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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.


(Derived from Devi, whom they worship, or from Diabar, ' One who lights a lamp,' because they always practise magic with a lighted lamp.) A Dravidian caste of beggars and musicians. They numbered about 2500 persons ' Bombay Gazetteer, Nasik, p. 50. " Berar Census Report (1881), para. 2 According to another account 231. Namdeo belonged to Marwar. Mr. * This article is partly based on a Maclagan's Punjab Census Report note by Mr. Gokul Prasad, Tahslldar, (1 89 1), p. 144. Dhamtari.

in 1 9 1 I and are residents of the Chhattlsgarh plain.

The Dcwars themselves trace their origin from a Binjhia named Gopal Rai, wlio accompanied Raja Kalyan Sai of Rataiipur on a visit to the Court of Delhi in Akbar's time. Gopal Rai was a great wrestler, and while at Delhi he seized and held a viast elephant belonging to the Emperor. When the latter heard of it he ordered a wrestling match to be arranged between Gopal Rai and his own champion wrestler. Gopal Rai defeated and killed his opj)onent, and Kalyan Sai ordered him to compose a triumphal song and sing it in honour of the occasion. He composed his song in favour of Devi Maha Mai, or Devi the Great Mother, and the composition and recitation of similar songs has ever since been the profession of his descendants the Dewars.

The caste is, as is shown by the names of its sections, of mixed origin, and its members are the descendants of Gonds and Kawars reinforced probably by persons who have been expelled from their own caste and have become Dewars. They will still admit persons of any caste except the very lowest. The caste has two principal divisions according to locality, 2. Sub- named RaipOria and Ratanpiiria, Raipur and Ratanpur having been formerly the two principal towns of Chhattlsgarh. Within these are several other local subdivisions, e.g. Nava- garhia or those belonging to Nawagarh in Bilaspur, Sona- khania from Sonakhan south of the Mahanadi, Chatarrajiha from Chater Raj, in Raipur, and Sarangarhia from Sarangarh State. Some other divisions are either occupational or social ; thus the Baghurra Dewars are those who tame tigers and usually live in the direction of Bastar, the Baipari Dewars are petty traders in brass or pewter ornaments which they sell to Banjara women, and the Lobar and Jogi Dewars may be so called either because their ancestors belonged to these castes, or because they have adopted the profession of blacksmiths and beggars respectively. Probably both reasons are partly applicable.

These subdivisions are not strictly endogamous, but show a tendency to become so. The two main subcastes, Raipiiria and Ratanpuria, are dis- tinguished by the musical instruments which they play on while begging. That of the RaipiJrias is a sort of rude divisions.

fiddle called sdrangi, which has a cocoanut shell as a resonator with horsehair strings, and is played with a bow. The Ratanpurias have an instrument called dhungru, which consists of a piece of bamboo about three feet long with a hollow gourd as a resonator and catgut strings. In the latter the resonator is held uppermost and rests against the shoulder of the player, while in the former it is at the lower end and is placed against his waist. The section names of the Dewars are almost all of Dravidian origin. Sonwania, Markam, Marai, Dhurwa, Ojha, Netam, Salam, Katlam and Jagat are the names of well-known Gond septs which are also possessed by the Dewars, and Telasi, Karsayal, Son-Mungir and others are Kawar septs which they have adopted. They admit that their ancestors were members of these septs among the Gonds and Kawars. Where the name of the ancestor has a meaning which they understand, some totemistic observances survive.

Thus the members of the Karsayal sept will not kill or eat a deer. The septs are exogamous, but there is no other restriction on marriage and the union of first cousins is permissible. Adult marriage is usual, and if a husband cannot be found for a girl who has reached maturity she is given to her sister's husband as a second wife, or to any other married person who will take her and give a feast to the caste. In some localities the boy who is to be married is sent with a few relatives to the girl's house. On arrival he places a pot of wine and a nut before the girl's father, who, if he is will- ing to carry out the marriage, orders the nut to be pounded up. This is always done by a member of the Sonwani sept, a similar respect being paid to this sept among some of the Dravidian tribes. The foreheads of the betrothed couple are smeared with the nut and with some yellow-coloured rice and they bow low to the elders of the caste. Usually a bride-price of Rs. 5 or 10 is then paid to the parents of the girl together with two pieces of cloth intended for their use. A feast follows, which consists merely of the distribu- tion of uncooked food, as the Dewars, like some other low castes, will not take cooked food from each other. Pork and wine are essential ingredients in the feast or the ceremony cannot be completed.

If liquor is not available, water from

the house of a Kalur (distiller) will do instead, but there is no substitute for pork. This, however, is as a rule easily supplied as nearly all the ]3ewars keep pigs, which are retailed to the Gonds for their sacrifices. The marriage ceremony is performed within three or four months at most after the betrothal. Before entering the Mandwa or marriage- shed the bridegroom must place a jar of liquor in front of his prospective father-in-law. The bridegroom must alsd place a ring on the little finger of the bride's right hand, while she resists him as much as she can, her hand having previously been smeared with castor oil in order to make the task more difficult. Before taking the bride away the new husband must pay her father Rs, 20, and if he cannot do this, and in default of arrangements for remission which are sometimes made, must remain domiciled in his house for a certain period. As the bride is usually adult there is no necessity for a gauna ceremony, and she leaves for her husband's house once for all.

Thereafter when she visits the house of her parents she does so as a stranger, and they will not accept cooked food at her hands nor she at theirs. Neither will her husband's parents accept food from her, and each couple with their unmarried children form an exclusive group in this respect. Such a practice is found only among the low castes of mixed origin where nobody is certain of his neighbour's standing. If a woman has gone wrong before marriage, most of the ceremonies are omitted. In such a case the bridegroom catches hold of the bride by the hair and gives her a blow by way of punishment for her sin, and they then walk seven times round the sacred pole, the whole ceremony taking less than an hour. The bride-price is under these circumstances reduced to Rs. 15.

Widow-marriage is permitted, and while in some localities the new husband need give nothing, in others he must pay as much as Rs. 50 to the relatives of the deceased husband. If a woman runs away from her husband to another man, the latter must pay to the husband double the ordinary amount payable for a widow. If he cannot afford this, he must return the woman with Rs. 10 as compensation for the wrong he has done. The Dewars are also reported to have the practice of mortgaging their

wives or making them over temporarily to a creditor in return for a loan. Divorce is allowed for the usual causes and by mutual consent. The husband must give a feast to the caste, which is looked on as the funeral ceremony of the woman so far as he is concerned ; thereafter she is dead to him and he cannot marry her again on pain of the perma- nent exclusion of both from the caste. But a divorced woman can marry any other Dewar. Polygamy is freely allowed.

The Dewars especially worship Devi Maha Mai and Dulha Deo. To the former they offer a she-goat and to the latter a he-goat which must be of a dark colour. They worship their dhungrii or musical instrument on the day of Dasahra. They consider the sun and the moon to be brother and sister, and both to be manifestations of the deity. They bury their dead, but those who are in good circumstances dig up the bones after a year or two and burn them, taking the ashes to a sacred river. Mourning lasts for seven or ten days according as the deceased is unmarried or married, and during this time they abjure flesh and oil. Their social rules are peculiar. Though considered impure by the higher castes, they will not take cooked food from a Brahman, whom they call a Kumhati Kida, or an insect which effects the metamorphosis of others into his own form, and who will therefore change them into his own caste. Nor will they take cooked food from members of their own caste, but they accept it from several of the lower castes including Gonds, whose leavings they will eat. This is probably because they beg from Gonds and attend their weddings.

They keep pigs and pork is their favourite food, but they do not eat beef They have a tribal council with a headman called Gaontia or Jemadar, who always belongs either to the Sonwani or Telasi section. Among offences for which a man is tem- porarily put out of caste is that of naming his younger brother's wife. He must also abstain from going into her room or touching her clothes. This rule does not apply to an elder brother's wife. The Dewars are professional beggars, and play on the musical instruments called dhungru and sdrangi which have already been described. The Ratanpurias usually celebrate in an exaggerated style the praises of Gopal Rai, their

mythical ancestor. One of his exploits was to sever with a single sword-stroke the stalk of a plantain inside which the Emperor of Delhi had caused a solid bar of iron to be placed. The Rai[}urias prefer a song, called Gujrigit, about curds and milk. They also sing various songs relating how a woman is beloved by a Raja who tries to seduce her, but her chastity is miraculously saved by some curious combination of circumstances. They exorcise ghosts, train monkeys, bears and tigers for exhibition, and sell ornaments of base metal.

In Raipur the men take about performing monkeys and the women do tattooing, for which they usually receive payment in the shape of an old or new cloth. A few have settled down to cultivation, but as a rule they are wanderers, carrying from place to place their scanty outfit of a small tent and mattress, both made of old rags, and a few vessels. They meet at central villages during the Holi festival. The family is restricted to the parents and unmarried children, separation usually taking place on marriage.


(From People of India/ National Series Volume VIII. Readers who wish to share additional information/ photographs may please send them as messages to the Facebook community, All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.)

Synonyms: Dhibara, Kaibarta, Kalbarta, Keot, Keuta, Kevta [Orissa]

  • Divisions: Baghurra, Baipari, Chatarrajiha, Jogi, Lohar, Navagarhia, Raipuria, Ratanpuria, Sarangarhia, Sonakhania

[Russell & Hiralal] Groups/subgroups: Banjara Dewar, Dewar, Dhiwara Dewar, Gopal Dewar, Lohar, Pilasi Dewar, Raipuria, Ratanpuria [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Surnames: Kulhari, Morkham [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Behera, Janni, Oriya [Orissa] Exogamous units/clans: Behera, Janni, Mandiya, Naik [Orissa] Exogamous units/clans (kul/got): Chedayya, Diwara, Kulharia, Marai, Markham, Naghara, Netam, Purloti, Sonmugri, Sonvani, Sori [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Gotra: Achhuta [Orissa]

  • Septs/sections: Dhurwa, Jagat, Karsayal, Katlam, Marai, Markam, Netam, Ojha, Salam, Son-Mungir, Sonwania,

Telasi [Russell & Hiralal] Exogamous units/lineages (bansh): [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]

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