Edgar Thurston.

Castes and tribes of southern India (Volume 1) online

. (page 16 of 33)
Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing them at the root of the nearest fruit tree on their

Most of the Bants are Hindus by religion, and rank
as Sudras, but about ten thousand of them are Jains.
Probably they originally assumed Jainism as a fashionable
addition to the ancestral demon worship, to which they
all still adhere, whether they profess to be Vaishnavites,
Saivites, or Jains. It is probable that, during the political
supremacy of the Jains, a much larger proportion of the
Bants professed adherence to that religion than now-a-

There are four principal sub-divisions of the caste,
viz., Masadika, who are the ordinary Bants of Tuluva ;
Nadava or Nad, who speak Canarese, and are found in
the northern part of South Canara ; the Parivara, who
do not follow the aliya santana system of inheritance ;
and the Jains. Members of these sub-divisions may not
intermarry, but instances have occurred of marriage
between members of the Masadika and Nad sub-

Nothing very definite is known of the origin of the
Bants, but Tuluva seems, in the early centuries of the
Christian era, to have had kings who apparently were
sometimes independent and sometimes feudatories of
overlords, such as the Pallavas, the early Kadambas, the
early Chalukyans, the later Kadambas, the western
Chalukyans, the Kalachurians, and the Hoysal Ballals.
This indicates a constant state of fighting, which would
account for an important class of the population being
known as Bantaru or warriors ; and, as a matter of course,
they succeeded in becoming the owners of all the land
which did not fall lo the share of the priestly class, the
Brahmans. Ancient inscriptions speak of kings of


Tuluva, and the Bairasu Wodears of Karakal, whose
inscriptions have been found at Kalasa as early as the
twelfth century, may have exercised power throughout
Tuluva or the greater part of it. But, when the Vijaya-
nagar dynasty became the overlords of Canara in 1336,
there were then existing a number of minor chiefs who had
probably been in power long before, and the numerous
titles still remaining among the Bants and Jains, and the
local dignities known as Pattam and Gadi, point to the
existence from very early times of a number of more or
less powerful local chieftains. The system peculiar to
the west coast under which all property vests in females,
and is managed by the seniors of the family, was also
favourable to the continuance of large landed properties,
and it is probable that it is only within comparatively
recent times that sub-division of landed property became
anything like as common as it is now. All the Bants,
except the Parivara and a few Jains follow this aliya
santana system of inheritance,* a survival of a time
when the military followers of conquering invaders or
local chiefs married women of the local land-owning
classes, and the most important male members of the
family were usually absent in camp or at court, while the
women remained at the family house on the estate, and
managed the farms. The titles and the pattams or dig-
nities have always been held by the male members, but,
as they also go with the landed property, they necessarily
devolve on the sister's son of a deceased holder, whence
has arisen the name aliya santana, which means sister's
son lineage. A story is embodied in local traditions,
attributing the origin of the system to the fiat of a king
named Bhutal Pandya, until whose time makkala santana,

* See G. Krishna Rao. Treatise on Aliya Santana Law and Usage, Manga-
lore, 1898.

153 BANT

or inheritance from father to son, generally obtained.
" It is said that the maternal uncle of this prince, called
Deva Pandya, wanted to launch his newly constructed
ships with valuable cargo in them, when Kundodara,
king of demons demanded a human sacrifice. Deva
Pandya asked his wife's permission to offer one of his
sons, but she refused, while his sister Satyavati offered
her son Jaya Pandya for the purpose. Kundodara, dis-
covering in the child signs of future greatness, waived
the sacrifice, and permitted the ships to sail. He then
took the child, restored to him his father's kingdom of
Jayantika, and gave him the name of Bhutal Pandya.
Subsequently, when some of the ships brought immense
wealth, the demon again appeared, and demanded of Deva
Pandya another human sacrifice. On the latter again
consulting his wife, she refused to comply with the
request, and publicly renounced her title and that of her
children to the valuable property brought in the ships.
Kundodara then demanded the Deva Pandya to disinherit
his sons of the wealth which had been brought in the
ships, as also of the kingdom, and to bestow all on his
sister's son, Jaya or Bhutal Pandya. This was accord-
ingly done. And, as this prince inherited his kingdom
from his maternal uncle and not from his father, he ruled
that his own example should be followed by his subjects,
and it was thus that the aliya santana law was established
about A.D. 77."*

It is noted by Mr. L. Moore t that various judicial
decisions relating to the aliya santana system are based
to a great extent on a book termed Aliya Santanada
Kattu Kattale, which was alleged to be the work of
Bhutala Pandiya, who, according to Dr. Whitley Stokes,

* Calcutta Review. t Malabar Law and Custom, 3rd ed., 1905.

BANT 154

the learned scholar who edited the first volume of the
Madras High Court Reports, lived about A.D. 78, but
which is in reality a very recent forgery compiled about
1 840. As to this, Dr. A. C. Burnell observes as follows in
a note in his law of partition and succession. " One patent
imposture yet accepted by the Courts as evidence is
the Aliya Santanada Kattu Kattale, a falsified account
of the customs of South Canara. Silly as many Indian
books are, a more childish or foolish tract it would be
impossible to discover ; it is about as much worthy
of notice in a law court as ' Jack the Giant Killer.'
That it is a recent forgery is certain .... The
origin of the book in its present state is well-known ; it
is satisfactorily traced to two notorious forgers and
scoundrels about thirty years ago, and all copies have
been made from the one they produced. I have enquired
in vain for an old manuscript, and am informed, on the
best authority, that not one exists. A number of recent
manuscripts are to be found, but they all differ essen-
tially one from another. A more clumsy imposture it
would be hard to find, but it has proved a mischievous one
in South Canara, and threatens to render a large amount
of property quite valueless. The forgers knew the
people they had to deal with, the Bants, and, by insert-
ing a course that families which did not follow the Aliya
Santana shall become extinct, have effectually prevented
an application for legislative interference, though the
poor superstitious folk would willingly (it is said) have
the custom abolished." *

As a custom similar to aliya santana prevails in
Malabar, it no doubt originated before Tuluva and Kerala

* The Law of Partition and Succession, from the text of Varadaraja' 5
Vyavaharaniranya by A. C. Burnell (1872).

155 BANT

were separated. The small body of Parivara Bants, and
the few Jain Bants that do not follow the aliya santana
system, are probably the descendants of a few families
who allowed their religious conversion to Hinduism or
Jainism to have more effect on their social relations than
was commonly the case. Now that the ideas regarding
marriage among the Bants are in practice assimilated to a
great extent to those of most other people, the national
rule of inheritance is a cause of much heart-burning and
quarrelling, fathers always endeavouring to benefit their
own offspring at the cost of the estate. A change would
be gladly welcomed by many, but vested interests in
property constitute an almost insuperable obstacle.

The Bants do not usually object to the use of animal
food, except, of course, the flesh of the cow, and they do
not as a rule wear the sacred thread. But there are some
families of position called Ballals, amongst whom heads of
families abstain from animal food, and wear the sacred
thread. These neither eat nor intermarry with the
ordinary Bants. The origin of the Ballals is explained by
a proverb, which says that when a Bant becomes power-
ful, he becomes a Ballal. Those who have the dignity
called Pattam, and the heads of certain families, known
as Shettivalas or Heggades, also wear the sacred thread,
and are usually managers or mukhtesars of the temples
and bhutasthans or demon shrines within the area over
which, in former days, they are said to have exercised
a more extended jurisdiction, dealing not only with caste
disputes, but settling numerous civil and criminal matters.
The Jain Bants are strict vegetarians, and they abstain
from the use of alcoholic liquors, the consumption of
which is permitted among other Bants, though the
practice is not common. The Jain Bants avoid taking
food after sunset.

BANT 156

The more well-to-do Bants usually occupy substantial
houses on their estates, in many of which there is much
fine wood-work, and, in some cases, the pillars of the
porches and verandahs, and the doorways are artisti-
cally and elaborately carved. These houses have been
described as being well built, thatched with palm, and
generally prettily situated with beautiful scenic prospects
stretching away on all sides.

The Bants have not as a rule largely availed them-
selves of European education, and consequently there
are but few of them in the Government service, but
among these few some have attained to high office, and
been much respected. As is often the case among high
spirited people of primitive modes of thought, party and
faction feeling run high, and jealousy and disputes about
landed property often lead to hasty acts of violence.
Now-a-days, however, the last class of disputes more
frequently lead to protracted litigation in the Courts.

The Bants are fond of out-door sports, football and
buffalo-racing being amongst their favourite amusements.
But the most popular of all is cock-fighting. Every
Bant, who is not a Jain, takes an interest in this sport,
and large assemblages of cocks are found at every fair
and festival throughout South Canara. " The outsider,"
it has been said,* " cannot fail to be struck with the
tremendous excitement that attends a village fair in
South Canara. Large numbers of cocks are displayed
for sale, and groups of excited people may be seen
huddled together, bending down with intense eagerness
to watch every detail in the progress of a combat between
two celebrated village game-cocks." Cock fights on
an elaborate scale take place on the day after the

* Calcutta Review.



157 BANT

Dlpavali, Sankaranthi or Vinayakachathurthi, and Goka-
lashtami festivals, outside the village boundary. At
Hiriadaka, in October, 1907, more than a hundred birds
were tethered by the leg to the scrub jungle composed
of the evergreen shrub Ixora coccinea, or carried in the
arms of their owners or youngsters. Only males, from
the town and surrounding villages, were witnesses of the
spectacle. The tethered birds, if within range of each
other, excited by the constant crowing and turmoil,
indulged in an impromptu fight. Grains of rice and
water were poured into the mouths and over the heads
of the birds before the fight, and after each round. The
birds were armed with cunningly devised steel spurs,
constituting a battery of variously curved and sinuous
weapons. It is believed that the Bhuta (demon) is
appeased, if the blood from the wounds drops on the
ground. The men, whose duty it is to separate the
birds at the end of a round, sometimes receive nasty
wounds from the spurs. The tail feathers of a wounded
bird are lifted up, and a palm leaf fan or towel is waved
to and fro over the cloacal orifice to revive it. The
owner of a victorious bird becomes the possessor of the
vanquished bird, dead or alive. At an exhibition of the
products of South Canara, during a recent visit of the
Governor of Madras to Mangalore, a collection of spurs
was exhibited in the class " household implements."

For the following note on buffalo races, I am in-
debted to Mr. H. O. D. Harding. "This is a sport
that has grown up among a race of cultivators of wet
land. It is, I believe, peculiar to South Canara, where
all the cultivation worth mentioning is wet. The Bants
and Jains, and other landowners of position, own and
run buffaloes, and the Billava, or toddy drawer, has also
entered the racing world. Every rich Bant keeps his

BANT 158

kambla field consecrated to buffalo-racing, and his pair
of racing buffaloes, costing from Rs. 150 to Rs. 50x3, are
splendid animals ; and, except for an occasional plough-
drawing at the beginning of the cultivation season, are
used for no purpose all the year, except racing. The
racing is for no prize or stakes, and there is no betting,
starter, judge, or winning post. Each pair of buffaloes
runs the course alone, and is judged by the assembled
crowd for pace and style, and, most important of all, the
height and breadth of the splash which they make.
Most people know the common levelling plank used by
the ryots (cultivators) all over India to level the wet field
after ploughing. It is a plank some 4 or 5 feet long by
i or ij feet broad, and on it the driver stands to give
it weight, and the buffaloes pull it over the mud of a
flooded rice-field. This is the prototype of the buffalo-
racing car, and any day during the cultivating season in
the Tulu country one may see two boys racing for the
love of the sport, as they drive their levelling boards.
From this the racing car has been specialised, and, if a
work of art for its own purpose, is not a car on which
any one could or would wish to travel far. The leveller
of utility is cut down to a plank about ij by i foot,
sometimes handsomely carved, on which is fixed a gaily
decorated wooden stool about 6 inches high and 10
inches across each way, hollowed out on the top, and
just big enough to afford good standing for one foot.
In the plank, on each side, are holes to let the mud and
water through. The plank is fixed to a pole, which is
tied to the buffalo's yoke. The buffaloes are decorated
with coloured jhuls and marvellous head-pieces of brass
and silver (sometimes bearing the emblems of the sun
and moon), and ropes which make a sort of bridle. The
driver, stripping himself to the necessary minimum of





159 BANT

garments, mounts, while some of his friends cling, like
ants struggling round a dead beetle, to the buffaloes.
When he is fairly up, they let go, and the animals start.
The course is a wet rice-field, about 150 yards long, full
of mud and water. All round are hundreds, or perhaps
thousands of people, including Pariahs who dance in
groups in the mud, play stick-game, and beat drums.
In front of the galloping buffaloes the water is clear and
still, throwing a powerful reflection of them as they
gallop down the course, raising a perfect tornado of mud
and water. The driver stands with one foot on the
stool, and one on the pole of the car. He holds a whip
aloft in one hand, and one of the buffaloes' tails in the
other. He drives without reins, with nothing but a
waggling tail to hold on to and steer by. Opening his
mouth wide, he shouts for all he is worth, while, to all
appearances, a deluge of mud and water goes down his
throat. So he comes down the course, the plank on
which he stands throwing up a sort of Prince of Wales'
feathers of mud and water round him. The stance on
the plank is no easy matter, and not a few men come to
grief, but it is soft falling in the slush. Marks are given
for pace, style, sticking to the plank, and throwing
up the biggest and widest splash. Sometimes a kind of
gallows, perhaps twenty feet high, is erected on the
course, and there is a round of applause if the splash
reaches up to or above it. Sometimes the buffaloes
bolt, scatter the crowd, and get away into the young
rice. At the end of the course, the driver jumps off with
a parting smack at his buffaloes, which run up the slope
of the field, and stop of themselves in what may be
called the paddock. At a big meeting perhaps a
hundred pairs, brought from all over the Tulu country,
will compete, and the big men always send their

BANT 1 60

buffaloes to the races headed by the local band. The
roads are alive with horns and tom-toms for several
days. The proceedings commence with a procession,
which is not infrequently headed by a couple of painted
dolls in an attitude suggestive of that reproductiveness,
which the races really give thanks for. They are a sort
of harvest festival, before the second or sugge crop
is sown, and are usually held in October and Novem-
ber. Devils must be propitiated, and the meeting
opens with a devil dance. A painted, grass-crowned
devil dancer, riding a hobby-horse, proceeds with music
round the kambla field. Then comes the buffalo proces-
sion, and the races commence. At a big meeting near
Mangalore, the two leading devil dancers were dressed
up in masks, and coat and trousers of blue mission cloth,
and one had the genitalia represented by a long piece
of blue cloth tipped with red, and enormous testes.
Buffaloes, young and old, trained and untrained, compete,
some without the plank attached to them, and others
with planks but without drivers. Accidents sometimes
happen, owing to the animals breaking away among the
crowd. On one occasion, a man who was in front of a
pair of buffaloes which were just about to start failed to
jump clear of them. Catching hold of the yoke, he
hung on to it by his hands, and was carried right down
the course, and was landed safely at the other end. If
he had dropped, he would have fallen among four pairs
of hoofs, not to mention the planks, and would probably
have been brained. It is often a case of owners up, and
the sons and nephews of big Bants, worth perhaps
Rs. 10,000 a year, drive the teams."

To the above account, I may add a few notes made at
a buffalo race-meeting near Udipi, at which I was present.
Each group of buffaloes, as they went up the track to

161 BANT

the starting-point, was preceded by the Koraga band
playing on drum, fife and cymbals, Holeyas armed
with staves and dancing, and a man holding a flag
(nishani). Sometimes, in addition to the flag, there is a
pakke or spear on the end of a bamboo covered with
strips of cloth, or a makara torana, i.e., festooned cloths
between two bamboos. The two last are permitted
only if the buffaloes belong to a Bant or Brahman, not
if they are the property of a Billava. At the end of the
races, the Ballala chief, in whose field they had taken
place, retired in procession, headed by a man carrying
his banner, which, during the races, had been floating
on the top of a long bamboo pole at the far end of the
track. He was followed by the Koraga band, and the
Holeyas attached to him, armed with clubs, and dancing
a step dance amid discordant noises. Two Nalkes
(devil-dancers), dressed up in their professional garb, and
a torch-bearer also joined in the procession, in the rear of
which came the Ballala beneath a decorated umbrella.
In every village there are rakshasas (demons), called
Kambla-asura, who preside over the fields. The races
are held to propitiate them, and, if they are omitted,
it is believed that there will be a failure of the crop.
According to some, Kambla-asura is the brother of
Maheshasura, the buffalo-headed giant, from whom
Mysore receives its name. The Koragas sit up through
the night before the Kambla day, performing a ceremony
called panikkuluni, or sitting under the dew. They
sing songs to the accompaniment of the band, about
their devil Nicha, and offer toddy and a rice-pudding
boiled in a large earthen pot, which is broken so that
the pudding remains as a solid mass. This pudding is
called kandel adde, or pot pudding. On the morning of
the races, the Holeyas scatter manure over the field, and

BANT 162

plough it. On the following day, the seedlings are
planted, without, as in ordinary cases, any ploughing. To
propitiate various devils, the days following the races are
devoted to cock-fighting. The Kamblas, in different
places, have various names derived from the village deity,
the chief village devil, or the village itself, e.g., Janar-
dhana Devara, Daivala, or Udiyavar. The young men,
who have the management of the buffaloes, are called
Bannangayi Gurikara (half-ripe cocoanut masters) as they
have the right of taking tender cocoanuts, as well as
beaten rice to give them physical strength, without the
special permission of their landlord. At the village of
Vandar, the races take place in a dry field, which has
been ploughed, and beaten to break up the clods of earth.
For this reason they are called podi (powder) Kambla.

A pair of buffaloes, belonging to the field in which
the races take place, should enter the field first, and a
breach of this observance leads to discussion and
quarrels. On one occasion, a dispute arose between two
Bants in connection with the question of precedence.
One of them brought his own pair of buffaloes, and the
other a borrowed pair. If the latter had brought his
own animals, he would have had precedence over the
former. But, as his animals were borrowed, precedence
was given to the man who brought his own buffaloes.
This led to a dispute, and the races were not commenced
until the delicate point at issue was decided. In some
places, a long pole, called pukare, decorated with flags,
flowers, and festoons of leaves, is set up in the Kambla
field, sometimes on a platform. Billavas are in charge
of this pole, which is worshipped, throughout the races,
and others may not touch it.

Fines inflicted by the Bant caste council are, I am
informed, spent in the celebration of a temple festival.


1 63 BANT

In former days, those found guilty by the council were
beaten with tamarind switches, made to stand exposed
to the sun, or big red ants were thrown over their
bodies. Sometimes, to establish the innocence of an
accused person, he had to take a piece of red-hot iron
(axe, etc.) in his hand, and give it to his accuser.

At a puberty ceremony among some Bants the girl
sits in the courtyard of her house on five unhusked
cocoanuts covered with the bamboo cylinder which is
used for storing paddy. Women place four pots filled
with water, and containing betel leaves and nuts, round
the girl, and empty the contents over her head. She is
then secluded in an outhouse. The women are enter-
tained with a feast, which must include fowl and fish
curry. The cocoanuts are given to a washerwoman. On
the fourth day, the girl is bathed, and received back at the
house. Beaten rice, and rice flour mixed with jaggery
(crude sugar) are served out to those assembled. The
girl is kept gosha (secluded) for a time, and fed up with
generous diet.

Under the aliya santana system of inheritance, the
High Court has ruled that there is no marriage within
the meaning of the Penal Code. But, though divorce
and remarriage are permitted to women, there are formal
rules and ceremonies observed in connection with them,
and amongst the well-to-do classes divorce is not looked
upon as respectable, and is not frequent. The fictitious
marriage prevailing amongst the Nayars is unknown
among the Bants, and a wife also usually leaves the
family house, and resides at her husband's, unless she
occupies so senior a position in her own family as to
make it desirable that she should live on the family estate.

The Bants are divided into a number of balis
(exogamous septs), which are traced in the female line,

BANT 164

i.e., a boy belongs to his mother's, not to his father's
bali. Children belonging to the same bali cannot marry,
and the prohibition extends to .certain allied (koodu)
balis. Moreover, a man cannot marry his father's
brother's daughter, though she belongs to a different
bali. In a memorandum by Mr. M. Mundappa Bangera,*
it is stated that " bali in aliya santana families corre-
sponds to gotra of the Brahmins governed by Hindu
law, but differs in that it is derived from the mother's
side, whereas gotra is always derived from the father's
side. A marriage between a boy and girl belonging to
the same bali is considered incestuous, as falling within
the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. It is not at
all difficult to find out the bali to which a man or woman
belongs, as one can scarcely be found who does not

Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 33)