Bania: Ajudhiabasi, Audhia

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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.

Bania, AjudhiaMsi, Audhia

A subcaste of Bania, whose name signifies a resident of Ajodhia, the old name of Oudh. Outsiders often shorten the name to Audhia, but, as will be seen, the name Audhia is regularly applied to a criminal class, who may have been derived from the Ajudhiabasi Banias, but are now quite distinct from them. The Ajudhiabasis numbered nearly 2000 persons in 191 i, belonging chiefly to the Jubbulpore, Narsinghpur and Hoshangabad Districts. This total includes any persons who may have returned themselves as Audhia.

The Ajudhiabasis are nearly all Hindus with a small Jain minority. Though Oudh was their original home they are now fairly numerous in Cawnpore and Bundelkhand as well, and it may have been from this last locality that they entered the Central Provinces. Here they form a separate endogamous group and do not marry with their caste -fellows in northern India. They have exogamous sections, and marriage is prohibited within the section and also between first cousins.

They permit the remarriage of widows, but are said not to recognise divorce, and to expel from the caste a woman guilty of adultery. It may be doubted, however, whether this is correct. Brahmans serve as their priests, and they invest boys with the sacred thread either at marriage or at a special ceremony known as Gurmukh. The dead arc either buried or burnt ; in the case of burial men are laid on the face and women on the back, the body being first rubbed with salt, clarified butter, turmeric and milk. A little earth from the grave is carried away and thrown into a sacred river, and when the dead arc burnt the ashes are similarly disposed of.

Their principal deity is the goddess Devi, and at the Dasahra festival they offer a goat to her, the flesh of which is distributed among members of the caste. The Audhias are a well-known criminal tribe, whose headquarters is in the Fatehpur District. They say that they are Banias, and use the name Ajudhiabasi in speaking of themselves, and from their customs and criminal methods it seems not unlikely that they may originally have been an offshoot from the Ajudhiabasi Banias.

They are now, however, perfectly distinct from this group, and any confusion between them would be very unjust to the latter. In northern India it is said that the Audhias deal largely in counterfeit coin and false jewellery, and never commit crimes of violence ; ^ but in Bombay they have taken to housebreaking, though they usually select an empty house.^ From their homes in the United Provinces they wander over Central India, the Central Provinces, Bengal and Bombay ; they are said to avoid the Punjab and Sind owing to difficulties of working, and they have made it a caste offence to commit any crime in the Ganges-Jumna Doab, probably because this is their home. It is said also that if any one of them is imprisoned he is put out of caste. They wander about disguised as religious mendicants, Brahmans or Bairagis.

They carry their bedding tied on their back with a cloth, and a large bag slung over the shoulders which contains food, cooking- vessels and other articles. Sometimes they pretend to be Banias and hawk about sweets and groceries, or one of the gang opens a shop, which serves as a rendezvous and centre for collecting information.^ In the Districts where they reside they are perfectly well-behaved. They are well-to-do and to all appearance respectable in their habits. Their women are well-dressed with plenty of orna- ments on their persons. They have no apparent means of support ; they neither cultivate land nor trade ; and all that appears on the surface is that most of the men and boys go off after the rains and return at the end of 1 Mr. Crooke's Tribes and Castes, Bombaji Presidency, art. Audhia. art. Audhia. 3 Kennedy, ibidem. •^ Kennedy's Criminal Classes of the

the cold weather.

If asked how they support themselves they reply by begging. Their marriage rules are those of high -caste Hindus. They are divided into two classes, Unch or high and Nich or low, the former being of pure blood, and the latter the descendants of kept women. These are practically endogamous. A man may not have more than two wives. If a girl is detected in immorality before marriage, she is permanently excommunicated, and a married woman can be turned out by her husband on proof of adultery.

A bridegroom-price is usually paid, the father of the bride visiting the bridegroom and giving him the money in secret. The dead are burnt, and Brahmans are duly fed. If a man has died through an accident or from cholera, smallpox, poison or leprosy, the corpse, if available, is at once consigned to the Ganges or other river, and during the course of the next twelve months a Mahabrahman is paid to make an image of the deceased in gram-flour, which is cremated with the usual rites. As in the case of the Ajudhiabasi Banias, the tribal deity of the Audhias is the goddess Devi.^

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