Balija

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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.

Origin Balija, Balji, Gurusthulu, Naidu

A large trading f"*^. . caste of the Madras Presidency, where they number a million traditions. •' persons. In the Central Provinces 1200 were enumerated in 191 1, excluding 1500 Perikis, who though really a sub- caste and not a very exalted one of Balijas,^ claim to be a separate caste. They are mainly returned from places where Madras troops have been stationed, as Nagpur, Jubbulpore and Raipur. The caste are frequently known as Naidu, a corruption of the Telugu word Nayakdu, a prince or leader. Their ancestors are supposed to have been Nayaks or kings of Madura, Tanjore and Vijayanagar.

The tra- ditional occupation of the caste appears to have been to make bangles and pearl and coral ornaments, and they have still a subcaste called Gazulu, or a bangle-seller. In Madras they are said to be an offshoot of the great cultivating castes of Kamma and Kapu and to be a mixed community recruited from these and other Telugu castes.

Another proof of their mixed descent may be inferred from the fact that they will admit persons of other castes or the descendants of mixed marriages into the community without much scruple in Madras.^ The name of Balija seems also to have been applied to a mixed caste started by Basava, the founder of the Lingayat sect of Sivites, these persons being known in Madras as Linga Balijas. 2. Mar- The Balijas have two main divisions, Desa or Kota, and riage.

Peta, the Desas or Kotas being those who claim descent from the old Balija kings, while the Petas are the trading Balijas, and are further subdivided into groups like the Gazulu or 1 Madras Census Report (1891), p. 277. - Ibidej?i (1891), p. 226.

banglc-sellcrs and the Pcriki or salt-sellers.

The subdivisions are not strictly cndoj^amous. Every family has a surname, and exogamous groups or gotras also exist, but these have generally been forgotten, and marriages are regulated by the surnames, the only prohibition being that persons of the same surname may not intermarry. Instances of such names are : Singiri, Gudari, Jadal, Sangnad and Dasiri. In fact the rules of exogamy are so loose that an instance is known of an uncle having married his niece. Marriage is usually infant, and the ceremony lasts for five days. On the first day the bride and bridegroom are seated on a yoke in the pandal or marriage pavilion, where the relatives and guests assemble.

The bridegroom puts a pair of silver rings on the bride's toes and ties the mangal-sfitravi or flat circular piece of gold round her neck. On the next three days the bride- groom and bride are made to sit on a plank or cot face to face with each other and to throw flowers and play together for two hours in the mornings and evenings. On the fourth day, at dead of night, they are seated on a cot and the jewels and gifts for the bride are presented, and she is then formally handed over to the bridegroom's family. In Madras Mr.

Thurston ^ states that on the last day of the marriage ceremony a mock ploughing and sowing rite is held, and during this, the sister of the bridegroom puts a cloth over the basket containing earth, wherein seeds are to be sown by the bridegroom, and will not allow him to go on with the ceremony till she has extracted a promise that his first- born daughter shall marry her son. No bride-price is paid, and the remarriage of widows is forbidden.

The Balijas bury their dead in a sitting posture. In the 3- Occupa- Central Provinces they are usually Lingayats and especially soc'iai^ worship Gauri, Siva's wife. Jangams serve them as priests, status. They usually eat flesh and drink liquor, but in Chanda it is stated that both these practices are forbidden. In the Central Provinces they are mainly cultivators, but some of them still sell bangles and salt. Several of them are in Government service and occupy a fairly high social position. In Madras a curious connection exists between the Kapus and Balijas and the impure Mala caste.

It is said 1 Ethnographic Notes in Southern India, p. 16,

that once upon a time the Kapus and Balijas were flying from the Muhammadans and came to the northern Pallar river in high flood. They besought the river to go down and let them across, but it demanded the sacrifice of a first-born child. While the Kapus and Balijas were hesitating, the Malas who had followed them boldly sacrificed one of their children. Immediately the river divided before them and they all crossed in safety.

Ever since then the Kapus and Balijas have respected the Malas, and the Balijas formerly even deposited the images of the goddess Gauri, of Ganesha, and of Siva's bull with the Malas, as the hereditary custo- dians of their gods.^

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