Barhai

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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.


Barhai

Barhai, Sutar, Kharadi, Mistri

The occupational i. strength caste of carpenters. The Barhais numbered nearly 1 1 0,000 |^|!.'jribu^ persons in the Central Provinces and Berar in 191 i, or tion. about I in 150 persons. The caste is most numerous in Districts with large towns, and few carpenters are to be found in villages except in the richer and more advanced Districts. Hitherto such woodwork as the villagers wanted for agriculture has been made by the Lobar or blacksmith, while the country cots, the only wooden article of furniture in their houses, could be fashioned by their own hands or by the Gond woodcutter.

In the Mandla District the Barhai caste counts only 300 persons, and about the same in Balaghat, in Drug only 47 persons, and in the fourteen Chhattisgarh Feudatory States, with a population of more than two millions, only some 800 persons. The name Barhai is said to be from the Sanskrit Vardhika and the root vardh, to cut. Sutar is a common name of the caste in the Maratha Districts, and is from Sutra-kara, one who works by string, or a maker of string. The allusion may be to the Barhai's use of string in planing or measuring timber, or it may possibly indicate a transfer of occupation, the Sutars having first been mainly string-makers and after- wards abandoned this calling for that of the carpenter. The first wooden implements and articles of furniture may have been held together by string before nails came into use. Kharadi is literally a turner, one who turns woodwork on


Mar-riage customs

a lathe, from khaidt, a lathe. Mistri, a corruption of the English Mister, is an honorific title for master carpenters. The comparatively recent growth of the caste in these Provinces is shown by its subdivisions. The principal sub- castes of the Hindustani Districts are the Pardeshi or foreigners, immigrants from northern India, and the Purbia or eastern, coming from Oudh ; other subcastes are the Sri Gaur Malas or immigrants from Malvva, the Beradi from Berar, and the Mahure from Hyderabad. We find also subcastes of Jat and Teli Barhais, consisting of Jats and Telis (oil-pressers) who have taken to carpentering. Two other caste-groups, the Chamar Barhais and Gondi Barhais,

are returned, but these are not at present included in the Barhai caste, and consist merely of Chamars and Gonds who work as carpenters but remain in their own castes. In the course of some generations, however, if the cohesive social force of the caste system continues un- abated, these groups may probably find admission into the Barhai caste. Colonel Tod notes that the progeny of one Makiar, a prince of the Jadon Rajpiat house of Jaisalmer, became carpenters, and were known centuries after as Makur Sutars. They were apparently considered illegitimate, as he states : " Illegitimate children can never overcome this natural defect among the Rajputs. Thus we find among all classes of artisans in India some of royal but spurious descent.

" ^ The internal structure of the caste seems therefore to indicate that it is largely of foreign origin and to a certain degree of recent formation in these Provinces. The caste are also divided into exogamous septs named after villages. In some localities it is said that they have no septs, but only surnames, and that people of the same surname cannot intermarry. Well-to-do persons marry their daughters before puberty and others when they can afford the expense of the ceremony.

Brahman priests are employed at weddings, though on other occasions their services are occasionally dis- pensed with. The wedding ceremony is of the type pre- valent in the locality. When the wedding procession reaches the bride's village it halts near the temple of Maroti or Hanuman. Among the Panchfd Barhais the bridegroom does ' Kdjaslhdn, ii. p. 210.

not wear a marriage crown but tics a bunch of flowers to his turban. The bridegroom's party is entertained for five days. Divorce and the remarriage of widows are permitted. In most localities it is said that a widow is forbidden to marry her first husband's younger as well as his elder brother. Among the Pardeshi Barhais of Betul if a bachelor desires to marry a widow he must first go through the ceremony with a branch or twig of the gfi/ar tree.^ The caste worship Viswakarma, the celestial architect, .4. kdi- and venerate their trade implements on the Dasahra festival. ^'""" They consider the sight of a mongoose and of a light-grey pigeon or dove as lucky omens. They burn the dead and throw the ashes into a river or tank, employing a Maha- Brahman to receive the gifts for the dead.

In social status the Barhais rank with the higher artisan 5. Social castes. Brahmans take water from them in some localities. Position. perhaps more especially in towns. In Betul for instance Hindustani Brahmans do not accept water from the rural Barhais. In Damoh where both the Barhai and Lobar are village menials, their status is said to be the same, and Brahmans do not take water from Lobars. Mr. Nesfield says that the Barhai is a village servant and ranks with the Kurmi, with whom his interests are so closely allied. But there seems no special reason why the interests of the carpenter should be more closely allied with the cultivator than those of any other village menial, and it may be offered as a surmise that carpentering as a distinct trade is of comparatively late origin, and was adopted by Kurmis, to which fact the connection noticed by Mr.

Nesfield might be attributed ; hence the position of the Barhai among the castes from whom a Brahman will take water. In some localities well-to-do members of the caste have begun to wear the sacred thread.

In the northern Districts and the cotton tract the Barhai 6. Occupa- works as a village menial. He makes and mends the plough ^'°"' and harrow {bakJiar) and other wooden implements of agri- culture, and makes new ones when supplied with the wood. In Wardha he receives an annual contribution of 100 lbs. of grain from each cultivator. In Betul he gets Gj lbs. of grain

and other perquisites for each plough of four bullocks. For making carts and building or repairing houses he must be separately paid. At weddings the Barhai often supplies the sacred marriage-post and is given from four annas to a rupee. At the Diwali festival he prepares a wooden peg about six inches long, and drives it into the cultivator's house inside the threshold, and receives half a pound to a pound of grain. In cities the carpenters are rapidly acquiring an in- creased degree of skill as the demand for a better class of houses and furniture becomes continually greater and more extensive.

The carpenters have been taught to make English furniture by such institutions as the Friends' Mission of Hoshangabad and other missionaries ; and a Government technical school has now been opened at Nagpur, in which boys from all over the Province are trained in the profession. Very little wood-carving with any pretensions to excellence has hitherto been done in the Central Provinces, but the Jain temples at Saugor and Khurai contain some fair wood- work.

A good carpenter in towns can earn from i 2 annas to Rs. 1-8 a day, and both his earnings and prospects have greatly improved within recent years. Sherring remarks of the Barhais : " As artisans they exhibit little or no inventive powers : but in imitating the workmanship of others they are perhaps unsurpassed in the whole world. They are equally clever in working from designs and models.

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