of nature. It is believed that an Aghori can at will assume the shapes of a bird, an animal or a fish, and that he can bring back to life a corpse of which he has eaten a part. The principal resort of the Aghoris appears to be at Benares and at Girnar near Mount Abu, and they wander about the country as solitary mendicants. A few reside in Saugor, and they are occasionally met with in other places. They are much feared and disliked by the people owing to their practice of extorting alms by the threat to carry out their horrible practices before the eyes of their victims, and by throwing filth into their houses. Similarly they gash and cut their limbs so that the crime of blood may rest on those who refuse to give. "For the most part," Mr. Barrow states, [9] "the Aghorpanthis lead a wandering life, are without homes, and prefer to dwell in holes, clefts of rocks and burning-ghats. They do not cook, but eat the fragments given them in charity as received, which they put as far as may be into the cavity of the skull used as a begging-bowl. The bodies of chelas (disciples) who die in Benares are thrown into the Ganges, but the dead who die well off are placed in coffins. As a rule, Aghoris do not care what becomes of their bodies, but when buried they are placed in the grave sitting cross-legged. The Aghori gurus keep dogs, which may be of any colour, and are said to be maintained for purposes of protection. The dogs are not all pariahs of the streets, although some gurus are followed by three or four when on pilgrimage. Occasionally the dogs seem to be regarded with real affection by their strange masters. The Aghori is believed to hold converse with all the evil spirits frequenting the burning-ghats, and funeral parties must be very badly off who refuse to pay him something. In former days he claimed five pieces of wood at each funeral in Benares; but the Doms interfere with his perquisites, and in some cases only let him carry off the remains of the unburned wood from each pyre. When angered and excited, Aghoris invoke Kali and threaten to spread devastation around them. Even among the educated classes, who should know better, they are dreaded, and as an instance of the terror which they create among the ignorant, it may be mentioned that in the Lucknow District it is believed that if alms are refused them the Aghoris will cause those who refuse to be attacked with fever.

"On the other hand, their good offices may secure benefits, as in the case of a zamindar of Muzaffarnagar, who at Allahabad refused to eat a piece of human flesh offered to him by an Aghori; the latter thereupon threw the flesh at the zamindar's head, on which it stuck. The zamindar afterwards became so exceedingly wealthy that he had difficulty in storing his wealth."

2. Instances of cannibalism.

In former times it is believed that the Aghoris used to kidnap strangers, sacrifice them to the goddess and eat the bodies, and Mr. Barrow relates the following incident of the murder of a boy: [10] "Another horrible case, unconnected with magic and apparently arising from mere blood-thirst, occurred at Neirad in June 1878. An Aghori mendicant of Dwarka staying at the temple of Sitaram Laldas seized a boy of twelve, named Shankar Ramdas, who was playing with two other boys, threw him down on the oatla of the temple, ripped open his abdomen, tore out part of his entrails, and, according to the poor little victim's dying declaration, began to eat them. The other boys having raised an alarm, the monster was seized. When interrogated by the magistrate as to whether he had committed the crime in order to perform Aghorbidya, the prisoner said that as the boy was Bhakshan he had eaten his flesh. He added that if he had not been interrupted he would have eaten all the entrails. He was convicted, but only sentenced to transportation for life. The High Court, however, altered the sentence and ordered the prisoner to be hanged."

The following instance, quoted by Mr. Barrow from Rewah, shows how an Aghori was hoist with his own petard: "Some years ago, when Maharaja Bishnath Singh was Chief of Rewah, a man of the Aghori caste went to Rewah and sat dharna on the steps of the palace; having made ineffectual demands for alms, he requested to be supplied with human flesh, and for five days abstained from food. The Maharaja was much troubled, and at last, in order to get rid of his unwelcome visitor, sent for Ghansiam Das, another Aghori, a Fakir, who had for some years lived in Rewah. Ghansiam Das went up to the other Aghori and asked him if it was true that he had asked to be supplied with human flesh. On receiving a reply in the affirmative, Ghansiam Das said: 'Very well, I too am extremely partial to this form of food; here is my hand, eat it and I will eat you'; and at the same time he seized hold of the other's hand and began to gnaw at it. The Aghori on this became much alarmed and begged to be excused. He shortly afterwards left Rewah and was not heard of again, while Ghansiam Das was rewarded for his services."

The following recent instance of an Aghori devouring human corpses is reported from the Punjab: [11] "The loathsome story of a human ghoul from Patiala shows that the influence of the Aghorpanthi has not yet completely died out in this country. It is said that for some time past human graves have been found robbed of their contents, and the mystery could not be solved until the other day, when the police succeeded in arresting a man in the act of desecrating a child's grave, some forty miles distant from the capital (Patiala). The ghoul not only did not conceal the undevoured portion of the corpse he had with him, but told his captors the whole story of his gruesome career. He is a low-caste Hindu named Ram Nath, and is, according to a gentleman who saw him, 'a singularly mild and respectful-looking man, instead of a red-eyed and ravenous savage,' as he had expected to find him from the accounts of his disgusting propensities. He became an orphan at five and fell into the hands of two Sadhus of his own caste, who were evidently Aghorpanthis. They taught him to eat human flesh, which formed the staple of their food. The meat was procured from the graves in the villages they passed through. When Ram Nath was thoroughly educated in this rank the Sadhus deserted him. Since then he had been living on human carrion only, roaming about the country like a hungry vulture. He cannot eat cooked food, and therefore gets two seers of raw meat from the State every day. It is also reported that the Maharaja has now prohibited his being given anything but cooked food with a view to reforming him."

Sir J. B. Fuller relates the following incident of the employment of an Aghori as a servant: [12] "There are actually ten thousand persons who at census time classed themselves as Aghoris. All of them do not practise cannibalism and some of them attempt to rise in the world. One of them secured service as a cook with a British officer of my acquaintance. My friend was in camp in the jungle with his wife and children, when his other servants came to him in a body and refused to remain in service unless the cook was dismissed, since they had discovered, they declared, that during the night-time he visited cemeteries and dug up the bodies of freshly buried children. The cook was absent, but they pointed to a box of his that emitted a sickening smell. The man was incontinently expelled, but for long afterwards the family were haunted by reminiscences of the curries they had eaten."


List of Paragraphs

1. General notice. 2. Former dominance of the Abhiras. 3. Ahir dialects. 4. The Yadavas and Krishna. 5. The modern Ahirs an occupational caste. 6. Subcastes. 7. The Dauwa or wet-nurse Ahirs. Fosterage. 8. Exogamy. 9. Marriage customs. 10. Birth customs. 11. Funeral rites. Bringing back the soul. 12. Religion. Krishna and other deified cowherds. 13. Caste deities. 14. Other deities. 15. The Diwali festival. 16. Omens. 17. Social customs. 18. Ornaments. 19. Occupation. 20. Preparations of milk.

1. General notice.

Ahir, [13] Gaoli, Guala, Golkar, Gaolan, Rawat, Gahra, Mahakul.—The caste, of cowherds, milkmen and cattle-breeders. In 1911 the Ahirs numbered nearly 750,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berar, being the sixth caste in point of numbers. This figure, however, excludes 150,000 Gowaris or graziers of the Maratha Districts, and if these were added the Ahirs would outnumber the Telis and rank fifth. The name Ahir is derived from Abhira, a tribe mentioned several times in inscriptions and the Hindu sacred books. Goala, a cowherd, from Gopala, [14] a protector of cows, is the Bengali name for the caste, and Gaoli, with the same signification, is now used in the Central Provinces to signify a dairyman as opposed to a grazier. The Gaolans appear to be an inferior class of Gaolis in Berar. The Golkars of Chanda may be derived from the Telugu Golars or graziers, with a probable admixture of Gond blood. They are described as wild-looking people scattered about in the most thickly forested tracts of the District, where they graze and tend cattle. Rawat, a corruption of Rajputra or a princeling, is the name borne by the Ahir caste in Chhattisgarh; while Gahra is their designation in the Uriya country. The Mahakul Ahirs are a small group found in the Jashpur State, and said to belong to the Nandvansi division. The name means 'Great family.'

2. Former dominance of the Abhiras.

The Abhiras appear to have been one of the immigrant tribes from Central Asia who entered India shortly before or about the commencement of the Christian era. In the Puranas and Mahabharata they are spoken of as Dasyu or robbers, and Mlechchhas or foreigners, in the story which says that Arjuna, after he had burned the dead bodies of Krishna and Balaram at Dwarka, was proceeding with the widows of the Yadava princes to Mathura through the Punjab when he was waylaid by the Abhiras and deprived of his treasures and beautiful women. [15] An inscription of the Saka era 102, or A.D. 180, speaks of a grant made by the Senapati or commander-in-chief of the state, who is called an Abhira, the locality being Sunda in Kathiawar. Another inscription found in Nasik and assigned by Mr. Enthoven to the fourth century speaks of an Abhira king, and the Puranas say that after the Andhrabhrityas the Deccan was held by the Abhiras, the west coast tract from the Tapti to Deogarh being called by their name. [16] In the time of Samudragupta in the middle of the fourth century the Abhiras were settled in Eastern Rajputana and Malwa. [17] When the Kathis arrived in Gujarat in the eighth century, they found the greater part of the country in the possession of the Ahirs. [18] In the Mirzapur District of the United Provinces a tract known as Ahraura is considered to be named after the tribe; and near Jhansi another piece of country is called Ahirwar. [19] Elliot states that Ahirs were also Rajas of Nepal about the commencement of our era. [20] In Khandesh, Mr. Enthoven states, the settlements of the Ahirs were important. In many castes there is a separate division of Ahirs, such as the Ahir Sunars, Sutars, Lohars, Shimpis, Salis, Guraos and Kolis. The fort of Asirgarh in Nimar bordering on Khandesh is supposed to have been founded by one Asa Ahir, who lived in the beginning of the fifteenth century. It is said that his ancestors had held land here for seven hundred years, and he had 10,000 cattle, 20,000 sheep and 1000 mares, with 2000 followers; but was still known to the people, to whom his benevolence had endeared him, by the simple name of Asa. This derivation of Asirgarh is clearly erroneous, as it was known as Asir or Asirgarh, and held by the Tak and Chauhan Rajputs from the eleventh century. But the story need not on that account, Mr. Grant says, [21] be set down as wholly a fable. Firishta, who records it, has usually a good credit, and more probably the real existence of a line of Ahir chieftains in the Tapti valley suggested a convenient ethnology for the fortress. Other traditions of the past domination of the pastoral tribes remain in the Central Provinces. Deogarh on the Chhindwara plateau was, according to the legend, the last seat of Gaoli power prior to its subversion by the Gonds in the sixteenth century. Jatba, the founder of the Deogarh Gond dynasty, is said to have entered the service of the Gaoli rulers, Mansur and Gansur, and subsequently with the aid of the goddess Devi to have slain them and usurped their kingdom. But a Gaoli chief still retained possession of the fort of Narnala for a few years longer, when he also was slain by the Muhammadans. Similarly the fort of Gawilgarh on the southern crest of the Satpuras is said to be named after a Gaoli chief who founded it. The Saugor traditions bring down the Gaoli supremacy to a much later date, as the tracts of Etawa and Khurai are held to have been governed by their chieftains till the close of the seventeenth century.

3. Ahir dialects.

Certain dialects called after the Abhiras or Ahirs still remain. One, known as Ahirwati, is spoken in the Rohtak and Gurgaon Districts of the Punjab and round Delhi. This is akin to Mewati, one of the forms of Rajasthani or the language of Rajputana. The Malwi dialect of Rajasthani is also known as Ahiri; and that curious form of Gujarati, which is half a Bhil dialect, and is generally known as Khandeshi, also bears the name of Ahirani. [22] The above linguistic facts seem to prove only that the Abhiras, or their occupational successors, the Ahirs, were strongly settled in the Delhi country of the Punjab, Malwa and Khandesh. They do not seem to throw much light on the origin of the Abhiras or Ahirs, and necessarily refer only to a small section of the existing Ahir caste, the great bulk of whom speak the Aryan language current where they dwell. Another authority states, however, that the Ahirs of Gujarat still retain a dialect of their own, and concludes that this and the other Ahir dialects are the remains of the distinct Abhira language.

4. The Yadavas and Krishna.

It cannot necessarily be assumed that all the above traditions relate to the Abhira tribe proper, of which the modern Ahir caste are scarcely more than the nominal representatives. Nevertheless, it may fairly be concluded from them that the Abhiras were widely spread over India and dominated considerable tracts of country. They are held to have entered India about the same time as the Sakas, who settled in Gujarat, among other places, and, as seen above, the earliest records of the Abhiras show them in Nasik and Kathiawar, and afterwards widely spread in Khandesh, that is, in the close neighbourhood of the Sakas. It has been suggested in the article on Rajput that the Yadava and other lunar clans of Rajputs may be the representatives of the Sakas and other nomad tribes who invaded India shortly before and after the Christian era. The god Krishna is held to have been the leader of the Yadavas, and to have founded with them the sacred city of Dwarka in Gujarat. The modern Ahirs have a subdivision called Jaduvansi or Yaduvansi, that is, of the race of the Yadavas, and they hold that Krishna was of the Ahir tribe. Since the Abhiras were also settled in Gujarat it is possible that they may have been connected with the Yadavas, and that this may be the foundation for their claim that Krishna was of their tribe. The Dyashraya-Kavya of Hemachandra speaks of a Chordasama prince reigning near Junagarh as an Abhira and a Yadava. But this is no doubt very conjectural, and the simple fact that Krishna was a herdsman would be a sufficient reason for the Ahirs to claim connection with him. It is pointed out that the names of Abhira chieftains given in the early inscriptions are derived from the god Siva, and this would not have been the case if they had at that epoch derived their origin from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. "If the Abhiras had really been the descendants of the cowherds (Gopas) whose hero was Krishna, the name of the rival god Siva would never have formed components of the names of the Abhiras, whom we find mentioned in inscriptions. Hence the conclusion may safely be drawn that the Abhiras were by no means connected with Krishna and his cowherds even as late as about A.D. 300, to which date the first of the two inscriptions mentioned above is to be assigned. Precisely the same conclusion is pointed to by the contents of the Harivansha and Bhagwat Purana. The upbringing of Krishna among the cowherds and his flirtations with the milkmaids are again and again mentioned in these works, but the word Abhira does not occur even once in this connection. The only words we find used are Gopa, Gopi and Vraja. This is indeed remarkable. For the descriptions of the removal of Krishna as an infant to Nanda, the cowherd's hut, of his childhood passed in playing with the cowherd boys, and of his youth spent in amorous sports with the milkmaids are set forth at great length, but the word Abhira is not once met with. From this only one conclusion is possible, that is, that the Abhiras did not originally represent the Gopas of Krishna. The word Abhira occurs for the first time in connection with the Krishna legend about A.D. 550, from which it follows that the Abhiras came to be identified with the Gopas shortly before that date." [23]

This argument is interesting as showing that Abhira was not originally an occupational term for a herdsman, nor a caste name, but belonged to an immigrant tribe. Owing apparently to the fact that the Abhiras, like the Gujars, devoted themselves to a pastoral mode of life in India, whereas the previous Aryan immigrants had settled down to cultivation, they gave their name to the great occupational caste of herdsmen which was subsequently developed, and of which they may originally have constituted the nucleus. The Gujars, who came to India at a later period, form a parallel case; although the Gujar caste, which is derived from them, is far less important than the Ahir, the Gujars have also been the parents of several Rajput clans. The reason why the early Mathura legends of Krishna make no mention of the Ahirs may be that the deity Krishna is probably compounded of at least two if not more distinct personalities. One is the hero chief of the Yadavas, who fought in the battle of the Pandavas and Kauravas, migrated to Gujarat and was killed there. As he was chief of the Yadavas this Krishna must stand for the actual or mythical personality of some leader of the immigrant nomad tribes. The other Krishna, the boy cowherd, who grazed cattle and sported with the milkmaids of Brindaban, may very probably be some hero of the indigenous non-Aryan tribes, who, then as now, lived in the forests and were shepherds and herdsmen. His lowly birth from a labouring cowherd, and the fact that his name means black and he is represented in sculpture as being of a dark colour, lend support to this view. The cult of Krishna, Mr. Crooke points out, was comparatively late, and probably connected with the development of the worship of the cow after the decay of Buddhism. This latter Krishna, who is worshipped with his mother as a child-god, was especially attractive to women, both actual and prospective mothers. It is quite probable therefore that as his worship became very popular in Hindustan in connection with that of the cow, he was given a more illustrious origin by identification with the Yadava hero, whose first home was apparently in Gujarat. In this connection it may also be noted that the episodes connected with Krishna in the Mahabharata have been considered late interpolations.

5. The modern Ahirs an occupational caste.

But though the Ahir caste takes its name and is perhaps partly descended from the Abhira tribe, there is no doubt that it is now and has been for centuries a purely occupational caste, largely recruited from the indigenous tribes. Thus in Bengal Colonel Dalton remarks that the features of the Mathuravasi Goalas are high, sharp and delicate, and they are of light-brown complexion. Those of the Magadha subcaste, on the other hand, are undefined and coarse. They are dark-complexioned, and have large hands and feet. "Seeing the latter standing in a group with some Singhbhum Kols, there is no distinguishing one from the other. There has doubtless been much mixture of blood." [24] Similarly in the Central Provinces the Ahirs are largely recruited from the Gonds and other tribes. In Chanda the Gowaris are admittedly descended from the unions of Gonds and Ahirs, and one of their subcastes, the Gond-Gowaris, are often classed as Gonds. Again, the Kaonra Ahirs of Mandla are descended from the unions of Ahirs either with the Gonds or Kawars, and many of them are probably pure Gonds. They have Gond sept-names and eat pork. Members of one of their subdivisions, the Gond-Kaonra, will take water from Gonds, and rank below the other Kaonras, from whom they will accept food and water. As cattle have to go into the thick jungles to graze in the hot weather, the graziers attending them become intimate with the forest tribes who live there, and these latter are also often employed to graze the cattle, and are perhaps after a time admitted to the Ahir caste. Many Ahirs in Mandla are scarcely considered to be Hindus, living as they do in Gond villages in sole company with the Gonds.

6. Subcastes.

The principal subcastes of the Ahirs in northern India are the Jaduvansi, Nandvansi and Gowalvansi. The Jaduvansi claimed to be descended from the Yadavas, who now form the Yadu and Jadon-Bhatti clans of Rajputs. The probability of a historical connection between the Abhiras and Yadavas has already been noticed. The Nandvansi consider their first ancestor to have been Nand, the cowherd, the foster-father of Krishna; while the name of the Gowalvansi is simply Goala or Gauli, a milkman, a common synonym for the caste. The Kaonra Ahirs of Mandla and the Kamarias of Jubbulpore are considered to belong to the Nandvansi group. Other subcastes in the northern Districts are the Jijhotia, who, like the Jijhotia Brahmans, take their name from Jajhoti, the classical term for Bundelkhand; the Bharotia; and the Narwaria from Narwar. The Rawats of Chhattisgarh are divided into the Jhadia, Kosaria and Kanaujia groups. Of these the Jhadia or 'jungly,' and Kosaria from Kosala, the ancient name of the Chhattisgarh country, are the oldest settlers, while the Kanaujia are largely employed as personal servants in Chhattisgarh, and all castes will take water from their hands. The superior class of them, however, refuse to clean household cooking vessels, and are hence known as Thethwar, or exact or pure, as distinguished from the other Rawats, who will perform this somewhat derogatory work.

7. The Dauwa or wet-nurse Ahirs. Fosterage.

The Dauwa or wet-nurse Ahirs are descended from the illegitimate offspring of Bundela Rajput fathers by Ahir mothers who were employed in this capacity in their families. An Ahir woman kept by a Bundela was known as Pardwarin, or one coming from another house. This is not considered a disgraceful origin; though the Dauwa Ahirs are not recognised by the Ahirs proper, they form a separate section of the caste, and Brahmans will take water from them. The children of such mothers stood in the relation of foster-brothers to the Rajputs, whom their mothers had nursed. The giving of milk, in accordance with the common primitive belief in the virtue attaching to an action in itself, was held to constitute a relation of quasi-maternity between the nurse and infant, and hence of fraternity between her own children and her foster-children. The former were called Dhai-bhais or foster-brothers by the Rajputs; they were often given permanent grants of land and employed on confidential missions, as for the arrangement of marriages. The minister of a Raja of Karauli was his Dauwa or foster-father, the husband of his nurse. Similarly, Colonel Tod says that the Dhai-bhai or foster-brother of the Raja of Boondi, commandant of the fortress of Tanagarh, was, like all his class, devotion personified. [25] A parallel instance of the tie of foster-kinship occurs in the case of the foster-brothers of Conachar or Hector in The Fair Maid of Perth. Thus the position of foster-brother of a Rajput was an honourable one, even though the child might be illegitimate. Ahir women were often employed as wet-nurses, because domestic service was a profession in which they commonly engaged. Owing to the comparatively humble origin of a large proportion of them they did not object to menial service, while the purity of their caste made it possible to use them for the supply of water and food. In Bengal the Uriya Ahirs were a common class of servants in European houses.

The Gaolis or milkmen appear to form a distinct branch of the caste with subcastes of their own. Among them are the Nandvans, common to the Ahirs, the Malwi from Malwa and the Raghuvansi, called after the Rajput clan of that name. The Ranyas take their designation from ran, forest, like the Jhadia Rawats.

8. Exogamy.

The caste have exogamous sections, which are of the usual low-caste type, with titular or totemistic names. Those of the Chhattisgarhi Rawats are generally named after animals. A curious name among the Mahakul Ahirs is Mathankata, or one who bit his mother's nipples. The marriage of persons belonging to the same section and of first cousins is prohibited. A man may marry his wife's younger sister while his wife is living, but not her elder sister. The practice of exchanging girls between families is permissible.

9. Marriage customs.

As a rule, girls may be married before or after puberty, but the Golkars of Chanda insist on infant marriage, and fine the parents if an unmarried girl becomes adolescent. On the other hand, the Kaonra Ahirs of Mandla make a practice of not getting a girl married till the signs of puberty have appeared. It is said that in Mandla if an unmarried girl becomes pregnant by a man of the caste the panchayat give her to him and fine him Rs. 20 or 30, which they appropriate themselves, giving nothing to the father. If an Ahir girl is seduced by an outsider, she is made over to him, and a fine of Rs. 40 or 50 is exacted from him if possible. This is paid to the girl's father, who has to spend it on a penalty feast to the caste. Generally, sexual offences within the community are leniently regarded. The wedding ceremony is of the type prevalent in the locality. The proposal comes from the boy's family, and a price is usually given for the bride. The Kaonra Ahirs of Mandla and the Jharia and Kosaria Rawats of Chhattisgarh employ a Brahman only to write the lagun or paper fixing the date of the wedding, and the ceremony is conducted by the sawasins or relatives of the parties. In Chhattisgarh the bridegroom is dressed as a girl to be taken to the wedding. In Betul the weddings of most Gaolis are held in Magh (January), and that of the Ranya subcaste in the bright fortnight of Kartik (October). At the ceremony the bride is made to stand on a small stone roller; the bridegroom then takes hold of the roller facing the bride and goes round in a circle seven times, turning the roller with him. Widow remarriage is permitted, and a widow is often expected to marry the younger brother of her deceased husband. If a bachelor wishes to marry a widow he first goes through the ceremony with a dagger or an earthen vessel. Divorce is freely permitted. In Hoshangabad a strip is torn off the clothes worn by husband and wife as a sign of their divorce. This is presumably in contrast to the knotting of the clothes of the couple together at a wedding.

10. Birth customs.

Among the Rawats of Chhattisgarh, when a child is shortly to be born the midwife dips her hand in oil and presses it on the wall, and it is supposed that she can tell by the way in which the oil trickles down whether the child will be a boy or a girl. If a woman is weak and ill during her pregnancy it is thought that a boy will be born, but if she is strong and healthy, a girl. A woman in advanced pregnancy is given whatever she desires to eat, and on one occasion especially delicate kinds of food are served to her, this rite being known as Sidhori. The explanation of the custom is that if the mother does not get the food she desires during pregnancy the child will long for it all through life. If delivery is delayed, a line of men and boys is sometimes made from the door of the house to a well, and a vessel is then passed from hand to hand from the house, filled with water, and back again. Thus the water, having acquired the quality of speed during its rapid transit, will communicate this to the woman and cause her quick delivery. Or they take some of the clay left unmoulded on the potter's wheel and give it her to drink in water; the explanation of this is exactly similar, the earth having acquired the quality of swiftness by the rapid transit on the wheel. If three boys or three girls have been born to a woman, they think that the fourth should be of the same sex, in order to make up two pairs. A boy or girl born after three of the opposite sex is called Titra or Titri, and is considered very unlucky. To avert this misfortune they cover the child with a basket, kindle a fire of grass all round it, and smash a brass pot on the floor. Then they say that the baby is the fifth and not the fourth child, and the evil is thus removed. When one woman gives birth to a male and another to a female child in the same quarter of a village on the same day and they are attended by the same midwife, it is thought that the boy child will fall ill from the contagion of the girl child communicated through the midwife. To avoid this, on the following Sunday the child's maternal uncle makes a banghy, which is carried across the shoulders like a large pair of scales, and weighs the child in it against cowdung. He then takes the banghy and deposits it at cross-roads outside the village. The father cannot see either the child or its mother till after the Chathi or sixth-day ceremony of purification, when the mother is bathed and dressed in clean clothes, the males of the family are shaved, all their clothes are washed, and the house is whitewashed; the child is also named on this day. The mother cannot go out of doors until after the Barhi or twelfth-day ceremony. If a child is born at an unlucky astrological period its ears are pierced in the fifth month after birth as a means of protection.

11. Funeral rites. Bringing back the soul.

The dead are either buried or burnt. When a man is dying they put basil leaves and boiled rice and milk in his mouth, and a little piece of gold, or if they have not got gold they put a rupee in his mouth and take it out again. For ten days after a death, food in a leaf-cup and a lamp are set out in the house-yard every evening, and every morning water and a tooth-stick. On the tenth day they are taken away and consigned to a river. In Chhattisgarh on the third day after death the soul is brought back. The women put a lamp on a red earthen pot and go to a tank or stream at night. The fish are attracted towards the light, and one of them is caught and put in the pot, which is then filled with water. It is brought home and set beside a small heap of flour, and the elders sit round it. The son of the deceased or other near relative anoints himself with turmeric and picks up a stone. This is washed with the water from the pot, and placed on the floor, and a sacrifice of a cock or hen is made to it according as the deceased was a man or a woman. The stone is then enshrined in the house as a family god, and the sacrifice of a fowl is repeated annually. It is supposed apparently that the dead man's spirit is brought back to the house in the fish, and then transferred to the stone by washing this with the water.

12. Religion. Krishna and other deified cowherds.

The Ahirs have a special relation to the Hindu religion, owing to their association with the sacred cow, which is itself revered as a goddess. When religion gets to the anthropomorphic stage the cowherd, who partakes of the cow's sanctity, may be deified as its representative. This was probably the case with Krishna, one of the most popular gods of Hinduism, who was a cowherd, and, as he is represented as being of a dark colour, may even have been held to be of the indigenous races. Though, according to the legend, he was really of royal birth, Krishna was brought up by Nand, a herdsman of Gokul, and Jasoda or Dasoda his wife, and in the popular belief these are his parents, as they probably were in the original story. The substitution of Krishna, born as a prince, for Jasoda's daughter, in order to protect him from destruction by the evil king Kansa of Mathura, is perhaps a later gloss, devised when his herdsman parentage was considered too obscure for the divine hero. Krishna's childhood in Jasoda's house with his miraculous feats of strength and his amorous sports with Radha and the other milkmaids of Brindawan, are among the most favourite Hindu legends. Govind and Gopal, the protector or guardian of cows, are names of Krishna and the commonest names of Hindus, as are also his other epithets, Murlidhar and Bansidhar, the flute-player; for Krishna and Balaram, like Greek and Roman shepherds, were accustomed to divert themselves with song, to the accompaniment of the same instrument. The child Krishna is also very popular, and his birthday, the Janam-Ashtami on the 8th of dark Bhadon (August), is a great festival. On this day potsful of curds are sprinkled over the assembled worshippers. Krishna, however, is not the solitary instance of the divine cowherd, but has several companions, humble indeed compared to him, but perhaps owing their apotheosis to the same reasons. Bhilat, a popular local godling of the Nerbudda Valley, was the son of an Ahir or Gaoli woman; she was childless and prayed to Parvati for a child, and the goddess caused her votary to have one by her own husband, the god Mahadeo. Bhilat was stolen away from his home by Mahadeo in the disguise of a beggar, and grew up to be a great hero and made many conquests; but finally he returned and lived with his herdsman parents, who were no doubt his real ones. He performed numerous miracles, and his devotees are still possessed by his spirit. Singaji is another godling who was a Gaoli by caste in Indore. He became a disciple of a holy Gokulastha Gosain or ascetic, and consequently a great observer of the Janam-Ashtami or Krishna's birthday. [26] On one occasion Singaji was late for prayers on this day, and the guru was very angry, and said to him, 'Don't show your face to me again until you are dead.' Singaji went home and told the other children he was going to die. Then he went and buried himself alive. The occurrence was noised abroad and came to the ears of the guru, who was much distressed, and proceeded to offer his condolences to Singaji's family. But on the way he saw Singaji, who had been miraculously raised from the dead on account of his virtuous act of obedience, grazing his buffaloes as before. After asking for milk, which Singaji drew from a male buffalo calf, the guru was able to inform the bereaved parents of their son's joyful reappearance and his miraculous powers; of these Singaji gave further subsequent demonstration, and since his death, said to have occurred 350 years ago, is widely venerated. The Gaolis pray to him for the protection of their cattle from disease, and make thank-offerings of butter if these prayers are fulfilled. Other pilgrims to Singaji's shrine offer unripe mangoes and sugar, and an annual fair is held at it, when it is said that for seven days no cows, flies or ants are to be seen in the place. In the Betul district there is a village godling called Dait, represented by a stone under a tree. He is the spirit of any Ahir who in his lifetime was credited in the locality with having the powers of an exorcist. In Mandla and other Districts when any buffalo herdsman dies at a very advanced age the people make a platform for him within the village and call it Mahashi Deo or the buffalo god. Similarly, when an old cattle herdsman dies they do the same, and call it Balki Deo or the bullock god. Here we have a clear instance of the process of substituting the spirit of the herdsman for the cow or buffalo as an object of worship. The occupation of the Ahir also lends itself to religious imaginations. He stays in the forest or waste grass-land, frequently alone from morning till night, watching his herds; and the credulous and uneducated minds of the more emotional may easily hear the voices of spirits, or in a half-sleeping condition during the heat and stillness of the long day may think that visions have appeared to them. Thus they come to believe themselves selected for communication with the unseen deities or spirits, and on occasions of strong religious excitement work themselves into a frenzy and are held to be possessed by a spirit or god.

13. Caste deities.

Among the special deities of the Ahirs is Kharak Deo, who is always located at the khirkha, or place of assembly of the cattle, on going to and returning from pasture. He appears to be the spirit or god of the khirkha. He is represented by a platform with an image of a horse on it, and when cattle fall ill the owners offer flour and butter to him. These are taken by the Ahirs in charge, and it is thought that the cattle will get well. Matar Deo is the god of the pen or enclosure for cattle made in the jungle. Three days after the Diwali festival the Rawats sacrifice one or more goats to him, cutting off their heads. They throw the heads into the air, and the cattle, smelling the blood, run together and toss them with their horns as they do when they scent a tiger. The men then say that the animals are possessed by Matar Deo. Guraya Deo is a deity who lives in the cattle-stalls in the village and is worshipped once a year. A man holds an egg in his hand, and walks round the stall pouring liquid over the egg all the way, so as to make a line round it. The egg is then buried beneath the shrine of the god, the rite being probably meant to ensure his aid for the protection of the cattle from disease in their stalls. A favourite saint of the Ahirs is Haridas Baba. He was a Jogi, and could separate his soul from his body at pleasure. On one occasion he had gone in spirit to Benares, leaving his body in the house of one of his disciples, who was an Ahir. When he did not return, and the people heard that a dead body was lying there, they came and insisted that it should be burnt. When he came back and found that his body was burnt, he entered into a man and spoke through him, telling the people what had happened. In atonement for their unfortunate mistake they promised to worship him.

14. Other deities.

The Mahakul Ahirs of Jashpur have three deities, whom they call Mahadeo or Siva, Sahadeo, one of the five Pandava brothers, and the goddess Lakshmi. They say that the buffalo is Mahadeo, the cow Sahadeo, and the rice Lakshmi. This also appears to be an instance of the personification of animals and the corn into anthropomorphic deities.

15. The Diwali festival.

The principal festival of the Ahirs is the Diwali, falling about the beginning of November, which is also the time when the autumn crops ripen. All classes observe this feast by illuminating their houses with many small saucer-lamps and letting off crackers and fireworks, and they generally gamble with money to bring them good luck during the coming year. The Ahirs make a mound of earth, which is called Govardhan, that is the mountain in Mathura which Krishna held upside down on his finger for seven days and nights, so that all the people might gather under it and be protected from the devastating storms of rain sent by Indra. After dancing round the mound they drive their cattle over it and make them trample it to pieces. At this time a festival called Marhai is held, at which much liquor is drunk and all classes disport themselves. In Damoh on this day the Ahirs go to the standing-place for village cattle, and after worshipping the god, frighten the cattle by waving leaves of the basil-plant at them, and then put on fantastic dresses, decorating themselves with cowries, and go round the village, singing and dancing. Elsewhere at the time of the Marhai they dance round a pole with peacock feathers tied to the top, and sometimes wear peacock feathers themselves, as well as aprons sewn all over with cowries. It is said that Krishna and Balaram used to wear peacock feathers when they danced in the jungles of Mathura, but this rite has probably some connection with the worship of the peacock. This bird might be venerated by the Ahirs as one of the prominent denizens of the jungle. In Raipur they tie a white cock to the top of the pole and dance round it. In Mandla, Khila Mutha, the god of the threshing-floor, is worshipped at this time, with offerings of a fowl and a goat. They also perform the rite of jagana or waking him up. They tie branches of a small shrub to a stick and pour milk over the stone which is his emblem, and sing, 'Wake up, Khila Mutha, this is the night of Amawas' (the new moon). Then they go to the cattle-shed and wake up the cattle, crying, 'Poraiya, god of the door, watchman of the window, open the door, Nand Gowal is coming.' Then they drive out the cattle and chase them with the branches tied to their sticks as far as their grazing-ground. Nand Gowal was the foster-father of Krishna, and is now said to signify a man who has a lakh (100,000) of cows. This custom of frightening the cattle and making them run is called dhor jagana or bichkana, that is, to wake up or terrify the cattle. Its meaning is obscure, but it is said to preserve the cattle from disease during the year. In Raipur the women make an image of a parrot in clay at the Diwali and place it on a pole and go round to the different houses, singing and dancing round the pole, and receiving presents of rice and money. They praise the parrot as the bird who carries messages from a lover to his mistress, and as living on the mountains and among the green verdure, and sing:

"Oh, parrot, where shall we sow gondla grass and where shall we sow rice?

"We will sow gondla in a pond and rice in the field.

"With what shall we cut gondla grass, and with what shall we cut rice?

"We shall cut gondla with an axe and rice with a sickle."

It is probable that the parrot is revered as a spirit of the forest, and also perhaps because it is destructive to the corn. The parrot is not, so far as is known, associated with any god, but the Hindus do not kill it. In Bilaspur an ear of rice is put into the parrot's mouth, and it is said there that the object of the rite is to prevent the parrots from preying on the corn.

16. Omens.

On the night of the full moon of Jesth (May) the Ahirs stay awake all night, and if the moon is covered with clouds they think that the rains will be good. If a cow's horns are not firmly fixed in the head and seem to shake slightly, it is called Maini, and such an animal is considered to be lucky. If a bullock sits down with three legs under him and the fourth stretched out in front it is a very good omen, and it is thought that his master's cattle will increase and multiply. When a buffalo-calf is born they cover it at once with a black cloth and remove it from the mother's sight, as they think that if she saw the calf and it then died her milk would dry up. The calf is fed by hand. Cow-calves, on the other hand, are usually left with the mother, and many people allow them to take all the milk, as they think it a sin to deprive them of it.

17. Social customs.

The Ahirs will eat the flesh of goats and chickens, and most of them consume liquor freely. The Kaonra Ahirs of Mandla eat pork, and the Rawats of Chhattisgarh are said not to object to field-mice and rats, even when caught in the houses. The Kaonra Ahirs are also said not to consider a woman impure during the period of menstruation. Nevertheless the Ahirs enjoy a good social status, owing to their relations with the sacred cow. As remarked by Eha: "His family having been connected for many generations with the sacred animal he enjoys a certain consciousness of moral respectability, like a man whose uncles are deans or canons." [27] All castes will take water from the hands of an Ahir, and in Chhattisgarh and the Uriya country the Rawats and Gahras, as the Ahir caste is known respectively in these localities, are the only caste from whom Brahmans and all other Hindus will take water. On this account, and because of their comparative purity, they are largely employed as personal servants. In Chhattisgarh the ordinary Rawats will clean the cooking-vessels even of Muhammadans, but the Thethwar or pure Rawats refuse this menial work. In Mandla, when a man is to be brought back into caste after a serious offence, such as getting vermin in a wound, he is made to stand in the middle of a stream, while some elderly relative pours water over him. He then addresses the members of the caste panchayat or committee, who are standing on the bank, saying to them, 'Will you leave me in the mud or will you take me out?' Then they tell him to come out, and he has to give a feast. At this a member of the Meliha sept first eats food and puts some into the offender's mouth, thus taking the latter's sin upon himself. The offender then addresses the panchayat saying, 'Rajas of the Panch, eat.' Then the panchayat and all the caste take food with him and he is readmitted. In Nandgaon State the head of the caste panchayat is known as Thethwar, the title of the highest subcaste, and is appointed by the Raja, to whom he makes a present. In Jashpur, among the Mahakul Ahirs, when an offender is put out of caste he has on readmission to make an offering of Rs. 1-4 to Balaji, the tutelary deity of the State. These Mahakuls desire to be considered superior to ordinary Ahirs, and their social rules are hence very strict. A man is put out of caste if a dog, fowl or pig touches his water or cooking-pots, or if he touches a fowl. In the latter case he is obliged to make an offering of a fowl to the local god, and eight days are allowed for procuring it. A man is also put out of caste for beating his father. In Mandla, Ahirs commonly have the title of Patel or headman of a village, probably because in former times, when the country consisted almost entirely of forest and grass land, they were accustomed to hold large areas on contract for grazing.

18. Ornaments.

In Chhattisgarh the Rawat women are especially fond of wearing large churas or leg-ornaments of bell-metal. These consist of a long cylinder which fits closely to the leg, being made in two halves which lock into each other, while at each end and in the centre circular plates project outwards horizontally. A pair of these churas may weigh 8 or 10 lbs., and cost from Rs. 3 to Rs. 9. It is probable that some important magical advantage was expected to come from the wearing of these heavy appendages, which must greatly impede free progression, but its nature is not known.

19. Occupation.

Only about thirty per cent of the Ahirs are still occupied in breeding cattle and dealing in milk and butter. About four per cent are domestic servants, and nearly all the remainder cultivators and labourers. In former times the Ahirs had the exclusive right of milking the cow, so that on all occasions an Ahir must be hired for this purpose even by the lowest castes. Any one could, however, milk the buffalo, and also make curds and other preparations from cow's milk. [28] This rule is interesting as showing how the caste system was maintained and perpetuated by the custom of preserving to each caste a monopoly of its traditional occupation. The rule probably applied also to the bulk of the cultivating and the menial and artisan castes, and now that it has been entirely abrogated it would appear that the gradual decay and dissolution of the caste organisation must follow. The village cattle are usually entrusted jointly to one or more herdsmen for grazing purposes. The grazier is paid separately for each animal entrusted to his care, a common rate being one anna for a cow or bullock and two annas for a buffalo per month. When a calf is born he gets four annas for a cow-calf and eight annas for a she-buffalo, but except in the rice districts nothing for a male buffalo-calf, as these animals are considered useless outside the rice area. The reason is that buffaloes do not work steadily except in swampy or wet ground, where they can refresh themselves by frequent drinking. In the northern Districts male buffalo-calves are often neglected and allowed to die, but the cow-buffaloes are extremely valuable, because their milk is the principal source of supply of ghi or boiled butter. When a cow or buffalo is in milk the grazier often gets the milk one day out of four or five. When a calf is born the teats of the cow are first milked about twenty times on to the ground in the name of the local god of the Ahirs. The remainder of the first day's milk is taken by the grazier, and for the next few days it is given to friends. The village grazier is often also expected to prepare the guest-house for Government officers and others visiting the village, fetch grass for their animals, and clean their cooking vessels. For this he sometimes receives a small plot of land and a present of a blanket annually from the village proprietor. Malguzars and large tenants have their private herdsmen. The pasturage afforded by the village waste lands and forest is, as a rule, only sufficient for the plough-bullocks and more valuable milch-animals. The remainder are taken away sometimes for long distances to the Government forest reserves, and here the herdsmen make stockades in the jungle and remain there with their animals for months together. The cattle which remain in the village are taken by the owners in the early morning to the khirkha or central standing-ground. Here the grazier takes them over and drives them out to pasture. He brings them back at ten or eleven, and perhaps lets them stand in some field which the owner wants manured. Then he separates the cows and milch-buffaloes and takes them to their masters' houses, where he milks them all. In the afternoon all the cattle are again collected and driven out to pasture. The cultivators are very much in the grazier's hands, as they cannot supervise him, and if dishonest he may sell off a cow or calf to a friend in a distant village and tell the owner that it has been carried off by a tiger or panther. Unless the owner succeeds by a protracted search or by accident in finding the animal he cannot disprove the herdsman's statement, and the only remedy is to dispense with the latter's services if such losses become unduly frequent. On this account, according to the proverbs, the Ahir is held to be treacherous and false to his engagements. They are also regarded as stupid because they seldom get any education, retain their rustic and half-aboriginal dialect, and on account of their solitary life are dull and slow-witted in company. 'The barber's son learns to shave on the Ahir's head.' 'The cow is in league with the milkman and lets him milk water into the pail.' The Ahirs are also hot-tempered, and their propensity for drinking often results in affrays, when they break each other's head with their cattle-staffs. 'A Gaoli's quarrel: drunk at night and friends in the morning.'

20. Preparations of milk.

Hindus nearly always boil their milk before using it, as the taste of milk fresh from the cow is considered unpalatable. After boiling, the milk is put in a pot and a little old curds added, when the whole becomes dahi or sour curds. This is a favourite food, and appears to be exactly the same substance as the Bulgarian sour milk which is now considered to have much medicinal value. Butter is also made by churning these curds or dahi. Butter is never used without being boiled first, when it becomes converted into a sort of oil; this has the advantage of keeping much better than fresh butter, and may remain fit for use for as long as a year. This boiled butter is known as ghi, and is the staple product of the dairy industry, the bulk of the surplus supply of milk being devoted to its manufacture. It is freely used by all classes who can afford it, and serves very well for cooking purposes. There is a comparatively small market for fresh milk among the Hindus, and as a rule only those drink milk who obtain it from their own animals. The acid residue after butter has been made from dahi (curds) or milk is known as matha or butter-milk, and is the only kind of milk drunk by the poorer classes. Milk boiled so long as to become solidified is known as khir, and is used by confectioners for making sweets. When the milk is boiled and some sour milk added to it, so that it coagulates while hot, the preparation is called chhana. The whey is expressed from this by squeezing it in a cloth, and a kind of cheese is obtained. [29] The liquid which oozes out at the root of a cow's horns after death is known as gaolochan and sells for a high price, as it is considered a valuable medicine for children's cough and lung diseases.

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