Bhilala

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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.

Bhilala

A small caste found in the Nimar and i- General Hoshangabad Districts of the Central Provinces and in "°^^^- Central India. The total strength of the Bhilalas is about 150,000 persons, most of whom reside in the Bhopawar Agency, adjoining Nimar. Only 15,000 were returned from the Central Provinces in 191 1. The Bhilalas are commonly considered, and the general belief may in their case be accepted as correct, to be a mixed caste sprung from the alliances of immigrant Rajputs with the Bhils of the Central India hills. The original term was not improbably Bhilwala, and may have been applied to those Rajput chiefs, a numerous body, who acquired small estates in the Bhil country, or to those who took the daughters of Bhil chieftains to wife, the second course being often no 1 Niindr Settlement Report, i^y^. 2\(}, ^ fhis article is based mainly on 247. Captain Forsyth's Nimar Settlement '^ Sir G. Grierson, Linguistic Survey Report, and a paper by Mr. T. T. of India, vol. ix. part iii. pp. 6-9. Korke, Pleader, Khandwa.


doubt a necessary preliminary to the first. Several Bhilala families hold estates in Nimar and Indore, and their chiefs now claim to be pure Rajputs. The principal Bhilala houses, as those of Bhamgarh, Selani and Mandhata, do not inter- marry with the rest of the caste, but only among themselves and with other families of the same standing in Malwa and Holkar's Nimar. On succession to the Gaddi or headship of the house, representatives of these families are marked with a tlka or badge on the forehead and sometimes presented with a sword, and the investiture may be carried out by custom by the head of another house. Bhilala landholders usually have the title of Rao or Rawat. They do not admit that a Bhilala can now spring from intermarriage between a Rajput and a Bhil. The local Brahmans will take water from them and they are occasionally invested with the sacred thread at the time of marriage.

The Bhilala Rao of Mandhata is hereditary custodian of the great shrine of Siva at Onkar Mandhata on an island in the Nerbudda. According to the traditions of the family, their ancestor, Bharat Singh, was a Chauhan Rajpiit, who took Mandhata from Nathu Bhil in A.D. I 165, and restored the worship of Siva to the island, which had been made inaccessible to pilgrims by the terrible deities, Kali and Bhairava, devourers of human flesh. In such legends may be recognised the propagation of Hinduism by the Rajpiit adventurers and the reconsecration of the aboriginal shrines to its deities.

Bharat Singh is said to have killed Nathu Bhil, but it is more probable that he only married his daughter and founded a Bhilala family. Similar alliances have taken place among other tribes, as the Korku chiefs of the Gawilgarh and Mahadeo hills, and the Gond princes of Garha Mandla. The Bhilalas generally resemble other Hindus in appearance, showing no marked signs of aboriginal descent. Very probably they have all an infusion of Rajput blood, as the Rajputs settled in the Bhil country in some strength at an early period of history. The caste have, however, totemistic group names ; they will eat fowls and drink liquor ; and they bury their dead with the feet to the north, all these customs indicating a Dravidian origin. Their subordinate position in past times is shown by the fact that they will accept cooked food from a Kunbi

or a Gujar ; and indeed the status of all except the chiefs families would naturally have been a low one, as they were practically the offspring of kept women.

As already stated, the landowning families usually arrange alliances among themselves. Below these comes the body of the caste and below them is a group known as the Chhoti Tad or bastard Bhilalas, to which are relegated the progeny of irregular unions and persons expelled from the caste for social offences. The caste, for the purpose of avoiding marriages between 2. Mar- relations, are also divided into exogamous groups called "^^^' kul or kuri, several of the names of which are of totemistic origin or derived from those of animals and plants. Members of the Jamra kuri will not cut or burn XhQjdviun ^ tree ; those of the Saniyar kuri will not grow sa7i-\\ers\\y, while the Astaryas revere the sona '"^ tree and the Pipaladya, the pipal tree. Some of the kuris have Rajput sept names, as Mori, Baghel and Solanki.

A man is forbidden to take a wife from within his own sept or that of his mother, and the union of first cousins is also prohibited. The customs of the Bhilalas resemble those of the Kunbis and other cultivating castes. At their weddings four cart-yokes are arranged in a square, and inside this are placed two copper vessels filled with water and considered to represent the Ganges and Jumna. When the sun is half set, the bride and the bride- groom clasp hands and then walk seven times round the square of cart-yokes. The water of the pots is mixed and this is considered to represent the mingling of the bride's and bridegroom's personalities as the Ganges and Jumna meet at Allahabad. A sum of about Rs. 60 is usually paid by the parents of the bridegroom to those of the bride and is expended on the ceremony.

The ordinary Bhilalas have, Mr. Korke states, a simple form of wedding which may be gone through without consulting a Brahman on the Ekadashi or eleventh of Kartik (October) ; this is the day on which the gods awake from sleep and marks the commencement of the marriage season. A cone is erected of eleven plants of juari, roots and all, and the couple simply walk round this seven times at night, when the marriage is complete. The ^ Eugenia Jambolatia. 2 Bmihint a raceniosa.

remarriage of widows is permitted. The woman's forehead is marked with cowdung by another widow, probably as a rite of purification, and the cloths of the couple are tied together. The caste commonly bury the dead and erect memorial stones at the heads of graves which they worship in the month of Chait (April), smearing them with vermilion and making an offering of flowers. This may either be a Dravidian usage or have been adopted by imitation from the Muhammadans. The caste worship the ordinary Hindu deities, but each family has a Kul-devi or household god, Mr. Korke remarks, to which they pay special reverence. The offerings made to the Kul-devi must be consumed by the family alone, but married daughters are allowed to participate. They employ Nimari Brahmans as their priests, and also have gurus or spiritual preceptors, who are Gosains or Bairagis.

They will take food cooked with water from Brahmans, Rajputs, Munda Gujars and Tirole Kunbis. The last two groups are principal agricultural castes of the locality and the Bhilalas are probably employed by them as farmservants, and hence accept cooked food from their masters in accordance with a common custom.

The local Brahmans of the Nagar, Naramdeo, Balsa and other subcastes will take water from the hand of a Bhilala. Temporary ex- communication from caste is imposed for the usual offences, such as going to jail, getting maggots in a wound, killing a cow, a dog or a squirrel, committing homicide, being beaten by a man of low caste, selling shoes at a profit, committing adultery, and allowing a cow to die with a rope round its neck ; and further, for touching the corpses of a cow, cat or horse, or a Barhai (carpenter) or Chamar (tanner). They will not swear by a dog, a cat or a squirrel, and if either of the first two animals dies in a house, it is considered to be impure for a month and a quarter. The head of the caste committee has the designation of Mandloi, which is a territorial title borne by several families in Nimar. He receives a share of the fine levied for the Sarni or purification ceremony, when a person temporarily expelled is readmitted into caste. Under the Mandloi is the Kotwal whose business is to summon the members to the caste


assemblies ; he also is paid out of the fines and his office is hereditary. The caste are cultivators, farmservants and field-labourers, 4. Occupa- and a Bhilala also usually held the office of Mankar, a ch"rrcter. superior kind of Kotwar or village watchman. The Mankar did no dirty work and would not touch hides, but attended on any officer who came to the village and acted as a guide. Where there was a village sarai or rest-house, it was in charge of the Mankar, who was frequently also known as zamindar.

This may have been a recognition of the ancient rights of the Bhilalas and Bhils to the country. Captain Forsyth, Settlement Officer of Nimar, had a 5. Char- very unfavourable opinion of the Bhilalas, whom he described as proverbial for dishonesty in agricultural engagements and worse drunkards than any of the indigenous tribes.^ This judgment was probably somewhat too severe, but they are poor cultivators, and a Bhilala's field may often be recognised by its slovenly appearance.

A century ago Sir J. Malcolm also wrote very severely of the Bhilalas : " The Bhilala and Lundi chiefs were the only robbers in Malwa whom under no circumstances travellers could trust. There are oaths of a sacred but obscure kind among those that are Rajputs or who boast their blood, which are almost a disgrace to take, but which, they assert, the basest was never known to break before Mandrup Singh, a Bhilala, and some of his associates, plunderers on the Nerbudda, showed the example. The vanity of this race has lately been flattered by their having risen into such power and consideration that neighbouring Rajput chiefs found it their interest to forget their prejudices and to condescend so far as to eat and drink with them.

Hatti Singh, Grassia chief of Nowlana, a Khichi Rajput, and several others in the vicinity cultivated the friendship of Nadir, the late formidable Bhilala robber-chief of the Vindhya range ; and among other sacrifices made by the Rajputs, was eating and drinking with him. On seeing this take place in my camp, I asked Hatti Singh whether he was not degraded by doing so ; he said no, but that Nadir was elevated." " 1 Settlement Report (1869), para. 7ncnt Report. 411. •'* Memoir of Central India, ii. p. ^ Mr. Montgomerie's Ninidr Settle- 156.

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