William Wilson Hunter.

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west, here crossed the stream of Kolarian immigrants from the north-
east. One of the Gond hymns, which he has preserved, relates how
the Gonds were created near Mount Divvalagiri in the Himalayas ; how
their gluttonous and impure habits caused a foul odour to arise, which
offended the nostrils of Mahadeva ; and how Mahadeva, while bathing,
made a squirrel out of part of his body, and sent it to flee with tail
erect before the Gonds. The Gonds pursued the squirrel, and followed
it into a cave, which was the god's prison on earth. Then Mahadeva
arose and placed a stone 16 cubits long at the entrance of the cave,
and stationed a giant to guard it. But four brothers had remained
behind. They travelled on over hill and dale, till by the jungly road
they reached Kachikopa Lohargarh, the Iron valley in the Red Hills.
There they found a giant, who was at first inclined to eat them ; but



CENTRAL PROVINCES. 307

becoming pacified, gave them his seven daughters in marriage. From
these unions sprang the present Gond race. This legend, at any rate,
is consistent with the theory that the Gonds entered the country from
the north, and intermarried with the inhabitants they found there.

Pointing to the same conclusion is the fact, that till lately they buried
their dead with the feet turned northward, so that the corpse might be
ready to be borne to the home of its people. But apart from these
speculations, the Gonds justly claim attention as in some degree a
progressive race, which, with Aryan peoples all around, succeeded in
forming and upholding for 200 years an independent power, and which
still maintains its separate nationality. From the upper classes, indeed,
the pure Gond is rapidly disappearing. Most of the so-called Gond
chiefs, and of the families which call themselves 'Raj-Gond' or ' Royal
Gond,' are of mixed blood, though with the aboriginal type still
dominant. Yet, while they outdo the Hindus themselves in cere-
monial refinements, purifying even their faggots before using them for
cooking, they retain a taint of their old mountain superstitions ; some
still seek to atone for their desertion of the gods of their fathers, by
worshipping them in secret once every four or five years, and by placing
cow's flesh to their lips, wrapped in a cloth, so as not to break too
openly with the Hindu divinities. But the plebeian or Dhiir-Gond is
generally of purer blood, owing to the contempt with which the Hindus
regard him. The lowest of the Hindu castes ranks above him, and only
the Mhars and Dhers take place beneath him in the social scale. To
him the contact of a higher civilisation has brought harm rather than
good. Amid a Hindu population, his stalwart limbs make him a useful
drudge, but his spirit is broken, and his old frankness has vanished.
In the highlands, however, the Gond, less contaminated by Hindu
influence, appears to greater advantage.

In the Feudatory State of Bastar, the hill tribes constitute at
least three -fifths of the population. There the Marias form the
most numerous caste. The Maria carries a small iron knife in his
girdle, and a hatchet hangs from his shoulders; but his favourite
weapon is the bow. This is made of bamboo ; and a strip of the
bark of the same useful plant, secured by cords to the ends, supplies
the bowstring ; the arrows are of many forms, but all pointed with
iron. The Marias are skilful archers ; they use the feet to bend the
bow, while they draw the string with both hands, sending an arrow
almost through the body of a deer. The Maris are still wilder,
and invariably fly from their grass -built huts on the approach of
strangers. Once a year, an officer collects their tribute for the Raja,
which is paid in kind. He beats a tom-tom outside the village, and
forthwith hides himself; whereupon the inhabitants bring out whatever
they have to give, and deposit it in an appointed spot. The customs



3 oS CENTRAL PROVINCES.

of the different hill tribes are very similar. The Bhfls, indeed, are
singular in the jealousy they exhibit about the honour of their women.
The Halbas, who in Bastar make their living by distilling spirits, and
worship a pantheon of glorified distillers, have, unlike the other wild
tribes, settled down in Raipur as successful cultivators, holding their
own in the open country.

Physical Appearance, etc. — Nearly all the hill tribes have the black
skin, the flat nose, and the thick lips, which at once proclaim them of
other than Aryan blood. Nearly all dress in the same way. For both
sexes, a cloth wound about the waist constitutes the chief article of
attire. Necklaces of beads, ear-rings of brass and iron, brass bracelets,
and girdles of towris or twisted cords, find favour in the eyes of young
men and women. The latter often add chaplets of the large white seeds
of the kusa grass, or even a cloth flung carelessly across the shoulder.
They seldom wear any covering on the head ; and some, as the Marias,
shave away the hair, leaving only a top knot. The ladies, however,
commonly add to their attractions by wearing false hair. In the hymn
already cited, the god alleges as one cause of his displeasure against the
first created Gonds, that they did not bathe for si\ months together. It
must be confessed that in this respect the hill-tribes of to-day do not
belie their ancestry ; and though they carry their scanty costume with a
certain grace, their dirtiness, and the tattoo marks on their faces, arms,
and thighs, have a repellent effect on European observers. For the
most part light-hearted and easy-tempered, when once their shyness is
overcome, they prove exceedingly communicative ; but while naturally
frank, and far more truthful than Hindus, they are nevertheless arrant
thieves, though their pilfering is generally managed in the simplest and
most maladroit manner. All are fond of music, particularly the Gad-
bhas, who celebrate their festivals by dancing to the sound of a drum and
a fife. Sometimes they form a ring by joining hands, and advance in
step towards the centre, and again retire while circling round and round.
When wearied with dancing, they sing. A man steps out of the crowd,
and sings a verse impromptu ; a woman rejoins, and the pair chant in
alternate strains, for the most part rallying each other on personal
defects. All are addicted to drinking. In short, so slight are the dif-
ferences between the various hill tribes, that in Chanda, where the
forest country meets the more civilised plain, the Gonds, as the highest
class among them, are recruited from the wilder clans j and the
ambitious Maria styles himself first a Koitiir, then a Forest or Jungly
Gond, and at last, as time goes on, claims the dignity of a Gond pure
and simple.

The indolence and improvidence of uncivilised peoples manifests
itself especially in the manner in which these hill tribes cultivate
the soil. The husbandman who practises the ddhya system first



CENTRAL PROVINCES. 3°9

seeks on the hill-slope for a new piece of ground. This he clears of
jungle, and then covers it over with logs of wood, heaping up smaller
brushwood on the top. Just before the rains, when the hot weather has
thoroughly dried the newly-cut wood, he sets fire to the pile. After the
first rainfall, he scatters the millet, or other inferior grain, among the
ashes ; or, where the ground is steep, merely throws the seed in a lump
along the top of the plot, and leaves it to be washed to its place by the
rains. This facile mode of husbandry, now happily less practised than
formerly, has not only tended to discourage all habits of settled industry,
but must be held responsible for the ruin which has overtaken so many
of the once magnificent forests of the Central Provinces.

Most different accounts have been given of the Gond religion.
Mr. Hislop thinks that their pantheon consists of fifteen gods. At
Betiil, it is said, the Gonds count at least twelve religious sects,
distinguished by the number of deities they respectively worship. The
usual number is seven ; but the lowest caste adores an indefinite
number, being those which chanced to be omitted when the original
distribution of gods to each sect took place. But the fact is, that the
religious beliefs of these tribes vary from village to village ; and nowhere
has their theological system attained such a pitch of precision as to
enable them to exactly define the number of their gods. While admit-
ting the existence of other deities, eacli village worships those of whom
it happens to be cognizant; and these seldom exceed three or four in
number. In Mandla, Thakur Deo is held in great reverence. He is
the household god, presiding over the homestead and the farmyard :
and, being omnipresent, requires no image to represent him. The
people of the village of Jata, however, have the happiness to possess a
few links of an ancient chain in which the god manifests himself. Gifted
with the power of motion, this chain sometimes appears hanging from
a ber tree, sometimes on a stone below, sometimes in the bed of a
neighbouring watercourse. Each of these movements is duly made the
occasion of some humble sacrifice, to the advantage of the attendant
Baiga priest.

In many places Ghansyam Deo is greatly adored. His worshippers
'build for him a rude hut about a hundred yards from the village.
In one corner they plant a bamboo with a red or yellow rag tied to
the end ; and, hanging up a withered garland or two, and strewing
about the floor a few blocks of rough stone smeared with vermilion,
they dedicate the place to Ghansyam Deo. There every November
the whole village assembles to worship, with sacrifices of fowls and
spirits, or even a pig. Presently the god descends on the head of one
of the worshippers, who staggers to and fro, bereft of his senses, till he
wildly rushes into the jungle. Then, happy that a scapegoat has been
found for the sins of the village, the people send two or three men



310 CENTRAL PROVINCES.

after him, who bring the fugitive back. Throughout the Central Pro-
vinces the Gonds worship cholera and small-pox, under the names of
Man' and Mata Devi. To appease the wrath of these divinities, they
offer sacrifices ; and, cleaning their villages, they place the sweepings on
a road or track, in the hope that some traveller will be infected, and so
convey the disease away into another village. But in addition to his
gods, the Gond peoples the forest in which he lives with spirits of all
kinds, most of them able and only too willing to inflict evil upon him.
To propitiate them, he sets up pats, consisting of a bamboo, with a
piece of rag tied to the end, a heap of stones, or the like. There the
spirit takes up his abode, and then, at each festival in the family, the
spirit has his share of the banquet.

The Baigas, with whom some authorities identify the Bhaimias, are
the acknowleged priests of the hill tribes. Physically finer men than
the ordinary Gond, and suspassing him in courage and skill as sports-
men, they have won for themselves a respect which is rarely abused I
and in any question, whether of a religious observance or of a boundary
dispute, their decision is final. When a Gond falls victim to a tiger, the
Baiga is called in to lay the spirit of the dead, and to charm away the
additional power which the tiger has derived from his prey. The
Baiga goes through certain movements, representing the tiger in his
fatal spring ; and, lastly, takes up with his teeth a mouthful of the blood-
stained earth. This done, the jungle is free again. While worshipping
the same gods as the Gonds, the Baigas have a special reverence for
Mai Dharitri — mother earth.

How far serpent-worship prevailed in Gondwana has given rise to
much speculation. The Gond of to-day would be more likely to eat a
snake than to worship it. But traces of a serpent cult yet remain, the
most curious of these being the ancient temple of Buram Deva in
Chhatisgarh. It contains no image but that of a cobra, near which are
two inscriptions, one being a list of twenty-two kings, who trace their
descent to the union of a snake with the daughter of a holy man who
lived south of the Narbada. The name of Nagpur, and the number of
non-Aryan families which claim a Nagbansi connection, seems to show
that snake-worship formerly existed in Gondwana. Probably it was
never more than an aristocratic cult, confined to certain houses. As
its practice ceased, the claim to serpent descent died out as well, and
the existing Nagbansi families have become, or aspire to be, Rajputs.

That the shy and timid hill tribes should be capable of offering
human sacrifices has appeared incredible to some writers; but the
custom has existed at certain places within the memory of the present
generation. In the temples of Kali in Chanda and Lanji, and in the
famous shrine of Danteswan in Bastar, many a human head has been
presented on the altar. The victim was taken to the temple after sun-



CENTRAL PROVINCES. 31 l

set, and shut up within its dismal walls. In the morning when the
door was opened, he was found dead, to the glory of the great goddess,
who had shown her power during the night by descending to suck his
blood.

Births and marriages are celebrated by some peculiar customs, and
no ceremony is reckoned complete without a drinking bout. The pre-
tended abduction of the bride forms part of the wedding ceremony.
Sometimes a visitor will serve for his wife during a stated number of
years, after the manner of Jacob ; but more frequently the wife is
purchased by the bridegroom. For this reason, the cheaper plan of
marrying a near relation finds favour with the poor or frugal lover. As
a rule, the Gonds bury their dead, and sometimes kill a cow over the
grave ; but the more prosperous families now sometimes burn an adult
corpse, after the manner of the Hindus. ' Waking ' the dead forms an
important part of the funeral rites.

Hindu Population.— -The gradual displacement of the hill tribes in
one of their last refuges by Hindu races is clearly shown by the simple
fact that, whereas the so-called aborigines (outside Hindu influences)
number less than two millions, the Hindus, in 1881, numbered
8,703,110, thus forming 75-36 per cent, of the inhabitants of the
Central Provinces, including Native States. The denser the population,
the greater is the proportion of Hindus, varying from 83*39 per cent, in
the Nagpur plain and Wardha valley to 56*57 per cent, on the Satpura
plateau.

A few isolated hermits were the first Aryans who ventured to invade
these central forests ; and the Ramayana laments the sufferings these
holy men endured amid the savage tribes. ' These shapeless and ill-
looking monsters testify their abominable character by various cruel and
terrific displays. These base-born wretches implicate the hermits in
impure practices, and perpetrate the greatest outrages. Changing
their shapes and hiding in the thickets adjoining the hermitages, these
frightful beings delight in terrifying the devotees. They cast away the
sacrificial ladles and vessels, they pollute the cooked oblations, and
utterly defile the offerings with blood. These faithless creatures inject
frightful sounds into the ears of the faithful and austere eremites. At
the time of sacrifice, they snatch away the jars, the flowers, the fuel, and
the sacred grass of these sober-minded men.' But though ruled by
Rajput chiefs at an earlier period, the country was not really opened
out to Hindu settlement till the time of Akbar, whose armies penetrated
to the easternmost parts of the valley of the Narbada. The oldest
rupees found buried here date from this reign. The mass, however, of
the Hindu population is of later date, and may probably be referred to
the time of Aurangzeb. Between the Hindus north and those south of
the Satpuras the contrast both in character and appearance is striking.



312 CENTRAL PROVINCES.

The Maratha of the Nagpur rice-lands lias neither the energy nor the
independence of the peasant who tills the wheat-fields by the Narbada I
and on a festal day, when a southern crowd presents a mass of white
clothing and enormous red turbans, the more northern people may be
known by their costume of mahua green, and their jaunty head-dress
of white cloth.

Local Sects. — While worshipping the usual divinities of the Hindu
pantheon, the Hindus of the Central Provinces, more especially the
J h arias, or older settlers, have contracted various local beliefs and
habits. The adoration of the dead prevails universally. Thus, in
Hoshangabad, the Ghori (Muhammadan) kings of Malwa have attained
the dignity of gods, while near Bhandara the villagers worship at the
tomb of an English lady. Most castes place little or no restriction on
widow-marriage, and generally the marriage tie is but little regarded,
illegitimate children succeeding to property equally with those born in
wedlock. But the non-Aryan belief in the powers of evil especially
dominates the conquering race. Throughout the Province, Mata Devi,
the goddess of small-pox, is held in veneration. The prevalence of
witchcraft also presses heavily on the Hindu. So infested by witches
was the wild hill country from Mandla to the eastern coast, that at one
time no prudent father would let his daughter marry into a family
which did not count among its members at least one of the dangerous
sisterhood. Even now, should a man's bullock die, his crop fail, or
sickness befall him, he imputes the calamity to witchcraft. The
suspected sorcerer in such a case is arrested, and a fisherman's net
being wound about his head to prevent him from bewitching his guards,
his innocence is tested by the flicker of a flame or the fall of a pipal
leaf. In Bastar this ordeal is followed by sewing him up in a sack,
and letting him down into water waist-deep. If he succeeds in raising
his head above water, his guilt is held manifest. Then the villagers
beat the culprit with rods of tamarind or the castor-oil plant, and
shave his head. Lastly, they knock out his teeth, so that the witch
can neither mutter charms nor revenge himself by assuming the form of
a tiger.

The Satndmis. — Perhaps the most interesting movement among the
Hindus of the Province is the religious and social uprising of the
Chamars of Chhatisgarh. Upper India contains no more despised
race. In the distribution of employments nothing had been left to
them but the degrading handicraft of skinning dead cattle. But in the
plain of Chhatisgarh the want of labour had admitted them to the rank
of cultivators, and prepared them to break the humiliating tradition.
About fifty years ago, Ghasi Das, an unlettered but remarkable
visionary, withdrew into the wilderness, after bidding his followers meet
him in six months' time at Girod. Thither, on the appointed day, the



CENTRAL PROVINCES. 3^3

Chamars crowded, and, in the quiet of the early morning, the prophet
appeared descending from the rocky height above the village. There
he delivered his message from heaven. He proclaimed that all men
are equal ; he forbade the worship of idols ; and he named himself as
the high priest of the new faith, adding that the office would remain in
his family for ever. On the death of Ghasf Das, his eldest son, Balak
Das, succeeded to the primacy ; and such was the enmity excited among
the Hindus, that he was murdered in i860. Nearly all the Chamars of
Chhatisgarh have accepted the new religion, adopting the name of Sat-
namfs. They have no temple or form of prayer ; but every morning
and evening they fall prostrate before the sun, exclaiming, ' Sat nam !
Sat nam ! Sat nam !' or, 'God ! God ! God !' They eat no meat, and
drink only water • but a schism has arisen among them regarding the
use of tobacco. In sexual matters their practice is lax ; but the
allegation that Satnami brides associate with the high priest before
entering their husbands' home is, they maintain, a calumny of their
enemies. In 1881, the Satnamis numbered 398,409 in the Central
Provinces. They form a loyal and industrious class of the population.

The Kabirpanthis, or followers of Kabir, a disciple of Ramanand, an
apostle of Northern India, who lived in the 15 th century, are numerous
in the Central Provinces, where, however, they have given up that
rejection of caste which was a fundamental tenet in the teachings of
Kabir. Of the 347,994 persons enumerated as of the Kabirpanthi
sect, 118,768 were returned as Pankas, and 83,014 as Teh's by
caste; the remainder including representatives from other castes,
among which were 4438 Rajputs. The Kabirpanthis are most
numerous in the Districts of Chhindwara, Raipur, and Bilaspur. The
following account of them is condensed from two papers furnished
by Mr. Sadashiv Vithal, Inspector of Schools, Chhindwara, and Babu
Taradas Banarji, B.A., pleader, Raipur, and published in the Census
Report for 1881 -.—Kabir preached the equality of man before God,
denounced all caste distinctions and idol-worship, and addressed him-
self to Hindus and Muhammadans alike. But on the death of Kabir
at Mugher, the religion promulgated by him underwent changes, and
renunciation of caste ceased to be a preliminary of initiation. At
present the chief ordinances of the faith as preached and practised in
the Central Provinces, but with variations in different localities, are —
(1) to avoid idol-worship; (2) to perform no pilgrimages to Hindu holy
places ; and (3) to avoid the use of flesh, or any kind of spirituous liquor.
Although there is no absolute prohibition against the admission of
any caste into the sect of the Kabirpanthis, there is now a ten-
dency towards the exclusion of the lowest cartes, and it is stated that
the conversion of Chamars is neither attempted nor allowed. The
ceremony of the initiation is very simple. Persons who wish to be



3T4 CENTRAL PROVINCES.

ordinary Kabirpanthis are generally admitted to the faith at the
residence of the local mahant or priest. A piece of ground having
been cleaned and consecrated, the religious pass-word {mantra) is
blown in the orthodox manner into the ear of the convert, and he is
presented with some betel leaves and sweetmeats ; a necklace of wooden
beads is then placed round his neck, and he is not supposed to eat or
drink thereafter without wearing this necklace. The convert then
makes offerings to the mahant, according to his means. Those who
become ascetics wear necklaces of a different pattern, and also wear a
peaked skull-cap. These ascetics travel about asking alms and (those
who can read) explaining their sacred books.

The chief guru or head of the faith in the Central Provinces resides
at Kawardha, the capital of a Feudatory State attached to Bilaspur
District. He does not appear to be more learned than his disciples,
and is said to be more careful of his own secular concerns than of the
spiritual welfare of his followers. He appoints a certain number of
deputies called bhanddris and mahants from the more advanced of his
followers, who, after paying a good sum for the privilege, travel through
the country, and recoup themselves by contributions from their own
disciples, of whom they manage to get together a large number. They
are not bound to observe celibacy, but numbers of them assume that
state for the sake of the peculiar sanctity which the multitude ascribe
to it. Unlike the Chamar Satnamis, all of whom follow some sort of
a secular occupation, the Kabirpanthis include a considerable body
who, though not professing celibacy like the Hindu bairdgis, yet re-
semble them a good deal in their habits and customs. They go
about in pairs, begging from door to door, reciting moral precepts in
verse to the accompaniment of a single stringed instrument, resembling
a guitar, and two pieces of black wood beaten one against the other to
keep time. The Kabirpanthis profess allegiance to the guru at Kawardha,
but keep their earnings to themselves. They are generally well versed in
the doctrines of their sect, and often enter into controversies with
members of other sects, defending their position by quotations from the
metrical polemics of Kabfr, and annually converting a number of
persons from the lower orders of Hindus. As Kabirism does not
involve loss of caste, or any sort of social degradation ; as it does not
impose any wearisome or costly ceremonial ; as its doctrines are more
simple and better suited to the understanding of the masses than those
of Hinduism ; and as they are embodied in a series of simple
Hindustani verses, easily understood and remembered by all, Kabirism
has gone on increasing in strength and prosperity. It is worthy of note
that in the Central Provinces, almost the whole of the Kabirpanthis



Online LibraryWilliam Wilson HunterThe imperial gazetteer of India (Volume 3) → online text (page 37 of 56)