The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume IV of IV - Kumhar-Yemkala
by R.V. Russell
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The following observances in connection with the crops are practised by the agricultural castes in Chhattisgarh:

32. Rites connected with the crops. Customs of cultivation

The agricultural year begins on Akti or the 3rd day of Baisakh (April-May). On that day a cup made of palas [73] leaves and filled with rice is offered to Thakur Deo. In some villages the boys sow rice seeds before Thakur Deo's shrine with little toy ploughs. The cultivator then goes to his field, and covering his hand with wheat-flour and turmeric, stamps it five times on the plough. The malguzar takes five handfuls of the seed consecrated to Thakur Deo and sows it, and each of the cultivators also sows a little. After this regular cultivation may begin on any day, though Monday and Friday are considered auspicious days for the commencement of sowing. On the Hareli, or festival of the fresh verdure, which falls on the 15th day of Shrawan (July-August), balls of flour mixed with salt are given to the cattle. The plough and all the implements of agriculture are taken to a tank and washed, and are then set up in the courtyard of the house and plastered with cowdung. The plough is set facing towards the sun, and butter and sugar are offered to it. An earthen pot is whitewashed and human figures are drawn on it with charcoal, one upside down. It is then hung over the entrance to the house and is believed to avert the evil eye. All the holes in the cattle-sheds and courtyards are filled and levelled with gravel. While the rice is growing, holidays are observed on five Sundays and no work is done. Before harvest Thakur Deo must be propitiated with an offering of a white goat or a black fowl. Any one who begins to cut his crop before this offering has been made to Thakur Deo is fined the price of a goat by the village community. Before threshing his corn each cultivator offers a separate sacrifice to Thakur Deo of a goat, a fowl or a broken cocoanut. Each evening, on the conclusion of a day's threshing, a wisp of straw is rubbed on the forehead of each bullock, and a hair is then pulled from its tail, and the hairs and straw made into a bundle are tied to the pole of the threshing-floor. The cultivator prays, 'O God of plenty! enter here full and go out empty.' Before leaving the threshing-floor for the night some straw is burnt and three circles are drawn with the ashes, one round the heap of grain and the others round the pole. Outside the circles are drawn pictures of the sun, the moon, a lion and a monkey, or of a cart and a pair of bullocks. Next morning before sunrise the ashes are swept away by waving a winnowing-fan over them. This ceremony is called anjan chadhana or placing lamp-black on the face of the threshing-floor to avert the evil eye, as women put it on their eyes. Before the grain is measured it must be stacked in the form of a trapezium with the shorter end to the south, and not in that of a square or oblong heap. The measurer stands facing the east, and having the shorter end of the heap on his left hand. On the larger side of the heap are laid the kalara or hook, a winnowing-fan, the dauri, a rope by which the bullocks are tied to the threshing-pole, one or three branches of the ber or wild plum tree, and the twisted bundle of straw and hair of the bullocks which had been tied to the pole. On the top of the heap are placed five balls of cowdung, and the hom or fire sacrifice is offered to it. The first katha [74] of rice measured is also laid by the heap. The measurer never quite empties his measure while the work is going on, as it is feared that if he does this the god of abundance will leave the threshing-floor. While measuring he should always wear a turban. It is considered unlucky for any one who has ridden on an elephant to enter the threshing-floor, but a person who has ridden on a tiger brings luck. Consequently the Gonds and Baigas, if they capture a young tiger and tame it, will take it round the country, and the cultivators pay them a little to give their children a ride on it. To enter a threshing-floor with shod feet is also unlucky. Grain is not usually measured at noon but in the morning or evening.

33. Agricultural superstitions

The cultivators think that each grain should bear a hundredfold, but they do not get this as Kuvera, the treasurer of the gods, or Bhainsasur, the buffalo demon who lives in the fields, takes it. Bhainsasur is worshipped when the rice is coming into ear, and if they think he is likely to be mischievous they give him a pig, but otherwise a smaller offering. When the standing corn in the fields is beaten down at night they think that Bhainsasur has been passing over it. He also steals the crop while it is being cut and is lying on the ground. Once Bhainsasur was absent while the particular field in the village from which he stole his supply of grain was cut and the crop removed, and afterwards he was heard crying that all his provision for the year had been lost. Sometimes the oldest man in the house cuts the first five bundles of the crop, and they are afterwards left in the field for the birds to eat. And at the end of harvest the last one or two sheaves are left standing in the field, and any one who likes can cut and carry them away. In some localities the last stalks are left standing in the field and are known as barhona or the giver of increase. Then all the labourers rush together at this last patch of corn and tear it up by the roots; everybody seizes as much as he can and keeps it, the master having no share in this patch. After the barhona has been torn up all the labourers fall on their faces to the ground and worship the field. In other places the barhona is left standing for the birds to eat. This custom, arises from the belief demonstrated by Sir J. G. Frazer in The Golden Bough that the corn-spirit takes refuge in the last patch of grain, and that when it is cut he flies away or his life is extinguished. And the idea is supported by the fact that the rats and other vermin, who have been living in the field, seek shelter in the last patch of corn, and when this is cut have to dart out in front of the reapers. In some countries it is thought, as shown by Sir J. G. Frazer, that the corn-spirit takes refuge in the body of one of these animals.

34. Houses

The house of a malguzar or good tenant stands in a courtyard or angan 45 to 60 feet square and surrounded by a brick or mud wall. The plan of a typical house is shown below:—

The dalan or hall is for the reception of visitors. One of the living-rooms is set apart for storing grain. Those who keep their women secluded have a door at the back of the courtyard for their use. Cooking is done in one of the rooms, and there are no chimneys, the smoke escaping through the tiles. They bathe either in the chauk or central courtyard, or go out and bathe in a tank or river or at a well. The family usually sleep inside the house in the winter and outside in the hot weather. A poor malguzar or tenant has only two rooms with a veranda in front, one of which is used by the family, while cattle are kept in the other; while the small tenants and labourers have only one room in which both men and cattle reside. The walls are of bamboo matting plastered on both sides with mud, and the roof usually consists of single small tiles roughly baked in an improvised kiln. The house is surrounded by a mud wall or hedge, and sometimes has a garden behind in which tobacco, maize or vegetables are grown. The interior is dark, for light is admitted only by the low door, and the smoke-stained ceiling contributes to the gloom. The floor is of beaten earth well plastered with cowdung, the plastering being repeated weekly.

35. Superstitions about houses

The following are some superstitious beliefs and customs about houses. A house should face north or east and not south or west, as the south is the region of Yama, the god of death, who lives in Ceylon, and the west the quarter of the setting sun. A Muhammadan's house, on the other hand, should face south or west because Mecca lies to the south-west. A house may have verandas front and back, or on the front and two sides, but not on all four sides. The front of a house should be lower than the back, this shape being known as gai-mukh or cow-mouthed, and not higher than the back, which is singh-mukh or tiger-mouthed. The front and back doors should not be in a straight line, which would enable one to look right through the house. The angan or compound of a house should be a little longer than it is wide, no matter how little. Conversely the building itself should be a little wider along the front than it is long from front to rear. The kitchen should always be on the right side if there is a veranda, or else behind. When an astrologer is about to found a house he calculates the direction in which Shesh Nag, the snake on whom the world reposes, is holding his head at that time, and plants the first brick or stone to the left of that direction, because snakes and elephants do not turn to the left but always to the right. Consequently the house will be more secure and less likely to be shaken down by Shesh Nag's movements, which cause the phenomenon known to us as an earthquake. Below the foundation-stone or brick are buried a pice, an areca-nut and a grain of rice, and it is lucky if the stone be laid by a man who has been faithful to his wife. There should be no echo in a house, as an echo is considered to be the voice of evil spirits. The main beam should be placed in position on a lucky day, and the carpenter breaks a cocoanut against it and receives a present. The width of the rooms along the front of a house should be five cubits each, and if there is a staircase it must have an uneven number of steps. The door should be low so that a man must bend his head on entering and thus show respect to the household god. The floor of the verandas should be lower than that of the room inside; the Hindus say that the compound should not see the veranda nor the veranda the house. But this rule has of course also the advantage of keeping the house-floor dry. If the main beam of a house breaks it is a very bad omen, as also for a vulture or kite to perch on the roof; if this should happen seven days running the house will inevitably be left empty by sickness or other misfortune. A dog howling in front of the house is very unlucky, and if, as may occasionally happen, a dog should get on to the roof of the house and bark, the omen is of the worst kind. Neither the pipal nor banyan trees should be planted in the yard of a house, because the leavings of food might fall upon them, and this would be an insult to the deities who inhabit the sacred trees. Neither is it well to plant the nim tree, because the nim is the tree of anchorites, and the frequent contemplation of it will take away from a man the desire of offspring and lead to the extinction of his family. Bananas should not be grown close to the house, because the sound of this fruit bursting the pod is said to be audible, and to hear it is most unlucky. It is a good thing to have a gular [75] tree in the yard, but at a little distance from the house so that the leavings of food may not fall upon it; this is the tree of the saint Dattatreya, and will cause wealth to increase in the house. A plant of the sacred tulsi or basil is usually kept in the yard, and every morning the householder pours a vessel of water over it as he bathes, and in the evening places a lamp beside it. This holy plant sanctifies the air which passes over it to the house.

No one should ever sit on the threshold of a house; this is the seat of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and to sit on it is disrespectful to her. A house should never be swept at twilight, because it is then that Lakshmi makes her rounds, and she would curse it and pass by. At this time a lamp should be lighted, no one should be allowed to sleep, and even if a man is sick he should sit up on his bed. At this time the grinding-mill should not be turned nor grain be husked, but reverence should be paid to ancestors and to the household deities. No one must sit on the grinding-mill; it is regarded as a mother because it gives out the flour by which the family is fed. No one must sit on cowdung cakes because they are the seat of Saturn, the Evil One, and their smell is called Sanichar ke bas. No one must step on the chulka or cooking-hearth nor jar it with his foot. At the midday meal, when food is freshly cooked, each man will take a little fire from the hearth and place it in front of him, and will throw a little of everything he eats on to the fire, and some ghi as an offering to Agni, the god of fire. And he will also walk round the hearth, taking water in his hand and then throwing it on the ground as an offering to Agni. A man should not sleep with his feet to the south, because a corpse is always laid in that direction. He should not sleep with his feet to the east, nor spit out water from his mouth in the direction of the east.

36. Furniture

Of furniture there is very little. Carefully arranged in their places are the brass cooking-pots, water-pots and plates, well polished with mud and water applied with plenty of elbow-grease by the careful housewife. Poor tenants frequently only have one or two brass plates and cups and an iron girdle, while all the rest of their vessels are of earthenware. Each house has several chulhas or small horseshoe erections of earth for cooking. Each person in the house has a sleeping-cot if the family is comfortably off, and a spare one is also kept. These must be put out and exposed to the sun at least once a week to clear them of fleas and bugs. It is said that the Jains cannot adopt this method of disinfecting their beds owing to the sacrifice of insect life thereby involved; and that there are persons in Calcutta who make it their profession to go round and offer to lie on these cots for a time; they lie on them for some hours, and the little denizens being surfeited with their blood subsequently allow the owner of the cot to have a quiet night. A cot should always be shorter than a man's length, so that his legs project over the end; if it is so long as to contain his whole length it is like a bier, and it is feared that lying on a cot of this kind will cause him shortly to lie on a bier. Poor tenants do not usually have cots, but sleep on the ground, spreading kodon-straw on it for warmth. They have no bedding except a gudri or mattress made of old rags and clothes sewn together. In winter they put it over them, and sleep on it in summer. They will have a wooden log to rest their heads on when sleeping, and this will also serve as a seat for a guest. Malguzars have a razai or quilt, and a doria or thick cloth like those used for covering carts. Clothes and other things are kept in jhampis or round bamboo baskets. For sitting on there are machnis or four-legged stools about a foot high with seats of grass rope or pirhis, little wooden stools only an inch or two from the ground. For lighting, wicks are set afloat in little earthen saucers filled with oil.

37. Clothes

Landowners usually have a long coat known as angarkha reaching to the knees, with flaps folding over the breasts and tied with strings. The bandi is a short coat like this but coming only to the hips, and is more popular with cultivators. In the cold weather it is frequently stuffed with cotton and dyed dark green or dark blue so as not to show the dirt. For visits of ceremony a pair of paijamas are kept, but otherwise the dhoti or loin-cloth is commonly worn. Wearing the dhoti pulled half-way up to the thighs is called 'cultivator's fashion.' A shirt may be worn under the coat; but cultivators usually have only one garment, nowadays often a sleeveless coat with buttons in front. The proper head-dress is the pagri, a piece of coloured cloth perhaps 30 feet long and a foot wide, twisted tightly into folds, which is lifted on and off the head and is only rarely undone. Twisting the pagri is an art, and a man is usually hired to do it and paid four annas. The pagris have different shapes in different parts of the country, and a Hindu can tell by the shape of a man's pagri where he comes from. But nowadays cultivators usually wear a dupatta or short piece of cloth tied, loosely round the head. The tenant arranges his head-cloth with a large projection on one side, and in it he carries his chilam or pipe-bowl, and also small quantities of vegetables, salt or condiments purchased at the bazar. In case of necessity he can transform it into a loin-cloth, or tie up a bundle of grass with it, or tie his lota to it to draw water from a well. 'What can the washerman do in a village where the people live naked?' is a Chhattisgarhi proverb which aptly indicates that scantiness is the most prominent feature of the local apparel. Here a cloth round the loins, and this usually of meagre dimensions, constituted, until recently, the full dress of a cultivator. Those who have progressed a stage farther throw a cloth loosely over one shoulder, covering the chest, and assume an apology for a turban by wrapping another small rag carelessly round the head, leaving the crown generally bare, as if this part of the person required special sunning and ventilation. Hindus will not be seen out-of-doors with the head bare, though the Gonds and other tribes only begin to wear head-cloths when they are adopting Hinduism. The Gondi fashion was formerly prevalent in Chhattisgarh. Some sanctity attaches to the turban, probably because it is the covering of the head. To knock off a man's turban is a great insult, and if it drops off or he lets it fall, it is a very bad omen.

38. Women's clothes

Women, in the northern Districts wear a skirt made of coarse cloth, usually red or blue, and a shoulder-cloth of the same material. Hand-woven cloth is still commonly used in the interior. The skirt is sometimes drawn up through the legs behind so as to give it a divided appearance; this is called kachhota. On the upper part of the body they wear an angia or breast-cloth, that is a short, tight, sleeveless jacket reaching only to below the breasts. The angia is tied behind, while the Maratha choli, which is the same thing, is buttoned or tied in front. High-caste women draw their shoulder-cloth right over the head so that the face cannot be seen. When a woman goes before a person of position she covers her head, as it is considered immodest to leave it bare. Women of respectable families wear a sheet of fine white, yellow, or red cloth drawn over the head and reaching to the ankles when they go on a journey, this being known as pichhora. In Chhattisgarh all the requirements of fashion among women are satisfied by one cloth from 8 to 12 yards long and about a yard wide, which envelops the person in one fold from the waist to below the knee, hanging somewhat loosely. It is tied at the waist, and the remaining half is spread over the breast and drawn across the right shoulder, the end covering the head like a sheet and falling over the left shoulder. The simplicity of this solitary garment displays a graceful figure to advantage, especially on festival days, when those who can afford it are arrayed in tasar silk. When a girl is married the bridegroom's family give her expensive clothes to wear at festivals and her own people give her ordinary clothes, but usually not more than will last a year. Whenever she goes back to her father's house after her marriage, he gives her one or two cloths if he can afford it. Women of the middle and lower classes wear ornaments of bell-metal, a mixture of copper and zinc, which are very popular. Some women wear brass and zinc ornaments, and well-to-do persons have them of silver or gold.

39. Bathing

Hot water is not used for bathing in Saugor, except by invalids, but is customary in Betul and other Districts. The bathing-place in the courtyard is usually a large square stone on which the bather sits; he has a big circular brass vessel by him called gangal, [76] and from this he takes water either in a cup or with his hands and throws it over himself, rubbing his body. Where there is a tank or stream people go to bathe in it, and if there is none the poorer classes sometimes bathe at the village well. Each man or woman has two body-or loin-cloths, and they change the cloth whenever they bathe—going into the water in the one which they have worn from the previous day, and changing into the other when they come out; long practice enables them to do this in public without any undue exposure of the body. A good tank or a river is a great amenity to a village, especially if it has a ghat or flight of stone steps. Many people will spend an hour or so here daily, disporting themselves in the water or on the bank, and wedding and funeral parties are held by it, owing to the facilities for ceremonial bathing.

40. Food

People who do not cultivate with their own hands have only two daily meals, one at midday and the other at eight or nine in the evening. Agriculturists require a third meal in the early morning before going out to the fields. Wheat and the millets juari and kodon are the staple foods of the cultivating classes in the northern Districts, and rice is kept for festivals. The millets are made into thick chapatis or cakes, their flour not being sufficiently adhesive for thin ones, and are eaten with the pulses, lentils, arhar, [77] mung [78] and urad. [79] The pulses are split into half and boiled in water, and when they get soft, chillies, salt and turmeric are mixed with them. Pieces of chapati are broken off and dipped into this mixture. Various vegetables are also eaten. When pulse is not available the chapatis are simply dipped into buttermilk. If chapatis cannot be afforded at both meals, ghorna or the flour of kodon or juar boiled into a paste with water is substituted for them, a smaller quantity of this being sufficient to allay hunger. Wheat-cakes are fried in ghi (clarified butter) as a luxury, and at other times in sesamum oil. Rice or ground gram boiled in buttermilk are other favourite foods.

In Chhattisgarh rice is the common food: it is eaten with pulses at midday and with vegetables cooked in ghi in the evening. In the morning they drink a rice-gruel, called basi> which consists of the previous night's repast mixed with water and taken cold. On festivals rice is boiled in milk. Milk is often drunk at night, and there is a saying, "He who drinks water in the morning and milk at night and takes harra before he sleeps will never need a doctor." A little powdered harra or myrobalan acts as an aperient. The food of landowners and tenants is much the same, except that the former have more butter and vegetables, according to the saying, 'Raja praja ka ekhi khana' or 'The king and peasant eat the same food.' Those who eat flesh have an occasional change of food, but most Kurmis abstain from it. Farmservants eat the gruel of rice or kodon boiled in water when they can afford it, and if not they eat mahua flowers. These are sometimes boiled in water, and the juice is then strained off and mixed with half-ground flour, and they are also pounded and made into chapatis with flour and water. The leaves of the young gram-plants make a very favourite vegetable and are eaten raw, either moist or dried. In times of scarcity the poorer classes eat tamarind leaves, the pith of the banyan tree, the seeds of the bamboo, the bark of the semar tree, [80] the fruit of the babul, [81] and other articles. A cultivator will eat 2 lbs. of grain a day if he can get it, or more in the case of rice. Their stomachs get distended owing to the large quantities of boiled rice eaten at one time. The leaves of the chirota or chakora a little plant [82] which grows thickly at the commencement of the rains near inhabited sites, are also a favourite vegetable, and a resource in famine time. The people call it 'Gaon ka thakur,' or 'lord of the village,' and have a saying:

Amarbel aur kamalgata, Gaon ka thakur, gai ka matha, Nagar sowasan, unmen milai, Khaj, dad, sehua mit jawe.

Amarbel is an endless creeper, with long yellow strings like stalks, which infests and destroys trees; it is called amarbel or the immortal, because it has no visible root. Kamalgata is the seed of the lotus; gai ka matha is buttermilk; nagar sowasan, 'the happiness of the town,' is turmeric, because married women whose husbands are alive put turmeric on their foreheads every day; khaj, dad and sehua are itch, ringworm and some kind of rash, perhaps measles; and the verse therefore means:

"Eat amarbel, lotus seeds, chirota, buttermilk and turmeric mixed together, and you will keep off itch, ringworm and measles." Chirota is good for the itch.

41. Caste-feasts

At the commencement of a marriage or other ceremonial feast the host must wash the feet of all the guests himself. If he does not do this they will be dissatisfied, and, though they will eat at his house, will consider they have not been properly welcomed. He takes a large brass plate and placing the feet of his guest on it, pours water over them and then rubs and dries them; the water is thrown away and fresh water poured out for the next guest unless they should be brothers. Little flat stools about three inches high are provided for the guests, and if there are not enough of them a carpet is spread; or baithkis or sitting-mats plaited from five or six large leaves are set out. These serve as a mark of attention, as it would be discourteous to make a man sit on the ground, and they also prevent the body-cloth from getting wet. The guests sit in the chauk or yard of the house inside, or in the angan or outside yard, either in lines or in a circle; members of the same caste sit with their crossed knees actually touching those of the man on either side of them to emphasise their brotherhood; if a man sat even a few inches apart from his fellows people would say he was out of caste—and this is how a man who is put out of caste actually does sit. Before each guest may be set two plates of leaves and eight donas or leaf-cups. On the plates are heaped rice, cakes of wheat fried in butter, and of husked urad pulse cooked with tilli or sesamum oil, and the pulse of gram and lentils. In the cups will be sugar, ghi, dahi or curded milk, various vegetables, pumpkins, and besin or ground gram cooked with buttermilk. All the male members of the host's family serve the food and they take it round, heaping and pouring it into each man's plates or cups until he says enough; and they continue to give further helpings as required. All the food is served at once in the different plates and cups, but owing to the number of guests a considerable time elapses before all are fully served, and the dinner lasts about two hours. The guests eat all the different dishes together with their fingers, taking a little of each according to their fancy. Each man has his lota or vessel of water by him and drinks as he eats. When the meal is finished large brass plates are brought in, one being given to about ten guests, and they wash their hands over these, pouring water on them from their vessels. A fresh carpet is then spread in the yard and the guests sit on it, and betel-leaf and tobacco are distributed. The huqqa is passed round, and chilams and chongis (clay pipe-bowls and leaf-pipes) are provided for those who want them. The women do not appear at the feast but stay inside, sitting in the angan or inner court, which is behind the purda.

42. Hospitality

The people still show great hospitality, and it is the custom of many malguzars, at least in Chhattisgarh, to afford food and a night's rest to all travellers who may require it. When a Brahman comes to the village such malguzars will give him one or two annas, and to a Pandit or learned man as much as a rupee. Formerly it is said that when any stranger came through the village he was at once offered a cup of milk and told to drink it or throw it away. But this custom has died out in Chhattisgarh, though one has met with it once or twice in Sambalpur. When District Officers go on tour, well-to-do landowners ask to be allowed to supply free provisions for the whole camp at least for a day, and it is difficult to refuse them gracefully. In Mandla, Banias and malguzars in villages near the Nerbudda sometimes undertake to give a pound of grain to every parikramawasi or pilgrim perambulating the Nerbudda. And as the number of these steadily increases in consequence, they often become impoverished as a result of such indiscriminate charity.

43. Social customs. Tattooing

The Kurmis employ Brahmans for their ceremonies. They have gurus or spiritual preceptors who may be Brahmans or Bairagis; the guru is given from 8 annas to Rs. 5 when he initiates a neophyte, as well as his food and a new white cloth. The guru is occasionally consulted on some religious question, but otherwise he does nothing for his disciple except to pay him an occasional visit, when he is hospitably entertained. The Kurmis of the northern Districts do not as a rule eat meat and also abstain from alcohol, but in Chhattisgarh they eat the flesh of clean animals and fish, and also of fowls, and drink country liquor. Old men often give up flesh and wine as a mark of piety, when they are known as Bhagat or holy. They will take food cooked with water only from Brahmans, and that cooked without water from Rajputs, Banias and Kayasths as well. Brahmans and Rajputs will take water from Kurmis in the northern Districts though not in Chhattisgarh. Here the Kurmis do not object to eating cooked food which has been carried from the house to the fields. This is called rengai roti, and castes which will eat it are considered inferior to those who always take their food in the chauka or purified place in the house. They say 'Ram, Ram' to each other in greeting, and the Raipur Kurmis swear by a dog or a pig. Generally they do not plough on the new or full moon days. Their women are tattooed after marriage with dots on the cheeks, marks of flies on the fingers, scorpions on the arms, and other devices on the legs.

44. Caste penalties

Permanent expulsion from caste is inflicted for a change of religion, taking food or having sexual intercourse with a member of an impure caste, and for eating beef. For killing a man, a cow, a buffalo, an ass, a horse, a squirrel, a cat or a monkey a man must purify himself by bathing in the Ganges at Allahabad or Benares and giving a feast to the caste. It will be seen that all these are domestic animals except the monkey, who is the god Hanuman. The squirrel is counted as a domestic animal because it is always about the house, and the souls of children are believed to go into squirrels. One household animal, the dog, is omitted, and he appears to be less sacred than the others. For getting maggots in a wound the offender must bathe in a sacred river, such as the Nerbudda or Mahanadi, and give a feast to the caste. For eating or having intercourse with a member of any caste other than the impure ones, or for a liaison within the caste, or for divorcing a wife or marrying a widow, or in the case of a woman for breaking her bangles in a quarrel with her husband, a penalty feast must be given. If a man omits to feast the caste after a death in his family a second feast is imposed, and if he insults the panchayat he is fined.

45. The cultivating status

The social status of the Kurmi appears to be that of the cultivator. He is above the menial and artisan castes of the village and the impure weaving and labouring castes; he is theoretically equal to the artisan castes of towns, but one or two of these, such as the Sunar or goldsmith and Kasar or brass-worker, have risen in the world owing to the prosperity or importance of their members, and now rank above the Kurmi. The Kurmi's status appears to be that of the cultivator and member of the village community, but a large proportion of the Kurmis are recruited from the non-Aryan tribes, who have obtained land and been admitted into the caste, and this tends to lower the status of the caste as a whole. In the Punjab Kurmis apparently do not hold land and are employed in grass-cutting, weaving, and tending horses, and are even said to keep pigs. [83] Here their status is necessarily very low as they follow the occupations of the impure castes. The reason why the Kurmi as cultivator ranks above the village handicraftsmen may perhaps be that industrial pursuits were despised in early times and left to the impure Sudras and to the castes of mixed descent; while agriculture and trade were the occupations of the Vaishya. Further, the village artisans and menials were supported before the general use of current coin by contributions of grain from the cultivators and by presents of grain at seed-time and harvest; and among the Hindus it is considered very derogatory to accept a gift, a man who does so being held to admit his social inferiority to the giver. Some exception to this is made in the case of Brahmans, though even with them the rule partly applies. Of these two reasons for the cultivator's superiority to the menial and artisan castes the former has to a large extent lost its force. The handicrafts are no longer considered despicable, and, as has been seen, some of the urban tradesmen, as the Sunar and Kasar, now rank above the Kurmi, or are at least equal to him. Perhaps even in ancient times these urban artificers were not despised like the village menials, as their skill was held in high repute. But the latter ground is still in full force and effect in the Central Provinces at least: the village artisans are still paid by contributions from the cultivator and receive presents from him at seed-time and harvest. The remuneration of the village menials, the blacksmith, carpenter, washerman, tanner, barber and waterman is paid at the rate of so much grain per plough of land according to the estimated value of the work done by them for the cultivators during the year. Other village tradesmen, as the potter, oilman and liquor-vendor, are no longer paid in grain, but since the introduction of currency sell their wares for cash; but there seems no reason to doubt that in former times when no money circulated in villages they were remunerated in the same manner. They still all receive presents, consisting of a sowing-basketful of grain at seed-time and one or two sheaves at harvest. The former are known as Bijphuti, or 'the breaking of the seed,' and the latter as Khanvar, or 'that which is left.' In Bilaspur the Kamias or village menials also receive as much grain as will fill a winnowing-fan when it has been threshed. When the peasant has harvested his grain all come and beg from him. The Dhimar brings waternut, the Kachhi or market-gardener some chillies, the Teli oil and tobacco, the Kalar some liquor if he drinks it, the Bania some sugar, and all receive grain in excess of the value of their gifts. The village menials come for their customary dues, and the Brahman, the Nat or acrobat, the Gosain or religious mendicant, and the Fakir or Muhammadan beggar solicit alms. On that day the cultivator is like a little king in his fields, and it is said that sometimes a quarter of the crop may go in this way; but the reference must be only to the spring crop and not to the whole holding. In former times grain must have been the principal source of wealth, and this old custom gives us a reason for the status of the cultivator in Hindu society. There is also a saying:

Uttam kheti, madhyam ban, Kanisht chakri, bhik nidan,

or 'Cultivation is the best calling, trade is respectable, service is menial, and begging is degraded.'

46. Occupation

The Kurmi is the typical cultivator. He loves his land, and to lose it is to break the mainspring of his life. His land gives him a freedom and independence of character which is not found among the English farm-labourers. He is industrious and plodding, and inured to hardship. In some Districts the excellent tilth of the Kurmi's fields well portrays the result of his persevering labour, which he does not grudge to the land because it is his own. His wife is in no way behind him; the proverb says, "Good is the caste of the Kurmin; with a hoe in her hand she goes to the fields and works with her husband." The Chandnahu Kurmi women are said to be more enterprising than the men, keeping them up to their work, and managing the business of the farm as well as the household.


List of Exogamous Clans

Sections of the Chandnahu subcaste:

Chanwar bambar Fly fan. Sandil Name of a Rishi. Gaind Ball. Sadaphal A fruit. Sondeha Gold-bodied. Sonkharchi Spender of gold. Kathail Kath, wood, or kaththa, catechu. Kashi enares. The Desha Kurmis are all of this gotra. It may also be a corruption of Kachhap, tortoise. Dhorha Dhor, cattle. Sumer A mountain. Chatur Midalia Chatur, clever. Bharadwaj After the Rishi of that name; also a bird. Kousil Name of a Rishi. Ishwar God. Samund Karkari A particle in an ocean. Akalchuwa Akal, famine. Padel Fallow. Baghmar Tiger-slayer. Harduba Green grass. Kansia Kans, a kind of grass. Ghiu Sagar Ocean of ghi Dharam Dhurandar Most charitable. Singnaha Singh, a lion. Chimangarhia Belonging to Chimangarh. Khairagarhia Belonging to Khairagarh. Gotam A Rishi. Kaskyap A Rishi. Pandariha From Pandaria, a village. Paipakhar One who washes feet. Banhpakhar One who washes arms. Chauria Chaurai, a vegetable. Sand Sathi Sand, bullock. Singhi Singh, lion or horn. Agra—Chandan Sandalwood. Tek Sanichar Saturday. Karaiya Frying-pan. Pukharia Pond. Dhubinha Dhobi, a caste. Pawanbare Pawan, air. Modganga Ganges.

Sections of the Gabel subcaste:

Gangajal Ganges water. Bimba Lohir Bearer of a lathi (stick). Sarang Peacock. Raja Rawat Royal prince. Singur Beauty. Bank pagar With a thread on the arm. Samundha Ocean. Parasram, Rishi Katarmal Katar, dagger. Chaultan Sept of Rajputs. Patan Village. Gajmani Elephant. Deori Sumer Village. Lahura Samudra Small sea. Hansbimbraon Hans, goose. Sunwani Purifier.

Sections of the Santora subcaste:

Narvaria Narwar, a town in Gwalior State. Mundharia Mundhra, a village. Naigaiyan Naogaon, a town in Bundelkhand. Pipraiya Piparia, a village. Dindoria Dindori, a village in Mandla District. Baheria A village. Bandha Bandh, embankment. Ktmusar Wooden pestle.

Sections of the Tirole subcaste:

Baghele Bagh, tiger, or a sept of Rajputs. Rathor Clan of Rajputs. Panwar Clan of Rajputs. Solanki Clan of Rajputs. Aulia Aonla, a fruit-bearing tree. Sindia Sindi, date-palm tree. Khusia Khusi, happiness. Sanoria San, hemp. Gora Fair-coloured. Bhakrya Bhakar, a thick bread.

Sections of the Gaur subcaste:

Bhandari Storekeeper. Dudhua Dudh, milk. Patele A headman. Lonia Salt-maker. Kumaria A potter. Sionia Seoni town. Chhaparia Chhapara, a town. Bijoria A tree. Simra A village. Ketharia Keth, a fruit. Usarguiyan Perhaps a village. Bhadoria Village. Rurgaiyan Village. Musrele Musar, a pestle.

Sections of the Usrete subcaste:

Shikare Hunter. Nahar Tiger. Gursaraiyan Gursarai, a town. Bardia A village. Sandia Sand, a bull. Sirwaiyan Sirwai, a village. Itguhan A village. Sengaiyan or Singaiyan Sengai, a village. Harkotia Harkoti, a village. Noria Norai, a village. Larent Lareti, a village. Rabia Rabai, a village. Lakhauria (Lakori village. It is said that whoever utters the name of this section early in the morning is sure to remain hungry the whole day, or at least will get into some trouble that day.) Dhandkonya Dhandakna, to roll. Badgaiyan Badagaon, a large village. Kotia Kot, a fort Bilwar Billi, cat Thutha Stump of a tree.

Sections of the Kanaujia subcaste:

Tidha.—From Tidha, a village. This section is subdivided into (a) Ghureparke (of the cow-dung hill); (b) Dwarparke (of the door); and (c) Jangi (warrior).

Chamania—From Chamyani (village). This is also subdivided into:

(a) Gomarkya (b) Mathuria (Muttra town).

Chaudhri (caste headman). This is divided as follows:

(a) Majhgawan A village. (b) Purva thok Eastern group. (c) Pashchim thok Western group. (d) Bamurya A village.

Rawat Title. Malha Perhaps sailor or wrestler. Chilolian Chiloli, a village. Dhanuiyan Dhanu Kheda, a village.


List of Paragraphs

1. General notice. 2. Social customs. 3. The lac industry. 4. Lac bangles. 5. Red, a lucky colour. 6. Vermilion and spangles. 7. Red dye on the feet. 8. Red threads. 9. Lac toys.

1. General notice

Lakhera, Laheri.—The small caste whose members make bangles and other articles of lac. About 3000 persons were shown as belonging to the caste in the Central Provinces in 1911, being most numerous in the Jubbulpore, Chhindwara and Betul Districts. From Berar 150 persons were returned, chiefly from Amraoti. The name is derived from the Sanskrit laksha-kara, a worker in lac. The caste are a mixed functional group closely connected with the Kacheras and Patwas; no distinction being recognised between the Patwas and Lakheras in some localities of the Central Provinces. Mr. Baillie gives the following notice of them in the Census Report of the North-Western Provinces (1891): "The accounts given by members of the caste of their origin are very various and sometimes ingenious. One story is that like the Patwas, with whom they are connected, they were originally Kayasths. According to another account they were made from the dirt washed from Parvati before her marriage with Siva, being created by the god to make bangles for his wife, and hence called Deobansi. Again, it is stated, they were created by Krishna to make bangles for the Gopis or milkmaids. The most elaborate account is that they were originally Yaduvansi Rajputs, who assisted the Kurus to make a fort of lac, in which the Pandavas were to be treacherously burned. For this traitorous conduct they were degraded and compelled eternally to work in lac or glass."

2. Social customs

The bulk of these artisan and manufacturing castes tell stories showing that their ancestors were Kayasths and Rajputs, but no importance can be attached to such legends, which are obviously manufactured by the family priests to minister to the harmless vanity of their clients. To support their claim the Lakheras have divided themselves like the Rajputs into the Surajvansi and Somvansi subcastes or those who belong to the Solar and Lunar races. Other subdivisions are the Marwari or those coming from Marwar in Rajputana, and the Tarkhera or makers of the large earrings which low-caste women wear. These consist of a circular piece of wood or fibre, nearly an inch across, which is worked through a large hole in the lobe of the ear. It is often the stalk of the ambari fibre, and on the outer end is fixed a slab decorated with little pieces of glass. The exogamous sections of the Lakheras are generally named after animals, plants and natural objects, and indicate that the caste is recruited from the lower classes of the population. Their social customs resemble those of the middle and lower Hindustani castes. Girls are married at an early age when the parents can afford the expense of the ceremony, but no penalty is incurred if the wedding is postponed for want of means. The remarriage of widows and divorce are permitted. They eat flesh, but not fowls or pork, and some of them drink liquor, while others abstain. Rajputs and Banias will take water from them, but not Brahmans. In Bombay, however, they are considered to rank above Kunbis.

3. The lac industry

The traditional occupation of the Lakheras is to make and sell bangles and other articles of lac. Lac is regarded with a certain degree of superstitious repugnance by the Hindus because of its red colour, resembling blood. On this account and also because of the sin committed in killing them, no Hindu caste will propagate the lac insect, and the calling is practised only by Gonds, Korkus and other primitive tribes. Even Gonds will often refuse employment in growing lac if they can make their living by cultivation. Various superstitions attach to the propagation of the insects to a fresh tree. This is done in Kunwar (September) and always by men, the insects being carried in a leaf-cup and placed on a branch of an uninfected tree, usually the kusum. [84] It is said that the work should be done at night and the man should be naked when he places the insects on the tree. The tree is fenced round and nobody is allowed to touch it, as it is considered that the crop would thus be spoiled. If a woman has lost her husband and has to sow lac, she takes her son in her arms and places the cup containing the insects on his head; on arriving at the tree she manages to apply the insects by means of a stick, not touching the cup with her own hands. All this ritual attaches simply to the infection of the first tree, and afterwards in January or February the insects are propagated on to other trees without ceremony. The juice of onions is dropped on to them to make them healthy. The stick-lac is collected by the Gonds and Korkus and sold to the Lakheras; they clear it of wood as far as possible and then place the incrusted twigs and bark in long cotton bags and heat them before a fire, squeezing out the gum, which is spread out on flat plates so as to congeal into the shape of a pancake. This is again heated and mixed with white clay and forms the material for the bangles. They are coloured with chapra, the pure gum prepared like sealing-wax, which is mixed with vermilion, or arsenic and turmeric for a yellow colour. In some localities at least only the Lakheras and Patwas and no higher caste will sell articles made of lac.

4. Lac bangles

The trade in lac bangles has now greatly declined, as they have been supplanted by the more ornamental glass bangles. They are thick and clumsy and five of them will cover a large part of the space between the elbow and the wrist. They may be observed on Banjara women. Lac bangles are also still used by the Hindus, generally on ceremonial occasions, as at a marriage, when they are presented to and worn by the bride, and during the month of Shrawan (July), when the Hindus observe a fast on behalf of the growing crops and the women wear bangles of lac. For these customs Mr. Hira Lal suggests the explanation that lac bangles were at one time generally worn by the Hindus, while glass ones are a comparatively recent fashion introduced by the Muhammadans. In support of this it may be urged that glass bangles are largely made by the Muhammadan Turkari or Sisgar, and also that lac bangles must have been worn prior to glass ones, because if the latter had been known the clumsy and unornamental bracelet made of lac and clay could never have come into existence. The wearing of lac bangles on the above occasions would therefore be explained according to the common usage of adhering on religious and ceremonial occasions to the more ancient methods and accessories, which are sanctified by association and custom. Similarly the Holi pyre is often kindled with fire produced by the friction of wood, and temples are lighted with vegetable instead of mineral oil.

5. Red, a lucky colour

It may be noted, however, that lac bangles are not always worn by the bride at a wedding, the custom being unknown in some localities. Moreover, it appears that glass was known to the Hindus at a period prior to the Muhammadan invasions, though bangles may not have been made from it. Another reason for the use of lac bangles on the occasions noticed is that lac, as already seen, represents blood. Though blood itself is now repugnant to the Hindus, yet red is pre-eminently their lucky colour, being worn at weddings and generally preferred. It is suggested in the Bombay Gazetteer [85] that blood was lucky as having been the first food of primitive man, who learnt to suck the blood of animals before he ate their flesh. But it does not seem necessary to go back quite so far as this. The earliest form of sacrifice, as shown by Professor Robertson Smith, [86] was that in which the community of kinsmen ate together the flesh of their divine or totem animal god and drank its blood. When the god became separated from the animal and was represented by a stone at the place of worship and the people had ceased to eat raw flesh and drink blood, the blood was poured out over the stone as an offering to the god. This practice still obtains among the lower castes of Hindus and the primitive tribes, the blood of animals offered to Devi and other village deities being allowed to drop on to the stones representing them. But the higher castes of Hindus have abandoned animal sacrifices, and hence cannot make the blood-offering. In place of it they smear the stone with vermilion, which seems obviously a substitute for blood, since it is used to colour the stones representing the deities in exactly the same manner. Even vermilion, however, is not offered to the highest deities of Neo-Hinduism, Siva or Mahadeo and Vishnu, to whom animal sacrifices would be abhorrent. It is offered to Hanuman, whose image is covered with it, and to Devi and Bhairon and to the many local and village deities. In past times animal sacrifices were offered to Bhairon, as they still are to Devi, and though it is not known that they were made to Hanuman, this is highly probable, as he is the god of strength and a mighty warrior. The Manbhao mendicants, who abhor all forms of bloodshed like the Jains, never pass one of these stones painted with vermilion if they can avoid doing so, and if they are aware that there is one on their road will make a circuit so as not to see it. [87] There seems, therefore, every reason to suppose that vermilion is a substitute for blood in offerings and hence probably on other occasions. As the places of the gods were thus always coloured red with blood, red would come to be the divine and therefore the propitious colour among the Hindus and other races.

6. Vermilion and spangles

Among the constituents of the Sohag or lucky trousseau without which no Hindu girl of good caste can be married are sendur or vermilion, kunku or red powder or a spangle (tikli), and mahawar or red balls of cotton-wool. In Chhattisgarh and Bengal the principal marriage rite is usually the smearing of vermilion by the bridegroom on the parting of the bride's hair, and elsewhere this is commonly done as a subsidiary ceremony. Here also there is little reason to doubt that vermilion is a substitute for blood; indeed, in some castes in Bengal, as noted by Sir H. Risley, the blood of the parties is actually mixed. [88] This marking of the bride with blood is a result of the sacrifice and communal feast of kinsmen already described; only those who could join in the sacrificial meal and eat the flesh of the sacred animal god were kin to it and to each other; but in quite early times the custom prevailed of taking wives from outside the clan; and consequently, to admit the wife into her husband's kin, it was necessary that she also should drink or be marked with the blood of the god. The mixing of blood at marriage appears to be a relic of this, and the marking of the forehead with vermilion is a substitute for the anointing with blood. Kunku is a pink powder made of turmeric, lime-juice and borax, which last is called by the Hindus 'the milk of Anjini,' the mother of Hanuman. It seems to be a more agreeable substitute for vermilion, whose constant use has probably an injurious effect on the skin and hair. Kunku is used in the Maratha country in the same way as vermilion, and a married woman will smear a little patch on her forehead every day and never allow her husband to see her without it. She omits it only during the monthly period of impurity. The tikli or spangle is worn in the Hindustani Districts and not in the south. It consists of a small piece of lac over which is smeared vermilion, while above it a piece of mica or thin glass is fixed for ornament. Other adornments may be added, and women from Rajputana, such as the Marwari Banias and Banjaras, wear large spangles set in gold with a border of jewels if they can afford it. The spangle is made and sold by Lakheras and Patwas; it is part of the Sohag at marriages and is affixed to the girl's forehead on her wedding and thereafter always worn; as a rule, if a woman has a spangle it is said that she does not smear vermilion on her forehead, though both may occasionally be seen. The name tikli is simply a corruption of tika, which means a mark of anointing or initiation on the forehead; as has been seen, the basis of the tikli is vermilion smeared on lac-clay, and it is made by Lakheras; and there is thus good reason to suppose that the spangle is also a more ornamental substitute for the smear of vermilion, the ancient blood-mark by which a married woman was admitted into her husband's clan. At her marriage a bride must always receive the glass bangles and the vermilion, kunku, or spangle from her husband, the other ornaments of the Sohag being usually given to her by her parents. Unmarried girls now also sometimes wear small ornamental spangles, and put kunku on their foreheads. But before marriage it is optional and afterwards compulsory. A widow may not wear vermilion, kunku, or spangles.

7. Red dye on the feet

The Lakheras also sell balls of red cotton-wool known as mahur ki guleli or mahawar. The cotton-wool is dipped in the melted lac-gum and is rubbed on to the feet of women to colour them red or pink at marriages and festivals. This is done by the barber's wife, who will colour the feet of the whole party, at the same time drawing lines round the outside of the foot and inward from the toes. The mahawar is also an essential part of the Sohag of marriage. Instead of lac the Muhammadans use mehndi or henna, the henna-leaves being pounded with catechu and the mixture rubbed on to the feet and hands. After a little time it is washed off and a red dye remains on the skin. It is supposed that the similar custom which prevailed among the ancient Greeks is alluded to in the epithet of 'rosy-fingered Aurora.' The Hindus use henna dye only in the month Shrawan (July), which is a period of fasting; the auspicious kunku and mahawar are therefore perhaps not considered suitable at such a time, but as special protection is needed against evil spirits, the necessary red colouring is obtained from henna. When a married woman rubs henna on her hands, if the dye comes out a deep red tinge, the other women say that her husband is not in love with her; but if of a pale yellowish tinge, that he is very much in love.

8. Red threads

The Lakheras and Patwas also make the kardora or waist-band of red thread. This is worn by Hindu men and women, except Maratha Brahmans. After he is married, if a man breaks this thread he must not take food until he has put on a fresh one, and the same rule applies to a woman all her life. Other threads are the rakhis tied round the wrists for protection against evil spirits on the day of Rakshabandhan, and the necklets of silk or cotton thread wound round with thin silver wire, which the Hindus put on at Anant Chaudas and frequently retain for the whole year. The colour of all these threads is generally red in the first place, but they soon get blackened by contact with the skin.

9. Lac toys

Toys of lac are especially made during the fast of Shrawan (July). At this time for five years after her marriage a Hindu bride receives annually from her husband a present called Shraoni, or that which is given in Shrawan. It consists of a chakri or reel, to which a string is attached, and the reel is thrown up into the air and wound and unwound on the string; a bhora or wooden top spun by a string; a bansuli or wooden flute; a stick and ball, lac bangles and a spangle, and cloth, usually of red chintz. All these toys are made by the carpenter and coloured red with lac by the Lakhera, with the exception of the bangles which may be yellow or green. For five years the bride plays with the toys, and then they are sent to her no longer as her childhood has passed. It is probable that some, if not all of them, are in a manner connected with the crops, and supposed to have a magical influence, because during the same period it is the custom for boys to walk on stilts and play at swinging themselves; and in these cases the original idea is to make the crops grow as high as the stilts or swing. As in the other cases, the red colour appears to have a protective influence against evil spirits, who are more than usually active at a time of fasting.


List of Paragraphs

1. Origin and traditions. 2. Position in the Central Provinces. 3. Subdivisions. 4. Exogamous groups. 5. Marriage customs. 6. The Gauna ceremony. Fertility rites. 7. Widow-marriage and puberty rite. 8. Mourning impurity. 9. Social customs. 10. Greetings and method of address. 11. Sacred thread and social status.

1. Origin and traditions

Lodhi, Lodha.—An important agricultural caste residing principally in the Vindhyan Districts and Nerbudda valley, whence they have spread to the Wainganga valley and the Khairagarh State of Chhattisgarh. Their total strength in the Province is 300,000 persons. The Lodhis are immigrants from the United Provinces, in whose Gazetteers it is stated that they belonged originally to the Ludhiana District and took their name from it. Their proper designation is Lodha, but it has become corrupted to Lodhi in the Central Provinces. A number of persons resident in the Harda tahsil of Hoshangabad are called Lodha and say that they are distinct from the Lodhis. There is nothing to support their statement, however, and it is probable that they simply represent the separate wave of immigration which took place from Central India into the Hoshangabad and Betul Districts in the fifteenth century. They spoke a different dialect of the group known as Rajasthani, and hence perhaps the caste-name did not get corrupted. The Lodhis of the Jubbulpore Division probably came here at a later date from northern India. The Mandla Lodhis are said to have been brought to the District by Raja Hirde Sah of the Gond-Rajput dynasty of Garha-Mandla in the seventeenth century, and they were given large grants of the waste land in the interior in order that they might clear it of forest. [89] The Lodhis are a good instance of a caste who have obtained a great rise in social status on migrating to a new area. In northern India Mr. Nesfield places them lowest among the agricultural castes and states that they are little better than a forest tribe. He derives the name from lod, a clod, according to which Lodhi would mean clodhopper. [90] Another suggestion is that the name is derived from the bark of the lodh tree, [91] which is collected by the Lodhas in northern India and sold for use as a dyeing agent. In Bulandshahr they are described as "Of short stature and uncouth appearance, and from this as well as from their want of a tradition of immigration from other parts they appear to be a mixed class proceeding from aboriginal and Aryan parents. In the Districts below Agra they are considered so low that no one drinks water touched by them; but this is not the case in the Districts above Agra." [92] In Hamirpur they appear to have some connection with the Kurmis, and a story told of them in Saugor is that the first Lodhi was created by Mahadeo from a scarecrow in a Kurmi woman's field and given the vocation of a farmservant But the Lodhis themselves claim Rajput ancestry and say that they are descended from Lava, the eldest of the two sons of Raja Ramchandra of Ajodhya.

2. Position in the central Provinces

In the Central Provinces they have become landholders and are addressed by the honorific title of Thakur, ranking with the higher cultivating castes. Several Lodhi landholders in Damoh and Saugor formerly held a quasi-independent position under the Muhammadans, and subsequently acknowledged the Raja of Panna as their suzerain, who conferred on some families the titles of Raja and Diwan. They kept up a certain amount of state, and small contingents of soldiery, attended by whom they went to pay their respects to the representative of the ruling power. "It would be difficult," says Grant, [93] "to recognise the descendants of the peaceful cultivators of northern India in the strangely accoutred Rajas who support their style and title by a score of ragged matchlock-men and a ruined mud fort on a hill-side." Sir B. Fuller's Damoh Settlement Report says of them: "A considerable number of villages had been for long time past in the possession of certain important families, who held them by prescription or by a grant from the ruling power, on a right which approximated as nearly to the English idea of proprietorship as native custom permitted. The most prominent of these families were of the Lodhi caste. They have developed tastes for sport and freebooting and have become decidedly the most troublesome item in the population. During the Mutiny the Lodhis as a class were openly disaffected, and one of their proprietors, the Talukdar of Hindoria, marched on the District headquarters and looted the treasury." Similarly the Ramgarh family of Mandla took to arms and lost the large estates till then held by them. On the other hand the village of Imjhira in Narsinghpur belonging to a Lodhi malguzar was gallantly defended against a band of marauding rebels from Saugor. Sir R. Craddock describes them as follows: "They are men of strong character, but their constant family feuds and love of faction militate against their prosperity. A cluster of Lodhi villages forms a hotbed of strife and the nearest relations are generally divided by bitter animosities. The Revenue Officer who visits them is beset by reckless charges and counter-charges and no communities are less amenable to conciliatory compromises. Agrarian outrages are only too common in some of the Lodhi villages." [94] The high status of the Lodhi caste in the Central Provinces as compared with their position in the country of their origin may be simply explained by the fact that they here became landholders and ruling chiefs.

3. Sub-divisions

In the northern Districts the landholding Lodhis are divided into a number of exogamous clans who marry with each other in imitation of the Rajputs. These are the Mahdele, Kerbania, Dongaria, Narwaria, Bhadoria and others. The name of the Kerbanias is derived from Kerbana, a village in Damoh, and the Balakote family of that District are the head of the clan. The Mahdeles are the highest clan and have the titles of Raja and Diwan, while the others hold those of Rao and Kunwar, the terms Diwan and Kunwar being always applied to the younger brother of the head of the house. These titles are still occasionally conferred by the Raja of Panna, whom the Lodhi clans looked on as their suzerain. The name of the Mahdeles is said to be derived from the mehndi or henna plant. The above clans sometimes practise hypergamy among themselves and also with the other Lodhis, taking daughters from the latter on receipt of a large bridegroom-price for the honour conferred by the marriage. This custom is now, however, tending to die out. There are also several endogamous subcastes ranking below the clans, of whom the principal are the Singrore, Jarha, Jangra and Mahalodhi. The Singrore take their name from the old town of Singraur or Shrengera in northern India, Singrore, like Kanaujia, being a common subcaste name among several castes. It is also connected more lately with the Singram Ghat or ferry of the Ganges in Allahabad District, and the title of Rawat is said to have been conferred on the Singrore Lodhis by the emperor Akbar on a visit there. The Jarha Lodhis belong to Mandla. The name is probably a form of Jharia or jungly, but since the leading members of the caste have become large landholders they repudiate this derivation. The Jangra Lodhis are of Chhattisgarh, and the Mahalodhis or 'Great Lodhis' are an inferior group to which the offspring of irregular unions are or were relegated. The Mahalodhis are said to condone adultery either by a man or woman on penalty of a feast to the caste. Other groups are the Hardiha, who grow turmeric (haldi), and the Gwalhare or cowherds. The Lodhas of Hoshangabad may also be considered a separate subcaste. They disclaim connection with the Lodhis, but the fact that the parent caste in the United Provinces is known as Lodha appears to establish their identity. They abstain from flesh and liquor, which most Lodhis consume.

This division of the superior branch of a caste into large exogamous clans and the lower one into endogamous subcastes is only found, so far as is known, among the Rajputs and one or two landholding castes who have imitated them. Its origin is discussed in the Introduction.

4. Exogamous groups

The subcastes are as usual divided into exogamous groups of the territorial, titular and totemistic classes. Among sections named after places may be mentioned the Chandpuria from Chandpur, the Kharpuria from Kharpur, and the Nagpuriha, Raipuria, Dhamonia, Damauha and Shahgariha from Nagpur, Raipur, Dhamoni, Damoh and Shahgarh. Two-thirds of the sections have the names of towns or villages. Among titular names are Saulakhia, owner of 100 lakhs, Bhainsmar, one who killed a buffalo, Kodonchor, one who stole kodon, [95] Kumharha perhaps from Kumhar a potter, and Rajbhar and Barhai (carpenter), names of castes. Among totemistic names are Baghela, tiger, also the name of a Rajput sept; Kutria, a dog; Khajuria, the date-palm tree; Mirchaunia, chillies; Andwar, from the castor-oil plant; Bhainsaiya, a buffalo; and Nak, the nose.

5. Marriage customs

A man must not marry in his own section nor in that of his mother. He may marry two sisters. The exchange of girls between families is only in force among the Bilaspur Lodhis, who say, 'Eat with those who have eaten with you and marry with those who have married with you.' Girls are usually wedded before puberty, but in the northern Districts the marriage is sometimes postponed from desire to marry into a good family or from want of funds to pay a bridegroom-price, and girls of twenty or more may be unmarried. A case is known of a man who had two daughters unmarried at twenty-two and twenty-three years old, because he had been waiting for good partis, with the result that one of them went and lived with a man and he then married off the other in the Singhast [96] year, which is forbidden among the Lodhis, and was put out of caste. The marriage and other ceremonies of the Lodhis resemble those of the Kurmis, except in Chhattisgarh where the Maratha fashion is followed. Here, at the wedding, the bride and bridegroom hold between them a doll made of dough with 21 cowries inside, and as the priest repeats the marriage texts they pull it apart like a cracker and see how many cowries each has got. It is considered auspicious if the bridegroom has the larger number. The priest is on the roof of the house, and before the wedding he cries out:

'Are the king and queen here?' And a man below answers, 'Yes.'

'Have they shoes on their feet?' 'Yes.'

'Have they bracelets on their hands?' 'Yes.'

'Have they rings in their ears?' 'Yes.'

'Have they crowns on their heads?' 'Yes.'

'Has she glass beads round her neck?' 'Yes.'

'Have they the doll in their hands?' 'Yes.'

And the priest then repeats the marriage texts and beats a brass dish while the doll is pulled apart In the northern Districts after the wedding the bridegroom must untie one of the festoons of the marriage-shed, and if he refuses to do this, it is an indelible disgrace on the bride's party. Before doing so he requires a valuable present, such as a buffalo.

6. The gauna ceremoney. Fertility rites

When the girl becomes mature the Gauna or going-away ceremony is performed. In Chhattisgarh before leaving her home the bride goes out with her sister and worships a palas tree. [97] Her sister waves a lighted lamp seven times over it, and the bride goes seven times round it in imitation of the marriage ceremony. At her husband's house seven pictures of the family gods are drawn on a wall inside the house and the bride worships these, placing a little sugar and bread on the mouth of each and bowing before them. She is then seated before the family god while an old woman brings a stone rolling-pin [98] wrapped up in a piece of cloth, which is supposed to be a baby, and the old woman imitates a baby crying. She puts the roller in the bride's lap saying, 'Take this and give it milk.' The bride is abashed and throws it aside. The old woman picks it up and shows it to the assembled women saying, 'The bride has just had a baby,' amid loud laughter. Then she gives the stone to the bridegroom who also throws it aside. This ceremony is meant to induce fertility, and it is supposed that by making believe that the bride has had a baby she will quickly have one.

7. Widow-marriage and puberty rite

The higher clans of Lodhis in Damoh and Saugor prohibit the remarriage of widows, but instances of it occur. It is said that a man who marries a widow is relegated to the Mahalodhi subcaste or the Lahuri Sen, an illegitimate group, and the Lodhis of his clan no longer acknowledge his family. But if a girl's husband dies before she has lived with him she may marry again. The other Lodhis freely permit widow-marriage and divorce. When a girl first becomes mature she is secluded, and though she may stay in the house cannot enter the cook-room. At the end of the period she is dressed in red cloth, and a present of cocoanuts stripped of their shells, sweetmeats, and a little money, is placed in her lap, while a few women are invited to a feast. This rite is also meant to induce fertility, the kernel of the cocoanut being held to resemble an unborn baby.

8. Mourning impurity

The higher clans consider themselves impure for a period of 12 days after a birth, and if the birth falls in the Mul asterism or Nakshatra, for 27 days. After death they observe mourning for 10 days; on the 10th day they offer ten pindas or funeral cakes, and on the 11th day make one large pinda or cake and divide it into eleven parts; on the 12th day they make sixteen pindas and unite the spirit of the dead man with the ancestors; and on the 13th day they give a feast and feed Brahmans and are clean. The lower subcastes only observe impurity for three days after a birth and a death. Their funeral rites are the same as those of the Kurmis.

9. Social customs

The caste employ Brahmans for weddings, but not necessarily for birth and death ceremonies. They eat flesh and fish, and the bulk of the caste eat fowls and drink liquor, but the landowning section abjures these practices. They will take food cooked with water from Brahmans, and that cooked without water also from Rajputs, Kayasths and Sunars. In Narsinghpur they also accept cooked food from such a low caste as Rajjahrs, [99] probably because the Rajjhars are commonly employed by them as farmservants, and hence have been accustomed to carry their master's food. A similar relation has been found to exist between the Panwar Rajputs and their Gond farmservants. The higher class Lodhis make an inordinate show of hospitality at their weddings. The plates of the guests are piled up profusely with food, and these latter think it a point of honour never to refuse it or say enough. When melted butter is poured out into their cups the stream must never be broken as it passes from one guest to the other, or it is said that they will all get up and leave the feast. Apparently a lot of butter must be wasted on the ground. The higher clans seclude their women, and these when they go out must wear long clothes covering the head and reaching to the feet. The women are not allowed to wear ornaments of a cheaper metal than silver, except of course their glass bangles. The Mahalodhis will eat food cooked with water in the cook-room and carried to the fields, which the higher clans will not do. Their women wear the sari drawn through the legs and knotted behind according to the Maratha fashion, but whenever they meet their husband's elder brother or any other elder of the family they must undo the knot and let the cloth hang down round their legs as a mark of respect. They wear no breast-cloth. Girls are tattooed before adolescence with dots on the chin and forehead, and marks on one hand. Before she is tattooed the girl is given sweets to eat, and during the process the operator sings songs in order that her attention may be diverted and she may not feel the pain. After she has finished the operator mutters a charm to prevent evil spirits from troubling the girl and causing her pain.

10. Greetings and method of address

The caste have some strict taboos on names and on conversation between the sexes. A man will only address his wife, sister, daughter, paternal aunt or niece directly. If he has occasion to speak to some other woman he will take his daughter or other female relative with him and do his business through her. He will not speak even to his own women before a crowd. A woman will similarly only speak to her father, son or nephew, and father-, son- or younger brother-in-law. She will not speak to her elder brother-in-law, and she will not address her husband in the presence of his father, elder brother or any other relative whom he reveres. A wife will never call her husband by his name, but always address him as father of her son, and, if she has no son, will sometimes speak to him through his younger brother. Neither the father nor mother will call their eldest son by his name, but will use some other name. Similarly a daughter-in-law is given a fresh name on coming into the house, and on her arrival her mother-in-law looks at her for the first time through a guna or ring of baked gram-flour. A man meeting his father or elder brother will touch his feet in silence. One meeting his sister's husband, sister's son or son-in-law, will touch his feet and say, 'Sahib, salaam.'

11. Sacred thread and social status

The higher clans invest boys with the sacred thread either when they are initiated by a Guru or spiritual preceptor, or when they are married. The thread is made by a Brahman and has five knots. Recently a large landholder in Mandla, a Jarha Lodhi, has assumed the sacred thread himself for the first time and sent round a circular to his caste-men enjoining them also to wear it. His family priest has produced a legend of the usual type showing how the Jarha Lodhis are Rajputs whose ancestors threw away their sacred threads in order to escape the vengeance of Parasurama. Generally in social position the Lodhis may be considered to rank with, but slightly above, the ordinary cultivating castes, such as the Kurmis. This superiority in no way arises from their origin, since, as already seen, they are a very low caste in their home in northern India, but from the fact that they have become large landholders in the Central Provinces and in former times their leaders exercised quasi-sovereign powers. Many Lodhis are fine-looking men and have still some appearance of having been soldiers. They are passionate and quarrelsome, especially in the Jubbulpore District. This is put forcibly in the saying that 'A Lodhi's temper is as crooked as the stream of a bullock's urine.' They are generally cultivators, but the bulk of them are not very prosperous as they are inclined to extravagance and display at weddings and on other ceremonial occasions.


1. Legends of the caste

Lohar, Khati, Ghantra, Ghisari, Panchal.—The occupational caste of blacksmiths. The name is derived from the Sanskrit Lauha-kara>, a worker in iron. In the Central Provinces the Loharhas in the past frequently combined the occupations of carpenter and blacksmith, and in such a capacity he is known as Khati. The honorific designations applied to the caste are Karigar, which means skilful, and Mistri, a corruption of the English 'Master' or 'Mister.' In 1911 the Lohars numbered about 180,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berar. The Lohar is indispensable to the village economy, and the caste is found over the whole rural area of the Province.

"Practically all the Lohars," Mr. Crooke writes [100], "trace their origin to Visvakarma, who is the later representative of the Vedic Twashtri, the architect and handicraftsman of the gods, 'The fashioner of all ornaments, the most eminent of artisans, who formed the celestial chariots of the deities, on whose craft men subsist, and whom, a great and immortal god, they continually worship,' One [101] tradition tells that Visvakarma was a Brahman and married the daughter of an Ahir, who in her previous birth had been a dancing-girl of the gods. By her he had nine sons, who became the ancestors of various artisan castes, such as the Lohar, Barhai, Sunar, and Kasera."

The Lohars of the Uriya country in the Central Provinces tell a similar story, according to which Kamar, the celestial architect, had twelve sons. The eldest son was accustomed to propitiate the family god with wine, and one day he drank some of the wine, thinking that it could not be sinful to do so as it was offered to the deity. But for this act his other brothers refused to live with him and left their home, adopting various professions; but the eldest brother became a worker in iron and laid a curse upon the others that they should not be able to practise their calling except with the implements which he had made. The second brother thus became a woodcutter (Barhai), the third a painter (Maharana), the fourth learnt the science of vaccination and medicine and became a vaccinator (Suthiar), the fifth a goldsmith, the sixth a brass-smith, the seventh a coppersmith, and the eighth a carpenter, while the ninth brother was weak in the head and married his eldest sister, on account of which fact his descendants are known as Ghantra. [102] The Ghantras are an inferior class of blacksmiths, probably an offshoot from some of the forest tribes, who are looked down on by the others. It is said that even to the present day the Ghantra Lohars have no objection to eating the leavings of food of their wives, whom they regard as their eldest sisters.

2. Social position of the Lohar

The above story is noticeable as indicating that the social position of the Lohar is somewhat below that of the other artisan castes, or at least of those who work in metals. This fact has been recorded in other localities, and has been explained by some stigma arising from his occupation, as in the following passage: "His social position is low even for a menial, and he is classed as an impure caste, in so far that Jats and others of similar standing will have no social communion with him, though not as an outcast like the scavenger. His impurity, like that of the barber, washerman and dyer, springs solely from the nature of his employment; perhaps because it is a dirty one, but more probably because black is a colour of evil omen. It is not improbable that the necessity under which he labours of using bellows made of cowhide may have something to do with his impurity," [103]

Mr. Nesfield also says: "It is owing to the ubiquitous industry of the Lohar that the stone knives, arrow-heads and hatchets of the indigenous tribes of Upper India have been so entirely superseded by iron-ores. The memory of the stone age has not survived even in tradition. In consequence of the evil associations which Hinduism has attached to the colour of black, the caste of Lohar has not been able to raise itself to the same social level as the three metallurgic castes which follow." The following saying also indicates that the Lohar is of evil omen:

Ar, Dhar, Chuchkar In tinon se bachawe Kartar.

Here Ar means an iron goad and signifies the Lohar; Dhar represents the sound of the oil falling from the press and means a Teli or oilman; Chuchkar is an imitation of the sound of clothes being beaten against a stone and denotes the Dhobi or washerman; and the phrase thus runs, 'My Friend, beware of the Lohar, Teli, and Dhobi, for they are of evil omen.' It is not quite clear why this disrepute should attach to the Lohar, because iron itself is lucky, though its colour, black, may be of bad omen. But the low status of the Lohar may partly arise from the fact of his being a village menial and a servant of the cultivators; whereas the trades of the goldsmith, brass-smith and carpenter are of later origin than the blacksmith's, and are urban rather than rural industries; and thus these artisans do not commonly occupy the position of village menials. Another important consideration is that the iron industry is associated with the primitive tribes, who furnished the whole supply of the metal prior to its importation from Europe: and it is hence probable that the Lohar caste was originally constituted from these and would thus naturally be looked down upon by the Hindus. In Bengal, where few or no traces of the village community remain, the Lohar ranks as the equal of Koiris and Kurmis, and Brahmans will take water from his hands; [104] and this somewhat favours the argument that his lower status elsewhere is not due to incidents of his occupation.

3. Caste subdivisions

The constitution of the Lohar caste is of a heterogeneous nature. In some localities Gonds who work as blacksmiths are considered to belong to the caste and are known as Gondi Lohars. But Hindus who work in Gond villages also sometimes bear this designation. Another subdivision returned consists of the Agarias, also an offshoot of the Gonds, who collect and smelt iron-ore in the Vindhyan and Satpura hills. The Panchals are a class of itinerant smiths in Berar. The Ghantras or inferior blacksmiths of the Uriya country have already been noticed. The Ghisaris are a similar low class of smiths in the southern Districts who do rough work only, but sometimes claim Rajput origin. Other subcastes are of the usual local or territorial type, as Mahulia, from Mahul in Berar; Jhade or Jhadia, those living in the jungles; Ojha, or those professing a Brahmanical origin; Maratha, Kanaujia, Mathuria, and so on.

4. Marriage and other customs

Infant-marriage is the custom of the caste, and the ceremony is that prevalent among the agricultural castes of the locality. The remarriage of widows is permitted, and they have the privilege of selecting their own husbands, or at least of refusing to accept any proposed suitor. A widow is always married from her father's house, and never from that of her deceased husband. The first husband's property is taken by his relatives, if there be any, and they also assume the custody of his children as soon as they are old enough to dispense with a mother's care. The dead are both buried and burnt, and in the eastern Districts some water and a tooth-stick are daily placed at a cross-road for the use of the departed spirit during the customary period of mourning, which extends to ten days. On the eleventh day the relatives go and bathe, and the chief mourner puts on a new loin-cloth. Some rice is taken and seven persons pass it from hand to hand. They then pound the rice, and making from it a figure to represent a human being, they place some grain in its mouth and say to it, 'Go and become incarnate in some human being,' and throw the image into the water. After this the impurity caused by the death is removed, and they go home and feast with their friends. In the evening they make cakes of rice, and place them seven times on the shoulder of each person who has carried the corpse to the cemetery or pyre, to remove the impurity contracted from touching it. It is also said that if this be not done the shoulder will feel the weight of the coffin for a period of six months. The caste endeavour to ascertain whether the spirit of the dead person returns to join in the funeral feast, and in what shape it will be born again. For this purpose rice-flour is spread on the floor of the cooking-room and covered with a brass plate. The women retire and sit in an adjoining room while the chief mourner with a few companions goes outside the village, and sprinkles some more rice-flour on the ground. They call to the deceased person by name, saying, 'Come, come,' and then wait patiently till some worm or insect crawls on to the floor. Some dough is then applied to this and it is carried home and let loose in the house. The flour under the brass plate is examined, and it is said that they usually see the footprints of a person or animal, indicating the corporeal entity in which the deceased soul has found a resting-place. During the period of mourning members of the bereaved family do not follow their ordinary business, nor eat flesh, sweets or other delicate food. They may not make offerings to their deities nor touch any persons outside the family, nor wear head-cloths or shoes. In the eastern Districts the principal deities of the Lohars are Dulha Deo and Somlai or Devi, the former being represented by a knife set in the ground inside the house, and the latter by the painting of a woman on the wall. Both deities are kept in the cooking-room, and here the head of the family offers to them rice soaked in milk, with sandal-paste, flowers, vermilion and lamp-black. He burns some melted butter in an earthen lamp and places incense upon it. If a man has been affected by the evil eye an exorcist will place some salt on his hand and burn it, muttering spells, and the evil influence is removed. They believe that a spell can be cast on a man by giving him to eat the bones of an owl, when he will become an idiot.

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