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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.


The caste of fisherman and palaquin beares.in 1911 the Dhlmars numbered 284,000 persons in the central provinces and berar being and numerous in the Maratha district .In the north of the provinces we find in place of the Dhimars the Kahars and Mollabs ,and in the east of chhatisgarh country the kewats,but the distinction between these castes is no mor than nominal for in some localities both kahar and kewat are returned as sub castes of Dhimar. sidered as an honorific name or title ; and this indicates that a large number of Gonds have become enrolled in the Dhlmar or Kahar caste, and consider it a rise in status. Prdewar is the name of the Telugu fishermen of Chanda. Machhandar signifies one who catches fish. The caste has a large number of subdivisions of a local 2. Sub- or occupational nature ; among occupational names may be ^^^tes. mentioned the Singaria or those who cultivate the singara nut, the Nadha or those who live on the banks of streams, the Tankiwalas or sharpeners of grindstones, the Jhlngas or prawn-catchers, the Bansias and Saraias or anglers (from bansi or sarai, a bamboo fishing-rod), the Bandhaiyas or those who make ropes and sacking of hemp and fibre, and the Dhurias who sell parched rice.

These last say that their original ancestors were created by Mahadeo out of a handful of dust {(ihfir) for carrying the palanquin of Parvati when she was tired. They are probably the same people as the Dhuris who also parch grain, and in Chhattisgarh are con- sidered as a separate caste. Similarly the Sonjhara Dhlmars wash for gold, the calling of the separate Sonjhara caste. The Kasdhonia Dhlmars wash the sands of the sacred rivers to find the coins which pious pilgrims frequently drop or throw into the river as an offering when they bathe in it.

The Gondia subcaste is clearly an offshoot from the Gond tribe, but a large proportion of the whole caste in the Central Provinces is probably derived from the Gonds or Kols, members of this latter tribe being especially proficient as palanquin-bearers. The Suvarha subcaste is named after the siiar or pig, because members of this subcaste breed and eat the unclean animal ; they are looked down on by the others. Similarly the Gadhewale Dhlmars keep donkeys, and are despised by the other subcastes who will not take food from them. They use donkeys for carrying loads of wood,, and the bridegroom rides to his wedding on this animal ; and among them a donkey is the only animal the corpse of which can be touched without conveying pollution. The Bhanare Dhlmars appear to be named after the town of Bhandara, A large number of exogamous groups are also returned, 3- Exo- •ii r • 1 • • 1 T-i t _ gamous either 01 a titular or totemistic nature : such are Baghmar, a groups.

tiger-slayer ; Ojhwa, from Ojha, or sorcerer ; Guru pahchan, one who knows his teacher ; Midoia, a guardian of boundaries, from ined^ a boundary or border ; Gidhwe, a vulture ; Kolhe, or jackal ; Gadhekhaya, a donkey-eater ; and Kasture, musk ; a few names are from towns or villages, as Tumsare from Tumsar, Nagpurkar from Nagpur ; and a few from other castes as Madgi, Bhoyar, Pindaria from Pindari, a freebooter

Gondia (Gond) and Gondhali ; and Kachhwaha, a sept of

Rajputs. Marriage is prohibited between members of the same sept and also between first cousins.

In many localities families do not intermarry so long as they remember any relationship to have existed between them. In Mandla, Mr. Govind Moreshwar states, the Nadha and Kehera sub- castes do not intermarry ; but if a man desires a girl of the other subcaste he can be admitted into it on giving a feast to the caste-fellows according to his means, and thus marry her. Two families may exchange daughters in marriage.

A maiden who goes wrong with a man of the caste or of any higher caste may be readmitted to the community under penalty of a feast to the caste and of having a lock of her hair cut off. In the Hindustani Districts women do not accompany the marriage procession, but in the Maratha Districts they do. Among the Bhanara Dhlmars of Chanda the wedding may be held either at the bride's or the bride- groom's house. In the former case a bride-price of Rs. i6 is paid, and in the latter one of Rs. 20, because the expenses of the bride's family are increased if the wedding is held at her house. A custom exists among the poorer Dhlmars in Chanda of postponing the marriage ceremony to avoid expense ; a man will thus simply take a girl for his wife, making a payment of Rs, 1-4 or twenty pence to her father and giving a feast to the community. She will then live in his house as his wife, and at some subsequent date, perhaps in old age, the religious ceremony will be held so that the couple may have been properly married before they die. In this fashion the weddings of grandparents, parents and children have all been celebrated simultaneously. The Singaria Dhlmars of Chhindwara grow singdra or water-nut in tanks, and at their weddings a crocodile must be killed

and eaten.

The Sonjharas or gold-washers must also have a crocodile, but they keep it alive and worship it, and when the ceremony is concluded let it go back again to the river. It is natural that castes whose avocations are connected with rivers and tanks should in a manner deify the most prominent or most ferocious animal contained in their waters. And the ceremonial eating of a sacred animal has been recorded among divers peoples all over the world.

At a Dhlmar marriage in Bhandfira a net is given to the bridegroom, and sidori or cooked food, tied in a piece of cloth, to the bride, and they walk out together as if going to a river to fish, but the bride's brother comes up and stops them. After a wedding in Mandla they kill a pig and bury it before the door of the bridegroom's house, covering it with earth, and the bride and bridegroom step over its body into the house. Widow-marriage is freely permitted ; in Mandla the marriage of a widow may be held on the night of any day except Sunday, Tuesday and Saturday. Divorce is allowed, but is of rare occurrence. Adultery on the part of a wife will be frequently overlooked, and the extreme step of divorcing her is only taken if she creates a public scandal. In such a case the parties appear before a meeting of the caste, and the headman asks them whether they have determined to separate.

He then breaks a straw in token of the disruption of the union, and the husband and wife must pronounce each other's names in an audible voice.^ A fee of Rs. 1-4 is paid to the headman, and the divorce is completed.^ In some localities the woman's bangles are also broken. In Jhansi the fine for keeping a widow is ten rupees and for living with the wife of another man sixty rupees. Children are named either on the day of birth or the s- Child- twelfth day afterwards. The women place the child in a cradle, spreading boiled wheat and gram over its body, and after swinging it to and fro the name is given. Sweets or boiled wheat and gram are distributed to those present. In Berar on the third day after a birth cakes of juari flour and buttermilk are distributed to other children ; on the fifth ^ As a rule a husband and wife give a little more than the proper sum never address each other by name. on ceremonial occasions in order to show that there is no stint. Thus 2 Among Hindus it is customary to Rs. 1-4 is paid instead of a rupee. birth.

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day the slab and roller used for grinding the household corn are washed, anointed and worshipped ; on the twelfth day the child is named and shortly after this its head is shaved.^ 6. Disposal The bodies of the dead are usually buried, cremation deacr being beyond the means of Dhlmars.

Children whose ears have not been pierced are mourned only for one day, and others for ten days. When a body has been burnt the ashes are consigned to a tank or river on the third day, or if the third day be a Sunday or a Wednesday, then on the fifth day. In Berar, Mr. Kitts remarks,^ the funeral ceremony of the Dhlmars resembles that of the Gonds. After a burial the mourners repair to the deceased's house to drink ; and subsequently each fetches his own dinner and dines with the chief mourner. At this time he and his family are impure and the others cannot take food prepared by him ; but ten days afterwards when the mourning is over and the chief mourner has bathed and shaved they again dine with him, and on the next day the caste is feasted.

During the period of mourning a lighted lamp is daily placed outside the house. When the period of mourn- ing expires all the clothes of the family are washed and their house is newly whitewashed. There is no subsequent annual performance of funeral rites as among the higher Hindus; but at the Akshayatritiya or commencement of the agricultural year the head of the household throws at each meal a little food into the fire, in honour of his dead ancestors. 7. Reii- One of the principal deities of the Dhlmars ^ as of other g'°"- low castes is Dulha Deo, the deified bridegroom. They fashion his image of kadanib'^ wood and besmear it with red lead. In Berar they also pray to Anna Purna, the Corn-giving goddess of Madras corresponding to Durga or Devi, whose form with that of her horse is engraved on a brass plate and anointed with yellow and red turmeric. When about to enter a river or tank for fishing or other purposes they pray to the water-god to save them from being drowned or molested by its denizens. They address a river as Ganga Mai or ' Mother Ganges ' in order to 1 Berar Census Report {1881), p. 1 33. - Ibidem, I.e. ^ Ibidem, I.e. * Anthocephalus kadamba.

propitiate it by this flattery. Those who are employed on ferry-boats especially venerate Ghatoia ' Deo, the god of ferries and river-crossings.

His shrine is near the place where the boats are tied up, and ferry contractors keep a live chicken in their boat to be offered to Ghatoia on the first occasion when the river is sufficiently in flood to be crossed by ferry after the breaking of the rains. Other local godlings are the Bare Purakh or Great men, a collective term for their deceased ancestors, of whom they make silver images ; Parihar, the soul of the village priest ; Baram Deo, the spirit of the banyan tree ; and Gosain Deo, a deified ascetic. To the goddess Devi they offer a black she-goat which is eaten ceremonially, and when they have finished, the bones, skin and all the other remains of the animal are placed in a pit inside the house. If anything should fall into this pit it must be buried with the remains of the offering and not taken out. And they relate that on one occasion a child fell into the pit, and the parents, setting obedience to the law of the goddess above the life of their child, buried it alive. But next year when the sacrifice was again made and the pit was opened, the child was found in it alive and playing. So they say that the goddess will save the life of any one who is buried in the pit with her offering. When a widower marries a second time his wife sometimes wears a idwiz or amulet in the shape of a silver box containing charms round her neck in order to ward off the evil machinations of her predecessor's spirit.

The occupations of the Dhlmar are many and various, s. Occupa- He is primarily a fisherman and boatman, and has various ^'gj^g,'.^^ kinds of nets for taking fish. One of these is of triangular shape about 1 50 feet wide at the base and 80 feet in height to the apex. The meshes vary from an inch wide at the top to three inches at the bottom. The ends of the base are weighted with stones and the net is then sunk into a river so that the base rests on its bed and the top is held by men in boats at the surface. Then other Dhlmars beat the surface of the water for some distance with long bamboos on both sides of the net, driving the fish towards it. They 1 Yxova ghat, a steep hillside or slope; hence a river-crossing because of the banks sloping down to it.

call this a kheda^ the term used for a beat of the forest for game.

Dimar1 .png

Another method is to stretch a long rope or cord across the river, secured on either bank, with baited hooks attached to it at short inter\"als. It is left for some hours and then drawn in. \\lien the river is shallow one wide-bottomed boat w-ill be paddled up the stream and a line of men will wade on each side beating the water with bamboos so as to make the small fish jump into the boat Or they put a little cotton-seed on a stone in shallow water, and when the fish collect to eat the seed a long circular net weighted with pieces of iron is let down over the stone. Then the upper end is drawn tight and the fishermen put their hands inside and seize the little fish. The Dhimar is also regularly employed as a worker on ferries. His primitive boat made from the hollowed trunk of a tree and sometimes lashed in couples for greater stability- may still be seen on all rivers. He makes his own fishing-nets, knitting them on a stick at his leisure while he is walking along or sitting down to smoke and talk. He worships his fishing-nets at the Diwali festival, and his reverence for the knitted thread is such that he will not touch or wear a shoe made of thread, because he thinks that the sacred article is debased by being sewn into leather. When engaged in road-work the Dhlmars have unsewn sandals secured to the feet with strips of leather.

It is a special degradation to a Dhimar to be struck with a shoe. He has a monopoly of growing singara ^ or water- nuts in tanks. The fruit of this plant has a taste somewhat between a cocoanut and a potato, with a flavour of soap. It can be taken raw and is therefore a favourite comestible for fast days when cooked food is forbidden. It is also sold at railway stations and the fresh fruit is prescribed by \-illage doctors as easy of digestion. The Dhimar grows melons, cucumbers and other vegetables on the sandy stretches along the banks of streams, but at agriculture proper he does not excel. 9. Water- The Dhimar's connection with water has led to his becoming the water-carrier for Hindus, or that section of the community- which can afford to employ one. This is ^ Trapa bisfincsa. earner.

more especially the case in the Ilindustrini Districts where women are frcc[ucntly secluded and therefore cannot draw water for the household, while in the Maratha Districts where the women go to the well no water-bearer is required. In this capacity the Dhlmar is usually the personal servant of the village proprietor, but in large villages every house has a ghinoc/ii, either an earthen platform or wooden stand just outside the house, on which four or five earthen water- pots are kept.

These the Dhimar fills up morning and evening and receives two or three annas or pence a month for doing so. He also brings water for Government servants when they come to the village, and cleans their cooking- vessels and prepares the hearth with fresh cowdung and water in order to cleanse it. If he cleans the malguzar's vessels he gets his food for doing so. When the tenants have marriages he performs the same duties for the whole wedding party and receives a present of one or two rupees and some clothes if the families are well off, and also his food every day while the marriage is in progress. In his capacity of waterman the title Baraua is used to him as an honorific method of address ; and to his wife Baroni. In a hot country like India water is revered as the source of relief, comfort and life itself, like fire in cold countries, and the waterman participates in the regard paid to his element.

Another business of the Dhlmar's is to take sweet potatoes and boiled plums to the fields at harvest-time and sell them. He supplies water for drinking to the reapers and receives three sheaves a day in payment. On the fifteenth of Jesth (May) the Dhlmar goes round to the cultivators, throwing his fishing-net over their heads and receives a small present. At the period prior to the introduction of wheeled trans- 10. Paian- port when palanquins or litters were largely used for travel- Nearer and ling, the carriers belonged to the Kahar caste in northern personal India and to the Dhlmars or Bhois in the south. Though '^'^^"^• litters are now practically not used for travelling except occasionally by high- caste women, a survival of the old custom is retained in the marriage ceremony, the bride and bridegroom being always carried back from the marriage- shed to the temporary lodging of the bridegroom in a pdlki,

though for the longer journey to the bridegroom's village some less cumbrous conveyance is utilised. Four Dhlmars carry the /^//l'/ and receive Rs. 1-4. Well-to-do people will be carried in procession round the town. When employed by the village proprietor the Dhlmar accompanies him on his journey, carrying his cooking-vessels and other necessaries in a banhgi or wooden cross-bar slung across the shoulders, from which two baskets are suspended by loops of rope. Water he will always carry in a banJigi and never on his head or shoulders.

From waterman and litter-carrier the Dhimar has become a personal servant ; it is he to whom the term ' bearer ' as designating a body-servant was first applied because he bears or carries his master in a pdlki and his clothes in a banhgi. He is commonly so employed in native houses, but rarely by Europeans, whether because he is too stupid or on account of caste objections of his own. When employed as a cook the Dhlmar or his wife is per- mitted to knead flour with water and make it into a cake which the Brahman will then take and put on to the girdle with his own hands. He can also boil water and pour pulse into the cooking-pot from above so long as he does not touch the vessel after the food has been placed in it. He or she will also take any remains of food which is left in the cook- ing-pot as this is not considered to be polluted, food only becoming polluted when the hand touches it on the dish after having touched the mouth.

When this has happened all the food on the dish becomes jiitha or leavings of food, and as a general rule no caste except the sweepers will eat the leavings of food of another caste or of another person of their own. Only the wife, whose meal follows her hus- band's, will eat his leavings. As a servant the Dhlmar is very familiar with his master ; he may enter any part of the house, including the cooking-place and the women's rooms, and he addresses his mistress as * Mother.' In northern India Mr. Crooke states that the Kahars are sometimes known as Mahra, from the Sanskrit Mahila, a woman, because they have the entry of the female apartments. When he lights his master's pipe he takes the first pull himself to show that it has not been tampered with, and then presents it to him with his left hand placed under his occupa-

right elbow in token of respect. Maid-servants also fre- quently belong to the Dhlmar caste, and it often happens that the master of the household has illicit intercourse with them. Hence there is a proverb, ' The king's son draws water and the water-bearer's son sits on the throne,' similar intrigues on the part of high-born women with their servants being not unknown. The Dhlmar often acts as a pimp, this being an incident of his profession of indoor servant. Another occupation of the Dhimar's is to sell parched n.

Other grain and rice to travellers in markets and railway stations like the Bharbhunja and Dhuri. This he can do because of his comparative social purity, as all castes will take water and cakes and sweetmeats from his hands. Some Dhlmars and Kewats also weave hemp-matting and gunny-bags, but such members of the caste rank lower than the others and Brahmans will not take water from them. Another calling by which a few Dhlmars find support is that of breeding pigs. One would think it a difficult matter to make a living out of the village pig, an animal abhorred by both Hindus and jMuhammadans as the most unclean of the brute creation, and equally abjured by Europeans as unfit for food. But the pig is in considerable demand by the forest tribes for sacrifice to their deities.

The Dhimar participates in the sacrifice to Narayan Deo described in the article on Mahar, when a pig is eaten in concert by several of the lower castes. Lastly, the business of rearing the cocoons of the tasar silk- worm is usually in the hands of Dhlmars and Kewats. While the caterpillars are feeding on leaves and spinning their cocoons these men live in the forests for two months together and watch the kosa-bdris or silk-gardens, that is the blocks of trees which are set apart for the purpose of rearing the caterpillars. During this period they eat only once a day, abstain from meat and lentils, do not get shaved and do not visit their wives. When the eggs of the caterpillars are to be placed on the trees they tie a silk thread round the first tree to be used and worship it as Pat Deo or the god of silk thread. On this subject Mr. Ball writes

^ " The trees which it is intended to stock are carefully pollarded before the rains, and in early spring the leaves are stocked

with young caterpillars which have been hatched in the houses. The men in charge erect wigwams and remain on the spot, isolated from their families, who regard them for the time being as unclean. During the daytime they have full occupation in guarding the large green caterpillars from the attacks of kites and other birds. The cocoons are collected soon after they are spun and boiled in a lye of wood-ash, and the extracted chrysalids must then be eaten by the caretakers, who have to undergo certain ceremonial rites before they are readmitted into the society of their fellows. The effect of the boiling in the lye is the removal of the glutinous matter, which renders it possible to wind off the silk." The eating of the caterpillars is no doubt a ceremonial observance like that of the crocodile at weddings.

They are killed by the boiling of the cocoons and on this account members of good castes will not engage in the business of rearing them. The abstention from conjugal intimacy while engaged in some important business is a very common phenomenon. The social status of the Dhlmar is somewhat peculiar. Owing to his employment as palanquin-bearer, cook and household servant he has been promoted to the group of castes who are ceremonially clean, so that Brahmans in northern India will take water and food cooked in butter from his hands. But by origin he no doubt belongs to the primitive or non-Aryan tribes, a fact which he shows by his appearance and also by his customs. In diet he is the reverse of fastidious, eating crocodiles, tortoises and crabs, and also pork in the Maratha Districts, though in the north where he is employed by Brahmans as a personal servant he abstains from this food. With all this, however, the Dhimars practise in some social matters a pharasaical strictness. In Jubbulpore Mr, Pancham Lai records that among the four subcastes of Rekwar, Bant, Barmaian and Pabeha a woman of one sub- caste will not partake of any food cooked by one of another division.

A man will take any kind of food cooked by a man of another subcaste, but from a woman only such as is not mixed with water. A woman will drink the water held in the metal v-essel of a woman of another division, but not in an earthen vessel ; and in a metal vessel only provided

that it is brought straight from the well and not taken from the gliinochi or water-stand of such woman's house. A man will take water to drink from the metal or earthen vessel of any other Dhlmar, male or female. In Berar again Mr. Kitts states ^ that a Bhoi considers it pollution to eat or drink at the house of a Lohar (blacksmith), a Sutar (carpenter), a Bhat (bard), a washerman or a barber ; he will not even carry their palanquins at a marriage. Once a year at the Muharram festival the Dhlmars will eat at the hands of Muhammadans. They go round and beg for offerings of food and take them to the Fakir, who places a little before the tdzia or tomb of Husain and dis- tributes the remainder to the Dhlmars and other Hindus and Muhammadans who have been begging.

Except on this occasion they will eat nothing touched by a Muham- madan. The Dhimar, the Nai or barber, and the Bari or indoor servant are the three household menials of the northern Districts, and are known as Pauni Parja. Some- times the Ahir or grazier is an indoor servant and takes the place of the Dhlmar or the Bari. These menials are admitted to the wedding and other family feasts and allowed to eat at them. They sit in a line apart from the members of the caste and one member of the family is deputed to wait on them. Their food is brought to them in separate dishes and no food from these dishes is served to guests of the caste. Permanent expulsion " from caste is inflicted only for marrying, or eating regularly, with a man or woman of some other low caste ; but in the case of unmarried persons the latter offence may also be expiated.

Temporary exclusion is imposed for killing a cat, dog or squirrel, getting maggots in a wound, being sentenced to imprisonment ^ or commit- ting adultery with a person of any low caste. One who has 1 Berar Census Report (1881), Hindu castes, and the Dhlmars are p. 132. taken only as a typical example. They 2 The following notice of caste seem to have little or no connection offences is from Mr. Govind Moresh- '"'^ ordinary morahty. But in Jhansi war's paper.

"• '-^ooke remarks that a Kahar is put out of caste for theft in his master's 3 Not probably on account of the house. This again, however, might commission of a crime, but because be considered as an offence against the being sentenced to imprisonment in- community, tending to lower their cor- volves the eating of ceremonially impure porate character in their business, and food.

These rules are common to most as such deserving of social punishment. VOL. II 2 L

committed any of the above offences must be purified by the Batta of the caste, that is a person who takes the sins of others upon himself The Batta conducts the culprit to a river and then causes him to bathe, cuts off a lock of his hair, breaks a cocoanut as a sacrifice, and gives him a little cowdung and milk to eat. Then they proceed to eat together ; the Batta eats five mouthfuls first and declares that he has taken the sin of the offender on himself; the latter gives the Batta Rs. 1-4 as his fee, and is once more a proper member of the community. In Berar a Bhoi who has been put out of caste is received back by his fellows when he has drunk the water touched by a Brahman's toe, and has feasted them with a bout of liquor. In towns the caste are generally addicted to drink, and no marriage or other social function is held without a sufficient supply of liquor.

They also smoke gdnja (Indian hemp). 13. Legend The Dhimars are proverbially of a cheerful disposition, of the though simple and easily cheated. When carrying /rt/y^zV or litters at night they talk continually or sing monotonous songs to lighten the tedium of the way. In illustration of these qualities the following story is told : One day when Mahadeo and Parvati were travelling the goddess became very tired, so Mahadeo created four men from the dust, who bore her in a litter. On the way they talked and laughed, and Parvati was very pleased with them, so when she got home she told them to wait while she sent them out a reward.

The Bhois found that thej^ could get plenty of liquor, so they went on drinking it and forgot all about going for the reward. In the meantime a Marwari Bania who had heard what the goddess said, waited at the door of the palace, and when the servants brought out a bag of money he pretended that he was one of the Bhois and got them to give him the money, with which he made off. After a time the Bhois remembered about the reward and went to the door of the palace to get it, when the goddess came out and found out what had happened. The Bhois then wept and asked for another reward, but the goddess refused and said that as they had been so stupid their caste would always be poor, but at the same time they would be cheerful and happy.

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