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Occasional essays on native South Indian life online

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De Quincey somewhere says that, if he stopped to
consider what is proper to be said, he would soon
come to doubt whether any part at all is proper. In
writing the following pages I have stopped to
consider, and the inevitable misgiving has often
caused me to lay down my pen. Much that I have
written must, it seemed to me, be already well known,
and what was new was probably not worth knowing.
Hoping, however, that peradventure there may be
some men to whom these papers will be interesting,
I have taken courage to submit them to the public.

Amongst the many books which have been
published on India and Indian topics, it is rare to
find one that treats of the South. Since the time
of Clive and Hyder Ali, historical interest has
centred in the North. Travellers prefer to visit
the famous cities of the Punjab and the North- West
Provinces, the gardens of Kashmir, and the moun-
tains of Nepal, rather than the less attractive towns
and districts of the Southern Presidency. There are


many reasons why this should be so ; and I feel
that an apology is almost needed for venturing upon
:i South Indian topic.

In writing on such subjects, it is almost impossible
to avoid the use of some Indian words for which
there are no exact English equivalents. In these
cases I have added a footnote for the benefit of
readers who may not be sufficiently acquainted with
India to understand them. It may often happen,
too, that what is commonplace to the Anglo-
Indian is unintelligible to the English reader, and
the task of steering a middle course was not always

My thanks are due to many friends, both English
and Indian, who have assisted me with advice and
information. I am also indebted to the editor of the
Madras Mail, who has kindly allowed me to use
material contributed to that paper, and to the editor
of the Calcutta Revieiv, for permission to reprint the
paper called "A Forgotten Kebellion."

S. P. R.





I. Language 3

II. Manners and Customs 17

III. Religion 61

IV. Zemindars 83

V. Khonds and Savaras 97








The task which I have proposed to myself is to set
down in my leisure hours a few observations and
deductions which, during a stay, short indeed abso-
lutely, but long when compared with the sojourn of
most Government officers, I have been able to make
concerning manners and customs peculiar to the
Uriyas of Ganjam. I do not pretend to have
exhausted my subject ; I do not pretend to treat it
scientifically. Some of my incidents may be common-
place ; some customs which I imagine to be peculiar
to the district may be mere variations of Southern
customs. I claim only this merit, that everything
which is set down here, I have either seen myself or
have been told by the people, generally in their own
language. I give the following pages for what they
are worth ; but if I shall have only succeeded in stir-
ring up pleasant memories in the minds of those who
know the district, I shall not feel that my labour has
been in vain.

B 2


I imagine thai RIacaulay's school-boy, who knew
"who imprisoned Montezuma and who strangled
Atalmallpa," but who could not tell where Sujah
Dowlali reigned, is a fit analogy for many nowadays,
who have a very hazy idea of the position of Orissa
on the map ; who could not put their finger on the
great seat of the worship of Jagannath ; who do not
know that .Orissa has a special language of its own,
spoken by millions, or, if they do know it, have not
the remotest idea whether it has greater affinities for
Hindi or for Fijian.

And yet the people of Orissa are a distinct race —
distinct from the Bengalis to the north and from the
Telugu to the south — distinct in features, in manners,
in customs, in language especially. Orissa proper
lies within the province of Bengal, and the people of
Ganjam suffer in that they have been separated from
their brethren ; they are foundling children, alien
from the more favoured, because better recognized
Dravidian races ; alien even in the origin to which
their ancestry has been traced.

The Uriya language is rough and solid, resembling,
if I may venture on a somewhat too fanciful simile,
the unhewn temples of Salisbury Plain rather than
the graceful cathedral of Salisbury city. Indeed,


this simile is true in more senses than the obvious
one. For as Stonehenge is evidently the work of
rude and uncivilized hands, while the cathedral is the
production of more cunning artificers, so does Uriya
appear, in relation to other languages, as the language
of an uncivilized people. The foundation of it is
Sanskrit ; into the building there have been intro-
duced blocks from Hindustani quarries, and less
massive stones from the land of the Telugus ; but the
old structure remains all the same. It will, I think,
be conceded that the progress of a language is away
from inflection and synthesis. The two most highly
civilized nations in the world — the French and
English — use languages which, except in the case of
verbs, are almost entirely analytical. Uriya is a
highly inflected language. The nouns have separate
inflections, denoting possession, place, instrument.
The verbs are made to express condition, time,
causation, by means of inflection. But I am trans-
gressing my limits. I have no desire to write a treatise
on grammar or a philological essay. I shall leave it
to my readers to judge of my accuracy when I say
that the Uriya for ' at the houses ' is " ghoromtinong-
kothilre ! "

The written character bears a very close


resemblance to the Nagari letters. It has lost the
distinguishing line at the top, however, and the angles
have all beeD rounded into curves. I shall be able to
convey some idea of what I mean by citing in analogy
the relation between the Roman and the German
characters ; but in the present instance the dis-
similarity is far more marked.

There are very few — I may say, none — in
Ganjam who can write the language in a cursive
hand ; almost all the documents that one sees are
written in the printed character. So true is it
that the people of these parts cannot read or write a
cursive hand, that should a document so written be
received from beyond the frontier, it is extremely
difficult to find any one who can decipher it.

The language may be described as a blend of
Sanskrit and Hindustani ; I do not, however, use this
expression in the strict scientific sense : the basis of
the language, especially of the written language, is
Sanskrit, but it is not altogether impossible for a man
who knows only Hindustani to catch the drift of an
Uriya conversation. How far Hindustani has had a
direct influence on the language, and how far both
languages have borrowed similar words and similar
structures from the Sanskrit it is not the province of


this essay to discuss. One curious fact is worth
recording ; it is that the vowel-sound which in many
Oriental languages is understood (though not written)
with consonants, and which in other Indian languages
is represented by a short " a " becomes in Uriya a
primitive " o " sound.

One of the characteristics which betrays that the
Uriya language has not progressed, and that the
nation is still in the infancy of its civilization, is
the fondness for onomatopoetic words. It is natural
that tribes in a primitive state, who wished to ex-
press some object in speech, should coin words
suggested by some sound made by the object, whether
it be a living being or a natural phenomenon.
" Kukkuda " is the word for a fowl, and it is a clear
imitation of the call which has led us to christen the
bird "Cock-a-doodle-doo." "Bromboro" is not a
bad reproduction in miniature of the humming of
those peculiarly objectionable and stupid beetles
which thrust themselves in one's face, often at the
most critical moment. Again, " chinkibaro," if you
violently accentuate the first syllable, tells its own
tale ; no interpreter is needed to inform us that this
is the word for " to sneeze."

The Sanskrit element appears very prominently


in [Jriya names. As far as my experience of Telugu
names has gone, I have found that the lower classes
use purely vernacular names, not to be traced to any
Sanskrit form, and not representing either the gods
of the true Hindu mythology or their attributes.
Even among the educated classes the names are con-
fined to variations of a root form ; variations, for
instance, on the root form Jagat, variations on the
names Rama, Krishna, Sita. The only name I can
at present remember which conveys any picture to
the mind is the name Narasimham, the man-lion ; but
as that is an incarnation, and not an attribute, of
Vishnu, it is hardly a case in point,

Amongst the Uriyas, however, the appellations
derived from the attributes of the gods are many and
various. Syamo-sundara means "of a beautiful
bluish colour," and is an attribute of Krishna.
Krishna, too, is the " Dhonu-dhara " or bow-bearer,
the far-darting Apollo of Hindu lore. Brundavano
means a forest of the sacred " tulasi " plant. We
may hope that he who bears the name " Nityananda "
(always rejoicing) is as free from care as his name
suggests. " Dasarathi " is a good instance of the
purely Sanskrit character of these names. It is
derived from Dasaratha (ten cars) by pure Sanskrit


derivative method. I do not wish to multiply
instances, though I find many more ready to my
hand. Just as in Homer we find the " constant
epithet," so that Athene is " yXavKcons, Here' is \evk-
a>\evos, Apollo is e/cctepyos ; so the Uriya people have
seized on the epithets, and call their sons " grey-
eyed " and " far-darting," while their Telugu neigh-
bours have rather adopted the names themselves of
the gods.

In default of a better name Robinson Crusoe
called the savage whose life he saved " Friday," that
being the day of their meeting. The lower classes of
the Uriya people have a custom from which Defoe
has unconsciously borrowed. The names Sombaria
(Monday), Sukria (Friday), are not at all uncommon,
and Sunday and Thursday have also been requisi-
tioned. Why Saturday should not be used is not
inexplicable, for from the time of the earliest Acca-
dian mythology Saturday has been a day of evil
omen ; and many a Hindu has as superstitious a dread
of beginning an undertaking on Saturday as some
amongst us have of going on a journey on Friday, or
of sitting down thirteen to table.

The names of which I have been treating arc
what I may call the Christian names. Generally


speaking-, the Uriyas have two names — that which
3ervea to distinguish the individual and that which
Berves to show his caste or sect. Brahmins have
many titles, most of which denote in some form or
other the overlordship of the ruling class. The
highest sect is called " Satopasti," a corruption of
satopati, from "swoto" (100) and "pati" (a lord).
These are supposed to be the flower of the Brahmin
tribe, who receive the homage even of inferior
Brahmins. " Paniorahi " is a curious title with a
curious history. It appears that when the rajas went
a-walkinoj it was not meet for them to walk alone.
Certain Brahmins therefore accompanied them — one
walking on each side. The raja would place his
hands upon the outspread palms of these courtiers,
and thus walk along in stately if uncomfortable
dignity. From this practice arose the name " Pani-
grahi " — " he that holdeth the hands."

Those that attend the car, carry the idol, and
perform other acts of devotion around the god at
Purushottam or Puri, are called Ponda. The deriva-
tion of this word is not clear to me, but I believe the
word is connected with the root "padh," "to
read." This derivation appears more obviously
in the name Padhi, the title of another sect


of Brahmins, whose duty it is to expound the

The heads of the village are called " Korono,"
"the doer," and " Karji," "the manager." Both
words are derived from the same root, " kar," though
the latter is more directly connected with the word
" karjyo," " an affair." It is surely a practical view
of life that the Uriya takes, when the village heads
are thus the representatives of action. Or perhaps
— and this is the more probable view — the village
heads are the "doer" and the "manager" par ex-
cellence, to whom the ryot entrusts all his doing and
managing, the better to gratify his own laziness.

The korono, who is really only the accountant,
but who, by reason of his higher education, is generally
the ultimate authority in the village, appropriates
to himself as his caste distinction the title " Poto-
naiko." The word signifies the naik or head of the
town. It is curious to find that the word " naiko,"
which is corrupted into the Telugu " naidu," is the caste
distinction of the lowest class, the village watcher
and professional thief !

This man, for all that his cognomen is thus
lofty, goes by the generic name of " Dandassi." This
word means " worthy of punishment ; " and assuredly


no appellation ever fitted its owner more completely
than does this. He is the village policeman and the
village thief — a curious mixture of callings! The
villagers seem to have acted on the proverb, " Set
a thief to catch a thief ; " and if they do not always
manage to catch their thief, they at least live up to
their maxim in setting one !

Before quitting the subject of men's names — and
I fear lest I grow tedious — I must mention one which
I think is worthy of explanation. The word for
a barber is " Bhondari." This word is derived from
" bhondaram," a treasure. Not much connection, one
would think, between treasure and a barber, unless it
be that with razor, ruthless as the shears of Atropos,
he sometimes shaves the precious moustache, or de-
molishes the delicately nurtured whisker. The real
truth is that the zemindars * delivered over the
guarding of the treasure to the professional barber,
who became a more important person in this capacity
than in his original office of " shaver in ordinary to
his Highness." The name has survived ; the office
has given place to one which the average reader will
consider more of a necessity and less of a luxury.

■ A zemindar is a landed proprietor, who generally keeps up
on a small scale the state of a raja. His estate is called a


But while most Uriyas have only two names,
many are to be met with in the zemindaris who boast
of three or even four. The additions are for the most
part titles given by the various zemindars, and they
are often even more easily acquired than some knight-
hoods and many medals ! A title, generally accom-
panied by more substantial recognition, in the shape
of land, is given for "blessing" the zemindar, for
holding his umbrella, perhaps for handing him betel
leaves. Sir "Walter Raleigh is not the only one
whose entrance into Court favour was carpeted with
a muddy cloak of plush !

Thus titles for the most part denote some sort of
compliment, such as " Bhushano," an ornament,
" Ratno," a jewel, or " Subuddhi," the wise. Others,
again, seem to have no meaning, but are simply
fanciful names invented by the zemindars.

" What's in a name ? " cried the passionate Juliet ;
and she was right, for to her Romeo was Romeo,
though he were christened Tom or Dick. But we
who live in a later and more dispassionate age, who
are wont to look at things in the full light of practi-
cal common-sense, or in the cold, dry light of scientific
research, may be allowed to ascribe some virtue to
a name.


Names are not given to men or to towns as
Clumbers arc to convicts and American streets. There
was a reason, probably, for every name — an aesthetic
reason, perhaps, but still a reason. No more direct
instances can be found than those which occur in the
Bible. The Israelites, even in the course of their
march across the desert, named the places from
fortuitous circumstances. Marah, bitterness, and
Meribah, strife, testify to the accidents to which the
names are due. Nor is it incident alone which
suggests names. Jericho, the city of palm trees,
Bethphage, and Bethany, betray in their names the
natural features of the places which they distinguish.

The history of a place and the character of its
people are often bound up in its name. Thus, in our
own England, the affix " Chester " shows the Eoman
occupation, " ton " is West Saxon, while " by "
indicates a settlement of the Danes ; and is there not
a whole volume of history in this ?

If the Uriyas show peculiarities in the names they
choose for their children, the names of their villages
must also be allowed to be in many cases imaginative.
Unfortunately, many of the low country villages are
called by names which are so corrupted that it is very
difficult to trace their meaning now. There are,


however, one or two instances which will serve to
illustrate this remark. " Nolihaddo," the hollow bone,
suggests grim legends, but " Gangadohoni," the Uriya
name for the flower called " gloriosa superba," calls
up visions of sweet lanes and scented hedgerows, of
an Indian " bank whereon the wild thyme grows."
Alas ! poor vision ! rudely dissipated by the stern
reality of cowsheds and the common native huts of
mud and thatch. Nothing could resemble less an
English country lane ; nothing could remind one less
of the brilliant scarlet and yellow of the flower whose
name the village bears.

In the mountains, where Nature made a more
direct impression on the \Jriya mind, there are many
fanciful and imaginative names. An Oriental poet
has told us that " the high hills are a refuge for the
wild goats." From the plains below the Uriya looked
up on the steep hills, strewn with rocks and boulders,
over which he must climb to his first settlement. It
was not surprising, therefore, that he christened the
place " Chelligodo," or the Fortress of the Goat. In
the next halting-place was a high hill, and the Uriyas
going out to their labour in the morning would see
the sun rise over this hill day after day. The Hill of
Sunrise is not an inappropriate name for the village.


The radiance of the sun and moon seem especially to
have struck them, and the glories of the sunset seem
to have inspired the name of one village, Subarnagiri,
or the Hill of Shining Gold !

It happened that on a dark and stormy night,
while the river ran high, a young Mussulman prince
was riding a black charger along its banks. Terrified
by the bowling of the storm and by the vivid flashes
of lightning, or perhaps goaded on by the malice of
the Evil One, the animal became unmanageable and
plunged into the rushing stream. Neither horse nor
rider was ever seen again. But the " Ghodo Haddo,"
the Bones of the Horse, flows over its sandy bed, the
grave of the prince and his steed, as it flowed on that
stormy night.

In one of those deadly quarrels w T hich sometimes
arise between branches of the same house, matters had
gone too far for reconciliation. A duel w T as fought
between the brothers ; nor had it an end until

" Side by side those chiefs of pride
Together fell down dead."

Thus they fought and died, and their memory
survives. The place is called Mundomorai, "the
Smiting of the Heads."



It is a tradition amongst those of the Madras
Presidency whose fortune has never taken them into
the Ganjam district, to conceive of the Uriya as an
inferior animal — as belonging to a race not merely
low in the rank of civilization, but incapable of better
things. As a ryot he is unambitious, as a clerk he
is incorrigibly dull, as a man he is far behind the
age even of his next-door neighbour, the Telugu.
The tradition has become so firmly rooted in the
minds of those who have given the subject a thought,
that the defects of the Uriya are generally ascribed to
something inherent in himself, or to his racial qualities,
and very little account is taken of outside influences.
The Uriya of Ganjam labours under two disadvantages.
He is very far from Madras, and he inhabits only
part of a district. He speaks a language which is
spoken in Bengal, but not in any part of the Madras
Presidency save Ganjam, unless we except the Uriya


hill-tribes of Jeypore in the Vizagapatam district;
these, however, need scarcely be taken into account.
It is rather curious to notice that in a recent Madras
Act,* in which are enumerated the various names
by which a village headman is known in various
districts, the Uriya alone is unrepresented. The fact
is significant, for it shows how little he is considered,
nay, how entirely his existence is ignored.

But if the Uriya has been under a disadvantage,
owing to the paucity of his numbers, and to his
want of affinity with the other inhabitants of the
Presidency, this disadvantage is as nothing compared
with his geographical position. The Uriyas of Ganjam
inhabit a Ion g and narrow district in the extreme
north of the Presidency, three hundred miles from
Calcutta and six hundred from Madras — a district to
which till lately access could only be had by sea —
whose main port is an open roadstead, always danger-
ous, and often impracticable. Those who sit in high
places, who made it their business to visit southern
districts, rarely paid a visit to Ganjam. There was
no inducement for the men of other districts to come
to him ; still less was there any inducement for the
Uriya to go south, where his language would be
* The Village Service Cess Act.


unknown, and where all his ambition would be
swamped by an overwhelming competition.

The consequence of these disadvantages is that
education has languished. The goal of an Uriya boy
who wishes to educate himself, is to be master of
Telugu — to be acquainted with Uriya. The school-
master who is not trained in Madras is generally
trained at Kajahmundry on the Godavari. He has
probably learnt such Uriya as he possesses from a
foreigner. I remember seeing a suggestion made
that a professor of Uriya, who really knew the lan-
guage, should be appointed at Kajahmundry. Even a
French boy, whose youth had been given to learning
English, and whose knowledge of French literature
was simply what he could glean from an English
master in an English school, would not make a good
instructor, save perhaps to kindergartens. Thus
arises a want of qualified Uriya teachers to train those
who, in their turn, are to instruct Uriya boys in the
various village schools. Too often it happens that
the schoolmaster who has set up on his own account
has himself only the knowledge which will suffice
to take his pupils as far as the rules of money
calculation, and the reading of a simple book.

With those ideas which arc born of tradition and


fostered by prejudice, it has been the custom to
decry the Uriya as a dirty, lazy lout, certainly dissolute,
and probably drunken, whose only virtue is an
unobtrusiveness, due to his insignificance. The causes
of this view of the Uriya are these. In the first
place, as I said, before, there is a tradition that the
Uriya is an inferior animal, and hence arises a desire
to prove that tradition correct — by a posteriori argu-
ments, if by nothing better. To this end the observer
is blind to the virtues, which are not apparent, and
notices only the vices, which are. This unconscious
desire to make observed facts fit in with a pre-
conceived theory, ignoring those facts which modify,
if they do not destroy it, is a failing to which all
are prone, and which might of itself account for the
present estimation of the Uriya. But there is another
cause. It is in just those avocations of life in which

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