The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume IV of IV - Kumhar-Yemkala
by R.V. Russell
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2. Marriage

Marriage is prohibited between members of the same sept, but there are no other restrictions and first cousins may marry. Both sexes usually marry when adult, and sexual license before wedlock is tolerated. A Brahman is employed only for fixing the date of the ceremony. The principal part of the marriage is the knotting together of the bride's and bridegroom's clothes on two successive days. They also gamble with tamarind seeds, and it is considered a lucky union if the bridegroom wins. A bride-price is usually paid consisting of Rs. 1-4 to Rs. 5 in cash, some grain and a piece of cloth for the bride's mother. The remarriage of widows is allowed, and the couple go five times round a bamboo stick which is held up to represent a spear, the ceremony being called barchhi se bhanwar phirna or the marriage of the spear.

3. Religion

The Nahals worship the forest god called Jharkhandi in the month of Chait, and until this rite has been performed they do not use the leaves or fruits of the palas, [290] aonla [291] or mango trees. When the god is worshipped they collect branches and leaves of these trees and offer cooked food to them and thereafter commence using the new leaves, and the fruit and timber. They also worship the ordinary village godlings. The dead are buried, except in the case of members of the Surja or sun sept, whose corpses are burnt. Cooked food is offered at the grave for four days after the death.

4. Occupation

The Nahals were formerly a community of hill-robbers, 'Nahal, Bhil, Koli' being the phrase generally used in old documents to designate the marauding bands of the western Satpura hills. The Raja of Jitgarh and Mohkot in Nimar has a long account in his genealogy of a treacherous massacre of a whole tribe of Nahals by his ancestor in Akbar's time, in recognition of which the Jitgarh pargana was granted to the family. Mr. Kitts speaks of the Nahals of Berar as having once been much addicted to cattle-lifting, and this propensity still exists in a minor degree in the Central Provinces, accentuated probably by the fact that a considerable number of Nahals follow the occupation of graziers. Some of them are also village watchmen, and another special avocation of theirs is the collection of the oil of the marking-nut tree (Semecarpus anacardium). This is to some extent a dangerous trade, as the oil causes swellings on the body, besides staining the skin and leaving a peculiar odour. The workers wrap a fourfold layer of cloth round their fingers with ashes between each fold, while the rest of the body is also protected by cloth when gathering the nuts and pounding them to extract the oil. At the end of the day's work powdered tamarind and ghi are rubbed on the whole body. The oil is a stimulant, and is given to women after delivery and to persons suffering from rheumatism.

5. Social status

The social status of the Nahals is very low and they eat the flesh of almost all animals, while those who graze cattle eat beef. Cow-killing is not regarded as an offence. They are also dirty and do not bathe for weeks together. To get maggots in a wound is, however, regarded as a grave offence, and the sufferer is put out of the village and has to live alone until he recovers.


List of Paragraphs

1. Structure of the caste. 2. Marriage and other customs. 3. Occupation. 4. Other services. 5. Duties at weddings. 6. The barber-surgeon. 7. A barber at the court of Oudh. 8. Character and position of the barber. 9. Beliefs about hair. 10. Hair of kings and priests. 11. The beard. 12. Significance of removal of the hair and shaving the head. 13. Shaving the head by mourners. 14. Hair offerings. 15. Keeping hair unshorn during a vow. 16. Disposal of cut hair and nails. 17. Superstitions about shaving the hair. 18. Reasons why the hair was considered the source of strength.

1. Structure of the caste

Nai, Nao, Mhali, Hajjam, Bhanari, Mangala. [292]—The occupational caste of barbers. The name is said to be derived from the Sanskrit napita according to some a corruption of snapitri, one who bathes. In Bundelkhand he is also known as Khawas, which was a title for the attendant on a grandee; and Birtiya, or 'He that gets his maintenance (vritti) from his constituents.' [293] Mhali is the Marathi name for the caste, Bhandari the Uriya name and Mangala the Telugu name. The caste numbered nearly 190,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911, being distributed over all Districts. Various legends of the usual type are related of its origin, but, as Sir. H. Risley observes, it is no doubt wholly of a functional character. The subcastes in the Central Provinces entirely bear out this view, as they are very numerous and principally of the territorial type: Telange of the Telugu country, Marathe, Pardeshi or northerners, Jharia or those of the forest country of the Wainganga Valley, Bandhaiya or those of Bandhogarh, Barade of Berar, Bundelkhandi, Marwari, Mathuria from Mathura, Gadhwaria from Garha near Jubbulpore, Lanjia from Lanji in Balaghat, Malwi from Malwa, Nimari from Nimar, Deccane, Gujarati, and so on. Twenty-six divisions in all are given. The exogamous groups are also of different types, some of them being named after Brahman saints, as Gautam, Kashyap, Kosil, Sandil and Bharadwaj; others after Rajput clans as Surajvansi, Jaduvansi, Solanki and Panwar; while others are titular or totemistic, as Naik, leader; Seth, banker; Rawat, chief; Nagesh, cobra; Bagh, a tiger; Bhadrawa, a fish.

2. Marriage and other customs

The exogamous groups are known as khero or kul, and marriage between members of the same group is prohibited. Girls are usually wedded between the ages of eight and twelve and boys between fifteen and twenty. A girl who goes wrong before marriage is finally expelled from the caste. The wedding ceremony follows the ritual prevalent in the locality as described in the articles on Kurmi and Kunbi. At an ordinary wedding the expenses on the girl's side amount to about Rs. 150, and on the boy's to Rs. 200. The remarriage of widows is permitted. In the northern Districts the widow may wed the younger brother of her deceased husband, but in the Maratha country she may not be married to any of his relatives. Divorce may be effected at the instance of the husband before the caste committee, and a divorced woman is at liberty to marry again. The Nais worship all the ordinary Hindu deities. On the Dasahra and Diwali festivals they wash and revere their implements, the razor, scissors and nail-pruners. They pay regard to omens. It is unpropitious to sneeze or hear the report of a gun when about to commence any business; and when a man is starting on a journey, if a cat, a squirrel, a hare or a snake should cross the road in front of him he will give it up and return home. The bodies of the dead are usually burnt. In Chhattisgarh the poor throw the corpses of their dead into the Mahanadi, and the bodies of children dying under one year of age were until recently buried in the courtyard of the house. The period of mourning for adults is ten days and for children three days. The chief mourner must take only one meal a day, which he cooks himself until the ceremony of the tenth day is performed.

3. Occupation

"The barber's trade," Mr. Crooke states, [294] "is undoubtedly of great antiquity. In the Veda we read, 'Sharpen us like the razor in the hands of the barber'; and again, 'Driven by the wind, Agni shaves the hair of the earth like the barber shaving a beard.'" In early times they must have enjoyed considerable dignity; Upali the barber was the first propounder of the law of the Buddhist church. The village barber's leather bag contains a small mirror (arsi), a pair of iron pincers (chimta), a leather strap, a comb (kanghi), a piece of cloth about a yard square and some oil in a phial. He shaves the faces, heads and armpits of his customers, and cuts the nails of both their hands and feet. He uses cold water in summer and hot in winter, but no soap, though this has now been introduced in towns. For the poorer cultivators he does a rapid scrape, and this process is called 'asudhal' or a 'tearful shave,' because the person undergoing it is often constrained to weep. The barber acquires the knowledge of his art by practice on the more obliging of his customers, hence the proverb, 'The barber's son learns his trade on the heads of fools.' The village barber is usually paid by a contribution of grain from the cultivators, calculated in some cases according to the number of ploughs of land possessed by each, in others according to the number of adult males in the family. In Saugor he receives 20 lbs. of grain annually for each adult male or 22 1/2 lbs. per plough of land, besides presents of a basket of grain at seed-time and a sheaf at harvest. Cultivators are usually shaved about once a fortnight. In towns the barber's fee may vary from a pice to two annas for a shave, which is, as has been seen, a much more protracted operation with a Hindu than with a European. It is said that Berar is now so rich that even ordinary cultivators can afford to pay the barber two annas (2d.) for a single shave, or the same price as in the suburbs of London.

4. Other services

After he has shaved a client the barber pinches and rubs his arms, presses his fingers together and cracks the joints of each finger, this last action being perhaps meant to avert evil spirits. He also does massage, a very favourite method of treatment in India, and also inexpensive as compared with Europe. For one rupee a month in towns the barber will come and rub a man's legs five or ten minutes every day. Cultivators have their legs rubbed in the sowing season, when the labour is intensely hard owing to the necessity of sowing all the land in a short period. If a man is well-to-do he may have his whole head and body rubbed with scented oil. Landowners have often a barber as a family servant, the office descending from father to son. Such a man will light his master's chilam (pipe-bowl) or huqqa (water-pipe), clean and light lamps, prepare his bed, tell his master stories to send him to sleep, act as escort for the women of the family when they go on a journey and arrange matches for the children. The barber's wife attends on women in child-birth after the days of pollution are over, and rubs oil on the bodies of her clients, pares their nails and paints their feet with red dye at marriages and on other festival occasions.

5. Duties at weddings

The barber has also numerous and important duties [295] in connection with marriages and other festival occasions. He acts as the Brahman's assistant, and to the lower castes, who cannot employ a Brahman, he is himself the matrimonial priest. The important part which he plays in marriage ceremonies has led to his becoming the matchmaker among all respectable castes. He searches for a suitable bride or bridegroom, and is often sent to inspect the other party to a match and report his or her defects to his clients. He may arrange the price or dowry, distribute the invitations and carry the presents from one house to the other. He supplies the leaf-plates and cups which are used at weddings, as the family's stock of metal vessels is usually quite inadequate for the number of guests. The price of these is about 4 annas (4d.) a hundred. He also provides the torans or strings of leaves which are hung over the door of the house and round the marriage-shed. At the feast the barber is present to hand to the guests water, betel-leaf and pipes as they may desire. He also partakes of the food, seated at a short distance from the guests, in the intervals of his service. He lights the lamps and carries the torches during the ceremony. Hence he was known as Masalchi or torch-bearer, a name now applied by Europeans to a menial servant who lights and cleans the lamps and washes the plates after meals. The barber and his wife act as prompters to the bride and bridegroom, and guide them through the complicated ritual of the wedding ceremony, taking the couple on their knees if they are children, and otherwise sitting behind them. The barber has a prescriptive right to receive the clothes in which the bridegroom goes to the bride's house, as on the latter's arrival he is always presented with new clothes by the bride's father. As the bridegroom's clothes may be an ancestral heirloom, a compact is often made to buy them back from the barber, and he may receive as much as Rs. 50 in lieu of them. When the first son is born in a family the barber takes a long bamboo stick, wraps it round with cloth and puts an earthen pot over it and carries this round to the relatives, telling them the good news. He receives a small present from each household.

6. The barber-surgeon

The barber also cleans the ears of his clients and cuts their nails, and is the village surgeon in a small way. He cups and bleeds his patients, applies leeches, takes out teeth and lances boils. In this capacity he is the counterpart of the barber-surgeon of mediaeval Europe. The Hindu physicians are called Baid, and are, as a rule, a class of Brahmans. They derive their knowledge from ancient Sanskrit treatises on medicine, which are considered to have divine authority. Consequently they think it unnecessary to acquire fresh knowledge by experiment and observation, as they suppose the perfect science of medicine to be contained in their sacred books. As these books probably do not describe surgical operations, of which little or nothing was known at the time when they were written, and as surgery involves contact with blood and other impure substances, the Baids do not practise it, and the villagers are left to get on as best they can with the ministrations of the barber. It is interesting to note that a similar state of things appears to have prevailed in Europe. The monks were the early practitioners of medicine and were forbidden to practise surgery, which was thus left to the barber-chirurgeon. The status of the surgeon was thus for long much below that of the physician. [296] The mediaeval barber of Europe kept a bottle of blood in his window, to indicate that he undertook bleeding and the application of leeches, and the coloured bottles in the chemist's window may have been derived from this. It is also said that the barber's pole originally served as a support for the patient to lean on while he was being bled, and those barbers who did the work of bleeding patients painted their poles in variegated red and white stripes to show it.

7. A barber at the court of Oudh

Perhaps the most successful barber known to Indian history was not a Hindu at all, but a Peninsular and Oriental Company's cabin-boy, who became the barber of one of the last kings of Oudh, Nasir-ud-Din, in the early part of the nineteenth century, and rose to the position of a favourite courtier. He was entrusted with the supply of every European article used at court, and by degrees became a regular guest at the royal table, and sat down to take dinner with the king as a matter of right; nor would his majesty taste a bottle of wine opened by any other hands than the barber's. [297] This was, however, a wise precaution as it turned out, since after he had finally been forced to part with the barber the king was poisoned by his own relatives. The barber was also made keeper of the royal menagerie, for which he supplied the animals and their food, and made enormous profits. The following is an account of the presentation of the barber's monthly bill of expenses: [298] "It was after tiffin, or lunch, when we usually retired from the palace until dinner-time at nine o'clock, that the favourite entered with a roll of paper in his hand. In India, long documents, legal and commercial, are usually written, not in books or on successive sheets, but on a long roll, strip being joined to strip for that purpose, and the whole rolled up like a map.

"'Ha, Khan!' said the king, observing him; 'the monthly bill, is it?'

"'It is, your majesty,' was the smiling reply.

"'Come, out with it; let us see the extent. Unroll it, Khan.'

"The king was in a playful humour; and the barber was always in the same mood as the king. He held the end of the roll in his hand, and threw the rest along the floor, allowing it to unroll itself as it retreated. It reached to the other side of the long apartment—a goodly array of items and figures, closely written too. The king wanted it measured. A measure was brought and the bill was found to be four yards and a half long. I glanced at the amount; it was upwards of Rs. 90,000, or L9000!"

The barber, however, encouraged the king in every form of dissipation and excess, until the state of the Oudh court became such a scandal that the king was forced by the British Government to dismiss him. [299] He retired, it was said, with a fortune of L240,000.

8. Character and position of the barber

The barber is also, Mr. Low writes, [300] the scandal-bearer and gossip-monger of the village. His cunning is proverbial, and he is known as Chhattisa from the saying—

Nai hai chhattisa Khai an ka pisa,

or 'A barber has thirty-six talents by which he eats at the expense of others.' His loquacity is shown in the proverb, 'As the crow among birds so the barber among men.' The barber and the professional Brahman are considered to be jealous of their perquisites and unwilling to share with their caste-fellows, and this is exemplified in the proverb, "The barber, the dog and the Brahman, these three snarl at meeting one of their own kind." The joint association of the Brahman priest and the barber with marriages and other ceremonies has led to the saying, "As there are always reeds in a river so there is always a barber with a Brahman." The barber's astuteness is alluded to in the saying, 'Nine barbers are equal to seventy-two tailors.' The fact that it is the barber's duty to carry the lights in marriage processions has led to the proverb, "At the barber's wedding all are gentlemen and it is awkward to have to ask somebody to carry the torch." The point of this is clear, though no English equivalent occurs to the mind. And a similar idea is expressed by 'The barber washes the feet of others but is ashamed to wash his own.' It would appear from these proverbs that the Nai is considered to enjoy a social position somewhat above his deserts. Owing to the nature of his duties, which make him a familiar inmate of the household and bring him into contact with the persons of his high-caste clients, the caste of the Nai is necessarily considered to be a pure one and Brahmans will take water from his hands. But, on the other hand, his calling is that of a village menial and has also some elements of impurity, as in cupping which involves contact with blood, and in cutting the nails and hair of the corpse before cremation. He is thus looked down upon as a menial and also considered as to some extent impure. No member of a cultivating caste would salute a barber first or look upon him as an equal, though Brahmans put them on the same level of ceremonial purity by taking water from both. The barber's loquacity and assurance have been made famous by the Arabian Nights, but they have perhaps been affected by the more strenuous character of life, and his conversation does not flow so freely as it did. Often he now confines himself to approving and adding emphasis to any remarks of the patron and greeting any of his little witticisms with bursts of obsequious laughter. In Madras, Mr. Pandian states, the village barber, like the washerman, is known as the son of the village. If a customer does not pay him his dues, he lies low, and when he has begun to shave the defaulter, engages him in a dispute and says something to excite his anger. The latter will then become abusive to the barber, whom he regards as a menial, and perhaps strike him, and this gives the barber an opportunity to stop shaving him and rush off to lay a complaint at the village court-house, leaving his enemy to proceed home with half his head shaved and thus exposed to general ridicule. [301]

9. Beliefs about hair

Numerous customs appear to indicate that the hair was regarded as the special seat of bodily strength. The Rajput warriors formerly wore their hair long and never cut it, but trained it in locks over their shoulders. Similarly the Maratha soldiers wore their hair long. The Hatkars, a class of Maratha spearmen, might never cut their hair while engaged on military service. A Sikh writer states of Guru Govind, the founder of the militant Sikh confederacy: "He appeared as the tenth Avatar (incarnation of Vishnu). He established the Khalsa, his own sect, and by exhibiting singular energy, leaving the hair on his head, and seizing the scimitar, he smote every wicked person." [302] As is well known, no Sikh may cut his hair, and one of the five marks of the Sikh is the kanga or comb, which he must always carry in order to keep his hair in proper order. A proverb states that 'The origin of a Sikh is in his hair.' [303] The following story, related by Sir J. Malcolm, shows the vital importance attached by the Sikh to his hair and beard: "Three inferior agents of Sikh chiefs were one day in my tent. I was laughing and joking with one of them, a Khalsa Sikh, who said he had been ordered to attend me to Calcutta. Among other subjects of our mirth I rallied him on trusting himself so much in my power. 'Why, what is the worst,' he said, 'that you can do to me?' I passed my hand across my chin, imitating the act of shaving. The man's face was in an instant distorted with rage and his sword half-drawn. 'You are ignorant,' he said to me, 'of the offence you have given; I cannot strike you who are above me, and the friend of my master and the state; but no power,' he added, indicating the Khalsa Sikhs, 'shall save these fellows who dared to smile at your action.' It was with the greatest difficulty and only by the good offices of some Sikh Chiefs that I was able to pacify his wounded honour." [304] These instances appear to show clearly that the Sikhs considered their hair of vital importance; and as fighting was their object in life, it seems most probable that they thought their strength in war was bound up in it. Similarly when the ancient Spartans were on a military expedition purple garments were worn and their hair was carefully decked with wreaths, a thing which was never done at home. [305] And when Leonidas and his three hundred were holding the pass of Thermopylae, and Xerxes sent scouts to ascertain what the Greeks were doing in their camp, the report was that some of them were engaged in gymnastics and warlike exercises, while others were merely sitting and combing their long hair. If the hypothesis already suggested is correct, the Spartan youths so engaged were perhaps not merely adorning themselves for death, but, as they thought, obtaining their full strength for battle. "The custom of keeping the hair unshorn during a dangerous expedition appears to have been observed, at least occasionally, by the Romans. Achilles kept unshorn his yellow hair, because his father had vowed to offer it to the river Sperchius if ever his son came home from the wars beyond the sea." [306]

When the Bhils turned out to fight they let down their long hair prior to beginning the conflict with their bows and arrows. [307] The pirates of Surat, before boarding a ship, drank bhang and hemp-liquor, and when they wore their long hair loose they gave no quarter. [308] The Mundas appear to have formerly worn their hair long and some still do. Those who are converted to Christianity must cut their hair, but a non-Christian Munda must always keep the chundi or pigtail. If the chundi is very long it is sometimes tied up in a knot. [309] Similarly the Oraons wore their hair long like women, gathered in a knot behind, with a wooden or iron comb in it. Those who are Christians can be recognised by the fact that they have cut off their pigtails. A man of the low Pardhi caste of hunters must never have his hair touched by a razor after he has once killed a deer. As already seen, every orthodox Hindu wore till recently a choti or scalp-lock, which should theoretically be as long as a cow's tail. Perhaps the idea was that for those who were not warriors it was sufficient to retain this and have the rest of the head shaved. The choti was never shaved off in mourning for any one but a father. The lower castes of Muhammadans, if they have lost several children, will allow the scalp-lock to grow on the heads of those subsequently born, dedicating it to one of their Muhammadan saints. The Kanjars relate of their heroic ancestor Mana that after he had plunged a bow so deeply into the ground that no one could withdraw it, he was set by the Emperor of Delhi to wrestle against the two most famous Imperial wrestlers. These could not overcome him fairly, so they made a stratagem, and while one provoked him in front the other secretly took hold of his choti behind. When Mana started forward his choti was thus left in the wrestler's hands, and though he conquered the other wrestler, showing him the sky as it is said, the loss of his choti deprived him for ever after of his virtue as a Hindu and in no small degree of his renown as an ancestor. [310] Thus it seems clear that a special virtue attaches to the choti. Before every warlike expedition the people of Minahassa in Celebes used to take the locks of hair of a slain foe and dabble them in boiling water to extract the courage; this infusion of bravery was then drunk by the warriors. [311] In a modern Greek folk-tale a man's strength lies in three golden hairs on his head. When his mother plucks them out, he grows weak and timid and is slain by his enemies. [312] The Red Indian custom of taking the scalp, of a slain enemy and sometimes wearing the scalps at the waist-belt may be due to the same relief.

In Ceram the hair might not be cut because it was the seat of a man's strength; and the Gaboon negroes for the same reason would not allow any of their hair to pass into the possession of a stranger. [313]

10. Hair of kings and priests

If the hair was considered to be the special source of strength and hence frequently of life, that of the kings and priests, in whose existence the primitive tribe believed its own communal life to be bound up, would naturally be a matter of peculiar concern. That it was so has been shown in the Golden Bough. Two hundred years ago the hair and nails of the Mikado of Japan could only be cut when he was asleep. [314] The hair of the Flamen Dialis at Rome could be cut only by a freeman and with a bronze knife, and his hair and nails when cut had to be buried under a lucky tree. [315] The Frankish kings were never allowed to crop their hair; from their childhood upwards they had to keep it unshorn. The hair of the Aztec priests hung down to their hams so that the weight of it became very troublesome; for they might never crop it so long as they lived, or at least till they had been relieved from their office on the score of old age. [316] In the Male Paharia tribe from the time that any one devoted himself to the profession of priest and augur his hair was allowed to grow like that of a Nazarite; his power of divination entirely disappeared if he cut it. [317] Among the Bawarias of India the Bhuva or priest of Devi may not cut or shave his hair under penalty of a fine of Rs. 10. A Parsi priest or Mobed must never be bare-headed and never shave his head or face. [318] Professor Robertson Smith states: "As a diadem is in its origin nothing more than a fillet to confine hair that is worn long, I apprehend that in old times the hair of Hebrew princes like that of a Maori chief, was taboo, and that Absalom's long locks (2 Sam. xiv. 26) were the mark of his political pretensions and not of his vanity. When the hair of a Maori chief was cut, it was collected and buried in a sacred place or hung on a tree; and it is noteworthy that Absalom's hair was cut annually at the end of the year, in the sacred season of pilgrimage, and that it was collected and weighed." [319]

11. The beard

The importance attached by other races to the hair of the head seems among the Muhammadans to have been concentrated specially in the beard. The veneration displayed for the beard in this community is well known. The Prophet ordained that the minimum length of the beard should be the breadth of five fingers. When the beard is turning grey they usually dye it with henna and sometimes with indigo; it may be thought that a grey beard is a sign of weakness. The Prophet said, 'Change the whiteness of your hair, but not with anything black.' It is not clear why black was prohibited. It is said that the first Caliph Abu Bakar was accustomed to dye his beard red with henna, and hence this practice has been adopted by Muhammadans. [320] The custom of shaving the chin is now being adopted by young Muhammadans, but as they get older they still let the beard grow. A very favourite Muhammadan oath is, 'By the beard of the Prophet'; and in Persia if a man thinks another is mocking him he says, 'Do you laugh at my beard?' Neither Hindus nor Muhammadans have any objection to becoming bald, as the head is always covered by the turban in society. But when a man wishes to grow a beard it is a serious drawback if he is unable to do it; and he will then sometimes pluck the young wheat-ears and rub the juice over his cheeks and chin so that he may grow bearded like the wheat. Among the Hindus, Rajputs and Marathas, as well as the Sikhs, commonly wore beards, all of these being military castes. Both the beard and hair were considered to impart an aspect of ferocity to the countenance, and when the Rajputs and Muhammadans were going into battle they combed the hair and trained the beard to project sideways from the face. When a Muhammadan wears a beard he must have hair in the centre of his chin, whereas a Hindu shaves this part. A Muhammadan must have his moustache short so that it may not touch and defile food entering the mouth. It is related that a certain Kazi had a small head and a very long beard; and he had a dream that a man with a small head and a long beard must be a fool. When he woke up he thought this was applicable to himself. As he could not make his head larger he decided to make his beard smaller, and looked for scissors to cut part of it off. But he could not find any scissors, and being in a hurry to shorten his beard he decided to burn away part of it, and set it alight. But the fire consumed the whole of his beard before he could put it out, and he then realised the truth of the dream.

12. Significance of removal of the hair and shaving the head

If the hair was considered to be the source of a man's strength and vigour, the removal of it would involve the loss of this and might be considered especially to debar him from fighting or governing. The instances given from the Golden Bough have shown the fear felt by many people of the consequences of the removal of their hair. The custom of shaving the head might also betoken the renunciation of the world and of the pursuit of arms. This may be the reason why monks shaved the head, a practice which was followed by Buddhist as well as Christian monks. A very clear case is also given by Sir James Frazer: "When the wicked brothers Clotaire and Childebert coveted the kingdom of their dead brother Clodomir, they inveigled into their power their little nephews, the two sons of Clodomir; and having done so, they sent a messenger bearing scissors and a naked sword to the children's grandmother, Queen Clotilde, at Paris. The envoy showed the scissors and the sword to Clotilde, and bade her choose whether the children should be shorn and live, or remain unshorn and die. The proud queen replied that if her grandchildren were not to come to the throne she would rather see them dead than shorn. And murdered they were by their ruthless uncle Clotaire with his own hand." [321] In this case it appears that if their hair was shorn the children could not come to the throne but would be destined to become monks. Similarly, in speaking of the Georgians, Marco Polo remarks that they cut their hair short like churchmen. [322] When a member of the religious order of the Manbhaos is initiated his head is shaved clean by the village barber, and the scalp-lock and moustache must be cut off by his guru or preceptor, this being perhaps the special mark of his renunciation of the world. The scalp-locks are preserved and made into ropes which some of them fasten round their loins. Members of the Hindu orders generally shave their scalp-locks and the head on initiation, probably for the same reason as the Manbhaos. But afterwards they often let the whole of their hair grow long. These men imagine that by the force of their austerities they will obtain divine power, so their religious character appears to be of a different order from monasticism. Perhaps, therefore, they wear their hair long in order to increase their spiritual potency. They themselves now say that they do it in imitation of the god Siva and the ancient ascetics who had long matted locks. The common Hindu practice of shaving the heads of widows may thus be interpreted as a symbol of their complete renunciation of the world and of any idea of remarriage. It was accompanied by numerous other rules designed to make a widow's life a continual penance. This barbarous custom was formerly fairly general, at least among the higher castes, but is rapidly being abandoned except by one or two of the stricter sections of Brahmans. Shaving the head might also be imposed as a punishment. Thus in the time of the reign of the Emperor Chandraguptra Maurya in the fourth century B.C. it is stated that ordinary wounding by mutilation was punished by the corresponding mutilation of the offender, in addition to the amputation of his hand. The crime of giving false evidence was visited with mutilation of the extremities; and in certain unspecified cases, serious offences were punished by the shaving of the offender's hair, a penalty regarded as specially infamous. [323] The cutting off of some or all of the hair is at the present time a common punishment for caste offences. Among the Korkus a man and woman caught in adultery have each a lock of hair cut off. If a Chamar man and woman are detected in the same offence, the heads of both are shaved clean of hair. A Dhimar girl who goes wrong before marriage has a lock of her hair cut off as a penalty, the same being done in several other castes.

13. Shaving the head by mourners

The exact significance which is to be attached to the removal by mourners of their hair after a death is perhaps doubtful. Sir James Frazer shows that the Australian aborigines are accustomed to let their own blood flow on to the corpse of a dead kinsman and to place their cut hair on the corpse. He suggests that in both cases the object is to strengthen the feeble spirit within the corpse and sustain its life, in order that it may be born again. As a development of such a rite the hair might have become an offering to the dead, and later still its removal might become a sacrifice and indication of grief. In this manner the common custom of tearing the hair in token of grief and mourning for the dead would be accounted for. Whether the Hindu custom of shaving the heads of mourners was also originally a sacrifice and offering appears to be uncertain. Professor Robertson Smith considered [324] that in this case the hair is shaved off as a means of removing impurity, and quotes instances from the Bible where lepers and persons defiled by contact with the dead are purified by shaving the hair. [325] As the father of a child is also shaved after its birth, and the shaving must here apparently be a rite of purification, it probably has the same significance in the case of mourners; it is not clear whether any element of sacrifice is also involved. The degree to which the Hindu mourner parts with his hair varies to some extent with the nearness of the relationship, and for females or distant relatives they do not always shave. The mourners are shaved on the last day of the impurity, when presents are given to the Maha-Brahman, and the latter, representing the dead man, is also shaved with them. When a Hindu is at the point of death, before he makes the gifts for the good of his soul the head is shaved with the exception of his choti or scalp-lock, the chin and upper lip. Often the corpse is also shaved after death.

14. Hair offerings

Another case of the hair offering is that made in fulfilment of a vow or at a temple. In this case the hair appears to be a gift-offering which is made to the god as representing the life and strength of the donor; owing to the importance attached to the hair as the source of life and strength, it was a very precious sacrifice. Sir James Frazer also suggests that the hair so given would impart life and strength to the god, of which he stood in need, just as he needed food to nourish him. Among the Hindus it is a common practice to take a child to some well-known temple to have its hair cut for the first time, and to offer the clippings of hair to the deity. If they cannot go to the temple to have the hair cut they have it cut at home, and either preserve the whole hair or a lock of it, until an opportunity occurs to offer it at the temple. In some castes a Brahman is invited at the first cutting of a child's hair, and he repeats texts and blesses the child; the first lock of hair is then cut by the child's maternal uncle, and its head is shaved by the barber. A child's hair is cut in the first, third or fifth year after birth, but not in the second or fourth year. Among the Muhammadans when a child's hair is cut for the first time, or at least on one occasion in its life, the hair should be weighed against silver or gold and the amount distributed in charity. In these cases also it would appear that the hair as a valuable part of the child is offered to the god to obtain his protection for the life of the child. If a woman has no child and desires one, or if she has had children and lost them, she will vow her next child's hair to some god or temple. A small patch known as chench is then left unshorn on the child's head until it can be taken to the temple.

15. Keeping hair unshorn during a vow

It was also the custom to keep the hair unshorn during the performance of a vow. "While his vow lasted a Nazarite might not have his hair cut: 'All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head.' [326] The Egyptians on a journey kept their hair uncut till they returned home. [327] Among the Chatti tribe of the ancient Germans the young warriors never clipped their hair or their beard till they had slain an enemy. Six thousand Saxons once swore that they would not clip their hair nor shave their beards until they had taken vengeance on their enemies." [328] Similarly, Hindu religious mendicants keep their hair long while they are journeying on a pilgrimage, and when they arrive at the temple which is their goal they shave it all off and offer it to the god. In this case, as the hair is vowed as an offering, it clearly cannot be cut during the performance of the vow, but must be preserved intact. When the task to be accomplished for the fulfilment of a vow is a journey or the slaying of enemies, the retention of the hair is probably also meant to support and increase the wearer's strength for the accomplishment of his purpose.

16. Disposal of cut hair and nails

If the hair contained a part of the wearer's life and strength its disposal would be a matter of great importance, because, according to primitive belief, these qualities would remain in it after it had been severed. Hence, if an enemy obtained it, by destroying the hair or some analogous action he might injure or destroy the life and strength of the person to whom it belonged. The Hindus usually wrap up a child's first hair in a ball of dough and throw it into a running stream, with the cuttings of his nails. Well-to-do people also place a rupee in the ball, so that it is now regarded as an offering. The same course is sometimes followed with the hair and nails cut ceremoniously at a wedding, and possibly on one or two other occasions, such as the investiture with the sacred thread; but the belief is decaying, and ordinarily no care is taken of the shorn hair. In Berar when the Hindus cut a child's hair for the first time they sometimes bury it under a water-pot where the ground is damp, perhaps with the idea that the child's hair will grow thickly and plentifully like grass in a damp place. It is a common belief that if a barren woman gets hold of a child's first hair and wears it round her waist the fertility of the child's mother will be transferred to her. The Sarwaria Brahmans shave a child's hair in its third year. A small silver razor is made specially for the occasion, costing a rupee and a quarter, and the barber first touches the child's hair with this and then shaves it ceremoniously with his own razor. [329] The Halbas think that the severed clippings of hair are of no use for magic, but if a witch can cut a lock of hair from a man's head she can use it to work magic on him. In making an image of a person with intent to injure or destroy him, it was customary to put a little of his hair into the image, by which means his life and strength were conveyed to it. A few years ago a London newspaper mentioned the case of an Essex man entering a hairdresser's and requesting the barber to procure for him a piece of a certain customer's hair. When asked the reason for this curious demand, he stated that the customer had injured him and he wished to 'work a spell' against him. [330] In the Parsi Zend-Avesta it is stated that if the clippings of hair or nails are allowed to fall in the ground or ditches, evil spirits spring up from them and devour grain and clothing in the house. It was therefore ordained for the Parsis through their prophet Zarathustra that the cuttings of hair or nails should be buried in a deep hole ten paces from a dwelling, twenty paces from fire, and fifty paces from the sacred bundles called baresman. Texts should be said over them and the hole filled in. Many Parsis still bury their cut hair and nails four inches under ground, and an extracted tooth is disposed of in the same manner. [331] Some Hindus think that the nail-parings should always be thrown into a frequented place, where they will be destroyed by the traffic. If they are thrown on to damp earth they will grow into a plant which will ruin the person from whose body they came. It is said that about twenty years ago a man in Nagpur was ruined by the growth of a piece of finger-nail, which had accidentally dropped into a flower-pot in his house. Apparently in this case the nail is supposed to contain a portion of the life and strength of the person to whom it belonged, and if the nail grows it gradually absorbs more and more of his life and strength, and he consequently becomes weaker and weaker through being deprived of it. The Hindu superstition against shaving the head appears to find a parallel regarding the nails in the old English saying:

Cut no horn On the Sabbath morn.

Among some Hindus it is said that the toe-nails should not be cut at all until a child is married, when they are cut ceremoniously by the barber.

17. Superstitions about shaving the hair

Since the removal of the hair is held to involve a certain loss of strength and power, it should only be effected at certain seasons and not on auspicious days. A man who has male children should not have his head shaved on Monday, as this may cause his children to die. On the other hand, a man who has no children will fast on Sunday in the hope of getting them, and therefore he will neither shave his head nor visit his wife on that day. A Hindu must not be shaved on Thursday, because this is the day of the planet Jupiter, which is also known as Guru, and his act would be disrespectful to his own guru or preceptor. Tuesday is Devi's day, and a man will not get shaved on that day; nor on Saturday, because it is Hanuman's day. [332] On Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays he may be shaved, but not if the day happens to be the new moon, full moon, or the Ashtami or Ekadashi, that is the eighth or eleventh day of the fortnight. He should not shave on the day that he is going on a journey. If all these rules were strictly observed there would be very few days on which one could get shaved, but many of them are necessarily more honoured in the breach. Wednesdays and Fridays are the best days for shaving, and by shaving on these days a man will see old age. Debtors are shaved on Wednesdays, as they think that this will help them to pay off their debts. Some Brahmans are not shaved during the month of Shrawan (July), when the crops are growing, nor during the nine days of the months of Kunwar (September) and Chait (March), when a fast is observed and the jawaras [333] are sown. After they have been shaved high-caste Hindus consider themselves impure till they have bathed. They touch no person or thing in the house, and sometimes have the water thrown on them by a servant so as to avoid contact with the vessels. They will also neither eat, drink nor smoke until they have bathed. Sometimes they throw so much water over the head in order to purify themselves as to catch a bad cold. In this case, apparently, the impurity accrues from the loss of the hair, and the man feels that virtue has gone out of him. Women never shave their hair with a razor, as they think that to do so would make the body so heavy after death that it could not be carried to the place of cremation. They carefully pluck out the hair under the armpits and the pubic hair with a pair of pincers. A girl's hair may be cut with scissors, but not after she is ten years old or is married. Sometimes a girl's hair is not cut at all, but her father will take a pearl and entwine it into her hair, where it is left until she is married. It is considered very auspicious to give away a girl in marriage with hair which has never been cut, and a pearl in it. After marriage she will take out the pearl and wear it in an ornament.

18. Reasons why the hair was considered the source of strength

The above evidence appears to indicate that the belief of a man's strength and vigour being contained in his hair is by no means confined to the legend of Samson, but is spread all over the world. This has been pointed out by Professor Robertson Smith, [334] Professor Wilken and others. Sir J.G. Frazer also adduces several instances in the Golden Bough to show that the life or soul was believed to be contained in the hair. This may well have been the case, but the hair was also specialised, so to speak, as the seat of bodily vigour and strength. The same idea appears to have applied in a minor measure to the nails and teeth. The rules for disposing of the cut hair usually apply to the parings of nails, and the first teeth are also deposited in a rat's hole or on the roof of the house. As suggested by Professor Robertson Smith it seems likely that the strength and vigour of the body was believed to be located in the hair, and also to a less extent in the nails and teeth, because they grew more visibly and quickly than the body and continued to do so after it had attained to maturity. The hair and nails continue to grow all through life, and though the teeth do not grow when fully formed, the second teeth appear when the body is considerably developed and the wisdom teeth after it is fully developed. The hair grows much more palpably and vigorously than the nails and teeth, and hence might be considered especially the source of strength. Other considerations which might confirm the idea are that men have more hair on their bodies than women, and strongly built men often have a large quantity of hair. Some of the stronger wild animals have long hair, as the lion, bear and wild boar; and the horse, often considered the embodiment of strength, has a long mane. And when anger is excited the hair sometimes appears to rise, as it were, from the skin. The nails and teeth were formerly used on occasion as weapons of offence, and hence might be considered to contain part of the strength and vigour of the body.

Finally, it may be suggested as a possibility that the Roundheads cut their hair short as a protest against the superstition that a soldier's hair must be long, which originated in the idea that strength is located in the hair and may have still been current in their time. We know that the Puritans strove vainly against the veneration of the Maypole as the spirit of the new vegetation, [335] and against the old nature-rites observed at Christmas, the veneration of fire as the preserver of life against cold, and the veneration of the evergreen plants, the fir tree, the holly, and the mistletoe, which retained their foliage through the long night of the northern winter, and were thus a pledge to man of the return of warmth and the renewal of vegetation in the spring. And it therefore seems not altogether improbable that the Puritans may have similarly contended against the superstition as to the wearing of long hair.


Naoda. [336]—A small caste found in the Nimar District and in Central India. The name means a rower and is derived from nao, a boat. The caste are closely connected with the Mallahs or Kewats, but have a slightly distinctive position, as they are employed to row pilgrims over the Nerbudda at the great fair held at Siva's temple on the island of Mandhata. They say that their ancestors were Rajputs, and some of their family names, as Solanki, Rawat and Mori, are derived from those of Rajput septs. But these have probably been adopted in imitation of their Kshatriya overlords. The caste is an occupational one. They have a tradition that in former times a Naoda boatman recovered the corpse of a king's daughter, who had drowned herself in the river wearing costly jewels, and the king as a reward granted them the right of ferrying pilgrims at Mandhata, which they still continue to enjoy, keeping their earnings for themselves. They have a division of impure blood called the Gate or bastard Naodas, who marry among themselves, and any girl who reaches the age of puberty without being married is relegated to this. In the case of a caste whose numbers are so small, irregular connections with outsiders must probably be not infrequent. Another report states that adult unmarried girls are not expelled but are married to a pipal tree. But girls are sought after, and it is customary to pay a bride-price, the average amount of which is Rs. 25. Before the bridegroom starts for his wedding his mother takes and passes in front of him, successively from his head to his feet, a pestle, some stalks of rusa grass, a churning rod and a winnowing-fan. This is done with the object of keeping off evil spirits, and it is said that by her action she threatens to pound the spirits with the pestle, to tie them up with the grass, to churn and mash them with the churning-rod, and to scatter them to the winds with the winnowing-fan. When a man wishes to divorce his wife he simply turns her out of the house in the presence of four or five respectable men of the caste. The marriage of a widow is celebrated on a Sunday or Tuesday, the clothes of the couple being tied together by another widow at night. The following day they spend together in a garden, and in the evening are escorted home by their relatives with torches and music. Next morning the woman goes to the well and draws water, and her husband, accompanying her, helps her to lift the water-pots on to her shoulder.

The caste worship the ordinary Hindu deities and especially Bhairon, the guardian of the gate of Mahadeo's temple. They have a nail driven into the bow of their boat which is called 'Bhairon's nail,' and at the Dasahra festival they offer to this a white pumpkin with cocoanuts, vermilion, incense and liquor. The caste hold in special reverence the cow, the dog and the tamarind tree. The dog is sacred as being the animal on which Bhairava rides, and their most solemn oaths are sworn by a dog or a cow. They will on no account cut or burn the tamarind tree, and the women veil their faces before it. They cannot explain this sentiment, which is probably due to some forgotten belief of the nature of totemism. To kill a cow or a cat intentionally involves permanent exclusion from the caste, while the slaughter of a squirrel, dog, horse, buffalo or monkey is punished by temporary exclusion, it being equally sinful to allow any of these animals to die with a rope round its neck. The Naodas eat the flesh of pigs and fowls, but they occupy a fairly good social position and Brahmans will take water from their hands.


List of Paragraphs

1. The Nats not a proper caste. 2. Muhammadan Nats. 3. Social customs of the Nats. Their low status. 4. Acrobatic performances. 5. Sliding or walking on ropes as a charm for the crops. 6. Snake-charmers.

1. The Nats not a proper caste

Nat, [337] Badi, Dang-Charha, Karnati, Bazigar, Sapera.—The term Nat (Sanskrit Nata—a dancer) appears to be applied indefinitely to a number of groups of vagrant acrobats and showmen, especially those who make it their business to do feats on the tight-rope or with poles, and those who train and exhibit snakes. Badi and Bazigar mean a rope-walker, Dang-Charha a rope-climber, and Sapera a snake-charmer. In the Central Provinces the Garudis or snake-charmers, and the Kolhatis, a class of gipsy acrobats akin to the Berias, are also known as Nat, and these are treated in separate articles. It is almost certain that a considerable section, if not the majority, of the Nats really belong to the Kanjar or Beria gipsy castes, who themselves maybe sprung from the Doms. [338] Sir D. Ibbetson says: "They wander about with their families, settling for a few days or weeks at a time in the vicinity of large villages or towns, and constructing temporary shelters of grass. In addition to practising acrobatic feats and conjuring of a low class, they make articles of grass, straw and reeds for sale; and in the centre of the Punjab are said to act as Mirasis, though this is perhaps doubtful. They often practise surgery and physic in a small way and are not free from suspicion of sorcery." [339] This account would just as well apply to the Kanjar gipsies, and the Nat women sometimes do tattooing like Kanjar or Beria women. In Jubbulpore also the caste is known as Nat Beria, indicating that the Nats there are probably derived from the Beria caste. Similarly Sir H. Risley gives Bazigar and Kabutari as groups of the Berias of Bengal, and states that these are closely akin to the Nats and Kanjars of Hindustan. [340] An old account of the Nats or Bazigars [341] would equally well apply to the Kanjars; and in Mr. Crooke's detailed article on the Nats several connecting links are noticed. The Nat women are sometimes known as Kabutari or pigeon, either because their acrobatic feats are like the flight of the tumbler pigeon, or on account of the flirting manner with which they attract their male customers. [342] In the Central Provinces the women of the small Gopal caste of acrobats are called Kabutari, and this further supports the hypothesis that Nat is rather an occupational term than the name of a distinct caste, though it is quite likely that there may be Nats who have no other caste. The Badi or rope-dancer group again is an offshoot of the Gond tribe, at least in the tracts adjoining the Central Provinces. They have Gond septs as Marai, Netam, Wika, [343] and they have the damru or drum used by the Gaurias or snake-charmers and jugglers of Chhattisgarh, who are also derived from the Gonds. The Chhattisgarhi Dang-Charhas are Gonds who say they formerly belonged to Panna State and were supported by Raja Aman Singh of Panna, a great patron of their art. They sing a song lamenting his death in the flower of his youth. The Karnatis or Karnataks are a class of Nats who are supposed to have come from the Carnatic. Mr. Crooke notes that they will eat the leavings of all high castes, and are hence known as Khushhaliya or 'Those in prosperous circumstances.' [344]

2. Muhammadan Nats

One division of the Nats are Muhammadans and seem to be to some extent a distinctive group. They have seven gotras—Chicharia, Damaria, Dhalbalki, Purbia, Dhondabalki, Karimki and Kalasia. They worship two Birs or spirits, Halaila Bir and Sheikh Saddu, to whom they sacrifice fowls in the months of Bhadon (August) and Baisakh (April). Hindus of any caste are freely admitted into their community, and they can marry Hindu girls.

3. Social customs of the Nats. Their low status

Generally the customs of the Nats show them to be the dregs of the population. There is no offence which entails permanent expulsion from caste. They will eat any kind of food including snakes, crocodiles and rats, and also take food from the hands of any caste, even it is said from sweepers. It is not reported that they prostitute their women, but there is little doubt that this is the case; in the Punjab [345] when a Nat woman marries, the first child is either given to the grandmother as compensation for the loss of the mother's gains as a prostitute, or is redeemed by a payment of Rs. 30. Among the Chhattisgarhi Dang-Charhas a bride-price of Rs. 40 is paid, of which the girl's father only keeps ten, and the remaining sum of Rs. 30 is expended on a feast to the caste. Some of the Nats have taken to cultivation and become much more respectable, eschewing the flesh of unclean animals. Another group of the caste keep trained dogs and hunt the wild pig with spears like the Kolhatis of Berar. The villagers readily pay for their services in order to get the pig destroyed, and they sell the flesh to the Gonds and lower castes of Hindus. Others hunt jackals with dogs in the same manner. They eat the flesh of the jackals and dispose of any surplus to the Gonds, who also eat it. The Nats worship Devi and also Hanuman, the monkey god, on account of the acrobatic powers of monkeys. But in Bombay they say that their favourite and only living gods are their bread-winners and averters of hunger, the drum, the rope and the balancing-pole. [346]

4. Acrobatic performances

The tight-rope is stretched between two pairs of bamboos, each pair being fixed obliquely in the ground and crossing each other at the top so as to form a socket over which the rope passes. The ends of the rope are taken over the crossed bamboos and firmly secured to the ground by heavy pegs. The performer takes another balancing-pole in his hands and walks along the rope between the poles which are about 12 feet high. Another man beats a drum, and a third stands under the rope singing the performer's praises and giving him encouragement. After this the performer ties two sets of cow or buffalo horns to his feet, which are secured to the back of the skulls so that the flat front between the horns rests on the rope, and with these he walks over the rope, holding the balancing-rod in his hands and descends again. Finally he takes a brass plate and a cloth and again ascends the rope. He places the plate on the rope and folds the cloth over it to make a pad. He then stands on his head on the pad with his feet in the air and holds the balancing-rod in his hands; two strings are tied to the end of this rod and the other ends of the strings are held by the man underneath. With the assistance of the balancing-rod the performer then jerks the plate along the rope with his head, his feet being in the air, until he arrives at the end and finally descends again. This usually concludes the performance, which demands a high degree of skill. Women occasionally, though rarely, do the same feats. Another class of Nats walk on high stilts and the women show their confidence by dancing and singing under them. A saying about the Nats is: Nat ka bachcha to kalabazi hi karega; or 'The rope-dancer's son is always turning somersaults.' [347]

5. Sliding or walking on ropes as a charm for the crops

The feats of the Nats as tight-rope walkers used apparently to make a considerable impression on the minds of the people, as it is not uncommon to find a deified Nat, called Nat Baba or Father Nat, as a village god. A Natni or Nat woman is also sometimes worshipped, and where two sharp peaks of hills are situated close to each other, it is related that in former times there was a Natni, very skilful on the tight-rope, who performed before the king; and he promised her that if she would stretch a rope from the peak of one hill to that of the other and walk across it he would marry her and make her wealthy. Accordingly the rope was stretched, but the queen from jealousy went and cut it half through in the night, and when the Natni started to walk the rope broke and she fell down and was killed. She was therefore deified and worshipped. It is probable that this legend recalls some rite in which the Nat was employed to walk on a tight-rope for the benefit of the crops, and, if he failed, was killed as a sacrifice; for the following passage taken from Traill's account of Kumaon [348] seems clearly to refer to some such rite:

"Drought, want of fertility in the soil, murrain in cattle, and other calamities incident to husbandry are here invariably ascribed to the wrath of particular gods, to appease which recourse is had to various ceremonies. In the Kumaon District offerings and singing and dancing are resorted to on such occasions. In Garhwal the measures pursued with the same view are of a peculiar nature, deserving of more particular notice. In villages dedicated to the protection of Mahadeva propitiatory festivals are held in his honour. At these Badis or rope-dancers are engaged to perform on the tight-rope, and slide down an inclined rope stretched from the summit of a cliff to the valley beneath and made fast to posts driven into the ground. The Badi sits astride on a wooden saddle, to which he is tied by thongs; the saddle is similarly secured to the bast or sliding cable, along which it runs, by means of a deep groove; sandbags are tied to the Badi's feet sufficient to secure his balance, and he is then, after various ceremonies and the sacrifice of a kid, started off; the velocity of his descent is very great, and the saddle, however well greased, emits a volume of smoke throughout the greater part of his progress. The length and inclination of the bast necessarily vary with the nature of the cliff, but as the Badi is remunerated at the rate of a rupee for every hundred cubits, hence termed a tola, a correct measurement always takes place; the longest bast which has fallen within my observation has been twenty-one tolas, or 2100 cubits in length. From the precautions taken as above mentioned the only danger to be apprehended by the Badi is from breaking of the rope, to provide against which the latter, commonly from one and a half to two inches in diameter, is made wholly by his own hand; the material used is the bhabar grass. Formerly, if a Badi fell to the ground in his course, he was immediately despatched with a sword by the surrounding spectators, but this practice is now, of course, prohibited. No fatal accident has occurred from the performance of this ceremony since 1815, though it is probably celebrated at not less than fifty villages in each year. After the completion of the sliding, the bast or rope is cut up and distributed among the inhabitants of the village, who hang the pieces as charms on the eaves of their houses. The hair of the Badi is also taken and preserved as possessing similar virtues. He being thus made the organ to obtain fertility for the lands of others, the Badi is supposed to entail sterility on his own; and it is firmly believed that no grain sown with his hand can ever vegetate. Each District has its hereditary Badi, who is supported by annual contributions of grain from the inhabitants." It is not improbable that the performance of the Nat is a reminiscence of a period when human victims were sacrificed for the crops, this being a common practice among primitive peoples, as shown by Sir J.G. Frazer in Attis, Adonis, Osiris. Similarly the spirits of Nats which are revered in the Central Provinces may really be those of victims killed during the performance of some charm for the good of the crops, akin to that still prevalent in the Himalayas. The custom of making the Nat slide down a rope is of the same character as that of swinging a man in the air by a hook secured in his flesh, which was formerly common in these Provinces. But in both cases the meaning of the rite is obscure.

6. Snake-charmers

The groups who practise snake-charming are known as Sapera or Garudi and in the Maratha Districts as Madari. Another name for them is Nag-Nathi, or one who seizes a cobra. They keep cobras, pythons, scorpions, and the iguana or large lizard, which they consider to be poisonous. Some of them when engaged with their snakes wear two pieces of tiger-skin on their back and chest, and a cap of tiger-skin in which they fix the eyes of various birds. They have a hollow gourd on which they produce a kind of music and this is supposed to charm the snakes. When catching a cobra they pin its head to the ground with a stick and then seize it in a cleft bamboo and prick out the poison-fangs with a large needle. They think that the teeth of the iguana are also poisonous and they knock them out with a stick, and if fresh teeth afterwards grow they believe them not to contain poison. The python is called Ajgar, which is said to mean eater of goats. In captivity the pythons will not eat of themselves, and the snake-charmers chop up pieces of meat and fowls and placing the food in the reptile's mouth massage it down the body. They feed the pythons only once in four or five days. They have antidotes for snake-bite, the root of a creeper called kalipar and the bark of the karheya tree. When a patient is brought to them they give him a little pepper, and if he tastes the pungent flavour they think that he has not been affected by snake-poison, but if it seems tasteless that he has been bitten. Then they give him small pieces of the two antidotes already mentioned with tobacco and 2 1/2 leaves of the nim tree [349] which is sacred to Devi. On the festival of Nag-Panchmi (Cobra's Fifth) they worship their cobras and give them milk to drink and then take them round the town or village and the people also worship and feed the snakes and give a present of a few annas to the Sapera. In towns much frequented by cobras, a special adoration is paid to them. Thus in Hatta in the Damoh District a stone image of a snake, known as Nag-Baba or Father Cobra is worshipped for a month before the festival of Nag-Panchmi. During this period one man from every house in the village must go to Nag-Baba's shrine outside and take food there and come back. And on Nag-Panchmi the whole town goes out in a body to pay him reverence, and it is thought that if any one is absent the cobras will harass him for the whole year. But others say that cobras will only bite men of low caste. The Saperas will not kill a snake as a rule, but occasionally it is said that they kill one and cut off the head and eat the body, this being possibly an instance of eating the divine animal at a sacrificial meal. The following is an old account of the performances of snake-charmers in Bengal: [350]

"Hence, on many occasions throughout the year, the dread Manasa Devi, the queen of snakes, is propitiated by presents, vows and religious rites. In the month of Shrabana the worship of the snake goddess is celebrated with great eclat. An image of the goddess, seated on a water-lily, encircled with serpents, or a branch of the snake-tree (a species of Euphorbia), or a pot of water, with images of serpents made of clay, forms the object of worship. Men, women and children, all offer presents to avert from themselves the wrath of the terrific deity. The Mals or snake-catchers signalise themselves on this occasion. Temporary scaffolds of bamboo work are set up in the presence of the goddess. Vessels filled with all sorts of snakes are brought in. The Mals, often reeling with intoxication, mount the scaffolds, take out serpents from the vessels, and allow them to bite their arms. Bite after bite succeeds; the arms run with blood; and the Mals go on with their pranks, amid the deafening plaudits of the spectators. Now and then they fall off from the scaffold and pretend to feel the effects of poison, and cure themselves by their incantations. But all is mere pretence. The serpents displayed on the occasion and challenged to do their worst, have passed through a preparatory state. Their fangs have been carefully extracted from their jaws. But most of the vulgar spectators easily persuade themselves to believe that the Mals are the chosen servants of Siva and the favourites of Manasa. Although their supernatural pretensions are ridiculous, yet it must be confessed that the Mals have made snakes the subject of their peculiar study. They are thoroughly acquainted with their qualities, their dispositions, and their habits. They will run down a snake into its hole, and bring it out thence by main force. Even the terrible cobra is cowed down by the controlling influence of a Mal. When in the act of bringing out snakes from their subterranean holes, the Mals are in the habit of muttering charms, in which the names of Manasa and Mahadeva frequently occur; superstition alone can clothe these unmeaning words with supernatural potency. But it is not inconsistent with the soundest philosophy to suppose that there may be some plants whose roots are disagreeable to serpents, and from which they instinctively turn away. All snake-catchers of Bengal are provided with a bundle of the roots of some plant which they carefully carry along with them, when they set out on their serpent-hunting expeditions. When a serpent, disturbed in its hole, comes out furiously hissing with rage, with its body coiled, and its head lifted up, the Mal has only to present before it the bundle of roots above alluded to, at the sight of which it becomes spiritless as an eel. This we have ourselves witnessed more than once."

These Mals appear to have been members of the aboriginal Male or Male Paharia tribe of Bengal.


Nunia, Lunia. [351]—A mixed occupational caste of salt-makers and earth-workers, made up of recruits from the different non-Aryan tribes of northern India. The word non means salt, and is a corruption of the Sanskrit lavana, 'the moist,' which first occurs as a name for sea-salt in the Atharva Veda. [352] In the oldest prose writings salt is known as Saindhava or 'that which is brought from the Indus,' this perhaps being Punjab rock-salt. The Nunias are a fairly large caste in Bengal and northern India, numbering 800,000 persons, but the Central Provinces and Berar contain only 3000, who are immigrants from Upper India. Here they are navvies and masons, a calling which they have generally adopted since the Government monopoly has interfered with their proper business of salt-refining. The mixed origin of the caste is shown by the list of their subdivisions in the United Provinces, which includes the names Mallah, Kewat, Kuchbandhia, Bind, Musahar, Bhuinhar and Lodha, all of which are distinct castes, besides a number of territorial subcastes. A list of nearly thirty subcastes is given by Mr. Crooke, and this is an instance of the tendency of migratory castes to split up into small groups for the purpose of arranging marriages, owing to the difficulty of ascertaining the status and respectability of each other's families, and the unwillingness to contract alliances with those whose social position may turn out to be not wholly satisfactory. "The internal structure of the caste," Mr. Crooke remarks, "is far from clear; it would appear that they are still in a state of transition, and the different endogamous subcastes are not as yet fully recognised." In Bilaspur the Nunias have three local subcastes, the Bandhaiya, the Ratanpuria and the Kharodhia. The two last, deriving their names from the towns of Ratanpur and Kharod in Bilaspur, are said to have been employed in former times in the construction of the temples and other buildings which abound in these localities, and have thus acquired a considerable degree of professional skill in masonry work; while the Bandhaiya, who take their name from Bandhogarh, confine themselves to the excavation of tanks and wells. The exogamous divisions of the caste are also by no means clearly defined; in Mirzapur they have a system of local subdivisions called dih, each subdivision being named after the village which is supposed to be its home. The word dih itself means a site or village. Those who have a common dih do not intermarry. [353] This fact is interesting as being an instance of the direct derivation of the exogamous clan from residence in a parent village and not from any heroic or supposititious ancestor.

The caste have a legend which shows their mixed origin. Some centuries ago, they say, a marriage procession consisting of Brahmans, Rajputs, Banias and Gosains went to a place near Ajodhya. After the ceremony was over the bride, on being taken to the bridegroom's lodging, scraped up a little earth with her fingers and put it in her mouth. She found it had a saltish taste, and spat it out on the ground, and this enraged the tutelary goddess of the village, who considered herself insulted, and swore that all the bride's descendants should excavate salt in atonement; and thus the caste arose.

In Bilaspur the caste permit a girl to be married to a boy younger than herself. A price of five rupees has to be paid for the bride, unless her family give a girl in exchange. The bridegroom is taken to the wedding in a palanquin borne by Mahars. After its conclusion the couple are carried back in the litter for some distance, after which the bridegroom gets out and walks or rides. When he goes to fetch his wife on her coming of age the bridegroom wears white clothes, which is rather peculiar, as white is not a lucky colour among the Hindus. The Nunias employ Brahmans at their ceremonies, and they have a caste panchayat or committee, whose headman is known as Kurha. The Bilaspur section of the caste has two Kurhas. Here Brahmans take water from them, but not in all places. They consider their traditional occupation to have been the extraction of salt and saltpetre from saline earth. At present they are generally employed in the excavation of tanks and the embankment of fields, and they also sink wells, build and erect houses, and undertake all kinds of agricultural labour.


Ojha.—The community of soothsayers and minstrels of the Gonds. The Ojhas may now be considered a distinct subtribe, as they are looked down upon by the Gonds and marry among themselves. They derive their name from the word ojh meaning 'entrail,' their original duty having been, like that of the Roman augurs, to examine the entrails of the victim immediately after it had been slain as an offering to the gods. In 1911 the Ojhas numbered about 5000 persons distributed over all Districts of the Central Provinces. At present the bulk of the community subsist by beggary. The word Ojha is of Sanskrit and not of Gond origin and is applied by the Hindus to the seers or magicians of several of the primitive tribes, while there is also a class of Ojha Brahmans who practise magic and divination. The Gond Ojhas, who are the subject of this article, originally served the Gonds and begged from them alone, but in some parts of the western Satpuras they are also the minstrels of the Korkus. Those who beg from the Korkus play on a kind of drum called dhank while the Gond Ojhas use the kingri or lyre. Some of them also catch birds and are therefore known as Moghia. Mr. Hislop [354] remarks of them: "The Ojhas follow the two occupations of bard and fowler. They lead a wandering life and when passing through villages they sing from house to house the praises of their heroes, dancing with castanets in their hands, bells at their ankles and long feathers of jungle birds in their turbans. They sell live quails and the skins of a species of Buceros named Dhan-chiria; these are used for making caps and for hanging up in houses in order to secure wealth (dhan), while the thigh-bones of the same bird when fastened round the waists of children are deemed an infallible preservative against the assaults of devils and other such calamities. Their wives tattoo the arms of Hindu and Gond women. Among them there is a subdivision known as the Mana Ojhas, who rank higher than the others. Laying claim to unusual sanctity, they refuse to eat with any one, Gonds, Rajputs or even Brahmans, and devote themselves to the manufacture of rings and bells which are in request among their own race, and even of lingas (phallic emblems) and nandis (bull images), which they sell to all ranks of the Hindu community. Their wives are distinguished by wearing the cloth of the upper part of the body over the right shoulder, whereas those of the common Ojhas and of all the other Gonds wear it over the left."

Mr. Tawney wrote of the Ojhas as follows: [355] "The Ojha women do not dance. It is only men who do so, and when thus engaged they put on special attire and wear anklets with bells. The Ojhas like the Gonds are divided into six or seven god gots (classes or septs), and those with the same number of gods cannot intermarry. They worship at the same Deokhala (god's threshing-floor) as the Gonds, but being regarded as an inferior caste they are not allowed so near the sacred presence. Like the Gonds they incorporate the spirits of the dead with the gods, but their manner of doing so is somewhat different, as they make an image of brass to represent the soul of the deceased and keep this with the household gods. As with the Gonds, if a household god makes himself too objectionable he is quietly buried to keep him out of mischief and a new god is introduced into the family. The latter should properly bear the same name as his degraded predecessor, but very often does not. The Ojhas are too poor to indulge in the luxury of burning their deceased friends and therefore invariably bury them."

The customs of the Ojhas resemble those of the Gonds. They take the bride to the bridegroom's house to be married, and a widow among them is expected, though not obliged, to wed her late husband's younger brother. They eat the flesh of fowls, pigs, and even oxen, but abstain from that of monkeys, crocodiles and jackals. They will not touch an ass, a cat or a dog, and consider it sinful to kill animals which bark or bray.

They will take food from the hands of all except the most impure castes, and will admit into the community any man who has taken an Ojha woman to live with him, even though he be a sweeper, provided that he will submit to the prescribed test of begging from the houses of five Gonds and eating the leavings of food of the other Ojhas. They will pardon the transgression of one of their women with an outsider of any caste whatever, if she is able and willing to provide the usual penalty feast. They have no sutak or period of impurity after a death, but merely take a mouthful of liquor and consider themselves clean. In physical appearance the Ojhas resemble the Gonds but are less robust. They rank below the Gonds and are considered as impure by the Hindu castes. In 1865, an Ojha held a village in Hoshangabad District which he had obtained as follows: [356] "He was singing and dancing before Raja Raghuji, when the Raja said he would give a rent-free village to any one who would pick up and chew a quid of betel-leaf which he (the Raja) had had in his mouth and had spat out. The Ojha did this and got the village."

The Maithil or Tirhut Brahmans who are especially learned in Tantric magic are also sometimes known as Ojha, and a family bearing this title were formerly in the service of the Gond kings of Mandla. They do not now admit that they acted as augurs or soothsayers, but state that their business was to pray continuously for the king's success when he was engaged in any battle, and to sit outside the rooms of sick persons repeating the sacred Gayatri verse for their recovery. This is often repeated ten times, counting by a special method on the joints of the fingers and is then known as Jap. When it is repeated a larger number of times, as 54 or 108, a rosary is used.


[Authorities: The most complete account of the Oraons is a monograph entitled, The Religion and Customs of the Oraons, by the late Rev. Father P. Dehon, published in 1906 in the Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. i. No. 9. The tribe is also described at length by Colonel Dalton in The Ethnography of Bengal, and an article on it is included in Mr. (Sir H.) Risley's Tribes and Castes of Bengal. References to the Oraons are contained in Mr. Bradley-Birt's Chota Nagpur, and Mr. Ball's Jungle Life in India. The Kurukh language is treated by Dr. Grierson in the volume of the Linguistic Survey on Munda and Dravidian Languages. The following article is principally made up of extracts from the accounts of Father Dehon and Colonel Dalton. Papers have also been received from Mr. Hira Lal, Mr. Balaram Nand, Deputy Inspector of Schools, Sambalpur, Mr. Jeorakhan Lal, Deputy Inspector of Schools, Bilaspur, and Munshi Kanhya Lal of the Gazetteer Office.]

List of Paragraphs

1. General notice. 2. Settlement in Chota Nagpur. 3. Subdivisions. 4. Pre-nuptial licence. 5. Betrothal. 6. Marriage ceremony. 7. Special customs. 8. Widow-remarriage and divorce. 9. Customs at birth. 10. Naming a child. 11. Branding and tattooing. 12. Dormitory discipline. 13. Disposal of the dead. 14. Worship of ancestors. 15. Religion. The supreme deity. 16. Minor godlings. 17. Human sacrifice. 18. Christianity. 19. Festivals. The Karma or May-day. 20. The Sal flower festival. 21. The harvest festival. 22. Fast for the crops. 23. Physical appearance and costume of the Oraons. 24. Dress of women. 25. Dances. 26. Social customs. 27. Social rules. 28. Character. 29. Language.

1. General notice

Oraon, Uraon, Kurukh, Dhangar, Kuda, Kisan.—The Oraons are an important Dravidian tribe of the Chota Nagpur plateau, numbering altogether about 750,000 persons, of whom 85,000 now belong to the Central Provinces, being residents of the Jashpur and Sarguja States and the neighbouring tracts. They are commonly known in the Central Provinces as Dhangar or Dhangar-Oraon. In Chota Nagpur the word Dhangar means a farmservant engaged according to a special customary contract, and it has come to be applied to the Oraons, who are commonly employed in this capacity. Kuda means a digger or navvy in Uriya, and enquiries made by Mr. B.C. Mazumdar and Mr. Hira Lal have demonstrated that the 18,000 persons returned under this designation from Raigarh and Sambalpur in 1901 were really Oraons. The same remark applies to 33,000 persons returned from Sambalpur as Kisan or cultivator, these also being members of the tribe. The name by which the Oraons know themselves is Kurukh or Kurunkh, and the designation of Oraon or Orao has been applied to them by outsiders. The meaning of both names is obscure. Dr. Halm [357] was of opinion that the word kurukh might be identified with the Kolarian horo, man, and explained the term Oraon as the totem of one of the septs into which the Kurukhs were divided. According to him Oraon was a name coined by the Hindus, its base being orgoran, hawk or cunny bird, used as the name of a totemistic sept. Sir G. Grierson, however, suggested a connection with the Kaikari, urupai, man; Burgandi urapo, man; urang, men. The Kaikaris are a Telugu caste, and as the Oraons are believed to have come from the south of India, this derivation sounds plausible. In a similar way Sir. G. Grierson states, Kurukh may be connected with Tamil kurugu, an eagle, and be the name of a totemistic clan. Compare also names, such as Korava, Kurru, a dialect of Tamil, and Kudagu. In the Nerbudda valley the farmservant who pours the seed through the tube of the sowing-plough is known as Oraya; this word is probably derived from the verb urna to pour, and means 'one who pours.' Since the principal characteristic of the Oraons among the Hindus is their universal employment as farmservants and labourers, it may be suggested that the name is derived from this term. Of the other names by which they are known to outsiders Dhangar means a farmservant, Kuda a digger, and Kisan a cultivator. The name Oraon and its variant Orao is very close to Oraya, which, as already seen, means a farmservant. The nasal seems to be often added or omitted in this part of the country, as Kurukh or Kurunkh.

2. Settlement in Chota Nagpur

According to their own traditions, Mr. Gait writes, [358] "The Kurukh tribe originally lived in the Carnatic, whence they went up the Nerbudda river and settled in Bihar on the banks of the Son. Driven out by the Muhammadans, the tribe split into two divisions, one of which followed the course of the Ganges and finally settled in the Rajmahal hills: while the other went up the Son and occupied the north-western portion of the Chota Nagpur plateau, where many of the villages they occupy are still known by Mundari names. The latter were the ancestors of the Oraons or Kurukhs, while the former were the progenitors of the Male or Saonria as they often call themselves." Towards Lohardaga the Oraons found themselves among the Mundas or Kols, who probably retired by degrees and left them in possession of the country. "The Oraons," Father Dehon states, "are an exceedingly prolific tribe and soon become the preponderant element, while the Mundas, being conservative and averse to living among strangers, emigrate towards another jungle. The Mundas hate zamindars, and whenever they can do so, prefer to live in a retired corner in full possession of their small holding; and it is not at all improbable that, as the zamindars took possession of the newly-formed villages, they retired towards the east, while the Oraons, being good beasts of burden and more accustomed to subjection, remained." In view of the fine physique and martial character of the Larka or Fighting Kols or Mundas, Dalton was sceptical of the theory that they could ever have retired before the Oraons; but in addition to the fact that many villages in which Oraons now live have Mundari names, it may be noted that the headman of an Oraon village is termed Munda and is considered to be descended from its founder, while for the Pahan or priest of the village gods, the Oraons always employ a Munda if available, and it is one of the Pahan's duties to point out the boundary of the village in cases of dispute; this is a function regularly assigned to the earliest residents, and seems to be strong evidence that the Oraons found the Mundas settled in Chota Nagpur when they arrived there. It is not necessary to suppose that any conquest or forcible expropriation took place; and it is probable that, as the country was opened up, the Mundas by preference retired to the wilder forest tracts, just as in the Central Provinces the Korkus and Baigas gave way to the Gonds, and the Gonds themselves relinquished the open country to the Hindus. None of the writers quoted notice the name Munda as applied to the headman of an Oraon village, but it can hardly be doubted that it is connected with that of the tribe; and it would be interesting also to know whether the Pahan or village priest takes his name from the Pans or Gandas. Dalton says that the Pans are domesticated as essential constituents of every Ho or Kol village community, but does not allude to their presence among the Oraons. The custom in the Central Provinces, by which in Gond villages the village priest is always known as Baiga, because in some localities members of the Baiga tribe are commonly employed in the office, suggests the hypothesis of a similar usage here. In villages first settled by Oraons, the population, Father Dehon states, is divided into three khunts or branches, named after the Munda, Pahan and Mahto, the founders of the three branches being held to have been sons of the first settler. Members of each branch belong therefore to the same sept or got. Each khunt has a share of the village lands.

3. Subdivisions

The Oraons have no proper subcastes in the Central Provinces, but the Kudas and Kisans, having a distinctive name and occupation, sometimes regard themselves as separate bodies and decline intermarriage with other Oraons. In Bengal Sir H. Risley gives five divisions, Barga, Dhanka, Kharia, Khendro and Munda; of these Kharia and Munda are the names of other tribes, and Dhanka may be a variant for Dhangar. The names show that as usual with the tribes of this part of the country the law of endogamy is by no means strict. The tribe have also a large number of exogamous septs of the totemistic type, named after plants and animals. Members of any sept commonly abstain from killing or eating their sept totem. A man must not marry a member of his own sept nor a first cousin on the mother's side.

4. Pre-nuptial licence

Marriage is adult and pre-nuptial unchastity appears to be tacitly recognised. Oraon villages have the institution of the Dhumkuria or Bachelors' dormitory, which Dalton describes as follows: [359] "In all the older Oraon villages when there is any conservation of ancient customs, there is a house called the Dhumkuria in which all the bachelors of the village must sleep under penalty of a fine. The huts of the Oraons have insufficient accommodation for a family, so that separate quarters for the young men are a necessity. The same remark applies to the young unmarried women, and it is a fact that they do not sleep in the house with their parents. They are generally frank enough when questioned about their habits, but on this subject there is always a certain amount of reticence, and I have seen girls quietly withdraw when it was mooted. I am told that in some villages a separate building is provided for them like the Dhumkuria, in which they consort under the guardianship of an elderly duenna, but I believe the more common practice is to distribute them among the houses of the widows, and this is what the girls themselves assert, if they answer at all when the question is asked; but however billeted, it is well known that they often find their way to the bachelors' hall, and in some villages actually sleep there. I not long ago saw a Dhumkuria in a Sarguja village in which the boys and girls all slept every night." Colonel Dalton considered it uncertain that the practice led to actual immorality, but the fact can hardly be doubted. Sexual intercourse before marriage, Sir H. Risley says, is tacitly recognised, and is so generally practised that in the opinion of the best observers no Oraon girl is a virgin at the time of her marriage. "To call this state of things immoral is to apply a modern conception to primitive habits of life. Within the tribe, indeed, the idea of sexual morality seems hardly to exist, and the unmarried Oraons are not far removed from the condition of modified promiscuity which prevails among many of the Australian tribes. Provided that the exogamous circle defined by the totem is respected, an unmarried woman may bestow her favours on whom she will. If, however, she becomes pregnant, arrangements are made to get her married without delay, and she is then expected to lead a virtuous life." [360] According to Dalton, however, liaisons between boys and girls of the same village seldom end in marriage, as it is considered more respectable to bring home a bride from a distance. This appears to arise from the primitive rule of exogamy that marriage should not be allowed between those who have been brought up together. The young men can choose for themselves, and at dances, festivals and other social gatherings they freely woo their sweethearts, giving them flowers for the hair and presents of grilled field-mice, which the Oraons consider to be the most delicate of food. Father Dehon, however, states that matches are arranged by the parents, and the bride and bridegroom have nothing to say in the matter. Boys are usually married at sixteen and girls at fourteen or fifteen. The girls thus have only about two years of preliminary flirtation or Dhumkuria life before they are settled.

5. Betrothal

The first ceremony for a marriage is known as pan bandhi or the settling of the price; for which the boy's father, accompanied by some men of his village to represent the panch or elders, goes to the girl's house. Father Dehon states that the bride-price is five rupees and four maunds of grain. When this has been settled the rejoicings begin. "All the people of the village are invited; two boys come and anoint the visitors with oil. From every house of the village that can afford it a handia or pot of rice-beer is brought, and they drink together and make merry. All this time the girl has been kept inside, but now she suddenly sallies forth carrying a handia on her head. A murmur of admiration greets her when stepping through the crowd she comes and stands in front of her future father-in-law, who at once takes the handia from her head, embraces her, and gives her one rupee. From that time during the whole of the feast the girl remains sitting at the feet of her father-in-law. The whole party meanwhile continue drinking and talking; and voices rise so high that they cannot hear one another. As a diversion the old women of the village all come tumbling in, very drunk and wearing fantastic hats made of leaves, gesticulating like devils and carrying a straw manikin representing the bridegroom. They all look like old witches, and in their drunken state are very mischievous."

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