Balahi

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This article was written in 1916 when conditions were different. Even in
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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.

NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from the original book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot these footnotes gone astray might like to shift them to their correct place.

Balahi

General notice

Balahi.^—A low functional caste of weavers and village i. General watchmen found in the Nimar and Hoshangabad Districts and in Central India. They numbered 52,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 191 1, being practically confined to the two Districts already mentioned.

The name is a cor- ruption of the Hindi bnldhi, one who calls, or a messenger. The Balahis seem to be an occupational group, probably an offshoot of the large Kori caste of weavers, one of whose subdivisions is shown as Balahi in the United Provinces. In the Central Provinces they have received accretions from the spinner caste of Katias, themselves probably a branch of the Koris, and from the Mahars, the great menial caste of Bombay. In Hoshangabad they are known alternatively as Mahar, while in Burhanpur they are called Bunkar or weaver by outsiders. The following story which they tell about themselves also indicates their mixed origin.

They say that their ancestors came to Nimar as part of the army of Raja Man of Jodhpur, who invaded the country when it was under Muhammadan rule. He was defeated, and his soldiers were captured and ordered to be killed." One of the Balahis among them won the favour of the Muham- madan general and asked for his own freedom and that of the other Balahis from among the prisoners.

The Musalman ^ This article is based on papers by reminiscence of the historical fact that Mr. Habib Ullah, Pleader, Burhanpur, a Malvva army was misled by a Gond Mr. W. Bagley, Subdivisional Officer, guide in the Nimar forests and cut up and Munsh Kanhya Lai, of the Gazet- by the local Muhammadan ruler. The teer office. well-known Raja Man of Jodhpur was, 2 This legend is probably a vague it is believed, never in Nimar.

replied that he would be unable to determine which of the prisoners were really Balahis, On this the Balahi, whose name was Ganga Kochla, replied that he had an effective test. He therefore killed a cow, cooked its flesh and invited the prisoners to partake of it. So many of them as consented to eat were considered to be Balahis and liberated ; but many members of other castes thus obtained their freedom, and they and their descendants are now in- cluded in the community.

The subcastes or endogamous groups distinctly indicate the functional character of the caste, the names given being Nimari, Gannore, Katia, Kori and Mahar. Of these Katia, Kori and Mahar are the names of distinct castes, Nimari is a local subdivision in- dicating those who speak the peculiar dialect of this tract, and the Gannore are no doubt named after the Rajput clan of that name, of whom their ancestors were not improbably the illegitimate offspring. The Nimari Balahis are said to rank lower than the rest, as they will eat the flesh of dead cattle which the others refuse to do.

They may not take water from the village well, and unless a separate one can be assigned to them, must pay others to draw water for them. Partly no doubt in the hope of escaping from this degraded position, many of the Nimari group became Christians in the famine of 1897. They are considered to be the oldest residents of Nimar.

At marriages the Balahi receives as his perquisite the leaf-plates used for feasts with the leavings of food upon them ; and at funerals he takes the cloth which covers the corpse on its way to the burning- glidt. In Nimar the Korkus and Balahis each have a separate burying-ground which is known as Murghata.^ The Katias weave the finer kinds of cloth and rank a little higher than the others. In Burhanpur, as already stated, the caste are known as Bunkar, and they are probably identical with the Bunkars of Khandesh ; Bunkar is simply an occupational term meaning a weaver. 2. Mar- The caste have the usual system of exogamous groups, "^^^' some of which are named after villages, while the designa- tions of others are apparently nicknames given to the founder of the clan, as Bagmar, a tiger-killer, Bhagoria, a runaway,

^ The ghat or river-bank for the disposal of corpses.

and so on. They employ a Brahman to calculate the horoscopes of a bridal couple and fix the date of their wedding, but if he says the marriage is inauspicious, they merely obtain the permission of the caste panchdyat and celebrate it on a Saturday or Sunday. Apparently, however, they do not consult real Brahmans, but merely priests of their own caste whom they call Balahi Brahmans.

These Brahmans are, nevertheless, said to recite the Satya Narayan Katha. They also have gums or spiritual preceptors, being members of the caste who have joined the mendicant orders ; and Bhats or genealogists of their own caste who beg at their weddings. They have the practice of serving for a wife, known as Gharjamai or Lamjhana. When the pauper suitor is finally married at the expense of his wife's father, a marriage -shed is erected for him at the house of some neighbour, but his own family are not invited to the wedding.

After marriage a girl goes to her husband's house for a few days and returns. The first Diwali or Akha-tij festival after the wedding must also be passed at the husband's house, but consummation is not effected until the ama or gauna ceremony is performed on the attainment of puberty. The cost of a wedding is about Rs. 80 to the bridegroom's family and Rs. 20 to the bride's family. A widow is for- bidden to marry her late husband's brother or other relatives. At the wedding she is dressed in new clothes, and the fore- heads of the couple are marked with cowdung as a sign of purification.

They then proceed by night to the husband's village, and the woman waits till morning in some empty building, when she enters her husband's house carrying two water-pots on her head in token of the fertility which she is to bring to it. Like the Mahars, the Balahis must not kill a dog or a 3. other cat under pain of expulsion ; but it is peculiar that in their case the bear is held equally sacred, this being probably a residue of some totemistic observance. The most binding form of oath which they can use is by any one of these animals. The Balahis will admit any Hindu into the community except a man of the very lowest castes, and also Gonds and Korkus.

The head and face of the neophyte

are shaved clean, and he is made to lie on the ground under a string-cot ; a number of the Balahis sit on this and wash themselves, letting the water drip from their bodies on to the man below until he is well drenched ; he then gives a feast to the caste-fellows, and is considered to have become a Balahi. It is reported also that they will receive back into the community Balahi women who have lived with men of other castes and even with Jains and Muhammadans. They will take food from members of these religions and of any Hindu caste, except the most impure.

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