Bania: Oswal

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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.


Bania,:Oswal

This is perhaps the most important sub- division of the Banias after the Agarwala. The Oswals numbered nearly 10,000 persons in the Central Provinces in 191 I, being found in considerable numbers in all the Berar Districts, and also in Nimar, Wardha and Raipur. The name is derived from the town of Osia or Osnagar in Marwar. According to one legend of their origin the Raja of Osnagar had no son, and obtained one through the promise of a Jain ascetic. The people then drove the ascetic from the town, fearing that the Raja would become a Jain ; but Osadev, the guardian goddess of the place, told the ascetic, Sri Ratan Suri, to convert the Raja by a miracle. So she took a small hank {pilni) of cotton and passed it along the back of the saint, when it immediately became a snake and bit Jaichand, the son of the Raja, in the toe, while he was asleep beside his wife.

Every means was tried to save his life, but he died. As his corpse was about to be burnt, the ascetic sent one of his disciples and stopped the cremation. Then the Raja came with the body of his son and stood with hands clasped before the saint. He ordered that it was to be taken back to the place where the prince had been bitten, and that the princess was to lie down beside it as before. At midnight the snake returned and licked the bite, when the prince was restored to life. Then the Raja, with all his Court and people, became a Jain.

He and his family founded the gotra or section now known as Sri Srimal or most noble ; his servants formed that known as Srimal or excellent, while the other Rajputs of the town became ordinary Oswals. When the Brahmans of the place heard of these conversions they asked the saint how they were to live, as all their clients had become Jains. The saint directed that they should continue to be the family priests of the Oswals and be known as Bhojak or ' eaters.' Thus the Oswals, though Jains, continue to employ Marwari

Brahmans as their family priests. Another version of the story is that the king of Srimali ^ allowed no one who was not a millionaire to live within his city walls. In conse- quence of this a large number of persons left Srimal, and, settling in Mandovad, called it Osa or the frontier. Among them were Srimali Banias and also Bhatti, Chauhan, Gahlot, Gaur, Yadava, and several other clans of Rajputs, and these were the people who were subsequently converted by the Jain ascetic, Sri Ratan Suri, and formed into the single caste of Oswal.^

Finally, Colonel Tod states that the Oswals are all of pure Rajput descent, of no single tribe, but chiefly Panwars, Solankis and Bhattis.^ From these legends and the fact that their headquarters are in Rajputana, it may safely be concluded that the Oswal Banias are of Rajput origin. The large majority of the Oswals are Jain by religion, but a few are Vaishnava Hindus. Intermarriage between the Hindu and Jain sections is permitted. Like the Agarwalas, the Oswals are divided into Bisa, Dasa and Pacha sections or twenties, tens and fives, according to the purity of their lineage. The Pacha subcaste still permit the remarriage of widows. The three groups take food together but do not intermarry. In Bombay, Dasa Oswals intermarry with the Dasa groups of Srimali and Parwar Banias,'* and Oswals generally can marry with other good Bania subcastes so long as both parties are Jains.

The Oswals are divided into eighty-four goiras or exogamous sections for purposes of marriage, a list of which is given by Mr. Crooke.^ Most of these cannot be recognised, but a few of them seem to be titular, as Lorha a caste which grows hemp, Nunia a salt-refiner, Seth a banker, Daftari an office- boy, Vaid a physician, Bhandari a cook, and Kukara a dog. These may indicate a certain amount of admixture of foreign elements in the caste. As stated from Benares, the exogamous rule is that a man cannot marry in his own section, and he cannot marry a girl whose father's or mother's section is the same as that of either his father or mother. This would bar the marriage of first cousins.

^ A town near Jhalor in Marwar, ^ Rajasihdti, ii. p. 210, footnote, now called Bhinmal. ^ Hindus of Gujarat, loc. cit.^ and 2 Bombay Gazetteer, Hindtis of Bombay Gazetteer, xvi. 45. Gujarat, p. 97. ^ Tribes and Castes, art. Oswal.

Though Jains the Osvvfils perform their weddings by walking round the sacred fire and observe certain Hindu rites, including the worship of the god Ganpati.^ They also revere other Hindu deities and the sun and moon. The dead are burnt, but they do not observe any impurity after a death nor clean the house. On the day after the death the mourning family, both men and women, visit Parasnath's temple, and lay one seer (2 lbs.) of Indian millet before the god, bow to him and go home. They do not gather the ashes of the dead nor keep the yearly death-day.

Their only observance is that on some day between the twelfth day after a death and the end of a year, the caste-people are treated to a dinner of sweetmeats and the dead ' are then forgotten.' ^ The Oswals will take food cooked with water {katchi) only from Brahmans, and that cooked without water {pakki) from Agarwala and Maheshri Banias. In the Central Provinces the principal deity of the Oswals is the Jain Tirthakar Parasnath, and they spend large sums in the erection of splendid temples. The Oswals are the most prominent trading caste in Rajputana ; and they have also frequently held high offices, such as Diwan or minister, and paymaster in Rajput States.^

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