Atari

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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India

By R. V. Russell

Of The Indian Civil Service

Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces

Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner

Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.

NOTE 1: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.

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Contents

Atari

Gandhi, Bukekari

A small Muhammadan caste of retailers of scent, incense, tooth-powder and kunku or pink powder. Atari is derived from atar or itra, attar of roses, Gandhi comes from gandh, a Sanskrit word for scent. Bukekari is a Marathi word meaning a seller of powder. The Ataris number about two hundred persons in Nagpur, Wardha and Berar. Both Hindus and Muham- madans follow the profession, but the Hindu Ataris are not a separate caste, and belong to the Teli, Gurao and Beldar castes.

The Muhammadan Ataris, to whom this article refers, may marry with other Muhammadans, with the exception of low-class tradesmen like the Pinjaras, Kasais and Kunjras. One instance of an Atari marrying a Rangrez is known, but usually they decline to do so. But since they are not considered to be the equals of ordinary Muham- madans, they constitute more or less a distinct social group. They are of the same position as Muhammadan tin-workers, bangle-makers and pedlars, and sometimes intermarry with them. They admit Hindu converts into the community, but the women refuse to eat with them, and the better- class families will not intermarry with converts. A new convert must be circumcised, but if he is of advanced age, or if his foreskin is wanting, as sometimes happens, they take a rolled-up betel-leaf and cut it in two in substitution for the rite.

Marriage Customs

It is essential that a girl should be married before adolescence, as it is said that when the signs of puberty appear in her before wedlock her parents commit a crime equivalent to the shedding of human blood. The father 1 Based on papers by Mr. Bijai Hinganghat, and Munslii Kanhya Lai Bahadur Royzada, Naib - Tahslldar of the Gazetteer office of the boy looks for a bride, and after droppin;^ hints to the girl's family to see if his proposal is acceptable, he sends some female relatives or friends to discuss the marriage. Before the wedding the boy is presented with a clihiip or ring of gold or silver with a small cup-like attachment. A mehar or dowry must be given to the bride, the amount of which is not below Rs. 50 or above Rs. 250. The bride's parents give her cooking vessels, bedding and a bedstead. After the wedding, the couple are seated on a cot while the women sing songs, and they see each other's face reflected in a minor. The procession returns after a stay of four days, and is received by the women of the bridegroom's family with some humorous ceremonies bearing on the nature of marriage. A feast called Tamm Walima follows, and the couple are shut up together in an inner room, even though they may be under age. The marriage includes some Hindu customs, such as the erection of the pandal or shed, rubbing the couple with turmeric and oil, and the tying on of kankans or wrist-bands. A girl going wrong before marriage may be wedded with full rites so long as she has not conceived, but after conception until her child is born she cannot go through the ceremony at all.

After the birth of the child she may be married simply with the rite for widows. She retains the child, but it has no claim to succeed to her husband's property. A widow may marry again after an interval of forty days from her first husband's death, and she may wed her younger brother- in-law. Divorce is permitted at the instance of either party, and for mere disagreement. A man usually divorces his wife by vowing in the presence of two witnesses that he will in future consider intercourse with her as incestuous in the same degree as with his mother.

A divorced woman has a claim to her nieJiar or dowry if not already paid, but forfeits it if she marries again. A man can marry the daughter of his paternal uncle. The services of a Kazi at weddings are paid for with a fee of Rs. 1-4, and well-to-do persons also give him a pair of turbans. The Ataris are Muhammadans of the Sunni sect. They 3- Religion. revere the Muhammadan saints, and on the night of Shabrat they let off fireworks in honour of their ancestors and make

offerings of hnhva ^ to them and place lamps and scent on their tombs. They swear by the pig and abstain from eating its flesh. The dog is considered an unclean animal and its tail, ears and tongue are especially defiling. If the hair of a dog falls on the ground they cannot pray in that place because the souls of the prophets cannot come there. To see a dog flapping its ears is a bad omen, and a person start- ing on a journey should postpone his departure. They esteem the spider, because they say it spread its web over the mouth of the cave where Hasan and Husain lay concealed from their enemies and thus prevented it from being searched. Some of them have Pirs or spiritual preceptors, these being Muhammadan beggars, not necessarily celibate. The cere- mony of adhesion is that a man should drink sherbet from the cup from which his preceptor has drunk. They do not observe impurity after a death nor bathe on returning from a funeral.

Social customs

Liquor is of course prohibited to the Ataris as to other Muhammadans, but some of them drink it nevertheless. Some of them eat beef and others abstain. The blood of animals killed must flow before death according to the rite of haldl, but they say that fish are an exception, because when Abraham was offering up his son Ishmael and God sub- stituted a goat, the goat bleated before it was killed, and this offended Abraham, who threw his sacrificial knife into the sea : the knife struck and killed a fish, and on this account all fish are considered to be haldl or lawful food without any further rite.

The Ataris observe the Hindu law of inheritance, and some of them worship Hindu deities, as Mata the goddess of smallpox. As a rule their women are not secluded. The Ataris make viissi or tooth- powder from myrobalans, cloves and cardamoms, and other constituents. This has the effect of blackening the teeth. They also sell the kunku or red powder which women rub on their foreheads, its constituents being turmeric, borax and the juice of limes.


They sell scent and sometimes deal in tobacco. The scents most in demand are giildb-pdni or rose-water and pJmlel or essence of tilli or sesamum.

Scents are usually sold by the tola of i 8 annas silver weight,^ and ' A preparation of raisins and other - The ordinary tola is a rupee weight fruits and rice. or two-fifths of an ounce.

a tola of attar may vary in price from 8 annas to Rs. 8o. Other scents are made from klias-kkas grass, the mango, henna and music, the bela flower,^ the champak " and cucumber. Scent is manufactured by distillation from the flowers boiled in water, and the drops of congealed vapour fall into sandal- wood oil, which they say is the basis of all scents. Fragrant oils are also sold for rubbing on the hair, made from orange flowers, jasmine, cotton-seed and the flowers of the aonla tree.^ Scent is sold in tiny circular glass bottles, and the oils in little bottles made from thin leather.

The Ataris also retail the little black sticks of incense which are set up and burnt at the time of taking food and in temples, so that the smell and smoke may keep off evil spirits. When professional exorcists are called upon to clear any building, such as a hospital, supposed to be haunted by spirits or the ghosts of the dead, they commence operations by placing these sticks of incense at the entrance and setting them alight as in a temple.

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