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The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India


R.V. Russell
Of the Indian Civil Service Superintendent of Ethnography, Central
Assisted by
Rai Bahadur Hira Lal
Extra Assistant Commissioner

Published Under the Orders of the Central Provinces Administration

In Four Volumes
Vol. II.

Macmillan and Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London.



Articles on Castes and Tribes of the Central Provinces in Alphabetical

The articles which are considered to be of most general interest
are shown in capitals

Agaria (_Iron-worker_) 3
Agharia (_Cultivator_) 8
Aghori (_Religious mendicant_) 13
AHIR (_Herdsman and milkman_) 18
Andh (_Tribe, now cultivators_) 38
Arakh (_Hunter_) 40
Atari (_Scent-seller_) 42
Audhelia (_Labourer_) 45
BADHAK (_Robber_) 49
BAHNA (_Cotton-cleaner_) 69
Baiga (_Forest tribe_) 77
Bairagi (_Religious mendicants_) 93
Balahi (_Labourer and village watchman_) 105
Balija (_Cultivator_) 108
BANIA (_Merchant and moneylender_) 111
Subcastes of Bania


BANJARA (_Pack-carrier_) 162
Barai (_Betel-vine grower and seller_) 192
Barhai (_Carpenter_) 199
Bari (_Maker of leaf-plates_) 202
Basdewa (_Cattle-dealer and religious mendicant_) 204
Basor (_Bamboo-worker_) 208
Bedar (_Soldier and public service_) 212
Beldar (_Digger and navvy_) 215
Beria (_Vagabond gipsy_) 220
Bhaina (_Forest tribe_) 225
Bhamta (_Criminal tribe and labourers_) 234
Bharbhunja (_Grain-parcher_) 238
Bharia (_Forest tribe_) 242
BHAT (_Bard and genealogist_) 251
Bhatra (_Forest tribe_) 271
BHIL (_Forest tribe_) 278
Bhilala (_Landowner and cultivator_) 293
Bhishti (_Water-man_) 298
Bhoyar (_Cultivator_) 301
Bhuiya (_Forest tribe_) 305
Bhulia (_Weaver_) 319
Bhunjia (_Forest tribe_) 322
Binjhwar (_Cultivator_) 329
Bishnoi (_Cultivator_) 337
Bohra (_Trader_) 345
BRAHMAN (_Priest_) 351
Subcastes of Brahman

Kanaujia, Kanyakubja.

Chadar (_Village watchman and labourer_) 400
CHAMAR (_Tanner and labourer_) 403
Chasa (_Cultivator_) 424
Chauhan (_Village watchman and labourer_) 427
Chhipa (_Dyer and calico-printer_) 429
CHITARI (_Painter_) 432
Chitrakathi (_Picture showman_) 438
Cutchi (_Trader and shopkeeper_) 440
DAHAIT (_Village watchman and labourer_) 444
Daharia (_Cultivator_) 453
Dangi (_Landowner and cultivator_) 457
Dangri (_Vegetable-grower_) 463
DARZI (_Tailor_) 466
Dewar (_Beggar and musician_) 472
Dhakar (_Illegitimate, cultivator_) 477
Dhangar (_Shepherd_) 480
Dhanuk (_Bowman, labourer_) 484
Dhanwar (_Forest tribe_) 488
DHIMAR (_Fisherman, water-carrier, and household servant_) 502
Dhoba (_Forest tribe, cultivator_) 515
DHOBI (_Washerman_) 519
Dhuri (_Grain-parcher_) 527
Dumal (_Cultivator_) 530
Fakir (_Religious mendicant_) 537


31. Aghori mendicant 14
32. Ahirs decorated with cowries for the Stick Dance at Diwali 18
33. Image of Krishna as Murlidhar or the flute-player, with
attendant deities 28
34. Ahir dancers in Diwali costume 32
35. Pinjara cleaning cotton 72
36. Baiga village, Balaghat District 88
37. Hindu mendicants with sect-marks 94
38. Anchorite sitting on iron nails 98
39. Pilgrims carrying water of the river Nerbudda 100
40. _Coloured Plate_: Examples of Tilaks or sect-marks worn on
the forehead 102
41. Group of Marwari Bania women 112
42. Image of the god Ganpati carried in procession 116
43. The elephant-headed god Ganpati. His conveyance is a rat,
which can be seen as a little blob between his feet 120
44. Mud images made and worshipped at the Holi festival 126
45. Bania's shop 128
46. Banjara women with the _singh_ or horn 184
47. Group of Banjara women 188
48. Basors making baskets of bamboo 210
49. Bhat with his _putla_ or doll 256
50. Group of Bhils 278
51. Tantia Bhil, a famous dacoit 282
52. Group of Bohras at Burhanpur (Nimar) 346
53. Brahman worshipping his household gods 380
54. Brahman bathing party 384
55. Brahman Pujaris or priests 390
56. Group of Maratha Brahman men 392
57. Group of Naramdeo Brahman women 396
58. Group of Naramdeo Brahman men 398
59. Chamars tanning and working in leather 416
60. Chamars cutting leather and making shoes 418
61. Chhipa or calico-printer at work 430
62. Dhimar or fisherman's hut 502
63. Fishermen in dug-outs or hollowed tree trunks 506
64. Group of Gurujwale Fakirs 538


_a_ has the sound of _u_ in _but_ or _murmur_.
_a_ has the sound of _a_ in _bath_ or _tar_.
_e_ has the sound of _é_ in _écarté_ or _ai_ in _maid_.
_i_ has the sound of _i_ in _bit_, or (as a final letter)
of _y_ in _sulky_
_i_ has the sound of _ee_ in _beet_.
_o_ has the sound of _o_ in _bore_ or _bowl_.
_u_ has the sound of _u_ in _put_ or _bull_.
_u_ has the sound of _oo_ in _poor_ or _boot_.

The plural of caste names and a few common Hindustani words is formed
by adding _s_ in the English manner according to ordinary usage,
though this is not, of course, the Hindustani plural.

Note. - The rupee contains 16 annas, and an anna is of the same value
as a penny. A pice is a quarter of an anna, or a farthing. Rs. 1-8
signifies one rupee and eight annas. A lakh is a hundred thousand,
and a krore ten million.





1. Origin and subdivisions.

Agaria. [1] - A small Dravidian caste, who are an offshoot of the Gond
tribe. The Agarias have adopted the profession of iron-smelting and
form a separate caste. They numbered 9500 persons in 1911 and live
on the Maikal range in the Mandla, Raipur and Bilaspur Districts.

The name probably signifies a worker with _ag_ or fire. An Agaria
subcaste of Lohars also exists, many of whom are quite probably Gonds,
but they are not included in the regular caste. Similar Dravidian
castes of Agarias are to be found in Mirzapur and Bengal. The Agarias
are quite distinct from the Agharia cultivating caste of the Uriya
country. The Raipur Agarias still intermarry with the Rawanbansi
Gonds of the District. The Agarias think that their caste has existed
from the beginning of the world, and that the first Agaria made
the ploughshare with which the first bullocks furrowed the primeval
soil. The caste has two endogamous divisions, the Patharia and the
Khuntia Agarias. The Patharias place a stone on the mouth of the
bellows to fix them in the ground for smelting, while the Khuntias
use a peg. The two subcastes do not even take water from one another.

Their exogamous sections have generally the same names as those of
the Gonds, as Sonwani, Dhurua, Tekam, Markam, Uika, Purtai, Marai,
and others. A few names of Hindi origin are also found, as Ahindwar,
Ranchirai and Rathoria, which show that some Hindus have probably been
amalgamated with the caste. Ahindwar or Aindwar and Ranchirai mean
a fish and a bird respectively in Hindi, while Rathoria is a _gotra_
both of Rajputs and Telis. The Gond names are probably also those of
animals, plants or other objects, but their meaning has now generally
been forgotten. Tekam or _teka_ is a teak tree. Sonwani is a sept
found among several of the Dravidian tribes, and the lower Hindu
castes. A person of the Sonwani sept is always chosen to perform
the ceremony of purification and readmission into caste of persons
temporarily excommunicated. His duty often consists in pouring on such
a person a little water in which gold has been placed to make it holy,
and hence the name is considered to mean Sonapani or gold-water. The
Agarias do not know the meanings of their section names and therefore
have no totemistic observances. But they consider that all persons
belonging to one _gotra_ are descended from a common ancestor, and
marriage within the _gotra_ is therefore prohibited. As among the
Gonds, first cousins are allowed to marry.

2. Marriage.

Marriage is usually adult. When the father of a boy wishes to arrange a
marriage he sends emissaries to the father of the girl. They open the
proceedings by saying, 'So-and-so has come to partake of your stale
food.' [2] If the father of the girl approves he gives his consent by
saying, 'He has come on foot, I receive him on my head.' The boy's
father then repairs to the girl's house, where he is respectfully
received and his feet are washed. He is then asked to take a drink of
plain water, which is a humble method of offering him a meal. After
this, presents for the girl are sent by a party accompanied by tomtom
players, and a date is fixed for the marriage, which, contrary to the
usual Hindu rule, may take place in the rains. The reason is perhaps
because iron-smelting is not carried on during the rains and the
Agarias therefore have no work to do. A few days before the wedding
the bride-price is paid, which consists of 5 seers each of _urad_
and til and a sum of Rs. 4 to Rs. 12. The marriage is held on any
Monday, Tuesday or Friday, no further trouble being taken to select
an auspicious day. In order that they may not forget the date fixed,
the fathers of the parties each take a piece of thread in which
they tie a knot for every day intervening between the date when the
marriage day is settled and the day itself, and they then untie one
knot for every day. Previous to the marriage all the village gods
are propitiated by being anointed with oil by the Baiga or village
priest. The first clod of earth for the ovens is also dug by the
Baiga, and received in her cloth by the bride's mother as a mark
of respect. The usual procedure is adopted in the marriage. After
the bridegroom's arrival his teeth are cleaned with tooth-sticks,
and the bride's sister tries to push _saj_ leaves into his mouth,
a proceeding which he prevents by holding his fan in front of his
face. For doing this the girl is given a small present. A _paili_
[3] measure of rice is filled alternately by the bride and bridegroom
twelve times, the other upsetting it each time after it is filled. At
the marriage feast, in addition to rice and pulse, mutton curry and
cakes of _urad_ pulse fried in oil are provided. _Urad_ is held in
great respect, and is always given as a food at ceremonial feasts
and to honoured guests. The greater part of the marriage ceremony
is performed a second time at the bridegroom's house. Finally, the
decorations of the marriage-shed and the palm-leaf crowns of the bride
and bridegroom are thrown into a tank. The bride and bridegroom go
into the water, and each in turn hides a jar under water, which the
other must find. They then bathe, change their clothes, and go back
to the bridegroom's house, the bride carrying the jar filled with
water on her head. The boy is furnished with a bow and arrows and
has to shoot at a stuffed deer over the girl's shoulder. After each
shot she gives him a little sugar, and if he does not hit the deer
in three shots he must pay 4 annas to the _sawasa_ or page. After
the marriage the bridegroom does not visit his wife for a month in
order to ascertain whether she is already pregnant. They then live
together. The marriage expenses usually amount to Rs. 15 for the
bridegroom's father and Rs. 40 for the bride's father. Sometimes the
bridegroom serves his father-in-law for his wife, and he is then not
required to pay anything for the marriage, the period of service being
three years. If the couple anticipate the ceremony, however, they
must leave the house, and then are recalled by the bride's parents,
and readmitted into caste on giving a feast, which is in lieu of the
marriage ceremony. If they do not comply with the first summons of
the parents, the latter finally sever connection with them. Widow
marriage is freely permitted, and the widow is expected to marry her
late husband's younger brother, especially if he is a bachelor. If
she marries another man with his consent, the new husband gives him
a turban and shoulder-cloth. The children by the first husband are
made over to his relatives if there are any. Divorce is permitted for
adultery or extravagance or ill-treatment by either party. A divorced
wife can marry again, but if she absconds with another man without
being divorced the latter has to pay Rs. 12 to the husband.

3. Birth and death ceremonies.

When a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, her mother goes to
her taking a new cloth and cakes and a preparation of milk, which
is looked on as a luxurious food, and which, it is supposed, will
strengthen the child in the womb. After birth the mother is impure
for five days. The dead are usually burnt, but children under six
whose ears have not been pierced, and persons dying a violent death
or from cholera or smallpox are buried. When the principal man of
the family dies, the caste-fellows at the mourning feast tie a cloth
round the head of his successor to show that they acknowledge his
new position. They offer water to the dead in the month of Kunwar

4. Religion and social customs.

They have a vague belief in a supreme God but do not pay much attention
to him. Their family god is Dulha Deo, to whom they offer goats,
fowls, cocoanuts and cakes. In the forest tracts they also worship
Bura Deo, the chief god of the Gonds. The deity who presides over
their profession is Loha-Sur, the Iron demon, who is supposed to live
in the smelting-kilns, and to whom they offer a black hen. Formerly,
it is said, they were accustomed to offer a black cow. They worship
their smelting implements on the day of Dasahra and during Phagun,
and offer fowls to them. They have little faith in medicine, and in
cases of sickness requisition the aid of the village sorcerer, who
ascertains what deity is displeased with them by moving grain to and
fro in a winnowing-fan and naming the village gods in turn. He goes
on repeating the names until his hand slackens or stops at some name,
and the offended god is thus indicated. He is then summoned and enters
into the body of one of the persons present, and explains his reason
for being offended with the sick person, as that he has passed by
the god's shrine without taking off his shoes, or omitted to make the
triennial offering of a fowl or the like. Atonement is then promised
and the offering made, while the sick person on recovery notes the
deity in question as one of a vindictive temper, whose worship must
on no account be neglected. The Agarias say that they do not admit
outsiders into the caste, but Gonds, Kawars and Ahirs are occasionally
allowed to enter it. They refuse to eat monkeys, jackals, crocodiles,
lizards, beef and the leavings of others. They eat pork and fowls
and drink liquor copiously. They take food from the higher castes
and from Gonds and Baigas. Only Bahelias and other impure castes will
take food from them. Temporary excommunication from caste is imposed
for conviction of a criminal offence, getting maggots in a wound, and
killing a cow, a dog or a cat. Permanent excommunication is imposed
for adultery or eating with a very low caste. Readmission to caste
after temporary exclusion entails a feast, but if the offender is
very poor he simply gives a little liquor or even water. The Agarias
are usually sunk in poverty, and their personal belongings are of
the scantiest description, consisting of a waist-cloth, and perhaps
another wisp of cloth for the head, a brass _lota_ or cup and a few
earthen vessels. Their women dress like Gond women, and have a few
pewter ornaments. They are profusely tattooed with representations of
flowers, scorpions and other objects. This is done merely for ornament.

5. Occupation.

The caste still follow their traditional occupation of iron-smelting
and also make a few agricultural implements. They get their ore from
the Maikal range, selecting stones of a dark reddish colour. They
mix 16 lbs. of ore with 15 lbs. of charcoal in the furnace, the blast
being produced by a pair of bellows worked by the feet and conveyed
to the furnace through bamboo tubes; it is kept up steadily for four
hours. The clay coating of the kiln is then broken down and the ball of
molten slag and charcoal is taken out and hammered, and about 3 lbs. of
good iron are obtained. With this they make ploughshares, mattocks,
axes and sickles. They also move about from village to village with an
anvil, a hammer and tongs, and building a small furnace under a tree,
make and repair iron implements for the villagers.


1. Origin.

_Agharia_ [4] (a corruption of Agaria, meaning one who came from
Agra). - A cultivating caste belonging to the Sambalpur District [5]
and adjoining States. They number 27,000 persons in the Raigarh and
Sarangarh States and Bilaspur District of the Central Provinces,
and are found also in some of the Chota Nagpur States transferred
from Bengal. According to the traditions of the Agharias their
forefathers were Rajputs who lived near Agra. They were accustomed
to salute the king of Delhi with one hand only and without bending
the head. The king after suffering this for a long time determined
to punish them for their contumacy, and summoned all the Agharias to
appear before him. At the door through which they were to pass to his
presence he fixed a sword at the height of a man's neck. The haughty
Agharias came to the door, holding their heads high and not seeing
the sword, and as a natural consequence they were all decapitated as
they passed through. But there was one Agharia who had heard about the
fixing of the sword and who thought it better to stay at home, saying
that he had some ceremony to perform. When the king heard that there
was one Agharia who had not passed through the door, he sent again,
commanding him to come. The Agharia did not wish to go but felt it
impossible to decline. He therefore sent for a Chamar of his village
and besought him to go instead, saying that he would become a Rajput
in his death and that he would ever be held in remembrance by the
Agharia's descendants. The Chamar consented to sacrifice himself for
his master, and going before the king was beheaded at the door. But
the Agharia fled south, taking his whole village with him, and came
to Chhattisgarh, where each of the families in the village founded a
clan of the Agharia caste. And in memory of this, whenever an Agharia
makes a libation to his ancestors, he first pours a little water on
the ground in honour of the dead Chamar. According to another version
of the story three brothers of different families escaped and first
went to Orissa, where they asked the Gajpati king to employ them
as soldiers. The king caused two sheaths of swords to be placed
before them, and telling them that one contained a sword and the
other a bullock-goad, asked them to select one and by their choice
to determine whether they would be soldiers or husbandmen. From one
sheath a haft of gold projected and from the other one of silver. The
Agharias pulled out the golden haft and found that they had chosen the
goad. The point of the golden and silver handles is obvious, and the
story is of some interest for the distant resemblance which it bears
to the choice of the caskets in _The Merchant of Venice_. Condemned,
as they considered, to drive the plough, the Agharias took off their
sacred threads, which they could no longer wear, and gave them to
the youngest member of the caste, saying that he should keep them
and be their Bhat, and they would support him with contributions
of a tenth of the produce of their fields. He assented, and his
descendants are the genealogists of the Agharias and are termed
Dashanshi. The Agharias claim to be Somvansi Rajputs, a claim which
Colonel Dalton says their appearance favours. "Tall, well-made, with
high Aryan features and tawny complexions, they look like Rajputs,
though they are more industrious and intelligent than the generality
of the fighting tribe." [6]

2. Subdivisions.

Owing to the fact that with the transfer of the Sambalpur District,
a considerable portion of the Agharias have ceased to be residents
of the Central Provinces, it is unnecessary to give the details
of their caste organisation at length. They have two subdivisions,
the Bad or superior Agharias and the Chhote, Sarolia or Sarwaria,
the inferior or mixed Agharias. The latter are a cross between an
Agharia and a Gaur (Ahir) woman. The Bad Agharias will not eat with or
even take water from the others. Further local subdivisions are now
in course of formation, as the Ratanpuria, Phuljharia and Raigarhia
or those living round Ratanpur, Phuljhar and Raigarh. The caste is
said to have 84 _gotras_ or exogamous sections, of which 60 bear
the title of Patel, 18 that of Naik, and 6 of Chaudhri. The section
names are very mixed, some being those of eponymous Brahman _gotras_,
as Sandilya, Kaushik and Bharadwaj; others those of Rajput septs, as
Karchhul; while others are the names of animals and plants, as Barah
(pig), Baram (the pipal tree), Nag (cobra), Kachhapa (tortoise),
and a number of other local terms the meaning of which has been
forgotten. Each of these sections, however, uses a different mark
for branding cows, which it is the religious duty of an Agharia to
rear, and though the marks now convey no meaning, they were probably
originally the representations of material objects. In the case of
names whose meaning is understood, traces of totemism survive in the
respect paid to the animal or plant by members of the sept which bears
its name. This analysis of the structure of the caste shows that it
was a very mixed one. Originally consisting perhaps of a nucleus
of immigrant Rajputs, the offspring of connections with inferior
classes have been assimilated; while the story already quoted is
probably intended to signify, after the usual Brahmanical fashion,
that the pedigree of the Agharias at some period included a Chamar.

3. Marriage customs.

Marriage within the exogamous section and also with first cousins is
forbidden, though in some places the union of a sister's son with
a brother's daughter is permitted. Child marriage is usual, and
censure visits a man who allows an unmarried daughter to arrive at
adolescence. The bridegroom should always be older than the bride,
at any rate by a day. When a betrothal is arranged some ornaments
and a cloth bearing the _swastik_ or lucky mark are sent to the
girl. Marriages are always celebrated during the months of Magh
and Phagun, and they are held only once in five or six years,
when all children whose matches can be arranged for are married
off. This custom is economical, as it saves expenditure on marriage
feasts. Colonel Dalton also states that the Agharias always employ
Hindustani Brahmans for their ceremonies, and as very few of these
are available, they make circuits over large areas, and conduct all
the weddings of a locality at the same period. Before the marriage a
kid is sacrificed at the bride's house to celebrate the removal of her

Online LibraryR. V. (Robert Vane) RussellThe tribes and castes of the Central Provinces of India (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 49)