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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. IV.

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

Kumhar (Potter) 3
Kunbi (Cultivator) 16
Kunjra (Greengrocer) 50
Kuramwar (Shepherd) 52
Kurmi (Cultivator) 55
Lakhera (Worker in lac) 104
Lodhi (Landowner and cultivator) 112
Lohar (Blacksmith) 120
Lorha (Growers of san-hemp) 126
Mahar (Weaver and labourer) 129
Mahli (Forest tribe) 146
Majhwar (Forest tribe) 149
Mal (Forest tribe) 153
Mala (Cotton-weaver and labourer) 156
Mali (Gardener and vegetable-grower) 159
Mallah (Boatman and fisherman) 171
Mana (Forest tribe, cultivator) 172
Manbhao (Religious mendicant) 176
Mang (Labourer and village musician) 184
Mang-Garori (Criminal caste) 189
Manihar (Pedlar) 193
Mannewar (Forest tribe) 195
Maratha (Soldier, cultivator and service) 198
Mehtar (Sweeper and scavenge) 215
Meo (Tribe) 233
Mina or Deswali (Non-Aryan tribe, cultivator) 235
Mirasi (Bard and genealogist) 242
Mochi (Shoemaker) 244
Mowar (Cultivator) 250
Murha (Digger and navvy) 252
Nagasia (Forest tribe) 257
Nahal (Forest tribe) 259
Nai (Barber) 262
Naoda (Boatman and fisherman) 283
Nat (Acrobat) 286
Nunia (Salt-refiner; digger and navvy) 294
Ojha (Augur and soothsayer) 296
Oraon (Forest tribe) 299
Paik (Soldier, cultivator) 321
Panka (Labourer and village watchman) 324
Panwar Rajput (Landowner and cultivator) 330
Pardhan (Minstrel and priest) 352
Pardhi (Hunter and fowler) 359
Parja (Forest tribe) 371
Pasi (Toddy-drawer and labourer) 380
Patwa (Maker of silk braid and thread) 385
Pindari (Freebooter) 388
Prabhu (Writer and clerk) 399
Raghuvansi (Cultivator) 403
Rajjhar (Agricultural labourer) 405
Rajput (Soldier and landowner) 410
Rajput Clans


Rajwar (Forest tribe) 470
Ramosi (Village watchmen and labourers, formerly thieves) 472
Rangrez (Dyer) 477
Rautia (Forest tribe and cultivators, formerly soldiers) 479
Sanaurhia (Criminal thieving caste) 483
Sansia (Vagrant criminal tribe) 488
Sansia (Uria) (Mason and digger) 496
Savar (Forest tribe) 500
Sonjhara (Gold-washer) 509
Sudh (Cultivator) 514
Sunar (Goldsmith and silversmith) 517
Sundi (Liquor distiller) 534
Tamera (Coppersmith) 536
Taonla (Soldier and labourer) 539
Teli (Oilman) 542
Thug (Criminal community of murderers by strangulation) 558
Turi (Bamboo-worker) 588
Velama (Cultivator) 593
Vidur (Village accountant, clerk and writer) 596
Waghya (Religious mendicant) 603
Yerukala (Criminal thieving caste) 606


97. Potter and his wheel 4
98. Group of Kunbis 16
99. Figures of animals made for Pola festival 40
100. Hindu boys on stilts 42
101. Throwing stilts into the water at the Pola festival 46
102. Carrying out the dead 48
103. Pounding rice 60
104. Sowing 84
105. Threshing 86
106. Winnowing 88
107. Women grinding wheat and husking rice 90
108. Group of women in Hindustani dress 92
109. _Coloured Plate_: Examples of spangles worn by women on the
forehead 106
110. Weaving: sizing the warp 142
111. Winding thread 144
112. Bride and bridegroom with marriage crowns 166
113. Bullocks drawing water with _mot_ 170
114. Mang musicians with drums 186
115. Statue of Maratha leader, Bimbaji Bhonsla, in armour 200
116. Image of the god Vishnu as Vithoba 248
117. Coolie women with babies slung at the side 256
118. Hindu men showing the _choti_ or scalp-lock 272
119. Snake-charmer with cobras 292
120. Transplanting rice 340
121. Group of Pardhans 352
122. Little girls playing 400
123. Gujarati girls doing figures with strings and sticks 402
124. Ornaments 524
125. Teli's oil-press 544
126. The Goddess Kali 574
127. Waghya mendicants 604


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.






List of Paragraphs

1. _Traditions of origin_.
2. _Caste subdivisions_.
3. _Social Customs_.
4. _The Kumhar as a village menial_.
5. _Occupation_.
6. _Breeding pigs for sacrifices_.
7. _The goddess Demeter_.
8. _Estimation of the pig in India_.
9. _The buffalo as a corn-god._
10. _The Dasahra festival_.
11. _The goddess Devi_.

1. Traditions of origin

_Kumhar, Kumbhar_. - The caste of potters, the name being derived
from the Sanskrit _kumbh_, a water-pot. The Kumhars numbered
nearly 120,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 1911 and were
most numerous in the northern and eastern or Hindustani-speaking
Districts, where earthen vessels have a greater vogue than in the
south. The caste is of course an ancient one, vessels of earthenware
having probably been in use at a very early period, and the old
Hindu scriptures consequently give various accounts of its origin
from mixed marriages between the four classical castes. "Concerning
the traditional parentage of the caste," Sir H. Risley writes, [1]
"there seems to be a wide difference of opinion among the recognised
authorities on the subject. Thus the Brahma Vaivartta Purana says
that the Kumbhakar or maker of water-jars (_kumbka_), is born of
a Vaishya woman by a Brahman father; the Parasara Samhita makes
the father a Malakar (gardener) and the mother a Chamar; while the
Parasara Padhati holds that the ancestor of the caste was begotten
of a Tili woman by a Pattikar or weaver of silk cloth." Sir Monier
Williams again, in his Sanskrit Dictionary, describes them as the
offspring of a Kshatriya woman by a Brahman. No importance can of
course be attached to such statements as the above from the point of
view of actual fact, but they are interesting as showing the view taken
of the formation of castes by the old Brahman writers, and also the
position given to the Kumhar at the time when they wrote. This varies
from a moderately respectable to a very humble one according to the
different accounts of his lineage. The caste themselves have a legend
of the usual Brahmanical type: "In the Kritayuga, when Maheshwar (Siva)
intended to marry the daughter of Hemvanta, the Devas and Asuras [2]
assembled at Kailas (Heaven). Then a question arose as to who should
furnish the vessels required for the ceremony, and one Kulalaka,
a Brahman, was ordered to make them. Then Kulalaka stood before the
assembly with folded hands, and prayed that materials might be given
to him for making the pots. So Vishnu gave his Sudarsana (discus) to
be used as a wheel, and the mountain of Mandara was fixed as a pivot
beneath it to hold it up. The scraper was Adi Kurma the tortoise,
and a rain-cloud was used for the water-tub. So Kulalaka made the
pots and gave them to Maheshwar for his marriage, and ever since his
descendants have been known as Kumbhakar or maker of water-jars."

2. Caste sub-divisions

The Kumhars have a number of subcastes, many of which, as might
be expected, are of the territorial type and indicate the different
localities from which they migrated to the Central Provinces. Such are
the Malwi from Malwa, the Telenga from the Telugu country in Hyderabad,
the Pardeshi from northern India and the Maratha from the Maratha
Districts. Other divisions are the Lingayats who belong to the sect of
this name, the Gadhewal or Gadhere who make tiles and carry them about
on donkeys (_gadha_), the Bardia who use bullocks for transport and the
Sungaria who keep pigs (_suar_). Certain endogamous groups have arisen
simply from differences in the method of working. Thus the Hathgarhia
[3] mould vessels with their hands only without using the wheel; the
Goria [4] make white or red pots only and not black ones; the Kurere
mould their vessels on a stone slab revolving on a stick and not on
a wheel; while the Chakere are Kumhars who use the wheel (_chak_)
in localities where other Kumhars do not use it. The Chhutakia and
Rakhotia are illegitimate sections, being the offspring of kept women.

3. Social Customs

Girls are married at an early age when their parents can afford it,
the matches being usually arranged at caste feasts. In Chanda parents
who allow a daughter to become adolescent while still unwed are put
out of caste, but elsewhere the rule is by no means so strict. The
ceremony is of the normal type and a Brahman usually officiates,
but in Betul it is performed by the Sawasa or husband of the bride's
paternal aunt. After the wedding the couple are given kneaded flour
to hold in their hands and snatch from each other as an emblem of
their trade. In Mandla a bride price of Rs. 50 is paid.

The Kumhars recognise divorce and the remarriage of widows. If an
unmarried girl is detected in criminal intimacy with a member of
the caste, she has to give a feast to the caste-fellows and pay a
fine of Rs. 1-4 and five locks of her hair are also cut off by way
of purification. The caste usually burn the dead, but the Lingayat
Kumhars always bury them in accordance with the practice of their
sect. They worship the ordinary Hindu deities and make an offering to
the implements of their trade on the festival of Deothan Igaras. The
village Brahman serves as their priest. In Balaghat a Kumhar is put
out of caste if a dead cat is found in his house. At the census of
1901 the Kumhar was ranked with the impure castes, but his status is
not really so low. Sir D. Ibbetson said of him: "He is a true village
menial; his social standing is very low, far below that of the Lohar
and not much above the Chamar. His association with that impure beast,
the donkey, the animal sacred to Sitala, the smallpox goddess, pollutes
him and also his readiness to carry manure and sweepings." As already
seen there are in the Central Provinces Sungaria and Gadheria subcastes
which keep donkeys and pigs, and these are regarded as impure. But in
most Districts the Kumhar ranks not much below the Barhai and Lohar,
that is in what I have designated the grade of village menials above
the impure and below the cultivating castes. In Bengal the Kumhars
have a much higher status and Brahmans will take water from their
hands. But the gradation of caste in Bengal differs very greatly from
that of other parts of India.

4. The Kumhar as a village menial

The Kumhar is not now paid regularly by dues from the cultivators
like other village menials, as the ordinary system of sale has no
doubt been found more convenient in his case. But he sometimes takes
the soiled grass from the stalls of the cattle and gives pots free
to the cultivator in exchange. On Akti day, at the beginning of the
agricultural year, the village Kumhar of Saugor presents five pots with
covers on them to each cultivator and receives 2 1/2 lbs. of grain
in exchange. One of these the tenant fills with water and presents
to a Brahman and the rest he reserves for his own purposes. On the
occasion of a wedding also the bridegroom's party take the bride to
the Kumharin's house as part of the _sohag_ ceremony for making the
marriage propitious. The Kumhar seats the bride on his wheel and turns
it round with her seven times. The Kumharin presents her with seven new
pots, which are taken back to the house and used at the wedding. They
are filled with water and are supposed to represent the seven seas. If
any two of these pots accidentally clash together it is supposed that
the bride and bridegroom will quarrel during their married life. In
return for this the Kumharin receives a present of clothes. At a
funeral also the Kumhar must supply thirteen vessels which are known as
_ghats_, and must also replace the broken earthenware. Like the other
village menials at the harvest he takes a new vessel to the cultivator
in his field and receives a present of grain. These customs appear to
indicate his old position as one of the menials or general servants
of the village ranking below the cultivators. Grant-Duff also includes
the potter in his list of village menials in the Maratha villages. [5]

5. Occupation

The potter is not particular as to the clay he uses and does not go
far afield for the finer qualities, but digs it from the nearest place
in the neighbourhood where he can get it free of cost. Red and black
clay are employed, the former being obtained near the base of hills
or on high-lying land, probably of the laterite formation, and the
latter in the beds of tanks or streams. When the clay is thoroughly
kneaded and ready for use a lump of it is placed on the centre of the
wheel. The potter seats himself in front of the wheel and fixes his
stick or _chakrait_ into the slanting hole in its upper surface. With
this stick the wheel is made to revolve very rapidly, and sufficient
impetus is given to it to keep it in motion for several minutes. The
potter then lays aside the stick and with his hands moulds the lump
of clay into the shape required, stopping every now and then to give
the wheel a fresh spin as it loses its momentum. When satisfied with
the shape of his vessel he separates it from the lump with a piece of
string, and places it on a bed of ashes to prevent it sticking to the
ground. The wheel is either a circular disc cut out of a single piece
of stone about a yard in diameter, or an ordinary wooden wheel with
spokes forming two diameters at right angles. The rim is then thickened
with the addition of a coating of mud strengthened with fibre. [6] The
articles made by the potter are ordinary circular vessels or _gharas_
used for storing and collecting water, larger ones for keeping grain,
flour and vegetables, and _surahis_ or amphoras for drinking-water. In
the manufacture of these last salt and saltpetre are mixed with the
clay to make them more porous and so increase their cooling capacity. A
very useful thing is the small saucer which serves as a lamp, being
filled with oil on which a lighted wick is floated. These saucers
resemble those found in the excavations of Roman remains. Earthen
vessels are more commonly used, both for cooking and eating purposes
among the people of northern India, and especially by Muhammadans, than
among the Marathas, and, as already noticed, the Kumhar caste musters
strong in the north of the Province. An earthen vessel is polluted if
any one of another caste takes food or drink from it and is at once
discarded. On the occasion of a death all the vessels in the house are
thrown away and a new set obtained, and the same measure is adopted at
the Holi festival and on the occasion of an eclipse, and at various
other ceremonial purifications, such as that entailed if a member of
the household has had maggots in a wound. On this account cheapness is
an indispensable quality in pottery, and there is no opening for the
Kumhar to improve his art. Another product of the Kumhar's industry
is the _chilam_ or pipe-bowl. This has the usual opening for inhaling
the smoke but no stem, an impromptu stem being made by the hands and
the smoke inhaled through it. As the _chilam_ is not touched by the
mouth, Hindus of all except the impure castes can smoke it together,
passing it round, and Hindus can also smoke it with Muhammadans.

It is a local belief that, if an earthen pot is filled with salt and
plastered over, the rains will stop until it is opened. This device is
adopted when the fall is excessive, but, on the other hand, if there
is drought, the people sometimes think that the potter has used it
to keep off the rain, because he cannot pursue his calling when the
clay is very wet. And on occasions of a long break in the rains,
they have been known to attack his shop and break all his vessels
under the influence of this belief. The potter is sometimes known
as Prajapati or the 'The Creator,' in accordance with the favourite
comparison made by ancient writers of the moulding of his pots with
the creation of human beings, the justice of which will be recognised
by any one who watches the masses of mud on a whirling wheel growing
into shapely vessels in the potter's creating hands.

6. Breeding pigs for sacrifices

Certain Kumhars as well as the Dhimars make the breeding of pigs a
means of subsistence, and they sell these pigs for sacrifices at prices
varying from eight annas (8d.) to a rupee. The pigs are sacrificed by
the Gonds to their god Bura Deo and by Hindus to the deity Bhainsasur,
or the buffalo demon, for the protection of the crops. Bhainsasur is
represented by a stone in the fields, and when crops are beaten down
at night by the wind it is supposed that Bhainsasur has passed over
them and trampled them down. Hindus, usually of the lower castes, offer
pigs to Bhainsasur to propitiate him and preserve their crops from his
ravages, but they cannot touch the impure pig themselves. What they
have to do, therefore, is to pay the Kumhar the price of the pig and
get him to offer it to Bhainsasur on their behalf. The Kumhar goes
to the god and sacrifices the pig and then takes the body home and
eats it, so that his trade is a profitable one, while conversely to
sacrifice a pig without partaking of its flesh must necessarily be
bitter to the frugal Hindu mind, and this indicates the importance
of the deity who is to be propitiated by the offering. The first
question which arises in connection with this curious custom is
why pigs should be sacrificed for the preservation of the crops;
and the reason appears to be that the wild pig is the animal which,
at present, mainly damages the crops.

7. The goddess Demeter

In ancient Greece pigs were offered to Demeter, the corn-goddess,
for the protection of the crops, and there is good reason to suppose
that the conceptions of Demeter herself and the lovely Proserpine
grew out of the worship of the pig, and that both goddesses were
in the beginning merely the deified pig. The highly instructive
passage in which Sir J. G. Frazer advances this theory is reproduced
almost in full [7]: "Passing next to the corn-goddess Demeter, and
remembering that in European folklore the pig is a common embodiment
of the corn-spirit, we may now ask whether the pig, which was so
closely associated with Demeter, may not originally have been the
goddess herself in animal form? The pig was sacred to her; in art
she was portrayed carrying or accompanied by a pig; and the pig was
regularly sacrificed in her mysteries, the reason assigned being that
the pig injures the corn and is therefore an enemy of the goddess. But
after an animal has been conceived as a god, or a god as an animal,
it sometimes happens, as we have seen, that the god sloughs off his
animal form and becomes purely anthropomorphic; and that then the
animal which at first had been slain in the character of the god,
comes to be viewed as a victim offered to the god on the ground of its
hostility to the deity; in short, that the god is sacrificed to himself
on the ground that he is his own enemy. This happened to Dionysus and
it may have happened to Demeter also. And in fact the rites of one of
her festivals, the Thesmophoria, bear out the view that originally the
pig was an embodiment of the corn-goddess herself, either Demeter or
her daughter and double Proserpine. The Thesmophoria was an autumn
festival celebrated by women alone in October, and appears to have
represented with mourning rites the descent of Proserpine (or Demeter)
into the lower world, and with joy her return from the dead. Hence the
name Descent or Ascent variously applied to the first, and the name
_Kalligeneia_ (fair-born) applied to the third day of the festival. Now
from an old scholium on Lucian we learn some details about the mode
of celebrating the Thesmophoria, which shed important light on the
part of the festival called the Descent or the Ascent. The scholiast
tells us that it was customary at the Thesmophoria to throw pigs,
cakes of dough, and branches of pine-trees into 'the chasms of Demeter
and Proserpine,' which appear to have been sacred caverns or vaults.

"In these caverns or vaults there were said to be serpents, which
guarded the caverns and consumed most of the flesh of the pigs and
dough-cakes which were thrown in. Afterwards - apparently at the
next annual festival - the decayed remains of the pigs, the cakes,
and the pine-branches were fetched by women called 'drawers,' who,
after observing, rules of ceremonial purity for three days, descended
into the caverns, and, frightening away the serpents by clapping their
hands, brought up the remains and placed them on the altar. Whoever
got a piece of the decayed flesh and cakes, and sowed it with the
seed-corn in his field, was believed to be sure of a good crop.

"To explain this rude and ancient rite the following legend was
told. At the moment when Pluto carried off Proserpine, a swineherd
called Eubuleus chanced to be herding his swine on the spot, and
his herd was engulfed in the chasm down which Pluto vanished with
Proserpine. Accordingly, at the Thesmophoria pigs were annually
thrown into caverns to commemorate the disappearance of the swine
of Eubuleus. It follows from this that the casting of the pigs
into the vaults at the Thesmophoria formed part of the dramatic
representation of Proserpine's descent into the lower world; and
as no image of Proserpine appears to have been thrown in, we may
infer that the descent of the pigs was not so much an accompaniment
of her descent as the descent itself, in short, that the pigs were
Proserpine. Afterwards, when Proserpine or Demeter (for the two are
equivalent) became anthropomorphic, a reason had to be found for the
custom of throwing pigs into caverns at her festival; and this was
done by saying that when Pluto carried off Proserpine, there happened
to be some swine browsing near, which were swallowed up along with

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