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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.
A low caste of agriculturists found principally in the Narsinghpur District, which contained three-fourths of the total of nearly 7000 persons returned in 191 1. The headquarters of the caste are in the United Provinces, which contains more than a lakh of Dhanuks. The name is derived from the Sanskrit dhanuska, an archer, and the caste is an ancient one, its origin as given in the Padma Purana, quoted by Sir Henry Elliot, being from a Chamar father and a Chandal or sweeper mother. Another pedigree makes the mother a Chamar and the father an outcaste Ahir. Such statements, Sir H. Risley remarks in commenting on this genealogy,^ serve to indicate in a general way the social rank held by the Dhanuks at the time when it was first thought necessary to enrol them among the mixed castes.
Dr. Buchanan ^ says that the Dhanuks were in former times the militia of the country. He states that all the Dhanuks ' Tribes and Castes of Betigal, art. ^ Eastern India, i. 1 66, as quoted in Dhanuk. Crooke's Tribes and Castes. •
were at one time probably slaves and many were recruited to fill up the military ranks—a method of security which had long been prevalent in Asia, the armies of the Parthians having been composed entirely of slaves. A great many Dhanuks, at the time when Buchanan wrote, were still slaves, but some annually procured their liberty by the inability of their masters to maintain them and their unwillingness to sell their fellow-creatures. It may be concluded, therefore, that the Dhanuks were a body of servile soldiery, recruited as was often the case from the subject Dravidian tribes
- following the all-powerful tendency of Hindu society they became a caste, and owing to the comparatively respectable
nature of their occupation obtained a rise in social position from the outcaste status of the subject Dravidians to the somewhat higher group of castes who were not unclean but from whom a Brahman would not accept water.
They did not advance so far as the Khandaits, another caste formed from military service, who u^ere also, Sir H. Risley shows, originally recruited from a subject tribe, probably because the position of the Dhanuks was always more subordinate and no appreciable number of them came to be officers or leaders. The very debased origin of the caste already mentioned as given in the Padma Purana may be supposed as in other cases to be an attempt on the part of the priestly chronicler to repress what he considered to be unfounded claims to a rise in rank. But the Dhanuks, not less than the other soldier castes, have advanced a pretension to be Kshatriyas, those of Narsinghpur sometimes calling themselves Dhankarai Rajputs, though this claim is of course in their case a pure absurdity. It is not necessary to suppose that the Dhanuks of the Central Provinces are the lineal descendants of the caste whose genealogy is given in the Puranas ; they may be a much more recent offshoot from a main caste, formed in a precisely similar manner from military service.^
Mr. Crooke " surmises that they belonged to the large impure caste of Basors or basket-makers, who took to bow-making and thence to archery ; and some connection is traceable between the 1 Cf. the two perfectly distinct groups - Tribes and Castes of the N. IV. P. of Paiks or foot -soldiers found in and Oiidh, art. Basor. Jubbulpore and the Uriya country. DHANUK 2. Mar- riage. Dhanuks and Basors in Narsinghpur. Such a separation must probably have occurred in comparatively recent times, inas- much as some recollection of it still remains. The fact that Lodhis are the only caste besides Brahmans from whom the Dhanuks of Narsinghpur will take food cooked without water may indicate that they formed the militia of Lodhi chieftains in the Nerbudda valley, a hypothesis which is highly probable on general grounds. In the Central Provinces the Dhanuks have no subcastes.
The names of their gotras or family groups, though they themselves cannot explain them, are apparently territorial
as Maragaiyan from Maragaon, Benaikawar from Benaika village, Pangarya from Panagar, Binjharia from Bindhya or Vindhya, Barodhaya from Barodha village, and so on. Marriages within the same gotra and between first cousins are prohibited, and child-marriage is usual. The father of the boy always takes the initiative in arranging a match, and if a man wants to find a husband for his daughter he must ask the assistance of his relatives to obtain a proposal, as it would be derogatory to move in the matter himself The contract for marriages is made at the boy's house and is not inviolable. Before the departure of the bridegroom for the bride's village, he stands at the entrance of the marriage- shed, and his mother comes up and places her breast to his mouth and throws rice balls and ashes over him. The former action signifies the termination of his boyhood, while the latter is meant to protect him on his important journey.
The bridegroom in walking away treads on a saucer in which a little rice is placed. Widow - marriage and divorce are permitted. A few members of the caste are tenants and the bulk of them farmservants and field- labourers. They also act as village watchmen. The Dhanuks eat flesh and fish, but not fowls, beef or pork, and they abstain from liquor. They will take food cooked without water from a Brahman and a Lodhi, but not from a Rajput ; but in Nimar the status of the caste is distinctly lower, and they eat pig's flesh and the leavings of Brahmans and Rajputs.
The mixed nature of ' The following particulars are from a paper by Kanhya Lai, a clerk in the Gazetteer office belonging to the Educa- tional Department.
the caste is shown by the fact that they will receive into the community illegitimate children born of a Dhanuk father and a woman of a higher caste such as Lodhi or Kurmi. They rank as already indicated just above the impure castes.