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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 small caste whose members make bangles and other articles of lac. About 3000 persons were shown as belonging to the caste in the Central Provinces in 191 i, being most numerous in the Jubbulpore, Chhindwara and Betul Districts. From Berar 150 persons were returned, chiefly from Amraoti. The name is derived from the Sanskrit laksJia-kara, a worker in lac. The caste, are a mixed functional group closely connected with the Kacheras and Patwas ; no distinction being recognised between the Patwas and Lakheras in some localities of the Central Provinces. Mr, Baillie gives the following notice of them in the Census Report of the North- Westcni Provinces (1891): "The accounts given by members of the caste of their origin are very various and sometimes ingenious.
One story is that like the Patwas, with whom they are connected, they were originally Kayasths. According to another account they were made from the dirt washed from Parvati before her marriage with Siva, being created by the god to make bangles for his wife, and hence called Deobansi. Again, it is stated, they were created by Krishna to make bangles for the Gopis or milkmaids. The most elaborate account is that they were originally Yaduvansi Rajputs, who assisted the Kurus to make a fort of lac, in which the Pandavas were to be treacherously burned. For this
traitorous conduct they were degraded and compelled eternally to work in lac or glass." The bulk of these artisan and manufacturing castes tell 2. Social stories showing that their ancestors were Kayasths and Rajputs, but no importance can be attached to such legends, which are obviously manufactured by the family priests to minister to the harmless vanity of their clients. To support their claim the Lakheras have divided themselves like the Rajputs into the Surajvansi and Somvansi subcastes or those who belong to the Solar and Lunar races. Other sub- divisions are the Marwari or those coming from Marwar in Rajputana, and the Tarkhera or makers of the large earrings which low-caste women wear.
These consist of a circular piece of wood or fibre, nearly an inch across, which is worked through a large hole in the lobe of the ear. It is often the stalk of the anibdri fibre, and on the outer end is fixed a slab decorated with little pieces of glass. The exogamous sections of the Lakheras are generally named after animals, plants and natural objects, and indicate that the caste is recruited from the lower classes of the population. Their social customs resemble those of the middle and lower Hindustani castes. Girls are married at an early age when the parents can afford the expense of the ceremony, but no penalty is incurred if the wedding is postponed for want of means. The remarriage of widows and divorce are per- mitted. They eat flesh, but not fowls or pork, and some of them drink liquor, while others abstain. Rajputs and Banias will take water from them, but not Brahmans. In Bombay, however, they are considered to rank above Kunbis.
The traditional occupation of the Lakheras is to make 3. The lac and sell bangles and other articles of lac. Lac is regarded '° "^"^^' with a certain degree of superstitious repugnance by the Hindus because of its red colour, resembling blood. On this account and also because of the sin committed in killing them, no Hindu caste will propagate the lac insect, and the calling is practised only by Gonds, Korkus and other primitive tribes. Even Gonds will often refuse employment in growing lac if they can make their living by cultivation. Various superstitions attach to the propagation of the insects to a fresh tree. This is done in Kunwar (September) and
always by men, the insects being carried in a leaf-cup and placed on a branch of an uninfected tree, usually the kusum} It is said that the work should be done at night and the man should be naked when he places the insects on the tree. The tree is fenced round and nobody is allowed to touch it, as it is considered that the crop would thus be spoiled. If a woman has lost her husband and has to sow lac, she takes her son in her arms and places the cup containing the insects on his head ; on arriving at the tree she manages to apply the insects by means of a stick, not touching the cup with her own hands. All this ritual attaches simply to the infection of the first tree, and after- wards in January or February the insects are propagated on to other trees without ceremony.
The juice of onions is dropped on to them to make them healthy. The stick-lac is collected by the Gonds and Korkus and sold to the Lakheras ; they clear it of wood as far as possible and then place the incrusted twigs and bark in long cotton bags and heat them before a fire, squeezing out the gum, which is spread out on flat plates so as to congeal into the shape of a pancake. This is again heated and mixed with white clay and forms the material for the bangles. They are coloured with ckapra, the pure gum prepared like sealing- wax, which is mixed with vermilion, or arsenic and turmeric for a yellow colour.
In some localities at least only the Lakheras and Patwas and no higher caste will sell articles made of lac. 4. Lac The trade in lac bangles has now greatly declined, as bangles, ^y^^y have been supplanted by the more ornamental glass bangles. They are thick and clumsy and five of them will cover a large part of the space between the elbow and the wrist. They may be observed on Banjara women. Lac bangles are also still used by the Hindus, generally on ceremonial occasions, as at a marriage, when they are pre- sented to and worn by the bride, and during the month of Shrawan (July), when the Hindus observe a fast on behalf of the growing crops and the women wear bangles of lac. For these customs Mr. Hira Lai suggests the explanation that lac bangles were at one time generally worn by the ^ Schleichcra irijiiga.
Hindus, while glass ones are a comparatively recent fiishion introduced by the Muhammadans. In support of this it may be urged that glass bangles are largely made by the Muhammadan Turkari or Sisgar, and also that lac bangles must have been worn prior to glass ones, because if the latter had been known the clumsy and unornamental bracelet made of lac and clay could never have come into existence. The wearing of lac bangles on the above occasions would there- fore be explained according to the common usage of adhering on religious and ceremonial occasions to the more ancient methods and accessories, which are sanctified by association and custom. Similarly the Holi pyre is often kindled with fire produced by the friction of wood, and temples are lighted with vegetable instead of mineral oil.
It may be noted, however, that lac bangles are not s- Ked, a always worn by the bride at a wedding, the custom being colour. unknown in some localities. Moreover, it appears that glass was known to the Hindus at a period prior to the Muham- madan invasions, though bangles may not have been made from it. Another reason for the use of lac bangles on the occasions noticed is that lac, as already seen, represents blood. Though blood itself is now repugnant to the Hindus, yet red is pre-eminently their lucky colour, being worn at weddings and generally preferred. It is suggested in the Bombay Gazetteer ^ that blood was lucky as having been the first food of primitive man, who learnt to suck the blood of animals before he ate their flesh.
But it does not seem necessary to go back quite so far as this. The earliest form of sacrifice, as shown by Professor Robertson Smith,""^ was that in wbiich the community of kinsmen ate together the flesh of their divine or totem animal god and drank its blood. When the god became separated from the animal and was represented by a stone at the place of worship and the people had ceased to eat raw flesh and drink blood, the blood was poured out over the stone as an offering to the god. This practice still obtains among the lower castes of Hindus and the primitive tribes, the blood of animals offered to Devi and other village deities being allowed to drop on to the stones representing them. But the higher • Iliiiiiiis 0/ Ctijanlf, A\^\^.,Ax\.. Vaghii, footnote. - Religion of lite Semites.
castes of Hindus have abandoned animal sacrifices, and hence cannot make the blood - offering. In place of it they smear the stone with vermilion, which seems obviously a substitute for blood, since it is used to colour the stones representing the deities in exactly the same manner. Even vermilion, however, is not offered to the highest deities of Neo- Hinduism, Siva or Mahadeo and Vishnu, to whom animal sacrifices would be abhorrent.
It is offered to Hanuman, whose image is covered with it, and to Devi and Bhairon and to the many local and village deities. In past times animal sacrifices were offered to Bhairon, as they still are to Devi, and though it is not known that they were made to Hanuman, this is highly probable, as he is the god of strength and a mighty warrior. The Manbhao mendicants, who abhor all forms of bloodshed like the Jains, never pass one of these stones painted with vermilion if they can avoid doing so, and if they are aware that there is one on their road will make a circuit so as not to see it.^ There seems, therefore, every reason to suppose that vermilion is a sub- stitute for blood in offerings and hence probably on other occasions.
As the places of the gods were thus always coloured red with blood, red would come to be the divine and therefore the propitious colour among the Hindus and other races. 6. Ver- Among the constituents of the Sohag or lucky trousseau mihonand vvithout which no Hiudu girl of good caste can be married are sendur or vermilion, kunku or red powder or a spangle itikli), and mahdwar or red balls of cotton-wool. In Chhattlsgarh and Bengal the principal marriage rite is usually the smearing of vermilion by the bridegroom on the parting of the bride's hair, and elsewhere this is commonly done as a subsidiary ceremony.
Here also there is little reason to doubt that vermilion is a substitute for blood ; indeed, in some castes in Bengal, as noted by Sir H. Risley, the blood of the parties is actually mixed.^ This marking of the bride with blood is a result of the sacrifice and communal feast of kinsmen already described ; only those who could join in the sacrificial meal and cat the flesh of the sacred animal god 1 Mackintosh, Neport on the Miin- ^ See articles on Khaiiwar and bhaos. Kewat.
were kin to it and to each other ; but in quite early times the custom prevailed of taking wives from outside the clan
- and consequently, to admit the wife into her husband's kin, it was necessary that she also should drink or be marked with the blood of the god. The mixing of blood at marriage
appears to be a relic of this, and the marking of the fore- head with vermilion is a substitute for the anointing with blood. Kimkti is a pink powder made of turmeric, lime- juice and borax, which last is called by the Hindus ' the milk of Anjini,' the mother of Hanuman.
It seems to be a more agreeable substitute for vermilion, whose constant use has probably an injurious effect on the skin and hair. Kunku is used in the Maratha country in the same way as vermilion, and a married woman will smear a little patch on her fore- head every day and never allow her husband to see her without it. She omits it only during the monthly period of impurity. The iikli or spangle is worn in the Hindustani Districts and not in the south. It consists of a small piece of lac over which is smeared vermilion, while above it a piece of mica or thin glass is fixed for ornament. Other adorn- ments may be added, and women from Rajputana, such as the Marwari Banias and Banjaras, wear large spangles set in gold with a border of jewels if they can afford it.
The spangle is made and sold by Lakheras and Patwas ; it is part of the Sohag at marriages and is affixed to the girl's forehead on her wedding and thereafter always worn ; as a rule, if a woman has a spangle it is said that she does not smear vermilion on her forehead, though both may occasionally be seen. The name tikli is simply a corruption of tlka, which means a mark of anointing or initiation on the forehead ; as has been seen, the basis of the tikli is vermilion smeared on lac-clay, and it is made by Lakheras ; and there is thus good reason to suppose that the spangle is also a more ornamental substitute for the smear of vermilion, the ancient blood-mark by which a married woman was admitted into her husband's clan.
At her marriage a bride must always receive the glass bangles and the vermilion, kunku, or spangle from her husband, the other ornaments of the Sohag being usually given to her by her parents. Unmarried girls now also sometimes wear small ornamental spangles, and put kufiku on 'their foreheads. no But before marriage it is optional and afterwards compulsory. A widow may not wear vermilion, kunkii, or spangles, 7. Red dye The Lakheras also sell balls of red cotton-wool known on the feet, ^g vidJuiT ki gulcU OX iiiahdwar. The cotton-wool is dipped in the melted lac-gum and is rubbed on to the feet of women to colour them red or pink at marriages and festivals. This is done by the barber's wife, who will colour the feet of the whole party, at the same time drawing lines round the outside of the foot and inward from the toes. The mahdwar is also an essential part of the Sohag of marriage. Instead of lac the Muhammadans use viehndi or henna, the henna-leaves being pounded with catechu and the mixture rubbed on to the feet and hands. After a little time it is washed off and a red dye remains on the skin. It is supposed that the similar custom which prevailed among the ancient Greeks is alluded to in the epithet of * rosy-fingered Aurora.'
The Hindus use henna dye only in the month Shrawan (July), which is a period of fasting ; the auspicious kunku and mahdwar are therefore perhaps not considered suitable at such a time, but as special protection is needed against evil spirits, the necessary red colouring is obtained from henna. When a married woman rubs henna on her hands, if the dye comes out a deep red tinge, the other women say that her husband is not in love with her ; but if of a pale yellowish tinge, that he is very much in love. 8.
Red The Lakheras and Patwas also make the kardora or threads. waist-band of red thread. This is worn by Hindu men and women, except Maratha Brahmans. After he is married, if a man breaks this thread he must not take food until he has put on a fresh one, and the same rule applies to a woman all her life. Other threads are the rdkhis tied round the wrists for protection against evil spirits on the day of Rakshabandhan, and the necklets of silk or cotton thread wound round with thin silver wire, which the Hindus put on at Anant Chaudas and frequently retain for the whole year. The colour of all these threads is generally red in the first place, but they soon get blackened by contact with the skin. 9. Lac Toys of lac are especially made during the fast of toys. Shrawan (July).
At this time for five years after her mar- riage a Hindu bride receives annually from her husband a n LAC TOYS in present called Shraoni, or that which is i^iven in Shrawan.
It consists of a cJtakri or reel, to which a string is attached, and the reel is thrown up into the air and wound and unwound on the string ; a bJtora or wooden top spun by a string ; a bafisuli or wooden flute ; a stick and ball, lac bangles and a spangle, and cloth, usually of red chintz. All these toys are made by the carpenter and coloured red with lac by the Lakhera, with the exception of the bangles which may be yellow or green. For five years the bride plays with the toys, and then they are sent to her no longer as her childhood has passed.
It is probable that some, if not all of them, are in a manner connected with the crops, and supposed to have a magical influence, because during the same period it is the custom for boys to walk on stilts and play at swinging them- selves ; and in these cases the original idea is to make the crops grow as high as the stilts or swing. As in the other cases, the red colour appears to have a protective influence against evil spirits, who are more than usually active at a time of fasting.
(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, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.)
Synonyms: Laheria, Lahkar [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Groups/subgroups: Awadhia, Chanubang, Dakshinaha (Y adubanshi), Darbhangia, Dedhiyot, Madhauria, Tirhud a [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Marwari Lakhera, Tarkhera Lakhera [Madhya Pradesh a nd/or Chhattisgarh]
- Subcastes: Dakhinha, Nuri, Tirhutia [H.H. Risley]
Titles: Laheri, Lahkar, Sah, Sahu [Bihar and/or Jha rkhand] Sahu [H.H. Risley] Surnames: Laheri, Lahkar, Prasad, Sah, Sahu [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Chouhan, Sisodia [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Bagade, Bhate, Chavan, Hatade, Nagare, Padiyar, Rat vad, Salunki [R.E. Enthoven] Exogamous units/clans: Chamria, Charan, Dhikia, Lah ora, Pamar, Pandit, Sungat etc., Zedia, bhiwal [Bih ar and/or Jharkhand] Bagri, Bhatia, Chauhan, Hatria, Kethunia, Nagoria, Parihar, Solanki, Verma [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhat tisgarh] Somvanshi, Surajvanshi [Maharashtra] Gotra: Kashyap [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Gautam, Vashishtah [R.E. Enthoven]
- Sections: Kasi, mahuri [H.H. Risley]
Exogamous units/lineages (khandan/vansh): [Bihar and/or Jharkhand]