The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume IV of IV - Kumhar-Yemkala
by R.V. Russell
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1. Introductory notice

Mehtar, Bhangi, Hari, [225] Dom, Lalbegi.—The caste of sweepers and scavengers. In 1911 persons returning themselves as Mehtar, Bhangi and Dom were separately classified, and the total of all three was only 30,000. In this Province they generally confine themselves to their hereditary occupation of scavenging, and are rarely met with outside the towns and large villages. In most localities the supply of sweepers does not meet the demand. The case is quite different in northern India, where the sweeper castes—the Chuhra in the Punjab, the Bhangi in the United Provinces and the Dom in Bengal—are all of them of great numerical strength. With these castes only a small proportion are employed on scavengers' work and the rest are labourers like the Chamars and Mahars of the Central Provinces. The present sweeper caste is made up of diverse elements, and the name Mehtar, generally applied to it, is a title meaning a prince or leader. Its application to the caste, the most abject and despised in the Hindu community, is perhaps partly ironical; but all the low castes have honorific titles, which are used as a method of address either from ordinary politeness or by those requiring some service, on the principle, as the Hindus say, that you may call an ass your uncle if you want him to do something for you. The regular caste of sweepers in northern India are the Bhangis, whose name is derived by Mr. Crooke from the Sanskrit bhanga, hemp, in allusion to the drunken habits of the caste. In support of this derivation he advances the Beria custom of calling their leaders Bhangi or hemp-drinker as a title of honour. [226] In Mr. Greeven's account also, Lalbeg, the patron saint of the sweepers, is described as intoxicated with the hemp drug on two occasions. [227] Mr. Bhimbhai Kirparam suggests [228] that Bhangia means broken, and is applied to the sweepers because they split bamboos. In Kaira, he states, the regular trade of the Bhangias is the plaiting of baskets and other articles of split bamboo, and in that part of Gujarat if a Koli is asked to split a bamboo he will say, 'Am I to do Bhangia's work?' The derivation from the hemp-plant is, however, the more probable. In the Punjab, sweepers are known as Chuhra, and this, name has been derived from their business of collecting and sweeping up scraps (chura-jharna) Similarly, in Bombay they are known as Olganas or scrap-eaters. The Bengal name Hari is supposed to come from haddi, a bone; the Hari is the bone-gatherer, and was familiar to early settlers of Calcutta under the quaint designation of the 'harry-wench,' [229] In the Central Provinces sections of the Ghasia, Mahar and Dom castes will do sweepers' work, and are therefore amalgamated with the Mehtars. The caste is thus of mixed constitution, and also forms a refuge for persons expelled from their own societies for social offences. But though called by different names, the sweeper community in most provinces appears to have the same stock of traditions and legends. The name of Mehtar is now generally employed, and has therefore been taken as the designation of the caste.

2. Caste subdivisions

Mr. Greeven gives seven main subdivisions, of which the Lalbegis or the followers of Lalbeg, the patron saint of sweepers, are the most important. The Rawats appear to be an aristocratic subdivision of the Lalbegis, their name being a corruption of the Sanskrit Rajputra, a prince. The Shaikh Mehtars are the only real Muhammadan branch, for though the Lalbegis worship a Musalman saint they remain Hindus. The Haris or bone-gatherers, as already stated, are the sweepers of Bengal. The Helas may either be those who carry baskets of sweepings, or may derive their name from hela, a cry; and in that case they are so called as performing the office of town-criers, a function which the Bhangi usually still discharges in northern India [230]. The other subcastes in his list are the Dhanuks or bowmen and the Bansphors or cleavers of bamboos. In the Central Provinces the Shaikh Mehtars belong principally to Nagpur, and another subcaste, the Makhia, is also found in the Maratha Districts and in Berar; those branches of the Ghasia and Dom castes who consent to do scavengers' work now form separate subcastes of Mehtars in the same locality, and another group are called Narnolia, being said to take their name from a place called Narnol in the Punjab. The Lalbegis are often considered here as Muhammadans rather than Hindus, and bury their dead. In Saugor the sweepers are said to be divided into Lalbegis or Muhammadans and Doms or Hindus. The Lalbegi, Dom or Dumar and the Hela are the principal subcastes of the north of the Province, and Chuhra Mehtars are found in Chhattisgarh. Each subcaste is divided into a number of exogamous sections named after plants and animals.

3. Social organisation

In Benares each subdivision, Mr. Greeven states, has an elaborate and quasi-military organisation. Thus the Lalbegi sweepers have eight companies or berhas, consisting of the sweepers working in different localities; these are the Sadar, or those employed by private residents in cantonments; the Kali Paltan, who serve the Bengal Infantry; the Lal Kurti, or Red-coats, who are employed by the British Infantry; the Teshan (station), or those engaged at the three railway stations of the town; the Shahar, or those of the city; the Ramnagar, taking their name from the residence of the Maharaja of Benares, whom they serve; the Kothiwal, or Bungalow men, who belong to residents in the civil lines; and lastly the Genereli, who are the descendants of sweepers employed at the military headquarters when Benares was commanded by a General of Division. This special organisation is obviously copied from that of the garrison and is not found in other localities, but deserves mention for its own interest. All the eight companies are commanded by a Brigadier, the local head of the caste, whose office is now almost hereditary; his principal duty is to give two dinners to the whole caste on election, with sweetmeats to the value of fourteen rupees. Each company has four officers—a Jamadar or president, a Munsif or spokesman, a Chaudhari or treasurer and a Naib or summoner. These offices are also practically hereditary, if the candidate entitled by birth can afford to give a dinner to the whole subcaste and a turban to each President of a company. All the other members of the company are designated as Sipahis or soldiers. A caste dispute is first considered by the inferior officers of each company, who report their view to the President; he confers with the other Presidents, and when an agreement has been reached the sentence is formally confirmed by the Brigadier. When any dispute arises, the aggrieved party, depositing a process-fee of a rupee and a quarter, addresses the officers of his company. Unless the question is so trivial that it can be settled without caste punishments, the President fixes a time and place, of which notice is given to the messengers of the other companies; each of these receives a fee of one and a quarter annas and informs all the Sipahis in his company.

4. Caste punishments

Only worthy members of the caste, Mr. Greeven continues, are allowed to sit on the tribal matting and smoke the tribal pipe (huqqa). The proceedings begin with the outspreading (usually symbolic) of a carpet and the smoking of a water-pipe handed in turn to each clansman. For this purpose the members sit on the carpet in three lines, the officers in front and the private soldiers behind. The parties and their witnesses are heard and examined, and a decision is pronounced. The punishments imposed consist of fines, compulsory dinners and expulsion from the caste; expulsion being inflicted for failure to comply with an order of fine or entertainment. The formal method of outcasting consists in seating the culprit on the ground and drawing the tribal mat over his head, from which the turban is removed; after this the messengers of the eight companies inflict a few taps with slippers and birch brooms. It is alleged that unfaithful women were formerly tied naked to trees and flogged with birch brooms, but that owing to the fatal results that occasionally followed such punishment, as in the case of the five kicks among Chamars (tanners) and the scourging with the clothes line which used to prevail among Dhobis (washer men), the caste has now found it expedient to abandon these practices. When an outcaste is readmitted on submission, whether by paying a fine or giving a dinner, he is seated apart from the tribal mat and does penance by holding his ears with his hands and confessing his offence. A new huqqa, which he supplies, is carried round by the messenger, and a few whiffs are taken by all the officers and Sipahis in turn. The messenger repeats to the culprit the council's order, and informs him that should he again offend his punishment will be doubled. With this warning he hands him the water-pipe, and after smoking this the offender is admitted to the carpet and all is forgotten in a banquet at his expense.

5. Admission of outsiders

The sweepers will freely admit outsiders into their community, and the caste forms a refuge for persons expelled from their own societies for sexual or moral offences. Various methods are employed for the initiation of a neophyte; in some places he, or more frequently she, is beaten with a broom made of wood taken from a bier, and has to give a feast to the caste; in others a slight wound is made in his body and the blood of another sweeper is allowed to flow on to it so that they mix; and a glass of sherbet and sugar, known as the cup of nectar, is prepared by the priest and all the members of the committee put their fingers into it, after which it is given to the candidate to drink; or he has to drink water mixed with cowdung into which the caste-people have dipped their little fingers, and a lock of his hair is cut off. Or he fasts all day at the shrine of Lalbeg and in the evening drinks sherbet after burning incense at the shrine; and gives three feasts, the first on the bank of a tank, the second in his courtyard and the third in his house, representing his gradual purification for membership; at this last he puts a little water into every man's cup and receives from him a piece of bread, and so becomes a fully qualified caste-man. Owing to this reinforcement from higher castes, and perhaps also to their flesh diet, the sweepers are not infrequently taller and stronger as well as lighter in colour than the average Hindu.

6. Marriage customs

The marriage ceremony in the Central Provinces follows the ordinary Hindu ritual. The lagan or paper fixing the date of the wedding is written by a Brahman, who seats himself at some distance from the sweeper's house and composes the letter. This paper must not be seen by the bride or bridegroom, nor may its contents be read to them, as it is believed that to do so would cause them to fall ill during the ceremony. Before the bridegroom starts for the wedding his mother waves a wooden pestle five times over his head, passing it between his legs and shoulders. After this the bridegroom breaks two lamp-saucers with his right foot, steps over the rice-pounder and departs for the bride's house without looking behind him. The sawasas or relatives of the parties usually officiate at the ceremony, but the well-to-do sometimes engage a Brahman, who sits at a distance from the house and calls out his instructions. When a man wishes to marry a widow he must pay six rupees to the caste committee and give a feast to the community. Divorce is permitted for incompatibility of temper, or immorality on the part of the wife, or if the husband suffers from leprosy or impotence. Among the Lalbegis, when a man wishes to get rid of his wife he assembles the brethren and in their presence says to her, 'You are as my sister,' and she answers, 'You are as my father and brother.' [231]

7. Disposal of the dead

The dead are usually buried, but the well-to-do sometimes cremate them. In Benares the face or hand of the corpse is scorched with fire to symbolise cremation and it is then buried. In the Punjab the ghosts of sweepers are considered to be malevolent and are much dreaded; and their bodies are therefore always buried or burnt face downwards to prevent the spirit escaping; and riots have taken place and the magistrates have been appealed to to prevent a Chuhra from being buried face upwards. [232] In Benares as the body is lowered into the grave the sheet is withdrawn for a moment from the features of the departed to afford him one last glimpse of the heavens, while with Muhammadans the face is turned towards Mecca. Each clansman flings a handful of dust over the corpse, and after the earth is filled in crumbles a little bread and sugar-cake and sprinkles water upon the grave. A provision of bread, sweetmeats and water is also left upon it for the soul of the departed. [233] In the Central Provinces the body of a man is covered with a white winding-sheet and that of a woman with a red one. If the death occurs during the lunar conjunction known as Panchak, four human images of flour are made and buried with the dead man, as they think that if this is not done four more deaths will occur in the family.

8. Devices for procuring children

If a woman greatly desires a child she will go to a shrine and lay a stone on it which she calls the dharna or deposit or pledge. Then she thinks that she has put the god under an obligation to give her a child. She vows that if she becomes pregnant within a certain period, six or nine months, she will make an offering of a certain value. If the pregnancy comes she goes to the temple, makes the offering and removes the stone. If the desired result does not happen, however, she considers that the god has broken his obligation and ceases to worship him. If a barren woman desires a child she should steal on a Sunday or a Wednesday a strip from the body-cloth of a fertile woman when it is hung out to dry; or she may steal a piece of rope from the bed in which a woman has been delivered of a child, or a piece of the baby's soiled swaddling clothes or a piece of cloth stained with the blood of a fertile woman. This last she will take and bury in a cemetery and the others wear round her waist; then she will become fertile and the fertile woman will become barren. Another device is to obtain from the midwife a piece of the navel-string of a newborn child and swallow it. For this reason the navel-string is always carefully guarded and its disposal seen to.

9. Divination of sex

If a pregnant woman is thin and ailing they think a boy will be born; but if fat and well that it will be a girl. In order to divine the sex of a coming child they pour a little oil on the stomach of the woman; if the oil flows straight down it is thought that a boy will be born and if crooked a girl. Similarly if the hair on the front of her body grows straight they think the child will be a boy, but if crooked a girl; and if the swelling of pregnancy is more apparent on the right side a boy is portended, but if on the left side a girl. If delivery is retarded they go to a gunmaker and obtain from him a gun which has been discharged and the soiling of the barrel left uncleaned; some water is put into the barrel and shaken up and then poured into a vessel and given to the woman to drink, and it is thought that the quality of swift movement appertaining to the bullet which soiled the barrel will be communicated to the woman and cause the swift expulsion of the child from her womb.

10. Childbirth

When a woman is in labour she squats down with her legs apart holding to the bed in front of her, while the midwife rubs her back. If delivery is retarded the midwife gets a broom and sitting behind the woman presses it on her stomach, at the same time drawing back the upper part of her body. By this means they think the child will be forced from the womb. Or the mother of the woman in labour will take a grinding-stone and stand holding it on her head so long as the child is not born. She says to her daughter, 'Take my name,' and the daughter repeats her mother's name aloud. Here the idea is apparently that the mother takes on herself some of the pain which has to be endured by the daughter, and the repetition of her name by the daughter will cause the goddess of childbirth to hasten the period of delivery in order to terminate the unjust sufferings of the mother for which the goddess has become responsible. The mother's name exerts pressure or influence on the goddess who is at the time occupied with the daughter or perhaps sojourning in her body.

11. Treatment of the mother

If a child is born in the morning they will give the mother a little sugar and cocoanut to eat in the evening, but if it is born in the evening they will give her nothing till next morning. Milk is given only sparingly as it is supposed to produce coughing. The main idea of treatment in childbirth is to prevent either the mother or child from taking cold or chill, this being the principal danger to which they are thought to be exposed. The door of the birth chamber is therefore kept shut and a fire is continually burning in it night and day. The woman is not bathed for several days, and the atmosphere and general insanitary conditions can better be imagined than described. With the same end of preventing cold they feed the mother on a hot liquid produced by cooking thirty-six ingredients together. Most of these are considered to have the quality of producing heat or warmth in the body, and the following are a few of them: Pepper, ginger, azgan (a condiment), turmeric, nutmeg, ajwain (aniseed), dates, almonds, raisins, cocoanut, wild singara or water-nut, cumin, chironji, [234] the gum of the babul [235] or khair, [236] asafoetida, borax, saffron, clarified butter and sugar. The mixture cannot be prepared for less than two rupees and the woman is fed on it for five days beginning from the second day after birth, if the family can afford the expense.

12. Protecting the lives of children

If the mother's milk runs dry, they use the dried bodies of the little fish caught in the shallow water of fields and tanks, and sometimes supposed to have fallen down with the rain. They are boiled in a little water and the fish and water are given to the woman to consume. Here the idea is apparently that as the fish has the quality of liquidness because it lives in water, so by eating it this will be communicated to the breasts and the milk will flow again. If a woman's children die, then the next time she is in labour they bring a goat all of one colour. When the birth of the child takes place and it falls from the womb on to the ground no one must touch it, but the goat, which should if possible be of the same sex as the child, is taken and passed over the child twenty-one times. Then they take the goat and the after-birth to a cemetery and here cut the goat's throat by the halal rite and bury it with the after-birth. The idea is thus that the goat's life is a substitute for that of the child. By being passed over the child it takes the child's evil destiny upon itself, and the burial in a cemetery causes the goat to resemble a human being, while the after-birth communicates to it some part of the life of the child. If a mother is afraid her child will die, she sells it for a few cowries to another woman. Of course the sale is only nominal, but the woman who has purchased the child takes a special interest in it, and at the naming or other ceremony she will give it a jewel or such other present as she can afford. Thus she considers that the fictitious sale has had some effect and that she has acquired a certain interest in the child.

13. Infantile diseases

If a baby, especially a girl, has much hair on its body, they make a cake of gram-flour and rub it with sesamum oil all over the body, and this is supposed to remove the hair.

If a child's skin dries up and it pines away, they think that an owl has taken away a cloth stained by the child when it was hung out to dry. The remedy is to obtain the liver of an owl and hang it round the child's neck.

For jaundice they get the flesh of a yellow snake which appears in the rains, and of the rohu fish which has yellowish scales, and hang them to its neck; or they get a verse of the Koran written out by a Maulvi or Muhammadan priest and use this as an amulet; or they catch a small frog alive, tie it up in a yellow cloth and hang it to the child's neck by a blue thread until it dies. For tetanus the jaws are branded outside and a little musk is placed on the mother's breast so that the child may drink it with the milk. When the child begins to cut its teeth they put honey on the gums and think that this will make the teeth slip out early as the honey is smooth and slippery. But as the child licks the gums when the honey is on them they fear that this may cause the teeth to grow broad and crooked like the tongue. Another device is to pass a piece of gold round the child's gums. If they want the child to have pretty teeth its maternal uncle threads a number of grains of rice on a piece of string and hangs them round its neck, so that the teeth may grow like the rice. If the child's navel is swollen, the maternal uncle will go out for a walk and on his return place his turban over the navel. For averting the evil eye the liver of the Indian badger is worn in an amulet, this badger being supposed to haunt cemeteries and feed on corpses; some hairs of a bear also form a very favourite amulet, or a tiger's claws set in silver, or the tail of a lizard enclosed in lac and made into a ring.

14. Religion. Valmiki

The religion of the sweepers has been described at length by Mr. Greeven and Mr. Crooke. It centres round the worship of two saints, Lalbeg or Bale Shah and Balnek or Balmik, who is really the huntsman Valmiki, the reputed author of the Ramayana. Balmik was originally a low-caste hunter called Ratnakar, and when he could not get game he was accustomed to rob and kill travellers. But one day he met Brahma and wished to kill him; but he could not raise his club against Brahma, and the god spoke and convinced him of his sins, directing him to repeat the name of Rama until he should be purified of them. But the hunter's heart was so evil that he could not pronounce the divine name, and instead he repeated 'Mara, Mara' (struck, struck), but in the end by repetition this came to the same thing. Mr. Greeven's account continues: "As a small spark of fire burneth up a heap of cotton, so the word Rama cleaneth a man of all his sins. So the words 'Ram, Ram,' were taught unto Ratnakar who ever repeated them for sixty thousand years at the self-same spot with a heart sincere. All his skin was eaten up by the white ants. Only the skeleton remained. Mud had been heaped over the body and grass had grown up, yet within the mound of mud the saint was still repeating the name of Rama. After sixty thousand years Brahma returned. No man could he see, yet he heard the voice of Ram, Ram, rising from the mound of mud. Then Brahma bethought him that the saint was beneath. He besought Indra to pour down rain and to wash away the mud. Indra complied with his request and the rain washed away the mud. The saint came forth. Nought save bones remained. Brahma called aloud to the saint. When the saint beheld him he prostrated himself and spake: 'Thou hast taught me the words "Ram, Ram," which have cleansed away all my sins.' Then spake Brahma: 'Hitherto thou wast Ratnakar. From to-day thy name shall be Valmiki (from valmik, an ant-hill). Now do thou compose a Ramayana in seven parts, containing the deeds and exploits of Rama.'" Valmiki had been or afterwards became a sweeper and was known as 'cooker of dog's food' (Swapach), a name applied to sweepers [237], who have adopted him as their eponymous ancestor and patron saint.

15. Lalbeg

Lalbeg, who is still more widely venerated, is considered to have been Ghazi Miyan, the nephew of Sultan Muhammad of Ghazni, and a saint much worshipped in the Punjab. Many legends are told of Lalbeg, and his worship is described by Mr. Greeven as follows: [238] "The ritual of Lalbeg is conducted in the presence of the whole brotherhood, as a rule at the festival of the Diwali and on other occasions when special business arises. The time for worship is after sunset and if possible at midnight. His shrine consists of a mud platform surrounded by steps, with four little turrets at the corners and a spire in the centre, in which is placed a lamp filled with clarified butter and containing a wick of twisted tow. Incense is thrown into the flame and offerings of cakes and sweetmeats are made. A lighted huqqa is placed before the altar and as soon as the smoke rises it is understood that a whiff has been drawn by the hero." A cock is offered to Lalbeg at the Dasahra festival. When a man is believed to have been affected by the evil eye they wave a broom in front of the sufferer muttering the name of the saint. In the Damoh District the guru or priest who is the successor of Lalbeg comes from the Punjab every year or two. He is richly clad and is followed by a sweeper carrying an umbrella. Other Hindus say that his teaching is that no one who is not a Lalbegi can go to heaven, but those on whom the dust raised by a Lalbegi sweeping settles acquire some modicum of virtue. Similarly Mr. Greeven remarks: [239] "Sweepers by no means endorse the humble opinion entertained with respect to them; for they allude to castes such as Kunbis and Chamars as petty (chhota), while a common anecdote is related to the effect that a Lalbegi, when asked whether Muhammadans could obtain salvation, replied: 'I never heard of it, but perhaps they might slip in behind Lalbeg.'"

16. Adoption of foreign religions

On the whole the religion of the Lalbegis appears to be monotheistic and of a sufficiently elevated character, resembling that of the Kabirpanthis and other reforming sects. Its claim to the exclusive possession of the way of salvation is a method of revolt against the menial and debased position of the caste. Similarly many sweepers have become Muhammadans and Sikhs with the same end in view, as stated by Mr. Greeven: [240] "As may be readily imagined, the scavengers are merely in name the disciples of Nanak Shah, professing in fact to be his followers just as they are prepared at a moment's notice to become Christians or Muhammadans. Their object is, of course, merely to acquire a status which may elevate them above the utter degradation of their caste. The acquaintance of most of them with the doctrines of Nanak Shah is at zero. They know little and care less about his rules of life, habitually disregarding, for instance, the prohibitions against smoking and hair-cutting. In fact, a scavenger at Benares no more becomes a Sikh by taking Nanak Shah's motto than he becomes a Christian by wearing a round hat and a pair of trousers." It was probably with a similar leaning towards the more liberal religion that the Lalbegis, though themselves Hindus, adopted a Muhammadan for their tutelary saint. In the Punjab Muhammadan sweepers who have given up eating carrion and refuse to remove night-soil rank higher than the others, and are known as Musalli. [241] And in Saugor the Muhammadans allow the sweepers to come into a mosque and to stand at the back, whereas, of course, they cannot approach a Hindu temple. Again in Bengal it is stated, "The Dom is regarded with both disgust and fear by all classes of Hindus, not only on account of his habits being abhorrent and abominable, but also because he is believed to have no humane or kindly feelings"; and further, "It is universally believed that Doms do not bury or burn their dead, but dismember the corpse at night like the inhabitants of Thibet, placing the fragments in a pot and sinking them in the nearest river or reservoir. This horrid idea probably originated from the old Hindu law, which compelled the Doms to bury their dead at night." [242] It is not astonishing that the sweepers prefer a religion whose followers will treat them somewhat more kindly. Another Muhammadan saint revered by the sweepers of Saugor is one Zahir Pir. At the fasts in Chait and Kunwar (March and September) they tie cocoanuts wrapped in cloth to the top of a long bamboo, and marching to the tomb of Zahir Pir make offerings of cakes and sweetmeats. Before starting for his day's work the sweeper does obeisance to his basket and broom.

17. Social status

The sweeper stands at the very bottom of the social ladder of Hinduism. He is considered to be the representative of the Chandala of Manu, [243] who was said to be descended of a Sudra father and a Brahman woman. "It was ordained that the Chandala should live without the town; his sole wealth should be dogs and asses; his clothes should consist of the cerecloths of the dead; his dishes should be broken pots and his ornaments rusty iron. No one who regarded his duties should hold intercourse with the Chandalas and they should marry only among themselves. By day they might roam about for the purposes of work, but should be distinguished by the badges of the Raja, and should carry out the corpse of any one who died without kindred. They should always be employed to slay those who by the law were sentenced to be put to death, and they might take the clothes of the slain, their beds and their ornaments." Elsewhere the Chandala is said to rank in impurity with the town boar, the dog, a woman during her monthly illness and a eunuch, none of whom must a Brahman allow to see him when eating. [244] Like the Chandala, the sweeper cannot be touched, and he himself acquiesces in this and walks apart. In large towns he sometimes carries a kite's wing in his turban to show his caste, or goes aloof saying pois, which is equivalent to a warning. When the sweeper is in company he will efface himself as far as possible behind other people. He is known by his basket and broom, and men of other castes will not carry these articles lest they should be mistaken for a sweeper. The sweeper's broom is made of bamboo, whereas the ordinary house-broom is made of date-palm leaves. The house-broom is considered sacred as the implement of Lakshmi used in cleaning the house. No one should tread upon or touch it with his foot. The sweeper's broom is a powerful agent for curing the evil eye, and mothers get him to come and wave it up and down in front of a sick child for this purpose. Nevertheless it is lucky to see a sweeper in the morning, especially if he has his basket with him. In Gujarat Mr. Bhimbhai Kirparam writes of him: "Though he is held to be lower and more unclean, the Bhangia is viewed with kindlier feelings than the Dhed (Mahar). To meet the basket-bearing Bhangia is lucky, and the Bhangia's blessing is valued. Even now if a Government officer goes into a Bhangia hamlet the men with hands raised in blessing say: 'May your rule last for ever.'" A sweeper will eat the leavings of other people, but he will not eat in their houses; he will take the food away to his own house. It is related that on one occasion a sweeper accompanied a marriage party of Lodhis (cultivators), and the Lodhi who was the host was anxious that all should share his hospitality and asked the sweeper to eat in his house; [245] but he repeatedly refused, until finally the Lodhi gave him a she-buffalo to induce him to eat, so that it might not be said that any one had declined to share in his feast. No other caste, of course, will accept food or water from a sweeper, and only a Chamar (tanner) will take a chilam or clay pipe-bowl from his hand. The sweeper will eat carrion and the flesh of almost all animals, including snakes, lizards, crocodiles and tigers, and also the leavings of food of almost any caste. Mr. Greeven remarks: [246] "Only Lalbegis and Rawats eat food left by Europeans, but all eat food left either by Hindus or Muhammadans; the Sheikh Mehtars as Muhammadans alone are circumcised and reject pig's flesh. Each subcaste eats uncooked food with all the others, but cooked food alone." From Betul it is reported that the Mehtars there will not accept food, water or tobacco from a Kayasth, and will not allow one to enter their houses.

18. Occupation

Sweeping and scavenging in the streets and in private houses are the traditional occupations of the caste, but they have others. In Bombay they serve as night watchmen, town-criers, drummers, trumpeters and hangmen. Formerly the office of hangman was confined to sweepers, but now many low-caste prisoners are willing to undertake it for the sake of the privilege of smoking tobacco in jail which it confers. In Mirzapur when a Dom hangman is tying a rope round the neck of a criminal he shouts out, 'Dohai Maharani, Dohai Sarkar, Dohai Judge Sahib,' or 'Hail Great Queen! Hail Government! Hail Judge Sahib!' in order to shelter himself under their authority and escape any guilt attaching to the death. [247] In the Central Provinces the hangman was accompanied by four or five other sweepers of the caste panchayat the idea being perhaps that his act should be condoned by their presence and approval and he should escape guilt. In order to free the executioner from blame the prisoner would also say: "Dohai Sarkar ke, Dohai Kampani ke; jaisa maine khun kiya waisa apne khun ko pahunchha" or "Hail to the Government and the Company; since I caused the death of another, now I am come to my own death"; and all the Panches said, 'Ram, Ram.' The hangman received ten rupees as his fee, and of this five rupees were given to the caste for a feast and an offering to Lalbeg to expiate his sin. In Bundelkhand sweepers are employed as grooms by the Lodhis, and may put everything on to the horse except a saddle-cloth. They are also the village musicians, and some of them play on the rustic flute called shahnai at weddings, and receive their food all the time that the ceremony lasts. Sweepers are, as a rule, to be found only in large villages, as in small ones there is no work for them. The caste is none too numerous in the Central Provinces, and in villages the sweeper is often not available when wanted for cleaning the streets. The Chamars of Bundelkhand will not remove the corpses of a cat or a dog or a squirrel, and a sweeper must be obtained for the purpose. These three animals are in a manner holy, and it is considered a sin to kill any one of them. But their corpses are unclean. A Chamar also refuses to touch the corpse of a donkey, but a Kumhar (potter) will sometimes do this; if he declines a sweeper must be fetched. When a sweeper has to enter a house in order to take out the body of an animal, it is cleaned and whitewashed after he has been in. In Hoshangabad an objection appears to be felt to the entry of a sweeper by the door, as it is stated that a ladder is placed for him, so that he presumably climbs through a window. Or where there are no windows it is possible that the ladder may protect the sacred threshold from contact with his feet. The sweeper also attends at funerals and assists to prepare the pyre; he receives the winding-sheet when this is not burnt or buried with the corpse, and the copper coins which are left on the ground as purchase-money for the site of the grave. In Bombay in rich families the winding-sheet is often a worked shawl costing from fifty to a hundred rupees. [248] When a Hindu widow breaks her bangles after her husband's death, she gives them, including one or two whole ones, to a Bhangia woman. [249] A letter announcing a death is always carried by a sweeper. [250] In Bengal a funeral could not be held without the presence of a Dom, whose functions are described by Mr. Sherring [251] as follows: "On the arrival of the dead body at the place of cremation, which in Benares is at the basis of one of the steep stairs or ghats, called the Burning-Ghat, leading down from the streets above to the bed of the river Ganges, the Dom supplies five logs of wood, which he lays in order upon the ground, the rest of the wood being given by the family of the deceased. When the pile is ready for burning a handful of lighted straw is brought by the Dom, and is taken from him and applied by one of the chief members of the family to the wood. The Dom is the only person who can furnish the light for the purpose; and if for any reason no Dom is available, great delay and inconvenience are apt to arise. The Dom exacts his fee for three things, namely, first for the five logs, secondly for the bunch of straw, and thirdly for the light."

19. Occupation (continued)

During an eclipse the sweepers reap a good harvest; for it is believed that Rahu, the demon who devours the sun and moon and thus causes an eclipse, was either a sweeper or the deity of the sweepers, and alms given to them at this time will appease him and cause him to let the luminaries go. Or, according to another account, the sun and moon are in Rahu's debt, and he comes and duns them, and this is the eclipse; and the alms given to sweepers are a means of paying the debt. In Gujarat as soon as the darkening sets in the Bhangis go about shouting, 'Garhandan, Vastradan, Rupadan,' or 'Gifts for the eclipse, gifts of clothes, gifts of silver.' [252] The sweepers are no doubt derived from the primitive or Dravidian tribes, and, as has been seen, they also practise the art of making bamboo mats and baskets, being known as Bansphor in Bombay on this account. In the Punjab the Chuhras are a very numerous caste, being exceeded only by the Jats, Rajputs and Brahmans. Only a small proportion of them naturally find employment as scavengers, and the remainder are agricultural labourers, and together with the vagrants and gipsies are the hereditary workers in grass and reeds. [253] They are closely connected with the Dhanuks, a caste of hunters, fowlers and village watchmen, being of nearly the same status. [254] And Dhanuk, again, is in some localities a complimentary term for a Basor or bamboo-worker. It has been seen that Valmiki, the patron saint of the sweepers, was a low-caste hunter, and this gives some reason for the supposition that the primary occupations of the Chuhras and Bhangis were hunting and working in grass and bamboo. In one of the legends of the sweeper saint Balmik or Valmiki given by Mr. Greeven, [255] Balmik was the youngest of the five Pandava brothers, and was persuaded by the others to remove the body of a calf which had died in their courtyard. But after he had done so they refused to touch him, so he went into the wilderness with the body; and when he did not know how to feed himself the carcase started into life and gave him milk until he was full grown, when it died again of its own accord. Balmik burst into tears, not knowing how he was to live henceforward, but a voice cried from heaven saying, "Of the sinews (of the calf's body) do thou tie winnows (sup), and of the caul do thou plait sieves (chalni)." Balmik obeyed, and by his handiwork gained the name of Supaj or the maker of winnowing-fans. These are natural occupations of the non-Aryan forest tribes, and are now practised by the Gonds.


Meo, Mewati.—The Muhammadan branch of the Mina tribe belonging to the country of Mewat in Rajputana which is comprised in the Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur States and the British District of Gurgaon. A few Meos were returned from the Hoshangabad and Nimar Districts in 1911, but it is doubtful whether any are settled here, as they may be wandering criminals. The origin of the Meo is discussed in the article on the Mina tribe, but some interesting remarks on them by Mr. Channing and Major Powlett in the Rajputana Gazetteer may be reproduced here. Mr. Channing writes: [256]

"The tribe, which has been known in Hindustan according to the Kutub Tawarikh for 850 years, was originally Hindu and became Muhammadan. Their origin is obscure. They themselves claim descent from the Rajput races of Jadon, Kachhwaha and Tuar, and they may possibly have some Rajput blood in their veins; but they are probably, like many other similar tribes, a combination from ruling and other various stocks and sources, and there is reason to believe them very nearly allied with the Minas, who are certainly a tribe of the same structure and species. The Meos have twelve clans or pals, the first six of which are identical in name and claim the same descent as the first six clans of the Minas. Intermarriage between them both was the rule until the time of Akbar, when owing to an affray at the marriage of a Meo with a Mina the custom was discontinued. Finally, their mode of life is or was similar, as both tribes were once notoriously predatory. It is probable that the original Meos were supplemented by converts to Islam from other castes. It is said that the tribe were conquered and converted in the eleventh century by Masud, son of Amir Salar and grandson of Sultan Mahmud Subaktagin on the mother's side, the general of the forces of Mahmud of Ghazni. Masud is still venerated by the Meos, and they swear by his name. They have a mixture of Hindu and Muhammadan customs. They practise circumcision, nikah [257] and the burial of the dead. They make pilgrimages to the tomb of Masud in Bahraich in Oudh, and consider the oath taken on his banner the most binding. They also make pilgrimages to Muhammadan shrines in India, but never perform the Haj. Of Hindu customs they observe the Holi or Diwali; their marriages are never arranged in the same got or sept; and they permit daughters to inherit. They call their children indiscriminately by both Muhammadan and Hindu names. They are almost entirely uneducated, but have bards and musicians to whom they make large presents. These sing songs known as Ratwai, which are commonly on pastoral and agricultural subjects. The Meos are given to the use of intoxicating drinks, and are very superstitious and have great faith in omens. The dress of the men and women resembles that of the Hindus. Infanticide was formerly common among them, but it is said to have entirely died out. They were also formerly robbers by avocation; and though they have improved they are still noted cattle-lifters."

In another description of them by Major Powlett it is stated that, besides worshipping Hindu gods and keeping Hindu festivals, they employ a Brahman to write the Pili Chhitthi or yellow note fixing the date of a marriage. They call themselves by Hindu names with the exception of Ram; and Singh is a frequent affix, though not so common as Khan. On the Amawas or monthly conjunction of the sun and moon, Meos, in common with Hindu Ahirs and Gujars, cease from labour; and when they make a well the first proceeding is to erect a chabutra (platform) to Bhaironji or Hanuman. However, when plunder was to be obtained they have often shown little respect for Hindu shrines and temples; and when the sanctity of a threatened place has been urged, the retort has been, 'Tum to Deo, Ham Meo' or 'You may be a Deo (God), but I am a Meo.'

Meos do not marry in their pal or clan, but they are lax about forming connections with women of other castes, whose children they receive into the community. As already stated, Brahmans take part in the formalities preceding a marriage, but the ceremony itself is performed by a Kazi. As agriculturists Meos are inferior to their Hindu neighbours. The point in which they chiefly fail is in working their wells, for which they lack patience. Their women, whom they do not confine, will, it is said, do more field-work than the men; indeed, one often finds women at work in the crops when the men are lying down. Like the women of low Hindu castes they tattoo their bodies, a practice disapproved by Musalmans in general. Abul Fazl writes that the Meos were in his time famous runners, and one thousand of them were employed by Akbar as carriers of the post.


1. The Minas locally termed Deswa

Mina, Deswali, Maina.—A well-known caste of Rajputana which is found in the Central Provinces in the Hoshangabad, Nimar and Saugor Districts. About 8000 persons of the caste were returned in 1911. The proper name for them is Mina, but here they are generally known as Deswali, a term which they probably prefer, as that of Mina is too notorious. A large part of the population of the northern Districts is recruited from Bundelkhand and Marwar, and these tracts are therefore often known among them as 'Desh' or native country. The term Deswali is applied to groups of many castes coming from Bundelkhand, and has apparently been specially appropriated as an alias by the Minas. The caste are sometimes known in Hoshangabad as Maina, which Colonel Tod states to be the name of the highest division of the Minas. The designation of Pardeshi or 'foreigner' is also given to them in some localities. The Deswalis came to Harda about A.D. 1750, being invited by the Maratha Amil or governor, who gave one family a grant of three villages. They thus gained a position of some dignity, and this reaching the ears of their brothers in Jaipur they also came and settled all over the District. [258] In view of the history and character of the Minas, of which some account will be given, it should be first stated that under the regime of British law and order most of the Deswalis of Hoshangabad have settled down into steady and honest agriculturists.

2. Historical notice of the Mina tribe

The Minas were a famous robber tribe of the country of Mewat in Rajputana, comprised in the Alwar and Bharatpur States and the British District of Gurgaon. [259] They are also found in large numbers in Jaipur State, which was formerly held by them. The Meos and Minas are now considered to be branches of one tribe, the former being at least nominally Muhammadans by religion and the latter Hindus. A favourite story for recitation at their feasts is that of Darya Khan Meo and Sasibadani Mini, a pair of lovers whose marriage led to a quarrel between the tribes to which they belonged, in the time of Akbar. This dispute caused the cessation of the practice of intermarriage between Meos and Minas which had formerly obtained. Both the Meos and Minas are divided into twelve large clans called pal, the word pal meaning, according to Colonel Tod, 'a defile in a valley suitable for cultivation or defence.' In a sandy desert like Rajputana the valleys of streams might be expected to be the only favourable tracts for settlement, and the name perhaps therefore is a record of the process by which the colonies of Minas in these isolated patches of culturable land developed into exogamous clans marrying with each other. The Meos have similarly twelve pals, and the names of six of these are identical with those of the Minas. [260] The names of the pals are taken from those of Rajput clans, [261] but the recorded lists differ, and there are now many other gots or septs outside the pals. The Minas seem originally to have been an aboriginal or pre-Aryan tribe of Rajputana, where they are still found in considerable numbers. The Raja of Jaipur was formerly marked on the forehead with blood taken from the great toe of a Mina on the occasion of his installation. Colonel Tod records that the Amber or Jaipur State was founded by one Dholesai in A.D. 967 after he had slaughtered large numbers of the Minas by treachery. And in his time the Minas still possessed large immunities and privileges in the Jaipur State. When the Rajputs settled in force in Rajputana, reducing the Minas to subjection, illicit connections would naturally arise on a large scale between the invaders and the women of the conquered country. For even when the Rajputs only came as small isolated parties of adventurers, as into the Central Provinces, we find traces of such connections in the survival of castes or subcastes of mixed descent from them and the indigenous tribes. It follows therefore that where they occupied the country and settled on the soil the process would be still more common. Accordingly it is generally recognised that the Minas are a caste of the most mixed and impure descent, and it has sometimes been supposed that they were themselves a branch of the Rajputs. In the Punjab when one woman accuses another of illicit intercourse she is said 'Mina dena,' or to designate her as a Mina. [262] Further it is stated [263] that "The Minas are of two classes, the Zamindari or agricultural and the Chaukidari or watchmen. These Chaukidari Minas are the famous marauders." The office of village watchman was commonly held by members of the aboriginal tribes, and these too furnished the criminal classes. Another piece of evidence of the Dravidian origin of the tribe is the fact that there exists even now a group of Dhedia or impure Minas who do not refuse to eat cow's flesh. The Chaukidari Minas, dispossessed of their land, resorted to the hills, and here they developed into a community of thieves and bandits recruited from all the outcastes of society. Sir A. Lyall wrote [264] of the caste as "a Cave of Adullam which has stood open for centuries. With them a captured woman is solemnly admitted by a form of adoption into one circle of affinity, in order that she may be lawfully married into another." With the conquest of northern India by the Muhammadans, many of the Minas, being bound by no ties to Hinduism, might be expected to embrace the new and actively proselytising religion, while their robber bands would receive fugitive Muhammadans as recruits as well as Hindus. Thus probably arose a Musalman branch of the community, who afterwards became separately designated as the Meos. As already seen, the Meos and Minas intermarried for a time, but subsequently ceased to do so. As might be expected, the form of Islam professed by the Meos is of a very bastard order, and Major Powlett's account of it is reproduced in a short separate notice of that tribe.

3. Their robberies

The crimes and daring of the Minas have obtained for them a considerable place in history. A Muhammadan historian, Zia-ud-din Bami, wrote of the tribe: [265] "At night they were accustomed to come prowling into the city of Delhi, giving all kinds of trouble and depriving people of their rest, and they plundered the country houses in the neighbourhood of the city. Their daring was carried to such an extent that the western gates of the city were shut at afternoon prayer and no one dared to leave it after that hour, whether he travelled as a pilgrim or with the display of a king. At afternoon prayer they would often come to the Sarhouy, and assaulting the water-carriers and girls who were fetching water they would strip them and carry off their clothes. In turn they were treated by the Muhammadan rulers with the most merciless cruelty. Some were thrown under the feet of elephants, others were cut in halves with knives, and others again were flayed alive from head to foot." Regular campaigns against them were undertaken by the Muhammadans, [266] as in later times British forces had to be despatched to subdue the Pindaris. Babar on his arrival at Agra described the Mewati leader Raja Hasan Khan as 'the chief agitator in all these confusions and insurrections'; and Firishta mentions two terrible slaughters of Mewatis in A.D. 1259 and 1265. In 1857 Major Powlett records that in Alwar they assembled and burnt the State ricks and carried off cattle, though they did not succeed in plundering any towns or villages there. In British territory they sacked Firozpur and other villages, and when a British force came to restore order many were hanged. Sir D. Ibbetson wrote of them in the Punjab: [267]

"The Minas are the boldest of our criminal classes. Their headquarters so far as the Punjab is concerned are in the village of Shahjahanpur, attached to the Gurgaon District but surrounded on all sides by Rajputana territory. There they until lately defied our police and even resisted them with armed force. Their enterprises are on a large scale, and they are always prepared to use violence if necessary. In Marwar they are armed with small bows which do considerable execution. They travel great distances in gangs of from twelve to twenty men, practising robbery and dacoity even as far as the Deccan. The gangs usually start off immediately after the Diwali feast and often remain absent the whole year. They have agents in all the large cities of Rajputana and the Deccan who give them information, and they are in league with the carrying castes of Marwar. After a successful foray they offer one-tenth of the proceeds at the shrine of Kali Devi."

Like other criminals they were very superstitious, and Colonel Tod records that the partridge and the maloli or wagtail were their chief birds of omen. A partridge clamouring on the left when he commenced a foray was a certain presage of success to a Mina. Similarly, Mr. Kennedy notes that the finding of a dried goatskin, either whole or in pieces, among the effects of a suspected criminal is said to be an infallible indication of his identity as a Mina, the flesh of the goat's tongue being indispensable in connection with the taking of omens. In Jaipur the Minas were employed as guards, as a method of protection against their fellows, for whose misdeeds they were held responsible. Rent-free lands were given to them, and they were always employed to escort treasure. Here they became the most faithful and trusted of the Raja's servants. It is related that on one occasion a Mina sentinel at the palace had received charge of a basket of oranges. A friend of the same tribe came to him and asked to be shown the palace, which he had never seen. The sentinel agreed and took him over the palace, but when his back was turned the friend stole one orange from the basket. Subsequently the sentinel counted the oranges and found one short; on this he ran after his friend and taxed him with the theft, which being admitted, the Mina said that he had been made to betray his trust and had become dishonoured, and drawing his sword cut off his friend's head. The ancient treasure of Jaipur or Amber was, according to tradition, kept in a secret cave in the hills under a body of Mina guards who alone knew the hiding-place, and would only permit any part of it to be withdrawn for a great emergency. Nor would they accept the orders of the Raja alone, but required the consent of the heads of the twelve principal noble families of Amber, branches of the royal house, before they would give up any part of the treasure. The criminal Minas are said to inhabit a tract of country about sixty-five miles long and forty broad, stretching from Shahpur forty miles north of Jaipur to Guraora in Gurgaon on the Rohtak border. The popular idea of the Mina, Mr. Crooke remarks, [268] is quite in accordance with his historical character; his niggardliness is shown in the saying, 'The Meo will not give his daughter in marriage till he gets a mortar full of silver'; his pugnacity is expressed in, 'The Meo's son begins to avenge his feuds when he is twelve years old'; and his toughness in, 'Never be sure that a Meo is dead till you see the third-day funeral ceremony performed.'

4. The Deswalis of the Central Provinces

As already stated, the Deswalis of the Central Provinces have abandoned the wild life of their ancestors and settled down as respectable cultivators. Only a few particulars about them need be recorded. Girls are usually married before they are twelve years old and boys at sixteen to twenty. A sum of Rs. 24 is commonly paid for the bride, and a higher amount up to Rs. 71 may be given, but this is the maximum, and if the father of the girl takes more he will be fined by the caste and made to refund the balance. A triangle with some wooden models of birds is placed on the marriage-shed and the bridegroom strikes at these with a stick; formerly he fired a gun at them to indicate that he was a hunter by profession. A Brahman is employed to celebrate the marriage. A widow is usually taken by her late husband's younger brother, but if there be none the elder brother may marry her, contrary to the general rule among Hindus. The object is to keep the woman in the family, as wives are costly. If she is unwilling to marry her brother-in-law, however, no compulsion is exercised and she may wed another man. Divorce is allowed, and in Rajputana is very simply effected. If tempers do not assimilate or other causes prompt them to part, the husband tears a shred from his turban which he gives to his wife, and with this simple bill of divorce, placing two jars of water on her head, she takes whatever path she pleases, and the first man who chooses to ease her of her load becomes her future lord. 'Jehur nikala,' 'Took the jar and went forth,' is a common saying among the mountaineers of Merwara. [269]

The dead are cremated, the corpse of a man being wrapped in a white and that of a woman in a coloured cloth. They have no shraddh ceremony, but mourn for the dead only on the last day of Kartik (October), when they offer water and burn incense. Deswalis employ the Parsai or village Brahman to officiate at their ceremonies, but owing to their mixed origin they rank below the cultivating castes, and Brahmans will not take water from them. In Jaipur, however, Major Powlett says, their position is higher. They are, as already seen, the trusted guards of the palace and treasury, and Rajputs will accept food and water from their hands. This concession is no doubt due to the familiarity induced by living together for a long period, and parallel instances of it can be given, as that of the Panwars and Gonds in the Central Provinces. The Deswalis eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from fowls and pork. When they are invited to a feast they do not take their own brass vessels with them, but drink out of earthen pots supplied by the host, having the liquor poured on to their hands held to the mouth to avoid actual contact with the vessel. This is a Marwari custom and the Jats also have it. Before the commencement of the feast the guests wait until food has been given to as many beggars as like to attend. In Saugor the food served consists only of rice and pulse without vegetables or other dishes. It is said that a Mina will not eat salt in the house of another man, because he considers that to do so would establish the bond of Nimak-khai or salt-eating between them, and he would be debarred for ever from robbing that man or breaking into his house. The guests need not sit down together as among other Hindus, but may take their food in batches; so that the necessity of awaiting the arrival of every guest before commencing the feast is avoided. The Deswalis will not kill a black-buck nor eat the flesh of one, but they assign no reason for this and do not now worship the animal. The rule is probably, however, a totemistic survival. The men may be known by their manly gait and harsh tone of voice, as well as by a peculiar method of tying the turban; the women have a special ornament called rakhdi on the forehead and do not wear spangles or toe-rings. They are said also to despise ornaments of the baser metals as brass and pewter. They are tattooed with dots on the face to set off the fair-coloured skin by contrast, in the same manner as patches were carried on the face in Europe in the eighteenth century. A tattoo dot on a fair face is likened by a Hindu poet to a bee sitting on a half-opened mango.


Mirasi.—A Muhammadan caste of singers, minstrels and genealogists, of which a few members are found in the Central Provinces. General Cunningham says that they are the bards and singers of the Meos or Mewatis at all their marriages and festivals. [270] Mr. Crooke is of opinion that they are undoubtedly an offshoot of the great Dom caste who are little better than sweepers. [271] The word Mirasi is derived from the Arabic miras, inheritance, and its signification is supposed to be that the Mirasis are the hereditary bards and singers of the lower castes, as the Bhat is of the Rajputs. Miras as a word may, however, be used of any hereditary right, as that of the village headman or Karnam, or even those of the village watchman or temple dancing-girl, all of whom may have a mirasi right to fees or perquisites or plots of land held as remuneration for service. [272] The Mirasis are also known as Pakhawaji, from the pakhawaj or timbrel which they play; as Kawwal or one who speaks fluently, that is a professional, story-teller; and as Kalawant or one possessed of art or skill. The Mirasis are most numerous in the Punjab, where they number a quarter of a million. Sir D. Ibbetson says of them: [273] "The social position of the Mirasi as of all minstrel castes is exceedingly low, but he attends at weddings and similar occasions to recite genealogies. Moreover there are grades even among Mirasis. The outcaste tribes have their Mirasis, who though they do not eat with their clients and merely render their professional services are considered impure by the Mirasis of the higher castes. The Mirasi is generally a hereditary servant like the Bhat, and is notorious for his exactions, which he makes under the threat of lampooning the ancestors of him from whom he demands fees. The Mirasi is almost always a Muhammadan." They are said to have been converted to Islam in response to the request of the poet Amir Khusru, who lived in the reign of Ala-ud-din Khilji (A.D. 1295). The Mirasi has two functions, the men being musicians, storytellers and genealogists, while the women dance and sing, but only before the ladies of the zenana. Mr. Nesfield [274] says that they are sometimes regularly entertained as jesters to help these ladies to kill time and reconcile them to their domestic prisons. As they do not dance before men they are reputed to be chaste, as no woman who is not a prostitute will dance in the presence of men, though singing and playing are not equally condemned. The implements of the Mirasis are generally the small drum (dholak), the cymbals (majira) and the gourd lute (kingri). [275]

Mochi [276]

List of Paragraphs

1. General notice. 2. Legends of origin. 3. Art among the Hindus. 4. Antagonism of Mochis and Chamars. 5. Exogamous groups. 6. Social customs. 7. Shoes.

1. General notice

Mochi, Muchi, Jingar, Jirayat, Jildgar, Chitrakar, Chitevari, Musabir.—The occupational caste of saddlers and cobblers. In 1911 about 4000 Mochis and 2000 Jingars were returned from the Central Provinces and Berar, the former residing principally in the Hindustani and the latter in the Marathi-speaking Districts. The name is derived from the Sanskrit mochika and the Hindustani mojna, to fold, and the common name mojah for socks and stockings is from the same root (Platts). By origin the Mochis are no doubt an offshoot of the Chamar caste, but they now generally disclaim the connection. Mr. Nesfield observes [277] that, "The industry of tanning is preparatory to and lower than that of cobblery, and hence the caste of Chamar ranks decidedly below that of Mochi. The ordinary Hindu does not consider the touch of a Mochi so impure as that of the Chamar, and there is a Hindu proverb to the effect that 'Dried or prepared hide is the same thing as cloth,' whereas the touch of the raw hide before it has been tanned by the Chamar is considered a pollution. The Mochi does not eat carrion like the Chamar, nor does he eat swine's flesh; nor does his wife ever practise the much-loathed art of midwifery." In the Central Provinces, as in northern India, the caste may be considered to have two branches, the lower one consisting of the Mochis who make and cobble shoes and are admittedly descended from Chamars; while the better-class men either make saddles and harness, when they are known as Jingar; or bind books, when they are called Jildgar; or paint and make clay idols, when they are given the designation either of Chitrakar, Chitevari or Murtikar. In Berar some Jingars have taken up the finer kinds of iron-work, such as mending guns, and are known as Jirayat. All these are at great pains to dissociate themselves from the Chamar caste. They call themselves Thakur or Rajput and have exogamous sections the names of which are identical with those of the Rajput septs. The same people have assumed the name of Rishi in Bengal, and, according to a story related by Sir H. Risley, claim to be debased Brahmans; while in the United Provinces Mr. Crooke considers them to be connected with the Srivastab Kayasths, with whom they intermarry and agree in manners and customs. The fact that in the three Provinces these workers in leather claim descent from three separate high castes is an interesting instance of the trouble which the lower-class Hindus will take to obtain a slight increase in social consideration; but the very diversity of the accounts given induces the belief that all Mochis were originally sprung from the Chamars. In Bombay, again, Mr. Enthoven [278] writes that the caste prefers to style itself Arya Somavansi Kshatriya or Aryan Kshatriyas of the Moon division; while they have all the regular Brahmanical gotras as Bharadwaja, Vasishtha, Gautam and so on.

2. Legends of origin

The following interesting legends as to the origin of the caste adduced by them in support of their Brahmanical descent are related [279] by Sir H. Risley: "One of the Praja-pati, or mind-born sons of Brahma, was in the habit of providing the flesh of cows and clarified butter as a burnt-offering (Ahuti) to the gods. It was then the custom to eat a portion of the sacrifice, restore the victim to life, and drive it into the forest. On one occasion the Praja-pati failed to resuscitate the sacrificial animal, owing to his wife, who was pregnant at the time, having clandestinely made away with a portion. Alarmed at this he summoned all the other Praja-patis, and they sought by divination to discover the cause of the failure. At last they ascertained what had occurred, and as a punishment the wife was cursed and expelled from their society. The child which she bore was the first Mochi or tanner, and from that time forth, mankind being deprived of the power of reanimating cattle slaughtered for food, the pious abandoned the practice of killing kine altogether. Another story is that Muchiram, the ancestor of the caste, was born from the sweat of Brahma while dancing. He chanced to offend the irritable sage Durvasa, who sent a pretty Brahman widow to allure him into a breach of chastity. Muchiram accosted the widow as mother, and refused to have anything to do with her; but Durvasa used the miraculous power he had acquired by penance to render the widow pregnant so that the innocent Muchiram was made an outcaste on suspicion. From her two sons are descended the two main branches of the caste in Bengal."

3. Art among the Hindus

In the Central Provinces the term Mochi is often used for the whole caste in the northern Districts, and Jingar in the Maratha country; while the Chitrakars or painters form a separate group. Though the trades of cobbler and book-binder are now widely separated in civilised countries, the connection between them is apparent since both work in leather. It is not at first sight clear why the painter should be of the same caste, but the reason is perhaps that his brushes are made of the hair of animals, and this is also regarded as impure, as being a part of the hide. If such be the case a senseless caste rule of ceremonial impurity has prevented the art of painting from being cultivated by the Hindus; and the comparatively poor development of their music may perhaps be ascribed to the same cause, since the use of the sinews of animals for stringed instruments would also prevent the educated classes from learning to play them. Thus no stringed instruments are permitted to be used in temples, but only the gong, cymbal, horn and conch-shell. And this rule would greatly discourage the cultivation of music, which art, like all the others, has usually served in its early period as an appanage to religious services. It has been held that instruments were originally employed at temples and shrines in order to scare away evil spirits by their noise while the god was being fed or worshipped, and not for the purpose of calling the worshippers together; since noise is a recognised means of driving away spirits, probably in consequence of its effect in frightening wild animals. It is for the same end that music is essential at weddings, especially during the night when the spirits are more potent; and this is the primary object of the continuous discordant din which the Hindus consider a necessary accompaniment to a wedding.

Except for this ceremonial strictness Hinduism should have been favourable to the development of both painting and sculpture, as being a polytheistic religion. In the early stages of society religion and art are intimately connected, as is shown by the fact that images and paintings are at first nearly always of deities or sacred persons or animals, and it is only after a considerable period of development that secular subjects are treated. Similarly architecture is in its commencement found to be applied solely to sacred buildings, as temples and churches, and is only gradually diverted to secular buildings. The figures sculptured by the Mochis are usually images for temples, and those who practise this art are called Murtikar, from murti, an image or idol; and the pictures of the Chitrakars were until recently all of deities or divine animals, though secular paintings may now occasionally be met with. And the uneducated believers in a polytheistic religion regularly take the image for the deity himself, at first scarcely conceiving of the one apart from the other. Thus some Bharewas or brass-workers say that they dare not make metal images of the gods, because they are afraid that the badness of their handiwork might arouse the wrath of the gods and move them to take revenge. The surmise might in fact be almost justifiable that the end to which figures of men and animals were first drawn or painted, or modelled in clay or metal was that they might be worshipped as images of the deities, the savage mind not distinguishing at all between an image of the god and the god himself. For this reason monotheistic religions would be severely antagonistic to the arts, and such is in fact the case. Thus the Muhammadan commentary, the Hadith, has a verse: "Woe to him who has painted a living creature! At the day of the last judgment the persons represented by him will come out of the tomb and join themselves to him to demand of him a soul. Then that man, unable to give life to his work, will burn in eternal flames." And in Judaism the familiar prohibition of the Second Commandment appears to be directed to the same end.

Hindu sculpture has indeed been fairly prolific, but is not generally considered to have attained to any degree of artistic merit. Since sculpture is mainly concerned with the human form it seems clear that an appreciation of the beauty of muscular strength and the symmetrical development of the limbs is an essential preliminary to success in this art; and such a feeling can only arise among a people who set much store on feats of bodily strength and agility. This has never been the character of the Hindus, whose religion encourages asceticism and mortification of the body, and points to mental self-absorption and detachment from worldly cares and exercises as the highest type of virtue.

4. Antagonism of Mochis and Chamars

As a natural result of the pretensions to nobility made by the Mochis, there is no love lost between them and the Chamars; and the latter allege that the Mochis have stolen their rampi, the knife with which they cut leather. On this account the Chamars will neither take water to drink from the Mochis nor mend their shoes, and will not even permit them to try on a new pair of shoes until they have paid the price set on them; for they say that the Mochis are half-bred Chamars and therefore cannot be permitted to defile the shoes of a true Chamar by trying them on; but when they have been paid for, the maker has severed connection with them, and the use to which they may be put no longer affects him.

5. Exogamous groups

In the Central Provinces the Mochis are said to have forty exogamous sections or gotras, of which the bulk are named after all the well-known Rajput clans, while two agree with those of the Chamars. And they have also an equal number of kheras or groups named after villages. The limits of the two groups seem to be identical; thus members of the sept named after the Kachhwaha Rajputs say that their khera or village name is Mungavali in Gwalior; those of the Ghangere sept give Chanderi as their khera, the Sitawat sept Dhamoni in Saugor, the Didoria Chhatarpur, the Narele Narwar, and so on. The names of the village groups have now been generally forgotten and they are said to have no influence on marriage, which is regulated by the Rajput sept names; but it seems probable that the kheras were the original divisions and the Rajput gotras have been more recently adopted in support of the claims already noticed.

6. Social customs

The Mochis have adopted the customs of the higher Hindu castes. A man may not take a wife from his own gotra, his mother's gotra or from a family into which a girl from his own family has married. They usually marry their daughters in childhood and employ Brahmans in their ceremonies, and no degradation attaches to these latter for serving as their priests. In minor domestic ceremonies for which the Brahman is not engaged his place is taken by a relative, who is called sawasa, and is either the sister's husband, daughter's husband, or father's sister's husband, of the head of the family. They permit widow-remarriage and divorce, and in the southern Districts effect a divorce by laying a pestle between the wife and husband. They burn their dead and observe mourning for the usual period. After a death they will not again put on a coloured head-cloth until some relative sets it on their heads for the first time on the expiry of the period of mourning. They revere the ordinary Hindu deities, and like the Chamars they have a family god, known as Mair, whose representation in the shape of a lump of clay is enshrined within the house and worshipped at marriages and deaths. In Saugor he is said to be the collective representative of the spirits of their ancestors. In some localities they eat flesh and drink liquor, but in others abstain from both. Among the Hindus the Mochis rank considerably higher than the Chamars; their touch does not defile and they are permitted to enter temples and take part in religious ceremonies. The name of a Saugor Mochi is remembered who became a good drawer and painter and was held in much esteem at the Peshwa's court. In northern India about half the Mochis are Muhammadans, but in the Central Provinces they are all Hindus.

7. Shoes

In view of the fact that many of the Mochis were Muhammadans and that slippers are mainly a Muhammadan article of attire Buchanan thought it probable that they were brought into India by the invaders, the Hindus having previously been content with sandals and wooden shoes. He wrote: "Many Hindus now use leather slippers, but some adhere to the proper custom of wearing sandals, which have wooden soles, a strap of leather to pass over the instep, and a wooden or horn peg with a button on its top. The foot is passed through the strap and the peg is placed between two of the toes." [280] It is certain, however, that leather shoes and slippers were known to the Hindus from a fairly early period: "The episode related in the Ramayana of Bharata placing on the vacant throne of Ajodhya a pair of Rama's slippers, which he worshipped during the latter's protracted exile, shows that shoes were important articles of wear and worthy of attention. In Manu and the Mahabharata slippers are also mentioned and the time and mode of putting them on pointed out. The Vishnu Purana enjoins all who wish to protect their persons never to be without leather shoes. Manu in one place expresses great repugnance to stepping into another's shoes and peremptorily forbids it, and the Puranas recommend the use of shoes when walking out of the house, particularly in thorny places and on hot sand." [281] Thus shoes were certainly worn by the Hindus before Muhammadan times, though loose slippers may have been brought into fashion by the latter. And it seems possible that the Mochis may have adopted Islam, partly to obtain the patronage of the followers of the new religion, and also to escape from the degraded position to which their profession of leather-working was relegated by Hinduism and to dissociate themselves from the Chamars.


Mowar.—A small caste of cultivators found in the Chhattisgarh country, in the Raipur and Bilaspur Districts and the Raigarh State. They numbered 2500 persons in 1901. The derivation of the name is obscure, but they themselves say that it is derived from Mow or Mowagarh, a town in the Jhansi District of the United Provinces, and they also call themselves Mahuwar or the inhabitants of Mow. They say that the Raja of Mowagarh, under whom they were serving, desired to marry the daughter of one of their Sirdars (headmen), because she was extremely beautiful, but her father refused, and when the Raja persisted in his desire they left the place in a body and came to Ratanpur in the time of Raja Bimbaji, in A.D. 1770. A Bilaspur writer states that the Mowars are an offshoot from the Rajwar Rajputs of Sarguja State. Colonel Dalton writes [282] of the Rajwar Rajputs of Sarguja and other adjoining States that they are peaceably disposed cultivators, who declare themselves to be fallen Kshatriyas; but he remarks later that they are probably aborigines, as they do not conform to Hindu customs, and they are skilled in a dance called Chailo, which he considers to be of Dravidian origin. In another place he remarks that the Rajwars of Bengal admit that they are derived from the miscegenation of Kurmis and Kols. The fact that the Mowars of Sarangarh make a representation of a bow and arrow on their documents, instead of signing their names, affords some support to the theory that they are probably a branch of one of the aboriginal tribes. The name may be derived from mowa, a radish, as the Mowars of Bilaspur are engaged principally in garden cultivation.

The Mowars have no subcastes, but are divided into a number of exogamous groups, principally of a totemistic nature. Those of the Surajha or sun sept throw away their earthen pots on the occasion of an eclipse, and those of the Hataia or elephant sept will not ride on an elephant and worship that animal at the Dasahra festival. Members of other septs named after the cobra, the crow, the monkey and the tiger will not kill their totem animal, and when they see the dead body of one of its species they throw away their earthen cooking-pots as a sign of mourning. The marriage of persons belonging to the same sept and also that of first cousins is prohibited. If an unmarried girl is seduced by a man of the caste she becomes his wife and is not expelled, but the caste will not eat food cooked by her. But a girl going wrong with an outsider is finally cast out. The marriage and other social customs resemble those of the Kurmis. The caste employ Brahmans at their ceremonies and have a great regard for them. Their gurus or spiritual preceptors are Bairagis and Gosains. They eat the flesh of clean animals and a few drink liquor, but most of them abstain from it. Their women are tattooed on the arms and hands with figures intended to represent deer, flies and other animals and insects. The caste say that they were formerly employed as soldiers under the native chiefs, but they are now all cultivators. They grow all kinds of grain and vegetables, except turmeric and onions. A few of them are landowners, and the majority tenants. Very few are constrained to labour for hire. In appearance the men are generally strong and healthy, and of a dark complexion.


1. Origin of the caste

Murha.—A Dravidian, caste of navvies and labourers found in Jubbulpore and the adjoining Districts, to the number of about 1500 persons. The name Murha has been held to show that the caste are connected with the Munda tribe. The Murhas, however, call themselves also Khare Bind Kewat and Lunia or Nunia (salt-maker), and in Jubbulpore they give these two names as subdivisions of the caste. And these names indicate that the caste are an offshoot of the large Bind tribe of Bengal and northern India, though in parts of the Central Provinces they have probably been recruited from the Kols or Mundas. Sir H. Risley [283] records a story related by the Binds to the effect that they and the Nunias were formerly one, and that the existing Nunias are descended from a Bind who consented to dig a grave for a Muhammadan king and was put out of caste for doing so. And he remarks that the Binds may be a true primitive tribe and the Nunias a functional group differentiated from them by taking to the manufacture of earth salt. This explanation of the relationship of the Binds and Nunias seems almost certainly correct. In the United Provinces the Binds are divided into the Khare and Dhusia or first and second subcastes, and the Khare Binds also call themselves Kewat. [284] And the Murhas of Narsinghpur call themselves Khare Bind Kewats, though the other Kewats repudiate all connection with them. There seems thus to be no doubt that the Murhas of these Provinces are another offshoot of the Bind tribe like the Nunias, who have taken up the profession of navvies and earthworkers and thus become a separate caste. Mr. Hira Lal notes that the Narsinghpur District contains a village Nonia, which is inhabited solely by Murhas who call themselves Khare Bind Kewat. As the village is no doubt named Nonia or Nunia after them, we thus have an instance of all the three designations being applied to the same set of persons. The Murhas say that they came into Narsinghpur from Rewah, and they still speak the Bagheli dialect, though the current vernacular of the locality is Bundeli. The Binds themselves derive their name from the Vindhya (Bindhya) hills. [285] They relate that a traveller passing by the Vindhya hills heard a strange flute-like sound coming out of a clump of bamboos. He cut a shoot and took from it a fleshy substance, which afterwards grew into a man, the supposed ancestor of the Binds. In Mandla the Murhas say that the difference between themselves and the Nunias is that the latter make field-embankments and other earthwork, while the Murhas work in stone and build bridges. According to their own story they were brought to Mandla from their home in Eastern Oudh more than ten generations ago by a Gond king of the Garha-Mandla dynasty for the purpose of building his fort or castle. He gave them two villages for their maintenance which they have now lost. The caste has, however, probably received some local accretions and in Mandla some Murhas appear to be Kols; members of this tribe are generally above the average in bodily strength and are in considerable request for employment on earth- and stone-work.

2. Marriage customs

In Narsinghpur the Murhas appear to have no regular exogamous divisions. Some of them remember the names of their kheros or ancestral villages and do not marry with families belonging to the same khero, but this is not a regular rule of the caste. Generally speaking, persons descended through males from a common ancestor do not intermarry so long as they remember the relationship. In Mandla they have five divisions, of which the highest is Purbia. The name Purbia (Eastern) is commonly applied in the Central Provinces to persons coming from Oudh, and in this case the Purbia Murhas are probably the latest immigrants from home and have a superior status on this account. Up till recently they practised hypergamy with the other groups, taking daughters from them in marriage, but not giving their daughters to them. This rule is now, however, breaking down on account of the difficulty they find in getting their daughters married. The children of brothers and sisters may marry in some places, but in others neither they nor their children may marry with each other. Anta Santa or the exchange of girls between two families is permitted. The bridegroom's father has to pay from five to twenty rupees as a chari or bride-price to the girl's father, which sum is regarded as the remuneration of the latter for having brought up his daughter. In the case of the daughter of a headman the bride-price is sometimes as high as Rs. 150. In Damoh a curious survival of marriage by capture remains. The bridegroom's party give a ram or he-goat to the bride's party and these take it to their shed, cut its head off and hang it by the side of the kham or marriage-pole. The brother-in-law of the bridegroom or of his father then sallies forth to bring back the head of the animal, but is opposed by the women of the bride's party, who belabour him and his friends with sticks, brooms and rolling-pins. But in the end the head is always taken away. The binding portion of the marriage is the bhanwar or walking round the sacred post. When the bride is leaving for her husband's house the women of her party take seven balls of flour with burning wicks thrust into them, and place them in a winnowing-fan. They wave this round the bride's head and then throw the balls and after them the fan over the litter in which the bride is seated. The bridegroom's party must catch the fan, and if they let it fall to the ground they are much laughed at for their clumsiness. When the pair arrive at the bridegroom's house, the fan is again waved over their heads; and a cloth is spread before the house, on which seven burning wicks are placed like the previous ones. The bride walks quickly over the cloth to the house and the bridegroom must keep pace with her, picking up the burning flour balls as he goes. When the pair arrive at the house the bridegroom's sister shuts the door and will not open it until she is given a present. Divorce and the remarriage of widows are permitted.

3. Funeral rites

The caste worship the ordinary Hindu deities. Well-to-do members burn their dead and the poorer ones bury them. The corpse is usually placed with the head to the south as is the custom among the primitive tribes, but in some localities the Hindu fashion of laying the head to the north has been adopted. Two pice are thrown down by the grave or burning-ghat to buy the site, and these are taken by the sweeper. The ashes are collected on the third day and thrown into a river. The usual period of mourning is only three days, but it is sometimes extended to nine days when the chief mourner is unable to feed the caste-fellows on the third day, and the feast may in case of necessity be postponed to any time within six months of the death. The chief mourner puts on a new white cloth and eats nothing but rice and pulse without salt.

4. Occupation

The caste are employed on all kinds of earthwork, such as building walls, excavating trenches, and making embankments in fields. Their trade implements consist of a pickaxe, a basket, and a thin wooden hod to fill the earth into the basket. The Murha invokes these as follows: "Oh! my lord the basket, my lord the pickaxe shaped like a snake, and my lady the hod, come and eat up those who do not pay me for my work!" The Murhas are strict in their rules about food and will not accept cooked food even from a Brahman, but notwithstanding this, their social position is so low that not even a sweeper would take food from them. The caste eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from fowls, pork and beef. They engage Brahmans on the occasion of births and marriages, but not usually for funerals. The women tattoo their bodies after marriage, and the charge for this should always be paid by the maternal uncle's wife, the paternal aunt, or some other similar relation of the girl. The fact that among most Hindus a girl must be tattooed before leaving for her husband's house, and that the cost of the operation must always be paid for by her own family, seems to indicate that tattooing was formerly a rite of puberty for the female sex. A wife must not mention the name of her husband or of any person who stands in the relation of father, mother, uncle or aunt to him. Parents do not call their eldest son by his proper name, but by some pet name. Women are impure for five days during menstruation and are not allowed to cook for that period. The Murhas have a caste panchayat or committee, the head of which is known as Patel or Mukhia, the office being hereditary. He receives a part of all fines levied for the commission of social offences. In appearance the caste are dark and short of stature, and have some resemblance to the Kols.

5. Women's song

In conclusion, I reproduce one of the songs which the women sing as they are carrying the basketfuls of earth or stones at their work; in the original each line consists of two parts, the last words of which sometimes rhyme with each other:

Our mother Nerbudda is very kind; blow, wind, we are hot with labour. He said to the Maina: Go, carry my message to my love. The red ants climb up the mango-tree; and the daughter follows her mother's way. I have no money to give her even lime and tobacco; I am poor, so how can I tell her of my love. The boat has gone down on the flood of the Nerbudda; the fisherwoman is weeping for her husband. She has no bangles on her arm nor necklace on her neck; she has no beauty, but seeks her lovers throughout the village. Bread from the girdle, curry from the lota; let us go, beloved, the moon is shining. The leaves of gram have been plucked from the plants; I think much on Dadaria, but she does not come. The love of a stranger is as a dream; think not of him, beloved, he cannot be yours. Twelve has struck and it is thirteen time (past the time of labour); oh, overseer, let your poor labourers go. The betel-leaf is pressed in the mouth (and gives pleasure); attractive eyes delight the heart. Catechu, areca and black cloves; my heart's secret troubles me in my dreams. The Nerbudda came and swept away the rubbish (from the works); fly away, bees, do not perch on my cloth. The colour does not come on the wheat; her youth is passing, but she cannot yet drape her cloth on her body. Like the sight of rain-drops splashing on the ground; so beautiful is she to look upon. It rains and the hidden streams in the woodland are filled (and come to view); hide as long as you may, some day you must be seen. The mahua flowers are falling from the trees on the hill; leave me your cloth so that I may know you will return. He went to the bazar and brought back a cocoanut; it is green without, but insects are eating the core. He went to the hill and cut strings of bamboo; you cannot drape your cloth, you have wound it round your body. The coral necklace hangs on the peg; if you become the second wife of my husband I shall give you clothes. She put on her clothes and went to the forest; she met her lover and said you are welcome to me. He went to the bazar and bought potatoes; but if he had loved me he would have brought me liquor. The fish in the river are on the look-out; the Brahman's daughter is bathing with her hair down. The arhar-stumps stand in the field; I loved one of another caste, but must give him up. He ate betel and coloured his teeth; his beloved came from without and knew him. The ploughmen are gone to the field; my clever writer is gone to the court-house. The Nerbudda flows like a bent bow; a beautiful youth is standing in court. [286] The broken areca-nuts lie in the forest; when a man comes to misfortune no one will help him. The broken areca-nuts cannot be mended; and two hearts which are sundered cannot be joined. Ask me for five rupees and I will give you twenty-five; but I will not give my lover for the whole world. I will put bangles on my arm; when the other wife sees me she will die of jealousy. Break the bangles which your husband gave you; and put others on your wrists in my name. O my lover, give me bangles; make me armlets, for I am content with you. My lover went to the bazar at Lakhanpur; but he has not brought me even a choli [287] that I liked. I had gone to the bazar and bought fish; she is so ugly that the flies would not settle on her.


Nagasia, Naksia.—A primitive tribe found principally in the Chota Nagpur States. They now number 16,000 persons in the Central Provinces, being returned almost entirely from Jashpur and Sarguja. The census returns are, however, liable to be inaccurate as the Nagasias frequently call themselves Kisan, a term which is also applied to the Oraons. The Nagasias say that they are the true Kisans whereas the Oraons are only so by occupation. The Oraons, on the other hand, call the Nagasias Kisada. The tribe derive their name from the Nag or cobra, and they say that somebody left an infant in the forest of Setambu and a cobra came and spread its hood over the child to protect him from the rays of the sun. Some Mundas happened to pass by and on seeing this curious sight they thought the child must be destined to greatness, so they took him home and made him their king, calling him Nagasia, and from him the tribe are descended. The episode of the snake is, of course, a stock legend related by many tribes, but the story appears to indicate that the Nagasias are an offshoot of the Mundas; and this hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Nagbasia is often used as an alternative name for the Mundas by their Hindu neighbours. The term Nagbasia is supposed to mean the original settlers (basia) in Nag (Chota Nagpur).

The tribe are divided into the Telha, Dhuria and Senduria groups. The Telhas are so called because at the marriage ceremony they mark the forehead of the bride with tel (oil), while the Dhurias instead of oil use dust (dhur) taken from the sole of the bridegroom's foot, and the Sendurias like most Hindu castes employ vermilion (sendur) for this purpose. The Telhas and Dhurias marry with each other, but not with the Sendurias, who consider themselves to be superior to the others and use the term Nagbansia or 'Descendants of the Snake' as their tribal name. The Telha and Dhuria women do not wear glass bangles on their arms but only bracelets of brass, while the Sendurias wear glass bangles and also armlets above the elbow. Telha women do not wear nose-rings or tattoo their bodies, while the Sendurias do both. The Telhas say that the tattooing needle and vermilion, which they formerly employed in their marriages, were stolen from them by Wagdeo or the tiger god. So they hit upon sesamum oil as a substitute, which must be pressed for ceremonial purposes in a bamboo basket by unmarried boys using a plough-yoke. This is probably, Mr. Hira Lal remarks, merely the primitive method of extracting oil, prior to the invention of the Teli's ghani or oil-press; and the practice is an instance of the common rule that articles employed in ceremonial and religious rites should be prepared by the ancient and primitive methods which for ordinary purposes have been superseded by more recent labour-saving inventions.


1. The tribe and its subdivisions

Nahal, Nihal. [288]—A forest tribe who are probably a mixture of Bhils and Korkus. In 1911 they numbered 12,000 persons, of whom 8000 belonged to the Hoshangabad, Nimar and Betul Districts, and nearly 4000 to Berar. They were classed at the census as a subtribe of Korkus. According to one story they are descended from a Bhil father and a Korku mother, and the writer of the Khandesh Gazetteer calls them the most savage of the Bhils. But in the Central Provinces their family or sept names are the same as those of the Korkus, and they speak the Korku language. Mr. Kitts [289] says that the Korkus who first went to Berar found the Nahals in possession of the Melghat hills. Gradually the latter caste lost their power and became the village drudges of the former. He adds that the Nahals were fast losing their language, and the younger generation spoke only Korku. The two tribes were very friendly, and the Nahals acknowledged the superior position of the Korkus. This, if it accurately represents the state of things prevailing for a long period, and was not merely an incidental feature of their relative position at the time Mr. Kitts' observations were made, would tend to show that the Nahals were the older tribe and had been subjected by the Korkus, just as the Korkus themselves and the Baigas have given way to the Gonds. Mr. Crosthwaite also states that the Nahal is the drudge of the Korku and belongs to a race which is supposed to have been glorious before the Korku star arose, and which is now fast dying out. In any case there is no doubt that the Nahals are a very mixed tribe, as they will even now admit into the community Gonds, Korkus and nearly all the Hindu castes, though in some localities they will not eat from the other tribes and the lower Hindu castes and therefore refuse to admit them. There are, moreover, two subdivisions of the caste called Korku and Marathi Nahals respectively. The latter are more Hinduised than the former and disclaim any connection with the Korkus. The Nahals have totemistic exogamous septs. Those of the Kasa sept worship a tortoise and also a bell-metal plate, which is their family god. They never eat off a bell-metal plate except on one day in the month of Magh (January), when they worship it. The members of the Nagbel sept worship the betel-vine or 'snake-creeper,' and refrain from chewing betel-leaves, and they also worship the Nag or cobra and do not kill it, thus having a sort of double totem. The Bhawaria sept, named after the bhaunr or black bee, do not eat honey, and if they see a person taking the honey-comb from a nest they will run away. The Khadia sept worship the spirits of their ancestors enshrined in a heap of stones (khad), or according to another account they worship a snake which sits on a heap of pebbles. The Surja sept worship Surya or the sun by offering him a fowl in the month of Pus (December-January), and some members of the sept keep a fast every Sunday. The Saoner sept worship the san or flax plant.

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