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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.
Also called Alia in the Sonpur and Patna States).—The chief cultivating caste of Orissa. In 1901 more than 21,000 Chasas were enumerated in Sambalpur and the adjoining Feudatory States, but nearly all these passed in 1905 to Bengal. The Chasas are said ^ by Sir H. Risley to be for the most part of non-Aryan descent, the loose organisation of the caste system among the Uriyas making it possible on the one hand for outsiders to be admitted into the caste, and on the other for wealthy Chasas who gave up ploughing with their own hands and assumed the respectable title of Mahanti to raise themselves to membership among the lower classes of Kayasths.
This passage indicates that the term Mahanti is or was a broader one than Karan or Uriya Kayasth, and was applied to educated persons of other castes who apparently aspired to admission among the Karans, in the same manner as leading members of the warlike and landholding castes lay claim to rank as Rajputs. For this reason probably the Uriya Kayasths prefer the name of Karan to that of Mahanti, and the Uriya saying, ' He who has no caste is called a Mahanti,' supports this view. The word Chasa has the generic meaning of ' a cultivator,' and the Chasas may in Sambalpur be merely an occupational group recruited from other castes. This theory is supported by the names of their subdivisions, three of which, Kolta, Khandait and Ud or Orh are the names of distinct castes, while the fourth, Benatia, is found as a subdivision of several other castes. Each family has a got or sept and a varga or family name.
The vargas are much more numerous than the gots, and marriages are arranged according to them, unions of members of the same varga only being forbidden. The sept names are totemistic and the family names territorial or titular. Among the former are bacJihds (calf), ndgas (cobra), Jiasti or gaj (elephant), Jiarin (deer), maJiuindcJiJd (bee), dlpas (lamp), and others ; while instances of the varga names are Pitmundia, Hulbulsingia, Giringia and Dumania, ' From papers by Mr. Parmcshwar Misra, Settlement Superintendent, Rairakhol, and Mr. Rasanand, Siresh- tedar, Bamra. ^ Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Chasa.
all names of villages in Angul State ; and Nayak (headman), Mahanti (writer), Dehri (vvorshii)per), 15ehera (cook), Kandra (bamboo-worker), and others. The different gots or septs revere their totems by drawing figures of them on their houses, and abstaining from injuring them in any way. If they find the footprints of the animal which they worship, they bow to the marks and obliterate them with the hand, perhaps with the view of affording protection to the totem animal from hunters or of preventing the marks from being trampled on by others. They believe that if they injured the totem animal they would be attacked by leprosy and their line would die out.
Members of the dipas sept will not eat if a lamp is put out at night, and will not touch a lamp with unclean hands. Those of the viahunidcJihi or bee sept will not take honey from a comb or eat it. Those of the gaj sept will not join an elephant kheddah. Some of the septs have an Ishta Devata or tutelary Hindu deity to whom worship is paid. Thus the elephant sept w^orship Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, and also do not kill rats because Ganesh rides on this animal. Similarly the harin or deer sept have Pawan, the god of the wind, as their Ishta Devata, because a deer is considered to be as swift as the wind.
It would appear then that the septs, each having its totem, were the original divisions for the restriction of marriage, but as these increased in size they were felt to debar the union of persons who had no real relationship and hence the smaller family groups were substituted for them ; while in the case of the old septs, the substitution of the Hindu god representing the animal worshipped by the sept for the animal itself as the object of veneration is an instance of the process of abandoning totem or animal worship and conforming to Hinduism. In one or two cases the Vargas themselves have been further subdivided for the purpose of marriage. Thus certain families of the Padhan (leader, chief) varga were entrusted with the duty of re- admitting persons temporarily put out of caste to social intercourse, for which they received the remuneration of a rupee and a piece of cloth in each case. These families were called the Parichha or ' Scrutinisers ' and have now become a separate varga, so that a Parichha Padhan may
marry another Padhan.
This is a further instance of the process of subdivision of exogamous groups which nriust take place as the groups increase in size and numbers, and the original idea of the common ancestry of the group vanishes. Until finally the primitive system of exogamy disappears and is replaced by the modern and convenient method of prohibition of marriage within certain degrees of relationship. The Chasas do not marry within the same varga, but a man may usually take a wife from his mother's varga. A girl must always be wedded before arriving at adolescence, the penalty for breach of this rule being the driving out of the girl to seclusion in the forest for a day and a half, and a feast to the caste-fellows. If no husband is available she may be married to an arrow or a flower, or she goes through the form of marriage with any man in the caste, and when a suitable partner is subsequently found, is united with him by the form of widow-marriage. Widows may marry again and divorce is also allowed.
The dead are usually buried if unmarried, and burnt when married. The Chasas worship the Hindu deities and also the village god Gramsiri, who is represented by a stone outside the village. At festivals they offer animal sacrifices to their agricultural implements, as hoes and hatchets. They employ Brahmans for religious ceremonies. They have an aversion to objects of a black colour, and will not use black umbrellas or clothes woven with black thread. They do not usually wear shoes or ride horses, even when they can afford these latter. Cultivation is the traditional occupation of the caste, and they are tenants, farmservants and field-labourers. They take food from Rajputs and Brahmans, and sometimes from Koltas and Sudhs. They eat flesh and fish, but abjure liquor, beef, pork and fowls. Their social position is a little below that of the good agricultural castes, and they are considered somewhat stupid, as shown by the proverb : Chasa, ki jane pasdr katha^ Padili bolai dons
or ' What does the Chasa know of the dice ? At every throw he calls out " twenty." '